What’s in a Name?

Sarah Beth, Sarah Bob, Sarah Frances.  Margaret Ann, Lou Emmelyn, Mary Frances; all are common names in the South.  And with women, both halves of the double names are used on a daily basis.  Shortened forms of Mary Elizabeths I’ve known were Lilly Bet, Mae Liz, and the ever popular Mary Beth. To get the right perspective here, you should read the list aloud, slowly.  Very slowly.  Put a little twang in there.  Now you’ve got it.

Names run through cycles of popularity.  In one generation, almost all the Sadies have died out.  Then there is a rash of little Sadies running around. I think that particular name is beautiful, because it is beautiful, and the Sadie (actually in her generation it was Sadie Belle) in my life was a beautiful person.  She is the woman pictured at the top of this post.  There was a beautiful Cleo in my life, too.  But I’m not hoping to see that name resurrected.  The same goes for Ena Belle, Maudie Lee, and Mary Etta.  Those don’t roll trippingly off the tongue.

In the South, if a woman doesn’t have a double name already, we make it so by adding Miss or Aunt.  Miss Lily, Miss Emily, Aunt Gladys (though no kinship exists) were big in my life.  And then I became Miss Sandy.

When it comes time to naming quilts, I sometimes resort to the southern names of my childhood.  I’ve made a Miss Lily’s Basket, Ruby’s Red Bouquet, Miss Emily’s BasketsOllie Jane’s Flower Garden was named for my grandmother and the pieced pattern used for the center.  Granny Zee’s Scrap Baskets has a sentimental reason for its name, too.

Miz Sadie Turns 80 was made for my mother-in-law in 2004.  The blocks are the traditional Ohio Star blocks, finished at 9”.  Sashing is 1” wide (beginning my insistence that narrow sashing separates, but doesn’t overwhelm the blocks).  The overall quilt measures 63” square. It is pictured here hanging at the Georgia National Fair in 2004, one of the first quilt competitions I entered.  It won a blue ribbon, and Miz Sadie was so pleased that she asked if she could have the ribbon, too.  The quilt hung in her home with ribbon attached, as long as she lived there.

The label is a sunprinted image using metal letters used in scrapbooking as the mask.  I didn’t have three lower case s’s, thus the spelling of Miz. The quilting is a pantagraph done by Pat Holston on her longarm.  This quilt was featured in a Kansas City Star publication, My Stars, in 2009.

 

Soulful Stitching

I’ve written before about how stitching soothes my soul.  That happens when I’m in front of the tv and multitasking, when I’m visiting with family and friends and my hands are busy, or sometimes when riding in the car.  Those are often the times when my hand stitching gets done.
I realize I need to add some opportunity to quietly do some hand stitching when I’m alone. Watching Jude Hill’s videos remind me of how studying the texture formed by stitch gives way to thoughts about light and shadow, contrasting textures, symbolic meaning of weave and stitch, even relationships between people.  Though I’m not sure my thoughts run as deep as do hers, I know that mindful stitching leads to deeper appreciation of everything.

As I watched her video where Jude is adding white hearts to a heavily stitched white nine-patch and emphasizing the touch points of the hearts with red thread, she notices that they remind her of a scar.  Her perception always gives me pause, and this struck me deeply.

 

I can’t explain why, but I had a flashback to my life working with teachers.  One of my colleagues heard a teacher say, “we like this book because we can go in the classroom and teach without having to think about it.”  Harriet said to me, “I don’t want teachers who don’t think about what they are teaching.”  Indeed.

Sometimes I sew without thinking about sewing.  And, that is relaxing to me, to be sure.   The rhythmic pulling of thread through cloth allows my mind to be somewhere else, planning something.  But Jude’s symbology in her work, her soul searching thoughts remind me to pursue even more depth in my stitching stories.  She reminds me that only when we share the stories behind our work, the symbology we’ve included, the strategies we’ve used, do others really appreciate our art. I admit if I had seen the white hearts on white stitching, I might not have noticed the red thread, and if I had, I might not have made the “scar” connection.

A needle and thread are how I’m stitching myself to the universe these days, so I don’t want it to be shallow.  With the recent art quilts I’ve been making, I try to ensure that the viewer knows the story behind the photo or appreciates the handwork in a vintage remnant.  I hope that seeing the connection between my work and some element of the past will cause one to think of their own family’s past generations and find the stories that are there.

Another word on Jude Hill and her influence on me.  I found her online a few years ago and realized she was offering some online courses.  The latest series was already underway and i had missed it.  I resolved right then to get in the next one.  But then she opened up her vast base of videos and audios for free.  You are free to watch them and make a donation or not (I have).  But I found a quote from her in one of them that resonates with me.  She was responding to a comment from someone who had warned her, “you share too much of your process.  Protect your art.”…

Jude’s response:  “And, by the way, just to be clear, sharing IS my art.  And in case you haven’t noticed, I am out singing in it.” Sept 10, 2015

Wow.  I have noticed.  And, I am amazed by it.

You can learn more about Jude Hill and her work at http://spiritcloth.typepad.com.

My earlier posts with references to her work are here, and here, and here.

Photos:  The photos of the “beast” piece is one I was fortunate enough to buy from Jude.  When her pieces go on sale, you have to be sitting at the computer watching (or lucky) because they sell quickly.  I love having this piece to examine.  Seeing her stitches and handling her work informed me of her techniques so much that I began to consider selling some of my own work.  If my work could help another quilt maker with a particular technique, or if the final result gave a viewer satisfaction, than I would be willing to share it that way.   You see images of the whole piece, approximately 6” x 9”, and closeups of the front and back.

The photos of the blue hearts are my work.  I made that piece after watching Jude’s Whispering Hearts series of posts on her Feel Free site.  That piece may become part of something else or be finished as is.  That’s one thing Jude and I have in common.  A work may be started, then incubate a while as ideas mature, then later become complete as it is or as part of something else.

This post is published with permission from Jude Hill.

Drugstore Deli

Sometimes the quaintest treasures are right in our own backyards.  On a recent afternoon when we were out antiquing, we found a delightful lunch spot in an old downtown building in small town USA.

As is our habit, we were eating after the crowded hour, in fact, we had the place to ourselves.  It was open, inviting, very clean, and offered just the menu we were looking for; soups, sandwiches, salads.

Our waitress Vicki told us that the soup was almost gone, being in high demand on a such a cold day.  There was less than a serving (by their standards) left of today’s special so they gave us a complimentary bowl.  It was fabulous, as were our sandwiches.  But before the food was served, I was captivated by the decor.  There were quilts!  An old log cabin quilt first caught my eye.  It was hung above a beautiful dresser and its subtle colors and handwork stole my heart!  A more modern medallion quilt was displayed in another corner, and yet another eyecatcher, a blue and white quilt, was used on a table.

I asked permission to take photos and shared my fascination with the old log cabin quilt.  The conversation led to an old-home-week kind of reunion with people I’d never met.  Jo, the owner, came out of the kitchen to share the quilt stories.  The log cabin quilt came from her husband’s family.  Her father-in-law had two aunts,  Alice and Exor, who did a lot of needlework of all types.  One or maybe both of these women worked on this piece of family history.

 Jo is not a quilter, but has treasured the quilts these family members made and decorates her home and restaurant with them.  Vicki has done needlework in the past, but quilting is not part of her experience (yet) though she has friends who sew and quilt.

In the course of the conversation, I learned that Jo’s husband, and his quilting aunts, were related to Ferrol Sams. Yes, the same Ferrol Sams whose novels and short stories are part of the great storytelling tradition of the South.

The sisterhood of experiences connecting us with needle and thread is never to be denied.  Vicki told of her friend who makes bags, pillows, quilts, when she hears of a need.  I recalled the women in the Peachtree City guild who were making tote bags and duffle bags for children in foster care to use.  I never cease to be amazed at the generosity of women who sew.

I have a stack of muted red fabrics from the French General line that are waiting to be cut up and sewn back together.  After seeing that old quilt in similar colors hanging in the Drugstore Deli, I’m thinking log cabin is a good plan.

Our outing that day was a mere 20 miles from home, in Byron, Ga.  The Drugstore Deli is in corner building near the railroad tracks.

Grits for Supper

 

Grits are a staple in any southern girl’s diet.  We have them for breakfast sometimes, but all my life I’ve had grits at sunset more often than at sunrise.

My mother occasionally served a breakfast menu at suppertime.  Usually country salt-cured ham and redeye gravy were part of that, along with grits, eggs, and exploding biscuits.  (Thus the comment young Wallace made.)   And we always had grits when we had fried fish for supper.  Nowadays, breakfast menu items appear at supper in the form of omelets all year long.  But when the weather is cool, we sometimes have the full meal with sausage or ham, eggs, biscuits, and grits.

Every time I make grits, I think of my friend Ferrelle.  Ferrelle owned a wonderful cooking, kitchen, and gift shop, and served up fabulous ideas for enjoying life.  We once had a conversation about grits which “upped my game”.  Ferrelle’s advice included using stone ground grits (we favor the yellow ones from Nora’s Mill in Helen, GA), cooking them with chicken broth rather than water, and adding a bit of cream right before removing them from the heat.  Oh, my.  They are so rich and creamy.  I vary the flavor by adding different cheeses at times, and cooked, crumbled bacon on top adds flavor and garnish.

Since Ferrelle retired, I rarely see her.  But we keep in touch through mutual friends and Facebook.  And I think of her often when I use a kitchen gadget that I bought from her, when I need a gift for someone and mourn the fact that her store is no longer around, but most especially when I cook grits.

In recent years, I’ve added a “grits and greens” casserole to my cooking repetoire, giving grits an excuse to appear at lunchtime or to go to a potluck dinner.  A google search by for that title will yield many recipes, but Ferrelle’s advice will make any of those better, too.

There is a drawback to possessing this knowledge.  Sometimes we see grits on a menu in a restaurant and order them.  We are always, always, disappointed.

Photo notes:  Since I seem to think everything should be a story in cloth, I’ve begun stitching on a Nora’s Mill bag.  You see images of the front and backside.  More work to be done, but I know you’re hungry, so go cook some grits.

Addendum:  How could I forget fried grits?  After I posted this, a friend reminded me, saying that her grandmother “would also refrigerate left over grits in a shallow pan, then dip chilled finger-sized slices in beaten egg and fry them like French toast. These, drenched in syrup and served with a patty of sausage, made a wonderful Sunday evening meal.”

I haven’t tried the French toast/syrup idea, but I have fried them similarly and served them as a side dish with grilled salmon or pork chops.  At least once I prepared them similarly and served them as croutons on a salad of Spring Mix greens with goat cheese and prosciutto.  A balsamic vinaigrette topped it off.  It was wonderful.  How could I have forgotten that?

Sharing and Learning

In recent months, I’ve had several opportunities to share my quilting stories.  The emphasis is on sharing – listening to quilting stories from other people as much telling them about mine.  There is the frequent conversation beginning with, “I remember seeing my grandmother make quilts,” but there are many different experiences along those lines.  I also hear, “I’ve always wanted to learn to quilt”, “I have my mother’s sewing machine”, and “I find it so relaxing to sit and stitch.”   I never hear, “what is a quilt?”  Everyone seems to have memories of quilts in their lives.

I never tire of hearing about memories associated with quiltmaking, but I find that I learn about my own experiences in those conversations, too.  When asked questions about why I do what I do, I am often surprised to hear my answer.  I don’t always verbalize to myself the reasoning behind an approach.

A few weeks ago, I spent three days sharing Fifty-two Tuesdays, the quilt and the book at Mistletoe Market ( a festival-like weekend shopping experience in Perry, Ga.).  As I repeatedly summarized my experience with that journal quilt, I came to realize how that adventure changed my focus from traditional quilts to story quilts.  In the fifty-two weeks of 2015, I depicted a scene that represented an experience in my life each week.  I also explored every quilting technique I could, in essence making it a sampler quilt, too.   In so doing, I tried things that I would not have wanted to pursue on a large scale.

I learned that printing on silk fabric gave a luster to photographs that seemed dull when printed on paper or canvas.  Now I’ve explored that more fully with several art quilts. (Examples written about here are Swamp Bird, Flowers for Phyllis, and  Commonly Uncommon).  Success with that approach gave me confidence to try something totally different.  I had old photographs I wanted to print on fabric and wondered if I could successfully use old linen or cotton fabric in keeping with the vintage photo.  It worked and I’ve played with that numerous times. (Some are Spinster Sisters, My Daddy wore Overalls, and Galadrielle.)

Shortly after that market experience, I was scheduled to share my work with a civic group.  I’m accustomed to presenting trunk shows to quilt guilds, but groups of non-quilters are a new experience this year.  The self-examination I had realized in the days at Mistletoe Market allowed me to better understand and therefore explain my transition from the traditional quilt world to the art quilt world.

Make no mistake, I still love traditional quilts and will continue to make those.  But the freedom to tell a story in a small piece of cloth, using traditional quiltmaking techniques is very compelling right now.

As I started a new file for my 2017 journal entries, I couldn’t help but ponder the possibilities of this prime year.  I even wrote a blog post entitled Prime Time, reflecting that since 2017 is a prime number, we should all use that to try something different.  But I never published that post, because I couldn’t conclude with what I proposed to try differently myself.  The list I made of 2016 efforts was so eye-opening, I just want to keep on keeping on with what I’ve learned.

I am assembling the blocks from Fifty-Two Wednesdays, my journal quilt for 2016.  I’m still imagining what the journal quilt for 2017 might be – if I do the weekly quilt block again.  I have a few days to decide; I will continue the weekly format I’ve done before, using Thursday as my deadline.

 

About the photos: hexagonal images are from Fifty-Two Tuesdays.  Rectangular blocks are from Fifty-Two Wednesdays.  Notice that the scenes from the 2016 quilt are not yet quilted.  In addition to changing the shape of the block, I chose not to “quilt-as-I-went” this time, leaving the quilting until after assembly.

The Kite

In 1952, he was four years old and wanted to fly a kite.  In this photo, he watched as his Daddy held the string and the kite climbed higher and higher.  The air was crisp, the wind pulling the string quickly.  At the moment the photo was taken, the boy sensed disaster on the horizon.

He was right.  Shortly after the shutter clicked, the string broke and the red kite was gone.  As the little boy grew, more kites flew and did not fly away, but the anxiety born that day was ever present when the kites were in the air.

When asked for appropriate titles for this art quilt, he said, Childhood Trauma, or Hold Tight, Daddy, or Don’t Let Go, would all be appropriate.  In truth, he barely remembers the day, and probably wouldn’t remember it at all were it not for the photo.  This is exactly the kind of experience I love to capture in cloth.  A memory.  A story.  A moment frozen.

I printed the photo on a piece of vintage linen from an old tablecloth and added color to the boy’s jeans and cap with watercolor crayons.  I had overdyed some old linen in the indigo vat that looked a lot like a winter sky, so I cut the foreground image from the photo and stitched it to the blue.  I appliquéd the kite using a bit of French General red fabric, and hand embroidered the kite string and tails.  When I added machine quilting stitches, I used dark thread to emphasize the fence posts and trees.

I finished the piece by attaching the fabric photo unit to an old quilt remnant, adding borders of ribbon and a coarsely woven red checked fabric.  Hand and machine stitching were used for this step.  The piece finished at 16” x 22”.  A vintage doily serves as the label.

 

Fruitcake

Turman Capote and I have a shared history.  We had loving spinster aunts as partners in fruitcake preparation.  When I taught a high-school course called the American Short Story, students’ reactions to the old-fogey ways Capote related in his A Christmas Memory were not ones of delight.  But I was thrilled to revisit my childhood.

It’s the time of year when I buy things at the grocery store that I would normally never allow past my lips.  Some candied fruit (I don’t even want to know how that is accomplished), a lot of sugar, butter, nuts, disposable baking pans.

This is a result of a lifelong habit of eating fruitcake at Christmastime.  My mother baked the dark fruitcakes for as long as I can remember.  She chopped all the fruit by hand, added nuts that either my grandmother or my Daddy had picked out of the shells, and that I had picked up from underneath the trees at home, and filled the house with a delightful smell including vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Mama made these cakes and gave them to family and friends.  Her gifts were generous, a full recipe baked in a tube cake pan.  They were huge!  Every year the search was on to find a store selling the round tins which would hold these 5-lb treasures.

Once I was grown, I became a recipient of the heavy gift in the tin.  Mama would always have ours ready to take home at Thanksgiving and we would savor the treat throughout the holidays.

Jim found a way to improve on Mama’s recipe.  We would remove her foil or waxed paper wrapping, substituting cheesecloth.  The cheesecloth would soak up the brandy Jim added and make the cake more moist.  Yes, that’s it, moist.  Once when Mama came to visit us at Christmas, I served dessert.  She remarked, “This is GOOD fruitcake.  Who made it?”  “I made it?  Are you sure?”  “Well, I don’t know.  This tastes much better than the one at my house.”  We never confessed the alteration.

Mama gave a cake to anyone who she thought would like them.  Only when I started following in her footsteps did I realize what a gift a fruitcake was.  The time, and expense, to bake these was no small matter.  A few years ago, a cousin said, “You know your Mama always made me a dark fruitcake at Christmas.  I always took it.  But I couldn’t stand those things.”  She lowers her voice when she uttered the words “dark fruitcake,” as it she were speaking of something evil.  Now that I think about it, I bet Mama realized Charlotte was unappreciative, but she was one of those people who would have been hurt had Mama not given her one.

I’ve found some shortcuts to Mama’s process.  I sometime buy nuts already shelled, and bake the concoction in small foil pans.  Once the cakes are cooled, they are ready to wrap for presentation to appreciative friends.  I know fruitcakes are the punch lines for many jokes, and I know we are all more conscious of our diets these days, but most reactions I get to the fruitcakes I share are of the “oh, I love this – it takes me back to Christmas of my childhood” type.  And when I take a plate of sliced fruitcake to social gatherings this time of year, it’s always emptied.

If your mouth is watering for a trip down memory lane, here is Mama’s recipe.

  • Mama’s Stirring Fruitcake
  • 1 lb candied cherries
  • ½ lb candied pineapple (white)
  • ½ lb candied pineapple (green)
  • 3 pts shelled nuts, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ lb raisins (⅔ cup)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ lb butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla flavoring
  • 2 teaspoons almond flavoring
  • 2 teaspoons cake spices
  • Cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at the time and beat well.  Add flour and spices and beat well.  Add fruit and nuts.  Pour into a large greased pan and place in 375 degree oven (note that she found 300 degrees in her oven to be better).  After baking 15 minutes, stir.  Do this a total of 3 times.  After 3rd time, pack in tube cake pan and bake 15 minutes longer.  Let stand in pan for 15 minutes before turning out.

My recipe notes:

I reduce the nuts to about 4 cups.

“cake spices” seem to be unavailable these days, so I use: 1 t. allspice, ½ t. nutmeg, and ½ t. cinnamon

I sometimes use 3” x 5” loaf pans to give as gifts.  This recipe fills five of those.  The plate pictured above the recipe shows one of those small loaf pans sliced.  So the whole recipe is five of those!

Note:  An internet search will yield numerous links to Truman Capote’s story, analyses of that work, and even audio files for your seasonal listening.  It’s worth the time.

Star Over Tahiti

This time of year I often think, “I need to make more red and green quilts.”  And, I sometimes stitch using those colors, part of being  in the holiday spirit.

But here is a quilt I made one Christmas season that isn’t red or green.

I needed something seasonal to hang above the table where my Nativity scene would live for the holidays.  I had always loved the raw-edge technique of Rosemary Eichorn’s work, and had enjoyed making Stella, Harvest Princess using that method.  I was in a hurry to have something on the wall, so I was off to the fabric store to find ancient biblical – looking foliage.

I came home with some leafy fabric, did some fussy cutting, and went to work.  The patchwork sky was easy.  I had some brilliant blue fabric with flecks of sparkle that made for a perfectly magical sky.  I drafted a star with some elongated points, stitched that in place, and cut Bethlehem-like buildings free form.  Then I added palm trees and was proud of my accomplishment.

Jimmy G, who had been called upon a few times to give names to quilts, promptly named this one Star over Tahiti.

Whatever you call it, it served as a backdrop for the nativity scene.  And, I learned some ways to get a functional piece together in a minimal amount of time.

Finished measurements are 22″ x 30″.  I used cotton batting, cotton thread.  The quilting stitch secured the free-form pieced elements and raw-edge appliqué, all accomplished in the quilting process.

Pomegranates and Poinsettias


For many years I decorated for Christmas using my Grandmother’s basket quilt she made in 1890 (that story is  here).  When I started quilting, I longed to make my own holiday quilt.  Now one of the first steps in decorating our house for Christmas is to swap out the fall quilts for red and green ones.


I love to sew with red and green fabrics during this time of the year so I often start a new project for my sewing serenity during the season.  In the days of Christmas 2008, I began work on what became  Pomegranates and Poinsettias.  I was spending quite a bit of time with my mother-in-law, Sadie, during a time of failing health for her.

She loved helping me decide which red fabric should be used for a particular bloom, which green should be used for stems and leaves.  She loved the sampler background (as does everyone else who sees this quilt), and when I decided to add buttons for the berries, she giggled like a little girl.  Imagine, putting BUTTONS on a quilt.
That was something her mother had never done!  This piece was finished in June 2009 and has been the focal point on a wall in our house every Christmas since.  It is based the Holly Threads pattern by Need’l Love.  Mine finishes at 44″ square.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Galadrielle

gingko-and-skyIt’s a beautiful fall day, the sky is blue, gingko leaves are at their peak of golden, so we head to the cemetery.  Isn’t that what all families do on a glorious day?  They do if they live where we do and have a more than 200 acres of serene beauty to stroll.

Rose Hill Cemetery was established in 1840 on 65 acres of land along the banks of the Ocmulgee River.  In 1887, another 125 acres of adjacent land was devoted to Riverside Cemetery.  Both of these were designed by highly respected landscape architects and were intended to be used as a park as well as a solemn final resting place for citizens.  Continuing that tradition, both of these cemeteries are now part of the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail, a walking, biking, communing-with-nature space which we treasure.

So, with camera and crayons in hand, we headed out the door.  We had walked these trails and admired the art of the cemetery before I became acquainted with the art of Susan Lenz.  Finding her work answered the question, “how can this beauty be incorporated into a quilt?”  So now I am prepared with fabric and crayons, just in case.

galadrielle-detailMy latest art quilt is the result of last Saturday’s stroll.  Jim took the photo of Galadrielle, an angel at the foot of Duane Allman’s grave.  I printed it on vintage linen fabric, added some stitching though layers of wool batting, more vintage linen, raw silk, and an indigo-dyed remnant of an old quilt.  A few buttons and a bit of angelic lace came out of my treasure bins for this project.

 

galadrielle-backI used free motion machine stitching to define the shape of Galadrielle and add dimension and detail.  Hand stitching was used everywhere else.  Some unknown sewist had done some hand stitching on the remnant I used as the base.  Her hand quilting and cross stitch has a new life. The worn quilt has been cut up and used in several of my favorite pieces.  I’m loving the blue ones best! I wonder if this unknown colleague did her hand stitching while visiting with friends, or perhaps while listening to the television, as I do.

The quilt finishes at 14” x 23”.