Commonly Uncommon

The Common Yellowthroat Warbler is not commonly seen by the average homeowner.  He’s not a “yard bird”, he lives in the swamp.  He likes briars, damp brushy places, weeds, or grass going along country roads (that explains why I like him so much).  This species is a year-round resident in our part of Georgia.

Despite his bright feathers, this fellow is hard to spot, flitting about busily as he does.  This tiny bird is picturesque, though.  So it’s worth the effort to capture his image on film, uh, on a flash card.

These birds don’t come to feeders much, preferring grasshoppers, beetles, spiders over seeds.  According to the iBird Pro app, they love sugar water, fruit, and pieces of nuts.  That may be worth investigating, but water seems to be a big factor in their habitat.  They are most often found near streams, swamps, and marshes.

common-yellowthroatJim captured this shot in a remote area near the Ocmulgee River.  I printed it on silk fabric, layered it on wool batting, and stitched the background densely. As in Swamp Bird, I stitched with silk thread in closely spaced parallel lines.  Then I added a bit of black and white, a yellow fabric frame, and attached it to an old quilt remnant.

common-yellowthroat-backI used a lot of Jude Hill’s invisible baste stitch to secure everything without penetrating the final layer of the quilt on the back.  I added beads stitched by hand, and made a label from an old doily. 100 weight silk thread was used for machine quilting, 60 weight cotton for the handwork.

The finished piece measures 20” x 16”.

I’ve noticed lately that even though I’ve been designing these pieces by starting from the center and working outward, and beginning with different sized photos or vintage motif, these pieces all seem to end up the same size.  I wonder why.

Treasure Hunting

A beautiful fall day, an escape from routine, time spent with my best friend, vintage linens; how can I decide which one of these is the most treasured?

treasures-bee-linenYesterday Jim and I went junking.  Well, not really.  Dumpster divers we aren’t.  We aren’t even heavily into yard sales or estate sales.  We like antique malls where someone else has made the selections, maybe done some cleaning up, and displayed items in a pleasing manner.  Well, the last is not always true.  But, we do like antique malls.

We’ve had booths before.  The set up and decorating is fun, but we didn’t make a lot of money because we don’t enjoy the junky level of searching. But as is true in all aspects of life, it’s not about the money.  We do find Saturdays out and about discovering treasures, recalling memories, and driving back roads to get there to be joyous.

Yesterday’s finds were numerous.  Now that I have found a way to include vintage linens that I love in my quiltmaking, I sometimes have a list of things I need.  Often it’s linen to use in the printer for photos, or fabric doilies and coasters to use as labels.  Yesterday I really needed nothing.  I have quite a collection on hand and friends have even started sharing their treasures hoping I can find a use for them.

treasures-old-quiltBut  I did find a few things I couldn’t leave behind.  An old quilt with a masculine look will be perfect as the backing for men in photographs.  The homespun backside is amazing, too.  A blue cross-stitched linen tablecloth.  A couple of bargain pieces which will be amazing labels, and a lovely bee!

treasures-coatsI didn’t really plan to spend a day this week cutting apart old wool coats and felting them.  But at $5.00 each, these 100% wool coats begged to be included in a quilt project.  Ok, will do.  Any ideas about what to do with the fur collar?

treasures-boothAnd I found inspiration!  Not so much in the textiles themselves, but in displays.  Old suitcases opened with vintage trims and fabrics inside, laces and ribbons wrapped around old wooden spindles, jars of buttons pleasingly arranged.  These kinds of things make my heart sing.

Julie Cameron would be proud of the date my inner artist had yesterday.  Not a solitary trip, but a real date with my soulmate and my soul!  The drive though pasture land (the solitary chimney on 52 Tuesdays was on the route), lunch at one of our favorite local establishments, and an ice-cream cone treat reminiscent of childhood drives made it heavenly!

Challenging Quilting

seasquared-mouthOur guild’s challenge quilt is due in three weeks.  It’s secret until then, so I can’t show photos of it now, but I can say I’m excited about what I’m doing.  Tess, our Challenge Queen, gives us the annual specifications in February with the deadline being our November meeting.  I typically think about it, research photos and patterns, basically collecting thoughts until October or so when I have no choice but to make something.

There are years when I’ve started early, but I often aborted the first plan. There have been exceptions; occasions when I started earlier than usual, stayed focused on a project that took a lot of time, and brought it to completion ahead of schedule.  But several have been done the week before the due date.

On the single occasion when I completed the project early, I really disliked the quilt and abandoned the idea of using it as my entry. The challenge in 2013 was “ Dare to be Square” or something like that.  Tess always comes up with catchy titles.  The rule was that the quilt must be pieced (no appliqué!) and every piece must be a square. In October, I sprang into panic mode, grabbed a half-yard cut of a bold fish print by Brandon Mably, some hand-dyed fabrics of similar colors, and started cutting squares.

seasquared-whole-quiltI cut the largest square I could from the focus print (20” finished. (I know – it must have been a generous half-yard cut)), then cut smaller squares from the fish fabric and the others.  20” finished was a nice measure to use as the reference.  It was easy to patch together units using 1”, 2”, 4”, 5”, 10” components.

seasquared-fishesAs the project grew on the design wall, I had fun finishing a fish.  Where one had been cut off, I could find missing components of that fellow somewhere else in the smaller squares and place it close by to make his image extend into the other spaces.  I even discovered a batik striped fabric that mimicked the background of Mably’s fish and inserted that.

seasquared-starfishAs the “squarequarium” grew on my design wall, I began imagining quilting lines.  I could stitch even more of the missing parts of fish bodies, add bubbles in the water, and enhance fish fins and tails.  Oh, my, how fun was that?

seasquared-octopusI sewed quickly to get the piecing done, layered it with cotton batting, and began dancing with my sewing machine.  I used some heavy threads on some of the solid spaces, enjoyed stitching lots of free-motion quilting motifs, and especially enjoyed adding the octopus and starfish.

Even after all that, things looked a little “flat”.  Eyes.  Fish have prominent eyes.  So out came the wool, a circle cutter, some buttons, and voila!

seasquared-backA solid blue fabric on the back made the stitching details noticeable. Susan said she liked the back of this quilt better than the front.  So for her next birthday, I stitched a fish on blue fabric for her beach house.

This quilt does not contain colors in my house or colors I particularly enjoy using in a quilt.  But I love this finished product because seeing it reminds me how much fun a challenge can be.

I called this finished project “Sea Squared.”  Some of my math colleagues will notice the reference to a  project we worked on for years. The finished size is 40” x 34”.

This year the challenge requires at least three fan blocks, and some yellow fabric.  The finished size is prescribed this time: 36” square.  My first reaction was “I’m not a fan of the fan block,” but in my research I’ve certainly learned a lot about those historic blocks and their reinterpretations through the years.  As a friend said yesterday, “I love our challenges.  They force us to think about things differently.”  Indeed.

Spinster Sisters

spinster-sistersNeither of them ever married.  This photo was taken sometime around 1912.  They were 18 and 15 at the time.  Within ten years, their mother would be confined to a wheelchair, their older sister would die in childbirth, leaving two young daughters to their care.

The family was rich in acreage, but World War I and the cotton boll meant cash was in short supply, and these two women contributed financially to the household.

The older of the two earned teaching credentials, sometimes living with families in distant communities (ten miles from home) and sending money home.  The younger ran the household as the orphaned nieces and younger sister grew up.

They saw women get the right to vote, lived through the Great Depression, and World War II.  There were adventures, too:  travel with an eccentric millionaire, letters from faraway lands, and a barnstorming adventure.  Charles Lindberg did fly in Georgia, was he the pilot?

spinster-sisters-olderDuring WWII, the teacher was offered “script” as her paycheck (a promise for money from the state someday), so she traveled further to work in a naval ordinance plant.  The younger worked as a switchboard operator and in so doing, connected many families to news of their beloved ones.  She was the first in town to get the word that the war was over, running down the stairs of the downtown office to spread the news.

As they laid their parents to rest and saw their young charges grow up and establish lives of their own, they continued to hold their shares of the land together, hiring others to farm the land while they moved to town.  They lived together until the death of the younger from breast cancer at age 49.  A few years later, the older would face the same diagnosis, but her treatment would be successful.  She would live her life productively until the age of 91.

These women were a big part of my childhood.  From them I learned that life is to be lived fully and to be enjoyed on a daily basis.  It may be hard to meet responsibilities in front of you, but complaints don’t help; just get the job done with a smile on your face.

Because of them, I am not surprised to read the ‘revelation’ that spinster does not have to be a derogatory term.  In the later Middle Ages, the term spinster was first used.  Then, it denoted a person who spins yarn and therefore has a marketable skill.   Memories of these sisters convey the modern interpretation of” a woman who can live independently and doesn’t need a man to be happy.”

spinster-sisters-backDetails of quilt:  A vintage photo (circa 1912) of two unmarried sisters was printed on a remnant of a vintage linen tablecloth.  Hand-guided, free-motion machine quilting was used to add detail, lace collars and beading were added with hand stitching.  The linen background for the photo was attached to a vintage linen log cabin quilt made from silk.  A vintage cotton doily was used for the label.

Hand stitching on the piece was completed while demonstrating work at the Georgia National Fair.  The quilt finishes at 16” x 20”.

Flowers for Phyllis

phyllis-flowersI was recently asked to create an art quilt as a gift for Phyllis.  I have never visited her home and don’t know her style.  I struggled with the design until I realized that I know one thing Phyllis really likes; art by Mark Allen Ballard.

Mark is my drawing instructor and friend.  He graciously granted me permission to use one of his creations in an art quilt for Phyllis.

phyllis-flowers-closeupI printed the image of the coneflower on silk fabric, layered it on wool batting, and added dense free motion quilting with a fine silk thread.  Dense stitching around the image packs that portion of the design down, forcing the unstitched areas to puff up as if they are stuffed.  Stuffed work, or trapunto, has been done for centuries, especially on wholecloth quilts, to add dimension and interest to quilts.

phyllis-flowers-detailOnce the silk portion was quilted, I added an inner border using a gradated blue fabric, leaving a larger border on the bottom.  I wanted to add interest to that space, so I continued Mark’s design by adding stems and leaves stitched with a heavier green thread.

A second border was added using a delicious damask tablecloth hand dyed by Wendy Richardson.  Over the years, I have collected quite a bit of Wendy’s stunning work, now I’m daring to cut into it more and more often.  This piece was originally a blah white-on-white damask tablecloth.  In Wendy’s studio, she had added many colors of dye which enriched the visual texture and just happened to incorporate some of the same colors as Mark’s drawing.
phyllis-flowers-beadingThat layer was attached to a vintage cross-stitched quilt.  I used Jude HIll’s invisible baste stitch to attach the layers within the blue border, then added blue beads while attaching the outer border.  A raw-edged sleeve and label made from a vintage doily were attached to the back with the same invisible baste stitch. The quilt finished at 16” x 20”.

phyllis-flowers-backI have recently enjoyed incorporating pieces of art from unknown stitchers of the past, using vintage quilts and linens.  This piece did that and more.  I collaborated with Wendy by using her fabric, Jude by using her technique, and Mark by using his drawing.  It was especially fun to share the stitching experience with Mark.  He was excited about the prospect from the beginning, interested in the progress of the piece, and in reports of Phyllis’ reaction.  His agreeing to add his signature to the label makes the gift a special treasure for her.

Fair Days

fair-boothI’m home after three days at the Georgia National Fair where I shared my work as one of their Artists in Residence.

Though I’ve long recognized quilts as an art form, I’m still surprised to see the word artist after my name.  This experience was affirming and fulfilling for me, and I hope it was informative and inspirational to others.

The photo shows my booth where I shared my quilting stories and demonstrated techniques.  I had several quilts entered in the fair, and three of them were easily visible from my booth.  Whether by design or coincidence, the fair organizers added opportunities for me to share more stories of making bed-sized quilts on a home sewing machine, improvisational piecing in the style of Gee’s Bend quilts, and Government Bird Goin’ for a Ride.

Jim and I enjoyed the opportunity to visit with former students, their parents, and now husbands, wives, and children.  We saw former work colleagues and friends, made connections with other artists in textiles, photography, woodworking, drawing, painting, and sculpting.  We made many new friends as people stopped to talk about quilts, my ragged lamp, and my Featherweight sewing machine.

fair-with-featherweightI took the Featherweight because it is my traveling sewing friend.  I take it to classes and work sessions at our local guild, I have taken it on a photo trip when Jim was taking a course and I would have time alone in a motel room.  It is compact, light weight, and a work horse.  Maybe everyone knows that.  But everyone doesn’t know that it can be used for free-motion quilting.

One of the goals of my days at the fair was to share the technique of hand-guided, free-motion quilting.  I chose the Featherweight because it is a simple straight stitch machine.  That’s all you need.  I wanted to erase the notion that you can’t quilt without a big, expensive, computerized machine.  The Featherweight conveyed that message well.

fair-with-childrenChildren were fascinated with the Featherweight.  Maybe because it is so small and sweet it looks manageable.  It’s certainly not threatening in any way.  I stitched names into quilt sandwiches for Marin, Christopher, Alexis, Catherine, Mark, and more.  Fragments of cloth, batting, and a bit of thread can bring smiles to faces of children of all ages.

I talked to men and women whose mothers or grandmothers quilted and they wish they had learned from them while they could.  (I’ll be your substitute Grandma.  I didn’t listen to mine like I should have either, but other quilters and I will be glad to step in and fill in the gaps.  Send me an email ( with a question and I’ll link you to a tutorial online or try to answer you in some way.)

fair-grownupsI talked with women who made one quilt, or started one, then became frustrated with a skill they didn’t have, and put it away.  I talked with those who work full time and can’t work it in their schedule.  My answers: “Relax, it’s supposed to be fun.”  “Join a guild.  Someone there will offer advice and assistance,”  “Start with something portable, like English Paper Piecing.”

I talked with young families wherein the husband/dad wants to explore quilting.  One asked if he could start learning with a $100 machine from a bargain store.  My advice was to find a reliable used older machine.  I fear that a new one made with plastic parts will be less sturdy and operate less smoothly than an old one.  “I’m afraid if you have frustrations with tension or mechanics as you are learning, you might think you don’t like sewing; but what you don’t like is a cheap machine.”

I have almost all my baskets unpacked and things back in place in my sewing room.  My brain is bursting with ideas generated by conversations over the past few days.  Fun times stitching ahead!

Swamp Bird

Sandy art quilt

The gist of a recent conversation with a friend:

Friend:  Hey, have you been busy?

Me:  Oh, yeah, a bit.

Friend:  Sewing?

Me:  Some, but I did have a few days last week when I accomplished less than usual.

Friend:  Why the downturn?

Me:  Exercising my Medicare card a bit.  I can’t believe I’m old enough to have one, and I got it just in time for my annual doctors’ visits.  And, an unexpected visit to another.

Friend:  So what have you learned from the interruption to your life?

Me:  That sometimes a few days to rest and reflect is a good thing.  An interruption can allow you to shift your focus.  Also, that I can see better without my reading glasses than I realized.

Friend:  So what’s your latest finished project?

Me:  An art quilt featuring a photo Jim made of a Prothonotary Warbler in a local swamp.

Friend:  Tell me details.

Me:  I printed the photo on silk fabric, layered it with wool batting atop a square of hand-dyed osnaburg fabric and used dense free motion quilting in the background of the image.  The lines are about a toothpick’s width apart, roughly parallel, but it’s obvious that it is hand guided.  I don’t use rulers.  I want the finished piece to reveal that the project was handmade.

The yellow osnaberg layer was hand stitched to a bit of linen I dyed in the indigo vat, then that layer to a piece of commercial fabric, and then to a vintage quilt.  All of these were attached using the seed stitch and varying threads.  The beads were hand stitched, too.

Sandy art quilt

The label on the back is a portion of an embroidered vintage linen napkin. That and the hanging sleeve were attached using Jude Hill’s invisible baste.

The finished piece measures 16” x 20”.  Jim titled it Swamp Bird.

Friend:  Anything else I should know?

Me:  When you ride your bike, wear your helmet.

My Daddy Wore Overalls

herbie-holding-sandyThere’s something iconic about a man in overalls.  To me, it means he is unpretentious, hardworking, honest.  Someone with whom I would want to spend time in conversation and in hugging.

There aren’t many photos of my Daddy in overalls.  Though he wore them every day to work, when he came home, his first order of business was to take a shower and change into his “knock-about clothes”, khakis and a sport shirt.  That would be his uniform until bedtime.  And on Sundays, a suit, or at least a sports jacket and tie.

He wore overalls when he farmed.  I heard stories of his walking behind the mules and plow in his overalls and barefoot.  When he left the farm to begin building houses, he added work boots to his wardrobe, but kept the overalls.

The many pockets had designated uses.  The partitions in the bib held his wallet and a fat flat pencil, you know the kind wood workers used. Another held a pocket knife, used for sharpening that pencil, among other things.  One of those spaces sometimes held his wristwatch if it needed protection from the task at hand.

A long pocket on the leg of the overalls held his folding carpenter’s rule and a hammer hung in the loop.  He could flip that wooden rule open to just the right length for a measurement and refold it in the blink of an eye.  If you don’t remember those devices, or that they are called rules, not rulers, you are a young whippersnapper.  See, just thinking of overalls has me using his words.

I can smell the denim.  And the sawdust embedded in the fibers.  Maybe a little tobacco scent, too.  And I remember how heavy they were when wet.  I was a tiny little thing, but one of my jobs was hanging clothes on the line.

man-in-overallsMaybe all that is why I was so intrigued by the man in this quilted piece.  I snapped this street photo the minute I saw him.  Since then, I have come to know who he is and have secured permission to use his image in my art.  He, like my Daddy, is worthy of long conversations and hugs.


man-in-overalls-backThe quilt measures 10” x 18”.  The photo is printed on vintage linen fabric, hand painted, then quilted.  I used cotton thread, using hand-guided free motion quilting on my domestic machine.  It is layered with raw silk, a remnant of denim, and a worn reclaimed quilt fragment.  The label is a vintage cocktail napkin.  (I found this one with the rooster in an antique store ramble just as I had finished this piece.  Perfect!)

The photo of my Daddy holding me is one of the few I have of him wearing his overalls.  I guess it’s obvious why men wearing overalls pleases me so.  And, I still have that chair.

Is It Fall, Y’all?

stella-closeupIt’s still hot.  The calendar says tomorrow will be fall, but temperatures still reach 90 everyday.

Nonetheless, I have some pumpkins out in my house.  I love the fall colors.  Maybe it’s the vivid blue skies when the humidity drops, maybe it’s the complimentary colors of the turning leaves and that glorious atmosphere.  I wince whenever Tess, our guild’s Challenge Queen, requires a bit of orange in a quilt, but I don’t know why.  I could just always put a pumpkin in.

In recent years, I have collected pumpkins from other artists including needle-felted beauties by a north Ga artist, wooden pumpkins a friend made, and several pottery ones from Shelby West and Charlie Bob West.  But many of my autumn decorations are of the fabric variety.

pumpkins-and-fall-basketsFall Baskets was made in 2008, using autumn colors of batiks and quilting cottons.  This may be the first quilt I designed using Electric Quilt software.  Now using EQ7, I sometimes turn to this software to audition such quilt features as block size and width of borders and sashing. This one finished at 45″ square.


sunbonnet-with-pumpkinThis Sunbonnet Sue piece is one of the first times I made one block ( 9″ x 12″) and said “done.”  Quilting, a binding, and it’s a remarkably fun way to welcome the season.  The block is from a book by Betty Alderman.  I guess it’s unnecessary to point out that the apron is a little brown check.

pumpkins-fusedI have a few quilts with pumpkins on them.  Some wool appliqued pumpkins, some needleturn appliqued ones, and even this fused one (sorry, I don’t recall the name of this pattern or the designer).




stella-harvest-princessMy favorite fall quilt is Stella: Harvest Princess, finished in 2004.  It uses raw edge techniques in the manner of Rosemay Eichorn.  Fall motifs were cut from a commercial autumn print or two, pinned to a base fabric, and free motion quilted with a flannel layer as batting. The technique was fun, the motifs whimsical, and the learning process was transformative.  I use this raw edge appliqué method still.  Looking at this piece for the first time in almost a year, I wonder why I don’t play with those decorative stitches on my machine any more, or use metallic thread very often.  It was FUN to do this experimentation. It measures 25” x 16”.

There is more to Stella’s story – there was quite a learning curve for this one. I saw the technique on Simply Quilts, bought a book by Rosemary and studied her technique, cut and pinned the raw edge motifs in the fall of 2003.  Then it sat in a basket for almost a year, waiting for my free motion quilting skills to improve to the point of completion.  Finally I dared to load the machine with some invisible thread and give it a go.  When asked at my guild how long it took to make it, my answer then was, “a day and a half, or a year and a half, depending on how you look at it; actual construction time, or time from beginning the process to sewing on the label.”  That’s often the most direct answer I can give.  I work in spurts on some things.

pumpkins-in-jailhouseA couple of years ago, Jim and I spent a lovely fall day in Porterdale, GA, where we saw hundreds of pumpkins for sale in and around an old jailhouse.  I took many photos, planning to make a quilt someday called Pumpkins in the Jailhouse.  Maybe this year will be the year that gets done.

Portrait of Red Coneflower


red-coneflowerA recently purchased linen doily reminded me of a mat for a framed portrait.  I didn’t have a photo on fabric that fit, and wanted to stitch something on this marvelous piece of linen with the wide handmade tatting.

A simple coneflower is always fun to appliqué, and I had seen somewhere the idea of using a spool of thread as the vase.  So, a few snippets of fabric, a good tv show in the background, a bright light at my side, and the stitching began.

Once the appliqué and embroidery were done (see the French knots at the base of the seed head?), it was time to find a base to set off the oval.  The French General print in red was perfect.  So, I layered wool batting beneath the oval, threaded up the machine with silk thread, and echoed the appliqué with free motion quilting.

Once I cut away the remaining batting from behind the red fabric, it was time to seed stitch the piece to an old quilt as the back of the assembly.  A yellow and white pieced basket quilt from an antique store fit the bill, but the white was a bit stark.  A scrap of red ticking came to the rescue, adding another layer of matting to the frame job.

red-coneflower-backAs I neared the finish, I hadn’t come up with a title.  But my original plan to let the doily serve as an inner mat for a portrait was still on my mind, so Portrait of Red Coneflower was simple enough.  One more vintage doily (with a history and stains to prove it) served as the label.

The finished piece measures 16” x 20” and the hanging sleeve utilized a leftover strip of the red ticking.