Swan Songs

“Have we told you about the time a swan came to our front door?”

That’s a question we’ve asked birding friends recently.

There’s been a lot of chatter about rare birds, trumpeter swans, in our area.  These birds normally live in western Canada and Alaska.  They don’t like the South.  In fact, the pair now visiting Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge near Juliette, GA, are believed to be the first ones to ever visit GA.

Our Minnesota friends recently posted photos of a huge flock of swans near them.  I was enthralled and obtained permission to use their images in art quilts, thinking I’d not be likely to see any of these birds.   Then, we heard there were some swans near us!  (More of Mary Ellen’s Minnesota stories are here.) This photo by Bruce Lundstrom.

On Saturday, Jim and I drove to Piedmont and were fortunate to find the pair close to shore at a pond.  We quietly approached the group watching, visited with old friends and made a couple of new friends.  Then everyone else left and we slowly walked out on the deck and got even closer to the beauties.

We had heard that the two stayed on the far side of another pond, so Jim took his big lens.  The birds were so close to us that he couldn’t get the whole bird in a shot.  I had carried my camera thinking, “this is a waste, I can’t see them well enough to photograph.”  Wrong.  I could, I did.  Jim went back to the truck (walking ever so slowly and quietly) to get a smaller lens.

I was thrilled to capture a few images, but I was so mesmerized by the glassy surface of the water, by the reflections of the trees and the birds, and by what I saw as parallel behavior of the swans, that I would forget to put down the binoculars and pick up the camera.

But snap the shutter, we did.  Jim got great detailed shots of the birds, I got some surprisingly nice images, too.  I love the two birds with the loose feather floating on the water!



I was thrilled when I realized I had captured a heart in one shot!



Their balancing acts as they preen, stretching that long graceful neck into Mobieus-like positions, that one big black foot in the air, the thrill of them when they unfurl those huge, huge wings – all formed   indelible moments in my mind.

I knew standing on the dock on Saturday that   this elegant swan would be the subject of my next drawing in Mark Ballard’s class..  From the moment I snapped the shutter, I said, “that’s the pose.”

Oh, and the earlier encounter with a swan was on Mother’s Day, 2004.   Our Welsh Corgi, Dixie, greeted a mute swan at our front door.  We lived a couple of blocks from the nearest lake, so our photos of her are not surrounded by reflections or ripples of water.  But the visit was memorable.

That swan twisted her long neck into crazy positions, too.


Next project:  stitching some swans!

Soup and Cornbread

Today was a snow day, a sew day, followed by a cold, cold night.  Our supper was one we have frequently in this weather – vegetable soup and bread.  Sometimes the bread is a crusty loaf we can dip in olive oil, sometimes it’s soft yeast rolls with butter.  This night it was a southern favorite, cornbread.


Cornbread baked in my mother’s  cast iron skillet.  That skillet holds more memories than grease molecules.  My mother baked cornbread in it every single weekday of my memory.  No matter what the menu, no matter how hot the kitchen would be in the summertime, the oven and pan were preheated to 400℉.  Meanwhile, a simple mixture of self-rising cornmeal, egg, and whole milk was stirred together.  When the pan was hot, bacon drippings were poured in, then the batter, then it cooked until done.

The round pone was always inverted on a plate, cut into eight wedges, and set on the corner of the table next to Daddy’s plate.  I don’t recall Mama ever eating any, but Daddy ate it at lunchtime, and again sometimes at supper.  Sometimes his supper was simply a wedge of cornbread (room temperature, never reheated) and a glass of milk.

Aunt Nellie, my mother’s maternal aunt, preferred hoecakes; thin cornmeal cakes cooked on top of the stove. From her comments, I inferred that Mama’s recipe was one from Daddy’s family and that she adopted it for our meals.

We ate plenty of leftovers at our house, but never leftover cornbread.  Even if only one wedge was eaten at lunchtime, the remainder was discarded and a new pone cooked the next day.  I don’t know why.

In my adult life, I’ve tried many cornbread recipes, many pans, and many other options.  The alternatives are all good; we enjoy jalapeño cheddar cornbread occasionally, hoecakes are served at our favorite local restaurant, and once I discovered Tasha Tudor’s cornbread recipe, that complex sweet concoction sometimes finds its way to our table.  Tasha advised that hot cornbread is better with a bit of butter and honey or blackberry jam on it.  I agree!

I’ve baked cornbread in square pans, long pans, muffin pans; some glass, some stainless steel, some cast iron.  But nothing gives the crust like Mama’s old cast iron skillet.  But the cornbread will stick to that pan if I use any lubricant other than bacon grease.  So I’ve learned to cook bacon for breakfast if I’m planning to cook cornbread later in the day.

A nice rubdown afterwards with a paper towel is the only cleaning my skillet gets.  No water, no soap.  A childhood memory more than 50 years ago is of Mama and Aunt Nellie building a fire outside and “burning off” their cast iron cookware.  Then they seasoned them with grease of some kind and put them in the oven.  This skillet was one of those.

Mama’s Cornbread Recipe was: 1 cup self-rising cornmeal, 1 egg, 2/3 cup whole milk.  Mix ingredients.  Preheat oven to 400℉ with iron skillet inside.  Pour 1 tablespoon bacon drippings into pan, swirl around bottom and sides of pan, then pour in batter.  Bake 20 minutes. (All quantities are my approximations, she didn’t measure anything.)

As for the vegetable soup recipe, it varies depending on what’s on hand.  Tonight’s version started with a leftover rump roast, potatoes, carrots, onions, portobello mushrooms, corn, some frozen butterbeans, diced tomatoes.  Cooked slowly, tasted, seasoned, simmered some more…

A Stepback Christmas

Even the outhouse was decorated for Christmas.

It was a cold bleak morning as we set out on a time travel adventure.  We headed to a settlement called Stepback – a Victorian village was open to the public to celebrate Christmas old style.

On 200 acres, a man with a vision has created a historic settlement.  Roger Pierce has a general store, a schoolhouse, a church, and many farm sheds and buildings.  Often the acreage is quiet, sometimes populated by school groups or scouts who have made plans to visit for a day.  But yesterday was its annual opening to the public for Christmas.

Family members, friends, and local community members dressed in period clothing were on hand to educate and entertain.  There was a corn sheller operating, grinding corn using energy from the waterwheel.  A schoolmarm was on hand to answer questions and lead children in the construction of paper chains to decorate the tree.  In the church, live piano music provided the perfect backdrop of Christmas carols and hymns.

Oh, and there were women, who for this day, donned their Victorian best dresses to pose as floozies.  They layered the clothing to ward off the cold, fortified themselves with a bit of antifreeze (medicinal, they said).  As they raised a toast, I heard “May we be floozed the rest of our lives!”

While walking about, we ran into old friends and made new friends.  In a picturesque setting, we were enchanted with simple decorations of the past.  As the day progressed, the sun came out from behind the clouds, and more people came out, too.


The people of this community recognize this treasure and come to show their appreciation.  The owner was a local businessman with a love of history.  After he retired, he began to create this haven.  In some cases, he found old buildings and dismantled them and rebuilt them on his property.  Other buildings are made from trees growing on his property.  Likewise, the furniture and contents of the buildings are assembled from a wide range of sources.  All of it comes together in a bucolic settlement which serves to trigger memories in older folks and educate the young.

Mr. Pierce charges no admission at Christmas or any other time.  Those who choose to make a donation know that it will be used to buy toys for children whose Christmas would be less abundant without it.


And, did I say that “Mayor Pierce”  wears overalls?  Well, of course he does.  Yesterday, many of the men working there, and some of the visitors, were wearing overalls.  Yes, I got lots of photos.  Yes, there will be some art quilts depicting this place!


Lace Day

Yesterday was Lace Day.  It’s not on your calendar as an official holiday, but I’m proclaiming it.





Sometimes when I’m out shopping buttons call to me, other times it’s tattered linens who beg to be cut up and sewn back together.  Yesterday it was lace.  Everywhere I looked I saw lace.

There was white tatting, crocheted edging in white, black, and beige.  Technically, these may not be lace, but they are lacy and perform the function of lace in some of my projects.  All in today’s hunt were bargains.  Most were handmade.

If it’s stained, I will dye it.  If it’s not stained, I may dye it.  But I love giving a home to someone’s pieces with a memory.  I keep it out of the landfill and get to add more history to a  photo on cloth, or just a collage of vintage remnants.

I love walking through antique malls.  I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating.  It soothes my soul to see old things.  Memories surface at the sight of roller skates like I once owned, a towel in a stripe like my Mother had, even a can that held a ham.  The can may still hold a ham.  I didn’t want to know.  But when have I thought of those Sunday menus?  Ham from a can and orange macaroni and cheese from a box.  My Mother grew up wringing the chicken’s neck for lunch, so she embraced all the convenience foods available to her once they moved to town.

Inspiration comes in many forms.  The color palette here suggests a touch of black with some neutrals and that green.  Wow – that green.  If you subscribe to Julia Cameron’s advice in The Artist’s Way, to take your artist self on a date each week, this is the kind of thing she’s talking about.

I didn’t buy all you see in the photos.  Displays in the antique malls are inspiring, even if I don’t always make a purchase.  The way the pieces are displayed in a drawer, or old suitcase, or in a basket make me smile.


I bought some home with me.  Here is the pile of treasures.  I love the vintage bias tape and seam binding in the original package.  100% cotton, unstained.  At 25₵ each, I didn’t buy them all, but I did add to my supply.  And even the basket came home with me.  I love the double-handled  baskets for storing and carrying projects in progress.  The Longabergers are so sturdy.  I never bought them when people were having parties; I missed that boat.  But when I find them for a song (this one was $14), I grab them!

I don’t know what these finds will become.  But I know they will find their way to a project filled with memories.  Memories that include the fun time shopping for them and memories unknown to me but stored in the fibers of these pieces with a past.

The Farmhouse

My husband is a magician.  Not only can he see beauty though the lens of his camera, but in post processing, he can emphasize whatever he wants.  Recently, he’s put the emphasis on my quilts.  I love what he can do, don’t you?

Yesterday found us riding backroads with quilts and cameras in the car.  We ended up at The Farm House.  An old sharecropper’s cabin with numerous additions, good food, and decor to please any southern girl; it’s one of our favorite destinations.

We had a nice lunch in the dining room with a fire burning in the open fireplace.  Outside, guineas were roaming around, a scarecrow was standing guard, and piles of pumpkins adding color.  The menu included candied sweet potatoes, turnip greens, and corn muffins – more evidence that this is a place to please any county soul.

Surrounded by old quilts, old baskets, old ironstone, I feel like I’m visiting relatives from my childhood.  Since much of it is for sale, visitors can take elements of the past home.



I personally brought a wreath with a crow inside, and a pair of earrings made from feathers from the wandering guineas.




The owner gave us permission to take all the photos we wanted; her goal is to share this place with all who will love it.  Quilts posed on farm implements, beside pumpkins, in the garden, and on the porch.



My talented husband worked his magic in post processing.  Some samples are here, more (with details of these quilts) will follow in upcoming posts.

Let’s Strip

Some of my best friends are strippers.  One member of our organization moved away and became a hooker, but stripping seems to remain a favorite activity.

My quilt guild’s annual challenge quilts were presented this week.  This year’s challenge title was “Let’s Strip.”  So, strip we did.

The rules were simple.  Make a “strippy quilt”, any size, any color (no orange required this year), any technique.  That was open to interpretation by the maker.  Refer to antique English quilts, Amish bar quilts, recent jelly roll collections from manufacturers – or any other type of quilt in which you assemble the units in strips.

Members mingle and socialize while examining all the entries before casting their vote.  In addition to choosing their favorite quilt for ribbon awards, members study the quilts for evidence of personalities in the work.  One of the most coveted prizes of the day is the one awarded to the winner of “Guess the Maker”, the person who is able to identify more quilt makers than anyone else.

In the photos, you see Queen Tess moderating.  She periodically announces how much time is remaining for judging and reminds us again to follow directions we tend to ignore.  Here, she is standing in front of Marie’s entry, One Golden Autumn Day.  As winners are announced, they reveal the story behind their entry, then all other members do the same.

This year’s third place ribbon went to Joyce, for Maui Sunrise.




Second place went to Mary, one of our most prolific members.  Mary always does amazing work and has fun doing it.  This fun piece, Chicken Buffet, was no different.  Evidently, the block with the toilet paper was really an interesting one to make!


And, lucky me!  My entry, Autumn Elegance, won the blue ribbon!   My piece measures 29” x 47” and began as a jelly roll (a collection of strips 2 1/2” wide by 40” long) from Cherrywood hand-dyed fabrics.  I added batik leaves, and then quilted it densely using a variety of motifs.

Carol’s entry had to have a name change.  Carol began with strips of flying geese she bought at one of our guild auctions (we clean out our closets and bring things we no longer need and buy and sell from each other).  Thinking they were brought by Betty, she had titled the quilt Miss Betty’s Geese.  Learning that in fact Tess had made and discarded the strips, the quilt title is now Tess’s Geese.

Members aren’t limited to one entry.  Marie finished her large quilt early, then had scraps lying around and made a table runner that complied with the guildelines, too.  (it’s the red and black one with tiny squares in one row).

Susan made her challenge quilt  (behind Tess in this photo) using our friend Candace’s pattern called Sonja’s Windows  (available here).  Susan shared another quilt (the one she and Tess are holding) from the same pattern, not assembled in rows, too.   In addition, Susan made a strippy red and black quilt for the contest.

DeAnn, who is busy building a new house, created a pattern with a story in each panel.  Times in the Garden depicts scenes from each house DeAnn has owned. so this wall hanging is filled with memories she will take with her. to her new home.

Hilda’s title, Study in Black and White, Oops, (seen in the background of a group photo) conveys the message that quilts have a mind of their own sometime.  That red fabric just jumped in!  Janet likes black and white, too.  Her Silhouette came from a pattern she found in McCall’s quilting magazine.

Linda’s Sunrise, Gladys’ Kaleidoscope Pinwheels, and Angie’s Happy Scrappy, added to the inspirational display.


Carolyn’s Rework Nursery Rhymes depicts familiar scenes rendered in hand appliqué and framed with red calico.


Sharon and her grandchildren love to make bubbles, so Sharon made a bubble quilt using some unique materials to depict transparency.

Oh, if you are still wondering about the member I mentioned who left our group, she still keeps in touch.  And she shares photos of the beautiful rugs she’s hooked from strips of woven wool.  So, I guess that makes her a stripper, too.

Our meeting day was a rainy, dreary day, not the best for photography.  I’ve included some views of my quilt in the great outdoors with sun shining on it.

Click on any image to enlarge.



Kaffe visits FDR

Look – it’s a president with one of my quilts!  Not the current president, but a president with ties to Georgia. The statue is in Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park, at Dowdell’s Knob, near Pine Mountain.  We had this quilt along with us and I thought he might be a bit chilly.

Following the photographic lead of Kaffe Kassett and Bruce Lundstrom, I decided to take a quilt on a day trip.  This bright fall day seemed a good time to bring Kaffe’s Walk Through the Woods.  Kaffe Fassett is a California-born artist who has lived in England for the last 50 years or so designing knitting and needlepoint designs.  Known for his bold use of color, Kaffe has added patchwork to his textile repertoire, designing vibrant quilting fabrics and using them in simple patterns.  His books on quilting are fabulous photographic journals.  He takes a collection of quilts to exotic locations and stages photos with extraordinary scenes.  Bruce Lundstrom is the photographer mentioned in my latest post here.

Kaffe’s Walk Through the Woods is made from one of Kaffe’s patterns that I began while taking a class from him in 2009.  The pattern is Diagonal Madness and is the result of cutting lots and lots of squares in two sizes and arranging them on a design wall to create patterns in horizontal, vertical, and diagonal rows.

My quilting sister Tess and I shared a work table that day and boldly chose to ignore directions. Here is  Tess beside her rows of squares.





I thought my work was destined for the trash bin until Kaffe himself gave his critique and elaborated on the smokey, ethereal quality of my color choices.  He remarked that he felt like he was walking through the woods with the leaves shimmering on the trees.  So I had a title and reason to finish it – if Kaffe himself liked it, it was a keeper!   But not right away, of course.

The pieces stayed rolled up in the flannel design “wall” we had used for quite a while.  In 2012, I stitched the pieces together and had one of my longarm quilting friends, Kathy Darley, work her magic on the quilting.  Just look at her feathers in the closeup – Wow! Click on this, or any other photo, to enlarge and examine details.

On this fall day, FDR enjoyed the quilt, too.  At least one park visitor took a photo of a crazy lady warming a statue.  I’d love to hear the stories the lady with the camera had to tell friends about our encounter.

The finished quilt measures 56” x 76”.

You can google Kaffe Fassett and “images” and spend the day being mesmerized and inspired by color.  This link takes you to a page focusing on his patchwork, fabrics, and books: http://www.gloriouscolor.com.  More info including videos are here.

The Glow of Orange

It’s October, cool, and time to think about glorious leaves falling.  I love to see the leaves drift down from the trees, and I love the colors as the chlorophyll breaks down.  The shades of red and yellow taking over from the green are spellbinding.  And orange is there, too.

Orange is not my favorite color in decorating or in quilts.  But this time of year, I incorporate it into our lives.  Our guild’s designated Challenge Queen, Tess, loves to require a bit of orange in her rules; so I’m learning to incorporate it without screaming.  And, if the theme is fall, I get to use pumpkins, which I love.  I love their shapes, texture, and color.  The pillow here is wool appliqué. The pumpkin and leaves wools were purchased hand dyes, the background is a recycled wool skirt, felted and reused.

Two recent projects include pumpkins.  This 5” x 7” framed piece is a pumpkin appliquéd onto a fabric replica of an old sampler in colors of autumn.

Another pumpkin is hand appliquéd on an old linen doily with free-motion machine quilting, hand embroidery, and beading.  It is attached to a remnant of an old quilt and measures 22” x 17”.

The middle layer is a found remnant of linen drapery fabric. I just love the grasshopper.  You can click on any photo to enlarge it, but this is one you might really want to examine.

Above is the entire piece.

This post describes some earlier quilts with fall themes and colors.

And to read more about Tess and challenge quilts, you can type “challenge” in the search box, or click on that category name.  There are several related posts.  Many include orange.

And, an earlier quilt called After the Chlorophyll is here.

The Camera

Sometimes the camera tells a story.  Sometimes the camera is the story.

While exploring in some antique stores on Friday, I found some treasures.  Bits of lace, buttons, old hand embroidery.


And photos of unknown folks with a story to tell.





Jim found a treasure, too.  A miniature 35mm camera with leather case, original box, and paperwork.  He enjoys giving these tools new jobs to do, running a roll of film through them, letting the camera tell stories again.

On Saturday, he took it to a local shop to get a new battery.  The store owner, George, said, “I remember an occasion when I worked on a camera exactly like this one time before.”  It was at a gathering hosted by Phil Walden in the 1970’s.  A fellow came by with a camera like this in his hand, profanely exclaiming that it wasn’t working properly.  George asked what seemed to be the problem, adding, “I work on cameras, I can look at it for you if you like.”  Taking the offered camera, making the necessary adjustments, George got the camera working and handed it back.  Andy walked away and continued photographing the social event.

Years later, the two men’s paths crossed again in New York.  Andy looked at George and said, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”  After hearing, “I repaired a camera for you once in Macon, Ga.,” Mr. Warhol muttered, “Oh, yeah,” as he walked away.

Dyeing Notions

My indigo dye pot has seen action this summer with fabric and notions.  I found a big bag of  wooden buttons in an antique store and wondered, “will these take dye well?”  For a $3 investment, I thought it was worth the risk.  The payoff was spectacular!  I suddenly had a tray filled with blue buttons drying on the back porch.

I love buttons almost as much as I do fabric and love to find old buttons of bone,  horn, or wood to add the perfect note to projects.  These that went in the dye pot were NOT antique treasured wooden buttons.  They were machine-made for craft projects, just hadn’t been used and were being sold for a song.

After that success, I decided to try dyeing some threads.  I have dipped some embroidery floss and some perle cotton.  It adds a little more personality to know that I’m stitching with something unique.

So my latest finished piece is called Blue With Blue on Blue.  I appliquéd the melons onto a vintage linen tea towel, then did minimal machine quilting around the appliqué, and attached the dyed buttons using dyed floss.

 This turned out to be a  fun project which will generate memories of hand stitching, dyeing, and playing every time I see it.  It is now keeping company with another couple of favorite pieces in an out-of-the-way corner that almost no one sees.  But I see it.  And I like it!