Category Archives: Family History blogging

Family History in a Quilt, c. 1980’s

When we had lots of family members descend for the Beach Weekend, we were dragging out bed linens from the closet to accommodate folks sleeping on the beds, couches and floors. I found this quilt my grandmother had made. Part of the crazy-quilt patches had come unsewn, so after everyone left, I took it to the sewing machine to mend and repair it as best I could.

I’d forgotten that my grandmother wrote on the back of it. She had a whole set of these little tubes of “embroidery paint”  similar to this modern-day product (click the link to see).  For a time period, she was very prolific with the embroidery paint, making pillow cases, sheets, all sorts of things. She had been in the habit of stamping a design or motif onto a piece of fabric, then embroidering (or drawing with the tube paint) over the stamped designs.

This is what she put on the back of this quilt:

Gran jenny
For John, made by Gran in 1985

Here, on the backing (which looks like it probably was an old sheet, so thin here it is almost transparent) you can see the underside of some heirloom quilt stitching, all hand-sewn. In the next photo, you can see the top side of the feather-stitching, probably done in a few strands of contrasting-color embroidery floss.

The quilt top itself is remarkable too.

Gran quilt jenny skip
double-knit patch quilt

It’s made of patches of double-knit fabric, which was an innovative fabric type for those of my grandmother’s era (she was born in 1906). See this article at Seamwork about the differences between the double knit fabrics available then vs. now.  John said, “I remember it [the quilt] was really scratchy, the sort of polyester material that leisure suits were made from.”  Hence, the soft cotton sheeting on the back of the quilt, which side would go next to the tender skin of a little 4 or 5 year-old great-grandchild.

I’d like to say that I matched the embroidery thread and repaired the blanket in the style and manner of the original–but for me to do that would involve quite a learning curve. I picked a decorative stitch on the sewing machine and put the pedal to the metal. For any curious posterity, it will show obvious mending by machine.

Meanwhile, how enlightening to have this information!

Creativity on Island Time

The Family Beach Weekend of 2016 has come and gone; the flurry of activity in planning, purchasing, and preparing has now evaporated into the vivid orange, pink and purple Gulf of Mexico sunsets…but we have great memories of our creative pursuits.

Photography: it’s not hard to get a beautiful shot in this place! Everything is incredibly photogenic.

Captiva sunset
Captiva sunset

pool jennyskip
Creative posturing at the pool     (photo by Gabriel M)

hermit crab
Tiny hermit crab
Sewing/quilting/knitting: We always try to scout out creative hubs when we travel around, and we happened upon a great little shop on Sanibel Island called Three Crafty Ladies. This unassuming little storefront opened into a treasure trove of art yarns (at very affordable prices!), a wide selection of fabric and notions, specialty patterns, artisan beads and jewelry-making supplies, paints, charcoal, pastels, brushes, lots of art supplies, shells, and all arranged in a very organized and gorgeous display. I picked some things for future projects.

Three Crafty Ladies fabric
some fab fat quarters from Three Crafty Ladies

bag pattern
San Clemente bag pattern designed by Stephanie Prescott of A Quilter’s Dream copyright 2008

Traffic Jam Jennyskip
“Late Night Traffic Jam” Row by Row Experience from Three Crafty Ladies
This little kit is a cute reminder of sea turtle nesting at the beaches this time of year.  A Row by Row Experience is something like a Shop Hop, where you can visit quilting shops in a circuit and get each shop’s kit, then assemble all of the kits into a quilt made up of each row. Or you can just make a wall hanging or table-top quilt from the single kit.

Three Crafty Ladies has many cute little designer kits, featuring beach and Florida wildlife motifs, all fabulous!

fabric plate
signature fabric plate from Three Crafty Ladies
This little cotton sateen fabric plate, also from Row by Row Experience, can be incorporated into a quilting project or sewn onto the back of it.

Art: Creativity abounds in these beach towns (Sanibel, Captiva, Fort Myers). Everywhere we looked, we saw paintings, sculptures, all sorts of arts and crafts. The ceiling fan paddles were painted with tropical fish, and murals and wall art decorated the whole interior at Rosies’ Cafe. Every restroom had a whimsical seaside theme. Displays of shells and wildlife showed up in lobbies and hallways.

Blue Heaven jennyskip
painting of Blue Heaven in our hotel living room
Creative Cuisine: Even the humblest of eating places had great, creative food selections!

shrimp and grits
Shrimp and grits from Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grill at Captiva
We had our family dinner at the Doc Ford’s in Sanibel. Both had gourmet offerings, and the one at Captiva even had a book signing event going on, with the prolific author (and restaurant owner) who created the character Doc Ford, Randy Wayne White.

Improv: was a surprising highlight of the weekend — surprising because they pulled together a show on the last night without any planning prior to the trip! All the kids and grown-ups enjoyed this fun and hilarious stand-up show with plenty of audience input.

Improv Show
Improv Show
Family members who came from far and wide have gone back to their homes.  Some are already starting the fall school semester or will start next week, while others have the whole month of August left of summer. We had a great, creative family beach weekend!

Display Cabinet Update #5

by Skip

Another display cabinet build update!  I’ll be so glad when this thing is done!

display cabinet jenny skip
major design changes

From our last update, there have been some major design changes. First, I decided to add lights to the underside of the cabinet top. I used a combination of LED light strips and LED puck lamps. Using a remote control, the LED light strip can be turned on and off, dimmed and can change colors. The pucks are controlled by a switch but I plan to add a remote control to these.

I then installed glass keepers on the inside perimeter of the cabinet upper rails and cut and installed a plastic lens from a fluorescent light fixture.

display cabinet lighting
lighting in the top of the cabinet

Second, I added foam weatherstripping to the top edge of the cabinet so when I added the top and fastened it down, it provided a light tight joint.  Third, I decided to add additional brass trim on the top rails and add corbels at each corner of the top. Fourth, I decided against adding glass to the cabinet sides. As I mentioned before, the design of this cabinet evolved during construction, bad idea usually.  Looking at the support rods for the glass shelves, it was going to be just too tight to try to install the glass panels with keepers in the existing 5/8 inch space.  Using 1/8 inch thick glass over the vertical span with no muttons was risky, in my mind. This change was also reinforced by the fact that I have many (emphasis on many) young rambunctious grandchildren.  Not sure the glass would survive a visit. So I punted and decided to go mission style and add vertical slats to each side of the cabinet, pinning them top and bottom with brass pegs. Maybe too much brass!?!

The cabinet has been moved to its new home where I will add the slats over the next few weeks. I’m going to wait to add the glass shelves and mirror after the grandchildren visit next week.

The Summer of Other Crafts

Summertime, summertime, sum sum summertime…

We haven’t been blogging as much this summer, because we’ve gotten wrapped up in grandkids and other fun stuff.

So the whole genre of “crafting” has taken on some new meanings for us.

Nana (in need of a hearing aid): Did you say you want to play Minecrap?

Grandkids: Noooooooo, Minecraft!

Grandpa: Why do you like Minecraft?

Grandkids: It’s a fun game.

Grandpa: Oh, you’d like anything that had craft in it. How about poopoocraft?

Grandkids (chorus of giggles): Nooooooo!

And then, for the older grandkids, and their parents, who still have the kid mentality, there’s Pokemon Go, or as a daughter explained, “It’s the best of both worlds, a video game and an outdoor game!” Carl Jacobson made a pokeball on the lathe for a recent project, even though he said he had no idea what it was for, it was still a fun project! See his video-post here.

I took Art History from Jack Thursby, back in college. One thing I remember from his class is that studies show during times of war and uncertainty, art in those periods tends to be more into escapism and fantasy. The models’ beauty or resemblance to animals or mythology is exaggerated. When civilization is stable and people are doing well, art tends to be more realistic. Maybe we’re going through another wave of Romanticism vs Realism, as in the second half of the 19th Century. We’re hoping some of the turmoil all around us eases up in time. After the national election maybe? Doubt that.

doll head jenny skip
doll head

This is the head of a Joey Stivic doll. I once bid on a miscellaneous lot of dolls and doll accessories on eBay, and ended up with this and a few other creepy dolls: a Cabbage Patch Kid in a T-ball uniform with yarn hair and a plastic ball cap, a Napoleon Dynamite dancing figure, a couple of doll chairs. If you remember the 70’s sit-com All in the Family, Joey Stivic was the child of Meat-head and Gloria, and grandson of Archie Bunker and Edith. The doll was “anatomically correct” and had a handkerchief pinned on it as a diaper. The grandkids pulled its head off and every once in a while I find it kicking around the house. I had to hide the Cabbage Patch doll deep in a closet, because one of the grandkids couldn’t sleep in the playroom as long as it was in there.

Whether you prefer art and leisure activities to be on the Romantic end of the spectrum or the Realistic end, let us not be paralyzed by the uncertainties and chaos going around us.  Hoping our families and communities pull together and can anchor us, so we can feel inspired to continue to exercise our creativity.

Super E-Z Family Beach Bags

by jenny

I like summer sewing projects to be quick, functional, colorful, and fun. These bags are for our family beach weekend this summer. For the past few years we’ve scheduled a beach (or, near-beach, or similar-to-a-beach) weekend for the kids and grandkids to all get together and have a party and relax before school starts up again.

We get motel rooms close to each other, so that the kids can go back and forth to be with their cousins, aunts, uncles, and us. We let them pick all their own activities except for one big family dinner during the weekend.

So far, it’s been fun and relaxing: no big expectations, they can go to nearby attractions if they want or just lounge, go from pool to beach and back, get grocery-store food and eat in their rooms or go to the restaurants they choose.

This year, we wanted to give them some little mementos and practical things for the stay, so we made up some simple beach bags for each child, couple, or family unit, so they can tote stuff around: pool toys, towels, wet bathing suits, groceries, or whatever.

beach bags jennyskip
beach bags

I used up lots of stray bottom-weight fabrics from my fabric stash, as well as some wet-resistant fabrics that I’d bought to make diaper covers for some of the little grandkids (too little too late though, I think they’re all potty-trained now).  Anyway, they are cute fabrics and came in handy for this project, to make lining for the bags. I was going to keep it simple and not line them, but I tried it on one and liked it a lot.

beach bags jenny skip
cutting liner to match fabric


I had lots of remnants that could be used for straps: I bought a big roll of red, white and blue flag-motif (it looks like elastic but is not as stretchy as real elastic) at a close-out sale for about a buck.  And got some other kinds, as each bag uses quite a length of strapping, like about 3 yards each.

beach bag strap
remnant strapping

They’re not the coolest but they are, at least, a functional souvenir of the 2016 family beach weekend.

Here’s how we made them:

To Carve or Knit? That is the question!

by skip

After dinner, my wife and I settle down in front of the TV.  We really enjoy our companionship, so we find TV shows we like, and really find it somewhat easy to agree on the shows. Now, we have been good listeners to each other…I know Jennifer doesn’t like old Westerns, corny musicals or listening to the endless drone of cutting wood on a lathe, like you hear on some YouTube channels. We both like British murder mysteries so we tend to migrate to these shows. BUT (the eraser word) while I sit there with a glazed-over, mindless expression watching the TV screen, Jennifer is multitasking: listening to the program while knitting a beautiful creation. I NEED something to do besides totally wasting my last few minutes on this planet glued to the TV.  I could go to the shop but I like being close to my eternal companion!  Now don’t get me wrong, we do spend hours talking to each other… we love sharing ideas whether personal, working, political or hobby related. There are however (another eraser word) hours spent in our LazyBoys watching TV.   So I got the idea to try to develop a new woodworking skill, whittling or carving. I can’t drag the power carving systems into the TV room… too noisy and creates too much dust. It would have to be handwork.

So here was the plan: buy a box of basswood cutoffs and get a FlexCut starter knife and strop kit. So for under $100, I could be fully equipped to launch into wood carving. A large towel on my lap would be needed to catch the wood chips….. good light also necessary.   Artistic abilities? Whoa… where do I get that? I’m an engineer and need plans, a process, a base to build on. Thank goodness for YouTube! I found SharonMyArt!! Very talented carver of little people… step by step instructions, great results in a genre that I love. It has a historical background and with 21st century carving tools is perfect for me. Also lots of media available like books by Harley Refsal and Mike Shipley.

Now you will not only hear the clicking of knitting needles while Midsomer Murders are taking place but you will also hear the sound of that distinctive click as a V-cut terminates!


Display Cabinet Build Update

by Skip

Finally, a few days freed up to get back to the display cabinet build!

I finished cutting out the panels that will fit in the bottom of the cabinet. The burgundy leather was cut to fit each panel and was attached with contact cement.

display cabinet jennyskip
attaching burgundy leather to panels

My wife has prepared three beautiful dragonfly appliqués that we will apply to the center of each leather panel in keeping with our Arts and Crafts theme.  My friends at Ace Hardware contacted K&S Metals and found the 36-inch long, ¼-inch diameter brass rods that I will use to frame each of the leather panels.

brass rods for display cabinet jennyskip
brass rods

As with most of my furniture builds, the wood is set in the air-conditioned house for several weeks before it is taken into the shop where it is cut and milled to size. Then the pieces are brought back into the house for assembly. With a very good portable dust collection system, I was even able to cut the mortises for the dominos in the house. Of course I planned this activity while my wife was busy in the sewing room. No harm—no foul!

Once the display cabinet framework was assembled and glued, I began the tedious process of sanding. We set up two work stands outside the front door so I could easily take the cabinet in and out of the house between standings. I started with 100 grit and worked up to 220.  I wiped down the wood with alcohol to get off all the dust and applied a coat of wood conditioner.  I have taken a test sample of this wood and sanded and stained with a red mahogany stain. It was a little blotchy, so I decided to test another piece with a wood conditioner and this worked a lot better. I decided not to use a grain filler. This wood is very smooth and not very porous.

For the next phase of the project, I plan to drill the holes in the side frames for the brass rods that will support the glass shelves in the cabinet. I will apply the stain to the framework, apply the appliqués to the leather panels and install the panels. 

dragonfly appliqué jennyskip
dragonfly machine embroidery appliqué

I will construct a wooden bottom shelf and top for the cabinet, glue up 9-inch wide mahogany boards, sand and prep these for staining. I will also decide how I am going to deal with the back of the cabinet. An easy solution would be to install a mirror with a plywood backing but my wife is voting for mahogany panels.  I think in this election, she gets more delegates!!

I may start cutting, sanding and finishing the glass stops for the glass side panels.  My thoughts on this are to use ebonized cherry for the stops but I don’t want too many things going on with this cabinet. I already have red mahogany, brass, leather, glass and embroidery appliqués!

Display Cabinet Build: Part One

For the past 20 years I have worked to develop skills necessary to build furniture for our home.  I strive to improve my artistic ability but being an engineer, I am more comfortable with a set of plans to follow and when I can make subtle changes to personalize the build.  The photos below illustrate some of these builds. Most of these projects were built with plans from magazines like Fine Woodworking and Popular Woodworking.  The coffee table/bench shown was one of the first projects built with only a plan visualized in my mind.

Arts and Crafts coffee table/bench jennyskip
Arts and Crafts coffee table/bench (I also built the Stickley-style settee behind it)

Since then, I have constructed a dining room table with two natural edge slabs of walnut, again, with a plan visualized in my mind.  Now let me say though, that I did get help from books on furniture construction, for typical dimensions for dining tables.

natural-edge dining table jennyskip
Natural-edge dining table. I also built the benches at either end of the table.

This leads me to this current build, a display case. We are running out of space for new furniture but my wife managed to find a space for a new display cabinet.  Most of my projects take close to a year to complete, due to my schedule.  I also generally shift the construction to my living/dining room. Matter of fact, I assembled most of the new dining room table on the old dining room table which is now in the breakfast area.

I usually bring the wood for the project into the air-conditioned space prior to and during construction so that it can reach equilibrium with its future home. 

furniture wood jennyskip
wood acclimating to the air-conditioned living room

On the downside, it may take a major wall deconstruction to move some of this furniture out of the house. On the upside, I have a loving wife that supports my living room shop practices! EXCEPT when my assembly practices on the dining room table interfere with her quilt layout needs.

On to part one of the build: I made several freehand sketches on paper to explore some of my ideas.  I relied on some texts on furniture design to zero in on the dimensions, but decided to let the design flow as I constructed the cabinet.

display cabinet sketches jennyskip
display cabinet sketches

Now I am going to play the old age card.  I don’t have the time I’ll need to hand cut my mortise and tenons. So for this project, I decided to use loose tenon construction with dominoes.  There, I’ve said it. And if it would have worked with my mental plans, I would have used pocket hole construction.

The overall dimensions of the display cabinet are 16 inches x 32 inches x 75 inches.  I chose mahogany for the primary wood.  Baltic plywood and poplar will be used as secondary woods.  The shelves will be glass, supported on brass bars. The bottom case of the display cabinet will be enclosed with plywood panels covered in burgundy- colored leather.  The leather-covered panels will be framed with brass bar stock. The back of the bottom case will be left open.  Some Arts and Crafts accents will be added. More on this later.  As I said, the design will be pretty fluid so this initial concept may change as the process moves forward.

The initial plan was to etch the leather panels with a laser engraving of an Arts and Crafts motif. 

laser engraved leather jennyskip
burgundy laser engraved leather test sample
laser engraved leather jennyskip
close up of laser engraved leather

As you can see in the photograph of the test sample, the engraving was too dark and would not be visible in the entry hall where the cabinet would be located.   So no laser engraving. As I said, the design is fluid!

To this point, the legs have been rough cut to 1 ½ inches  x  1 ½ inches x 75 inches.

All the rails have been rough cut along with their associated mortises.  After a dry-fit to test the joints, all the parts will be sanded to 180 grit.

display cabinet legs jennyskip
legs and rails  for display cabinet

In the next part of the project, I’ll show the preparation of the leather panels and the legs.  I’ll also illustrate the preparation of the mounts for the shelving, and the glue-up for the cabinet top and lower shelf.

I have ordered some bar stock from my local Ace Hardware. This is a locally-run hardware store, and the people who work there are fantastic!  So instead of running to the Internet for everything or going to the big box stores, I try to support this locally-run store.  Besides, they have a great store cat, a red tortoiseshell tom cat who welcomes everybody at the door. It reminds me of the hardware store in the small town where I grew up, which had a store cat, and a Mr. Hubbard who would take out his glass eye and let my brother and me play with it!

Quilting for the Tropics

by jenny

My grandmother used to say “We lived in ‘the tropics’…” which included Guam  and Hawaii, during the time period leading up to World War II. When they retired, they moved to Florida, which she considered to also have a tropical climate.  And she wasn’t always happy about the heat and humidity in Florida. Being a practical quilter, she wanted to make quilts that would be useful to the prospective owners. One of my favorite quilts she made for us had a pieced top made of scraps leftover from when she made us flannel pajamas, and the backing was cotton sheeting. There was no batting in between. It was just the right weight, and kept us toasty warm but not suffocated like a heavy blanket would. The cotton backing was cool and almost slippery.

I kept those attributes in mind when I set out to make some quilts for our favorite non-profit organization, Plenitud PR.  They do workshops in sustainable living practices, organic gardening, rainwater management, and much more. Although the temperature is always around 70 to 85 degrees F, some of the workshop participants would appreciate sleeping with a light blanket.

I used cotton flannel remnants for the quilt tops. Remnants are usually what is left over on the bolt of fabric after most of the yardage has been sold. They are typically less than a yard in length, and packaged as remnants and sold at less than the usual price. At JoAnn Fabric, they are normally 1/2 the regular price, and sometimes go on sale for even less. Some cheaply made cotton flannel is wound onto the bolt so that the fabric grain is skewed. I always wash lengths of cotton flannel before cutting, then make sure the cut edges are straight, by cutting a little notch near the cut edge and ripping the fabric along the straight grain until I reach the end of the cut edge. Sometimes I have to cut and rip more than once to be able to rip straight to the other edge.

For these blankets, I embroidered on the lower front. Now that I have looked up the web site, I see that it is Plenitud PR (without the ., but technically it is now Placement of the dot can be crucially important in our high-tech world). But since it is just a blanket now, and currently has no power to connect to the Internet (now, but how about in the future?) I will leave as is.

machine embroidery hoop jennyskip
hooping the fabric for machine embroidery

The backing is extra-wide cotton, made for the special purpose of backing quilts, so that it doesn’t have to be pieced. I spotted these bolts of extra-wide material at JoAnn’s, and was able to find several that only had a small amount left on the bolt. Another $core: I was given the “end of bolt” discount price for the yardage. The backings were cut just a few inches larger than the quilt tops, so that the larger edges could be folded over and stitched down for binding the edges. I used several of the machine’s designated quilting stitches for channel-quilting the tops to the backings, and for top-stitching the bound edges. Some of the stitches I wasn’t so happy with. For all the stitching, I used the walking foot, AKA Interchangeable dual-feed foot with the zig-zag attachment. I used the automatic stitching setting so I wouldn’t be cramming my foot on the pedal for a long time, but the tension and stitching looks very uneven on some of them. It’s not the prettiest stitching I’ve ever seen but ripping it out at this point seems unsustainable….

For historical information about quilting in the tropics from older generations, Hart Cottage Quilts site is fascinating to read.

Time for Wood to Meet Wheels

Recently I was asked to help with our church Cub Scout pack’s annual Pinewood Derby.  I also volunteered a woodworking friend of mine, Ray,  and on a Tuesday night we had 8 Cubs and Dads come to my shop to cut out their cars. The Cubs aren’t allowed to use power tools so Ray, the Dads and I did the cutting with a small nine- inch bandsaw and then used a belt sander. The Cubs had drawn out their designs on the wood blocks so we just followed their outlines. The Cubs took the car bodies home to do more sanding, painting and decorating.

I had been involved in Pinewood Derby before so I knew that each Cub needed to take home a trophy, having been judged on racing and craftsmanship. In the past, I had seen, somewhere, an idea to make trophies out of 2×4 and 1×6 lumber. The base would be made from a four-inch length of 1×6 pine. The rest of the trophy was cut from a four-inch length of construction 2×4, with one end cut at a slight angle.

trophy pieces jennyskip
trophy components
PInewood Derby trophy jennyskip
trophy prototype
Pinewood Derby trophy side view jennyskip
trophy prototype, side view

The bases were sanded, primed and painted blue. The 2×4 was sanded, primed and painted yellow. When the paint was dry, the base was predrilled to accept wood screws which were used to fasten it to the 2×4.

The Pack Master fashioned labels with the pack number to stick to the bases. The angled cut on the end of the 2×4 allowed the Cub Scout to display his car on the trophy. 

Pinewood Derby display trophy Jennyskip
trophy with Pinewood Derby car

Then the race was on!! Cheering was somewhat subdued because the Cubs found a dish of brownies and their mouths were full.