Ms. Michelle's Quilt Story

This is the story of a quilt that is not just personal to the special lady that holds it, it is also personal to me and my family. It is my privilege to make quilts for my customers and it is my heart's joy to make quilts as gifts for my own people. Ms. Michelle has been my son's teacher for the last two years and I wanted to make her something that would hold her and tell her just how much she means to us. 

We moved to Atlanta when my son was six weeks old and then we moved to Charlottesville just a few weeks after he turned two. As a military family, this is (our nomadic) life. In the last couple of years I have realized that one of my (and I think many military families') main stressors is that we never live anywhere long enough to have the trust and comfort that come with the deep roots of long time friends or family near by. As a parent, it can do wonders for your soul to know that someone else loves your child. 

Ms. Michelle was his teacher for both his two year old and three year old class and love him she did. She was patient and kind, enthusiastic and positive, intentional and confident. My son looks up to her, adores her, and depends on her....that sounds like deep roots to me. 

I started the design process of the quilt a few months back. I asked my son what he wanted to make for her and he said a rocket. Since a rocket is outside of my wheelhouse, we settled on a quilt with a design that created X's and O's and a card with a rocket drawn on the front. Ms. Michelle's suggested reading to deal with separation for the first few days of school was "The Kissing Hand" so I knew I had to incorporate the element of a kissing hand.

Graham and I had a grand old time working on her quilt together and an even better time giving it to her. She cried, I cried, Graham beamed with pride, and hugs went around and around. I hope that every time she snuggles up to that quilt, she remembers just how important she is to our family and how much love and joy she has brought to my baby's life.

Earlier this week when I picked Graham up from school, I asked him what his favorite thing about his day and he said, "Ms. Michelle was my favorite thing about my day.".   

Top 5 Activities for Young Kids

My Facebook and Instagram feeds are filling up with adorable pictures of preschoolers graduating, end of year field trips, and field day shenanigans. School is out and that means the days are about to get really long. You may sign your kids up for camps or have lots of travel planned but there will always be that day you have nothing planned and you always need a plan. Kids can smell oncoming chaos from a mile away. All it takes to send your home spinning into total anarchy is the distraction of one little phone call. Indeed, summer is upon us so let’s get prepared with a few activities with a minimal set up to occupy your littles for at least 2 minutes, 30 seconds at a time. 

 

I’m not one of those moms that has a lot of great Pinterest-worthy developmental activities for preschoolers in my back pocket. Murphy Jr’s Law states that the more time and energy you spend preparing an activity the more repelled your kid will be from said activity. So here are my top five go to activities when my kids need a little organization…

 

  1. Tub Full of Dried Macaroni - Our Sunday school teacher turned me on to this.  She said my daughter spent a lot of time one Sunday morning just rolling the macaroni around in the bucket.  $3 bucket from Target + $5 worth of macaroni from the grocery store + a couple of measuring cups I grabbed out of my kitchen = best $8 ever spent.  Both of my kids spend an unusual amount of calm time just rolling their hands through the macaroni and pouring it from one cup to the other. I think this is the kid version of the desktop zen garden.
  2. Tub Full of Water- In my experience, there is no need to haul out the big guns (baby pool, sprinkler, water table) when it comes to water. Kids adore the stuff as long as it is not washing their hair so you can get away with a pretty minimal set up. If I need to be multitasking on the main floor of the house then I just let the kids have a tub on the back porch but if we can get it together to haul everything out on the driveway then we take our little water show out there.  
  3. Cooking - I know this “idea” pops up on every wellness kid list out there. I’m not here to say that if my kid cooks it then he will eat it (cause he won’t) but I will say he enjoys being a part of the process. He may not be learning to eat his vegetables while cooking with me but I’m pretty sure he is laying down some foundational math skills while scooping various volumes and counting the number of tablespoons. His sister is trying to join in the cooking fun now so there are extra credit lessons on taking turns taking place as well.
  4. House Chores - Are the kids good at chores? No. Do I have to go back over everything? Yes. But is it cute and slightly helpful to have a little baby Roomba bumping around the kitchen? Totally. It does not have to be some big plan in the day to get a little extra vacuuming in. If my kids are getting a little sideways, I just pull out the cordless vac and let them have at it. I also keep a spray bottle with a water and vinegar mixture for cleaning and my son loves to get a rag and just go around spraying and wiping. Can’t hurt, right!? Good clean fun.
  5. Quilt Fort - You saw this one coming, right? I know I do not have to explain the value of a quilt fort but think back to childhood. How giddy did you feel to get inside your very own handcrafted shelter? Quilt fort construction is a multilayered activity…first you build, then you have your little housewarming party, then you read a book in it, then (if your mom is brave enough) have a picnic lunch in it. A good quilt fort could take the better part of a morning to enjoy. If you do not have the proper building materials, get in touch with me and we can get you set up ASAP. 

We all need a big list of activities to get us through the summer so let's swap! Leave your favorite tips in the comments for me and all of the other moms, dads, and babysitters to enjoy!

Non Traditional Baby Shower Gifts

I love giving gifts.  I get super excited about giving someone what I think is a really thoughtful gift. The older I get and the more life experiences I tuck under my belt, the easier it is to give thoughtfully. When picking out a gift, I like to try to put myself in the other person’s shoes and if I have gone through a similar experience, well then, picking out a thoughtful gift is not that hard.

 

Today I want to talk about a few non-traditional baby gifts. After having two babies, I can look back and consider what would be so great to have known to be useful from the very beginning.

 

Custom Tummy Time Quilt - I mean, this is a no-brainer coming from me, right?!  My mom gave us our tummy time quilt when my first born was 6 weeks old.  We were in the middle of moving from Louisiana to Georgia, our movers got held up in transit, and we didn’t have furniture for quite some time.  That quilt started it’s life with my baby as a very essential landing pad when we had nothing more than our arms for him.  Once our home goods were delivered and we could put him in the bouncy seat or swing, we still put him on the quilt because that became HIS spot. I've said it so many times, baby quilts are workhorses. With their function and portability, they are like the swiss army knife of baby and kid land.    

 Photo from my library

Photo from my library

iPhoneography Classes for Dad - Ask every single mom you know, and I am willing to bet you 98% of them are dissatisfied with parental representation in the family photo album.  All of my mom friends, heck all of my married friends, have the same complaint, husbands just don’t take pictures. This isn’t meant to bash the fellas, I’m just observing a trend and taking the bull by the horns.  My husband once said that he just doesn’t know how to take good pictures with the phone like I do.  So, let’s cut that argument off at the knees and sign that daddy-to-be up for a local or online iPhoneography class and get some treasured moments with mamma beautifully preserved in the family photo album.  

 Photo courtesy of the Graham family stacks.

Photo courtesy of the Graham family stacks.

A Cordless Floor Vac -  Ok, ok, this is not your average baby shower gift that everyone oohs and ahhs over but it is the one that will make them go, “Uh-huh, that’s smart.  I remember the time my youngest kid dumped the entire can of oatmeal on the floor while I was trying to get shoes on number two so we could get number three to school on time.”  I bought this cordless vac when my son was 9 months old and it was hands down one of the smartest family purchases I have ever made.  These days, I am pulling that thing out 4-5 times a day and I give myself a little pat on the back every time.  It’s also a really great fit when you have young kids because when they “help” (and they will) it is an appliance they can wield (sort of).

 Photo from my large iPhone library of kid shenanigans.

Photo from my large iPhone library of kid shenanigans.

In-Home Documentary Photo Session - I work with a photographer here in Charlottesville and she has recently shared a couple of these documentary home sessions and they are AMAZING.  When I had my kids I was a bit paralyzed with each one of them. I had no desire to go anywhere or do anything other than be in the house with my baby.  I am always so impressed by the mammas that can not only wash their hair and dry it but put on make up and attractive clothing for themselves AND their entire family in order to take studio newborn photos.  I have never done maternity or newborn photos but if I decide to go for baby no. 3, I will most definitely call Firefly Photography for an in-home documentary session that beautifully catches life in all of it’s homey gloriousness. So for the mammas out there that are like me, find a local photographer that does similar work and meet them in their comfort zone with a gift that I guarantee, she will treasure forever and ever, amen.

 Photo courtesy of  Firefly Photography

Photo courtesy of Firefly Photography

Do you have any non-traditional baby shower gifts you love?  Please share!  I love getting creative!   

Easter Memories with a side of Chocolate Cake

A few years back my husband and I were living in central Louisiana while he was stationed at Fort Polk. There are a lot of people in the Army that aren’t crazy about being at Fort Polk but we loved it. The distractions of a booming city don’t exist there so the connections that you make with people are deep and true even if only for a mere moment in the time you are there.  

 

I coached a girl’s soccer team on post and one night after practice in the second season as I was walking to my car there was a man walking with his kids behind me and they caught my attention because I heard a few languages being tossed around in the conversation. He approached me and asked about getting his daughter, June, on my team. She joined my team and her dad started coaching the boys team that was the age counterpart to my team. Our families became friends and that Spring they invited me and my husband to their home for Easter. The man was (is) married to a French woman and together with their children have lived all over the world for his position as a foreign area officer in the Army.  

 Fort Polk Arsenal 2012

Fort Polk Arsenal 2012

 

In my lifetime of memories, Easter is the time to don your very best, put a ham with (homemade) mac-n-cheese, green beans, and cornbread on the table, and enjoy a good old fashioned egg hunt in the yard. That particular Easter, we wore casual clothes, we lounged around the table for hours, and we did not eat a ham but we did eat the most decadent chocolate cake. This cake was deceiving with it’s unassuming presence on the table. There was no decoration or icing, the single layer was just simply placed on a rustic dinner plate. The cake was divine; it was pure joy to take the first bite and pure agony to take the last. We lingered at the table and sipped espressos…I’ve never felt so sophistiqué.

 

Over the years I have lost touch with that intriguing family but I held on to Charlotte’s chocolate cake recipe and one of my fondest Easter memories. Try this recipe out this weekend and while you are eating it, imagine Charlotte saying in her flowing accent, “In Paris, on the weekends, we do not run errands in the afternoons, we stay in bed and make love.”            

 

This recipe comes from Charlotte in an email…

The prep. is very simple:
Melt 2 bars of chocolate (dark!) 200g in a pan with 130g of butter (real butter and unsalted). Let it cool off a bit and when just warm add 4 eggs (white and yellow); add 100g of sugar (a bit less than half cup)...it depends how sweet you are (I am not sweet at all but June is so always a fight between us:)). Finally add 4 spoons of flour (medium size), you really do not need much flour.

The secret is the cooking time: pre heat your oven at 350 and then let it cook for 13 to 14 minutes. It is good not over cooked. Take it out of the pan asap so it does not cook more and when cooled off put it in the fridge. Better if you do it a day before. Serve with home made whip cream and/or vanilla ice cream.
Bon appetit!!

How to Order a Commissioned Quilt

I want to order a commissioned quilt but I know nothing about it, the choices seem overwhelming, and what if I commission the wrong thing and I don't like it?  

Sound familiar?  I get it, having something custom made whether it is a piece of furniture, a piece of art, or a piece of clothing is enormous and the pressure drives you to uncertainty.  Yet....you still really want something that is uniquely yours.  Taking the first step to commissioning anything takes a lot of personal confidence and/or bravery!

When I begin communicating with a client on their order, I ask them a ton of questions that leads to the dialogue I need to come up with their perfect design.  Today, I will share those questions with you so that you can dream up your perfect quilt and go boldly into the process.

1.  Do you have inspiration?

  • Are you trying to emulate something you have seen before or something that is meaningful to you? Does this commemorate a special occasion, like a wedding? 
  • Do you have a picture of your inspiration you can share?
  • Do you want your quilt to tell a story?  What are the main subjects of the story that you want represented?

2.  How do you see yourself using it?

  • Do you have a specific plan for the quilt?  Is it going on a bed or in a particular room?
  • Is this more of a "utility" quilt that isn't tied to the design or color scheme of any one room in your house.

3.  What is your personal style?

  • You may already know your style...what is it?  Are you mid-century modern, industrial, traditional, minimalist, beachy, bohemian, Scandinavian, farmhouse?
  • Do you have a certain designer or blog that you just love?  Is Joanna Gaines your spirit animal or do you swoon over every shot you see of Ina Garten's gracious home?
  • If you are uncertain or feel like you are eclectic (like me) and want a clearer picture, take one (or all) of these personal style quizzes:  Emily Henderson, Laurel & Wolf, The Decorist

4.  What design do you think you want?

  • Do you want a modern art approach, a minimalist's approach, or more of a traditional quilt made up of repeating blocks?
  • Do you want bright bold colors in a certain scheme for an interior design motif or for a school or other affiliation? Or do you want neutrals to calmly slip into any design?
  • When you think in terms of fabric, do you like prints or solids?  I have a few online fabric stores that I love and shop frequently...check them out and take a look around.  { Hawthorne Threads, Fat Quarter Shop, ilovefabric } You just may find the fabric you just have to have featured in your quilt!

I'd be curious to know if you ran through these questions and the design quizzes I linked, would you come up with a vision for a quilt that you thought you wanted all along or would you come up with something completely different?  Years ago, when I went shopping for my wedding dress I thought for sure I wanted a pretty lace dress that sung romance and I ended up in a sleek satin modern A-line that was adorned with crystals (even though I told the consultant no way no how was I gonna wear crystals) as my perfect dress.

Your quilt is a very personal thing and I am always very grateful for the opportunity to make something so intimate for someone.  It is my goal that your quilt will speak of you and speak to you.  I want you to get a thrill in your fingertips and in your heart every time you see it and touch it.

Still have questions?  I'd love to hear them!  juliegrahambenson@gmail.com

 

  

 

 

Avery's Quilt Story

Back in December, Avery’s mom contacted me with a request for a custom quilt as a Christmas gift for Avery.  Unfortunately I was out of room in the books for another commissioned quilt during the holidays but by happy chance, Avery’s birthday was not long after and I was given the opportunity to work on a very special quilt from mother to daughter.  

 

The order details went like this….Avery had a baby quilt that sadly had been lost.  The quilt had pink, yellow, and blue pastel stars with a white background.  Her mom wanted to replace it as best she could only this time she wanted a throw quilt because her baby was not a baby anymore.  The only example I had to work with came from this small black and white photo.  

 Photo courtesy of Avery's mom.

Photo courtesy of Avery's mom.

I could easily see that the two quilt blocks that were represented in the quilt were a variable star and an on-point square but I couldn’t tell what the overall design layout was.  I drew up a few ideas for a new layout and she picked this one.   

 EQ-7 lay out of  variable stars and squares on point.

EQ-7 lay out of  variable stars and squares on point.

I knew just the fabric for this project as a company called Cloud9 Fabrics had recently come out with a small line of pastels called mist, glow, and petal.  

 

I set to work on this sweet quilt on New Years Day.  There were a lot of pieces and trimming involved so this quilt stayed front and center in my work space for a few weeks.  It was prominent enough in my household that my family became interested in it.  On one particular afternoon, while my baby was napping, my 3 year old sat near me while I sewed and asked a zillion questions (like 3 year olds do).  I explained that the quilt was for a lady that was going to give it to her daughter for her birthday.  He asked for some papers and crayons and used the stairs near me as a desk to make Avery a birthday card (swoon).  When I finished the quilt, I was obliged (of course) to include the birthday card in the package.

 

Recently, I got in touch with Avery’s mom to check in on her gift and she said Avery was sleeping with it every night.  When asked why she wanted this quilt made she had this to say:  

“I bought the original “star blankie” when I found out Avery was a girl.  I have so many memories of her as a toddler getting up in the morning, hair all in her face, dragging star blankie behind her.  It went to sleepovers, camp, and on vacations with Avery.  It had been well loved for 18 years when she left it in a hotel.  By the time she realized it, the hotel could not find it.  I searched all over for months trying to come up with another that did it justice.  That is when I saw your Instagram.  I watched your Instagram for almost a year when I finally decided to contact you.  I’m so glad I did and so is Avery!”

 

I knew this quilt was from mother to daughter while I made it, and for that, it was a special project to me.  I was floored when I read the why.  The why….it is why I love this work so much. 

 Avery all grown up

Avery all grown up

 Baby Avery

Baby Avery

Katie's Mom's Quilt Story

This past Fall I received a message from Katie about creating a custom quilt for her mom.  She wanted to give something to her mom that represented her and the life she enjoys.

 

Katie had a few ideas for style inspiration for her mom's quilt; the four kids she raised and loves, repurposing materials and antiquing, and her MINI Cooper.  That’s right, her car, the petite ice blue MINI Cooper.  Katie said, “The other day she was telling me just how much she loved her car and sometimes it jut feels like it’s “me and the MINI against the world”.”  Katie attached this picture of her mom.

 Photo courtesy of Katie

Photo courtesy of Katie

 

I was so tickled by the picture, I printed it out and hung it over my workspace while I made her quilt.  

 

Katie and I settled on a design that featured a light blue block in the center to represent the car she enjoys and four repeating blocks surrounding to represent the children she raised.  The color palette Katie chose included blues and orange so I pulled a few fabrics from past projects to repurpose and breathe a different life into them by featuring them in the design.  

 

While piecing the quilt top, I tried to imagine each of her four kids while constructing the four repeating blocks.  I imagined they are all confident people that love just being in the presence of their mom.  When I joined the blocks and the center ice blue mini MINI Cooper was formed, I tried to imagine all of the fun places Katie’s mom zooms by with the sun roof open.  (If I was a betting woman, I’d bet she listens to Tina Turner with the windows down.)  

 

Katie said to me she wanted the quilt to be “something she could cuddle up to on the couch or on the La Z boy”.  Shortly after Christmas, I received this picture from Katie.  I think, mission accomplished.  

 Photo courtesy of Katie

Photo courtesy of Katie

Commissioned Quilts

I have had the opportunity to serve some really amazing clients.  I have heard their stories and put them down in fiber to be held, cherished, and enjoyed for a lifetime and beyond.  Is a commissioned quilt for you?  Well, let's talk about it....

A commissioned quilt can be deeply personal; it can represent any facet of your life from the topical enjoyments to the intimate details.  It can be styled to help you achieve your interior design goals or to remind you of your sweet grandmother.  It can be a gift for the start of a new life, in celebration of a life lived, or just because.  Materials can be selected to make the quilt suit your lifestyle, colors chosen to speak to you, and a design to speak of you.

If I were to put myself in your shoes, I would get pretty overwhelmed by the thought of commissioning a quilt.  The good news is, you don't have to be.  When you contact me to discuss a custom order, I will ask you a lot of questions that will help guide the way.  With your feedback, I will show you sketches and make fabric suggestions for you to approve.  Together, we will design your extra special something.  

Many folks ask me what my prices are and the answer is, there is no set pricing chart.  There are many variables that go along with pricing a commissioned work; the main elements are size, materials, and degree of difficulty/time.  It is ok to contact me to ask me for ball parks!  I would much rather we have a quick chat than for you to hold back from your something special because of a cost mystery.  

There are many special occasions where a quilt would make the perfect thoughtful gift.  Do keep the element of time in mind.  I make every quilt by hand and that just takes time.  Currently my production time is about 6-8 weeks but that estimate depends on my real time workload.  If there is a holiday on the horizon that you are thinking of, like a birthday, Mother's Day, or a baby shower, you are best to start a conversation with me as soon as you can to play it safe.  

A quilt that is undeniably yours can be such a meaningful element in your household.  Just the feel of it can send a thrill right up your fingers and make your heart sing.