Love Birds


What better way to welcome Valentine’s Day than stitching a heart?

This was the lucky shot I captured on our recent trek to see the trumpeter swans visiting here from northern climes.  When Jim tiptoed to the truck for a shorter lens, I caught them swimming and their long necks forming a heart, skewed perhaps; but I saw a heart!  I like “wonky” in quilts anyway, so the heart they formed was perfect!

I printed the photo on silk fabric, layered it on wool and cotton batting.  I quilted the entire photo with silk thread, then added hand stitching with a heavier red thread when done.  Beads were hand stitched as eyes.

Some unknown person who tatted the edging on the placemat contributed to the piece as I used that as a mat for the photo.  A bit of red fabric created an inner border.

All is stitched to a black canvas ready to hang on the wall.  For Valentine’s Day, or any time one wants to think of love.  Or visiting swans.

The photo image measures 7” x 10”.  The finished canvas is 16” x 20”.  Click on any image to enlarge it.

More details of the swans’ visit is detailed here, if you missed that one.

Cemetery Fog

The atmospheric conditions yesterday morning were not what most people think of as a perfect day for photography.  But since our destination was the cemetery, the dense fog was perfect!

We headed to Rose Hill Cemetery with a few devoted photography friends and I came home with lots of images for angelic quilts.  An earlier post about my first Galadrielle quilt is here and includes a bit of history of this magical place.

Yesterday I captured images of some more angels that I think need to be on fabric.

Little Martha, made famous by the Allman Brothers, is especially pretty in the fog, I think.

Other angels spoke to me, too.  This one sits atop the tomb of Parthenia Raines.

And here is a different interpretation of Galadrielle in fabric.  This time, her image is stitched to a vintage placemat with elaborate embroidery.  I added many pearl beads by hand, securing her to a remnant of an old quilt dipped in the indigo vat.

 

A reclaimed doily serves as the label on the back.

GBI Blues

One of the sites on a must-see list for visitors to Macon, GA, is the Hay House, an antebellum mansion now maintained for tours and special events.  Jim and I chose this site for a recent visit, taking my GBI Blues quilt along for a photoshoot.

GBI (Gee’s Bend Inspired) Blues represents everything I know that’s fun about quilting.  I started with a sunprinted image I had made, surrounded it with log-cabin-style piecing of some of my favorite fabrics, used no rulers or pins, and just sewed!  And the blues part is no surprise to regular readers.

Improvisational piecing is a love of mine.  It’s done well by many quilters and I admire so many pieces created that way.  But there’s a fine line between appealing quilts that have been pieced improvisationally and what I consider a big ‘ole mess.

The Gee’s Bend quilts are an art form all their own.  In Gee’s Bend, an isolated community in Alabama, descendants of slaves made quilts in anonymity for generations.  With limited resources, they stitched any fabric they could get, using no rulers or patterns.  In the 1990’s, an art collector “discovered” their creations.  He brought some of the women and their work to the attention of the art world.  Just google Gee’s Bend quilts and you can spend the day discovering these magnificent pieces of cloth.

I had a friend who had taken a class from one of the Pettway women from Gee’s Bend.  Her summary of the technique was, “don’t measure, don’t worry about cutting straight, just sew one piece of fabric to the next.” So, that’s what I did!

I followed the example of the women of Gee’s Bend, using fabrics from clothes Jim and I had worn, not necessarily quilting cotton.  There’s a shirt made from ticking in there.  When my friend Marie, a lacemaker, saw that I had left the pocket intact, she contributed a bit of lace to tuck inside.  Borders of my beloved Cherrywood blues, along with a strip of triangles using indigo fabrics and a mint green solid, added to the mix.

With no measuring, and no finished size in mind, the top was done when it was done.  It turned out to be a perfect lap size quilt, measuring 41” x 54”.  I pieced the back, too, using a Wonky Star (I need to write about that technique – haven’t done that yet) as the center, and again pulling some of my favorite blues together.

When it came time for the quilting, I continued the theme of “this is for FUN,” playing with all kinds of designs and threads.  I added french knots to the Queen Anne’s Lace at the end because it seemed that it still needed something.

I have a self-imposed rule of keeping blog posts reasonable in length.  But, do use your search engine to see more of the Hay House and Gee’s Bend quilts when you have time.  Both are well documented online and worth your time!

Some photos are ones I took.  Some are Jim’s with his amazing digital darkroom skills.  I think you know which ones are whose.  The only full view I seem to find is this shot at the Ga National Fair.

Swan Songs

“Have we told you about the time a swan came to our front door?”

That’s a question we’ve asked birding friends recently.

There’s been a lot of chatter about rare birds, trumpeter swans, in our area.  These birds normally live in western Canada and Alaska.  They don’t like the South.  In fact, the pair now visiting Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge near Juliette, GA, are believed to be the first ones to ever visit GA.

Our Minnesota friends recently posted photos of a huge flock of swans near them.  I was enthralled and obtained permission to use their images in art quilts, thinking I’d not be likely to see any of these birds.   Then, we heard there were some swans near us!  (More of Mary Ellen’s Minnesota stories are here.) This photo by Bruce Lundstrom.

On Saturday, Jim and I drove to Piedmont and were fortunate to find the pair close to shore at a pond.  We quietly approached the group watching, visited with old friends and made a couple of new friends.  Then everyone else left and we slowly walked out on the deck and got even closer to the beauties.

We had heard that the two stayed on the far side of another pond, so Jim took his big lens.  The birds were so close to us that he couldn’t get the whole bird in a shot.  I had carried my camera thinking, “this is a waste, I can’t see them well enough to photograph.”  Wrong.  I could, I did.  Jim went back to the truck (walking ever so slowly and quietly) to get a smaller lens.

I was thrilled to capture a few images, but I was so mesmerized by the glassy surface of the water, by the reflections of the trees and the birds, and by what I saw as parallel behavior of the swans, that I would forget to put down the binoculars and pick up the camera.

But snap the shutter, we did.  Jim got great detailed shots of the birds, I got some surprisingly nice images, too.  I love the two birds with the loose feather floating on the water!

 

 

I was thrilled when I realized I had captured a heart in one shot!

 

 

Their balancing acts as they preen, stretching that long graceful neck into Mobieus-like positions, that one big black foot in the air, the thrill of them when they unfurl those huge, huge wings – all formed   indelible moments in my mind.

I knew standing on the dock on Saturday that   this elegant swan would be the subject of my next drawing in Mark Ballard’s class..  From the moment I snapped the shutter, I said, “that’s the pose.”

Oh, and the earlier encounter with a swan was on Mother’s Day, 2004.   Our Welsh Corgi, Dixie, greeted a mute swan at our front door.  We lived a couple of blocks from the nearest lake, so our photos of her are not surrounded by reflections or ripples of water.  But the visit was memorable.

That swan twisted her long neck into crazy positions, too.

 

Next project:  stitching some swans!

70 and Still Wearing Jeans


The world’s greatest husband had a birthday.  To celebrate this milestone, I completed a project for him that I had started several years ago.  Yes, it was a project in progress for a while.

I had collected some novelty fabrics and made 9” Ohio Star blocks.  The working title for this project was Things Jim Likes.  Construction stalled when there were some categories that had to be included but were difficult to find.  Fabric with cameras, birds, maps, were some of the most elusive.  I put everything in a box and put it on a shelf until I could collect more fabrics.  By everything, I mean a diagram of the quilt I had designed in EQ7, notes to myself about the possible sashing and setting triangle fabrics, and a list of themes I had and wanted to add.

When I would find fabrics that were appropriate, I added them to the box, and time marched on.

 

 

 

 

As this birthday approached, I decided that this would be his “three score and ten” gift .  Yes, he walked in the sewing room several times while the blocks were on the design wall.  And, no, he didn’t realize what was there.  I worked as quickly as I could with them on the wall, and I lied a bit (ok, a lot) about what I was doing upstairs in the weeks before Christmas.  (His birthday is December 26 – the design wall photo was taken Sept 23.)

Once assembled, I knew I couldn’t hide it long enough to quilt it myself.  And, it’s big and would take me a long time.  So Dewey Godwin became my partner in secrecy and did the quilting in record time.  Knowing the theme and seeing the trains, Dewey incorporated a railroad track into the border.  Perfect!

While I was working on this, Jim was playing Amanda by Waylon Jennings with a line  “finally made 40 and still wearing jeans.”  There’s where the title came from.  Not 40, but still wearing jeans.

 

 

My partner, my assistant, my musician, my photographer, my soulmate now has a new quilt of his own.  And, just in time for the coldest weather in a very long time.  It works at nap time in front of the tv.

 

 

Some of the things represented are cameras, lighthouses, scientific instruments, football, windmills, Christmas lights, birds, travel, the great outdoors, banjos, guitars, railroads, geology, the US Army, and even  sharks (those represent the years he taught Oceanography and dissected sharks in his lab, gaining notoriety for the smelliest classroom at school).

The patchwork back is made of fabrics whose motifs wouldn’t fit in the star design, but fit the theme.

 

 

 

 

For email subscribers, here is a photo of the whole quilt.  It measures 65″ x 80″ .  For more detail, go to the website and click on any photo to enlarge.

Soup and Cornbread

Today was a snow day, a sew day, followed by a cold, cold night.  Our supper was one we have frequently in this weather – vegetable soup and bread.  Sometimes the bread is a crusty loaf we can dip in olive oil, sometimes it’s soft yeast rolls with butter.  This night it was a southern favorite, cornbread.

 

Cornbread baked in my mother’s  cast iron skillet.  That skillet holds more memories than grease molecules.  My mother baked cornbread in it every single weekday of my memory.  No matter what the menu, no matter how hot the kitchen would be in the summertime, the oven and pan were preheated to 400℉.  Meanwhile, a simple mixture of self-rising cornmeal, egg, and whole milk was stirred together.  When the pan was hot, bacon drippings were poured in, then the batter, then it cooked until done.

The round pone was always inverted on a plate, cut into eight wedges, and set on the corner of the table next to Daddy’s plate.  I don’t recall Mama ever eating any, but Daddy ate it at lunchtime, and again sometimes at supper.  Sometimes his supper was simply a wedge of cornbread (room temperature, never reheated) and a glass of milk.

Aunt Nellie, my mother’s maternal aunt, preferred hoecakes; thin cornmeal cakes cooked on top of the stove. From her comments, I inferred that Mama’s recipe was one from Daddy’s family and that she adopted it for our meals.

We ate plenty of leftovers at our house, but never leftover cornbread.  Even if only one wedge was eaten at lunchtime, the remainder was discarded and a new pone cooked the next day.  I don’t know why.

In my adult life, I’ve tried many cornbread recipes, many pans, and many other options.  The alternatives are all good; we enjoy jalapeño cheddar cornbread occasionally, hoecakes are served at our favorite local restaurant, and once I discovered Tasha Tudor’s cornbread recipe, that complex sweet concoction sometimes finds its way to our table.  Tasha advised that hot cornbread is better with a bit of butter and honey or blackberry jam on it.  I agree!

I’ve baked cornbread in square pans, long pans, muffin pans; some glass, some stainless steel, some cast iron.  But nothing gives the crust like Mama’s old cast iron skillet.  But the cornbread will stick to that pan if I use any lubricant other than bacon grease.  So I’ve learned to cook bacon for breakfast if I’m planning to cook cornbread later in the day.

A nice rubdown afterwards with a paper towel is the only cleaning my skillet gets.  No water, no soap.  A childhood memory more than 50 years ago is of Mama and Aunt Nellie building a fire outside and “burning off” their cast iron cookware.  Then they seasoned them with grease of some kind and put them in the oven.  This skillet was one of those.

Mama’s Cornbread Recipe was: 1 cup self-rising cornmeal, 1 egg, 2/3 cup whole milk.  Mix ingredients.  Preheat oven to 400℉ with iron skillet inside.  Pour 1 tablespoon bacon drippings into pan, swirl around bottom and sides of pan, then pour in batter.  Bake 20 minutes. (All quantities are my approximations, she didn’t measure anything.)

As for the vegetable soup recipe, it varies depending on what’s on hand.  Tonight’s version started with a leftover rump roast, potatoes, carrots, onions, portobello mushrooms, corn, some frozen butterbeans, diced tomatoes.  Cooked slowly, tasted, seasoned, simmered some more…

Bonnie’s Baskets

A dear friend whose new favorite color is purple needed a quilt.  She didn’t know she needed a quilt, but I did.  Rather, I knew I needed to make Bonnie a quilt.

You see, Bonnie is having a rough time health-wise.  She’s going for chemo treatments every couple of weeks, and in between those she’s having to rest more than she likes to let her body heal.

I don’t live close enough to go with Bonnie to her treatments or to help with cooking and housework.  Nor am I close enough for frequent hugs of support.  But, as most people know, a quilt is an endless supply of hugs from the maker to the recipient.

I like all traditional quilt blocks (well, ok, most traditional quilt blocks).  Four-patches, nine-patches, stars, waves, crowns, all have their appeal.  But my go-to quilt block is the basket.  I was once part of a mini-group that called ourselves the Basket Cases. The name was probably more appropriate for me than for the others – but you get the idea.  We all loved making basket blocks.

So for Bonnie’s quilt, I put together a few purple baskets, one overflowing with flowers and leaves and such.  The assembly was quite improvisational, simply baskets on white with white open spaces.

I have a reputation for quilting pieces that are bulletproof because I do like dense quilting.  But in this case, I stitched a meandering vine rather sparsely, leaving space for the quilt and batting to breathe, making it more cuddly to wrap oneself in.

The label is a remnant of a vintage doily with a basket embroidered by someone’s loving hand.

 

 

As I worked, my whole being was thinking of Bonnie and her treatments.  “Every stitch a prayer” kept echoing in my mind.  And there are many, many stitches.

Now Bonnie knows that I love her and am mentally traveling with her through her treatments.  And I know that she knows.

Christmas Quilts

I love to stitch with the colors of the season.  I know professional artists have to work ahead of the season, getting seasonal prints, cards, books ready during the summer for Christmas, working on Easter themes during snowstorms.  Not me.

I love to sew on pumpkin colored fabrics in the fall, pastels in the Spring, and give me some red and green to stitch while the tree is up.

Right now, I’m stitching on a project called Mistletoe and Holly (that’s the name given to it by the designers, Barb Adams and Alma Allen – and my working title now.  But as the stitching goes on and the design evolves within my life, that name is subject to change).  This is a design I’ve loved for years.

Here is a photo of their finished product. This Christmas season finds me stitching on lots of bindings, finishing some projects for gifts, some for our guild’s upcoming quilt show.  But I had to start a red and green project or the season wouldn’t feel right to me.

Earlier in December, I stitched this wool appliqué piece from a block-of-the-month from Maggie Bonanomi.  I believe this project will be in her book coming out in 2018.

 

 

My quilt ladder shows evidence of my fascination with red and green.  In the center is Five Seasons in Bonaire folded with the Christmas season showing.  The top and bottom are Tree Farm of Lorane and Small Tree Farm. These are two sizes of a quilt I designed and made for my daughter’s family a few years ago.  Friends saw it, loved the simple technique, and patterns were born.

Pomegranates and Poinsettias is in the dining room, Miss Lily’s Baskets are in a basket, and a red and green Irish Chain I made for a challenge one year (but did not enter it, I liked another project better for the competition) are around, too.  Detailed descriptions of these projects in earlier posts are here and here.

 

Above the playhouse hutch, a Santa marches through the woods (based on a design by Jan Patek).  Just as I finished this piece a couple of years ago (needed something seasonal to fit the space), I found the wooden Santa you see on the top shelf marching along in an antique store.  Serendipity!  Oh,  we do know how to spell Noel in our house, but when I bought these blocks in the 1980’s, Jim said to the clerk, “Do you think I should be worried?  I don’t know anyone named Leon.  Why do you think my wife is buying this?”  Her laughter still rings in our ears.  So as a tribute to that memory, we sometimes display the blocks that way.  I forgot to move them when I took the photo.

If history repeats itself, the Mistletoe and Holly thing will be part of next year’s display.  I have another couple of ideas in my brain, too.  But the ideas sometimes flow faster than these fingers can stitch, so only time will tell how much gets done.

A Stepback Christmas


Even the outhouse was decorated for Christmas.

It was a cold bleak morning as we set out on a time travel adventure.  We headed to a settlement called Stepback – a Victorian village was open to the public to celebrate Christmas old style.

On 200 acres, a man with a vision has created a historic settlement.  Roger Pierce has a general store, a schoolhouse, a church, and many farm sheds and buildings.  Often the acreage is quiet, sometimes populated by school groups or scouts who have made plans to visit for a day.  But yesterday was its annual opening to the public for Christmas.

Family members, friends, and local community members dressed in period clothing were on hand to educate and entertain.  There was a corn sheller operating, grinding corn using energy from the waterwheel.  A schoolmarm was on hand to answer questions and lead children in the construction of paper chains to decorate the tree.  In the church, live piano music provided the perfect backdrop of Christmas carols and hymns.

Oh, and there were women, who for this day, donned their Victorian best dresses to pose as floozies.  They layered the clothing to ward off the cold, fortified themselves with a bit of antifreeze (medicinal, they said).  As they raised a toast, I heard “May we be floozed the rest of our lives!”

While walking about, we ran into old friends and made new friends.  In a picturesque setting, we were enchanted with simple decorations of the past.  As the day progressed, the sun came out from behind the clouds, and more people came out, too.

 

The people of this community recognize this treasure and come to show their appreciation.  The owner was a local businessman with a love of history.  After he retired, he began to create this haven.  In some cases, he found old buildings and dismantled them and rebuilt them on his property.  Other buildings are made from trees growing on his property.  Likewise, the furniture and contents of the buildings are assembled from a wide range of sources.  All of it comes together in a bucolic settlement which serves to trigger memories in older folks and educate the young.

Mr. Pierce charges no admission at Christmas or any other time.  Those who choose to make a donation know that it will be used to buy toys for children whose Christmas would be less abundant without it.

 

And, did I say that “Mayor Pierce”  wears overalls?  Well, of course he does.  Yesterday, many of the men working there, and some of the visitors, were wearing overalls.  Yes, I got lots of photos.  Yes, there will be some art quilts depicting this place!

 

Lace Day

Yesterday was Lace Day.  It’s not on your calendar as an official holiday, but I’m proclaiming it.

 

 

 

 

Sometimes when I’m out shopping buttons call to me, other times it’s tattered linens who beg to be cut up and sewn back together.  Yesterday it was lace.  Everywhere I looked I saw lace.

There was white tatting, crocheted edging in white, black, and beige.  Technically, these may not be lace, but they are lacy and perform the function of lace in some of my projects.  All in today’s hunt were bargains.  Most were handmade.

If it’s stained, I will dye it.  If it’s not stained, I may dye it.  But I love giving a home to someone’s pieces with a memory.  I keep it out of the landfill and get to add more history to a  photo on cloth, or just a collage of vintage remnants.

I love walking through antique malls.  I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating.  It soothes my soul to see old things.  Memories surface at the sight of roller skates like I once owned, a towel in a stripe like my Mother had, even a can that held a ham.  The can may still hold a ham.  I didn’t want to know.  But when have I thought of those Sunday menus?  Ham from a can and orange macaroni and cheese from a box.  My Mother grew up wringing the chicken’s neck for lunch, so she embraced all the convenience foods available to her once they moved to town.

Inspiration comes in many forms.  The color palette here suggests a touch of black with some neutrals and that green.  Wow – that green.  If you subscribe to Julia Cameron’s advice in The Artist’s Way, to take your artist self on a date each week, this is the kind of thing she’s talking about.

I didn’t buy all you see in the photos.  Displays in the antique malls are inspiring, even if I don’t always make a purchase.  The way the pieces are displayed in a drawer, or old suitcase, or in a basket make me smile.

 

I bought some home with me.  Here is the pile of treasures.  I love the vintage bias tape and seam binding in the original package.  100% cotton, unstained.  At 25₵ each, I didn’t buy them all, but I did add to my supply.  And even the basket came home with me.  I love the double-handled  baskets for storing and carrying projects in progress.  The Longabergers are so sturdy.  I never bought them when people were having parties; I missed that boat.  But when I find them for a song (this one was $14), I grab them!

I don’t know what these finds will become.  But I know they will find their way to a project filled with memories.  Memories that include the fun time shopping for them and memories unknown to me but stored in the fibers of these pieces with a past.