Crafting a Better Fire

by Bill, eco-craft, free patterns, general crafts, sewing

After all the activity around the holidays, we’re ushering in the New Year with a day of rest. And that means a family game in front of a cozy fire.

Carrying armfuls of weathered firewood from our log pile outside one too many times, I finally made a simple log tote from materials we already had on hand: some scrap canvas and an old dowel. In 30 minutes I’d made this carrier, which I should have sewn years ago. While off-white canvas will certainly get dirty over time, I had pieces left over from a project and always prefer to use up what I have. The dowel was left over from a hanging rod from a trade show (though I also eyed an old broomstick which I could have just as easily cut down.) The image below takes you through the four simple steps. You might be tempted to make the carrier a bit larger, but if you do then it gets heavier when full and more cumbersome to use.



On a related note, we keep our firewood in metal hoop.


It came with a poorly made plastic snow and rain cover. The cold weather made the cover brittle and the sharp edges of the logs tore it within a few weeks. I purchased a heavy-duty tarp at Home Depot, took a few measurements and sewed together a far better replacement. The tarp stays fairly rigid and should last years and years. Here’s a photo of Weeks lifting the cover using the handle I sewed on top:



Not all stores carry the brown tarps, but it sure looks better than the standard bright blue ones, especially against the brick wall. If you want to make one, here are a couple tips:

  • make it at least 4″ wider than you think necessary to prevent it from catching on the logs
  • use polyester, not cotton thread so the stitching won’t rot outdoors
  • sew the handle to the middle section before sewing the sides and middle together (something I didn’t think to do since the handle was an afterthought.)

For those of you in enjoying summer in the Southern Hemisphere right now, you’ve got lots of time to sew your totes and covers for the coming winter…

Happy New Year to all!


Where You’ll Find Us

design, fabric, general crafts, quilting

Most days we’re in our studio or office in the historic village of Oak Park, Illinois, which borders Chicago. Thanks to social media, however, we get to connect every day with people around the world through this blog, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. Here’s how we use each of them:

Craft Nectar

We use this blog to share longer-format ideas, free patterns, topics in the quilting and craft worlds and projects or designers whose work we think you’d find inspiring. We post here when we have news or a new project to share and it shows up on our Facebook page as well. Weeks has a personal blog Yes, It’s My Real Name, where she writes about topics unrelated to quilting.


We post information about special sales, pictures from shows and in-progress quilt shots on the Modern Quilt Studio Facebook page. If you only want to follow us in one place, this is the site where we can easily link to Pinterest and Instagram. We also have occasional giveaways or online offers on this page.

Many people send Facebook requests to our personal Facebook pages. Facebook limits the number of people we can have as friends on our personal pages but doesn’t limit the number of people who can follow our business page. In addition, we use our personal pages for non-work-related posts (family news, thoughts about current events, pictures of our foster pets, etc.) Most people who send friend requests to our personal Facebook pages often don’t realize that they are personal pages and are looking for quilting posts so we encourage them to like our business page to find posts that will be of interest to them.


We use Instagram for pretty pictures, sometimes shots we’ve featured in our publication Modern Quilts Illustrated or others we’ve taken while we’re on the road. Sometimes they are related to our work and sometimes they are just beautiful images from our garden. We post images that we hope will inspire you to see design differently. And occasionally we can’t resist sharing a cute picture of one of our foster pets. We generally post daily on Instagram, linking all shots from Instagram to the Modern Quilt Studio Facebook page. You’ll find us on Instagram as Modern Quilt Studio.


Our Pinterest posts are divided onto boards by various topics. We show our fabric, patterns, and ideas that we hope will inspire you to take on a new project. Posts may include a quilting detail so you can see a thread color or a pattern that you might want to try. Other posts show how we organize our tools or store fabric. Our goal on Pinterest is to help you see possibilities and fearlessly try something new. Typically we post several times a week a variety of posts to different boards. We link our Pinterest posts to the Modern Quilt Facebook page as well. You’ll find us on Pinterest as Modern Quilt Studio.

Want to windowshop or actually shop at 2am when you can’t sleep? Our webstore is always open! If you don’t see something you’re looking for, it means it’s out of stock or we don’t carry it as our system is constantly updating inventory. Fabrics and kits sell out quickly so if you put something in your cart last month, it may not still be there. As always, shipping to US addresses is FREE! If you mis-cut a piece or want backing options for a quilt in progress, feel free to call us at (708) 445-1817. Nancy, our wonderful and knowledgeable studio manager, will take good care of you if we’re not available.

If you’re interested in hiring us for lectures or workshops, you’ll find our Booking FAQs a helpful read before you email or call us. Descriptions of our lectures and workshops are here. Please email booking requests to We’re fully booked through January 2017 but are taking requests for 2017-18 now.

Missing the Super Do-ers

design, eco-craft, general crafts, inspiration


Periodically when Bill and I are discussing someone we admire one of us says, “She’s a do-er.” or He’s a do-er.” It is high praise to us as it describes someone who makes things happen. Do-ers don’t wait for a paycheck or permission or someone else to blaze the trail for them. They live their lives the way they want often inspiring others to take on new challenges and think about life as a series of possibilities not to be overlooked. We try to surround ourselves with do-ers because they remind us to take chances and make things happen.


[all photos by Kathreen Ricketson]

Kathreen Ricketson and her partner Rob Shugg were what we called “Super Do-ers.” These are the people who think big and live as though there’s no tomorrow. They embrace big plans and lead big lives. Kathreen and I met online when she asked to review one of our books about 8 years ago. She had started in the early days of blogs. At the time there were about 20 contributors on the site and I quickly became one of them lured by her leadership and do-er spirit. Kathreen loved all thing handmade and Whipup covered all aspects of making from quilting to cooking to eco-crafting. At some point, grateful for the opportunities that she had given us and others, I coordinated a massive group quilt asking contributors from all over the world to send me fabric that I could make into a surprise quilt for Kathreen. Although we feared that the quilt was lost on its way to Australia, it eventually was delivered and she emailed me with delight.

I was honored when Kathreen asked me to write a blurb for the back of her first book and she and I kept in regular contact over the years. We cheered each other on and looked forward to the day we could meet and have a nice dinner with our families. Kathreen and Rob collaborated to publish the Action Pack digital magazine with their kids, which I raved about in a post here several years ago.

In January, Kathreen and Rob began a year-long trek around Australia with their son Orlando 10 and their daughter Otilija 13. Kathreen was working on a book about the experience and home-schooling the children at campsites along the way. On May 6 she emailed me a long series of interview questions for a series of articles she was writing. Although there was another week before the deadline I thought about her last night as I was turning off the light to go to bed. I felt a sense of urgency that I get back to her and not let her down. She was the last thing I thought about before I went to sleep.

So it was a huge shock to wake up to Facebook messages from Australian friends letting me know that she had drowned while her children were on the beach and that Rob’s body had disappeared into the sea. Tears streamed down my face as I read the Australian news links and saw pictures of her vibrant face — which she referred to as her “moon face”– attached to this tragic story of parents drowning at a picturesque beach in a remote area of Australia in front of their children. It just wasn’t possible. How could this have happened?! It’s been hard to think of anything else all day. Friends of theirs in Australia are working to develop a site where those of us who wish can donate money for the care and education of their children via

I’ve been thinking of how else I can honor Kathreen.  I think the way she would want to be honored is for all of us to try new things and challenge ourselves. She’d want us to plan fun activities with our kids and live big, adventurous lives. She’d want us to cherish our friends and make beautiful things from even the most humble materials. On Wednesday afternoon shortly before she left for that tragic swim, she posted the picture at the top of this post — a bag she crocheted out of plastic grocery bags while sitting around the campfire. And that’s what I loved so much about Kathreen. She scoured the internet to find the best tutorial of how to turn plastic shopping bags into something both useful and beautiful and she shared it with all of us. I miss you already Kathreen.

For those of you wanting to donate to Kathreen and Rob’s children’s care and education, a trust has been established. Here’s the link.