Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Civil War Quilt

I learned a few years ago, that my great grandfather was in the Civil War, and have been reading about it ever since. What an amazing time in our country's history and the more I learn about it, the more I realize that our present day political polarization isn't so different than it was in those days. Even our own households can be divided politically and our differences can seem quite large.

I am currently sewing Civil War blocks to create two quilts. I am using red, blue and off- white reproduction fabrics and patterns from Barbara Brackman's Civil War Sampler Quilt Book.  Her book has 50 different patterns, and the directions include different ways to assemble these blocks to create different quilts. It is providing me with much practice using different piecing techniques, and I am working to get my blocks exact so as to have corners meet and points remain points!

I am also reading about various women of those days and making the most out of what they have, and figured I might as well try to do the same. It makes me feel good to create something beautiful, as I think about the present's difficult issues. Passionate conflicts and divisions seem to be dividing us just as they did during the Civil War days. I am trying to be positive and hopeful that verbal discourse will lead to solving the problems at hand, and no matter what happens, I will have created some beautiful quilts! I am simple and practical enough to hope that relaxing and creating something beautiful will be a first step to creating peace in our household despite our differences. My quilt blocks will be as diverse as our opinions and yet will hopefully create a beautiful whole and unified quilt. Should our country be as fortunate!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Healing Hearts Sequel, or "Breathe, Jane, Breathe!"...

Like these roads in Chester, Vermont, friendships take twists and turns.
Shortly after posting my blog regarding how reluctant I am to keep my address book in pencil, my resolve was soon tested. Trying to be a good friend, means that I will be tested, as after all, it is the Lenten Season when Godliness versus humanness is the focus! I no longer sacrifice chocolate. "No, Lent is a season that I need all the reinforcements I can get". Sometimes just trying to be a decent human being is challenge enough.

Civility seems to fall short these days, as entitlement seems to reign and when you make promises to God, testing seems to follow. I was just swimming and suddenly there arose from the water two adults standing in my swim lane conversing nonchalantly. I nicely excused myself for being in their way, though the opposite was true and let them know that the narrow lane we were all standing in was occupied by me for swimming. They excused themselves minutes later, as I delayed my swimming to wait for them to move out of my lane.

I have considered what I wrote in my Healing Hearts Blog, posted just weeks ago, and decided that I must correct it, though I still maintain that as much as possible I am reluctant to remove friends from my address book. I am appreciating that occasionally declaring my boundaries is not only OK but totally appropriate. If I remember the golden rule correctly, it says, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you", and scripture states it more clearly, "love others as you love yourself".  Self respect must be honored too and being a door mat isn't loving yourself! It is then my friend's choice versus mine as to whether or not they respect my limits and remain a friend. We all have limits that must be respected.

If  a person doesn't respect my boundaries, I am apparently no prize as their friend. Is it not presumptuous to assume that I am there only to be used for whatever they might need?  I am now seriously considering keeping my address book in pencil! I don't believe that God demands me to stress-out over keeping my friends "in permanent ink".

I broke another Lenten sacrifice to complain to one of my faithful friends regarding the lack of swim ettiquette at the pool to which she wisely answered, "I know" and then added, "Breathe, Jane, Breathe..."....and I understood perfectly..."Good air in, bad feelings out"...and started repeating, "Breathe, Jane, breathe, and yet again...Breathe, Jane, breathe! A new mantra for the remainder of my life or at least this Lenten Season, or for as long as I continue to try to be a nice person in the face of those not working to be the same. "Breathe Jane, Breathe!"

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Healing Hearts

My heart blocks for my new Appliqued Double Hearts Scrap
Quilt. I am hand-stitching two blocks a week and have
one-hundred quilt blocks with double hearts cut out. They
will be all different colors with different shades of neutrals
for the blocks backing them.
Valentine's Day seems the perfect time to write about "healing hearts". Heart wounds are part of everyone's life and I have recently acquired a new "heart wound". While I am not new to such wounds, I seem to be as vulnerable as ever to their pain. After much reflection, I think it is about my address book and my unwillingness to keep it in pencil versus permanent ink. Names are easily added but I have unrealistic expectations regarding ever deleting names. Deletions usually only happen if they are transferred to my prayer list after a loved one dies and I want to be sure that they make it to heaven safely! I prefer too, if my friends never move or change their address, or phone. I like sameness in my life. It makes me feel more secure, though I do white out addresses and phone numbers to correct them if changes occur. I trust others to take care and keep their friend list, as I do mine, at all costs save "losing my soul".

I am learning, once again, about my self as I deal with my latest conflict with what I thought was a forever friend. I have learned that I delight in my friendships with others, though my limitations are very real and prevent me from seeing people in person as often as I would like. I still cherish them and reach out to them by phone or correspondence when I can't see them in person. I love them and I try to understand and be all I can be for them. I want to please my friends, likely too much. Its about loving them in the true Christian-agape-way!

Am I a good friend? I would like to think so. I try to be, but I am also good to myself and work to meet my needs. I love others as I love myself and am likely guilty of "using my friends" to feel good about myself. I can only hope that it is mutual and that loving and giving to my friends is as good for them as it is for me. I try not to burden anyone but likely I am too human, even weak and quite expect friends to cut me the slack that I do with them. None of us are perfect! One of my friends refers to her friends as a "friendship garden" and I like to think of my friends as that, as they are indeed so beautiful to me.

I am certain "my garden" has weeds and gets overgrown and needs care and manicuring. I usually leave any weeding to fate however. People die and/or move out of my life, making my friendship garden a bit sparse here and there and I try to make more friends to fill in these bare spots. Interests change along with values and, of course, those who know me well, know that I am opinionated which means I hang out in different mindsets, not to be mistaken for narrowness but rather convictions. I am Christian and conservative, albeit, imperfectly so. I am also a quilter as well, and am given to extremes of my hobby, not always so easy to take, especially if you are not a quilter or a fabricaholic like myself.

Many scratch their heads and don't draw too close to my odd ways. Still others support me well and yet miss that I am not so willing to give up my limited sewing time to spend time on say "car or sporting events" and sadly I don't travel well, making me too much of a stay-at-home "Johnny-one-note"-person, commonly known by some as "unfun" or even "boring" and staunchly so! I do absolutely love to sew and also love all things fabric-related, like quilt shows and fabric or thread shops.

But about heart wounds or losses of friendships, they hit me hard, no matter the cause as I value my friends and am at a loss as to how to deal with acrimonious endings.  Friends that naturally drift away are relegated to my annual Christmas letter list or a phone call here and there, but to cross them out of my phone book and heart altogether just isn't what I do.

Altercations are serious matters to me and I work hard to examine myself when they happen. I  have faults and know that I can be out-spoken, especially about things that I believe in, though I do appreciate that others don't always share my beliefs and I try to respect differences. Variety in my friendship garden is good, but in today's world sometimes that is not enough. Extreme political polarization isn't uncommon these days and I am learning that some things that are intrinsically "Jane" must remain as self-chosen values that some people don't and won't value. It is with care that I choose to remain committed to them.

I have also learned that loving another is a decision, not a feeling. Once this decision is made, I am loyal to a fault despite conflicts or differences, which I feel are no reason to cease loving someone. Heart wounds are deep and difficult to heal. My family and friends are the very fabric of my life and as a quilter none are insignificant or without purpose to my life's tapestry. I am grateful for each, past and present. Fortunately heart wounds are few and far between and I try to learn from them and grow. Their purpose is to refine and polish my rough edges and fault lines. They are precious to my life as  they too have made me what I am, though their losses remain sad to me.

There is a prayer process that I go through when I find myself at an impasse with a friend. I work to try to communicate carefully with those friends to work out our differences or at least agree to disagree. If they intentionally hurt me, I "will" myself to forgive and pray for God's help to to so. When angry with someone, it is too easy to let it fester and I have learned that such pain hurts me likely more than it hurts the person who is upset with me. I need to consciously will myself to forgive and through prayer, let God do the rest. I then pray for healing for my friend as well as for myself. Life is too short to harbor resentments, and mine is growing ever shorter all the time anyway! I need to release the pain and anger and give it to God. It isn't a one-step process but involves praying and re-praying whenever pain and anger rise within me. It has worked rather miraculously and sometimes the relationships heal and sometimes I simply heal and move on. Whatever happens, it is important for my heart to not become bitter and hard.

This Valentine's Day, I wish you all a happy and healthy heart. Tend to whatever heart wounds you may carry and appreciate that no matter what, all our friendships, past and present, truly make us who and what we are, and don't allow yourself to become hard of heart and wall others out. Continue to be vulnerable and open with all its risks and potential hurts. When doors to others are shut and locked, respect their decision and pray for them.

I love heart symbols and use many in my creations and even now am creating a new Appliqued Double Heart Scrap Quilt (see above) and am working to finish my mother's most beautiful candle-wicking, hand-embroidered "Flowers and Heart Quilt" that I featured in my last blog.

I am offering two Crazy-Quilted, Penny-Rug Heart samplers as well as a framed wool "Primitive Penny-Rug Wall-Hanging" with embroidered saying. All are on sale this month through my blog. If you are interested please contact me. Each one is selling for $70 which includes shipping to anywhere in the USA. They would make a unique gift for a friend or loved one, or purchase one for yourself.  Please contact me if you are interested. I have only three left, and will sell them on a first come, first serve basis, and do visit my Etsy store by simply clicking on Etsy Page on upper right hand corner of this blog! Happy Valentine's Day!

(you may leave a message at the end of my blog or email me at:, Jane McMillen.)

Victorian Crazy Quilted Heart Sampler. All hand-stitched.

Measures 8.75" wide by 10.5" long (in frame).

Victorian Crazy Quilted Heart Sampler.
Measures 13.25" wide by 16.25 " long (framed).

All hand-stitched.

Primitive Felted Wool Penny-Rug Wall Hanging.
All hand-stitched. Dark Green background.
Measures 14.5" wide by 17.5" long. Framed.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Unpacking and Preparing to Finish an Heirloom Quilt

At the top of my New Year's Resolution list is finishing my mother's Candlewicking Hearts and Flowers Quilt that is about three fourths done. I have completed three quilts as a warm-up exercise to prepare me for this project. It is all hand-stitched and I plan to complete it in the same way it was started.
My mother's last and most beautiful Hearts and Flowers
Candlewicking Quilt in pieces. She completed the remaining
blocks and the short sashings to go between them and
also pictured here are the fabrics, ribbon and lace to
finish the entire quilt, God-willing.
Mom cut no corners when it came to planning and executing
this quilt. It is all hand-embroidered using candle-wicking
thread and the sashings have all been pieced and embellished
with ribbon and lace. It is no less than exquisite! 
I realized after she died that I either forgot to ask her about her plans for this quilt, or simply forgot what she said, though I quickly offered to complete it for her as she was physically declining and struggling to complete it. I knew that the pattern was original, though some of the candle-wicking blocks came from a magazine, that I can't seem to find now, though she had a pulled out the attached pattern from the same magazine that has some of the same blocks detailed in about one-fourth of the size of her sixteen fifteen and one half inches blocks. The blocks have all been completed and she has also completed the short sashing strips that go between each block of the remaining row that needs to be jointed together, with, the long sashing strips on either side that have not been cut or sewn yet. The other three rows of blocks have all been stitched together.

She has made it using a quilt-as-you-go technique. This means that she sewed and quilted each section of the quilt, and then sewed each pre-quilted piece by seaming the top first, then the batting and then the backing to join the pieces together. It is a very labor intensive way to quilt a quilt, but works well if quilting the entire quilt would be too cumbersome to do without a quilting frame.
Each sashing is created with one center
strip of unbleached muslin, bordered with
a strip of each calico print on either side,
embellished with ribbon and lace.
Each sashing strip has eighteen rows of hand-stitching
in order to make it, embellish it with ribbon and lace,
quilt the strip and then sew it to the adjoining
section of the quilt and then quilt next to the adjoining seams.
Each sashing strip has eighteen rows of hand-stitching in order to make it, embellish it with ribbon and lace, quilt the strip and then attach it to the adjoining section of the quilt as described above, and then quilt next to the adjoining seams.

Some of the joining seams on the back side have not been done in her nicest of stitches. As I said she was beginning to deteriorate physically by the time she got the quilt to this point and so I shall re-do any hand-stitched seams where her stitches became too big and are less secure or stitched in such a way as to create puckers and I will do this before I join the last row of blocks with their sashing strips.

I hope to add a final row of sashing horizontally across the top and bottom of this quilt as well that will finish off all sides of this quilt and it appears that there are just enough materials to do that, though measuring twice and cutting once is my rule of thumb! Sometimes sampler quilts like this can have final borders around the entire quilt, but I think such borders may be too much with all the embellishment she has added to the sashings?

If anyone has other ideas regarding how this quilt should be finished, I would be open to hearing about them. At the time I promised to finish this quilt, I was more focused on taking care of her, as well as my own family! Any caretaker will appreciate the exhaustion that goes with accompanying a precious family member to their death. It is an emotional and physical strain losing someone so dear and to be certain, more thought was given to her than to actually  finishing her beautiful quilt.

I promised her that I would finish it and I will, though it is only the beginning of finishing many other quilts started long ago. I am now keeping all my thoughts and plans for my quilts in plastic sleeves that I keep with each quilt. This idea is not original to me. I once went to a quilter's estate sale and joked that I was going to cut all my materials up before I die, and one of the people putting on the estate sale didn't see the humor in my comment. She added rather curtly, "then keep the pieces all together with directions included to make it easier for those that will follow and finish your quilts". As with many quilters, there may be too many quilts to finish in my lifetime? I am praying that Mom will send her spirit to guide me through the finishing of her most beautiful quilt!

It is bizarre, but to keep me attentive to this work, I have added several other quilt tops to be done in a block by block fashion, incrementally throughout this year. With having a variety of projects and sewing tasks, I shouldn't suffer from the usual tediousness that I experience finishing quilts. I am not sure that other quilters feel as I do, but starting quilts is easier than finishing them for me. Moving from quilt to quilt, should help maintain my interest in all of them. I prefer variety when I sew, as I don't have the patience that my mom had to stick to only one project at at time! I reward my persistence in sticking to finishing a quilt by having several other less challenging projects going at a time. Did I mention that I am a fabricaholic?!

Nine patch/ Nine patch quilts make easy, fun and colorful
scrap quilts. It is fun to see them grow and each is unique!
The more I make the more individual quilts that I can make.
Quilting them on my quilting machine should be fast and easy.
Another scrap quilt of appliqued double hearts give me
opportunity of playing with  fabric. This quilt will be
primitive, colorful, and provide much hand-applique practice!
This Civil War Sampler quilt will provide me with much
experience to perfect my machine piecing skills, and adding
two blocks of fifty different patterns a week will produce
enough blocks for one or more quilts in a year. All are done
using different red, blue and cream Civil War period
reproduction fabrics.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

New Quilts, and Finishing UFO's in 2018

At the Vermont Quilt Festival last summer, I met a quilter who shared with me how she works on quilts. It was affirming and reassuring to know that I am not the only person who likes to work on multiple projects at a time. She is always thinking of new creations and brings them to fruition by working on many in different stages of completion.  This way she is always planning something fresh and new, cutting it out, sewing patchwork or appliquing their tops and then quilting them, after sandwiching the top and backing with batting in the middle.

It is certainly a boredom buster, and way to avoid the tediousness of pushing ahead on one project at a time. She also related that some quilts are NOT to be finished as with some, she has learned all that she wants to learn, and spending time finishing them will not be worthy of her time! I am only into the third week of the new year and I see my quilt blocks growing. I have contracted with myself to do two blocks each week  on my Civil War quilts, and two more appliqued heart blocks and a pair of strips for the nine patch quilt which usually works out to create about ten blocks when each pair of strips is cut and re-sewn together.
The first blocks to two Civil War Quilt tops using Barbara
Brackman's Civil War Sampler book. Samplers are fun as
the same block made from different materials creates
totally different appearing blocks. 
Pairs of strips sewn together to create nine patch blocks.
Nine patch blocks, with fussy-cut poinsettia blocks as well
as unbleached muslin blocks to create a nine patch/nine
patch Christmas quilt. I may create some lap-sized
ones as well as a bed-sized quilt. I do love reds and greens
and likely they will all be a bit different, but share some
similar patched blocks.
These appliqued double-heart quilt blocks will go together
to create a lovely simple scrap quilt. While plain, these blocks
will lend themselves to show off the quilting that will be used
to finish them.
This simple basic patchwork will make a lovely puffy
comforter for my niece. It will be hand-tied and is a
short-term project squeezed in between
the longer-term projects.
I have pulled out my mother's beautiful hand-made candle-wicking quilt that she left for me to complete. I have not unpacked it all yet, but look forward to studying her process and access what is completed and what is left to do before proceeding. I am under no illusion that completing this quilt will be quick. It is all hand-stitched and hand-quilted and will take a lot of time to complete it using these same techniques. I learned a long time ago that the hardest step in any project is to "start it" and I am about to do just that. Once I have studied it, it will simply be a case of taking each step in a methodical step-by-step approach and with persistence and perseverance, I can and will complete it!
A Pandora's box filled with the most
beautiful of my mother's quilts.
Her own Hearts and Flowers Candle-
wicking Quilt, to be completed by,

It is all hand-embroidered using off-white candle-wicking
thread on unbleached muslin and trimmed in two contrasting
pink calico borders with lace. (See in picture below.) My
mother has then hand-quilted each block and border. It is
exquisite! She quilted it using a quilt-as-you-go technique.
It is one of the most beautiful quilts I have ever seen!
This is actually how she has done the sashings in between each
of  the embroidered blocks. She has one remaining row of
blocks and strips to be assembled and finished. I will then try
to figure out how it is to be finished off. It is to be a
king-sized quilt. I am trying to convince myself that I am up
to this challenge! I do hope my dear mother will prompt me
through this from her heavenly throne! It is indeed a heavenly
piece of art and will take much help from her to finish this!
I have practiced various methods of quilt-as-you-go techniques and feel as prepared as I am going to be to form a plan as to how to tackle it. My mother's work is so beautiful that I have been afraid to touch it. I will step right into the middle of her process. I feel sad that she is no longer here to consult. I clearly should have taken notes years ago when I first committed to finishing it for her. I will pray that she will support me from the other side and help guide me through finishing her most beautiful quilt. I figured that this is the most important work I have to complete. She might well be onry enough that she might lock heaven's gates and not let me in until it is finished, for that is the promise I made to her when she was struggling to finish it.

I am inspired to complete all my UFO (unfinished objects) quilts I have started, though not all this year. Don't ask how many! I feel more confident than I did a few years ago after practicing and finishing three quilts in the past couple of years. My last was a nine patch/nine patch reversible memory quilt for a friend that was inspired by receiving a box of fabrics, vintage hand-embroidered quilt blocks and hand-made infant clothing that had belonged to my friend's mother. My friend lost both her sister and her mother in a very short period of time, along with her two little lap dogs, so all were remembered in this quilt's dedication on the backside.
A simple nine patch/nine patch memory quilt for my friend
made out of the materials she sent to me that had belonged
to her mother. It is both machine quilted and hand tied.
There were enough 9 patch blocks to create a second quilt that I put together with mauve colored fabric making it's appearance look totally different. I quilted them using different styles of machine quilting. The memory quilt is both tied as well as machine quilted leaving me less seams on the back-side of the quilt, which became my clear checkered blue sky "canvas" for the appliqued memorial to her mother and sister. It arrived in time for Christmas and before the end of 2017 (in the nick of time, to not have to redo the date on the quilt).
The backing was tied on so as to give me a clear blue-checked
sky "canvas"  for this hand-appliqued clothes-line scene.
The items on the clothes-line were made by my friend's
mother. They were infant clothing items for her and her sister
and nursery rhyme quilt blocks that I stitched together to
make a small crib quilt). The border on the bottom is to be
green grass and on the top, middle and bottom, I have
appliqued a few song birds and butterflies to add
to its sweetness.
This dedication mini-quilt hangs on the bottom clothes-line.
It includes the dedication heart, all hand-embroidered,
surrounded by pictures of her mother, sister and little
lap dogs all printed on fabric and then bordered on the
top and bottom with symbols of her mother's
hospitality and the sweetness of the little neighborhood
 where we were raised. Her mother and sister were
sewers and quilters and the sweetest of women and so I
couldn't make this quilt appear too sweet!
I loved this vintage hand-embroidered quilt block
sewn by my friend's mother.

I have seen many vintage nursery rhyme embroidered
blocks but never as sweet as these!
When my husband photo'd these quilts, he assured me that the clutter on our dressers would be easily photo-shopped out of the pictures, but cropping them was not so easy, and so, as with everything else in my life, it is a case of learn the hard way what-to-do and not-to-do when photographing my quilts. So the pictures of my friend's memory quilt front and backside, and its sister quilt are complete with our home-made clutter on our dressers. It should comfort those of you that are like me who have to focus on either quilting or cleaning and never at the same time!
This is the sister quilt made from the rest of the nine patch
blocks. It is fitting that it is on our bed. Such good memories
of by gone years with my silly friend, Linda Pollard!
I take my life one day at a time and each is filled with quilting, which is my version of a perfect retirement. My quilts are lessons of love and patience. I will complete and start many more in my, God-willing, many remaining years!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

New Years--How Cold It Is, but Warm Inside!

I have been joking about moving to Florida, and no more. They are getting snow too? California looks better as the fires get more contained, though now they are experiencing flooding and mudslides! I may complain of being cold, but I will take our weather in Vermont over that in our favorite vacation spots on the New Hampshire coast! We are only cold and not flooded with the icy sea water!! My sympathy to all of you experiencing extreme weather, for as my husband says, we are simply having winter here!

I made New Year's resolutions and they sound easy enough and perhaps even realistic until I face them in the middle of a cold spell with snow on the roads and no chance for getting out without looking like I just gained a hundred pounds with all the layers I have to wear to stay warm! I am worse than Ralphie's brother in his snow suit in A Christmas Story!

But on the positive side, this weather is conducive to sewing quilts, and have I ever bit off a lot for this next year!! They can't get done fast enough, as I dream of them stacked up on our bed to ward off such winter chills!!

Come take a peak at what I have in store for 2018!

A Civil War Sampler by Barbara Brackman
Great fabric selections for a Civil War Quilt or what?!
I plan to sew two of the same patterned blocks using different
fabrics each week making enough for one or two quilt tops in
a year? I will get the experience of sewing different patterns
each week, starting with the easy ones and progressing to
more difficult, as outline in Barbara Brackman's book,
CivilWar Sampler!
A simple 9 patch/9 patch quilt with poinsettia and unbleached
muslin blocks and 9 patch blocks using these prints.
I can't resist appliqued hearts! I plan to do
two blocks a week for a year to make one
or two double appliqued heart quilt tops.
My process is shown in this picture (right to left). I machine
stitch stabilizer to each heart and then trim the stabilizer and
turn them inside out so edges are turned under and then
hand-stitch to different neutral colored blocks.
All my projects are designed to practice skills of different sorts of piecing as well as other stages of quilt making that will be pictured in my following blogs! 2018 will be an intense year of quilt making! Fun, or what?Perhaps some of you might consider joining me in creating one of these quilt tops yourself? Stay tuned! I am back to blogging and sharing my new ventures!

Also check out my craft work in my Etsy shop. I have recently listed many of this year's items and reduced many of my prices. You might find the deals you have been waiting for?!

Happy-Happy New Year! May you all be blessed with a good and healthy 2018!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas--How sweet it is!

Christmas, how sweet it is!

The coming of God's son, Jesus,

Emmanuel, God with us.

Does it get any better than this?
A divine presence,

A sweetness in a stressful world.

A light in darkness. Hope, love and peace,
A palpable serenity.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to my readers! I'm back and there is more to come!

Sincerely, Jane McMillen at Little House, Castleton, Vermont! (the last picture is actually a picture of our neighbors across the street from us. We are having a White Christmas, the first in a few years!