Summer Quilts and Lessons Learned

With NemoPart of the joy of spending summers in Chautauqua, New York, is listening to lectures. So many lectures!

This week we’re exploring health care. Today, for instance, I learned about new research into mental illness, a particular interest after spending time working with patients in a mental health center years ago. This afternoon I’ll attend a lecture on the cholera epidemic of 1833.  Why? Among other reasons I’m interested because of the way that epidemic might relate to present day epidemics like ebola, so prominent in the news right now.

And quite honestly I’ve always wanted to do an epidemic book–but I promise you don’t have to read it if you don’t want to.

A large part of the joy of lectures–confessional mode here–is that I attend them with handiwork on my lap and quilt or knit as I listen. Some years I’ve knitted socks, but who needs wool socks when they live most of the year in Florida? Many years I’ve hand-pieced apple cores on paper to assemble into a quilt someday. This is an arduous job and right now what I have is a baby quilt, but I’m hopeful.

Good FriendsThis year, though, I’ve spent the summer hand-quilting my Happiness Key quilt. Remember that? Quilt teacher and designer Pat Sloan created a quilt to go with my novel Happiness Key, and we revealed a block at a time for our quilting audience. Pat designed the quilt and I wrote Treasure Beach, a “novelini” to go with it and published it on my blog. Later my publisher included Treasure Beach as an ebook with author Sheila Roberts and a novella she had written, too, in Summer in a Small Town.

Flip FlopsI finished the Happiness Key quilt top years ago, but never got around to quilting it. This year before I left Florida I basted the layers together so I could quilt it on my lap without a frame–my favorite way to quilt–and I brought it to New York with me.

I can’t tell you what a joy this has been.  Not only will I be able to hang my quilt on my bedroom wall here, to remind me of Florida, but I’ve also learned so many things as I’ve worked on it.

For instance I’ve learned:

  • Despite having a reputation in our family as someone who only starts handiwork projects, I can finish if I set my mind to it. All my quilt needs now is binding and a hanging sleeve. And those will come next.
  • Old projects bring good memories with them as well as new meaning
  • When in doubt about what to do, do something! When I really had no idea how to quilt the waves I visualized, I just quilted wavy lines and was delighted with the result. I tried the same thing with my smoking chimney and my cloud. I ran out of ideas and room at the same time, a bonus.
  • Go for the simplest solution. Finishing is its own reward.
  • Don’t strive for perfection, strive for completion.
  • Always, always have something prepared to work on so that at a moment’s notice you can head out the door without fuss.

May Your HouseSo, what projects did you work on this summer? I’d love to show YOUR photos here, so send them along. And while you’re at it, did you learn something to share with us?

I bet you did.

Meantime my next project will be the first quilt I ever pieced, that ubiquitous sampler we all begin with. I only need to finish the inner border and quilt the outer border, too–and have needed to for about, gulp, twenty years. So in keeping with everything I said above, I’ll ax my complicated lattice pattern for that final border and will simply quilt parallel lines. Next year I’ll put this on my bed.

Now, what will you finish?


  1. Marna on August 19, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    Very close to finished a picnic quilt pieced from fruit and vegetable fabrics. We WILL picnic on the quilt before Labor Day!

    • Emilie on August 25, 2014 at 8:51 am

      Sounds wonderful. We’ll need a photo.

  2. Linda P in IL on August 24, 2014 at 9:40 am

    Last year at the Houston quilt show I saw an amazing quilt about the flu epidemic of 1918…sounds strange but it was one of my favorites. And it won one of the big prizes

    • Emilie on August 25, 2014 at 8:52 am

      That’s a quilt I wish I could see. You’re right, it’s an odd quilt subject, but some of those are the very best.

  3. Machelle on January 6, 2015 at 8:27 pm

    I think the Goddesses Anonymous need a quilt!

    • Emilie Richards on January 9, 2015 at 1:40 pm

      Agreed. What would it include I wonder?

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