Friday, June 29, 2012

Flowering Delights

Late last night, I caught up on my TV recordings and enjoyed watching some of the Olympic Trials coverage. I think the women gymnasts take center stage tonight. We are rooting for Gabby Douglas, who trains right here in West Des Moines at the same facility that hometown favorite Shawn Johnson did. I also caught Ann Curry's last day on the Today Show. What a tearjerker. To me, she seemed to be one of the few genuinely nice TV personalities out there—more sincere than Matt Lauer, in my opinion. I'm sure everyone will miss her. After that, I caught an episode of the Martha Stewart Show with a segment on none other than my favorite houseplant—the African violet! See them there in the bottom left of the screen?

With this week's sweltering temps (our heat index here in central Iowa has been 110 degrees the past few days), I haven't been spending much time in my outdoor garden. We are watering twice daily to keep the plants, including this beautiful Asiatic lily, happy. It stands 5 feet tall!

During hot weather, my attention usually turns to my indoor plants, which include several African violets. This fantasy violet is a real showstopper. They are called "fantasy" when they are speckled like this.

This lovely blue/purple-flowering violet is quite happy beside an east window.

Hope you are managing to stay cool wherever you are today! UPDATE: It just started raining here late Friday afternoon, cooling things down. I wish the poor folks in Colorado where the wildfires are raging could get some of this rain. Why is it the people who need help the most don't get it?! 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Writing the Day Away

Greetings, everyone! I hope your week is off to a good start. It promises to be a busy one here at Ashton House with another big magazine project starting up. I'm switching gears from editing to writing today. Over the next several weeks, I will be writing the majority of the content for Victoria magazine's special holiday publication. I truly love working with the staff as they always give me fun articles to write and are so appreciative of what I do. I've been a faithful reader of Victoria since high school. The photography is so beautiful that I have actually kept all the issues they've ever published. I especially love their annual blue-and-white issue.

With the hectic schedule, there are only a few moments to sneak in some quilting. For some reason, I'm in a Log Cabin mood right now. Here is a photo of my small Log Cabin quilt (about 30 inches wide) with 4-inch finished blocks. The fabrics are all from an early Windham Fabrics 1800s reproduction line. In retrospect, I probably should have paper-pieced them but I'm okay with the way it turned out. The quilt now hangs in my upstairs hallway with many other quilts. It's like having my own private gallery since no one else sees them up there!

Until next time!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cozy Fall Projects for Your Home

After a busy week working on the fall issue of Primitive Quilts and Projects magazine, I'm pleased to announce that it's now off to press! And that's music to this editor's ears—and hopefully to yours, too, because it means another dose of quilting inspiration will soon be heading to newsstands and mailboxes! This issue's cover quilt was designed by Dawn Heese, who also happens to be one of the authors I work with as a quilt book editor. You'll notice something different about this issue—a new design. We refreshed the cover design to capture more of the beautiful photography and made the interior pages scrappier to reflect our love of all things prim. The publisher also chose new fonts for the project titles and intros.

While the design has changed, you can count on one thing to stay the same—our dedication to providing you with the best of primitive projects. We try to provide something for everyone, and this issue is no exception with projects ranging from bed-size and wallhanging-size quilts to a hooked rug and wool sewing accessories. It's packed with fall projects, big and small, by Nancy Conn, Country Threads, Becky Delsman (whose framed wool appliqué is featured below), Kim Diehl, Jenifer Gaston, Kay Harmon, Dawn Heese, Rhonda McCray, Phyllis Meiring, Jo Ann Mullaly, Melanie Pinney, Tonya Robey, Peg Springstead, Martha Walker, and Joyce Weeks of Geoff's Mom Pattern Co. For a sneak peek of this fabulous issue, check out the following project photos provided by the publisher.

We have a "spooktacular" array of projects for Halloween fans, including this charming black cat quilt inspired by one of the many furry friends that call Country Threads in Garner, Iowa, home.

I've visited this fun quilt shop many a time and a highlight is always seeing the charming menagerie of animals. I took the following three photos during a visit to the shop back in 2006. The little goats were delightful.

I also loved seeing the fanciful array of chickens. This one had quite a flamboyant head dressing!

Who can resist the cozy charm of a Log Cabin quilt? Jeni Gaston puts a fall twist on this classic design with an autumnal color palette and sunflower appliqué. She used a clever piecing technique to construct the blocks.

Those of you who love to hook will want to check out this adorable pillow—one of two hooked projects in this issue. 

I hope this preview has piqued your interest in our fall issue. If you don't yet subscribe, consider signing up. A one-year subscription is only $27.99! That's a great value for a 100-page magazine with 15 projects per issue. Ads are minimal, giving you more creative content to enjoy.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Waste Not, Want Not

With all my work deadlines, I haven't had much time for stitching but I am getting my daily dose of "quilting" vicariously through editing the latest issue of Primitive Quilts and Projects magazine. We are putting the final touches on the fall issue this week! So while I work on that, I thought I'd share a favorite quilt from the past. It's not one of my own quilts but one I photographed while visiting the Des Moines Quilt Guild Show back in 2006. The quilt is called "Waste Not, Want Not" and was designed by Julie Larsen, who owned Prairie Star Quilts in Elk Horn, Iowa. I purchased a kit for the quilt and started making the blocks that year. I love the charming medley of appliqué and patchwork motifs that Julie incorporated into the quilt. The scrappy nature of the blocks is a nod to frugal quilters of the past, who made the most of their scrapboxes.

In April, we lost a one-of-a-kind quilt shop in Prairie Star Quilts when it closed its doors. Seeing the quilt again brings back fond memories of Julie's shop, which had some of the best kits I've ever seen. I can remember visiting the shop and buying a few kits in just one stop. Julie always did a wonderful job on the kit packaging, pairing the fabrics with a fun accent like a prim jar or box. For her first doll quilt series, she packaged all the kits in the cutest doll-size pillowcases. How I miss that shop already! I feel very fortunate to have had it so nearby for as long as I did. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Happiness is Hollyhocks

Seeing my garden abloom with hollyhocks makes for a very happy day here at Ashton House. Last weekend, I noticed the first of the blooms on my hollyhocks and snapped this photo. This particular one is very special to me because it comes from my grandma, who has grown them for years on the family farm where she still lives. She grows a rainbow of hollyhocks in hues such as yellow, purple, pale pink, and magenta. Every fall, she gives me seeds from them. It is wonderful to share your garden's bounty with others, so that heirloom varieties can continue to thrive. 

Another favorite hollyhock in the Ashton House gardens is this bewitching black beauty that I started growing three years ago. It adds a bit of intrigue to one of the flower borders. 

With today's hectic editing workload, there isn't much time to write, but I wanted to drop in to say "hello" and share some garden pretties with you!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


I nearly forgot about the annual local Sheep and Wool Festival last weekend! Were it not for my friend, Mary, who asked me if I was going to go the night before, I would have totally forgotten! It was one of those crazy weeks! Since the festival is held just a mile from my house, I usually check it out. The vendor booths are filled with lots of eye candy, like these luscious wool roving braids in pretty shades of purple and green.

Prices at the festival are very reasonable. These colorful bags of wool roving were $1 each. They looked like cotton candy from a distance!

Look at the rainbow of hues in this dazzling display of merino roving braids. 

As we were walking over to the Hall of Breeds, we caught a sheep shearing demo, where this woolly friend got a haircut. The sheep are not harmed during this process. It is a painless procedure—other than perhaps the injury to their pride in having their woolly locks shorn in front of an audience of curious onlookers! 

And here is the sheep without its woolly glory. Poor thing! 

The Hall of Breeds is always a fun stop. This year, they had a pen of adorable angora goats. These goats produce the lustrous fiber known as mohair. Angora goats were first introduced in the U.S. in 1849 by Dr. James P. Davis. More goats were imported over time until the Civil War destroyed most of the large flocks in the South. Eventually, Angora goats made a comeback in the U.S., flourishing in the southwest, particularly Texas. To this day, Texas remains the largest mohair producer in the U.S.

These Shetland Sheep babies were so cute. This breed originated in the Shetland Isles and their wool is a favorite among spinners. Apparently, their fleece is so fine that a shawl knitted with it can be passed through a wedding ring.

This sweet little guy is a Romney breed, which originated in Kent, England. Their fleece is ideal for hand spinning and often recommended for beginning spinners.

I loved this black sheep, who seemed quite curious about the visitors. I felt like asking him that old English nursery rhyme, "Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool?"

These Jacob sheep are most intriguing with their black spots and fanciful horns. To read more about them, go here.

On our way back through the buildings, we spotted three cages of Angora bunnies. Click on the photo to see his cute face!

If you're in the mood for more wool festival photos, check out last year's post on the festival here. And for a fun wool project, check out my latest pincushion design in the previous post! 

Friday, June 8, 2012


Happy Friday, everyone! Just a little note to let you know that my latest pincushion design has been published! Early this year, the nice team at Weeks Dye Works asked me to design a pincushion for them with their beautiful wools. I rarely do design work anymore with my hectic writing and editing schedule, so I was more than happy to oblige. What better project for a wool lover like me than to design another wool pincushion! Coincidentally, this took place during the same time that I was battling kidney stones, so it gave me a pleasant diversion from the pain! As I dreamt about spring in the middle of a cold January day, the image of a cheerful wool May Day basket came to mind.

The drum-shaped basket stands approximately 7" tall by 4" wide and is made with four of their wonderful wool colors—Peony, Robin's Egg Blue, Granny Smith, and Lemon Chiffon, as well as their gorgeous perle cotton. I used the perle cotton to dress up the basket handle. What a quick and easy embellishment! Pinked wool strips create a basketweave effect, while white pearl buttons and a pink posy adorn the basket exterior. I can't seem to resist using my pinking shears on a project! This time, it was my scalloped ones that got a workout. Pinking shears work best for this project rather than a scalloped rotary cutter blade due to the scale of the basket (the rotary-cut ones felt out of proportion to me). If you want to simplify things, I think plain-cut strips would look nice, too.

I will be making the basket in more primitive colors like mustard, moss, and brown for a future update on my page for the TDIPT (To Dwell in Primitive Thymes) selling site, where I've been selling my primitive-style wares for the past 5 years. More details on that later. A special thank you to Weeks Dye Works for giving me yet another fun excuse to play with their wools!

On another note, thank you to those of you who left such a kind a comment on my last post about the old store counter! Your comments were very encouraging and I appreciate that!

Thursday, June 7, 2012


I've often thought it would be neat to open up an antiques, wool, and pincushion shop in one of the buildings on our property. Now you might find that an odd combination, but for a pincushion, wool, and antiques fanatic like me, it's not such a stretch of the imagination! I've always thought it would be cool to have a shop that looks like an old-fashioned pharmacy from the 1800s—minus the pharmaceutical supplies, of course! I love all the built-in shelves, the glass domed countertop, and vintage counter in this one. Can't you just picture all those shelves filled with colorful pincushions and vintage trinkets?

Several years ago, I bought this vintage shop counter to display some of my pincushions and for the African violets I occasionally sell from my house. However, I never have gotten it set up! It's still sitting idle in the basement, and the violets for sale just sit on the countertop in my mudroom when people come calling to buy them. I guess that works for now but I'd love to get the counter set up eventually. It has three shelves that would be perfect for displaying pincushions or other trinkets. Who knows whether I will ever actually open a shop, but it's fun to dream!  

One of the items I have been searching for is a vintage cash register—the really ornate kind like this. If you know of anyone in the Midwest selling one for a reasonable price, please contact me (you can email me at the button under my profile info).

Monday, June 4, 2012


Someone once told me that the more appreciative you are of life, the more blessings will work their way into yours. I keep this little book on gratitude on my beside table and often read it after a challenging day to remind myself of the many things I have to be thankful for... good friends. Our family friend, Larry, is especially generous in spirit. Whenever Mom and Dad need help with a project around the house, he is there to help out even though he has his own family. When a family friend could no longer afford to keep her house, Larry bought it so she could stay in it with a more affordable payment. When Mom mentioned that I was looking for some vintage Readers Digest books to transform into journal covers (a neat idea I found on the internet), he popped up with a box of 40 of them this weekend! Here is but a handful of them.

He also found these nice quilt books at a local sale and got them for me. I'm not sure my husband would even think to do that! Seems out of the realm of most male sensibilities!

Sherri, who is a family friend of my parents-in-law, recently came to my rescue with a new supply of vintage wooden spools for my pincushions. I have never even met Sherri and yet she was kind enough to think of me! Talk about a generous spirit!

And so it is with a grateful heart, that I'm writing thank you notes to these kind-hearted folks today. One of my favorite things to do is write a letter—and a handwritten one is even better. It's a great way to connect with friends and acquaintances. I'm just plain happier when I write. Here are a few words of wisdom from my gratitude book that hold special meaning to me:

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” 
—Marcel Proust

"We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give."  
—Winston Churchill

"We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures." 
—Thornton Wilder

“If the only prayer you say in your life is thank you, that would suffice.” 
— Meister Eckhart

”The best way to pay for a lovely moment is to enjoy it.” 
— Richard Bach

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” 
—Albert Schweitzer

Sunday, June 3, 2012


This spring, we've have an unusually large number of feline visitors in the garden. As my husband and I were eating dinner in the kitchen this evening, I remarked that we hadn't seen the black kitty who frequents the flowerbeds for a couple days. A minute later, as I casually peered out the window into the arbor garden, there he was, taking a drink from the fountain! It felt odd to see him there right after I'd happened to mention him!

I tried to get a better photo of him by patiently waiting for him to turn completely around but he'd have none of that! He looks very similar to my cat Poe (named after Edgar Allen Poe)—so much so that for a moment, I thought perhaps Poe had escaped. Poe once escaped while I was away for a day. When I returned, I found him hiding out in a bed of our ferns, practically hugging the ground in fear. He'd found the great outdoors wasn't quite so exciting and must have taken refuge there. He hasn't tried to escape since.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


My friend Brenda over at Farmer's Dotter hosts quilt retreats from her charming home in Bedford, Iowa. And this spring, she's offering a $25 bed-and-breakfast special (through July 1st). Brenda will also be hosting an open house/quilt/garden show (weather permitting) during the All Iowa Quilt Shop Hop June 1-14! Brenda's gardens should be at their peak during this time. More than 90 Iowa shops are participating in this state-wide shop hop that offers more than $5,000 in prizes. The following photo features Brenda's enchanting booth at last year's AQS Show in Des Moines. You can see more pics of it here.

During the All-Iowa Shop Hop, Brenda will be selling a few patterns and kits, which are inspired by 1930s quilted treasures. Her kits even incorporate vintage 1930s fabrics! Here is a pic of some of her quilts that I took at the AQS Show. Brenda had everything displayed so nicely. It made you just want to hang out in her booth all afternoon! 

Brenda also presents marvelous trunk shows to quilt guilds and is available for future bookings. She charges a very reasonable $75 plus mileage. For more info on these fun quilting opportunities, check out Brenda's website here and for her contact info, click the postcard below.

Friday, June 1, 2012


Last week, my 1800s quilt study group was treated to a special show of antique quilts by our guest of honor, quilt historian Bettina Havig. Bettina was a real trooper and came practically straight from Quilt Market in KC to Des Moines to teach a couple workshops for our quilt guild. She was graciously made a side stop at the home of one of our study group members for an amazing trunk show of some of her antique quilted treasures, including this lovely signature quilt. Unfortunately, I did not get a good shot of Bettina because I was sitting right beside her!

Bettina also invited group members to bring their own quilts to share, so I brought one of mine that hadn't yet been dated by anyone. Bettina was able to date my quilt to the late 19th century and said it included many Cocheco chocolate browns. I was so delighted to learn the approximate date it was made. It was such a treat to hear Bettina speak and learn from her extensive knowledge of quilt history. You can learn more about Bettina here. A special thanks to our study group leader, Virginia Berger, for coordinating this special visit. Without her, it would not have happened.