Serendipity

 

suset Mt Dora

We recently visited Mt. Dora, Fl. (elevation 176 feet).  It was spring break but there were no crazy balcony jumpers there.  Mt. Dora is a nice little old Florida town with a modern art museum, art galleries, shops, and a lake with a lighthouse.

On the evening before we left home for our trip, we had dinner with friends.  En route to their house, we stopped at Publix for a bottle of wine and dessert.  Jim said, “something chocolate” when asked for a recommendation for the menu.  I found their Decadent Chocolate Cake and bought my first one ever.  It was decadent indeed.

In Mt. Dora, our innkeeper was Melanie.  Over coffee, she revealed that Publix bakes fresh bread for the B & B’s gourmet breakfast every day. Our menu included strawberry and ricotta stuffed french toast, served behind a tropical soup of strawberries, blueberries, yogurt, and banana, topped with diced Fuji apple.  Yes, if you suspect that this was amazingly delicious, you are right.

MelanieMelanie knows that Publix uses only the best ingredients because the company was one of her customers when she worked as a salesperson for some of the world’s finest chocolate.

In fact, Publix’s Decadent Chocolate Cake?  She developed that recipe.

Jobs well done, Melanie; at breakfast in Mt. Dora…and on the cake recipe.  I just love unexpected connections.

Geraniums

Geranium quitlI planted some geraniums today.  That’s a sign that I think it’s springtime!

I love geraniums.  Especially red geraniums.  They are so perky and straightforward, “I AM A BIG SHOWY FLOWER.  LOOK AT ME!”.

Even my brown thumbs can keep them producing blooms through the summer.

Maybe because Aunt Nellie always had them, I find their presence comforting in the yard.  I put them in terra cotta pots because she said “their roots like to breathe.”

So I found myself thinking of this little quit in the photo.  I made it for our guild’s challenge in 2011.  The challenge that year was to make a “two-block quilt”.  Further details in the rules said you must include two different pieced blocks.

Since I like to try to find an unexpected way to follow the rules, I pieced several sawtooth star blocks; not all the same size, from red and white fabrics in the top section of this quilt.  For the lower section, I pieced square-in-a-square blocks using some of my precious indigo collection.  These fabrics were printed in Africa using copper plates that are several hundred years old.  I bought them from a vendor in Paducah one year and treasure them in a special basket.  But I thought a geranium themed quilt was worthy of putting these treasures under the knife.

Atop the pieced background, I appliquéd the flower pot, stems, leaves, and geraniums using felted wool.  There is minimal quilting on this piece, a simple vine and leaf design that is one of my favorite hand-guided, free-motion quilting motifs.  It finished at 14” x 20”.

I confess that this was likely done at the last minute.  No label is attached as yet and the imaginative title of “Geraniums” is another clue that the deadline was nigh.  The geranium in the pot was inspired by one of Maggie Bonanomi’s designs,  I added a big satin bow to give dimension.

The geraniums in the watering can are a colored pencil Version 3drawing I made last week from a photo taken in our backyard.  I love old, well-worn watering cans almost as much as I love geraniums.  Anything in blue is beautiful  So, the three working together make my soul sing.

Ollie Jane and her Basket quilt

Version 3Ollie Jane Wheeler Hasty was my paternal grandmother.  She grew up in the foothills of north Georgia, married my grandfather in at the age of 17, bore him seven children there.  Then they bundled up the six living children and household goods, drove a wagon to the flatlands of south Georgia where she gave birth to three additional children.

A faithful farm wife and mother, I don’t think she ever got over leaving her parents and her two-year-old Susan Margaret in the cemetery in Cherokee County.

After sixty-eight years of marriage, she was widowed and shortly thereafter came to live in the house with us.  For the last seven years of her life, she educated me by example.  An example that a woman’s hands are never idle, that an old person still has a role to fill and contributions to make to this world, and that kindness is the only attribute a lady needs.

When I was 15 and she was 93, Granny died in the kitchen while washing dishes after lunch.  She had been sewing that morning.  I hope to be able to sew on the day of my death.  And, at age 93 would be good, too.

Granny made many quilts in her lifetime.  Daddy, the ninth of the ten children, recalled that she made their clothes from feedsacks, then when they the clothes were worn out, she cut them up and used the good parts in quilts.  I have disassembled old quilts she had made to discover that another old worn quilt had been used as the batting layer.

Her quilts were generally utilitarian.  Often they were string pieced on a muslin background with big stitches using a coarse thread.

Oj basket quiltBut I own an exception.  I have the quilt that she made prior to her marriage.  It was on her bed on her wedding night in 1890 and on every anniversary night for sixty-eight years.  Some of the binding is worn and replaced, which indicates that it was used more than sixty-nine times, but I suspect as time went on and it was beginning to wear, this quilt was put away to preserve its story.

When Granny “broke up housekeeping,” she passed the quilt and its story on to Christine, the oldest granddaughter.  As Christine’s life was coming to a close, she chose to pass the treasure on to me, the youngest.  And treasure it I do.

Now that I make quilts, I’ve examined the details of this construction more closely.  The young girl Ollie Jane pieced the half-square triangles by hand, but appliquéd the basket handles on a machine.  Yes, this was prior to 1890.  The Baptist fan quilting is done by hand.

I did not know this quilt even existed while I had Granny to tell me about it.  I fear that even had I known I would not have listened intently to the details.  But I can learn from examining it and can be inspired by its existence.  Perhaps this explains why I’ve made so many basket quilts.

Treasures Under the Knife

treasures cut upI’m upstairs now in my sewing haven cutting up some coveted fabric collections and sewing them back together.  I boast in Fifty-Two Tuesdays that I’m all about using the good stuff.  But sometimes I think I should experiment with less desirable fabric, “in case I mess it up.”  How’s that for a negative self image?

I watched Katie Fowler (www.katiefowler.net) on the The Quilt Show (www.thequiltshow.com) yesterday.  I, like many audience members, was astounded as she cut up her beautiful quilt.  “Dramatic” is not strong enough to describe that episode.

Katie has mastered many quiltmaking techniques and is a creativity coach, helping others to “find their voice”.  Subsequent to the show (#1807) with Alex and Ricky, she revisited them to share the finished product of her cut up quilt in its new life.  Today I watched a skype session between Alex and Katie.  They discussed our reluctance to “untie the bow” on coveted stacks of fabric.

Inspired, yes I am.  Their conversation has me pressing and cutting and resewing some beautiful woven art.  Kaffe Fassett prints, shot cottons, and stripes have made their way off the shelf and are headed into a familiar pattern with a twist.  What fun!

I realize that my quilts I love the most are those in which I dared to explore the unknown with treasured fabrics.  GBI Blues, Indigo Pearadise, and Miss Lily’s Baskets are three examples.  All are in the gallery.

A personal design note:  Though these fabrics “go together” in that they are parts of distinct fabric groups, they are not from one collection.  They span several releases of Kaffe’s over the years.  And I pulled some other fabrics, too (non-Kaffe stripes, something that “reads” solid, other big bold prints).  When I do use a designer’s collection, I usually spice it up with some outliers.  Joanna Figueroa (www.figtreequilts.com) advises 85% collection/15% stash.  I don’t analyze, but I’d say that’s about right.

 

Lagniappe

clematisMy friend Marie, who did such an excellent job with the layout and editing of Fifty-two Tuesdays recently worked her magic again on one of my publishing attempts.  When I asked her fee, she replied, “consider it part of the original fee you paid me.”  I said, “oh, it’s lagniappe.”

The subsequent discussion led me to pull Celestine Sibley’s book, Small Blessings, off the shelf and reread some of her delightful columns. Included in this volume is the one where she introduced me to lagniappe.

As I read this treasured volume from my library, I realized that if Celestine were writing today, she would be one of my favorite bloggers.  Her personal stories have touched me for probably more than fifty years.

I have at least one copy of all Celestine’s books, have given many as gifts, and reread portions of them often.  As a young girl, I looked forward to reading her column in the magazine section of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution on Sundays.  I got directions to her log cabin near Crabapple, GA from relatives who lived there and begged my Daddy to drive me by the house when we were near there attending a family gathering.  He did.

What an impression that woman and her writing made on me.  On Mother’s Day weekend circa 1995, my daughter and I went to meet Celestine and hear a lecture – a treasured day for me.

Isn’t it funny how one conversation leads to an word you haven’t heard or used in a while, then that leads to more memories of where you first heard the word, then to other associations with that person and others who share the story (our New Orleans’ friends are well acquainted with lagniappe), and you fall down an enchanted rabbit hole of memories?

Celestine’s definition of lagniappe is a “little something extra”.  Wikipedia says about the same thing.  Today’s photo of my first clematis bloom is your lagniappe.

Dancing with my Sewing Machine

Miss Ruby's Red Bouquet
Miss Ruby’s Red Bouquet

Occasionally I will stitch layers of fabric and batting together with a hand stitch–to revisit history, or pay homage to my foremothers, or because it “suits the piece”.  But my real love is hand-guided, free-motion quilting on my sewing machine.

I use my simple, straight stitch sewing machine without a stitch regulator.  The “domestic” sewing machine where you sit and move the fabric under the needle.  Some people liken the process to drawing something by holding the pencil in place and moving the paper underneath the point.  That’s it.  Except this pencil point is sharp and is moving up and down.

It did take a lot of practice to become adept at the process.  But I was determined.   Once I became satisfied that I was getting the hang of it, I relaxed and realized I thought of it as “dancing with my sewing machine.”  Now I can stitch and talk at the same time.  I can draw designs with the sewing machine without marking the fabric first.  And, I enjoy it.

How did I learn to do this?  By reading and watching videos.  Diane Gaudynski’s books were the most helpful to me when I started this process.  I watched videos of her at work, as well.  Then I tried the technique myself.  Once I had to have a book at hand at every step of the process, selecting the needle, remembering how to start and stop, adjusting the tension, troubleshooting.

Later on, websites like Leah Day’s 365 Free Motion Quilting Designs  gave me ideas for filler designs and how to stitch them.  Now, I have a file of designs in my sewing room, a bulletin board of designs on Pinterest, and a sampling of ideas in completed projects.  I sometimes run downstairs to look at a quilt on the wall to examine a stitching design.

I do tend to quilt my quilts heavily.  Bullet proof.  Within an inch of their lives.  I can spread the quilting further apart, but I’m usually disappointed in the end result.  My stitches end up being about 1/4″ apart in all motifs. That’s just how I like it.

Details of photo:  This quilt uses cotton fabrics, wool batting and cotton thread.  The variety of textures comes from several quilting designs: a feathered plume, curved grid, pumpkin seeds, some echoing, free hand vines, and paisley loops.

Piecing Pleasures

featherweightToday was a day with much time on the phone and on the computer.  Arranging details for upcoming events, paying bills, scheduling things.  Frustrating all.

And, seemingly accomplishing nothing.

But then I went into my sewing room for an hour or so.  I cut up some fabric and sewed it back together.  Now I’m myself again.

It was a simple design…one I’ve done before, but just refining the size of the block for another project.  But the pressing of the fabric, the slicing with a sharp rotary cutter, the sewing back together again, the hum of the machine.  Is there anyone who doesn’t find this process comforting?

I know, there are people who break out in hives just hearing about this.  But those are people who like to clean house and pull weeds, I think.  I love to sew!

I think I should reiterate that I was using a really simple forgiving pattern that does not involve matching intersections or tedious measuring.  Though those kinds of projects are rewarding too, today I needed improvisational bliss!  I oversized the pieces, sewed with a casual seam allowance, and trimmed to fit.  Pure pleasure!

3-2-1, UP!

cow churn crossstitchI sometimes have sleepless nights.

Maybe because deer walking around (snacking on our flowers) set off the driveway alarm.  Maybe because I’m in pain from overworking some muscle group.  Maybe because of that aging thing.  It’s probably not this last one, because I’ve been dealing with this for a LONG time.

Sometimes I become productive.  Sometimes I lie there and wish I could go back to sleep.  Sometimes I make alphabetical lists in my mind.  Angie, April, Anita; Barbara,  Brenda, Bethany,….another time Destin, Denver, Dothan; Springfield, San Francisco, Sugar Hill.  The categories change, but I almost always look for three words beginning with each letter of the alphabet.  And I always start with A.  I rarely make it through M or N before falling asleep.  But I have made it to Z a few times.

Oops, I forgot the spoiler alert.  I told my husband about this strategy one day while we were riding (I had attempted cities in Georgia the night before and was having trouble with a couple of letters).  He couldn’t stop thinking about it and threatened things if I ever suggested the idea again.  I got the same reaction from a daughter and grandson.  So, I’m alone in this.  Unless you like it.

Maggie Bonanomi has done something similar on her facebook page with photos of pears, peapods, pots, puzzle balls,…Of course, her vignettes are amazingly breathtaking!

Lately, in preparation for our quilt show, I have awakened thinking of things I needed to do.  A few mornings the clock, aka phone, read 3:21 when I checked it.  I thought, “ 3…2…1…UP!”  A few nights respite, and then…..last night it was 3:27.

Miss Lily’s Baskets

 

Miss Lily's basketsThis little quilt is a special treasure.  It was made with strategies I don’t normally employ.  I bought a charm pack of French General fabric (red is not usually my go-to color), came home and started stitching (I often mull over design plans for quite some time before I start cutting and sewing), I appliquéd baskets in front of tv several evenings until it was done, assembled the top and quilted the project all in about a month.

I had drawn the basket pattern for another project using Granny Zee’s scrap bag.  So I pulled out that plastic template, marked a square as the background, another as the basket fabric and started stitching.

As I made baskets, I placed them on the design wall and a color scheme began to emerge.  I played with several arrangements, but saw a light to dark progression forming in the background fabrics while the reverse was happening with the baskets.  I had always been intrigued by some of Judy Dale’s work where she accomplished that and suddenly, it was happening for me.

A neutral little check worked as alternate blocks and a sweet little quilt was born.  Oh, I did add my focus block that I focus block Miss Lily's basketlove…a basket sitting on one square, its
handle on three others.  The handle became a wreath with a perky little red checked bow.

img292 copyThe quilt is named to honor a sweet perky little lady I knew in my childhood.  Miss Lily.  Here she is pictured beside the love of her life, Mr. Charlie.

Details of quilt: finished size:  25” x 31”, wool batting, free-motion machine quilting.  30-weight polyester thread was used to quilt the vine and leaf motif in each alternate block, echoing that with 50-weight, 2 ply cotton thread

Sharing the Journey

I read where solitude and reflection are necessary for creativity to bloom.  I know that to be true.  I can work on my art with conversation, podcasts, or a television – if my art is in the stitching phase, or adding details to a drawing.  In other stages, I need alone time.

But the memories are made when the experience is shared.  The conversations, the podcasts, the music my husband is playing while I stitch, all find their ways into the eye of the needle and are easily recalled when the piece is finished.

Sharing the journey sometimes means the expedition reaches its destination.

imageWhen I first conceived  “Fifty-Two Tuesdays” I proposed to make a mini quilt each week for a year.  I planned a written journal to accompany it, thinking that at the end of the year I would have a finished quilt and a book. I shared this vision with my writing group at the outset.  They embraced the idea and as the year progressed, they asked questions about the structure of “the book”.  My creative focus was on the quilt itself and keeping a journal of the details; fabrics included, threads, batting, techniques.

Since some members of that group knew little about quilting, their questions forced me to think more about the writing element.  The take-away message here is to share your journey with people who don’t follow the same path that you do.  They force you to see your destination from a different point of view.

And if you are easily distracted, it helps to share your end goal.  My darling daughter, DJ, who loves all things fiber as I do, loves to quilt vicariously through me.  She sews and knits, but being a working mom, her fiber pursuits are now confined to shorter projects.  In phone conversations, she puzzled fabric choices and “how am I going to resolve….?” dilemmas with me.  And.  Every Tuesday night, she expected to get a text message with a photo of the completed hexagon.  That kept me on schedule.  The lesson here is to engage a taskmaster.  Deadlines are good.

And, finally, share your success.  During the year, I took a few completed hexagons to show to members of my drawing class. Comprised mostly of non stitchers, this group overlooked the bunched up binding and skipped stitches, providing positive feedback.  A reminder to look at the big picture.  “Perfection is the enemy of creativity.”

With help from all these cheerleaders, I accomplished something that I had dreamed but might not have pursued to the end.  And when I look at the finished products; a quilt and a book, I see these people who supported me as well as the events that inspired the designs.