I’ve always had an affinity for telephones. My mom and dad started dating while they were both working at the local phone company. Mom was an operator and knows a lot about area codes and geography because of it. Dad was a cable repair technician and retired from the phone company after over 35 years. He would call the house sometimes while he was checking a customer’s phone for a daytime chat.

So I have a tendency to notice telephone quilt patterns. There are several cute ones, but this paper-piecing pattern by Cynthia Frenette struck a cord (ha!) because it looks just like I remember the phones at our house looking.

I decided to try my hand at the pattern by making a mug rug for Mom. The phone is red, of course.

It’s really a fun block to make. The finished block is 10 inches square, so most of the pieces are large and even the small ones are manageable. It’s also a great way to use up scrap fabric. The circles for the dial need to be appliquéd on. I wasn’t trying to make a masterpiece, so I just fused them on for raw-edge appliqué. Easy enough.

The block was so fun that I decided to make a wall hanging for myself. I picked solids from my stash in some of my favorite colors. I used two different fabrics for the dials. Neither has numbers, but I think they get the idea across.

Next, I needed to figure out how to quilt it. I really prefer simple quilting that emphasizes the piecing, so I ended up just outlining the phones.

I did a tiny zigzag around the circles to keep them from fraying too much.

And look! There’s the outline of the phone on the back!

I did the same quilting on the wall hanging. I used quilting to separate the earpiece and mouthpiece from the handle because, as a kid, I liked unscrewing those pieces and looking inside.

I was looking for an easy project that would make me happy. And these telephones definitely did the trick for me.



Mug Rug Re-Do

Circle mug rug

Recently I had to take a break from my two big quilting projects and actually make something. And there’s no project as quick and satisfying as a mug rug.

The one I made was really a mug rug re-do. I made this blue and gray circle block back in March as a Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild challenge to try pieced curves. I brought the block out again a few months ago when our challenge was to try the magic binding technique. With this technique, you sew a two-pieced binding that leaves a narrow strip (or flange) of the second fabric on the front of the piece.

Circle mug rug with flange

The technique has you sew the binding to the back first, then fold it over to the front and machine sew in the ditch between the two parts of the front binding. I tried it first with an orange flange, but I decided that took away from my goal of it being a blue and gray piece.

So I made the binding again, this time in gray.

Circle mug rug gray flange

The finished mug rug sat in my office/craft room for a few months. Then I realized I really didn’t like it. I loved the block. But I didn’t like the quilting. It was too linear for my first piece with curves. And I didn’t like the binding. I think the orange in the blue binding fabric was still too much orange. And I didn’t like that that the binding wasn’t as taut as I have it when I bind in my usual way.

So I took off the binding and took out the quilting. Which was probably a little nuts in hindsight. But I really wanted to like this piece.

I re-quilted it with gray thread instead of blue, and I echo quilted around the circles to help show them off. The quilted circles are by no means perfect, but I think that just adds to the fun of the curves.

Circle mug rug detail

And I bound it in my usual way with a muted medium blue. The result is a more subdued piece. But I like that it’s more about the circles now, which was why I made the block in the first place.

Circle mug rug

I’ll use the magic binding technique again, I’m sure. One woman at Guild reversed it so the flange was on the back of the quilt. I liked that because it would allow me to keep the binding on front taut and add interest to the back, which is usually a little boring anyway.

Scrabble-Inspired Mug Rug

Scrabble Mug Rug and Board

I knew I wanted to make Mom a mug rug for Christmas. I thought about making a circle of geese pattern for her or maybe the same star pattern I made for my sister Brenda last year. But neither idea was really coming together. Then at the December Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild meeting, during a break, someone several rows ahead of me held up her smart phone, and on it was a Scrabble board (or what I thought was a Scrabble board, anyway). From that distance, I saw the pattern of the board, rather than just the squares. And it looked pretty cool.

Mom and I have played Scrabble together since I was in high school at least, maybe even middle school. When I lived with Mom and Dad, it was our go-to game, and whenever I’d come home, after I moved away, we’d manage to fit in at least one game. And now that she’s on Facebook, we can play one game after another, so there’s always one going on. (And man, have our games gotten tight! They always come down to the last few words played.)

After that CMQG meeting, I pulled down one of the boards at my house and took a look (yes, Greg and I each entered our union with our own Scrabble game). I decided to go pretty literal with my interpretation and re-create the top quarter of the board in fabric.

Scrabble Mug Rug WIP

I hit my stash and found fabrics to represent each of the squares on the board. I had the perfect fabric for the brown squares but not quite enough of it, so I ended up using two fabrics for those squares. I cut each square to 2 inches, and I decided to press open the seams, since I couldn’t image Mom putting too much wear and tear on the finished mug rug.

Scrabble Mug Rug

There’s a thin white strip between each square on the board, and I tried putting strips of fabric between my squares, but it was too overwhelming. So I went a more subtle route with a zigzag stitch of white thread that also served as the quilting on the piece. The board I remember playing on had a maroon border, but a deep red was all I had in my stash. I forgot to take a photo of the back, but on it I used a light brown fabric with a subtle wood grain—it really looked like the backs of the wooden tiles!

Mom and Scrabble Mug Rug

Mom opened her gift on Christmas Eve, and she said she could tell right away what it was. Whew.

Scrabble Memory Art

While I was home, I took a photo of the other Scrabble-inspired gift I gave to Mom. I made this at least 10 years ago, if not more. The background is an image transfer of a photo of Mom as a child with her mother and sister. In the foreground is her Mom and Dad; and I spelled out her family name in the Scrabble tiles.

Winter Sun Mug Rug and Gift Exchange

Winter sun 1Last night, we had our annual holiday gift exchange at the Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild. We started out the meeting with a potluck dinner and then it was time to give our handmade gifts to the person whose name we received at the November meeting. The gift I made was for Ellen, a fan of pink and orange and of fabric designers Valori Wells, Kate Spain, Rashida Coleman-Hale, and Melody Miller.

I was a bit surprised to find I didn’t have fabric from any of those designers in those colors in my stash. Plenty of pink, plenty of orange, and I’d heard of all of the designers. But I found I had a only  few pieces in other colorways. So a trip to the store was in order—well, actually trips to three different fabric stores were in order before I found three fabrics from Kate Spain’s Sunnyside line that I thought might work.

The fabrics truly were “sunny,” so I stayed with that theme and made a mug rug sun. I can’t seem to get string quilts out of my system, so I cut the fabric into strips between 1.25 and 2 inches wide. I placed the 2-inch yellow strip in the corner of my stabilizer first, and then sewed the remaining strips on either side to form the rays of the sun. To keep the rays moving around the circle, I angled the strips so that they were narrower at the base and wider at the ends.

I appliqued the circle shape over the narrow ends of the rays with Steam-a-Seam Lite.

Winter sun back

With the top done, I pieced the back with some of the leftover fabrics. I quilted the piece with yellow thread, echoing the straight lines of the rays and the curved lines of the circle.

Winter sun binding

I tried out a few different binding options, but I found I really liked the floral fabric around the sun and the white fabric around the rays. That meant a two-fabric binding! Yikes.

My goal was to have the two fabrics meet in the center of the mitered corners but that didn’t happen. A lucky accident did happen, however: the floral fabric ended a bit short of each corner, and that made the binding look like more rays of the sun! Good enough. The finished piece measures approximately 10.5 x 10.5 inches.

And what did I come home with, you may ask? Our dedicated Guild President Jessica at A Little Gray received my name and made this lovely pillow for me using colors inspired by some of my recent projects.

Pillow from Jessica

Love the colors, love the quilting. And Jessica wins the prize for the tautest, nicest envelop closure I’ve ever seen on a pillow!

Pillow from Jessica back

Wonky Stars

Gray comma wonky star

Lately, I’ve had a lot of small projects to check off my list: mug rugs, single quilt blocks, craft sale items. So I was looking for a simple, easy pattern that would work for all these things. Enter the wonky star.

I’ve seen this pattern around for a long time but never had a chance to try it. So I did a quick search online for a tutorial and came up with this one from The Silly BooDilly and combined it with another tutorial to get a block that is about 9 inches square.

The first wonky star I made was for the Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild’s Quilts of Valor quilt. We were all asked to make a red, white and blue block that measured between 8 and 12 inches and featured some sort of star.

Quilt of Valor block wonky star

I ended up re-doing several of the pieces of this block for two reasons: 1. I was having a hard time keeping all the background pieces going in the same direction (darn my visual spatial issues) and 2. I made some of the wonkiness too wonky and the points would get cut off when the block was pieced with other ones. Also, as an aside, it turns out I have very little red and white fabric and only some blue—it made making a patriot block a bit tough.

Next, I decided to go a little less challenging. This time, in a mug rug that I’ll include in a craft sale for the CMQG, I went with a solid background, solid center and some Kaffe Fassett fabric for the punch. Because the center is solid and needed something a little extra, I tried my hand at quilting a square spiral design.

Orange wonky star

The final mug rug I wanted to make was for my sister Carrie for an auction to benefit a library organization she is a member of. Having some nice success with the solids, I decided to try a patterned background again, using the comma fabric I had used in the first mug rug I made for her. I think this one is my favorite. I really like the subtle colors and then the pop of orange in the binding.

Gray comma wonky star


Quilt Show and Mug Rugs

This past weekend, I went with Heather Jones to spend the day manning the Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild booth at a quilt show in Louisville. The show asked the guild to contribute some quilts as well as, so between the booth and show, we were very well represented. (Here’s a link to the CMQG blog post about the event with lots of photos of our quilts.)

I contributed my good ol’ String Quilt #2 that I had made last year. And as luck would have it, I was able to show it off to one of the two ladies who inspired the quilt! Virginia Baker, co-author of String Quilt Revival, the book from which I got the pattern for the quilt, just happened to have a booth at the show, too.

Virginia Baker in Louisville

Me and Virginia Baker, co-author of String Quilt Revival.

She spotted me walking the show, and I was so glad she did! It’s always great to catch up with my former authors and see what they’re working on now. In the case of Ginger and her co-author and sister Bobbie, it’s seven new patterns. I love this new one titled Wedged. I just can’t seem to get enough of string quilts.


While at the booth, I had some time to do a little handwork, so I finished up the binding on two mug rugs I have been working on.

The first one is for my sister Carrie, a librarian, to donate to a library association fundraiser. I found a few fabrics I liked that evoked “library” or at least “words,” and the pattern is one from the book Modern Blocks by Susanne Woods. It measures 11.5″ square.

Comma star mug rug

The second one is an improv block I made after fussy-cutting some teapot fabric. This one measures 8.5″ x 10″. It’ll either be the second mug rug Carrie donates to the fundraiser, or it will be the one I bring to the September CMQG mug rug swap.

teapot mug rug

I’ve got one more mug rug to go by next week, then I’ll need to figure out my next project!

Octopus Mug Rug

Octopus mug rug

My sister Jenny celebrated a milestone birthday on Sunday, and although we don’t usually send birthday gifts, I thought this special occasion deserved one. So over the weekend I whipped up this mug rug for her.

Jenny’s favorite color is orange, so I dug through my stash and found this from Tula Pink’s Salt Water line of fabric.

Tula Pink fabric

While the fabric can come off pink, I figured I’d add orange fabrics from my stash, so the mug rug would end up orange. But it turns out I don’t have that much orange in my stash. I’m always shocked by this discovery, but somehow, my stash of orange still hasn’t grown.

Octopus angleSo I hope Jenny like’s pink, too.

The square-in-a-square block pattern is from this blog post from Craft Buds, which includes a paper-pieced pattern. I started paper-piecing the first block, but I found I wasn’t so good at centering my fussy cut fabric with that method. So I ended up piecing the blocks in the usual way (which really wasn’t too hard for a block like this).

The back is just more of the Salt Water fabric. Jenny is the mother of Stella, the niece who received the shark skirt for Christmas, so I wanted to really drive home the family ocean theme.

Octopus back

The whole thing took about 5 hours, from conception (“Hey, I should make a mug rug for Jenny!”) to the last hand stitches of the binding. I love that about mug rugs. A mini quilt completed in one afternoon!

If you’re so inclined, check out Jenny’s vintage Etsy shop, The Fancy Tail. She has a crazy amazing gift for thrifting. I love the vintage linens and houseware she finds, but there’s tons of great items in the shop, including buttons and clothing.

Happy birthday, Jenny! Your mug rug is on its way!

The Last of the Christmas Gifts

Growing up, I remember receiving gifts of gifts to come. The gift was fabric and a pattern. The gift to come was the skirt my mom would make for me. I pulled pretty close to that same thing on my niece Emma this Christmas.

Way back in November, I asked Emma if she would like me to make her a skirt for her Christmas gift. Being the sweet, crafty girl she is, she was all for it. So she and I went to the store, and she picked out a pattern and the fabric. Although Emma is 11 and quite petite, she really liked the adult patterns best.

Emma pattern

As with nearly everything I sew, this ended up being a learning experience. Did I learn that there was no way the skirt was going to take just the 1 hour advertised on the pattern? No, I knew that as soon as I bought it. What I learned was clothes really do need to be adjusted for petite people.

The version of this skirt that Emma received on Christmas Eve was the adult version in a size that was close to her size.  I had planned on taking it back when I gave it to her, but I needed to see just how off it was. The waistband and bow were huge compared to her tiny frame. I ended up nearly halving the width of the bow and waistband. Yeah, she’s pretty petite.

Emma skirt detail

She tried it on once more after Christmas to make sure the proportions were closer before I finished the sewing. Then, finally, last weekend, Emma got her finished skirt! She wanted to keep it long, and she’s got a bit of room to grow in the waist as well.

Emma skirt 2

Emma picked out the fabric herself. As we were getting it cut, I told her Grandma Rose was going to be pretty proud because Emma had picked out fabric covered with Grandma’s all-time favorite design motif: paisleys!

Finally, the last of my Christmas gifts was one I didn’t get a chance to photograph before I gave it. I made this paper-pieced mug rug as a hostess gift for my sister Brenda, Emma’s mom. I used the Quatrastar pattern from Sew Happy Geek, and it came together really quickly.

Brenda mug rug

So, that’s the end of my Christmas sewing! Next, onto new projects for 2013!

Mug Rug Mania

I was a girl in need of mug rugs. I blame my husband and the fact he’s a light sleeper. Or it could be that I’m not very careful about setting things down in the middle of the night (water glasses tend to clunk on the table, eye drop bottles tip over, stuff like that). Either way, mug rugs were needed.

So I finished up a couple of projects this weekend and made them into mug rugs! The first one I finished was an experiment in string quilts. Here’s my original blog post about this string quilt project. And here’s how it looks done.

I decided to go with this layout of the blocks because I really like the large Xs that result. And I like that the triangle and binding fabric is only at the edges of the piece. As you can see a little better at the top of this post, the quilting I did is all just straight lines, randomly placed in each strip. Quick and easy.

The second mug rug I finished was my new pal, the flying geese. Here’s my original blog post on this paper pieced project. And here’s the finished* mug rug.

I had to add an asterisk on finished because I just spotted a line of quilting that I missed (can you see it?). I kept the quilting very minimal on this one, as I know the mug rug won’t get a lot of wear and tear. Softening the blow of an occasional eye drop bottle shouldn’t require too much quilting.

Ah, the wonderful feeling that comes with a project complete. Now, on to the next ones that need finishing!

Playing with String Blocks

Watch out. I have string quilts on the brain again. I’ve already made a string quilt wall hanging and a string quilt top. But this weekend, I got string-quilt inspired again, thanks to the Roar charity quilt I made recently. I ended up loving the fabrics in that quilt, and I thought the scraps would make a cute string quilt mug rug.

This time out, I decided to make my own string block pattern. I had a lot of scraps of the No-Show Mesh stabilizer left from the other projects, so I cut out 6 x 6-inch pieces. Next I made marks on the stabilizer with permanent marker as shown below. The wonky triangle at the top would be the same fabric for each block. The line down the center was a guide to make sure that the first piece I placed was straight.

I aligned the first piece of fabric with that center line and sewed it on with a 1/4″ seam allowance.

I pressed the first strip to the right, and I kept adding strips and pressing until the blocks were complete. I then trimmed each of the eight blocks to 6 x 6 inches.

I loved making the blocks—adding each string and seeing how they came out in the end. But once the blocks were done, the REAL fun began. Because once the blocks were done, I could start playing with the arrangement! My first inclination was to keep the triangle fabrics together.

I liked what was going on with the strings in this layout, so I reworked it a bit to make the strings the focus, rather than the triangles.

With a bit more playing, I realized that offsetting the triangles made kind of a cool shape, too.

Finally, I hit upon an arrangement I wasn’t expecting at all. In this one, the triangles form borders to the strings in the center. I kind of love it.

I’m not sure yet which arrangement I’ll go with. I’m not even sure I’ve hit upon all the potential arrangements. I may have to play with my blocks a bit more, just to be sure.