Hopeful Homemaker

nurturing hope in family life

March 5, 2015
by jennifer

In the Distance

Do you ever feel like the person you’re supposed to be is close by, within reach yet just beyond your fingertips, somewhere in the distance just ahead of you?  I’m not talking about the perfect-in-every-detail woman I often wish I was, and often judge myself by.  I’m talking about those deep, fundamental things that make us who we really are.  The Jennifer Harrison I’m meant to become, or perhaps, the Jennifer Harrison I’ve always been but who still needs uncovering?



The past couple of months have held beautiful experiences for me.  Beautiful on their own, but more significant because they play off one another to instruct me in deeply personal ways.  This week marks the first week in a while that I’m not scrambling to wrap up from one event/trip while catching up at home and simultaneously preparing to leave again for a few days.

I find myself thinking about the year so far, my heart full and grateful for so many things – especially people.  And while I revel in sinking back into daily life at home with my family, I also find myself sifting and sorting and trying to identify how I’m different for having lived the past 8 weeks.  It would be a shame to end up just the same when so many little moments were engineered to make me new, better than before.  Closer to that girl in the distance.  I’m not sure I’ll ever catch her; progression is part of the great plan of life; but she feels closer to me lately, more authentic.  I don’t want to lose that feeling in all the laundry and homework and carpools I’m jumping back into.

What do you do to stay changed?  How do you keep life’s beautiful experiences close by so you don’t forget them and lose ground?  How do you preserve them before the everyday runs right over them, distorting their shape and shine?   I am working to write them down.  I also added a photo to my study spot, and this morning wrote a to-do list of all the terribly important (but now not urgent) things I must do while it’s still fresh, or at least somewhat so.  And I’m praying about the process.

I snapped the photo of Mt. Rainier with my phone while on a quick walk around Gig Harbor, WA in January.  Having served in Washington as a missionary 20 years ago, I know full well what a gift it was to have a beautiful, clear, sunny day in January with a clear view of that mountain.  Although the image is poor in quality, when I see it, the jump-for-joy clenching feeling in my heart returns and I re-live that moment of receiving a gift that was intensely personal even if I shared it with everyone else on a stroll around the harbor that day.

I guess the girl I mean to be is a lot like my favorite mountain.  Sometimes clear and bright and looming, sometimes smaller and floating above the clouds, sometimes faint, and sometimes shrouded in clouds.  Yet there, always there.  Occasionally it’s so big, so beautiful, so close it seems I can reach out and touch it.

More soon.


December 31, 2014
by jennifer

Life Story Medallion Quilt


Perhaps you remember this quilt.  I started it back in February of 2013 and added to it over the next six months or so. I finished the quilt top in August and shared photos of it here.  For a while I didn’t share it simply because I hadn’t taken proper photos of it.  This fall I finally enlisted the help of my husband and son and we took some awesome photos but they were all lost on my old hard drive.  I’ve struggled with how much I wanted to write about this quilt, but today, as I review the year and prepare for 2015, I suddenly needed to tell it now.  I got it out, spread it over the guest bed for some indoor photos and here we go!

This quilt was a totally new quilting experience for me.  As it developed, border by border, it changed and became different – but better – than I’d pictured.  It challenged me, fed me, and was generally a beautiful experience.

But something happened half-way through it, something that made me love it even more but struggle to talk about it.  It happened on border #5.

Border 5 is the mosaic styled one, with all the strips sewn into squares sewn into nine-patch units.  It’s beautiful, but it’s also chaos.  I had just attached that border and was holding it up to show to my children.  My oldest daughter immediately noticed a mistake on a previous border and I was amazed that I hadn’t caught it sooner.  I concluded that if I hadn’t caught it, or anyone I’d shown it to before that point (including all my friends at UCMQG) then I could probably just leave it and no one would ever really notice.  Since that day no one has pointed it out.

But it got me thinking, and looking at what I’d made so far.


Suddenly I realized that I’d quilted my life!  I couldn’t have created something that more closely mirrored my life story and m.  It was quite a moment for me, to look at the center of that quilt and every subsequent border and see my life represented so perfectly by them.  From the near-perfectly pieced 8 pointed star in the center to the paper pieced arrows, so much of my life was based on the idea that if I was careful and good and did my best, things would always work out.  I don’t mean the working out that comes from living through things, but the innocent idea that things would work out the way I wanted them to.  Pretty.  Neat.  Orderly.  Perfect family, adorable children, etc.  I thought that if I sent my arrows in the right direction they would all fly straight and true and hit my mark.  I really did.  I get that it’s funny, but it was 100% me.  And then I entered motherhood.  It worked for a while, right up until I had six kids.  That was when I started noticing things not completely coming together all the time.  I forgot things, messed them up. missed them entirely.  Not that I hadn’t made mistakes along the way.  But perfectionism worked pretty well for me until I had six kids.  Then came my unraveling, little by little.  Babies 7 and 8 finished the job and I’ve been trying to find my way ever since.

What a revelation, to see it all playing out there in my quilt.

By that time, I’d already made border #6 and I sewed it on, still pondering the whole thing.


Those two borders, numbers five and six (six is the flying geese border pointing to the outer edges of the quilt), are where I live.  It’s my current stage.  Beautiful and busy and full of good things, but totally crazy.  I’m forever trying to push my way out of it to some sort of calm – any sort of calm.  I guess I’d really like the calm where I feel like I get to resume the “once upon a time” narration of my life, the idea that I have a story to tell and I’m in charge of how it turns out.  Wouldn’t we all like that?  Believe me, with 8 children in our family and all the surprises that daily land in my lap, sometimes I’m crazy for the feeling that I can see even ONE THING through to completion without it being changed beyond recognition.  Some days I think I’m getting there, like our family is getting to a calmer, more manageable stage, and then life rises up like a tidal wave and sends me crashing back into the middle of border 5.

Making this quilt taught me that where I live, crazy as it is, is beautiful, and necessary, and OK.


Every border I added after that point, in addition to being aesthetically pleasing to me, also became a statement of faith.  A promise to myself that I will finish the job, stay the course, and that things will work out for the best.  Not the way I pictured, but far better than I pictured.  Each border represents something specific that I won’t go into here, but they represent a great deal to me.  Those borders are my statement that “the best is yet to come,” that motherhood is awesome, and that I’m excited to see it all unfold.


The quilt measures nearly 85 inches square, a huge project to quilt myself, but I felt compelled to do it.  I tried a different style of free motion quilting on every border, some with more success than others, but I did it.  Somewhere in the middle the whole project had become a spiritual experience for me and I wanted to say that I’d stitched every stitch myself.  If this quilt is like my life story, I couldn’t ask someone else to bring it to life through the quilting.


And actually, with all the mistakes, I’m crazy proud of it.  It’s heavily quilted.  I wanted to quit so many times but kept going.  I learned a lot and got better at what I was doing.  It was an awesome experience and I LOVE how it looks.


In fact, I think this is the first quilt I’ve made that I would call an heirloom.  It’s the first quilt I’ve set out so I can look at it every day.  I usually roll up my quilts and add them to the bucket in the family room for snuggling.  I’m ok with them getting spilled on and being loved.  They become part of the fabric of our family life which is, as I stated, messy.  Not this one.  It hangs on a ladder in my room and I see it every day and smile.  It reminds me that I’m in.  No matter how hard it feels, I’m in, and we’re going to make it.  I love this quilt.  There will never be another just like it and it’s totally, completely, ME.


I pieced one more arrow block and embroidered it for use as a quilt label.  It says:

Life Story Medallion Quilt – Jennifer S. Harrison
begun January 2013, finished February 2014   www.hopefulhomemaker.com
inspired by modern medallion challenge of Utah County Modern Quilt Group

I usually finish my bindings by machine to avoid aggravating an old elbow injury, but this one I finished by hand.  And of course, it had to be a black and white binding!



It’s done.  Someday I hope to take better pictures of it, but for tonight my heart is happy to have these photos and to share it here.  It’s a great way to sum up the year and say good-bye to 2014.

Life is great, isn’t it?!

Previous posts about this quilt:
Lone Star Block Tutorial
Border 4
Medallion Border 5
Modern Medallion Progress
Medallion: Pluses and Arrows
Medallion:  Arrows and Orange
Medallion Quilt Top

December 31, 2014
by jennifer
1 Comment

Nine-Patch Mini Quilt


In November my friend Pamela hosted a mini quilt exchange.  I was so excited to be invited to participate, but nervous as could be about it.  I’d never done an exchange before and was afraid my offering wouldn’t be good enough.  I had an idea I’d thought about for weeks but had to skip because of time constraints.  Finally I got out some of the leftover scraps from Scarlet’s quilt and started playing with them.  I settled on this layout and got started.


The inspiration for this mini quilt was three-fold.  I’ve never made the granny square quilt I pinned forever ago.  I also bought Camille Roskelley’s Niner pattern, but have never even opened it up.  Finally, I’d been looking at some photos of stained glass windows, admiring the beauty of the light and color between the leaded glass.


I sewed a dozen little nine patches and then started sashing them with a thin strip of black with gray polka dots.  I used the last of my dark gray solid (I love this color and can’t believe I never wrote down the manufacturer, color, or even where I got it!) for the center block and setting triangles.  Soon it was all put together and actually looked good!  Relief!


Next came stress about quilting it.  I wanted to do something to make the center block awesome but didn’t want to highlight my poor fmq skills.  At last I chose straight line quilting and went to work with the hera marker.  Above is what it looked like with all my quilting lines marked.  It looked awesome so I knew I was on the right track but I did wish for a minute that the lines would magically become quilting.  I was so afraid to mess it up!


Here it is, quilted in a medium gray thread.  Not too bad!  Actually, I was ridiculously happy/relieved that it worked.


Even the back looks cool!


I learned some good things through this experience.  While I am likely my own worst critic, I am also accepting of my own work.  I know the story behind the decisions, the time constraints, the intention and the vision.  So I roll with the imperfections pretty well because at the end of a project I’m reminded what a gift it was to squeeze it in at all.  It terrifies me to sew for money because I feel like getting paid would require total perfection.  Sewing for a swap felt a little like this.  I didn’t want the person who opened mine to be disappointed!  I was crazy nervous at the party and realized I may have a few lessons to learn about confidence when surrounded by quilters I admire.


When my package was finally opened, no one looked my way.  It took a few minutes for them to figure out who made it.  I knew the design was outside what might be called “my style” and yet I really love it.  It was harder to give away than I thought it would be, a reminder that when we create things, we put pieces of our hearts in them and letting them go can be bittersweet.


It would be fun to make a second one to hang in my laundry room with the three other mini quilts there.  We’ll see if I ever take the time to do it.  I’m so glad I got to participate in the swap despite my (out of character) nervousness.  It was a good experience in creativity and self-expression!


December 31, 2014
by jennifer

Life’s Journey Quilt


This quilt has been years in the finishing!  Begun early in 2010, this post is being written almost 5 years later.  Crazy.  When I originally pieced it, I wanted to have it professionally quilted.  It turns out, the longer you wait to quilt sometimes, the easier it is later to do it yourself.  Such was the case with this quilt.  While I still like it, it’s no longer my current favorite so I became less attached to a professional job.

Even so, learning free motion quilting is much easier said than done!  This quilt was worked on, quit, put away, and brought back out perhaps more than any other project of my life.  I’d quilt a little and get so annoyed with myself that I’d set aside, vowing to unpick it all.  But when I got it out again, I wasn’t in the mood to unpick so I would quilt a little more until the same thing happened.  I even remember at one point discovering, after a very rough section, that I’d never lowered my feed dogs!

After a while I decided that the name of the quilt pattern, “Life’s Journey” was appropriate for my quilting journey and that I’d leave it as it is, keeping the quilt as a reminder that we all start as beginners at something and slowly get better with practice.


The section above is pretty rough, but I also got better in some sections!


The aqua background quilting was intended to look like water flowing, but in fact looked more like flames.  Yet when it was finished and washed, it simply looks fine.


That alphabet print in the upper left corner of the above photo makes me smile.  I believe I bought it in early 2006 (maybe even before that?), on clearance.  I still remember how much I loved it.  I bought everything they had left of it and the lady at the quilt shop thought I was nuts and basically told me so.  She thought I must be some crazy school teacher or something to like a fabric that had TEXT on it.  Ha!  I’ve used that fabric in so many quilts over the years and it always makes me smile.  Guess I was a little ahead of trend on that purchase.  ;)


The borders were the last part I quilted (done in December 2013) and I really enjoyed them.  It’s the only time I’ve ever used the fabric print to dictate quilting but I love how it looks on this beautiful tile print from Laura Gunn.  This is a fabric I’d love to buy yards and yards of if only someone still had it.  Isn’t it funny sometimes the things we love?  It surprises me how much I love this print, but I love it all the same.


For this quilt I pieced a mostly low-volume backing.  More of that tile print and the alphabet print too!  I also used a few favorite pieces of French General’s first collection, Rouenneries.  I had loved French General before they announced their first fabric collection with Moda, so these fabrics were much anticipated.


On New Year’s Eve in 2013 I finished binding this quilt.  I have no good reason why it took me another year to bury threads, wash, photograph and post about it!


Now that it’s done, I’m happy not just with the outcome of the quilt, but also with the process.  I’m reminded that it’s the work of experts that draws us to a craft, but we all have to do the work of beginners when we start.  So much of this quilt shows the hard work of learning something new, but when you stand back and look at it as a whole, it looks just fine.  Which is often how life is.  We can get hung up on little details and small areas and forget that in the end it will look like life, no matter how imperfect some spots may be.  I’m grateful for that reminder, happy to have learned the lesson – again – in a small way.


Other posts about this quilt:
Life’s Journey quilt

December 31, 2014
by jennifer
1 Comment

Chic Kisses Mini Quilt


In November I had the opportunity to test the Chic Kisses pattern for Sew Kind of Wonderful.  This pattern uses the Quick Curve Ruler, which I had been curious about but hadn’t used.  I’ve sewn a few curves with success and wanted to give it a try.  I ordered the ruler and ended up choosing fabrics in a traditional Christmas color scheme.


Having never used the Quick Curve Ruler before, I worried that I’d mess things up because this is a more complicated pattern.  To my relief I found it easy to follow and my first four blocks came together quickly and painlessly.  I stopped at four blocks to make one ring and decided on a mini quilt.


The quilting Jenny does on her quilts amazes me.  I could stare at it for hours.  I had her work in mind as I quilted this little thing.  It was good practice for me – full of mistakes – and I tried something new.

This quilt pattern is really amazing.  I’ve got a bundle of fabrics I’m going to use to make a big Chic Kisses quilt.  I just need to decide on solids.  If you’re considering the QCR or any of the Sew Kind of Wonderful patterns, I recommend them!  It’s a lot of fun!


My chic kisses mini hung in the living room during the holiday season and I enjoyed seeing it there.   It was great to have the chance to test the pattern and learn a new technique.  Today it’s all packed away and the year ends tonight.  It’s been a good year and we’ve been very blessed, but I’m excited for a new year and all it will hold.

December 29, 2014
by jennifer

Nate’s Quilt


This is the last of the quilts I made for my kids last year.   I had a special wish in my heart with this quilt.  It belongs to my now 17-year-old son and I knew it might be the last quilt I make for him before he leaves home.  I wanted it to be big enough for his six foot frame but I also had very little time to put it together.


The other challenge I had was choosing a color scheme and fabrics for a kid who generally avoids a lot of color or pattern.  I realized there was one area in his life, however, where color doesn’t bother him, and it’s in his snowboarding gear.  I took a cue from the colors he’s got in his gear and decided to make another scrappy trip quilt.  This one looks completely different from the one I made earlier in 2013!  I used three different colors of metro rings fabric – lime green, orange, and turquoise, and a ton of black and gray fat quarters for all the other strips.


It’s backed with a plain black minky fabric and quilted on a 9-patch grid.  I remember basting this quilt on the kitchen floor on December 23rd as the children lay around the Christmas tree for our annual tradition of sleeping beneath the tree.  I was totally out of time and we had company staying with us but it worked out! {Translation: I got very little sleep.}


The binding is a large black and white text print and I love how graphic it looks.  It totally suits his style (and his art).  The blocks are set in a chevron style which isn’t overpowering because half of the blocks have no color.  It was a lot of fun to sew, and I think I met my goal.  He likes it, it’s big and cozy, and it got finished in time for Christmas 2013.  A year later, it’s still on his bed and seeing plenty of use.


December 29, 2014
by jennifer

Giant Star Quilts


These two giant star quilts were made using Jeni Baker’s tutorial. They were among the gifts I gave my children for Christmas in 2013.  These two particular quilts were for my then 9 and 11 year old daughters, who share a room.  I wanted them to have something similar that was also personalized.  Each of them chose the fabrics for their quilts, so they enjoyed opening them on Christmas morning.


The biggest difference between the two is my choice in background fabric.  One was pieced with a solid white and the other with the IKEA Britten Nummer fabric.  I like them both.


My favorite element in both quilts is the quilting.  Again, I did straight line quilting.  My lines are unevenly spaced but all form a V moving from the edge of the quilt with the point towards the center.  I like the way it enhanced the quilt pattern and helps provide beautiful texture after washing.


Again, the quilts feature a simple minky backing to guarantee the approval of my girls.



They were a hit and have been much loved over the past year.  I can’t believe that 2014 has come and gone so quickly, as it doesn’t seem so long ago that I finished these quilts with a smile and a sigh of relief.  A good reminder that 2015 will likely come and go in like manner.

December 29, 2014
by jennifer

Solid & Stripes Quilt


A year ago {Christmas 2013} I gave each of my children a new quilt for Christmas.  As I’ve combed through the few pictures I can find from the last 2 years of our lives, I realized that I never posted pictures of some of them.  This quilt was made for my then 13 year old son, and the pictures were taken hurriedly before wrapping it, with the intent that I would properly photograph it later.  Oh well.



I cut 2.5 strips of my cherished Going Coastal fabrics along with some Shore Thing prints (both collections by Emily Herrick) and added a few additional prints.  I sewed them together with 2.5″ green solid squares between strips and made two sections of this style.  I then added a navy blue solid between them so it wouldn’t be too busy for his tastes.  It is simply quilted and I love the way it puckered up a little after washing.




As with all of my other children, the quilt top means little compared to a minky backing in this case.  All they seemed to care about was size and minky, which is fine.  If I hadn’t been able to please them with ultra simple quilt designs I likely wouldn’t have reached my goal of giving one to each of them.  While this quilt isn’t my favorite one I made last year, it has certainly been loved and used, which makes me very happy.

December 28, 2014
by jennifer
1 Comment

Scarlet’s Quilt

In October a sweet little girl we know turned eight years old.  She’s the only girl in her family, and over the past couple of summers it’s been fun to watch her play with all my girls. There have been more afternoons spent sitting together outdoors dressing dolls and playing than I can count.  I decided to make her a little quilt to use on those afternoons.


Unfortunately, all my photos of the quilt have been lost except for these three taken with my phone.   I went with a bright color scheme and chose a large range of designers for the fabrics. Some prints I’ve had for years while others have been released this year.  The quilt is simply pieced, patchwork style, with 6.5 inch squares.


A low volume back was selected from my stash, straight line quilting done on the diagonal through each square in both directions, and a black and white binding finished it off.  I also made a second doll-sized quilt from leftover squares.  The quilt was excitedly delivered by my younger four daughters and happily received by their friend.


Handmade gifts are joyful things.

December 27, 2014
by jennifer


ornament on white tree

I don’t know how to write this post, but have to do it for my own heart’s sake.

I walked my 7 year old daughter to bed tonight with a grateful heart; it was the first time in days that the effort to walk up the stairs didn’t wipe me out.  It’s been a holiday season like no other at our house, one I hope is never repeated, one that I think would be impossible to repeat.  I didn’t think it could get much worse and then I got hit with a fever and a new round of the flu on December 23rd.  Whatever holiday trimmings I thought I’d managed to hang on to were quickly added to the pile of sacrifices already made.  My pride gone, we literally survived the Christmas holiday.  But even me being sick didn’t ruin it completely.  I guess that’s part of the magic of Christmas.  I know how I will remember this year, but I have a feeling most of my children will remember it as being like most others (thanks largely to online shopping and two day shipping!).

In November the hard drive on my laptop suddenly died.  It’s been looked at by several different people and no one can find a hint of data on it.  Two years of pictures – almost half of my youngest daughter’s life – gone.  I’ve done a terrible job of posting this year – because I was trying to be a better mom.  I’ve done an even worse job of printing photos – because I was busy being a mom.  Journaling?  None of that.  And all those photos are gone.  It’s been a month since it happened and it still makes me cry.  I’ve been so mad at myself for not backing it up, but there’s nothing to be done about it.  The parenting part of my daily life has been especially rugged for the past 2 months and I know it’s tainted how I feel about the entire year.  I’d like nothing more than to look back at pictures of our trip to the beach, our trip to Arches, at any proof there was that I’m doing a good job and actually enjoying this motherhood thing.  It’s all gone.  The last year with all 8 of our children living at home.  So many last things.  And no record of any of them – them or the year before them.  And the thought that being so consumed with trying to be a better mom caused me to slack on the “nonessential” task of blogging, or printing, or doing ANYTHING with those memories makes me want to scream.  How could I have let motherhood rob me of THIS?

We got to re-create two science fair projects in one day.  They were done, on the laptop, and then they were gone.  Lots of scrambling and stress and frustration.  So many things I’d prepared in advance so December would be manageable just didn’t happen.  I find it almost funny how much I converted to digital this year only to lose it all.  There were changes in my responsibilities at church in October that brought beautiful opportunities to serve but which also threw the moving parts of daily life into disarray.  We still haven’t recovered, and the stress of trying to run faster while not managing my home well finally started making me physically ill.   I’ve been getting up at 4:45 a.m. to get the family going on time before school, but waiting up till 11 or 11:30 for my son to come home from work, when he hangs out in our bedroom playing a game on his phone and finally starts talking about his day, his life, his friends, his thoughts.  Such an important event to stay awake for, but man, it’s hard.  Lack of sleep has certainly taken it’s toll.  A couple of my children need an awful lot from me right now, feeling like full-time jobs in themselves, and the worry never goes away.  I’ve missed doing things I love to do. They are good things, and they keep me balanced.  I’ve reminded myself over and over again how happy I should be because I am anchored in Jesus Christ, and deep inside I am, because I have a game plan thanks to Him and I understand what needs to be fixed thanks to Him.  Because of Him, all the big things are already worked out.  That’s why we celebrate Christmas.  I’ve worked very hard this year to conquer all negativity – and come a long way – but suddenly doubt and fear loomed large simply because I’m completely worn out.  No one thing that’s happened has been so awful, but the mix of everything was well tailored for me and my weaknesses.  As I’ve replayed it all in my mind from my position on the couch this week it makes perfect sense that I crashed.

And yet, it turned out the crash wasn’t all bad.

I’ve never spent Christmas laying on the couch just watching my children.  I’ve always been hurrying around, cleaning up the mess, preparing the dinner, making sure the next phase of the day is ready while everyone else enjoys the flow.  This year I hardly moved.  Instead I observed them.  I watched movies with them.  My youngest two girls came dozens of times to check on me and snuggle for a while.  We took naps together.  They talked and talked and talked while I tickled their backs.  I watched the children serve each other, play together, build relationships and make memories.  I felt grateful for their patience with me, for how graciously they accepted the meager meals we had in place of our traditional celebrations.  My husband and I have sat next to each other more than we have in months.  It’s not fun being sick, but it caused me to be fully present.  It was the only thing I could do.  And it was actually quite a gift.  A gift and a profound learning experience for me.

I’m typing this post from the new laptop my husband surprised me with for Christmas.  I am terribly blessed.  My heart aches about the pictures, but I have my children.  They are strong and healthy, full of potential.  They are trying to be good.  We all are.  So much living goes on under this roof every day – it’s no wonder there’s a mountain of worry and work to keep me company.   I’ve been reminded that I’m a mentally, spiritually and emotionally healthy person when I properly protect the daily habits that nourish my spirit.   I’m starting to get better.  I am SO ready to close the door on 2014, but grateful for how my year-end challenges have honed my priorities and clarified my vision.  I am full of hope and excitement for the new year.

And there is my summary of the last quarter of the year.  I’m praying that the sweet, happy  memories that I know I lived will come to my memory and I’ll record them as they do.  It’s been a good year, a year of learning and stretching and trusting and trying.  I knew that having everyone in school would be a good test of all my organizational powers and I was right.  My only priority right now is to get the rest I need so I can carry it all again come January 5th and do it with more joy and confidence than I have for the past few weeks.  And if I’m lucky I’ll get the house cleaned back up and maybe even squeeze in some sewing.

Life is good.

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