Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Despite another day of horrid heat, Monday was a wonderful day here at Ashton House with the arrival of 10 new wonderful roses gifted by my friend, Luke, who is a garden magazine editor.

I often hear from people who shy away from growing these beautiful flowers. If your experiences with roses have been less than stellar, you might be growing the wrong type for your climate. A variety of roses thrive here at Ashton House with no special treatment. I long gave up on growing roses that I had to powder regularly to ward off powdery mildew or wrap in cones to protect from our harsh winters. I just don't have the time for that. Our roses do not get any sort of pampering, and they reward us with loads of beautiful blooms season after season. My favorites are the Knockout series, the Buck roses (named after an Iowa State University professor who hybridized these cold-hardy and disease-resistant varieties), and the Canadian Explorer series (such as 'Morden Blush" and 'William Baffin'). I also have a fondness for David Austin English roses. I chock it up to my love of all things English! My favorite English roses are 'Abraham Darby', 'Falstaff', 'Gertrude Jekyll', 'Graham Thomas', 'Mary Rose', 'Glamis Castle', and 'Golden Celebration' (Years ago, my Grandpa gifted me this plant from his garden and it has traveled with me from garden to garden for the past 15 years. I just can't let it go).

The yellow roses make a nice companion for the many pink and apricot hues in our garden. We mulch the beds with chocolate-scented cocoa hulls, a favorite pick of gardeners for its wonderful texture and rich color (NOTE: cocoa mulch is poisonous to dogs).

Even our blush-colored miniature Chinese rose rewards us with gobs of tiny blooms.

I recently found a wonderful little book on roses (about 6" x 6") for $5. It would make a wonderful addition to your garden library or a lovely gift for a gardening friend. It's called A Rose by Any Name: The Little-Known Lore and Deep-Rooted History of Rose Names. For a history buff like me, it's definitely an intriguing read.

You can discover the story behind some of the world's most beautiful roses, such as the antique Gallica called "Empress Josephine", named in honor of Napoleon's wife. This variety produces large rose hips, which are often used for herbal teas, jams, jellies, and syrups. My rose hips are already starting to turn a beautiful burnt orange hue and should be ready to harvest within the month.

The book also includes a chapter on the ravishing red 'American Beauty' rose named after vaudeville star Lillian Russell, who was born right here in Iowa (in the small town of Clinton).

There is even a recipe for making your own rose water.

For years, I have used Caswell Massey rose water, a popular ingredient in many baking recipes. A wonderful Victorian shop called Cameo Rose (now closed) used to carry this particular brand of rose water, and one year I gave them my Grandma's recipe for Old German Rose Water cookies to make for a special holiday open house. In my pantry (below), I also stock Caswell Massey Orange Water alongside the rose water. One bottle will last a long time! Here is a wonderful recipe for lavender cookies with rose water icing.

Hope you enjoyed this little post on all things roses today! I don't know about you but these flowering beauties certainly give me a rosy outlook on life—pardon the pun!

Sunday, July 29, 2012


On our way home from church this morning, my husband and I stopped by to check out the new Whole Foods store in West Des Moines—our first one in the area!

It was wonderful to see so much locally-grown produce...

...even some homemade soap from a local maker. I am a sucker for pretty soap, and I think the hand-crafted kind is some of the prettiest.

The olive bar was so colorful...

I couldn't believe all the offerings at the salad bar...

I'm not really a perfume-type of person but these roll-on perfumes smelled so nice that I decided to buy the Indian Coconut. It must have been a popular seller because there were only two left and the store has been open for less than a week. 

Most of the stuff we bought was pretty healthy but I did have to indulge in a mixed berry beignet! Haven't had one of those in many years.

It's great to finally have a Whole Foods in our area. I was told it's smaller than most of their stores since they're testing out the market, but it's certainly a wonderful addition to the area. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Things are finally looking up with my work deadlines. In an earlier post, I'd mentioned the workload has been rather hectic the past month, but this morning I was able to get two big projects off my desk. So that leaves a little time to stop and smell the roses before digging back into the work that is still rapidly piling up on my desk! One of the first things I turn to to rejuvenate the spirit is my plants, but with this summer's horrid heat, I have not been able to work in the garden much. So I've turned my attention to my indoor eden of African violets, rex begonias, episcias, and streptocarpus (sounds like a disease, doesn't it?!). I like to display some of my flowering pretties in Victorian-style Wardian cases like this one that sits in my dining room. This particular one contains two violets and a streptocarpus.

In an earlier post, I talked about the Victorians' passion for botany. One of their favorite pastimes was growing prized specimens in these glass showpieces known as Wardian cases—named for 19th-century botanist Nathaniel Ward. While on a woodland walk, he found a moth pupa and placed it in a bottle he happened to be carrying. When he returned home, he forgot all about it—until months later when he discovered that instead of a butterfly, a fern seedling had spouted. And so began this enduring Victorian tradition. At the time, some suspected it was a fad but Wardian cases continue to be popular today and many sources sell reproduction cases with Victorian flair.

Can you imagine having a Wardian case this big?! When the Victorians embraced a hobby, they certainly did it with panache!

I think I must have been a Victorian in an earlier life because I seem to share their penchant for many things, including collecting these charming cases. Today, I have about 10 of them in various rooms and I've even had the opportunity to write about them in an article on the history of terrariums that I did for Flower Gardening magazine several years ago.

Monday, July 23, 2012


For those of you who might be wondering where I've been, I have not dropped off the face of the earth; I have just been buried under a pile of work this past week! I mentioned earlier that I have been working on an extensive project for Victoria magazine's special holiday publication in addition to editing a couple large projects. One of them is Dawn Heese's new book, A 21st-Century Twist on 19th-Century Favorites, which will be coming out in September. More details on that later. I've also been busy preparing a program on the history of Victorian sewing advertising for a sewing group hosted by Adel Quilting and Drygoods, which met this past Saturday. These colorful ads were popular during the late 1800s. I've been collecting them for the past 10 years and thought it would be fun to share some of my collection.

It was a colorful trip down memory lane. In addition to the sewing advertising, I gave examples of other commonly advertised products, such as patent medicine. I must use the term "medicine" very loosely here for as we now know, many of these so-called-medications did nothing to cure maladies and could actually be dangerous! A classic example is these cocaine toothache drops for children that promised an instant cure. It's important to note that back in the 1880s, when these cards were distributed, cocaine was perfectly legal. It was sold over the counter in the U.S. until 1914.

Collecting these colorful ads was a popular Victorian pastime, and a trip to the general store usually brought back one or more of them, which women and children would paste into their scrapbooks—as you can see in this glue ad from the 1880s.

I also shared my antique Victorian scrapbook, which is filled with these wonderful advertising cards. 

And here's what the inside looks like...

It was a wonderful day of friendship, fun, and quilting history. I even received a couple nice surprises from some fellow group members. A nice lady named Mary Kay, who follows my blog and knows that I use vintage wooden spools for a multitude of projects, gave me two baggies of them that she found at a sale. Thank you so much, Mary Kay! I guess I'm getting a reputation for being a spool lover! I seem to use them up in no time, so the gift was very much appreciated.

The bag even included some unusual blue spools, which I had never seen before.

And my friend, Merry, brought more of her wonderful farm-fresh brown eggs in addition to a bag full of other goodies. Thank you, Merry!

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Hello! Just a quick note to share a couple of my designs coming to tonight's web update of the online group of primitive artisans that I belong to. First is another one of my handcrafted ribbon racks made with vintage wooden spools and filled with approximately 12 yards of vintage lace trims and one new velvet ribbon.

My other offering is one of my spool scissor holder designs—called "Les Muguets" (French for "Lily of the Valley" and part of my "Belles Fleurs" scissor keeper series). It does NOT include the scissors, just the actual holder. As a wool lover, I'm always looking for fun ways to use wool. The wooden spool is wrapped in hand-dyed wool embellished with a lily of the valley design inspired by my maternal grandma. These delightful bell-shaped bloomers were her favorite flower and when mine bloom in the spring, I always think of her. Oh, the sweet fragrance of memory! 
UPDATE: These spool designs are coming soon to a quilt magazine near you!

I hope you will stop by TDIPT (click the link on the left-hand sidebar of my blog) and check out my listings as well as those of the other talented artisans. I have belonged to this group for the past five years and it's been a wonderful outlet for my creativity. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Can there be a better mail day than one that involves fabric and wool?! For this wool lover, I'm not sure that's possible! What a wonderful sight it was to see these beautiful sorbet-colored wools among a couple mellow green and golden ones.

I've been wanting to make some of my Parsley bunny designs in a sorbet color and thought these might be a good option. I've been making Parlsey for the past 6 years and I never tire of it as I have so much fun experimenting with different color combos. As his name suggests, Parsley is typically made up in green, but I like to pair that with whimsical watermelon-colored ears and a small needle-felted tail (shown here). 

Several of the papier mache dolls I make are in need of frocks, and I haven't had the time to properly dress them. Over the weekend, I found the perfect fabrics online—these wonderful 1800s reproduction pieces by Judie Rothermel—and they arrived today! The prices were deeply discounted, which was a nice bonus. I'm sure the ladies will feel pretty in these pink and brown beauties!

Yesterday, the mailman delivered an antique book on Victorian decorating that I ordered a week ago. Published in the 1880s, it's still in great shape. I'm writing an article on the history of Wardian cases for a magazine, and thought this book might have some interesting details that I could incorporate into it. The Victorians certainly had a flair for displaying their houseplants! This particular one (below) incorporates an aquarium into plant stand.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Weekend Woodcrafting

Thanks to all the kind readers who took the time to send me a thoughtful note about my cat Poe, who had surgery this past Friday. Thankfully, his surgery went well and he's back home recovering. When we went to retrieve him, we were surprised that more than half his back hair had been shaved off. It turns out that while operating, the doctor found and removed a second tiny cyst that was so small that no one was aware of it. We were so thankful the doctor was so thorough. While we were taking care of Poe this weekend, my husband and I decided to work on a woodworking project together. A few years ago, I was searching for a better way to store my abundance of rick rack, ribbon, and lace trim. So we devised and made these handy ribbon racks featuring vintage or new wooden spools—whatever we happen to have on hand at the moment! 

Painted a soft French blue color, this particular rack holds an assortment of my regular and baby rick rack—both vintage and new—but it works equally well for ribbon and lace trim. Over the years, we've made a bunch of these racks by request. When friends would see them, they'd ask us to make one for them, or we'd make some for a quilt shop or boutique as we had time. We've painted them everything from black for primitive tastes to hot pink for bright ones. We needed to fill a couple orders, so this weekend seemed a good time to work on them! Plus, it was much too hot to work outside with temps near 105 degrees, so we were in need of a good indoor project to keep us busy! Next month, we plan to sell one of these on the online primitive marketplace (TDIPT—otherwise known as "To Dwell in Primitive Times") that I've belonged to for the past 5 years.

Friday, July 6, 2012


Today my thoughts are with my cat, Poe, as he undergoes surgery to remove a cyst. This delightful furry fellow found us 13 years ago while we were going to a flea market. His owner had already found homes for all his siblings and was about to take him to the pound. When I picked him up, he gently touched my face with his paw. It was at that moment that I decided we had to give him a home. That and the fact that I remember feeling sorry for him when his owner told us about how he would hang out at the junkyard all day foraging for food! Poor thing! Despite being an outdoor cat, Poe took to the indoors like a fish to water. He's been a great companion ever since. I can't wait to go get him and bring him back home!

Monday, July 2, 2012


Today, I took a rare day off to meet my longtime friend Anne, who was in town visiting from Alabama. We'd been planning this visit for the past few months, so I was very excited to finally get to see her. We met 14 years ago as magazine editors at Meredith Corporation, publisher of Better Homes and Gardens. What a fun day we had lunching together, then shopping a bit. On my way home, I stopped by one of my favorite antiques shops and found this little vintage doll dresser. It's a wonderful companion to my vintage green doll bed featured in an earlier post. In that post, I'd promised to eventually show the bed with its quilt (which was made by a friend as a gift to me). At the time, my cat Teddy had commandeered it as his sleeping post, so I wasn't able to show the quilt! See that post here.

The large quilt behind the bed and dresser is antique. Several years ago, a quilt historian dated it to the late 1800s. Like many of my own personal antique quilts, I have reproduced the pattern.