late bloomer

design, experiences, fabric, family, quilting, sewing

It turns out that we’re late bloomers. I haven’t joined you here in a month because suddenly, beginning in March of this year, after 13 years in business, people have started noticing our work. A lot of them. This is a joyous development but it has left us working long hours, 7 days a week. We’ve had exactly 4 weekends this year not working because even though we hired people over the summer, we struggled to keep up. I have been here (with our cat Mies providing moral support), at my desk, writing, designing, signing contracts, participating in conference calls and summoning up all of my energies in planning what has been the most exhausting summer of my life. That has been the hard part.
The great part is to finally be able to tell you what we’ve been doing all of these late nights. These are in no particular order:

A 10-part class entitled Designing Modern Quilts with Craftsy

I cannot tell you how much time I spent on this class. It was like writing a book. It’s not a sewing class. It’s a design class. Step-by-step, concept-by-concept I share with students what Bill and I have learned about designing modern quilts over the past 25 years. I show over 40 of our quilts, including the first quilt (modern, of course) that I ever made in 1987 as well as many that we’ve made as commissions or for our home. Among these quilts are ones we’ve never shown in public or published. I am nervous that people will be expecting a project class (“now sew A to B…”) but hope that all of you who have written to me wanting to take a class with me will find this helpful–and you get to take it in your PJs whenever you want! You can take video notes and go back to them later when something on a quilt comes up 2 years from now. I will be responding to questions on the Craftsy site and will be doing everything I can to create community and dialogue on this topic that is so near and dear to my heart.

If you take the class, I’d love to hear your thoughts about it. The class debuts later this month and I’ll write more about that when I know the exact date. As an aside, the weirdest thing to me was that they had a lovely makeup artist who was responsible for giving me “The Full Kardashian” each morning before I went on set. This was endlessly entertaining to Bill and Sophie when we Skyped in the evenings from my hotel room in Denver. Bill didn’t even see me with makeup on at our wedding! But this is a “When in Rome…” moment I decided so enjoy the rarity of me with makeup on.

A Kid’s Guide to Sewing

Last March someone commented on Facebook that our daughter Sophie needed her own book. Bill and I thought about it because the comment was made as Sophie and her classmates began sewing some quilts for school fundraisers. These sewing sessions were a source of great excitement among many of the 5th graders who participated. Developmentally, 11-year-olds have the capacity to start making cool things with good craftsmanship. We decided that Bill and I would work on the book without a fee and use all of the proceeds for Sophie’s college fund. We approached C&T only to find out that they were ready to launch Fun Stitch Studios, a new imprint for kids’ sewing books. For once, we had perfect timing. But they needed the book in 2 months to be included in the launch of the imprint next summer! 16 projects sewn by an 11-year-old in 6 weeks for a 144-page book. Also it was decided that we needed at least 55 photos in the book that would require 3 photoshoots with such complex planning that I had massive Excel spreadsheets of kids of many ethnicities (because I couldn’t stand the thought that a child of a certain race would pick up our book and not see himself or herself represented), projects, photo releases, clothing, pick-ups, drop-offs, etc.

It’s hard to explain how much time we spent trying to get all of this done. I read no books. Didn’t get to the pool once. Knitted nothing, had no vacation and didn’t see our friends. But we got it done and have a book that we are so darn proud of. The photography is so charming with lots of kids and adults sewing together because Sophie felt the book should be about how much fun it is to sew with your family and friends. Sophie wrote sidebars to every project. I kept my laptop next to the sewing machine. As soon as she finished sewing, I’d pull it out and she’d dictate a sidebar about what was hard, what was fun and tips for kids who planned to make the project. I’ll share more when it’s released next July but we will be doing a West Coast Road Trip to promote this book as well as other projects so I hope that we’ll see lots of budding makers on the road next summer.

At long last FABRIC!

We were approached by a number of fabric companies last fall at Market and decided to work with Andover. Boy was that a great call. For our first line, we wanted to design a “cross-over” line that would appeal to modern quilters with its scale and motifs but also to traditional quilters who maybe wanted something a little softer and easier to live with than acid green and neon orange. Victorian Modern is the name of the first line and we’re already finalizing details of the second line, which we hope will be out in early 2013. Vic Mod, as Bill and I call it, should be out later in the year. Giveaways galore here and on Facebook when it arrives. I’ll post swatches and the free pattern image tomorrow because it’s midnight and I need to sleep.

The AQS Modern Mystery Quilt

I about fell off my chair last Spring when the American Quilter’s Society asked me to start writing for their magazine and to design a mystery quilt for their website. They have always been the bastion of tradition quilting and while I had seen lots of art quilts at their shows, I had never seen a functional modern quilt. So I started writing for them and will continue to have articles in their magazine at least through early 2013. On their website is a free Modern Mystery pattern broken up into 6 different sets of clues. Clue 4 was released today. The site with the clues is As of this evening there were 362 participants, the most ever in one group, on their sister site all sharing images of what each has sewn so far. They seem to be having a lot of fun with it. They have no idea how much we’ve tried to give them twists and turns so they have no idea what it’s going to look like.

There are a few other projects that I’m not at liberty to discuss quit yet, but seriously, we’ve been workin’ hard for you!

Houston here we come!

Lastly, we’re booked solid though mid-2014 teaching and lecturing all over the country. For the first time we’ll be at Market AND Festival and I’ll be teaching in between the two in Houston later this month. Hope to see you there. Our lovely and very talented intern Vanessa will be in the booth with me on Friday and Saturday so I know you’ll be nice to her. It’s her first ever business trip so she’s very excited.

For now,  I’ll say that I’m sorry my duties have kept me away from this space. It has been very challenging for me not to be able to respond to the many emails, phone calls and requests in as timely a way as I would have liked. You can hire people to do some things but at the end of the day, no one else is designing fabrics or writing our books. We need to do that and we want to do that. But I’m working on finding someone to ship orders and such.

A Big Day last Sunday

On a personal note, I achieved a big goal for myself on Sunday. I rode 103 miles on my bike. 100 miles in a day is referred to as a “Century.” I had ridden a century when I turned 40 with Bill on our tandem and wanted to do another one after turning 50 last year. Sunday was my day. Our family does the Apple Cider Century in Michigan most years but has in the past done shorter routes 35-50-62 for various reasons. Bill and Sophie rode with me the first 70 and I was on my own for the last 30. They veered off for the 75-mile route around mile 70 and I will never forget the feeling of seeing the arrows on the road that read “100” and making that turn. It was so powerful psychologically. I said to myself. “Look. I’m doing it!!! I’m going for it. I can do this!” It was so awesome.

I had my ipod and some tiny speakers in my handlebar bag so I was the one riding through the corn fields of Michigan blaring my Mommy Time Mix to the nearby cows and horses. No other riders were nearby. Support trucks passed me several times and I passed ones stopped, picking up other cyclists who had decided not to finish. Around mile 72 I noticed in the distance some people standing along the edge of some woods. I didn’t see bikes but I saw a stroller. I noticed a giant white thing about 6 ft tall but couldn’t see what it was. As I approached it I saw that it read “Good Job!!!” There were these strangers who decided to spend their Sunday afternoon standing on the side of the road cheering on the century riders. I wanted to stop and take a picture of it but behind my sunglasses were tears so I just yelled out, “This 51-year-old asthmatic thanks you!” They clapped and I kept riding, grateful for their kindness.

With my small lung capacity I ride slower than most long-distance cyclists so most of the 5,000 people doing rides of different lengths that day were gone when I crossed the finish line. There were some people loading up their cars who stopped to clap for me but mostly there were Bill and Sophie waiting for me at the finish line with hugs, kisses and food. Bill loaded my bike on top of the van with the tandem. If you passed us on the highway that day, you wouldn’t have known what a big day it was for our family. As people in other cars whizzed down the highway toward Chicago I wished every one of them could feel as good as I did at that moment.

How was your summer?

Health and Creativity: Part 1 – a story, a free cookbook and a free quilt pattern

cooking, design, experiences, free patterns, just a thought, quilting

On Facebook I asked which of four topics readers were most interested in having me write about. I was stunned that “Health and Creativity” was the top choice. In the past decade, these two themes have been at the forefront of my mind every day. I have not shared this story before publicly because Bill and I weren’t sure when or how it would end. We are no longer worried about that and I’m sharing this because I hope it will be helpful to anyone else going through any kind of health issue. This is story spans a decade and its long topic so I’m going to break it into two posts.

At the end of this post is a Healthy Eating cookbook that we’ve put together and a free quilt pattern I posted two years ago. I’m posting both because our family will be riding 190 miles over the next three days to raise money for research for respiratory diseases. If you download either of these I’m asking that you make a $5 contribution to the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago as part of my fundraising effort for the ride.

Part 1 – Health

“There’s nothing more we can do for you so we’re sending you home.” These were the words the doctor in the ICU said to me the week before I started this blog in 2009. Although I had been a lifelong asthmatic, my asthma had been controlled with medications until 2000. Around that time I began having 8-10 or so serious respiratory infections annually that resulted in me spending about half of every month in bed pumped up on steroids and antibiotics unable to breathe. In late 2008/early 2009 I ended up in the ICU because I was no longer responding to medications and was going downhill quickly.

At one of Chicago’s finest teaching hospitals they ran every test and hypothesized that I had the early stages of pulmonary fibrosis, a deadly and aggressive disease that can take a life in a couple of years. They couldn’t test for the illness until I was slowly weaned off of the massive doses of steroids, which would take three months. My breathing was so labored that I couldn’t speak in sentences and could only whisper. “You need to understand that you’re not going to recover from this. You won’t be able to ride your bike more than a few miles and life is going to change for you. You need to prepare yourself and your family,” the doctor advised me.

We were in the process of negotiating the contract with C&T for Quilts Made Modern and had just launched a fabric line with RJR. Our daughter was 8. The timing was really, really bad and the prognosis even worse.

I cried for a few hours, talked it through with Bill and made my plan, because I ALWAYS have a plan. I was going to go home, develop a plan for help for Bill with our daughter and our business. Then I was going to call Susanne Woods, who was then the acquisitions editor at C&T, and explain the situation. The most important thing I was going to do, however, was to not get ahead of myself and to focus on being calm. I have very strong faith and knew that this was definitively out of my control. I had no choice. I had to surrender this outcome. Calm was important because people would be taking their cues from me. If I was calm and upbeat, our daughter would be less frightened and Bill would be reassured. I remember telling him something along the lines of “if it’s not a terminal or degenerative illness and I spend three month anxious that it is then I’ve made myself and everyone around me miserable over nothing. If it is bad news, we’ll deal with it then. The one thing I know for sure is that thinking positively and visualizing a good outcome will be better for my health than being anxious that I’m going to die.” I remember emailing my favorite fitness instructor at the gym saying what a comfort it was to me to know that she’d help me get back to the best level of fitness I could achieve once I was ready. I visualized going back to kickboxing and weight training during breathing treatments every 3 hrs.

I came home and Bill and Sophie rearranged the guest room into “the recovery room.” I couldn’t manage the stairs to our room and the drugs were so strong that I was only able to sleep 2 hours every 24 hrs — for 3 months. I had Bill bring in an Ikea storage box with little drawers. In one I asked our daughter to put her hairbrush and ponytail holders because I wanted to be able to do her hair before school from bed. In the other drawers I had them put things for sketching. Because talking was hard we made one drawer “the secret mailbox” where I would leave notes for our daughter and she would leave notes for me. C&T was beyond supportive, sending me flowers and saying, “Whenever you’re ready, let us know.” I was beyond humbled by their support. We had no track record with them. They could have easily walked away. My heroic quilting group rallied and sent me an iCalendar file of all of the days that people were available to help Bill cut fabric or take Sophie to choir rehearsal. Church friends brought over food for months and prayed and prayed and prayed for our family. Bill told me that a large group of people at our church gathered around him during coffee hour, placed their hands on his shoulders and head and prayed for guidance and comfort for our family. I was truly humbled by the love and support I received during that time. It healed a lot of wounds. There were so many bouquets of flowers and lovely cards trickled in as word got out in our community. I remember being stunned that even our contractor send a huge bouquet of flowers.

I decided to start this blog because even if I couldn’t breathe well and couldn’t talk, I could write. In my sleepless nights I began working on the outline for Quilts Made Modern and designing some of the quilts that would eventually be in the book. I had to do something as Bill managed two full-time jobs and a child with grace.

Three months later the tests were inconclusive but they were able to rule out many terminal illnesses, including pulmonary fibrosis. I began the slow road back to being able to do simple things like walking down the steps to meet our daughter at the bus stop. I returned to the gym starting with yoga and the old ladies in the aqua-fit class, working my way back to kickboxing, spinning and weights. I needed to do our annual Cowalunga ride to raise money for lung disease but also to have a goal for my recovery. I also wanted to model something for my daughter. I wanted her to see that you can come back from things and work hard to regain strength. Sophie was too young to ride so she and Bill cheered me on and met me at each rest stop. At one point about 50 miles into the ride I spotted some heart-shaped balloons and a sign attached to a speed limit sign. As I approached I saw “Go Weeks!” written on it in Bill’s handwriting. I rode most of the 65 miles by myself and shed more than a few tears along the way. It was a quietly triumphant moment that I’ll never forget. None of the hundreds of people riding with me had any idea what a huge achievement it was for me to even contemplate doing this ride. But I knew and Bill and Sophie knew.

The infections continued until 2010 when I decided to fly to National Jewish, the #1 hospital in the US for respiratory illnesses. Bill and I were working on Transparency Quilts and I actually carried my Bernina on the plane and made quilts in the hotel at night, when I wasn’t too tired. I underwent testing for a week and they determined that I had three, count ‘em three, undiagnosed illnesses that had been missed in Chicago, two of which would require major abdominal surgery to fix. On November 16, 2010 I had two surgeries that vastly improved my health. I couldn’t eat for 6 weeks and still only eat about half the portion size of our 11-year-old daughter. The surgeries changed my anatomy and I can no longer eat full portions, drink alcohol or eat spicy food. I still get infections and require steroids several times a year but it’s under control and manageable. My voice is permanently hoarse as a side effect of a decade of illness and I have to have annual cancer screenings under general anesthesia.

During my 40s I spent 50% of every month sick in bed due to health problems. It stinks and it’s not fair. However, I spent the time I wasn’t sick taking good care of myself and trying to do the best work I could under the circumstances. Now that I feel as though the health crises are for the most part behind me, I’m working like a maniac to make up for so many lost years. I still have to work out 5-6 days a week to keep myself strong and I still get sick a few times a year but I’ve got a huge amount of pent-up energy and ideas.

Make no mistake, the emotions of all of this make their way to the surface at unexpected times and in unexpected ways. After an especially successful Spring Market in Kansas City this year I got weepy driving home. I called Bill from a rest stop and said, “I just realized that I think it’s over. That long, long nightmare…it’s over. I’ll always have a chronic illness but the super scary stuff – I think it’s over. I’m just so, so relieved.”

Dealing with health problems is 50% medical issues and 50% head issues in my case. Without the surgeries, I would still be sick and most likely my life would have been cut short. However, had I not been motivated to be a compliant patient, exercise, eat well, continue to challenge myself and continue to make time and a space in my mind for creativity, I don’t think I would have recovered to the extent that I have.

In my next post I will discuss how I managed to stay creative and productive given my decade of health challenges.

I discussed above our annual Cowalunga ride to raise money for lung disease. This year’s ride is August 4-6. To raise money for the ride, Bill has put together a charming little cookbook of our family’s favorite healthy recipes. If you would like to download a copy, I ask that you consider making a $5 donation to my fundraising page for Cowalunga and the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. We hope to ride 190 miles over 3 days as a family. If the 100+ degree temps continue or we encounter thunderstorms we may be forced to skip some of the route but we will ride every mile we possibly can. I will also be riding in memory of both of Bill’s parents who died of smoking-related illness and his aunt Connie who lost her 17-year battle with emphysema just a few weeks ago. Any donation of any size would be greatly appreciated. As I have in the past, I would be honored to ride in memory of any of your loved ones who struggle or have struggled with lung disease. Tell me your story and I’d be delighted to ride for them.


To sponsor me or make a donation to the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago click here.