The View from the Second Balcony

As I have been working on a quilt for my great-nephew, I can’t help but think about my own great aunts — whatever few of them I have known.

They were bit players. In fact, if I am on the stage of my own life, my great aunts were not in orchestra seats.  Not even Main Floor or Mezzanine.  They were in the Second Balcony.  I could barely see them.

But they were up there applauding.

Aunt Julie, my maternal Grandma’s youngest sister was possibly the sweetest woman I’d ever known.  I can’t picture her face without a lovely smile.  I never saw her when she wasn’t smiling — at least at me.  Her daughter died of a heart attack at the age of 27, leaving behind a young daughter of her own. I couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 at the time.

I also had a Great Great Aunt.  My paternal great-grandmother’s sister.  Very Polish.  She lived near 26th and California and if you know anything about Chicago, you know that even 40 years ago that neighborhood was very old.  Every time we climbed that long wooden staircase above the sidewalk up to the front door, I feared it might collapse.

When she saw me, she smiled and dug into her weathered coin purse to slip me a few coins.

“You get ice cream,”  she said in her heavy accent, smiling as she pressed the money into my hand.

I have tried many times to explain to my son that there are many people in this world who love him, whose names he doesn’t even know. They include extended family and friends,  neighbors, my husband’s father’s wife’s family (it sounds more complicated than it is), our parents’ friends, and on and on.

Now it’s time for me to be the Great Aunt, separated by a couple of generations.  Second Balcony,  here I come.

And I’ll be applauding so wildly I just might fall off.

Color scheme for the baby's room is grey.

Color scheme for the baby’s room is grey. This pattern comes from a new book by Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr, “Transparency Quilts”.

I Should Be Quilting

Yes. I should be quilting.  I should be quilting because my nephew and his wife are going to have a baby that’s due in November and I am making them a quilt to match the baby’s room. (I’ll be posting that as soon as I actually begin.)

But the midwestern harvest is coming in and I spent the morning gathering radishes, onions, shallots, zucchini, and cabbage.  The local farm tells me tomatoes are still 2 weeks away here.  I am excited because for the first year in a long time, my tomatoes (knock on wood) are looking good.  Last year I had thousands of cherry tomatoes, but not much luck with heirlooms and plum tomatoes.  This year, all seem to be thriving– God willing, the critters stay away and the creek don’t rise.

So instead of quilting I have been sucked into a cookbook by Ina Garten that I got at Costco.

The book is called “Fooproof.”

IMG_1635Now, let’s be honest, we’re all friends here.  This woman, with her “traditional build,” as Alexander McCall Smith would call it, has got to be a good cook.

I bought a box of her brownie mix once and I remember the instructions (and I’m paraphrasing/recalling):

Take the brownies out of the oven when I tell you. Do not wait until they appear to be done.  By then it’s too late. Just DO WHAT I TELL YOU.

I like her.

Needless to say, they were about the best brownies out of a box that I ever tasted. Ever.

So I went ahead and made the crostini which you can see on the cover of her book.

IMG_1638 Here’s what’s left by the time I got my camera.  My husband is a big fan of bruschetta, but this was more of an elegant appetizer…and between the two of us we polished it off quick.

I was using tomatoes from the French Market in Geneva and some golden cherry tomatoes from HPM Farm in St. Charles. Picked some shallots from my garden with fresh basil and a few other local ingredients.  Can’t say this was the easiest appetizer I ever made, but hands down one of the tastiest.

Please don’t nag. I know I should be sewing.  But it’s mid-July and the veggies are so fresh, and the eating is so good. And thunderstorms at night mean it’s not a good idea to plug in the sewing machine.

Hey-there’s a sewing tip for the day!   Unplug your machine when you’re not using it. You will save yourself a whole lot of heartache if you have a power surge or brown out.  In fact, even when you are using it, you should have it at least plugged into a surge protector, or even better, an uninterruptable power supply.  Either one will sacrifice itself to save your machine.

Think I’ll go bring in my onions which are out drying in the sun.  And prune the roses. Weed the garden.  Fill the bird feeders and go for a little walk.

I KNOW.  I’ll get to the sewing room soon.

I promise.







Introducing Local Artisans

I love craftsmanship.  I love everything about the details of beautiful work that is not manufactured by some mindless, soulless company.  I admire craftspeople because of their dedication to their craft, and their inability to produce something that is beneath their standards for excellence.

In this country, we see far too little of it, and we are always so anxious to purchase something cheap and fast.  And when it breaks, or simply stops working, we are fine with throwing it away, tossing it into a landfill and forgetting we ever spent our hard-earned money on it.

The older I get, the more I appreciate slow.  Slow food, slow information, slow, thoughtful work.  And by slow, of course, I mean, the things that take a little time to create.  I mean the things that take our hands, hearts, minds and skills.

The following are three local artisans we recently showcased at Sew Generously.  Please take a look at their work and consider purchasing something they have made with their minds, hands and hearts. I’ve met each of them in person (well, I met Bill’s wife) and they are all lovely people with a dedication to quality.


Robert and Paula Briick –

They make innovative organizers for quilters, including quilt racks and ruler holders, and their design is so simple and clean, I ask myself, why didn’t I think of that?  And of course, that’s what makes them special.





Robert and Paula Briick

Robert and Paula Briick.  I bought one of their quilt ruler holders for the wall.


Email them at

or call 1-877-858-5859


Bill Williams works in exotic woods, and hand turns handles for seam rippers, pens and other tools.  His work is shown here by his wife, Susan.

Susan Williams, wife of Bill Williams, Wood Craftsman.

Susan Williams, wife of Bill Williams, Wood Craftsman.







A close-up of these hand-turned seam rippers.  the exotic woods are gorgeous.  i bought the one on the left.  It was made of the same type of wood that was put into the dashboards of the original Rolls Royce.

A close-up of these hand-turned seam rippers. The exotic woods are gorgeous. I bought the one on the left. It was made of the same type of wood that was put into the dashboards of the original Rolls Royce.




These can be made to order.  For more info call Bill or Susan Williams 630-377-9351.





Gretchen Friel is an author who wrote the book, “Coffee Break for Quilters:  A Patchwork of Original Poems.”  She is just a lovely person.  A mom and breast cancer survivor, her poems are inspirational, spiritual, insightful and will resonate in the heart of anyone who sews or works with fabric.







Gretchen Friel, author, "Coffee Break for Quilters: A Patchwork of Original Poems"

Gretchen Friel, author, “Coffee Break for Quilters: A Patchwork of Original Poems”







Contact Gretchen at, or you can purchase the book at Sew Generously in St. Charles or on

I Carried a Watermelon

My son had never seen a watermelon with actual black seeds.

He had never seen one so big.  At the grocery store a kid came up to the cart and said “Wow, that’s a BIG watermelon!!”  No one under 10 has seen the shape of a real watermelon.  These days, everyone likes a nice round basketball sized melon with no seeds.

When I asked the guy at the grocery store for an oval watermelon he said , “I don’t think they make them that way any more.”  Yes he really said that. Was I sure I didn’t want this nice seedless round one, or this new “golden watermelon”?  I did not.

I found a real one.

So here’s my watermelon. In pictures.  I haven’t made one of these in 20 years.

Vintage watermelon. I could barely lift it.  But a nice oval shape.

Vintage watermelon. I could barely lift it. But a nice oval shape.






Now I remember why I haven't made this in 20 years.  Quite a mess.

Now I remember why I haven’t made this in 20 years. Quite a mess.






Finished fruit salad. A thing of beauty.  And mighty tasty too.

Finished fruit salad. A thing of beauty. And mighty tasty too.






If you’re still playing along, here’s your watermelon movie clip.




Gallery of Shop Hop Raffle Baskets

Kudos to shops who had everything put together in time for shop hoppers to see their baskets.  Of the 32 stores, 24 had their baskets made up.

Northern Illinois Quilt Shop Hop Complete!

Whew!  32 shops. 32 small business owners.  32 sets of directions from the GPS.

78 fatquarters purchased, 10 yards of fabric, 5 books, 4 wool packs, 2 boxes of stationery, 2 charm packs,  2 bracelet charms, a bottle of hand lotion, 1 seam ripper and a “purple thang” (which I still cannot find.) Oh, and a pattern, notions and fabric for my mom to make a handbag.

This is enough to keep me busy all winter and beyond.

Special shout out of thanks to my Reluctant Assistant– my 10 year old son– who tolerated and entertained me along most of the way.  Don’t worry, he’s getting a quilt made of snack food fabric out of this!

If you are heading out on this hop, remember you have until Aug 30 to complete.  No need to rush.  Here’s a look at the last 3 shops I visited:


Quilter’s Destination in Arlington Heights

Very big, bright store with loads of fabric.  I wanted to spend more time there, just browsing.  They told me that they are featuring more events, so lots of new growth and exciting things happening at this store.  They did not have a shop hop basket made up yet.

What I bought:  A Kaffe Fasset book, sale fabric.

Reluctant Assistant comment: Not present.


Quilter’s Heaven in Northbrook

Located in the heart of Northbrook in a wood frame house, this cozy shop had plenty of fabric to choose from.  They also do longarm quilting on site.  Their shop hop basket was really well put together, (hard to see in the picture, but it’s a nice large basket with fabric, a book and other notions.)

What I bought:  More fatquarters.

Reluctant Assistant comment: Not present.

Quilter's Heaven in Northbrook

Quilter’s Heaven in Northbrook







Sewing Source in Lake Villa

This is a large shop that also sells Janome machines.  I had picked up my mom prior to this shop and she found some lovely fall fabric to make a handbag. Everyone was very helpful.  Their shop hop basket is not a basket at all.  I thought this was rather brilliant. Their raffle item is a bias tape maker from Simplicity.  They also have someone who sharpens scissors and travels to area Joann’s Fabrics to sharpen scissors, including the one in Geneva Commons.

What I bought: Some striped fabric and the handbag pattern etc for my mom.

Reluctant Assistant comment: Not present.

Sewing Source in Lake Villa

Sewing Source in Lake Villa



Region 3 Complete!

Alas, we still have 3 more shops in Region 1 before we complete our Northern Illinois Quilt Shop Hop.  

We were able to head out to the Rockford area again yesterday, and frankly, we are getting smarter about these long drives.  Now we pack a cooler with lunch and snacks, we chit- chat about the scenery and the history of the area and also about the shops we are visiting.

With 29 stores behind us, we have some solid knowledge about store layout, fabric availability, and to be honest, we have noticed some major differences in shopability (if that’s a word!)  When we completely finish, I’ll do a summary blog with general thoughts.

For now, let’s get into yesterday’s trip:


Quilter’s General Store in Rockford

Set in a farmhouse, the quilts, samples and fabrics are laid out in the style of a very charming tour house.  You start in the kitchen, enter the living/dining room area and can even go upstairs into a child’s bedroom.  Near the stairs they had a civil war quilt that finally gave me the inspiration to embark on a civil war quilt.  Generally speaking, not my style, but the accompanying book by Barbara Brackman included the history of every block.  I got pulled in.

Quilter's General Store in Rockford.  Civil war blocks.

Quilter’s General Store in Rockford. Civil war blocks.









What I bought:  Barbara Brackman’s Civil War book, along with some fabric to work on the blocks.  I also found a hand embroidery guide with instructions for all types of hand embroidery stitches.

Reluctant Assistant comment:  “An old-fashioned quilt shop.”

Quilter's General Store in Rockford.

Quilter’s General Store in Rockford.







Quilter’s Haven in Rockford

This shop is set in a little more congested area of Rockford, though only 10 minutes or so from the last shop.  There were a number of shoppers in the store, even though it was a quiet Wednesday.  This store was busy.

What I bought:  Fatquarters

Reluctant Assistant comment:   “No comment.”

Quilter's Haven in Rockford

Quilter’s Haven in Rockford







The Notion’s Nook in Rockford

This shop has a tiny storefront, so it was easy to miss.  It is located in the Edgebrook outdoor mall, 5 or 6 stores to the right of the Egg Harbor but before the Annie’s Popcorn sign. (Some day I’m going to have to analyze the number of quilt shops located near an Egg Harbor…we’ve eaten at 2 so far on this trip, and have passed a number of them along the way…smart marketing!)

The shop is under new ownership – this owner has only been there 1 week.  But the shop itself was nicely put together.  They do have a lot of reproduction fabrics and some kids/Halloween stuff.  No shop hop basket yet.

What I bought:  A Civil War book and some stationery.

Reluctant Assistant’s comment:   “Don’t ask the barbecuing guys out front where the sewing store is.  They don’t know, even though they are practically in front of it.”


Julieanne’s Quilt Shop in Roscoe

A little tricky to get here.  Follow your GPS, but know that they are technically on 251, you just have to pull into the service road to get there.  Our GPS took us round and round in a circle just near the place, but we finally had to call.

The shop has many beautiful reproduction fabrics, including Barbara Brackman.  But they also have some 17th Century French reproductions.  I took note, because I would love to come back soon and take another look.  Since I did not have a plan for that fabric, I did not buy it.  But once I got home, of course, an idea came to me.  They also have some reproduction fabric that gives a portion of the sale to Habitat for Humanity.

What I bought:  Reproduction fabric

Reluctant Assistant comment:  ” Call for directions!! Or you will be going around Clayton Circle for the rest of your life!”

Julieanne's Quilt Shop

Julieanne’s Quilt Shop







Before we headed back, I noticed that just 2 doors down from Julieanne’s Quilt Shop, was a little cross stitch shop called Just One Stitch.  I thought, what the heck, we’re all the way out here.  So we stepped inside and found some of the most beautiful cross stitch work I have ever seen!  Everything in the shop was created by a mother/daughter team who must have worked endlessly on these pieces for most of their lives.  Honestly it was lovely, so I am sharing some samples, with their permission, and be sure to stop in when you are in Roscoe.  The work is just spectacular.

Just One Stitch in Roscoe

Just One Stitch in Roscoe







Just One Stitch in Roscoe

Just One Stitch in Roscoe