My Daddy Wore Overalls

herbie-holding-sandyThere’s something iconic about a man in overalls.  To me, it means he is unpretentious, hardworking, honest.  Someone with whom I would want to spend time in conversation and in hugging.

There aren’t many photos of my Daddy in overalls.  Though he wore them every day to work, when he came home, his first order of business was to take a shower and change into his “knock-about clothes”, khakis and a sport shirt.  That would be his uniform until bedtime.  And on Sundays, a suit, or at least a sports jacket and tie.

He wore overalls when he farmed.  I heard stories of his walking behind the mules and plow in his overalls and barefoot.  When he left the farm to begin building houses, he added work boots to his wardrobe, but kept the overalls.

The many pockets had designated uses.  The partitions in the bib held his wallet and a fat flat pencil, you know the kind wood workers used. Another held a pocket knife, used for sharpening that pencil, among other things.  One of those spaces sometimes held his wristwatch if it needed protection from the task at hand.

A long pocket on the leg of the overalls held his folding carpenter’s rule and a hammer hung in the loop.  He could flip that wooden rule open to just the right length for a measurement and refold it in the blink of an eye.  If you don’t remember those devices, or that they are called rules, not rulers, you are a young whippersnapper.  See, just thinking of overalls has me using his words.

I can smell the denim.  And the sawdust embedded in the fibers.  Maybe a little tobacco scent, too.  And I remember how heavy they were when wet.  I was a tiny little thing, but one of my jobs was hanging clothes on the line.

man-in-overallsMaybe all that is why I was so intrigued by the man in this quilted piece.  I snapped this street photo the minute I saw him.  Since then, I have come to know who he is and have secured permission to use his image in my art.  He, like my Daddy, is worthy of long conversations and hugs.

 

man-in-overalls-backThe quilt measures 10” x 18”.  The photo is printed on vintage linen fabric, hand painted, then quilted.  I used cotton thread, using hand-guided free motion quilting on my domestic machine.  It is layered with raw silk, a remnant of denim, and a worn reclaimed quilt fragment.  The label is a vintage cocktail napkin.  (I found this one with the rooster in an antique store ramble just as I had finished this piece.  Perfect!)

The photo of my Daddy holding me is one of the few I have of him wearing his overalls.  I guess it’s obvious why men wearing overalls pleases me so.  And, I still have that chair.

Is It Fall, Y’all?

stella-closeupIt’s still hot.  The calendar says tomorrow will be fall, but temperatures still reach 90 everyday.

Nonetheless, I have some pumpkins out in my house.  I love the fall colors.  Maybe it’s the vivid blue skies when the humidity drops, maybe it’s the complimentary colors of the turning leaves and that glorious atmosphere.  I wince whenever Tess, our guild’s Challenge Queen, requires a bit of orange in a quilt, but I don’t know why.  I could just always put a pumpkin in.

In recent years, I have collected pumpkins from other artists including needle-felted beauties by a north Ga artist, wooden pumpkins a friend made, and several pottery ones from Shelby West and Charlie Bob West.  But many of my autumn decorations are of the fabric variety.

pumpkins-and-fall-basketsFall Baskets was made in 2008, using autumn colors of batiks and quilting cottons.  This may be the first quilt I designed using Electric Quilt software.  Now using EQ7, I sometimes turn to this software to audition such quilt features as block size and width of borders and sashing. This one finished at 45″ square.

 

sunbonnet-with-pumpkinThis Sunbonnet Sue piece is one of the first times I made one block ( 9″ x 12″) and said “done.”  Quilting, a binding, and it’s a remarkably fun way to welcome the season.  The block is from a book by Betty Alderman.  I guess it’s unnecessary to point out that the apron is a little brown check.

pumpkins-fusedI have a few quilts with pumpkins on them.  Some wool appliqued pumpkins, some needleturn appliqued ones, and even this fused one (sorry, I don’t recall the name of this pattern or the designer).

 

 

 

stella-harvest-princessMy favorite fall quilt is Stella: Harvest Princess, finished in 2004.  It uses raw edge techniques in the manner of Rosemay Eichorn.  Fall motifs were cut from a commercial autumn print or two, pinned to a base fabric, and free motion quilted with a flannel layer as batting. The technique was fun, the motifs whimsical, and the learning process was transformative.  I use this raw edge appliqué method still.  Looking at this piece for the first time in almost a year, I wonder why I don’t play with those decorative stitches on my machine any more, or use metallic thread very often.  It was FUN to do this experimentation. It measures 25” x 16”.

There is more to Stella’s story – there was quite a learning curve for this one. I saw the technique on Simply Quilts, bought a book by Rosemary and studied her technique, cut and pinned the raw edge motifs in the fall of 2003.  Then it sat in a basket for almost a year, waiting for my free motion quilting skills to improve to the point of completion.  Finally I dared to load the machine with some invisible thread and give it a go.  When asked at my guild how long it took to make it, my answer then was, “a day and a half, or a year and a half, depending on how you look at it; actual construction time, or time from beginning the process to sewing on the label.”  That’s often the most direct answer I can give.  I work in spurts on some things.

pumpkins-in-jailhouseA couple of years ago, Jim and I spent a lovely fall day in Porterdale, GA, where we saw hundreds of pumpkins for sale in and around an old jailhouse.  I took many photos, planning to make a quilt someday called Pumpkins in the Jailhouse.  Maybe this year will be the year that gets done.

Portrait of Red Coneflower

 

red-coneflowerA recently purchased linen doily reminded me of a mat for a framed portrait.  I didn’t have a photo on fabric that fit, and wanted to stitch something on this marvelous piece of linen with the wide handmade tatting.

A simple coneflower is always fun to appliqué, and I had seen somewhere the idea of using a spool of thread as the vase.  So, a few snippets of fabric, a good tv show in the background, a bright light at my side, and the stitching began.

Once the appliqué and embroidery were done (see the French knots at the base of the seed head?), it was time to find a base to set off the oval.  The French General print in red was perfect.  So, I layered wool batting beneath the oval, threaded up the machine with silk thread, and echoed the appliqué with free motion quilting.

Once I cut away the remaining batting from behind the red fabric, it was time to seed stitch the piece to an old quilt as the back of the assembly.  A yellow and white pieced basket quilt from an antique store fit the bill, but the white was a bit stark.  A scrap of red ticking came to the rescue, adding another layer of matting to the frame job.

red-coneflower-backAs I neared the finish, I hadn’t come up with a title.  But my original plan to let the doily serve as an inner mat for a portrait was still on my mind, so Portrait of Red Coneflower was simple enough.  One more vintage doily (with a history and stains to prove it) served as the label.

The finished piece measures 16” x 20” and the hanging sleeve utilized a leftover strip of the red ticking.

Golden Bells

Recently driving down the road, to a destination two hours south and a few decades in the past, I was playing Angel Band full blast.  People in other cars could see me singing and think I’m crazy.  Well, maybe, but my singing along with Emmylou is not sufficient to have me committed.

This is how I deal with sorrow.  I was headed to the funeral for my cousin Wallace.  So When They Ring Those Golden Bells, We Shall Rise, and Drifting Too Far are soothing sounds to my soul.  Wallace loved these songs, too.

It’s been a long time since I played this collection; so long that I actually had forgotten some of the words.  Jim and I both find comfort in music, and this CD and others by Alison Kraus, Ralph Stanley, and selections from O Brother Where Art Thou and Cold Mountain soundtracks have blasted away in the car on too many trips down that same road. For part of this trip we were in separate vehicles, and my solitary time is when I had the music the loudest.

As Precious Memories plays, I can hear my mother’s voice as I sat beside her in church.  That song was one of her favorites and she and I thought she sounded like Emmylou does.  Another album with soothing voices I sometimes play is Trio.  When that plays, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and I join Emmylou to form a quartet.

The songs on those two albums brought me comfort in the drive to and from visits with my mother in the last seven years of her life.  Visits when I didn’t know if she would recognize me; later visits when I was certain she would not.  But the sounds she loved brought me comfort as they always had her, especially  the song Who Will Sing for Me?

Once in the church for Wallace’s service, more music was part of the goodbye.  A first-time experience for me was a lonesome harmonica playing.  That, and the later solo were nice, but I missed the Bethel Boys, a foursome of local men who have harmonized at several farewells in my hometown.  In answer to Emmylou’s question above, the Bethel Boys (and the entire congregation) sang for my mother.

We buried a lot of knowledge today.  Wallace knew where everyone was buried, who owned which plots in the cemetery, which family owned what farm and who had owned it before them.  In recent years, a visit to Wallace might include a ride around the county.  Wallace would narrate a rolling history lesson with detours to check every neighbor’s crops. He knew who lived in this house or that, who built the house and when, whose dog bit someone in the yard, who had been arrested.

I had learned to take a list of questions and a recorder on some visits.  But I’m already wondering what questions will come up this week that Wallace could have answered.

One of the preachers said that “Wallace lived 87 years and I don’t know that he ever made anyone mad except Miz Dot.”  I’m sure that’s correct.  And, I don’t think he ever said no when someone asked for help with anything.

The next generation has asked for some “Wallace stories.”  Here are a couple:

When he was a lad, Wallace stayed with my parents for a few days, maybe his mother was sick, I’m not sure why.  At breakfast one morning, he remarked, “Aunt Cleo, your biscuits taste alright, but you shore can’t sop syrup with ‘em.”  My Daddy quoted that line over many years, always with a twinkle in his eye.

When I was a child, my bicycle broke.  I don’t know how that happened – I don’t remember a crash. Daddy’s suggestion was that I ride a unicycle.  But since the pedals were on one portion and the seat on the other, that wasn’t going to work.   Wallace had added welding to his list of skills needed on the farm. He reattached the two halves of my bike and I was a happy little girl.  Wheels, whee, freedom!

A fine honest man, a community leader, a foster father to many children, one shining example of humility, integrity, compassion,  is no longer with us.  In the far off great forever, beyond the shining river, they are ringing golden bells for Wallace.

Photo:  Wallace as a boy, maybe about the age of the “sopping syrup” remark.  Circa 1937.

Another Voice

prom-dress-girlSometimes the process goes smoothly, other times not.

The secret’s out.  My quilts talk to me.

Here’s what “Prom Dress” girl said to me as I worked on her over a few days. (this piece started with an old photo of my mother, so you may recognize her voice):

I’m wearing the white dress I made for my graduation, all stitched by hand.  We didn’t have a sewing machine.  The photo was taken on the farm beside the smokehouse.  Are you going to cut away the building?  So the focus will be on me?

You’ve printed the photo on vintage linen fabric.  Have you decided if you will put it in a frame when you finish?  I will fit nicely in a 5” x 7”.

What are you doing to my hair?  Brown is the right color, but I never had long hair in my life.  Oh, you put more paint than you planned.  Ok.  Maybe I should have had long hair, this looks pretty good.  And, you are right, now you see a face in there.  I did blend in with the background.  We know the grass is green, but the black/white photo doesn’t reveal that.  You could have planned to paint the grass.  Or stitch it with green thread.

You plan to call this piece Graduation Day, right?  So you have to leave the dress white.  Because it was.

So you’ve cut an oval frame from that beautiful green silk Dupioni.  I like that, but it doesn’t contrast enough with my photo, do you think?  Oh, you’re making an oval “mat” to place in a rectangular frame.  Even if you don’t put it in a wooden frame, you can make a cloth frame.  I get it.

Ouch.  You pinned me to a nice oval doily; guess you abandoned the silk like I said, then you saw that blue Irish linen handkerchief and started over?  You get in such a hurry, then have to redo things.  Think, first, ok?  And now the blue kerchief and I are pinned to a black embroidered hankie, on point.  Ok, but your design is getting bigger and bigger.

What happened to the pieces of the silk log cabin quilt that you cut as my background?  Yes. I guess you can use them for something else.  Wasn’t this supposed to be a quick project?

Now I’m getting a ragged edge.  You are stitching me to the linen and the hankie using wool batting for dimension.  Nice.  Warm.  Are you writing on me?  Oh, drawing lines for stitching details on my dress.  Ok.

Not bad.  When you press me and the marker disappears, it will be good.  And the pebble stitching on the blue looks nice, too.

Now what is that design on the black hankie?  It’s ok, but aren’t those embroidered flowers sorta rough looking?  Is it UPSIDE DOWN?  Maybe you are right, maybe no one will notice.  Go steam these marks out, though, ok?

WHAT?  The marks aren’t disappearing?  You used a regular pen?  You goofball!  Now what?  Oh, I see the blue paint.  Yeah.  My beautiful white graduation dress has to be blue?  So, now it’s not a graduation dress anymore.

And, the black hankie is WHERE?  Well, you saw the problem before stitching the whole thing.  So you have three corners to use in another project.  Think you can remember to check right side up next time?

Whew!  I’m back on the oval white doily you started with as my frame days ago.  But on what?  Oh, this is lovely brown linen.  Just enough drama.  You made it work, but you didn’t make it easy!

Oh, you are finally getting to use a piece of that cross-stitched quilt you bought, aren’t you?  prom-dress-backIts colors do carry the blue dress to the back.  Wasn’t it hard to cut into that old quilt that someone spent many many hours stitching?  And they quilted it by hand, too.

I know it has holes in it, but I can hear the ladies at your guild now.  They aren’t going to like the idea of cutting up an old quilt.  Yeah, you are right.  The nice handwork that remains will be seen now.  With holes in it, it would have been relegated to a closet, or to wrapping furniture for moving.  Or, as you found it, languishing in an old dusty store.

And, you did change the name from Graduation Day to Going to Prom.  No, you cannot call it Bossy Girl in Blue Dress.

 

Ok, I’m back.  The sequence of steps would make more sense if I had photographed each layout, but when I’m feverishly tossing things about, auditioning colors and shapes, there is no thought of documentation, just doing.

Yes, I do have scraps of silk Dupioni, an old silk log cabin quilt, and a beautiful black embroidered hanky that are cut into bits.  But each of them has potential in other projects.   They are not lost, they are not forgotten, and, I confess, they are not well organized.  Serendipity plays a big part in my fabric combinations.  Something that is lying on the cutting table gets stirred to the top of the pile while I’m looking for something else, and the pairings that occur inspire dozens of other projects.  Ideas come faster than I can sew.

This afternoon project wasn’t completed until four days after I started working with it.  Interruptions come about because of life’s events, and because the design stalled and I needed to walk away from it.  And, though this is not the “graduation dress” design I had planned, I can reprint the photo and go at it again if I choose.  If something doesn’t work out, I don’t consider it a failure, but as lessons learned.  I might be more careful in the future to be sure the embroidery is right side up.  And, I’ll check to see that I’m marking with a removable pen when sketching quilting lines.

Photos:  The finished quilt measures 15” x 20”.  Wool batting, silk and cotton threads were used for quilting. Hand-guided, free motion stitching attached the photo to the blue linen, to the vintage doily, and that to the brown linen.  Hand stitching was used to invisibly stitch the lace edges down and to attach the linen to the vintage quilt on the back.  I used a modified seed stitch.  The backing has a bit of lace stitched over a hole in the quilt, and a label made from a portion of a vintage linen napkin.

Ruth’s Drapery Dress

1970s-quiltI met a new quilting sister today.  We have a lot in common.  We grew up learning how to sew, making our own clothes, and each of us added quilting to our lives about 15 years ago.

Ruth does almost all her quilting by hand, in an immaculate room in an immaculate house (I said we have a lot in common, not everything).  Her work is deliberate and beautiful; she enjoys making quilts and other things from cloth, too, like purses and tote bags.

As we shared stories of our first quilts, I mentioned that mine in the 1970s was a pathetic patchwork made from scraps of drapery fabric from my mother’s sample books.  Oh, we shared that, too – mothers who made draperies.  Ruth’s mother was an interior designer at Sears and would sometimes bring home remnants of drapery fabric, or imperfect panels.  Ruth would disassemble them and reuse the fabric.

One of her proudest moments came from a piece of fabric that was a lovely blue floral.  Ruth worked hard to stitch that into a beautiful dress.  She was so proud of it and eager to wear it on her first date.  In those days, the shoes, purse, all the accessories had to be just right.  As she described the preparation, I could imagine her twirling about her living room, light on her feet as the gathered skirt billowed about her tiny waist.

The first stop on their evening out was at his house to meet his parents.  She was confident about her appearance until she entered their living room and was invited to take a seat on their sofa.  A sofa on which she would have become invisible.  She and the furniture were wearing the same fabric.

What a shame.  All that work to make such a lovely dress that would only be worn one time.

Photos:  Ruth doesn’t have any of her fabric left.  But I do have some of my first quilt left; the squares of drapery fabric which haven’t disintegrated.  No, you can’t see the whole thing.  But it measures 87” x  94”  and is hand quilted.  Hand quilted by community women who must still talk about me for asking them to needle this jumble of fabrics, varying in thickness and fiber content.  The backing is flannel.  The whole assembly is ugly, yet warm. That’s the crumpled bundle you see in the top photo.

1970s-quilt-detailHere, in a detail photo, I focused on a fabric that I think might fit the description Ruth gave.  It looks a lot like the fabric covering the first couch I bought.

Preserve the Story

SG at Southern Crescent“This has been so good for me today.  I’ve been so down in the dumps lately.  I lost my best friend and have been unable to do anything.  Now I have new ideas and I’m going to make….”

These words came from a new friend at a quilt guild where I gave a talk yesterday.  She came up to me at the end, when people had questions or wanted to see a quilt up close again.  She was beautiful, seemingly calm, serene; her outward appearance did not reveal her troubled soul.  But she and I know that stitching will soothe her.  She can make something while thinking of her friend.  She will recapture memories in the threads and forever after, when she looks at that finished project, she will remember the good times as well as the sorrow that she felt with the loss.

My talk was Capturing a Story in a Quilt.  I shared stories that had prompted a quilt project of mine, like Granny Zee’s Scrap Baskets, or Government Bird Going for a Ride, as well as stories that evolved with the quilt (one example being Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden).

The centerpiece of the talk was Fifty-Two Tuesdays, a Journal Quilt, where I intentionally set out to chronicle a year of my life in fabric.  But all of us who stitch know that every quilt we make holds memories; of friends who sat with us as we stitched, of travels where some fabric was purchased, or situations in life that accompanied the project’s progress.

In order for others to know those stories that live within the quilts, we need to write them down.  A story quilt is a good visual cue to share family stories with future generations, but a written record will help preserve the details.

A quilting friend has recently prepared a manuscript ready to print a few copies as gifts for family members.  A daughter-in-law interested in genealogy asked Ethel to write down some family stories, so she did.  Keeping it simple, she wrote as if she were talking to this daughter-in-law.  No editors, or publishers, or agents are needed these days, even if you want it bound and want multiple copies.

I treasure some memories my aunt wrote on scraps of stationery; she shared stories my mother had told me, but the details were fuzzy.  I love that I have a written record of those childhood stories, compliments of my cousin Susie and her copying machine.

I left yesterday’s meeting with new friends and new intentions.  Some of them shared their plans to write down memories associated with their quilts.  I saw projects that inspire me to go to the sewing machine!

SG3 at Southern Crescent