Memories for Sale

photos family birthdaysIn the Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron advises artists to “take your inner artist on a date once a week.”  Go to a museum, or a movie, or the beach, to feed your soul.  Go alone.

I don’t do that.  Not exactly that.  No schedule, no plan.  But I do enjoy the moment when it happens.  Seize the day.  Or the hour.  Or the 15 minutes in a hot, old mill where antiques are sold.

photo shopping SGThat’s where you see me in this photo.  Shuffling though family memories.  Not my family, but a family for sale.  Well, their memories are for sale.

Sad, you say.  Yes. It is sad that a bunch – I estimate 500 or more in the bin I picked though (I looked at every one, bought dozens) family photos were sold in bulk to a stranger. The names and places may be gone, but the stories are still there.

I don’t know the name of the family, the location of the photos, or even the time frame for certain.  But because they look so much like old photos in my family, I can guess 1950s and 1960s.  I know they lived in a house with a backyard, that they built a water feature there at some point, they had a spot where they always took photos on birthdays.  As the children aged, the bushes at the corner of the house grew and matured.  The birthday boy or girl was almost always situated in the same spot with that corner of the house in the background.  photo birthday boyUsually it was the child alone with the cake, sometimes sitting on the ground, many times with the cake on a stool from inside the house.  Later there was a picnic table added, and the cake sat there.

And, then the birthdays moved inside.  My photographer husband notes that they got a camera with a flash.  I didn’t think of that, but I’m sure he’s right.

I know this family dressed up for Easter, for Scout meetings, and what I hope was “tacky day” at school.  They hunted Easter eggs in an area with pine trees and broomsedge.  They visited older relatives, went to the beach a few times, to the mountains, and had family members in the armed forces.  They fed ducks and went to a petting zoo. There were graduations, engagements, and a big anniversary celebration in later years.  They bought new cars now and then, kids got wheels, too – wagons, tricycles, and then bicycles.

The core family consisted of a Mom, Dad, son, daughter.  There were extended family members; brothers and sisters of the parents, their spouses, grandparents, close friends.

Mom baked cakes and kept an immaculate house.  Dad worked hard and enjoyed playing with the children after work.  They paid their bills on time, added a few improvements to the half-acre they called home as extra money allowed, and were good neighbors.  You may think my imagination has run away with me here, and you could be right.  But I think I know these people.

At least I know a family I imagine like this and that makes my day better.  If I can create art from these photos that conveys part of that good feeling, that’s good for even more people.

So, is it still sad for the photos to be sold?

Is this what Julia Cameron wants to come out of my date with my inner artist each week?

I’ve already been working on more photos on fabric since Flag Bearer was done.  Several are in various stages of completion; you’ll be seeing some soon.

And I’m pretty sure you expect a fabric story based on these children and their birthday cakes.  Yep, I’m doing that!

Rescued Remnants

It’s been eleven weeks since I wrote about an adventure buying vintage linens.  Only today is this piece finished, featuring pieces of an old tablecloth found on that excursion.

This quilt has been in development since I brought that pile in the house.  Growing, developing, changing.  Pink is not my “go-to” color, maybe that’s why it took so long for me to hear what the fabric was saying.

I know, people have been referred for psychological help when they said their quilts talked to them.  But quilts do talk.  If only you are willing to listen.

Here is the conversation as this process ensued: Vintage Tablecloth (VT) and me (SG).

VT:  This basket motif wants to be the centerpiece of a medallion-like wall hanging.

SG:  Ok.  I’ll cut one out in an irregular shape and stitch it to a background. With wool batting underneath so you rise to be noticed.

VT:  What background?  The green pieces from the tablecloth without holes?

SG:  Ok.  Done.  Centered, stitched on the machine with dense machine quilting to make the embroidery pop.

VT:  Oh, I’m disappointed.  I’m not featured as I should be.  I need accentuating.

SG:  Ok.  I’ll cut you out from that background and put you on something darker.

VT:  How about pink?  See my perky little bow, let’s do pink!

SG:  Noooo, I don’t like pink too much.  Let’s try something else.  Let’s pick up all those other colors.  Here.  I like this stripe.

VT:  Ok.  But horizontally, no.  Vertically, no.  Both too plain.  I’m fancy.

SG:  Agreed.  How about mitering the stripe so there’s some geometric interest?

VT:  Yes, Mrs. G, I know you have to get that in there somewhere.

SG:  Done.  Now on the green.

VT:  uh-uh.  I want pink.

SG:  Pink?  I don’t like pink.  I don’t even buy pink fabric. Oh, wait, here is a gradated solid.  I bought a pack of these pastels (Lord, what WAS I thinking? That’s not me at all.)  But it does work with the colors in the ribbon. How about a pink border around the basket on the stripe?

VT:  Yes.  At last you heard me.  Pink.  Pink.  Pink.

SG:  Ok.  There is now a border around the basket.  It’s pink.  And, can I let it be raw-edged, since that is the way I applied the basket?

VT:  Yes.  Sure.

SG:  Done.  Now that is going on the green background from the original tablecloth.  Good grief, how many layers is this?  I guess I should cut triangles from the green and frame the center rather than continue to build thickness.  More cutting and fitting and sewing.  But that’s what it needs to be.

Now I need to layer the quilt.  Cotton batting this time, and look, I found a pink calico for the backing.

VT:  Ok, I’m done talking.  Have your way with me now as you quilt.  Oh, I guess you will bind me with that stripe, too; since that seems to be the only fabric you can use for a binding.  But will you not make it bias this time?  Let’s be a little bit subtle with it, ok?

SG:  Good idea.  Especially since I’ve used almost all of the stripe and it will have a jillion seams anyway.  But I’ll place the stripes perpendicular to the edge.

Quilting is done.  I repeated the bow motif from the original basket.  I drew a replica, resized, marked it on corners of quilt, and stitched with heavy pink thread.  I quilted the remainder using a matching fine thread (silk) so the emphasis is on the texture, not the stitch.

VT:  Your quilting worked out nicely.  But now the center stripe is a bit puffy.  Can you get it to settle down a bit?

SG:  Sure.  I’ll do the seed stitch with a matching thread.  But it makes a mess on the back.

VT:  Find something pink.  You use vintage linens for the labels anyway.  Just find one large enough to cover that center square.

SG:  I agree that it needs to be pink.  I don’t have any vintage pink stuff (nor pink dye).  I don’t DO pink.  But, you are right – any other color will be too high contrast.  It is the back, after all.

VT:  So, wait.  You don’t have to finish today.  Wait until you find the right thing.

SG:  Oh, WOW.  I saw this pink linen handkerchief at an antique mall. With lace.  It was $3.  More than I normally pay for a hankie to stitch on as a label.  But I thought of you and bought it.

VT:  Good girl.  I’m worth it.

rescued remnants backSG:  Done.  Label attached with seed stitch that just goes through to the batting.  Sleeve attached the same way.  You aren’t square, close though.  (16” x 17″).  And you speak “pink”

 

Bee Still my Heart

bee skep on notebook page leftbee skep on notebook page right

I see that today has been designated as National Honey Bee Day, begun to increase community awareness of beekeeping in the U.S.  Such a holiday is a perfect excuse to share a few pieces of fiber art with a beekeeping theme.

After I sold my childhood home to Billy, a former colleague of my Daddy, I received a treasured package.  Billy was doing some remodeling and found two of my Daddy’s high school science lab books behind the walls of a closet.  His graduation from Sycamore High School was in 1932, so the Biology and Physical Science lab manuals predate that.

I never knew my Daddy could draw, but in these books I found his drawings of crawfish, birds, fish, chemistry lab equipment, and BEES.  I was excited to find his handwriting, which looked exactly like it did later in life, but the drawings were a wonderful surprise.  I scanned some of the images and printed them on parchment paper and framed them as Christmas gifts for family members, but the lab on the bees got special treatment.

Beekeeping detail rightI printed those two pages on commercially prepared fabric for printing, then used those as the background for appliquéd bee skeps, vines, leaves, berries, and bees.  Cotton was used for the vines and leaves, beehives are a woven cotton, berries are made with silk ribbon, and the bees are appliquéd from felted wool.  The quilting is hand guided free motion on a domestic sewing machine. Each piece of this pair finishes at 12” x 15”. In keeping with the school theme, I entitled this pair Beekeeping 101.

beauty & beesThis reconnection with my Daddy’s history with bees spurred me to stitch several more quilts with bees and beehives.  I modified a pattern from Maggie Bonanomi to create Beauty and the Bees in wool.  The background is commercially handdyed and felted black wool.  All the appliqué pieces are felted wool from recycled clothing, mine and Goodwill’s.  The pink berries and tendrils are machine couched with my free motion couching foot, one of the most fun-to-use tools in my toolbox!

Still busy as a bee, I wanted a colony on blue.  So I created a simple design using a single bee skep, and used needleturn appliqué on the Blackbird Design fabric that looks like a cross stitch sampler.  I return to that fabric frequently, in different colorways, because it adds another layer of interest to any quilt while paying tribute to another one of my needlework loves – cross stitch.  A section of this piece appears in the banner at the top of the page.

bees in guest bedroomThe Beehive on Blue was made to fit an oval frame (8″ x 10″) I found somewhere.  That’s a shape I love and find those frames hard to leave in the store.  So one came home with me, got a coat of chalk paint, and holds my quilt.  It is honored with the presence of an original drawing of a bee by my art instructor and friend, Mark Ballard.

Fifty-Two Tuesdays has a block with a beeskep on linen.  There’s one in Fifty-Two Wednesdays, and  I’ve used this motif in a series of beginning appliqué classes.  I’m certain it will reappear many times.  I sometimes find interesting bee buttons or charms that need a home in a textile hive.

My Daddy, the beekeeper, would have been surprised that those lab manuals were still around, I think.  He built this house in 1946, after having owned at least two farms, then living in another house in town. so why did he keep science lab manuals for fourteen years?  I know if he could see my fabric beehives, he would pretend to think they were silly, printing his workbook pages and sewing on them.  But secretly he would be pleased.  As I think he would be pleased that I treasure such wonderful memories of those glorious mornings checking the beehives with him.

Note:  more details about Beauty and the Bees and working with wool are here.

After the Chlorophyll

after chlorophyllI love trees.  Jim once missed a great photograph of a bird because his lovely assistant forgot she had his camera and stopped to examine the bark on a tree.  Now there are companies selling urns which contain a person’s ashes and a seed for a tree.  If they catch on, future generations can drive by a forest rather than a cemetery.  I love that idea!

Trees have shown up in several of my quilts.  I have pieced some traditional tree blocks, and I’ve used a commercial pattern and a fusible product (that was early in my exploration of quilting; now I generally refuse to fuse).  But the ones I’ve loved the most are the original ones I’ve made.

The one pictured here was one of my early art quilts.  I didn’t even know to call it that at the time, and I scoffed when a friend saw it in progress and asked, “have you always been artistic?”  I mean, loudly, rudely, scoffed.  Dismissed her remark with hilarity.  Now I realize she saw something I didn’t.

The quilt was based on a silver maple tree in our backyard, right outside my daughter’s window.  She missed her childhood vision each fall where the leaves are magically colored in golds and reds and greens and oranges all at once.  Against a brilliant blue sky, they sparkle in the sun.

So I cut a piece of commercial blue fabric, found a batik that looked like tree bark, and went outside to gather some leaves.  Once inside, I copied the leaves at reduced versions of their actual sizes, made freezer paper patterns, and kept the leaves close by while I found fabrics with those vibrant colors.  Now I wouldn’t bother with the template step, but ten years ago, I thought you were supposed to use a pattern, so I made one.

I stitched everything down with raw edges everywhere, using an invisible thread on the leaves.  The tree was stitched with a heavier dark thread and I attempted to stitch something that resembles bark. The sky has some free motion quilting that was intended to give the illusion of a breeze.

The quilt does not live with me, it resides with the one who missed her tree.  So I’m not including closeup photos, exact dimensions, or even the exact date.  All those details are not here at the moment.  But my recent love of the raw edge had me thinking about this first daring adventure outside the quilting rulebook.

The title of the quilt comes from the fact that in a maple tree, the chlorophyll is the first leaf pigment to disappear in the fall, leaving the accessory pigments to display their brilliance in reds, yellows, and oranges.

bevcartertree-1

CBF treeMore photos:  Here are two small photos of early pieces using a commercial pattern by Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry.  I enlarged her pattern to about 30” square and used batik fabrics for the trees and backgrounds.

Disconnected and Reconnecting

mountain vistaWe spent a few days in the mountains.  The temperatures were nice, the scenery beautiful, a delightful getaway.  One of the things we got away from was internet access.  At the top of the mountain, you were in touch with the world.  But our cabin was at the foot of the falls, so we were off the internet pipeline.

That was a good thing.

We did have a television in the cabin, but saw no need to see if it worked.  A bubbling stream was entertainment enough.

One purpose for this annual getaway is to reconnect with my husband’s family.  Their reunion has been held at a state park for many years; we go to see the cousins and catch up.

I have come to know most of these people by name over the years, but I don’t share a history with them.  I can’t engage in the “we would go visit…” and “I remember when he…” conversations.

But I do have some history with Charlie.   He is my cousin-in-law, I guess.  When we first saw each other at this gathering some years ago, we shared one of those, “don’t I know you somewhere?” moments.  A few minutes of conversation led one of us to say, “I was a math teacher.”  “Oh, Rock Eagle.”

We had seen each other at professional conferences over the years, but had never had the occasion to realize we shared the same last name and make sense of that.  Now we did.

As the years went by and conversations grew longer, we learned that not only did we share the same profession and know many common colleagues, but that a cousin of mine had been Charlie’s mentor teacher early in his career.  And that another cousin of mine had been his teacher in high school.

Our most recent conversation revealed more commonalities.  We are both married to spouses who always see life through the lens of a camera, both couples enjoy traveling the backroads and exploring the unexpected side trip, and we take pleasure in enjoying every experience that presents itself.

One of the nice things about getting older is that you have had more opportunities to meet people who share the things you do, it’s easy to validate the joys in life, and those connections to the past are treasures.  Whether sharing war stories from teaching, a love of the outdoors, or simply the appreciation of traveling a back road, it’s always fun to reconnect with friends like Charlie.

My sewing basket does not need wifi, so it got its normal workout on this trirescued linensp.  There were some antique stores, and I did rescue some linens.  Some of the green  napkins you see in the center have already been cut up and sewn to something else.

Strollin’

Strollin'My latest art quilt features a guinea.  I love these funny looking birds; the pattern on their feathers reminds me of little old women wearing black calico dresses, and I love their spirit of self-confidence.  I guess it should be noted that I admire them from a distance.  I don’t think our neighbors would like for us to have them on our property.

My guineas must be relegated to quilts and buttons and such.

Strollin' closeupI found a black and white batik fabric a couple of years ago that said “guinea” to me.  I made an album quilt of Sunbonnet Sue-style guineas and called it Guineas on Parade.

 

The art quilt here uses the same fabric and pattern I drew for that larger quilt.  This one is needleturn appliquéd onto a brown and white checked background (more on the philosophy of that here).  The sunflower in the border is raw edge appliqué on a brown  hand-dyed fabric.  All quilting is hand-guided, freemotion quilting using cotton thread.

Strollin' back closeupThis piece finishes at 16” x 20”.  For the back, I used a delightful batik I bought in Paducah.  Even though it’s on the back, it harkens to my philosophy of “using the good stuff“.

In addition to Guineas on Parade, I’ve included guinea buttons on a block in 52 Tuesdays, and an appliquéd guinea in 52 Wednesdays.  

I found a delightful poem about guineas online. In part, it reads

They seldom walk –‘tis a run or a trot,

Snatching bugs left and right, one for each polka-dot.

The poem in its entirety can be found here.

When I see a guinea, or hear one, it takes me back to a sunny day of softball practice where the “buck-wheat” cry of these birds interrupted our practice.  Those friends, the serenity of a spring day, the joy of playing in the rural outdoors, all come to mind and I feel a smile spreading across my face.

The Seed Stitch

I’ve been delighting in a new stitch in the past few months, the seed stitch.  It is a simple little stitch which is carefree and easy, but adds an amazing punch to textile work in many situations.

If you are a stitcher and haven’t used this versatile stitch lately, give it some thought.  Directions and video tutorials are abundant online.  Just search “seed stitch for embroidery”, or you’ll learn knitting.

seed stitch on floozieIn recent years, I used the seed stitch in this block of Floozies, a quilt I made using a Sue Spargo kit she called Bird Dance in 2013.  In this case, the stitch was done as an embellishment. The seed stitch can be seen in the area under the bird’s feet.

detail of Mourning Flight

In Susan Lenz’s class I took in May and wrote about it in detail here, I realized that this stitch could be used as a quilting stitch, to secure several layers.  In this case, I used a heavy black thread making the stitch itself quite obvious.  This photo is one from Mourning Flight, detailed here, where all the hand quilting is accomplished using this simple stitch.

seed stitch in carBut recently, I’ve used the seed stitch on another piece, this white baby dress on blue, still untitled. Here I’m using a fine thread (30-weight cotton) which matches the background.  The stitch is rather small, so all that is visible is the dimple created when the stitch secures the top, batting and backing.  The photo here is one I took while riding in the car. (The seed stitch is in the area of the white in the lop left quadrant of the photo.)  On a road trip yesterday to see and photograph a rare bird, I got a lot of stitching done.  I was not the driver.

The seed stitch is rather random in nature, neither the length nor direction of the stitch having to be consistent, making it a great travel project.  Much of the seed stitch on Mourning Flight was also done in the car, this time on a birding trip to Florida.

seed stitch intended pink basketAnd remember the pile of vintage linens I brought home here?  Well, salvageable parts of one of those old tablecloths has become this piece. After quilting the inner pink border and the setting triangles densely, the striped center is a bit puffy.  So, I’ll be adding some seed stitch in this area.

One caveat:  the seed stitch does not produce an even result on the back of the piece, so an additional back will be needed.  But if you plan an additional layer on the back, or you intend to frame the work, the seed stitch is an interesting one to consider for securing layers.  I’ve planned for that on the white baby dress, using an extraordinarily thin fabric (harem cloth) as the backing now. And on the pink/green piece, the label will be placed over the seed-stitched area of the back of the finished product.

Reverse Guest Book

reverse guest book brochureWe recently enjoyed a visit with friends headed home from a six-week odyssey.  Kathy and Dick were on their 42nd day of a trip celebrating her recent retirement.  They had mapped a path across much of Eastern America and into Canada.   They included homes of friends and family in their route, scheduling around some predetermined events such as birthdays and weddings.

At the first stop, a friend gave them a blank travel journal to record their adventures.  Kathy and Dick decided rather than just record their own observations of the trip, they would invite their hosts along the way to autograph the book as well.

As soon as Kathy made the request that we add our own comments, my gears were turning.  This journal-keeping madwoman was full of questions.  I wanted to know more, more, more.

reverse guest book mapKathy says that she’s not a “journal keeper” of any regularity.  She has kept some sort of journal sporadically over the years, but not in a continuous, concentrated fashion.

However – after their wedding, Kathy and Dick had repurposed their guest book from the reception, asking guests in their home to “register”.  As the years have gone by, they have continued that tradition and are now on the third or fourth volume of their home guest registry.  How wonderful that this couple thought of that at the outset of their lives together and have made it a habit.  What wonderful memories they are generating!  They enjoy looking back though those volumes and sharing fond memories that would otherwise have slipped away.

Considering that habit, it’s only natural that they would refer to this travel journal as a “reverse guest book.”  It includes brochures, ticket stubs, maps, and postcards giving them full access to more details than their hosts might have written.  Their cameras and smart phones have more photos to trigger memories, too.  But when they arrive home in a few days, their travel journal is complete.  Bound.  Ready for the shelf.  No box of scrambled stuff to sort through to “make a scrapbook.”

reverse guest book ticketsAdditionally, and even better, their journal has insights from their friends.  A collection of memories; their own and others’.

 

 

My Threaded Needle

bluebird on linenSaturday night finds me stitching through layers of delight:

A photo of Eastern Bluebirds made by Jim Gilreath  is printed on a vintage linen tablecloth.

The photo is layered on hand-dyed Osnaburg fabric the color of the male bluebird’s breast.

These are atop a remnant of vintage linen dipped in my indigo vat.

My needle is pulling smooth cotton thread through these layers and wool batting.

I am accompanied by live music from the photographer and his stringed instruments.

Are there really people in the world who would prefer to be anywhere else?  I can’t imagine.

Loving the Blues

indigo fabricsI’ve been playing in my indigo vat for the past few days.  The pile you see here includes some of the results.  I’ve dipped pieces large and small of old vintage sheets, old hankies and napkins, doilies, placemats, purchased commercial fabric, bits of lace, and a cotton Matelasse bedspread.

Fabrics are cotton, linen, silk, and combinations of those.  Some have been dipped once, some several times.  I love to watch the magic as the oxidation process occurs.

indigo vatWhen first removed from the vat, the cloth appears green.  As the dye oxidizes, the blue appears.  If a resist is applied to block the dye absorption, interesting patterns can be created.

The only resists I’ve tried are some tying of the fabric and a bit of folding.  Already I can see how addictive this process can be.  And though I’ve already peered into the rabbit hole of staining with tea and blackberries, and then explored the browns, this lover of all things BLUE is tumbling headfirst into the indigo dye.

indigo stitchingThis third photo shows that I’ve started some projects using this most delightful fabric.  I’m loving the work I’ve recently been doing with vintage linen; it’s so deliciously soft to stitch by hand.  The photo shows a vintage baby dress appliquéd on linen now ready to embroider and quilt and some squares prepared for piecing.  Both pieces use techniques I’ve learned from that amazing artist, Jude Hill.  Her invisible basting stitch and paperless piecing technique have changed my stitching forever!

I haven’t limited myself to playing with yardage.  If I took a selfie right now, you would see a cotton knit shirt and a silk scarf which have both spent some time in the indigo vat.