Mourning Flight

Mourning FlightThis newly completed piece is one I began earlier this month in a “Second Chances” class with Susan Lenz in Tifton, Ga.  Susan’s work with textiles takes on many forms, but in this class, we worked with grave rubbings and vintage linens to rescue memories and bits of fiber that might otherwise be lost.

When asked why she focuses on “death”, her answer is, “I don’t.  I’m interested in life…how to best spend what time is left. … I focus on leaving a lasting mark…the words, life, and art that remain.”  A link to her website and more details of her work can be found here.

In this class, participants only brought needle and thread and worked with Susan’s materials.  We took a trip to a local cemetery to create our own grave rubbings, but were also given the option of including some rubbings Susan had made in the past.  That is the source of the Mourning Dove in my piece.

detail of Mourning FlightThe dove’s image is on dupioni silk, the background fabric is synthetic. The ruffle is from a cotton pillow sham, the black lace a remnant in the bin of fabrics.  The dove is stitched with hand-guided, free motion quilting on a sewing machine.  All the other stitches and beading are done by hand.  Some beads came from Susan’s bins, others were supplemented from my supplies once the class was done.

label for Mourning FlightThe quilt back is a piece of a tattered silk log cabin quilt I found a few months ago in an antique store.  The label is a linen piece I bought from some other antiquing trip.  I’ve been rescuing such treasures for a long time, but only when I became acquainted with Susan’s work was I daring enough to cut them apart and use them fearlessly.

I wrote a bit about this workshop in an earlier post, here.  A significant portion of class time was spent discussing our motivation for working with textiles, our connection with others, and the legacy we might leave behind with our work.  There was an emphasis on our stream of consciousness writings where we examined our goals and stories waiting to be told.  This piece will constantly remind me of the progress I’ve made and the goals I’ve set forth to continue sharing my stories in cloth.


Skinny-Dipping Quilts

mimi's boys skinny dippingChildren are so observant.  They see details that we adults pass right by.

Some of the first quilts I made were for grandsons.  There are now three teenagers, but at the time of the quilt you see pictured at the end of this post, there were two toddlers.  I saw an episode of Simply Quilts in which Judy Martin demonstrated the large block which dominates this quilt.  I had bought some Tom Sawyer themed fabric and companion pieces, and I went to work.

I made the largest block, (24” square, I believe) using two different scenes from the toile print in the center.  One was of the boys fishing, the other of them painting the fence.  I made smaller blocks using the fabrics I had in the collection and coordinates from my stash.  Now that I think about it, I was using my version of improvisational piecing from this beginning.  I laid blocks on my design table (otherwise used for eating dinner; the design wall came much later in my quilting life), measured spaces, and inserted filler pieces or blocks.

Now I sometimes lay out such a design on grid paper, calculating dimensions using the squares, but in 2002, I wasn’t so deliberate.  I gave the two quilts titles based on the toile, “Mimi’s Boys Fishing” and “Mimi’s Boys Working” and presented them as Christmas gifts.

Several years later, one of the grandsons attended a quilt show with me. I’m not affirming or denying if bribery was involved.  I saw a quilt with familiar fabric, and exclaimed, “look, this quilt has fabric like yours.”  I was quickly corrected, “Well, not exactly.  This boy has pants on.”

“Yours aren’t wearing pants?”

“Not the ones going swimming.”

His mother was as surprised as I was.  She hadn’t noticed either.

Back at their house, we all examined the quilt to see that, yes, indeed, the fabric I bought prior to 2002 had skinny-dippers.  I don’t know the manufacturer’s storyline, but I’m guessing someone was offended, and subsequent yardage was more modest.

Yes, I have scraps of the risqué print, even a bit of yardage.  Hmmm, I think there’s a story quilt idea.

Mimi's boys quiltQuilt details:  Finished measurements: 36″ x 50″, batting was probably 80% cotton, 20% polyester, quilting was straight lines with walking foot.

Whistle of Home

train jg photoSome part of my soul goes home every time I hear a train whistle.

I grew up near a railroad track parallel to US highway 41 in south Georgia.  I now live near a railroad track near US highway 41 in middle Georgia.  A lot has changed about me, the highway, and the sound of the trains.  But the constant is that the rumble of a train on the tracks, the predictable ‘two longs, short, long’ blast of the horn brings a smile to my face.  Every time.

My parents brought me home from the hospital and put me in a crib less than fifty yards from the railroad track.  Yes, I’m still a sound sleeper.  I grew up waving to engineers as the train came by, counting cars, learning something about motion and direction and the hauling of goods and people.

There were passenger cars, flatbeds hauling pulpwood and granite headed south, tanker cars, box cars with freight and hobos, and stacks of automobiles headed north.  Occasionally the train stopped in front of our house.  Occasionally a hobo would come to the door looking for work, or food, or both.  Once the engineer came to the door and borrowed some of my mother’s clothesline to make a repair.  A coupling had come uncoupled, so that train pulled away with two cars attached with a makeshift linkage.  My mother often wondered how far her clothesline traveled.  And, forever after, we made do with two rows of clothes drying instead of three.

And, cabooses.  There were really red cabooses at the end of every train.  With a conductor who wore a striped cap and sometimes stood on the porch and waved.  Recently, we have begun stopping at every retired caboose we see and Jim snaps a photo of me onboard (or trying to get onboard if there are “crazy women should not climb on the train” signs).

My nephew Woody explored the inside of a caboose when he was about six years old.  He was visiting with us and announced over the suppertable that “there’s a lot of room in those little cars.”  My mother was horrified, my Daddy tried to hide his smirk, as we learned that the train had stopped and Woody had climbed aboard for a look-see.

As I recounted yesterday’s trip to the JugFest in Knoxville, GA, I realized there was a train theme.  We collect southern folk pottery, and seeing all the new work was certainly a thrill, especially that of Shelby West.  But the non-clay purchases I made seem to all be related.  There is the crow, Heckle, made from a gear, a pair of pliers, and a railroad spike.  There are earrings which are hammered, fold-formed, and enameled pewter.  The artist’s anvil is made from a piece of rail from a train track.  And, we shot the requisite photo on the retired caboose in downtown Roberta.

During the forty-something years I lived out of earshot of a train, I never lost my love of their sounds.  Thankfully, I’m married to a man who loves them too.  Though I do recall on the first night he spent at my parents’ house (in the same bedroom I first slept), he woke me at 3:00 a.m., sitting straight up in bed and exclaiming, “what is THAT?”  My reply, “what is what?” revealed that I heard nothing out of the ordinary.  Once awake, I realized the shaking of the house, and in fact, the very earth beneath, was nothing but the train.

Over the years, we have both delighted in finding a B & B near the railroad tracks.  When weather conditions were right, we could hear a distant train when living in our first home together. The sound of the whistle at night came to mean peace to Jim, as it always had to me.

The proximity of the railroad was a plus for us when deciding to buy this house.  Shortly after moving here, we were returning home from a trip with friends and we stopped to get lunch in a small town. Jim and I heard a faraway whistle and shared a smile across the group, knowing only we appreciated the sound – and realizing how we had missed hearing that during the week away from home.

Photos:  Jim Gilreath’s photo of the Nancy Hanks steam locomotive in Gordon, Ga. Fall, 2015.

train play paducahSandra Dee playing on the caboose in Paducah, Ky. Spring, 2016.

Annie Mae’s Lace

Annie Mae's LaceSome of my quilting sisters think I’ve recently “gone to the dark side.”  Now that I’m taking art classes with artist Mark Ballard and incorporating my drawings onto fabric and into quilts, it seems to them that I’ve left the world of traditional quilting to become an art quilter.

If there is a threshold to cross between those worlds, I don’t see it.  I have recently been experimenting with the above-mentioned technique, crayon rubbings on fabric, watercolor on silk, and using fabrics that are not limited to quilting cottons.  But that’s not new to me.  And traditional quiltmakers have, for centuries, looked for interesting ways to bring images into quilts.

Look at Annie Mae’s Lace, the quilt I made in 2006.  I printed blueprint images of Queen Anne’s Lace onto pretreated fabric and made a quilt.  This piece measures 40” square, the botanical image is 25” square.  I actually made this quilt to refine the border technique.  I had seen photos of borders with vines with the inside and the outside of the vine being different fabrics, but had not seen any instructions on how to do it.  So, this experimentation worked and I then used that technique on the larger Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden.

I’ve used the same sunprinting technique on several quilts; and on fabrics still in a box waiting to come out and play.  I’ve printed feathers, leaves, scrapbooking stencils, and more.  So far I’ve used two techniques – one dry process and one wet.  Both processes involve spreading the fabric out flat, placing the masking object (leaf, stencil, whatever) on top, securing it so it doesn’t blow away, and exposing it to the sun.  Then, when the “developing” is done, you quickly wash it to stop the action.

I’ll note the obvious here:  this has to be done on a sunny day, and the image is sharper if you expose the fabric while the sun is high in the sky.  I began playing with this technique before I retired.  So, I spent some lunch hours securing big branches and leaves (and Queen Anne’s Lace) to the fabric atop foam board or something firm, waiting 15 minutes, washing it and putting it in the dryer.  Lunch was en route to and from my office, I guess.

The dry process entails purchasing pretreated fabric for sunprinting (also known as cyanotype).  These fabrics have been chemically treated to react to the sun and produce a negative image.  If you are old enough, you’ve seen plenty of blueprints made the same way.  The company from whom I bought my fabric is now known as blueprintsonfabric.comDharma Trading Company also sells some.  Both of these vendors also sell the chemicals to prepare your own fabric.

The wet process involves using some type of paint on fabric which produces a negative image when drying.  It is more labor intensive, but there are more colors available for the final outcome, and it can be applied to a printed fabric to add more interest.  I used SetaColor paints available at any hobby shop.

Note that this quilt is ten years old.  Yikes!  There are lots of videos on youtube showing details of how to make a sunprint if you are interested.

I’ve taught the sunprinting technique to my local guild, and luckily, it was a sunny day and we made some successful prints.  The process is fun, and if the wind blows, the worst that can happen is that you end up with some beautiful blue fabric!

Documenting my quilts and their stories is one of my goals for this online journal.  Slowly, I’m doing that.  But I’m also reminding myself of fun things I’ve neglected for a while.  Excuse me while I go dig through my pile of sunprints to see what I might play with next.

Annie Mae closeupFurther details of this quilt:  This was early in my life as a hand-guided, freemotion machine quilter.  I had previously used matching or transparent thread attempting to make my irregularities less noticeable.  Here, for the first time, I dared to try the continuous curves using a heavier, contrasting thread.  I marked a one-inch grid and used that as a guide.   The border fabrics are batiks, the vine is a quilting-weight cotton cut on the bias,  batting is Dream Cotton request, and threads are cotton.

Annie Mae was the name of the beautiful lady who was my teaching assistant when I taught Head Start at Bruce Elementary in the summer of 1973.  I was 22 years old, knew nothing about little kids, had been trained as a high-school teacher, and was surrounded by five-year-olds.  She was my lifesaver!  So I played with the plant name to give homage to the woman who kept me from exiting the teaching profession.

Quilting Sisters

Hilda's art quiltI had the pleasure today of visiting with not one, but two, of my favorite quilting sisters.  Joyce and Hilda are great friends. Friends to each other and friends to everyone they meet.  To visit with each of them separately in their homes today was a rare treat.

Joyce and Hilda are seldom still.  They are often not at home waiting for visitors, but instead are out galavanting about.  They participate in several small stitching groups that meet about town, they are active in guild meetings and go to several quilting retreats every year.  And, when they aren’t engaged in a church or stitching activity, they might be out shopping, in the pouring rain, looking for that perfect quilt backing to finish a project.

Does this sound like your typical image of more-than-90-year-old friends?  If not, you’d be wise to revise your stereotype.  Joyce and Hilda are dynamos. Their minds are sharper than a size 14 straw needle – I learn something every time I talk with either of them.

Hilda lives alone in the two-story house she’s occupied since 1990 or so.  She now has her sewing studio downstairs because her children worried about her climbing stairs so much while she was home alone.

Some of the approximately 100 bed quilts she’s made since she began quilting in 1987 are still here, others have been given away.  She’s hasn’t counted all the art and wall quits she’s made, but they are numerous and spectacular!  An avid student, Hilda has about a dozen trips to the John C. Campbell Folk School on her resume.  There she has explored topics such as basket making as well as quilting.

Her children and grandchildren are artistic too.  Her house is filled with art she likes and art they have made.  Pottery, wood turning, jewelry making, fabric printing, drawing, painting, all are in the family DNA.

The sewing studio is a haven for any stitcher.  There’s a cutting table open on all sides for easy access, and at a comfortable height for the statuesque lady.  A machine, tv, design wall, comfortable chair for hand stitching in front of the tv, cabinets to house the fabric overflow, and a fireplace for cozy wintertime work.  A serene workspace for a quilter of any age.

My visit with Joyce was not focused on stitching today.  We sat on her glorious wrap-around porch overlooking the lake.  Her luscious plants were a topic of conversation, as well as her recent experiences as caregiver for her 95-year-old sister.  We discussed her work with Western Union during WWII, her civilian work at our local Air Force installation during its early years, and her 33-year career at a wholesale pharmaceutical company.

Joyce was one of the charter members of our quilt guild in 1985.  Hilda joined the group in 1987.  Just think, each of these women was a career woman before being such was expected.  And, since retirement, each has had a long and productive career as a quiltmaker.  Many ribbons and awards have decorated their quilts along the way, and we are all still learning from them.

I’ve written before about missing the opportunity to explore quiltmaking in depth with my grandmother.  But with the quilting sisters now in my life, I’m reclaiming some years of experience and love.  Oh, how I love these women!

The photo is of an art piece made by Hilda.  It hangs over the mantel in her studio.


Today’s experiments:watercolor flower on silk

Silk radiance fabric.  Dream Wool batting.  Freeform stitching of a feather and simple flower using Aurafil cotton thread (50 weight/2 ply).  Echoing and background quilting using silk thread (100 weight).  Flower is painted with watercolors, hand embroidery added in the center.

freeform feather on silkFun!

Tidying Up

Kaffe baskets in basketFriends and I were discussing the Tidying Up bestseller at dinner last night.  I’ve not read the entire book, but I have read a lot of it.  First, let me say that this woman’s definition of tidying up is different from mine.  My idea of tidying up means someone is coming over and it’s time to run the sweeper and stash some items in the closet.  (I will admit that I later straighten the closet and periodically purge it of unused items, but not on a rigid schedule and not enough to invite visitors to admire.)

Though I agree that “stuff” can get in the way of living your life, I’m here to tell you that cleaning can do the same thing.  Balance, people, balance.  Don’t be a hoarder, don’t live in squalor.  But, then again, don’t obsess over everything being perfect.

I wonder how many people on their deathbeds wish they had taken one more load of unworn clothing to the Salvation Army.  Can you tell that I spent yesterday cleaning and wished I were sewing?

When it comes to my quilting stash, I do sometimes find the need to straighten it to see what I have.  Sometimes I share remnants with other quilters.  It is fun to see their faces light up when they find a fabric I’ve used in a quilt they like and now they get to play with it, too.

My working style is that I have several quilt projects in progress at one time.  I sometimes get bored with one technique or another, but often the reason is location.  I always need a project that is portable – to stitch while watching tv or sitting on the porch, or recently, while riding in the car.  Once that phase of the stitching is done, that piece might get set aside until I have time to prepare it for the next level.

I do keep the fabrics that I’ve selected for a given project together until it’s completed.  I use baskets to contain them.  Sometimes there are lists in the baskets telling me what is  cut, how many are remaining to be stitched; maybe a sketch of the layout possibilities.  I will confess that there are a couple of projects that I like seeing the blocks in a basket – so I’m not anxious about assembling those at all.  Alma Allen and Barb Adams depict vignettes of such collections in their books and on their website.  They inspire me to enjoy all phases of the quiltmaking experience.

Susan Lenz explains that the beginning phase and the finishing phase of projects are exciting.  But one doesn’t need to be excited all the time.  The stitching phase is relaxing – so psychologically, I’m centering myself with my working style.

I have come to realize that sometimes I slow down on a project before it’s finished, not wanting to finish until another is at its relaxing stage.

Jude Hill says of one of her magic feather posts, “And yet there is still stitching.  Maybe I have slowed down even more.  Just to make it last.”

Oh, yes, I’m in good company if my working style bears any resemblance to Alma Allen, Barb Adams, Susan Lenz, and Jude Hill.  But it may not look tidy.

Home Again

Version 2“Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jog,” is one of this family’s oft-repeated phrases when we pull into the driveway.  I know, it’s a misquote from the nursery rhyme, but we like it.  It has history in our household.

But today, my version might be, “home again, home again, figgity-fog.”  Today was our first full day at home in several weeks without another trip on the horizon.  And, even when we were home between trips, there were meetings, and deadlines, and classes, and you get the idea.

So on this day without pending preparation for another trip, I’m unraveling the impressions of the past few weeks.  Impressions which have become almost a blur.

I have been inspired by images from all our travels.  The scenery on backroads, quilts from contestants and vendors in Paducah, art in galleries, techniques from fabulous textile teachers, and Nature herself are all jostling for position in my brain.

Those forms are mingling with fabrics, threads, buttons, and beads found on these travels, too.  Now I am processing all those tidbits as I stow the treasures and sketches and thoughts, anxious to begin combining some of them in new work.

In my resting phase, I turned to Jude Hill’s Spirit Cloth blog.  Her textile work is amazing,  her words poetic.  I have read her blog for years.  Since she opened all her former online classes to all of us through her Feel Free site, I’ve browsed many old posts, too.  Her words soothe, much like handling cloth does.

On all our travels, I carried my sewing basket.  I accomplished some soothing stitching on an ongoing project, and even worked on a new one on the road.

But being at home with all my implements is a different kind of creating.  So now I’m ready to combine thoughts and materials anew.

The photo is Headed Home, a small piece I made for our local guild’s “two-color” quilt challenge in 2014.  The house is hand appliqued, the background machine quilted with vaguely parallel lines stitched closely together.  The twigs are from our yard, whitewashed and couched down by hand.  The quilt finished at 8” x 20”.

Mother’s Day Memories

Cleo 1951On this Hallmark day when so many people feel guilty if they don’t visit their mothers, or buy them flowers, or take them out to eat with 40,000 of their closest friends waiting in line to eat at a restaurant, I’m thinking of calmer Mother’s Days.

When I was growing up, we observed the holiday with a gift for the Mothers in our lives.  Sometimes, I bought my mother something. My Daddy would take me shopping to select something for her.  I cringe when I remember some of the choices I made – but she displayed the horrible treasure anyway.  And, I still have a ragged sheet of paper on which I wrote her a poem.  I think I was about ten years old at the time.  I recall hiding in the closet to secretly write it when I was supposed to be vacuuming the house.  She scolded me for dawdling at my task, but all was forgiven when she read the poem on Sunday morning.  I found it in her belongings after her death 46 years later and it’s tattered state leads me to believe she read it and reread it a few times.

We always wore corsages to church on Mother’s Day.  The only time I recall Mama spending money at the florist was for a funeral, or for Mother’s Day.  Mama wore a white corsage (because her mother was dead, she explained; none of this “passed away” language at our house) and I wore a red carnation.  We always bought an orchid for Aunt Nellie (the spinster great-aunt who lived next door and who had “raised” Mama after she was orphaned at the age of four.  “Orphaned” was Mama’s word, too.)  I was a bit perplexed because the orchid wasn’t exactly white, but in Mama’s world, it worked.  Since Aunt Nellie attended a different church from ours, we made a visit to her house on that Sunday morning to pin on her corsage before her departure.

When Granny (my paternal grandmother, Ollie Jane) lived with us, she wore a white corsage to church, too.  Now that I think of this, I realize how important that corsage was to my mother – and I wonder, did I take care of that EVERY year after I left home?  I know I did if I was there to visit and go to church with them on that day, and I do recall phoning the florist in our hometown and having a corsage delivered some years.  I hope I didn’t forget any time, but I know if I did, I was forgiven.

There were occasions when I couldn’t get home for Mother’s Day.  I remember Mama saying, “It doesn’t matter to me.  Any day you come visit can be Mother’s Day.  It doesn’t have to be when everyone else thinks it is.”  I still felt guilty about it, though.

Now that I’m a mother, I do understand.  Sometimes other things come up.  The last thing I want my children to feel on Mother’s Day (or any day) is guilt if they have lives to live.  I know they love me.  And, any day they visit is Mother’s Day to me!

The photo is of my mother in 1951, the year I was born.  The photo was taken by her father, a professional portrait photographer, and was hand tinted by her sister.

Preserving the Past in Cloth

Susan Lenz workI just spent two wonderful, inspiration-filled days with Susan Lenz and new quilting friends in the Wiregrass Quilt Guild.

Susan’s work touched me the minute I saw her on The Quilt Show in November, 2015.  I found her website, read more and more about her work, and saw that her Last Words show was then on display at the Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum in Carrollton.  Jim and I drove to see it and I was even more enthralled.

A few months later, I visited another iteration of this display at the GA Agriculture Museum in Tifton.  Then I had a chance to talk with Susan in the midst of her work.  We were surrounded by vintage textiles exhibiting rubbings from gravestones, simple stitches, and button embellishments.  There were ethereal chiffon panels with stitched epitaphs that she had collected from visits to cemeteries.  There was a canopy like one would expect to see over a massive bed comprised entirely of vintage doilies and lace.

And, now, for the past two days, I’ve dug into her bins of vintage textiles, lace, buttons, beads, and threads making my own composition using her techniques.  My new friends and I have wandered through a cemetery with silk and crayons and found meaningful words to include in our textile stories.  We have played with Susan’s embellishing machine, sewn on her battered but still humming Bernina, and shared stories of quiltmaking and costume sewing.

Included throughout the two days were pauses to write and reflect about our experiences.  We discussed the psychology of beginning and finishing projects; multi-tasking, and our intended legacies of our work in cloth.

So to sum it up; sewing, sharing stories, journaling about it.  A word frequently sought to “rub” in cemeteries is Heaven.  Yep, that’s it.Susan Lenz working

Photos:  Susan Lenz demonstrating grave rubbing technique on cloth and one sample of her work.  Permission granted by Susan to include images.