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Alias Grace Movie News

February 6, 2013

My much-loved copy of Alias Grace: no back cover, missing pages :)

My much-loved copy of Alias Grace: no back cover, missing pages 🙂

The Toronto Star wrote this article a few weeks back about Sarah Polley. It concentrates mainly on her recent work on Stories We Tell and the buzz on the awards it’s received and may be honoured with in the future. It’s all very exciting – especially since the article notes at the end that she while she will be directing the Alias Grace movie she’s also writing it, but only “manages to find time to write when her daughter naps but the process is slow and she’s not sure when she’ll start production”. I can totally relate to that 🙂 Hooo boy can I relate to that!

When I see more news about movie in my travels I’ll be sure to share it here. And if anyone knows how to get in touch with Sarah Polley (or can do it directly) please remember I’m the perfect gal to write the music for this movie.


Valentine’s Day, The Civil War, and Quilts

February 3, 2013

At our house, our televisions are mostly silent – we’ve given up cable and use Netflix or online viewing (and only very rarely). Because this form of entertainment uses up costly bandwidth we read a lot more or play games or listen to audiobooks and music. I recently was able to get a digital version of The Civil War Love Letter Quilt borrowed through my local library and thought that my visitors might find it as interesting as I did.

The American Civil War was fought between 1861 and 1865, which correlates with the time that Grace Marks would have been in jail and (hypothetically) making the quilt blocks in the Atwood book. As quilt block patterns then were mostly passed along from friends and family the designs, if not the names, would have been similar throughout North America. The Civil War Love Letter Quilt uses letters sent from men engaged in battle in one form or another to their loved ones back home, and takes a phrase from each letter to name a quilt block. The blocks are traditional and contemporary but the names all seem to be new.

It’s a fascinating read, because it features letters from men who are instructing their families from afar, dealing with death and disease themselves, some of whom die before reaching their loved ones again. One fellow signed up for battle and didn’t even go home to say to tell his family and say goodbye – and later died on the battlefield. There are various instances of men’s ideas of what women were supposed to represent at the time: fragility, flightiness, home-serving, pure. It’s not an ideal pattern book if you are looking for modern-day sewing patterns but if you have some reproduction period fabrics and like to create quilt blocks the old fashioned way, this book will be right up your alley. Any of the blocks would be fantastic in any fabric design, though – there are 121 patterns to be foundation pieced or pieced by hand or machine and I can picture them in the fabrics from Grace’s time or modern batiks.

These love letters from a distant era are a great way to get into the Valentine’s Day spirit and get acquainted with life as a Civil War soldier, with the added bonus of dreaming of the quilts you’d make with the blocks from each featured letter.

Two versions are available on
The Civil War Love Letter Quilt: 121 Quilt Blocks Inspired by Love and War
The Civil War Love Letter Quilt -






The Civil War Love Letter Quilt: 121 Quilt Blocks Inspired by Love and War (Kindle version)
The Civil War Love Letter Quilt (Kindle version) -




I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did! 🙂

Snow Dyeing for Quilts

January 9, 2013

Snow Dyeing: Results of blue, purple, teal, and green dyes

Results of blue, purple, teal, and green dyes (Photo ©2013 by Michelle Southern)

Would Grace have approved of this kind of project? On the one hand she might have been happy to find a use for the abundance of snow our area gets over the winter season; and no doubt she’d have appreciated the easy-to-use, colourfast dyes available today. On the other hand the unpredictable results along with the unconventional colourings would go against her claim that “we don’t wish to get a reputation in the neighbourhood for being too original“. Setting aside the trends of her time I believe she would have enjoyed the fun of snow dyeing, and I am writing this tutorial because I love it and think you will too.

Snow Dyeing: This is a bin layered with draped fabric, fresh snow, and the dye has been applied on top

Snow Dyeing: Prepped and waiting with red, orange, and yellow dye

To start this project you’ll need protected surfaces (plastic is best), a tub large enough to accommodate your fabric, rubber gloves, colourfast dyes, and snow. You can choose as many dye colours as you want or stick to a particular colour family. Bear the following in mind: if the dye you use isn’t colourfast you may ruin any project it’s used in (along with any laundry it’s washed with). Be sure to follow any instructions for processing included with the dye to ensure colourfastness.


As always, this tutorial is informational only – your results may vary. Be sure to use only safe methods when you’re working and protect surfaces, clothing, people, pets, eyeballs, etc. for every step. You may need to include additional steps according to your circumstances and products used. Read and double check all instructions for dye. If you enjoyed this tutorial please feel free to link back here in your blog post about your results; for any other uses please read this site’s “Terms of Use” for more info.

How To Do Your Own Snow Dyeing

  1. Prepare all surfaces by covering with plastic (best) or several layers of newspaper. Powdered dye flies everywhere so don’t be afraid to really extend your work area protection.
  2. Thoroughly wet the cotton or cotton-blend fabric you’ll be dyeing. Squeeze out excess water until just damp; drape and arrange as required in plastic tub.
  3. Prepare your dye – mine is a simple “just add water” brand. Bear in mind that the more dilute you make the dye, the weaker the colour will be; the snow will make it even weaker. Choose colours with care or wild abandon. I’ve had success with using red/blue/purple and blue/green/yellow together but also using a single colour of varying dilutions. To use the latter start with a single bottle of strong dye, use until about half done, add water and repeat.
  4. Pack the bin that you’ve placed the fabric into with snow. No need to remove the fabric to add the snow. Just put it on top and cover the fabric.
  5. Apply dye as desired. Swirls, lines, it doesn’t matter as you can’t really control the results. Allow to sit in the protected work area for several hours (probably four to eight hours, depending on the temperature of the work area and how much snow you’ve used).

    Snow Dyeing: This is a bin layered with draped fabric, fresh snow, and the dye has been applied on top

    Photo ©2013 by Michelle Southern

  7. I like to periodically drain the water and dye from the bottom of the bin every half hour or so. Alternatively you can leave it (which may affect the finished effect) OR you can set up a rack over a sink to allow it to drain itself. I don’t include this as more than an option to consider as it carries its own risks, advantages, challenges, and results.
  8. Once all snow has melted, or you’re happy with how the dye has saturated through the fabric (remembering the colour will appear darker when wet) carefully remove fabric from the bin and rinse. Wring out and wash without detergent separately from regular laundry or as directed on the package of the dye you used. Remove from washer and test for colourfastness – I like to wet the fabric and wring it over a white paper towel. If any colour appears (I’ve never had this happen) another rinse is in order, but if the water never runs clear the piece is not colourfast and not suitable for most quilts.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial for snow dyeing! It’s a fun, fantastic way to get some beautiful and unique fabric for your quilts using our frigid, annoying, fun, Canadian winter season as inspiration. Have fun! 🙂

Here are some of the results:

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Secret Drawer Is On Its Way

June 10, 2012

Secret Drawer Quilt Block (©2012 by Michelle Southern)

Secret Drawer (©2012 by Michelle Southern)

I’ve had the Secret Drawer block finished and ready for weeks now, but I must admit I’m having a heck of a time getting much of anything done except what I need to get done. I didn’t set out to make this a blog about me, but the chronic pain and limited mobility from a frozen shoulder has certainly put limits on what I can currently tackle in terms of what is urgent and what is not. And to top it off my computer is behaving badly so I’m not really up for the extra frustration lately. In truth, it takes a LOT to put together a pattern for you and while it’s a labour of love it’s going to be slow going for the next little while and I apologize. Every day I don’t have it available for you is another day of feeling guilty about it – especially since I’ve already picked out the next quilt block and have been trying to find a way to draft it. Some of the quilt blocks in the book do not seem to exist outside its pages – and I’m still relying on non-Google and offline resources to keep this all a part of the process for creation – so finding these quilt blocks in their natural habitats is difficult but exciting. I’ll be tackling curves next, and even though the fastest way to make the block would be applique or fusible web the block will be sewn the way our grandmothers would have done it (bet you know the block I mean already).

So here I am, waiting for my Photoshop to respond so I can start re-sizing the photos for the Secret Drawer pattern, and in writing this I’ve decided to attach the photo for the finished block so you can compare it to the initial “fail” block. Well, it’s a fail for making an exact replica of the block in the book, but not a total fail because I do like how the blunted spool-ends make the centre square POW! right out at you. I might make it into a table runner or a pillow cushion. Anyway, I hope you are having an enjoyable summer so far – our weather’s been all over the place but here’s a photo from 6pm that I tweeted today 🙂

Secret Drawer Has Stumped Me

May 16, 2012

Secret Drawer (Version: Fail) - ©2012 by Michelle Southern

Secret Drawer (Version: Fail) – You’ve Opened the Wrong Door ©2012 by Michelle Southern

I’ll admit that on top of some commissioned quilts to make and an aching frozen shoulder the slight complexity to the Secret Drawer block has made me reluctant to tackle it. But on Tuesday I challenged myself to create three things that didn’t already exist and so I gave it a shot.

I made a spool block that was an immediate fail: the block was a rectangle rather than square. So I tried again, ending up with square spool blocks that were much more promising but when the block was finished the points were blunted and it was smaller than I had wanted it to be.

I received a nice camera since the last tutorial and pattern, though, so I have some fantastic photos of a block in progress that didn’t turn out 😉

So the Secret Drawer has its secrets, I guess. I don’t know why I can’t crack them. I’m trying to avoid having to do a template and set-in seams. I did try something new I’d never seen before (stitch-and-flip with oversized flips) but this caused the blunted points, which I happened to like but don’t represent the block in the Alias Grace book.

I’m trying again today. I have the pattern written out and ready, just a few measurements need to be tweaked and the block sewn and photos re-taken and the downloadable file made. I’ve got a heated bag of buckwheat in a stuffed monkey cover slung over my back (giving a new meaning to the phrase) and calculations and ideas loose in my brain. In the meantime I hope you’ll share the bloopers you’ve made while making up patterns or sewing quilt blocks 🙂 Group hug!

Kingston Penitentiary to Close

May 8, 2012

Grace Marks alias Mary Whitney (Toronto Public Library - click to go to CBC article)

Grace Marks alias Mary Whitney (Toronto Public Library – click for CBC article)

Kingston Penitentiary, with its long history of famous/notorious inmates, has been in the news recently. As Canada’s oldest prison it has housed men, women, and also children. It was, for about 30 years, the home of Grace Marks thanks to her part in the murders of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery before she was released and never heard from again. And now Kingston Penitentiary is set to close “sometime in the next two years”.

I’d heard that it was in poor shape and might be re-opened as a museum of some sort. Along with its brutal history of violent punishments, daring escapes, and “celebrity” prisoners I do hope that it would include Grace Marks. Seeing the coarse prison garments sewn by the women inmates, the cells they were kept in, and the experimental medical instruments they were forced to endure procedures with would certainly be enlightening.

Here’s an extremely interesting CBC article on the more notorious Kingston Pen inmates (including a section about Grace Marks):

Blogging the Process

April 26, 2012

The day after I blogged about my process of creating the blocks and original patterns I produce for this site, I clicked on a quilt-related link from a Twitter buddy. The page I ended up at was called Blogging the Process: My 3×6 Bee Blocks. Not only is there a nifty idea for quick and easy quilt blocks, it proved that I so many others are thinking that the journey is part of the creative process. I’ve had that page open ever since then 🙂

That blog post by Two More Seconds leads to Rossie Blog’s “Process Pledge” and if you’re interested in reading more about writing your ideas out – even if you aren’t sure if you’re explaining things right, or don’t have an answer for what you’re trying to do – check out the post and the hundreds of bloggers/photographers who have signed up to take the Pledge. There are also prompts to help you “get some process posts going”. Brilliant!


I Took the Process Pledge


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