Bee Still my Heart

bee skep on notebook page leftbee skep on notebook page right

I see that today has been designated as National Honey Bee Day, begun to increase community awareness of beekeeping in the U.S.  Such a holiday is a perfect excuse to share a few pieces of fiber art with a beekeeping theme.

After I sold my childhood home to Billy, a former colleague of my Daddy, I received a treasured package.  Billy was doing some remodeling and found two of my Daddy’s high school science lab books behind the walls of a closet.  His graduation from Sycamore High School was in 1932, so the Biology and Physical Science lab manuals predate that.

I never knew my Daddy could draw, but in these books I found his drawings of crawfish, birds, fish, chemistry lab equipment, and BEES.  I was excited to find his handwriting, which looked exactly like it did later in life, but the drawings were a wonderful surprise.  I scanned some of the images and printed them on parchment paper and framed them as Christmas gifts for family members, but the lab on the bees got special treatment.

Beekeeping detail rightI printed those two pages on commercially prepared fabric for printing, then used those as the background for appliquéd bee skeps, vines, leaves, berries, and bees.  Cotton was used for the vines and leaves, beehives are a woven cotton, berries are made with silk ribbon, and the bees are appliquéd from felted wool.  The quilting is hand guided free motion on a domestic sewing machine. Each piece of this pair finishes at 12” x 15”. In keeping with the school theme, I entitled this pair Beekeeping 101.

beauty & beesThis reconnection with my Daddy’s history with bees spurred me to stitch several more quilts with bees and beehives.  I modified a pattern from Maggie Bonanomi to create Beauty and the Bees in wool.  The background is commercially handdyed and felted black wool.  All the appliqué pieces are felted wool from recycled clothing, mine and Goodwill’s.  The pink berries and tendrils are machine couched with my free motion couching foot, one of the most fun-to-use tools in my toolbox!

Still busy as a bee, I wanted a colony on blue.  So I created a simple design using a single bee skep, and used needleturn appliqué on the Blackbird Design fabric that looks like a cross stitch sampler.  I return to that fabric frequently, in different colorways, because it adds another layer of interest to any quilt while paying tribute to another one of my needlework loves – cross stitch.  A section of this piece appears in the banner at the top of the page.

bees in guest bedroomThe Beehive on Blue was made to fit an oval frame (8″ x 10″) I found somewhere.  That’s a shape I love and find those frames hard to leave in the store.  So one came home with me, got a coat of chalk paint, and holds my quilt.  It is honored with the presence of an original drawing of a bee by my art instructor and friend, Mark Ballard.

Fifty-Two Tuesdays has a block with a beeskep on linen.  There’s one in Fifty-Two Wednesdays, and  I’ve used this motif in a series of beginning appliqué classes.  I’m certain it will reappear many times.  I sometimes find interesting bee buttons or charms that need a home in a textile hive.

My Daddy, the beekeeper, would have been surprised that those lab manuals were still around, I think.  He built this house in 1946, after having owned at least two farms, then living in another house in town. so why did he keep science lab manuals for fourteen years?  I know if he could see my fabric beehives, he would pretend to think they were silly, printing his workbook pages and sewing on them.  But secretly he would be pleased.  As I think he would be pleased that I treasure such wonderful memories of those glorious mornings checking the beehives with him.

Note:  more details about Beauty and the Bees and working with wool are here.

Author: Sandy Gilreath

I’ve stitched my way through life. Early skills in utilitarian and decorative sewing have merged with art in the world of quiltmaking. My love of journaling has now crossed into the cloth world, too. I love old songs, old souls, old words; my collections attest to my fascination with memories.

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