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.


country storeHow long has it been since you saw a young lad execute a backflip from a wooden platform into the river below?

My answer to that question is “a few hours.”

On a day trip to Warm Springs, we took a route we’d not followed before.  All routes there are backroads, but most are some we’ve traveled many times.  A new path holds wonder.  With a favorite remark my driver likes to make, “this time and one more will make twice I’ve been on this road,” we were off on a new adventure.

Taking grandsons on a historic field trip, we saw numerous churches and cemeteries, a small community populated with an old store, schoolhouse, and church, all white buildings wearing red roofs.  We found two small towns filled with antique shops, a delightful restaurant with homemade bread, hamburgers topped with pimento cheese, and met a Corgi named Macon.

At the Little White House museum, I learned more about barkcloth than I ever realized I didn’t know.  Someone gave FDR a gift of beautiful yardage of tapa, and the story led me to new details about one of my favorite fabrics.  Who knew I would learn fabric history on this adventure?

It was on the way home that we saw him.  As we crossed a bridge over the Flint River, we saw the jump.  We were too high to see how cleanly he made his entrance into the water.

It doesn’t matter.  He had all afternoon to perfect his form.

We had had our moment.  A glimpse, memories triggered, stories to share.  Time travel.

Porch Swings

porch swingWhen I was a little girl, I loved to take a book and an old quilt and head for the swing in our backyard.  While there, I traveled to faraway lands and met some interesting characters.  Though there were plenty of interesting characters in Sycamore, the people I met in the pages of library books took me on journeys through forests, big cities, and westward. (I’m remembering, Girl of the Limberlost, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Jubilee Trail, all books I read several times over).

When I heard Meryl Streep deliver the line, “I’ve been a mental traveler,” in her role as Isak Dinesen in Out of Africa, I identified completely.  I devoured so many library books, especially in the summer reading program, that I worried about what I would do when I had read all the books.  My husband and children were amused by this revelation until they saw the tiny building that had housed my childhood world of literature.

Now I no longer fear reading all the books.  I fear not having time to read all the wonderful stories I want to read.  I fear not remembering which titles I have read.  I fear wasting time reading bad writing.

I do appreciate instant access to, if not all the books, many more books than I can read, in the palm of my hand.  Yes, I love my shelves of books, I love visiting the public library (I spent some time there yesterday) but I also love reading on my iPad.  I can browse new titles, read reviews, perhaps check out the author’s website, and download sample pages or an entire book without ever leaving home.

Sunday afternoon was cool enough to spend quite a while in the swing.  With the overhead fan adding to the natural breeze, and the sound of the sprinkler and the occasional bird calling in the background, I was transported to dreamland.  I was reading, then dozing.  But in the half-here/half-there consciousness for which Sunday afternoons are famous, I realized that I was living a dream.  In a swing.  On my front porch.  On a summer afternoon.  With a breeze, a book, and a lawn sprinkler.

Simple pleasures are the best.

Hartwell Commons

Hartwell CommonsKits to make quilts are wonderful.  They are a great way to make a quilt if you don’t have a large fabric stash, if you aren’t comfortable selecting fabrics, or if you just want to jump right in with a ready supply of coordinated fabrics in the right colors.  A good friend advises that they are great for travel or retreat projects, because they are packaged ready to sew on the go.

Hartwell Commons was made from a kit.  I ordered the block-of-the-month kit early in my quilting career, I suppose it was in 2002 or so.  When the first package arrived, the schoolhouse block, I opened it ready to jump right in.

Instructions were given for two techniques; paper foundation piecing, and appliqué.  I did not know either one.  So I bundled it all back up and put it back in its big ziploc bag.  It waited month by month as its companions arrived in the mail and the charges were added to my credit card bill.  I paid the bill knowing that maybe someday I would have the skills to make the quilt.

My friend’s advice came to light a couple of years down the road when we were preparing for a girls’ getaway to a friends’ lake house.  I was lamenting that I didn’t know what project to take, and Dale said, “do you have a kit?”

Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I did.  I grabbed the first couple of month’s packages, some substitute fabrics (I had already realized that using someone else’s idea of fabric combinations was not my way of working) and off we went to Lake Hartwell.

Hartwell Commons churchBy then, I had learned both techniques of paper foundation piecing and needleturn appliqué.  I love to do handwork and don’t like to travel with my sewing machine, so appliqué was the approach I used.

Once started, I quickly finished all the houses, but uh-oh, I didn’t know all the embroidery stitches and had never worked with silk ribbon.  So the blocks sat again waiting.  The next retreat with the same group of gals to the same place meant the embellishment phase could begin.

The embroidery was done, blocks were assembled by machine, and I was ready to do the quilting.  I referred to Leah Day’s 365 Free Motion Quilting Designs website for ideas and video instructions on filler designs for the background.  All the varied filler designs are still favorites of mine, and I often run downstairs to look at this quilt on the wall when I need ideas on another project.

Hartwell Commons labelQuilt details:  Finished size is 85” x 88”.  The pattern is called The Quilted Village by the City Stitcher. Cotton fabrics, silk thread embroidery.  Completed 2010.  Cotton batting. Quilting thread DMC machine embroidery thread, two-ply, 50 weight cotton.  Free motion quilted on home machine.  Since there are lots of goat farms around Lake Hartwell, I made the label in the shape of a goat.

Old Churches

Old Churches fullI can hear joyous voices raised in song when I see an old church.  A well-proportioned steeple reaching to the heavens is pleasing.  Stained glass windows are nice.  But even without those finer details, old churches thrill my soul.  I know there are stories within those walls.  Stories of peace and solace received there, of friendship and loving support in hard times, of comfort in grief.  There are stories of gossip and scandal and intrigue, too.

We often stop the car on our backroad jaunts to photograph an old church.  But on a recent Saturday, we went on an expedition with a local camera club to photograph a select group of historic churches in a rural county nearby.  My husband has recently joined this group; thus the title of my latest quilt, Old Churches, New Friends.

Jim’s photos are of the highest resolution, with crisp details.  I often print his photos on silk fabric which conveys this sharpness.  But I wanted these photos to reflect the historic quality of the adventure, so I printed them on pieces of a vintage linen tablecloth, most of them in black and white.  I loved the result – the coarseness of the fabric conveyed a grainy effect on the photos.  Perfect.

old churches sunI continued the primitive look by hand stitching the photos to another old piece of linen.  The rough weave of this background fabric did not allow me to write on it successfully, so I printed the names of the churches on commercially prepared cotton fabric, and stitched memorable words using free motion stitching on the sewing machine.

Old Churhes treeProvidence Baptist in Shady Dale was founded in 1810 and included some Revolutionary War soldiers as some of the first members.  As I walked through the cemetery, I found a very old section and one grave with a magnificent cedar tree growing at its head.  My thought was, “when this soldier died, he became a tree.”  So, that photo grew into a tree on my quilt.

Hopewell Baptist Church was covered with a tarp as it is awaiting a new roof.  But the architecture of it was amazing; not because of towers and turrets, but because of its simple beauty.  The windows and shutters spoke volumes to me and to the other Sandy along on the trip.  She and I photographed them from every angle and I drew sketches of them as we stood there sharing our love of their structure.  Then we noticed the shape of the vent in the front of the church.  Not the square, rectangle, or rhombus that is often the case, but a kite.  So, a geometry discussion was included in the day as well.

Old Churches rolled upThe block on the outside of the quilt is an appliquéd version of one of the windows of that church.  I made another one of these replicas for that week’s block in my journal quilt for 2106, Fifty-Two Wednesdays.  That image seems to symbolize the day to me.


Old Churches Queen Anne's LaceSince beginning work on Fifty-Two Tuesdays, I’ve wanted to make other journal quilts, some which chronicled a single trip, or a single day.  This example will just say to others, “nice. They photographed some old churches.”  But to me and to Jim, when we see it, we will remember the friends, the back roads, Queen Anne’s Lace blooming all along the roadsides, and fried chicken.

Old Churches labelDetails of quilt:  Finished measurements are 17” x 38”.  Vintage linen, commercial quilting cotton fabrics.  Label is made from a vintage woman’s handkerchief.  Hand stitching, machine stitching, free-motion quilting.

Another note:  There is a website with beautiful photos and stories related to this adventure, Historic Rural Churches of Georgia.  I’ve found details about some of the ones we’ve visited, and added to our list of “want to visit”, too.



Lee Smith is one of my favorite Southern writers.  I just bought her memoir and can’t wait to start reading it.  I love her writing, I love memoirs, I love the South.  So I know it will be a treasured experience to read her story.  More than that, the title suggests that I might identify with some of her experiences.

My first job as a teenager was in a dimestore.  Oh, I had earned money at home for various special chores.  Like Truman Capote, I picked up pecans in the fall of the year. (Some grammarians would rather read that I gathered pecans, but that’s not what we said in Sycamore. Furthermore, as you read it, think pea-cans, to get the sound of the word right in your mind.)  If you’ve ever read his “A Christmas Memory,” you can get an idea of the experience of fruitcake baking that took place at our house.  I even had a spinster aunt to guide me as Capote did.

And, there was a day picking cotton (probably a couple of hours) at Uncle Hal’s field, and a day in the tobacco barn (also Uncle Hal’s).  My Daddy had given up farming for building by the time I was born, but he realized the experience of field labor would be soon forgotten and that I should have those memories.  He was right on both counts.  Of course.

Oh, my job at the dimestore.

The year I turned fifteen, I was eligible to get a work permit and get a job.  My mother took me to the school superintendent’s office to complete the appropriate paperwork.  I recall Mr. Royal counseling me that, “this should not interfere with your schoolwork, of course.”  Well, of course; it wouldn’t.  I was the class nerd before nerd was a word.  Nothing came before my schoolwork.

But now I was legal.  On Saturdays, I reported to Elrod’s Five and Dime on Main Street in Ashburn.  I guess I worked from 9:00 until 5:00, I don’t recall the exact hours.  I do recall the pay.  It was $5.00 and change.  Literally.  Cash.  In a small manila envelope.

There were three of us teenagers working; the manager, and another adult full-time employee.  Carl lifted all the heavy boxes, swept the oiled wood floors with sweeping compound, and helped with serving customers.  Carolyn and I offered assistance to customers, kept shelves filled with reserves from beneath the old wooden counters, and watched for shoplifters.

Saturday was a busy day; there wasn’t much time for small talk,  But, in the quiet times, I learned to bond with co-workers.  We did not know each other so had nothing in common other than this experience.  We learned from our customers, too.  A wide range of society came through those doors, and the dimestore sold everything from toys to tools.  There were clothing items for children and underwear for adults.  The first time a customer asked for “step-ins,”  I replied that we didn’t carry those.  Carolyn had to translate for me.  Oh.  I taught her the difference in a wrench and screwdriver.

We sold bulk candy, learning to scoop from the bins and weigh on a scale now sold in antique stores.  We mixed the sticky syrup that went into making “slushies” when they were new.  Dare I say that we did not wash our hands frequently, and there were no plastic gloves?  It was a simpler time.

We wrapped Christmas packages with the stern manager watching over our shoulder to ensure that the paper didn’t overlap too much and that we didn’t use too much scotch tape.  The paper was quite thin, and tearing it was wasteful, too, so we learned to be fast and careful and frugal.  There were no boxes or gift bags, so some oddly shaped packages required some creative thinking. The paper curling ribbon was final flourish.  Today, even though I have wired ribbon on hand to decorate my packages, I keep some paper curling ribbon on hand.

I worked at Elrod’s on Saturdays, some weekdays in the summer, and during Christmas holidays for the last three years of high school.  In the last year, the business relocated to a more modern building.  I guess it was more comfortable; being air-conditioned and having slick tile floors.  But it never seemed the same.  The old building, the theatre next door, and the railroad track across the street were all part of the ambiance.  That theatre sold the world’s greatest french fries.  To this day, if I am served extraordinarily good, greasy, salty fries made from freshly sliced potatoes, I remember the ones Carl would go get for all of us at mealtime.

Now I guess it’s time to travel down Lee Smith’s memory lane with her Dimestore.

Photo:  If Carl, Carolyn, and I were working teens these days, we would have numerous group selfies, I’m sure.  But the best I can do here is a blurry scanned image of myself during those years.  Yes, I made the dress.

Dyeing to Make Something Brown

Brown is a new favorite color of mine.  Blue has always been at the top of the list for me, but in recent years, I’ve come to love brown.  Maybe there is a reason.

Brown vignetteThis photo is one I made a few years ago to use on the invitations to my family reunion.  Pictured are a platter and pitcher from the Tea Leaf dinnerware which was my grandmother’s pattern.  On the evening of Ollie Jane’s wedding in 1890, her mother hosted a supper for family.  She served the meal on those dishes and gave them as a gift to the bride and groom. These two pieces in the photo were later purchases, but I do have one plate left that was on Ollie Jane’s table that night. The large pitcher was one she used and I still use it, too.

Also in the photo is a piece of brown and white checked fabric.  I’ve been accused of “adding a little brown check” when a quilt needs a spark of something different (as in GBI Blues), or when I don’t know what else to use (as in Seven Black Birds). [Photos of those two quilts are in the gallery.] I included that fabric in this photo because it looks like the apron I remember Ollie Jane wearing a lot during the last years of her life.

When I printed the photo of Bunk Bates for the Flag Bearer quilt I wrote about yesterday, I printed the above photo on linen as well.  In thinking about a composition using that photograph, I decided to pour some dye in a bucket and dip some things.  Here you see them drying.brown fabric drying

Stay tuned for the final result, but suffice it to say, I’m having a lot of fun!  I ordered some indigo dye today; I can’t wait to play with that.  Oh, I like blue and brown together, too.

You can read more about Ollie Jane’s wedding and her quilts here.  And more about her influence on my quiltmaking here.

Flag Bearer

flag bearer quiltHappy Fourth of July from Bunk Bates.  I don’t know who Bunk is, or even if he is a he or a she.  But this photo has been a part of my life for as long as I can recall.  It was in my Great Aunt Nellie’s photo album.  The name “Bunk Bates” was scrawled across the bottom.

I’m sure I asked and was told who that was, but I don’t recall the reply.  But in scrolling through some old photos I had scanned into my computer, I saw it and decided it should become a part of my quilting story, too.

I printed the image on a vintage linen tablecloth and added color to the flag using watercolors. I embroflag bearer labelidered 48 French knots to represent stars, added some free motion quilting, and layered it atop a piece of an old quilt.  I guess it represents my freedom from all the rules of quilting, because I followed few of them.