All posts by Sonja Hakala

I have been a professional writer since 1987. I've written for newspapers, magazines, worked in the book publishing industry, and published novels and non-fiction books. In addition, I've guided numerous authors through the process of independent publishing, and offer workshops in that same vein. I'm the founder of the Parkinson's Comfort Project and over the course of six years, we gathered and gave away over 500 handmade quilts to people with Parkinson's disease.

How Many Quilt Books Do You Have?

How many quilt books are in your library?

It’s getting to that time of year again. My birthday is next week, and I often treat that day as my own personal New Year.

I used to use the transition as a time to make resolutions. But that changed a few years back (turning 60 will do that to you), and now I issue myself a challenge, something that will push me to grow over the year.

I’ve already decided on one challenge, drawing once a day. I’m doing this with a friend who knows that this is a skill that I’ve long wanted to foster. Still not sure I’ll show anyone what I do—hmm, except maybe for the first and last pieces I make, just to see what happened.

But I want to do something in the quilting arena as well, something to push myself. However, it has to have a practical application (I am a Taurus, after all), and I think I’ve got it.

I have a lot of quilt books, collected from many different sources over the years. I look at them, sometimes just because, sometimes for ideas, sometimes as a reference on a technique. I also collect design ideas from the web that may or may not be quilt-related. I also have a number of patterns, though this number is smaller than the number of books.

So here’s my idea: Use them.

Instead of just letting them sit on my shelves and collect dust, I organize them and use them to challenge myself to try new blocks, new techniques, figuring out how to make a design idea manifest.

I have a week before this will begin, and there’s my UFO pile to complete. But that can be a source of challenge as well as I push my machine quilting skills.

I find this type of challenge makes me eager to add a new year to my life. It’s not a matter of getting older. It’s a matter of attitude.

Quilting Advice from Afar

Close-up of my quilt called the Werthy Sampler

A friend of my son’s recently started quilting.

Watch out, I told her. It’s addicting.

Sure enough, I got an email from her the other day with the subject line: You were right!

I just got a sewing machine for my birthday, she said, and I’m making a T-shirt quilt, and I have to resize the blocks, and when I went to bed (late) I couldn’t sleep because measurements and patterns were whirling around in my head.

Every quilter I know is nodding her head right now. Looking through a new book or a catalog or magazine can get me so revved, I lay awake at night, planning out my quilting future as far I can imagine.

A little later in the day, she wrote that she needed a copy of my book, Teach Yourself Visually Quilting, because the pattern she had did not explain how to back, baste, quilt or bind her creation.

During our discussion, I sent her this picture, a close-up of the quilting I did on the Werthy Sampler. It’s meandering quilting, a gently curving set of lines that travel from one side of a quilt to another. I picked this idea up from a book called A Passion for Patchwork by Lise Bergene. She’s Scandinavian, and that shows in her elegant, simple designs. I love Scandinavian design for just that reason.

Anyhow, Bergene used a single line of meandering stitching on some of her pieces, and I picked it up as an easy way to quilt everything larger than a wall hanging. A couple of quilts ago, I doubled the line of stitching, shadowing the first line with a second that’s separated only by the space between the left side of my presser foot and the needle. I find I love it—no muss, no fuss

I used the same technique on my challenge quilt, called the Werthy Sampler because it was inspired by the packaging of Werther’s candies, one of my Mom’s favorites. The design on the bag includes a swoosh of red. So I used red and then yellow thread in doubles, triples, and then foursomes of meandering quilting.

I think it’s a great in-between style, sweet and decorative machine quilting which is much faster to do than tying or hand-quilting, for sure, and yet easier (especially in terms of manipulating the quilt) than the more intense and artistic art quilting.

So I sent this off to Marie, and I hope it’s encouragement for a beginner that there are an infinite number of ways to finish a quilt.

By the way, I spoke at the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts yesterday. There was a bus trip in attendance, 40 wonderful quilters from Connecticut. I had a great time, and I think they did too!

Something to Crow About

I am writing feverishly to finish my new novel, The Road Unsalted, by my birthday, which is two-and-a-half weeks away. That will truly be a celebration for me.

T.R.U. takes place in Carding, Vermont, a village located in the Corvus Valley. Corvus is the species name for the bird family that includes crows, ravens, blue jays and magpies.

My choice of Corvus is rather serendipitous, or at least it seemed so at the time. My husband has a longtime fascination with these intriguing birds, and happened to talk about them at the same time I was searching for a place for Carding on my internal map of Vermont.

As usually happens when you foster an awareness of a creature or a trend or an event, you begin to notice its presence more and more. Now I sit up a bit more in my car when I see crows. I pay close attention when I hear a “Caw” off in the distance.  I’m currently reading my second book on crows. And because I have a lifelong passion for folklore, I’ve started looking for traditional crow stories.

So far, there’s not much to pick from or be inspired by, for that matter. Which means, of course, I have the opportunity to create my own because with so many crows—one of the species, like gray squirrels and pigeons, that succeed because of human intervention—there is an abundance of untold stories.

Stay tuned for Crow Stories. And while I think of it on this first day of May, I wish all the blessings of Beltane to you for the coming season.


My quilt guild, Northern Lights, has had this terrific quilt show up in the Lebanon Coop for the past month, and yesterday was the day we took it down.

My friend Dana was there, and she gave me this button from a website that’s been encouraging folks to do daily journals. She gave me the button because she knew that this is an effort I’ve been thinking about doing again in order to expand my creative frontiers. (I did something similar when I turned sixty, blogging every day for a year.)

We got into this conversation about how the daily routine of planned creativity sparked all sorts of good things for both of us.

Now let’s segue a bit here. I’m also reading a book called Crow Planet. It is, in part, about becoming a naturalist. I’ve long had an idea, inspired by the book PrairyErth by William Least Heat Moon, about choosing just one part of our land, and studying everything on it for a whole year. Two books pointing me in the same direction. Hmmm, seems like this is where I want to go.

Well, since Irene wiped our slate clean in August 2011, and the land which we have loved for so long is different in all ways, I think this is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for. I’m going to study what we call Goldie’s Park, in minute detail, to see how it recovers from Irene.

So I’ve started. Today. No time like the present.

Before Irene, the six acres of riverside we own upstream from our house was covered with wild leeks (ramps to some) and ostrich ferns, the ferns best-known as fiddleheads.
The leeks were always first out of the ground, their graceful leaves coming up as soon as the ground was thawed. Now, most of them are buried under three feet of heavy silt, and we will not see them again.

But the silt is cracked in many places, deep cracks that go down to the level where the we used to walk. And here and there, between the cracks, the leeks persist in coming up. Like the ones in this photograph.

Aren’t they amazing?

To Recommend or Not Recommend? That Is Today’s Question

I just have one short chapter to go in Ellington Boulevard by Adam Langer.

I think it’s a good read but with reservations. I liked, felt annoyed, cheered on, blatted mental raspberries at and generally enjoyed myself in the company of the characters Langer created.

But…but…something was missing.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy slow reads, i.e. the kind of book that I often associate with British writers (or non-American, to be fair) because they are far more concerned with character than with the plot—plot—plot obsession that infects far too many American novels for my taste

This is a slow read by an American author, and on that count, I cheer. No one is murdered, raped, eviscerated, blown up or beaten up, unless you count a justifiable dog attack. My kinda book.

But there’s something, I don’t know, rather elliptical about this author’s writing that left me feeling vaguely as though I’d had a great conversation with someone I met at a party but could never know better.

Still and all, I liked this one well enough to hand off to a friend to see what she thinks.