Posts Tagged ‘year long creative project’


When you think of Milkweed, you may think pesky weed, sticky white sap or something like that. Personally, I like it. I have fond memories of driving with my dad in the rural areas looking for Monarch Butterfly caterpillars on Milkweed plants. Milkweed grows in our yard – on purpose. I think it’s beautiful, with its soft leaves, and delicate blossoms; how it transforms through the season to growing pregnant pods filled with perfectly white fluff; watching the wind catch the fluff and carry the seeds up and away… It’s magical and makes me believe there might be fairies.

That was the extent of my thoughts on Milkweed until a couple of years ago when I read a historical fiction novel that mentioned Milkweed fluff being used as a pillow filler. Hmm! Interesting!…

As it turns out, Milkweed is pretty cool! Besides being the only plant leaf that Monarch Butterfly larvae eat, Native Americans used the stems for rope, twine and making baskets, the nectar as a sweetener, the fluff as fire tinder and the pods cooked to eat. The leaves, roots and sap also have strong medicinal properties. Early settlers used fluff to fill pillows, mattresses and cushions and to line quilts. During World War II, children collected Milkweed fluff to fill life jackets for soldiers – Milkweed fluff is almost 6 times more buoyant than cork! Over time, various companies have attempted to make textiles, paper, rubber substitutes, lubricants, fuel and pesticides using Milkweed but so far these have either proven uneconomical or not produced any large-scale successes…. Who knew?! And you thought it was a pesky weed!


I was curious about the whole pillow filler idea and decided to try it myself. Without going overboard, I tried to use materials the early settlers probably used – woven fabric from natural fibers with no printing (cotton homespun), cotton thread, and a simple embroidered piece on muslin (that my sister-in-law generously donated to this project). I did use all my modern tools and machines, though, so not authentic I’m afraid.

NOW…. you think this process went smoothly? HA! Here’s how it really went down…

Collected big bag of fluff on quaint Sunday walk with family last month through rural park. Have at least 20 pods. Should be plenty.


10:00 AM  3 pods in and think I have more fluff in nose and floating around studio than actually stuffed into pillow.

10:15 AM  10 pods in and laughing at the utter ridiculous-ness of this, wondering why, why, WHY I thought this was a good idea! Try to take artistic pict of fluff floating around me and cannot successfully capture full effect.

10:30 AM  20 pods in and realize need MORE FLUFF! Pillow only 1/3 full!… Must rush to rural park where we collected fluff last month. Hoping not too late in season. If too late, then will have to wait ENTIRE YEAR to finish pillow! Gah!


NOON  Drag husband and toddler back to rural park, and, THANK GOODNESS, still see lots of Milkweed fluff! Though obviously nearing end of season as most pods are open now. Gather twice as much as before… just in case! As getting back into car, realize some interesting beetles have also been collected. Gah!

12:45 PM  Home again with overflowing bag of fluff. Put toddler down for nap and rush down to studio to finish pillow before house overrun with fluff.


Eew! Is that a spider?! Oh. No. Just another beetle.

1:30 PM  (45 minutes later) Pillow is finished!… Where’s my lint brush!!

Can conclude from this project, while nice idea to use natural material for pillow filling and economical since studio near rural areas and lovely to involve family in collecting fluff/getting out in nature/quality time together, NOT a big time saver. In fact, total time vacuum. Speaking of vacuum, will be needing it for months to clean all of fluff remaining in studio. Studio carpet looks like light snow covering. Gah!

RESULT: Soft-ish pillow with down-like qualities. Slightly crunchy (from seeds). More flat than fluffy. Almost zero bounce/recovery. But quaint like vintage.

Pillow dimensions: 10.5 in. x 12 in.

Milkweed pods emptied into pillow: 78

Number of minutes to stuff pillow: 77
Number of minutes spent with family gathering milkweed pods: 62

Beetles found (and flushed): 11
Spiders found (and flushed): 0 (whew!)

Inches of masking tape used to remove fluff from finished pillow to make presentable for photo: 52

Amount of fluff now on studio carpet: hard to determine
Amount of fluff in nose: also hard to determine
Number of times sneezed during pillow stuffing: 5 (surprising!)

Points for practicality: 0
Points for fun and experimentation: 10!




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In February 2011 I began my “year-long” 52 Pillows Project. At the time, I felt my life had “become about surviving, being practical and efficient, stretching every dollar, sometimes just getting through the day” because of the stress. I was “tired of getting by.” In undertaking this project, I hoped to bring myself back to life!… to thrive.”

Since I started my project, A LOT of life has happened. Stress and survival mode have taken on an entirely new meaning. And we’re not through yet.

You might be wondering why don’t I just quit? Forget the remaining 26 and call it good? Well, I haven’t quit because I’m actually having fun with it now. I started out trying to get something done, I had an agenda. Fun is certainly not what I expected from my project, especially after all that we’ve gone through. But there it is!…

At my current pace I expect to finish my “year-long” project in another 2 years, making my year-long project an almost 5-year project. I say this laughingly. It just shows how life rarely goes as planned and all you can do is hang on for the ride and make the best of what comes your way.

So you can count on seeing another 26 pillows, fun and creative (that’s my plan anyway), even if it takes me another 2-1/2 years!

Pillow #7 I Got Nothin’ was a week I didn’t get a pillow finished (or even started) and my realization that, like so much of my life, I was doing my project just to get it done and done on time, instead of digging deep creatively and living from my heart.

#8 Disappointed

#8 Disappointed (This pillow was about my dad who commit suicide in 2007. I think he’s spent more time with me, in spirit, since he died than in the previous 40 of my life, if you believe in that kind of thing.) = )

#12 Nest

#12 Nest (I made this before our Jenna was born – now the blank egg could be stitched with another “J”. However, it won’t be because of the pillows so far, this is my least favorite and it is now residing at the landfill.)

#14 Collaboration #2

#14 Collaboration #2 (This pillow I made for one of my nieces using the center embroidery piece done by her mom. I was delighted recently to see she still uses it.)

#19 Outdoor (and an exercise in perfection)

#19 Outdoor (and an exercise in perfection)

#21 Pinwheel The ended up donating this Pinwheel pillow to help raise money for one of the oncology nurses at the hospital who was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was really happy to help one of the amazing nurses who has helped care for our Jenna.

#21 Pinwheel
I donated this pillow to help raise money for one of the amazing oncology nurses who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She is one of the wonderful people who has helped care for our Jenna.

#23 Diversion (One of a set I made for my sister. Nothing special as far as technique – although I did really like this extra long lumbar pillow – and the fabric was yummy and fun! Overall, just a nice break from life’s stresses.)

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My original idea for this pillow was to emulate this jacket I made years ago. The jacket face design was appliquéd using woven apparel and quilting fabrics. For the pillow I decided to try felt, but I had planned on emulating the colors and sewing. Felt doesn’t come in a wide array of colors so I had to change my plans. Anyway, that was over a year ago and the stack of felt and the pattern sketch have been gathering dust ever since.

Tiffy 3

A few of months ago I started working on the pattern again. And I decided I wanted to try a more freehand style stitching rather than appliqué. I’m drawn to the freehand styles but they are so outside of what I feel I am good at or how I like to sew. I like accuracy and perfection. Once I decided on this change, the project sat for another month or so, because, well, I was afraid. I know, ridiculous, but there it is. In the meantime, to boost my confidence, I did a lot of “research”, studying examples of freehand stitching, trying to memorize or learn the technique.

Finally I just sat down and did it. At first I was so nervous, then, suddenly, I was having FUN! I was shocked by how much fun I was having. I actually giggled as I stitched haphazardly outside the “lines.” What an unexpected delight! I didn’t want to finish, I was having so much fun!… And so here is Pillow #26, with all its purposeful imperfections…


You could probably conclude a lot of things about me from this pillow, and you’d probably be right. It’s funny, even to me, how often the way I sew is the way I do my life. I guess that’s why they say art emulates reality.

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My husband showed this video to me about Phil Hansen, an artist who developed neurological damage resulting in permanent shakiness of his hands, and how, after coming to terms with this challenge, actually used it to his advantage and as a platform to take his art to a new level. Super inspiring!

Lately I’ve been thinking about my 52 Pillows project, and sewing in general, now that my daughter is in remission and we’re not spending nearly as much time at the hospital as we have been the past 9 months. Mr. Hansen’s story started me thinking about how I could make pillows without actually sewing. Here’s what came to mind.

Chocolate Pastry Pillows

We used this Chocolate Raspberry Pastry Pillow recipe as a guide, if you want to try it. Or follow our directions below to make your own Chocolate Pastry Pillows…

(Thank you to my mom for watching the baby so I could do this and to my son for being my helper and taste-tester.)


  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tsp. water
  • All-purpose flour
  • 1 pkg. (17.3 ounces) Pepperidge Farm® Puff Pastry Sheets, thawed
  • 1/2 of a 12-ounce package semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Confectioners’ sugar
  • Baking cocoa (optional)

Beat the egg yolks and water in a small bowl with a fork.

Sprinkle the flour on the work surface.  Unfold 1 pastry sheet on the work surface. Roll the pastry into a 16-inch square. Brush the pastry with the egg mixture. Cut the pastry sheet into 16 (4-inch) squares. Repeat with the remaining pastry sheet.

Sprinkle the flour on the work surface. Unfold 1 pastry sheet on the work surface. Roll the pastry into a 12 to 16-inch square.


Cut the pastry sheet into either 9 (3-inch) or 16 (4-inch) squares, depending on how big your sheet is. Repeat with the remaining pastry sheet. Make sure you cut the same amount of squares from both pastry sheets. Move half the squares onto a cookie sheet (or 2). (I used wax paper on the cookie sheets but the original recipe didn’t say to do prepare the cookie sheets in any way.)


Brush all the pastry squares with the egg mixture. (Turns out we don’t have a pastry brush anymore so I used a spoon.)

Place 1 teaspoon chocolate pieces and 1 raspberry in the center of each pastry square.  Fold the pastry over the filling to form a triangle.  Crimp the edges with a fork to seal.  Prick the tops of the pastries with a fork.  Brush the pastries with the egg mixture.  Place the pastries onto 3 baking sheets.  Freeze for 15 minutes or until firm.

Place approx 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 teaspoons chocolate pieces in the center of the pastry squares on the cookie sheet (depending on the size of your squares.)

Using the half of the pastry squares without chocolate, put the top on each of those squares with chocolate - to create the pillow.

Using the remaining half of the pastry squares (without chocolate), place one square on top on each of those squares with chocolate (to create the pillow.)


Crimp the edges with a fork to seal.


Prick the tops of the pastries with a fork. Brush the pastries with the egg mixture. Freeze for 15 minutes or until firm. (Our freezer is too small for cookie sheets so we put it in the fridge instead for 25-30 minutes.) In the meantime, heat the oven to 375°F.

Heat the oven to 375°F. Bake for 15 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown.  Sprinkle with the confectioners' sugar.

Bake for 15-25 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown. (Ours came out yellow-brown — using a spoon instead of pastry brush made the egg thicker than it was supposed to.)

Let cool then sprinkle with the confectioners' sugar.

Cool slightly then sprinkle with the confectioners’ sugar (and baking cocoa if you like). (Tastier when warm.)


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Baby’s napping. Never know how long she’ll sleep… My son’s been wanting a fuzzy purple pillow… I have had the instructions for “The Ten-Minute Pillow” for, I don’t know, 7 years or more, so today seems like a good time to put them to the test…




4:13-4:16 Measure and cut the fabric (3 minutes)

4:17-4:22 Hem the short ends (including the time to change the needle and thread) (5 minutes)

4:27-4:36 Measure the overlap and underlap. (Realize in straying from the original instructions of making a 12×12 pillow, I’ve missed something and mine is too wide for the 14×14 pillow form I plan to use. I re-measure overlap and underlap, pin and serge. The serger gets hung up on the thick layers so I re-sew on my sewing machine.) (9 minutes)

4:37-4:38 Turn right side out and insert pillow form. Done! (1 minute)

Total: 18 minutes (but if you take away 8 minutes for my overlap/underlap mishap, I’m about at 10 minutes)

AND…. another happy customer! (Probably my happiest EVER!)

Try The Ten-Minute Pillow yourself and let me know how long it takes you. Here are the instructions, courtesy of Claire Schaefer and the Greater Phoenix Chapter of the American Sewing Guild.

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A year and a half ago I launched a year-long creative project, 52 Pillows, where I committed to creating a new pillow every week for a year with the intention of elevating myself out of surviving and into thriving. I wanted to transform my life through creativity, to not be bogged down by my circumstances, to “bring myself back to life!” 

I didn’t make it even halfway through my project before I started seeing big results. Little did I know when I started what my circumstances would be, the kind of creativity, nor the type of transformation my life would undergo!…

In the past year and a half, I found out I was pregnant and welcomed our baby girl into the world. She is now almost 10 months old. Creating another person was a serious, full-time creative project in itself! And I never felt so alive as when I gave birth to our daughter. Along with my beautiful baby have come months of sleep deprivation. Even now my daughter rarely sleeps more than 2 hours at a time, day or night. Admittedly, I have plenty of days where I don’t handle things well or rise above my circumstances, but overall I feel I’m doing really well, all things considered. So even though my transformation doesn’t look the way I expected or anticipated, the results so far are thrilling. And who knows what might happen as I continue my project!…

Pillow #21 has taken me 5 months to finish. Things just don’t get done as often or as quickly with a baby in the house! I’ve enjoyed having a creative project to look forward to working on, especially on those really challenging parenting days. And what an accomplishment it feels like to have finally finished it!… For #21 I used a JoAnn Fabrics free pattern I picked up last year. (I’ve included the instructions at the bottom of this post if you want to try it yourself.) I was happy to find a use for scraps from favorite projects and had a lot of fun putting this pillow together.

Who knows how long it will take to get to Pillow #22. I’m not ready to commit to a weekly creation yet, but I do have 2 more pillow projects in the wings I’m looking forward to starting.

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In my ongoing effort to finish my birthday present, I made these simple lumbar pillows for my living room sofa (better late than never). And it only took about half an hour! The pillows have a clean, simple look that goes well with my living room decor (although doesn’t do much for my ugly sofa except detract attention away from it) and they were so easy to make, so I’m including a tutorial so you can try it out!  = )

Step 1: To make a 10 in x 18 in pillow, cut 2 pieces of fabric 11 in x 19 in each. (NOTE: My tutorial photos show the pillow 50% smaller than the originals shown above.)

Step 2: With right sides together, stitch a 1/2 in seam allowance on each short side.

Step 3: Turn right side out and plan how much of each color you’d like showing when the pillow is finished. (I recommend using 3rd or 5th ratios as they are more visually balanced and attractive.) When you’ve determined how you’d like it to look, measure from one folded side to the seam.

Step 4: Turn the pillow right side in again (ie wrong side out) and transfer the measurement, using a small ruler or seam gauge, from the stitching to the folded edge. Put a pin in the fold as shown.

Do the same at the bottom.

Step 5: Then pin the long edges, smoothing the layers flat, and leaving a space to turn inside out.

Step 6: Then stitch along the long edges with 1/2 in seam allowance.

Step 7: Turn right side out and use a point turner or the blunt end of a crochet hook or similar to turn the corners.

Step 8: Stuff your pillows through the opening you left. Then sew the opening closed by hand or by machine….  And you’re done!

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