Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Quilting and Cupcakes

Continuing on our "day to play" in Franklin, TN - our next stop was The Quilting Squares Quilt Shop & Knit Emporium. This cozy quilt and knitting shop had a a nice selection of fabric and notions...a wonderful wool room...and for those who knit and crochet, a lovely yarn room. The staff was delightful and helpful - and we all had a pile to purchase! I had been searching for a special binding tool (The Binding Tool by TQM Products), that they actually had in stock...and I found some adorable fabric with my favorite motifs - birds, owls, trees ("Let The Sunshine In" designed for Exclusively Quilters)....along with a couple fat quarters, a couple patterns, a pair of scissors, and a tomato pin cushion kit. While we were there (not to name drop) - we ran into several of my favorite designer friends - Cathy and Theresa from CherryWood Design Studios and Tracy from Ink Circles - which was so much fun - always a special treat spend a little time with such creative and talented people!

After leaving the quilt shop, we were on a mission to find "Bead City"...and we did, but it was disappointing and not photo worthy...but it did lead us to a Chinese/Japanese Restaurant next door, where we had a good lunch.

After lunch, it was time for cupcakes - we visited Gigi's Cupcakes...and oh my goodness, it was spectacular! I know they have multiple locations in the south...and they are welcome to open one here in West Des Moines, IA....what a TREAT! It took me a while to decide - they were all so beautiful and decadent. We picked up a box of for each of us and several to deliver. In the box you see: (top row L to R) Chocolate Salted Caramel, White Midnight Magic, Miss Princess (bottom row L to R) Scarlett's Red Velvet, Lemon Poppy Seed, and Carrot Cake....can you guess which one is mine?...I know, too easy...mine is the Miss Princess (white cake with fresh strawberries baked in, topped with a cream cheese frosting, pink sugar crystals & a pink fondant crown)....and yes, I was in sugar shock after finishing this amazing sugary confection! Seriously - this was one delicious cupcake and my "sugar high" lasted for hours (but it was oh so worth it!).

It really was a marvelous trip and I am so glad I got experience the Nashville Needlework Market and Franklin, TN...I couldn't have asked for better traveling/shopping companions...and I learned so much and met so many wonderful people in the needlework industry!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Stroll Down Main Street

What a treat it was to have a "day to play" in Historic Downtown Franklin, TN with a couple of my very dear friends! It was great weather for this time of year (a little cloudy in the morning, with comfortable temperatures...and the sky turned blue later in the day) - perfect for strolling down Main Street and visiting the quaint specialty shops.

My favorite place we visited was called The Iron Gate - it was filled with stylish home furnishings and accents - and is one of the most unique shops I have visited. My jaw dropped the second I walked in the front door - and I immediately asked if I could take some photographs. This shop was so stylish and classy, yet shabby...vintage, yet fresh and new...and I adored the neutral and white color pallet. There was an abundance of unique and creative items - with chandeliers hanging throughout - and two adorable (very friendly) rescue dogs (Sophia and Bentley) perched on a sofa keeping an eye on the place. I absolutely LOVED everything about this establishment and was very inspired by the atmosphere! Here are a few of the photographs I snapped...

First view when walking in the front door...
LOVE the branches hanging over this large birdcage...and look at one of the dogs posing...
Sophia and Bentley (so sweet)...
I adored this crown...
A spoon chandelier - so unique!

Another great home decor shop we visited (across the street) had an upstairs area filled with warmth and character! Here are some photos from Rebecca's Furniture and Design - the brick walls and paper lanterns made this showroom so inviting:

It was a marvelous morning perusing Main Street and doing some window shopping...and we all found a few goodies to bring home (shocking, I know). Tomorrow I will share our afternoon with you - which included a trip to the local quilt shop and a delicious visit to Gigi's Cupcakes!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Whirlwind Weekend

It was a wonderful weekend at the Nashville Needlework Market. This was my first attendance at a market and it was kind of a whirlwind - and although it was a fabulous learning experience and I met so many "greats" in the industry, it was a bit overwhelming and intimidating for this Iowa girl. Luckily I made the trip with dear friends who were kind enough to show me the ropes and let me tag along on their adventure. The Nashville Needlework Market is an industry trade show - it is held at an Embassy Suites Hotel, where designers and manufacturers set up their own suites as merchandise booths. It was wonderful for me to visit with Norden Crafts and Hoffman Distributing, both who distribute and showcase my designs...and a real treat to visit with Weeks Dye Works, The Gentle Art, and Crescent Colours - who all supply me with quality materials...I even had a chance to talk with the girls from Just CrossStitch Magazine - after almost ten years of designing, it was about time I got to meet all of these creative people in person! I had a long list of shop owners I wanted to search out in the crowd, which proved to be a bit more of challenge - they were all on a to fill their establishments with new and exciting designs and materials - I spent most of my weekend looking at name badges and trying to put faces to the wonderful shop owners who support my design work - I ran into many, but unfortunately, there were some on my list I did not cross paths seemed I blinked and the weekend was over. It was also a dream come true to meet many of the designers who had their work on display - I am such a "fan" and was almost starstruck meeting some of the designers I have admired over the years. Some of my favorite booths were SamSarah (and Patti had some of her GORGEOUS quilting, as well - my jaw dropped in her room!), Just Nan (who's new pieces were fresh and fabulous - especially in person), Blackbird Designs (they never disappoint and I was so thrilled to be able to take a look at their suite and the new designs), Summer House Stitche Workes (it was very fun to meet Beth Ann and see her designs in person), Praiseworthy Stitches (amazing, AMAZING models) , Shepherd's Bush (so beautiful, so fun - and so friendly), and The Stitching Parlor (Clara was delightful!)....there are just too many to mention them all - in fact, I didn't even have a chance to visit some of the rooms. Make sure to check out your favorite needlework shop and see all the new releases - including three from Blue Ribbon Designs - in fact many online shops already have market reports posted!

Although photography is pretty much prohibited at market, below is a photo that includes a small selection of the exhibitor banners...exhibitors took up four entire floors of the hotel.

Tomorrow, I will share a bit more from my trip...including some great photos from shopping in downtown Franklin, TN....

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Perfect Afternoon...

Last Friday I had the most fabulous birthday celebration with my dear friends Kimber and Merry. We met for lunch at one of my favorite local restaurants called Fire Creek - enjoyed a wonderful lunch in the relaxing ambiance and spent a couple hours just catching up. I always enjoy chatting it up with Merry and Kimber, as they are full of creative inspiration - we always talk about cooking, gardening, sewing, crafting, and homemaking...and I always get lots of tips, advice, and encouragement...

After lunch and opening my birthday presents, we headed down to Valley Junction - a historic district in West Des Moines that was founded during the development of the railroad line - there are more than 120 specialty stores and antique shops (many of them housed in buildings constructed at the turn of the nineteenth century). It is always a treat to head down to main street and we definitely have our favorite store fronts to visit! Our first stop was Sisters, a quaint shop filled with home decor, vintage treasures, stationery, jewelry, and charming gifts - one of my favorite gift shops in the city.

After leaving a few dollars at Sisters, we headed to Carefree Patisserie (in their new FABULOUS location), where they bake the most delicious cupcakes...they had a great assortment of flavors on Friday (see the cupcake counter upper right) - I decided to go with White Almond - Kimber picked up Chocolate Mint - and Merry had a special Butterscotch Bacon...yes, I said Butterscotch Bacon (made in honor of the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival held on Saturday), which she said was YUM-O! The new location also has a unique assortment of baking supplies and gifts. I decided to be nice and bring home a cupcake for Travis - for him, I picked up a "Muddy Farmer" (a caramel cake filled with chocolate fudge - topped with chocolate buttercream, honey roasted peanuts and pecans...and a few pig sprinkles on top!)...needless to say, he devoured it!

After enjoying our cupcakes and tea/coffee, we headed over to The Quilt Block - a great little fabric shop, where I found yardage of the new French General line "Rouenneries Deux" and a few sewing notions (have you ever known me to go to a quilt shop and leave empty handed?).

You would think we would be all worn out/shopped out by this time - but no - we had one more stop to make - we left Valley Junction and headed over to Archiver's to do just a bit more economy enhancement. I found a pile of special embellishments and pretty papers...and even purchased a paper trimmer (an American Crafts Cutup - which is WAY cool).

After our day together, I returned home feeling completely inspired and itching to work on a bunch of new projects! It was a perfect afternoon and I felt so blessed to celebrate my birthday with my dear friends.

Once again, Merry and Kimber spoiled me with the most AMAZING birthday gifts...and they had Valentine pressies for me too...

Kimber brought me an adorable owl writer's block with matching pen....the most awesome fat quarter stack of fabrics (aren't they adorable! - I love these!!)...and a decorative pedestal plate with bird and a glass cloche (which was difficult to photograph) - I absolutely adore this - my mind is swimming with ways to display it! Kimber has impeccable taste and I am always delighted with the gifts she finds for me...

In true Merry fashion, I was showered with presents to open! She brought me a bag full of Valentine goodies - including beautiful tasty chocolates from Chocolaterie Stam, two snack mats (she made with frog fabric - so cute - see the tutorial on her blog) and some of her homemade jelly. She also brought me the cutest suitcase style box for my birthday that contained a cast iron teapot (which is something I had told her I wanted), a set of three nesting Japanese teacups, two handmade snack mats, a handmade trivet, and a bag of organic kukicha twig tea...I am such a lucky girl!!

I'll say it again - I have the most wonderful, special, generous, kind, and talented friends! I feel very blessed to be surrounded by friends (near and far) who love, support, and encourage me.

Over the next few days, my focus turns to the TNNA Nashville Needlework Market - I am heading to Nashville on Thursday and I'm looking forward to seeing some very close friends...and hopefully make some new ones...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Challenging Snowflake

I am excited to share the finished mini "Snowflake" quilt for my tabletop quilt stand. This project was a challenge (to say the least). Earlier this week, I made time for an hour of sewing time is very precious to me, and I made a point to stop working for an hour to do a little quilting. I have had the kit for this mini quilt for quite some time - it is a called Snowflake TIP (TIP stands for "totally inclusive project") by B's Caprice (a local Iowa designer) - they make kits for fun little quilts that fit my 12" tabletop quilt stand perfectly. This mini quilt had a unique design addition - after piecing the quilt block and making your quilt sandwich (backing, batting, quilt block), you add a piece of organza to the top to give it a pretty shiny sparkle. One of the local quilt shops had a model on display and I really liked it...the sparkly organza gave it a nice snowy winter look.

So with my hour, I sat down to piece the quilt block - as you can see, there are multiple quarter-square triangle units, so I followed each step in the directions very carefully to piece everything properly....taking my time to ensure my triangles had nice perfect points. After making the quarter-square triangles, you assemble them with solid squares to make the four corner blocks - okay, no problem, quilting 101 (or so I thought). Following the diagram in the directions exactly, I pieced all four corner squares, pressing properly - I trim them to exact 6" squares - now I am ready to add the sashing and center square...when low and behold, they don't look right...something was off...I look at the corner block diagram and I made them exact...the problem - the assembly diagram had the corner blocks pictured differently - yep, the diagram for the corner blocks was drawn incorrectly - the pattern directions were wrong - ugh! All four blocks would have to be completely taken apart and redone - I was so frustrated - I just left it sitting on my cutting table where it stayed for several days.

Talking with my friend Lorrie at lunch on Wednesday, I shared this story with her...I told her I was at a loss: do I try to take out all the stitching and fix the blocks? - do I throw it all away and start fresh with some fabric from my stash? - do I buy a new kit and start over? - do I just trash it and forget about it? - I really wasn't sure what I was going to do - the kit was $16.99 and I would hate to just throw it away. I should also mention - the designer doesn't list a website address, an email, or a phone number on the kit, so I could not easily contact them for advice (and of course, the shop where I purchased it- that had a model on display - failed to mention the major error on the pattern). If you are a quilter/seamstress, then you know, once you start using the seam ripper, your pieces become wonky and can lose their shape...I wasn't sure if I would be able to get good points and straight lines if I removed all the stitching and tried to use the same pieces. Lorrie gave me her advice, and I went home still uncertain if I would ever complete the project. However, our lunch had found me in a happy place and that evening, I took all four blocks apart, carefully removing all the stitches. I then pressed each of the pieces using (my favorite) Mary Ellen's Best Press starch alternative, hoping that would help the pieces keep their shape.

Finally today, I sat down at the sewing machine and re-pieced the four corner blocks properly - looking at the assembled quilt diagram and not the "incorrect" corner block diagram. I managed to piece the entire block and only have a couple triangles lose their points - not too bad, I was pretty pleased! Here is the block before adding the organza...

After quilting and binding, I was actually pretty happy with the results...and I was proud of myself for not just throwing it in the trash. There are a lot of sewing projects in my to-do pile and it would have been very easy to work on something new - but there is a sense of self-satisfaction that comes from finishing this particular project. The organza on top really is a nice addition - and it was a new technique for me, which I may try again in the future. So now I will happily change the Valentine quilt in my stand to this Snowflake quilt...and there is even still snow on the ground! Thinking about it - it would be fun to design a St. Patrick's Day block for the know, in my spare time...well, that might have to wait until next year...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Smiles and Surprises

I'm feeling quite inspired after a long lunch with my dear friend Lorrie yesterday. We met at a local cafe and chatted for several hours over salads and raspberry iced tea - it was the perfect pick-me-up...we were having such a great chat, we completely lost track of time and when we finally checked our watches, it was 3 1/2 hours later...terrible for my work to-do list, but wonderful for my spirit - I departed feeling happy, refreshed, and full of inspiration.

Lorrie totally surprised me with a gift bag full of birthday pressies - the theme was "her favorite things", which was totally awesome, as I really admire her taste and sense of style. Included in the lovely wrapped treasures: a stack of fat quarters she picked up at a quilt shop on her trip to California (aren't they FABULOUS!); a large vintage wooden spool - which are all the rage - and after reading about some she found on a trip to the antique store and seeing some fun finishing ideas in "blogland", I had mentioned I really wanted (thanks for sharing Lorrie!); and two adorable snack mats (mug rugs) that she made herself - I LOVE THESE!

Some of the other fun "favorite things" she included were several OPI Avojuice lotions (which are so smooth and smell "out of this world"...a jar of Red Chile Jelly and a jar of hot habanero salsa - YUM-O! She also made me a soft beautiful black scarf (in my opinion, a girl can never have too many scarfs). Finally, there was a Flameless LED Battery Pillar Candle (Night Light w/Timer) featuring iron heart images - this candle is actually really unique - it even smells like vanilla and the light flickers. It is from the "Where Sisters Gather" Etsy shop - and there is even one available with a needlework sampler design (I may just have to order another!).

It was such a treat spending a couple hours with Lorrie - catching up, talking about our creative endeavors, and sharing about our lives. Suddenly all the stress I was feeling melted away and I couldn't remove the smile from my face - her friendship truly enhances my life....Lorrie, thank you for the special afternoon!

Tomorrow I am meeting my dear friends Merry and Kimber for lunch and (hopefully) a visit to Valley Junction and the cupcake shop - we planned this months ago and I am super excited to see them you know I will have more to share in the next couple days!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bee Happy!

I received the most wonderful birthday package from my fabulous friend Terri late yesterday afternoon - how she made time to put this together with her busy schedule (and she is actually traveling this week), I will never know! Terri is always so good at sending me theme packages and she is quite creative when she puts everything together - plus, she wrapped each of the gifts with the most cheerful tissue paper and made it look so exciting; I had so much fun opening each of these presents!

As you may know, I have a special fondness for bees - my grandfather was a beekeeper and I have amazingly vivid memories of visiting my grandparents as a little girl and seeing all the beehives in their beautiful gardens - we always had fresh honey...and beeswax candles...I even remember sucking on fresh honeycomb; honeybees definitely bring back fond memories of my childhood. Terri managed to put together a package with a honeybee theme - she included two cookie cutters (which I did not have in my vast collection), a set of measuring spoons, two Mary Lake-Thompson flour sack towels, and a beautiful A. E. Williams pewter beehive pincushion (shown with some of my favorite Puntini Puntini pins)! I was giddy like a little schoolgirl as I opened each of these treasures - what an absolute treat!

So I thought, since I shared some fun facts about ladybugs with you a few months ago, that I would share some fun facts about honeybees with you today:
  • Honeybees are not native to the United States - they are European in origin; brought to North America by the early settlers.

  • The practice of honey collection and beekeeping dates back to the stone-age, as evidenced by cave paintings.

  • The honeybee hive is perennial - the honeybee survives the winter months by clustering inside the hive for warmth. By self-regulating the internal temperature of the cluster, the bees maintain 93 degrees Fahrenheit in the center of the winter cluster (regardless of the outside temperature).

  • Honeybees are not aggressive by nature, and will not sting unless protecting their hive from an intruder or are unduly provoked.

  • A hive consists of 20,000 - 30,000 bees in the winter, and over 60,000 - 80,000 bees in the summer.

  • Honeybees represent a highly organized society, with various bees having very specific roles during their lifetime: e.g., nurses, guards, grocers, housekeepers, construction workers, royal attendants, undertakers, foragers, etc.

  • There is only one queen per hive - the queen is the only bee with fully developed ovaries. A queen bee can live for 3-5 years....and during that time she will mate only once with several male (drone) bees...she will remain fertile for life. She lays up to 2000 eggs per day - fertilized eggs become female (worker bees) and unfertilized eggs become male (drone bees). When she dies or becomes unproductive, the other bees will "make" a new queen by selecting a young larva and feeding it a diet of "royal jelly" (made up of digested pollen and honey or nectar mixed with a chemical secreted from a gland in a nursing bee's head).

  • All worker bees are female, but they are not able to reproduce. Worker bees live for 4-9 months during the winter season, but only 6 weeks during the busy summer months (they literally work themselves to death). Nearly all of the bees in a hive are worker bees. The worker bee has a barbed stinger that results in her death following stinging, therefore, she can only sting once.

  • Male bees (drone bees) are kept on standby during the summer for mating with a virgin queen. Because the drone has a barbed sex organ, mating is followed by death of the drone. There are only 300-3000 drones in a hive. The drone does not have a stinger. Because they are of no use in the winter, drones are expelled from the hive in the autumn.

  • Bees collect 66 lbs of pollen per year, per hive. Pollen is the male germ cells produced by all flowering plants for fertilization and plant embryo formation. The Honeybee uses pollen (one of the richest and purest natural foods) as food.

  • Agriculture depends greatly on the honeybee for pollination. Honeybees account for 80% of all insect pollination. Without such pollination, we would see a significant decrease in the yield of vegetables and fruits.

  • Honey is used by the bees for food all year round. There are many types, colors and flavors of honey, depending upon its nectar source. The bees make honey from the nectar they collect from flowering trees and plants. Honey is an easily digestible, pure food - it is hydroscopic with antibacterial qualities. Eating local honey is known to fend off allergies.
So there you have it - today's honeybee lesson - quite interesting, aren't they??!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sunshine and Whimsy

It will be a quick post today - as I have numerous "irons in the fire". I just finished snow removal and shoveling...and I have been cooking up a storm in the kitchen for an early Valentine's Day meal (a homemade lasagna and a caramel cake) I have been bagging charts (only 6 boxes to go!)...packaging up my new models and charts for shipping...and taking care of a pile of work on my desk. It's been a busy day, but I just had to make time to share a couple goodies my dear friend Robin sent me for my birthday...

Seriously, how cute is this whimsical owl pincushion?? I absolutely adore it! It is so bright and cheerful...I just love the sunshine yellow trim - I truly makes me happy. The floss and fabric colors work together perfectly and make me smile - we all know I adore owls, so I am thrilled with this stitched pressie! Robin - thank you so much for making me such a fun treasure - it is already in my stitching nest where I will admire it daily! Thank you dear friend - you definitely brightened my day!!
*Update* - This design is a complimentary chart by Ship's Manor - visit Erik's website to find his fabulous cross stitch patterns, along with this design titled "Wendy's Owl"!

Robin was also kind enough to send me a Longaberger wrought iron easel that I am using to display a framed piece in my living room (I got the idea from a photo she sent me of one of her cross stitch finishes)...a package of my favorite Bohin needles....and a sewing pattern with rigid weave pre-cut stabilizer. I am so excited to make a woven "Biscuit Basket" with the materials she sent me - I have an array of fabric jelly rolls to choose from - and there is enough rigid weave to make two baskets - this project is going straight to the top of my sewing to-do list!

Today is another happy day and I am feeling so very blessed!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Buttons, Ribbons, and a Beautiful Book

As some of you know, I am celebrating a birthday this month...yep, another year older...and happily another year wiser. Yesterday I received a fun package from my mother and I had to share the contents with you....

If you follow my blog on a regular basis, then you know I am very interested in the Shaker culture, style, and gift drawings. I have a good selection of inspiring Shaker books in my possession...and a large list of books I would like to add to my collection. My mother, who works at her local public library, found a lovely book on Shaker Villages at a library book sale and picked it up for me (at an AMAZING price) - little did she know this book was one at the top of my wish list! It is called "Shaker Village Views" by Robert P. Emlen, and it focuses on all known Shaker village drawings...revealing their historical and artistic significance. This book focuses on maps and landscape drawings created by the Shakers to record their progress and to inform the spread-out communities about each other...they range from simplistic sketches to elaborate and colorful visual documents. This is a very well researched book and I found myself mesmerized as I took my first look through it last night - for those of you interested on the subject, this is a wonderful book to add to your collection.

She also included several fun little packages for me to open, as she knows how much I love pretty little presents. For those of you creative souls, I had to share this gift idea with you:
She found several cards of beautiful novelty buttons (cupcakes, sheep, flowers) - took them off their cards and put them in a clear Dritz Bobbin Box - each little button was in a bobbin compartment - I thought this was super cute and ingenious - a very fun way to combine and wrap a couple gifts for the sewing enthusiast! She also included several fun cards of ribbons - and an adorable roll of owl trim. I really liked all these embellishments and will be looking for creative ways to put them to good use...

I am still working on getting all my new design charts bagged...and still plugging away on a framed Halloween design for Just CrossStitch and the Halloween class piece for the New England Stitcher's Retreat. I going to do my best to find a little sewing time tomorrow (after all, it is the weekend) - a recent trip to the quilt shop found me purchasing a fun little collapsible box pattern and I really want to try it out. As usual, so many creative endeavors to explore and not enough hours in the day...