Decisions, decisions…

Some have asked why I don’t post a sketch of a new quilt design that I’m working on.  Here’s the reason why:  Even after I think I’m done with the design, having played around with countless versions on EQ6, things still end up changing before I’m done with the actual quilt.  It’s one thing to look at a design on the screen or even on paper.  It’s quite another when you’re actually working on the real thing in actual size. 

Case in point, my new Driftwood quilt.  For the last few days, I have been working on my “practice” block using my own fabrics to make sure all my dimensions are correct and to work out the pressing directions.  I kept looking at that block on the design wall and something just wasn’t quite right.  Couldn’t put my finger on it until tonight when I realized that my color placement just wasn’t working.  I still love all of the fabrics I selected for the quilt, just not in the same places as I had originally thought.  Fortunately, the yardages work out and I have enough for the changes.

Even before I realized there was an issue with the block, I realized I had to change the border, too.  Originally, I had just a plain border.  I don’t like plain borders!  Something had to be done!  So now, the border will be pieced in a design I’ve been wanting to do for a while now.  Here’s my opportunity!

I will say that Driftwood is loosely inspired by my Paradise Squared quilt.  A number of my friends have asked me to pattern this quilt (see the Quilt Gallery tab on my website, but I can’t even imagine where I would start. 

The quilt was designed for my first guild challenge.  The requirements were that it couldn’t be square, it had to have a flower, and there had to be some orange fabric.  First thing that came to my mind was the Bird of Paradise flower.  Then somehow I decided I wanted to base the quilt on the Card Trick block. 

I went to the library and photocopied a picture of the flower.  Then I set about simplifying the photo into a drawing and then a paper-peiced pattern.    The whole quilt, including the borders, was paper-pieced from hand-drawn freezer paper foundations.  It took me 3 months to complete the design.  I think each flower was done in at least 4 sections.  The black stamen were machine appliqued on top.  When I finally went to sew it all together, I realized I had also created a pattern requiring multiple inset seams – AHHH!!!  Somehow it all came together in the end and it is still my favorite quilt.  Aside from a few practice blocks this was my first paper-pieced project!

So for now, I hope those who like Paradise Squared will settle for Driftwood!


Survival of the fittest!

Well, I managed to survive being a Cub Scout Day Camp Counselor for a week!  I never imagined it would be so mentally and physically exhausting!  Fortunately, the weather cooperated.  There were a total of 90 boys at the camp and my co-counselor and I had 10 of the youngest: 6-8 year olds.  It was their (and our) first time at such a camp and on Monday I think we were all overwhelmed.  After 5 days together we had all learned the ropes (literally and figuratively) and managed to have a busy and fun week.

We did lots of fun things including learning to shoot beebee guns, having a try at archery, several woodworking projects, building and shooting  c engine rockets and a lot more.  I was going to post our group shot, but I hesitate publishing a picture of other people’s kids without their permission.  Just trust me that they were cute when they wanted to be!   There were a lot of challenging moments with our kids, but then they’d redeem themselves singing funny cub scout songs and flawlessly perforning the end of camp skit they were reluctant to practice! 

The best thing was to be there and experience camp with my boys.  Andrew was in my group and Stephen was in another older group.  If asked if I’ll do it again next summer – I’ll let you know!

Despite coming home exhausted, I managed to finish the design and select the fabrics for the next Island Batik quilt.  I have a very short timeline to get this one done since Fall Market is earlier this year and they want the quilt in California by Oct 5th.   I am working with a color palette outside my normal – so it should be interesting.  I will be starting a new page on my website so you can follow it’s journey from start to finish.

This is my first full week at home since summer began.  I have a lot of catching up to do!  The house is a disaster!


Home Sweet Home

We arrived back in the USA on Thursday afternoon.  (My last post was actually written from home.)  Leaving after such an extended visit is always bittersweet.  Although the boys and I were probably ready to go home, it is hard to imagine that we won’t be seeing our Estonian relatives again for at least a couple of years.  This is primarily due to the high cost of the airfare.

We had a fantastic time!  For three weeks, it was non-stop get-togethers, excursions, and other assorted adventures.  It was a lot of fun, but certainly not restful! 

I know that since the boys are a bit older this time, the memories of everyone that they met and all that they did will surely stick this time.  I am happy that they felt so comfortable and at home in Estonia.  An outsider looking in at any of the get togethers would never guess that the boys didn’t see their Estonian relatives on a regular basis.  For me that is a wonderful feeling.  In addition to feeling comfortable, I know that they learned a lot: 

They learned how to amuse themselves without TV, video games, or a room full of their favorite toys:  They both picked up a hammer and saw and every chance they got, spent time building many interesting items from scrap wood and nails.

They learned how exciting it is to try new foods and find they really like them: Andrew learned how to peel and enjoy whole shrimp (with the heads still on!)

They learned how to pick wild strawberries in the forest and build a fire to cook sausages!

They learned how to communicate with people when there was a language barrier.  I think Stephen started to understand a bit more Estonian than he let on!

Next week, both boys are attending a week of cub scout day camp – I think they’ll be picking up right where we left off!

As for me, I grew even closer to the family that is so far away.  Technology has made staying in touch that much easier, but it is still no substitute for the real thing!  I will be counting the days till my next visit! 

In the meantime, I have to get back to the work of quilting!  When I arrived home, my new package of Island Batik fabric samples were waiting for me.  I  have to finalize my next design for them and order the fabric so I can finish the next quilt in time for Fall Market in Houston in October.  I’ve got lots of work to do (not to mention unpacking and laundry), so signing off for now!!



Estonian Quilting Workshop

Although my friends often ask for advice on sewing and quilting related problems, I have yet to actually teach a class – until now! 

Last summer, when my cousin, Ülle, visited me in the U.S., I took her to the Quilt Odyssey Show in Hershey, PA.  After that, we spent quite a bit of time in my sewing studio!!!  Prior to my trip to Estonia, Ülle asked me if I would teach a quilting class for some friends and family.  Sure, why not!  I decided that a paper-piecing workshop would be easiest since there was no measurement involved and I did not have enough time to figure out how to convert one of my patterns into metric.  I drew a simple block in EQ6, printed out a bunch of fabrics, grabbed some scraps from the Dandelion Wine quilt as well as some pieces that Moira of Island Batik had given me, my wooden iron and threw it all into the suitcase.

Ülle rounded up 10 friends and family members and on Tuesday I held my first class in the large kitchen area of our farmhouse.  Fortunately, after 2 1/2 weeks, my Estonian wasn’t too rusty anymore.  However, quilting /sewing terms don’t normally make their way into everyday conversation.  For four hours, by brain was on overdrive as I was challenged to give my first ever quilting class, speaking Estonian to a group of Estonian ladies who had never done any quilting before, let alone paper-piecing!  Well, I have to admit it was a success!  After explaining a little bit about how many American women have become  addicted to quilting and the opportunities we have here to buy fabric, patterns, attend classes, and join quilting guilds, I demonstrated how paper piecing is such a great technique to achieve blocks that otherwise would be very difficult. 


Ülle came up with the great idea to have everyone make the same block so that we could put 8 blocks together and see the results.  The block I drew had 8 shapes.  So each woman chose one of the shapes and pre-cut 8 pieces from the same fabric.  Each person then positioned the fabric pieces in preparation for sewing.  All of the sewing was done on 2 machines by Ülle and my other cousin, Annika.  It was a bit of an assembly line, but except for the actual sewing, everyone got a hands-on opportunity to try and understand how to paper-piece.


The finished result was beautiful! 


The quilting bug is definitely a contagious disease!  Reports from after the class indicated that some of the ladies headed straight for the local sewing store to buy a rotary cutter and mat!  (We had 2 of each for use during the class.) Unfortunately, the fabric selection isn’t even close to what we have – so next time you quilters are in your local quilt shop – don’t take for granted the quality, quantity, and selection we have available!

Bottom line:  If I can teach a quilting class in Estonian, I think I can do it in English!   My husband says I should now add “International Quilting Instructor” to list of quilting accomplishments!






Pictures from the Festival

I took 99 pictures at the festival before my battery died.  Here are just a few.  When I get home I will load them all into a photo sharing website.

Dance Celebration:  Dancers entering the stadium from all directions:


7,500 dancers altogether:


The ship at sea:


Back from the sea, ladies in waiting, and together again:


Can’t get this close the president’s house in the U.S.!  On our way to the parade we took a shortcut through the president’s property.


 My boys – they made me very happy by wearing the vests and hats even if for only a short while!


Song festival:  Ampitheater grounds before and after.  Tallinn harbor is is in the background

Nearly 25,000 singers on one stage!

before-singers.jpg     full-stage.jpg

 The torch has been lit, let the singing begin!


Hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into Estonia’s most favorite celebration!



In one word – overwhelming!  The Estonian Song and Dance Festival is an experience that is is truly difficult to explain without experiencing it first hand.  I am not sure where to begin so I’ll just start at the beginning.

On Saturday, the Dance Celebration started at 11:00 and lasted 3 hours.  At the start and end, there were at one time 7,500 dancers (3rd graders and up) all dressed in national costume, all dancing together.  There was even a NATO jet flyover! (Estonia is a member of NATO and the European Union much to the chagrin of Russia. )

Probably half of the spectators were also dressed in national costume.  Estonians are very proud of their dress and wear it whenever there is an opportunity.  In the morning and in the evening on our way home, everywhere you looked were people dressed in national costume. 

The dance concert began with the dancers pouring into the stadium from every direction – it was an amazing sight that brought tears to my eyes.   Even my boys (a pretty tough audience) were wide eyed at the sight.

The dances followed a story outline of Estonians’ relationship with the sea.  Fishermen, their spouses, and their stories.  It was simply beautiful.

After the conclusion of the Dance Celebration, all of the choir ensembles that had been invited to sing paraded from the center of Tallinn for 6 kilometers to the Song Festival grounds and ampitheater.  I think this took about 7 hours.  Unfortunately, it took 1 1/2 hours longer than expected and the evening concert was delayed by that much.  This was in part due to the unprecedented number of choirs invited to join.  We walked along with the procession to the ampitheater.  We saw groups from all over the world. 

The ampitheater grounds were filled with food, drink,and souvenir stands.  As the procession continued to empty into the grounds along with all of the people who were attending, it was wall to wall people.  The crowd, however, was very orderly and respectful.

There were 2 Song Concerts: Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.  The Saturday evening concert consisted of some traditional songs at the start and then mostly more serious orchestra and choral arrangements.  The Sunday concert was much more of a collection of familiar and  new folk and national songs.  At the start and end of the Sunday Concert there were 24,500 men, women, and children dressed in national costume singing together on one stage. In between there was anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 people singing together depending on the category.   It total, estimates for Saturday were about 75,000 people in total participating and attending.  Estimates for Sunday’s performance were over 100,000.  I can’t even imagine where 25,000 more people could have fit!   On Sunday, the concert lasted 5 1/2 hours. 

We took seats on the lawn high up on the hill across from the ampitheater with a beautiful view of everything.  As I said earlier, the concert statrted a bit late, but still with ceremony with the lighting of the torch.  This is a very similar to feeling to the Olympics.  I suppose you could call this the Estonian Olympics, except that everyone here is a winner.  There are no losers.  Unfortunately, after a beautiful day, the weather was no longer cooperating and we made the decision to leave, especially since we had reunited with the kids.  Still not wanting to miss anything, we listened on the radio on the way home.

It’s one thing to watch a large performance group who have rehearsed a lot together.  These dancers and singers and rehearsed only in their small groups until coming together only a few days before the whole festival.  I have difficulty directing 2 children never mind 7,000!!!!  Much rightful thanks and praise were bestowed upon the organizers, choreographers, directors, dance instructors, and choir leaders after each performance.

In addition to all of the people actually at the festival over the weekend, all of the performances were broadcast live on radio and television.  I have to believe that nearly all Estonians were somehow watching or listening!  The current population of Estonia is around 1.5 million, about 30% of which are ethnic Russians.  (That’s a story for another day.)

When we got home (which is a good hour and half ride) Saturday night at midnight, we made the decision to watch the Sunday concert on television.  Although, I really wanted to be there in the middle of it all, the weather was iffy and it was actually more interesting to watch, because you were able to see more from all of the televised close-ups and listen to commentaries from various dignitaries involved in the whole festival.  (Of course there was also the issue of the children – it’s a very long day!)  I understand that the last concert had big screens, but perhaps due to economic constraints they were absent this time. 

Song and dance are very important parts of Estonian life.  The National Culture Minister, which is a very important position in government, even directed part of the song concert, not as part of her official duties, but because that is what she does.   The traditions of song and dance groups have helped to keep the Estonian spirit alive both in Estonia and everywhere where they have ventured.  It is still amazing to me that the country has been independent for so little time and yet can somehow maintain a sense of nationalism.  Even during Soviet times,  Estonians  managed to maintain the now 140 year old song festival tradition, despite not being allowed to sing certain patriotic songs.  The secret is obviously in the music! 

To Breathe as One  – the title of this year’s Festival – is a perfect way to describe the thousands of participants and spectators as they danced, marched and sang their way through the weekend!

We are already making plans to attend the next festival in 2014!  Join us!


Laulupidu (Estonian Song Festival)

Tonight was the start of the Estonian Dance and Song Festival that I had talked about in a post before I left.  The festival is a very big deal in Estonia.  It is an occasion of national pride and solidarity.

Tomorrow morning we drive to Tallinn for the dance concert in the morning and song concert in the evening.  In between there is a procession through town of all the partakers dressed in national costume.  Most Estonian onlookers will also be dressed for the occasion including me and if I can convince them, my boys, too, will at least be wearing a vest and hat.  The festival continues on Sunday.  We may go back for the final concert dependent on weather.  Hopefully by Monday I will be able to post some pictures.  In the meantime, you can look at   for more information on the festival.


Kihnu Island

Finally, with this post I am caught up.  The last few posts all have the same date, but reflect our activities for the last 5 days.

Yesterday, was a brand new adventure.  My cousin,Ülle, her husband, Mati, and I loaded up some bicycles and took the ferry to Kihnu Island.  We left the kids behind to go to the beach with my cousin, Annika.  Smart move!  It was a day off for kids and Mom!


Kihnu Island can be somewhat compared to American Amish country, in that the people that live there (only about 600) are very dedicated to keeping their traditional ways of living.  That’s not to say they don’t have the modern conveniences of cars and electricity, but they lead a very simple life of living off the land and sea.  In the last few years, awareness of Kihnu and its traditions have been increasing – for good and probably bad.  For good, they received grant money from the European Union and established a beautiful museum.  For bad, tourism is on the rise, and with it there is always the danger of commercialization.

In any event, it is a beautiful island with a road that circles the perimeter.  Along the way, there are established farms, each with their own names and markings that are used to identify everything from farm animals, to tools to beautiful handwork.

Fishing is naturally big occupation.  Along our ride, we saw fisherman bringing their nets from the sea, layingthem out over the hay fields and we assume repairing or detangling them.  All the while sea gulls circled overhead looking for a free snack.


Traditional handwork is also very popular here and of course what I was most interested in seeing.  There are 2 women on the island that have become “famous” for popularizing the handwork of the women on the island (who by the way outnumber the men on the island!)  They are truly the backbone of the island.  We were lucky enough to get personally invited (by one of the women) to a concert/presentation that had been requested (and paid for) by a Finnish tour group.  The women, dressed in traditional clothes, sang songs and performed dances from a tradtional wedding ceremony that takes place over 3 days.    In the farm house, was an amazing display of their handwork.  The socks and mittens each have a dinstinctive pattern that I believe is indicative of the family who has made them.  Prior to her wedding, a young girl creates a hundred or so hand made items that are given as gifts to each family member at the wedding.  These items are stored in a large wooden “hope chest.”  After all the items are given out, the sister places a hankerchief in the chest, symbolizing that she will begin filling it for her wedding.


The last picture above shows the bag that every young girl makes to carry her knitting.  It is very important that a woman’s hands are never idle.  When I heard that, I instantly recalled my grandfather saying me as a child “Can’t you sit still – must your hands be always doing something?”  I guess I must have some roots in Kihnu, too! 

The first picture shows the hand dyed wools used and indicates what natural item the color came from.  On the walls were traditional socks and mittens, as well as pillow cases.


It was a beautiful day.  The island is very peaceful with everyone going about their daily chores.  There is no rush hour on Kihnu!  The people are in perfect harmony with nature.  I couldn’t have taken a more appropriate picture at the end of the day:  Perfect reflection! 


Till next time!  Helle-May

Beach Weather

Summer has really begun now and the weather has been perfect for the beach.  Each day the water gets just a bit warmer.  The beaches near Pärnu are all on the Gulf of Riga and the water is very shallow and therefore it warms up petty quickly.  Perfect for fun in the sun.  There are many beaches, some more popular than others.  These pictures are from some of the less populated beaches.  I was able to walk about 75 paces out into the water and the water barely reached my hips – I would have gone further, but it started to get a bit cool for my liking!  The beaches are all soft white sand with tiny shells here and there.




I am behind in my posting due to time and connection constraints.  My husband went home last week and so he is also waiting for me to update the blog.  I am not very good about journaling, so this has been a great excercise for me.

The following are pictures from my cousin, Katrin’s, home in northern Estonia.  It, like most farms, has been passed down through the family.  This was her husband’s family farm – Tatsu Talu. (talu – farm in Estonian)   I call her my city cousin, because she is a bit more modern in her ways.  Over the last 10 years, the house has undergone quite the renovation and is is still in progress.  The other building is more typical of an old barn.


It took us a day to recover from our long day trip to Helsinki.  On Sunday, we started making our way back toward our temporary home away from home.  First stop was Tallinn, capital of Estonia.  Here is a picture from the “Kodak Moment” picture stop.  Red roof tops of Tallinn as seen from Old Town.


As I have been here several times already, we only made a quick stop to see the new monument that was dedicated to the first Estonian Republic in 1918.  As is the case with many monuments funded by public monies, this one was not without controversy for the amount spent, especially due to today’s economic woes.  Nevertheless, it was beautiful by day and I’m sure striking at night.  It is very modern, created from panels of what looks like crystallized glass and lighted from within.  I am still working on the translation of the poem.


Our next stop was a visit to my cousin, Kristina’s, new home.  SHe and her husband purchased an older small home not too far from Tallinn and close to the sea.  They added to it and are still woring on the interior.  It is typical modern Scandinavian style.  The kitchen is from Ikea.  My relatives have been amazed that Ikea is also big in America.  Most of the furniture that I bought for my first house in Philadelphia came from Ikea.  It’s really good quality unassembled furniture – I still have most of it.  Ok – that’s my plug for Ikea.

We took a walk and saw a cave and some beautiful wildflowers.


After dinner, the boys and I took the bus “home” to my cousin Ülle’s house near Pärnu.  Funny, how even while away from your real home, you establish a home away from home where everything is familar and comfortable.