In Celebration of Good Design

Block magazine cover
I’ve become a fan of Jenny Doan, the owner of the Missouri Star Quilt Company. Or at least one of the owners because I think it’s probably more accurate to say that this is a family-owned business.

She has such a breezy style in her tutorials that even though I might not necessarily want to do the quilt she’s demonstrating, I just enjoy watching.

And watching is the only thing I’ve done up until a couple of weeks ago when my attention was caught by a scrappy quilt made with a ruler that will cut blade shapes used most commonly in a pattern known as Dresden plate.

So I actually made an order and while I was online (you know how this goes), my attention veered toward a new magazine put out by the company (which is still something of a newbie).

It’s called Block and I got my first issue in the mail the other day and as one graphic designer to another, I was impressed.

Block is all Missouri Star all the time, no other ads cluttering up the pages. The photos are great, instructions clearly written.

It’s so well done, I just have to share.

Narcissus narcissus narcissus

Narcissus 2014 for web
For beauty,
Narcissus had no peer.
His comely nature
Did dispose him
To revere his
Own reflection to the
Exclusion of all others,
Including dear Echo,
The nymph who loved
Him wisely but not well.

Narcissus wasted away but
Left a nodding flower
That dearly loves the water,
Bending its own face toward the pool.

Echo, as we said,
Was a dearly nymph with an
Uncomely tongue.
She had the temerity to voice her true
Feelings about the goddess Hera
In the Olympian’s hearing.

We all know how that ended.

Not so well for Echo, echo, echo.

Spring Rush

The daffies are up!
The daffies are up!

So far, it’s staying cool enough for my daffodils and narcissus to be happy. (Think the temp of a florist’s refrigerator.)

We can see the tops of peonies and our purple columbines—which spread and spread and spread—are uncurling from the ground.

This year, I plan to take some of those seeds and start scattering them down on the land that got so torn up by the hurricane and then the building of our retaining wall.

I also have a clot of day lilies to take down there as well. Those orange babies will go toe-to-toe with the Japanese knotweed.

Hail Spring!

Jeepers Peepers

Peeper in full peep, courtesy of National Geographic
Peeper in full peep, courtesy of National Geographic

To quote the erstwhile Pooh, today is a great big blustery day! Cold, chill, the type of wind that just makes you feel like you could spread your wings and be lifted aloft.

But last night, on my 56-step commute from my house to my studio, it was still warmish (for April) and calm.
And I heard the true, sure sign that spring is here—peepers.

We have a lot of wonderful wildlife that shares our riverside abode and a little later in the season, we’ll be nearly deafened (in a nice way) by singing toads.

But peepers, they’re kinda the new amphibian on the block around here.

Though I can’t prove it, I believe these little mites are immigrants who washed up on our stretch of the river after Hurricane Irene. They share a love of the same environment as the toads—shallow, protected waters with ample plant life and mud for wallowing so it’s not surprising that they hung out after that storm.

I’m so glad.

When I was a little girl, there was a swampy area behind our house, bordered by a small field and the railroad tracks. During the spring, we fell asleep to the music of peepers, a sound I grew to love as a child.

So when I stepped outside my door and heard that choir, I stopped to breathe in the earthy aroma of the land in a sprinkling rain and listen until I was ten again.

Walking Through Woods on a Sunny Morning

This time of year, we are reminded how much we depend on the bounty of trees for the beauty of Vermont.

Everywhere we walk in the woods, careful to avoid the places that are still wet, last year’s leaves cover the ground. Curled and brittle, our shoes help compost them, making them part of the soil that nurtures the plants we’ll enjoy from now to when the leaves come back down again.

Coltsfoot flower
Coltsfoot flower

The tiny, sunshine faces of coltsfoot are among the very first plants to appear on the forest floor. At this time of year, they don’t bear any chlorophyll producing leaves, preferring (for their own ancient reasons) to turn their blossoms to the sun, now unblocked by a canopy.

Daffodil pushing up
Daffodil bud bidding for attention from the sun

The same holds true for our gardens as the snowdrops then the iris reticulata and now the daffodils jockey for their share of the growing warmth before the larger plants take over.

We’ve all been remarking how strange a spring it’s been so far, especially after such a deep, frigid, everlasting winter. We didn’t have anything even close to an ice out on the river. We had a melt instead.

The dirt road reports indicate that the tire-sucking mud we usually get did not transpire.

Though the frost heaves have been remarkable.

Our protests to the contrary, we humans don’t care for change that much, at least not sudden change. But suddenly, “our weather” seems less like our own than usual.

Which makes the coltsfoot and daffodils just that much more welcome.

Getting the Most Out of the Tiniest Scraps

Coasters made from crazy quilt squares
Coasters made from crazy quilt squares

I think that every quilter, after a while, grows to love one part or one type of quilting more than others.
For me, it’s become scrap quilting.

For the uninitiated, scrap quilting is not limited to using existing scrap. You can certainly do that but it is not the only way to scrap quilt.

The term can also refer to any quilt that’s made from a large number of fabrics. There are some patterns that just lend themselves to mixing a bunch of everything in one color way or one shade from light to bright or dark.

The result is always interesting to look at because you never know what seemingly strange combination of fabrics surprises you with their contrast or blend.

Then there are crazy quilt squares.

I maintain a hierarchy of scraps according to size. I keep strips that are two or two-and-a-half inches wide in one location. Scraps that are largish in another location. And odd-sized, smaller scraps in another location.

I use the latter to flip-and-sew crazy quilt squares from time to time.

These squares pile up (I only make them one at a time because doing a lot of them would be, to me, tedious) and have used them in all sorts of small projects.

Like these coasters that I made for my son’s fiancee, Jessica.

It was her birthday on Monday, and she’s long admired a set of these coasters (the prototypes) that I made for myself.

So now she has six of her own.

I cut the backings for these two-and-a-half inches bigger than I need, quilt them in a spiral with some batting, and then bring the backing up to the front for the binding.

Once the crazy quilt squares are made, they go quick. And the coasters absorb spills or the dewy stuff that gathers on a cold drink on a hot day. You can fling them in the washer and dryer without constraint.

And no two are ever alike. Which is part of the fun of scrap quilting.

Author of the Carding, Vermont novels, quilt books, and book publishing guides.