Preserving the Past in Cloth

Susan Lenz workI just spent two wonderful, inspiration-filled days with Susan Lenz and new quilting friends in the Wiregrass Quilt Guild.

Susan’s work touched me the minute I saw her on The Quilt Show in November, 2015.  I found her website, read more and more about her work, and saw that her Last Words show was then on display at the Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum in Carrollton.  Jim and I drove to see it and I was even more enthralled.

A few months later, I visited another iteration of this display at the GA Agriculture Museum in Tifton.  Then I had a chance to talk with Susan in the midst of her work.  We were surrounded by vintage textiles exhibiting rubbings from gravestones, simple stitches, and button embellishments.  There were ethereal chiffon panels with stitched epitaphs that she had collected from visits to cemeteries.  There was a canopy like one would expect to see over a massive bed comprised entirely of vintage doilies and lace.

And, now, for the past two days, I’ve dug into her bins of vintage textiles, lace, buttons, beads, and threads making my own composition using her techniques.  My new friends and I have wandered through a cemetery with silk and crayons and found meaningful words to include in our textile stories.  We have played with Susan’s embellishing machine, sewn on her battered but still humming Bernina, and shared stories of quiltmaking and costume sewing.

Included throughout the two days were pauses to write and reflect about our experiences.  We discussed the psychology of beginning and finishing projects; multi-tasking, and our intended legacies of our work in cloth.

So to sum it up; sewing, sharing stories, journaling about it.  A word frequently sought to “rub” in cemeteries is Heaven.  Yep, that’s it.Susan Lenz working

Photos:  Susan Lenz demonstrating grave rubbing technique on cloth and one sample of her work.  Permission granted by Susan to include images.

Embellishing with Paula

no presser footIf I had known old ladies had so much fun, I would have aged faster.

Today was session two with Paula Reid.  We stitched ribbons and beads and baubles.  We used dental floss implements, funky charms, and fancy stitches with specialty threads.  We made new friends and laughed a lot!

I even won a cone of wine thread.  Yes, you read that right, wine.  I told you old ladies had fun!

Not only did we disengage our feed dogs, we removed the presser foot!  Sewing is not for wimps.  But, man is it fun!  I have a new tool in my arsenal.  Now I know more ways to use those beads and baubles and fancy fibers I’ve collected.

Every member of the class was playing with ribbons and threads in a different way.  Taking a class is so inspirational – not only do you have an experienced teacher who shares her knowledge, but other participants spin off in different directions.  Take a class!

Simply Quilts was still on tv when I began quiltmaking in 2001.  I was still working, so I recorded the show every day, then watched it when I got home.  I learned most everything I know about quilting basics that way.  When I heard Paula Reid was coming to town, I knew she quilted on a domestic machine as I do, using what she calls the “fluff and stuff” method.  I also remembered her episode on beading and embellishments where she removed the presser foot.  I felt like I knew her already, because I had watched those SQ episodes over and over.

Online quilting shows still keep me up-to-date with the latest artists breaking the mold, or perfecting the mold, but it’s not the same.  I spend money to subscribe to some of the online shows ( hosted by Ricky Tims and Alex Anderson is my primary resource).  I watch some youtube videos, too.

I read quilting blogs.  I listen to quilting podcasts. I follow links to other artists’ work from Facebook.  I goggle names of people whose work I see in magazines and online.

But nothing takes the place of on-site, person-to-person contact with an expert.  Thanks, Couture Sewing Center, for bringing Paula.  And, thank you, Paula, for coming to GA, and sampling our grits.  And, thank you, fellow classmates, for a fun two-day sewing experience!

Time Travel

Barnsley Gardens houseI am creating a journal quilt again this year, Fifty-two Wednesdays.  Each week, I select one image from my life and stitch it into a rectangular block.

The week ending on Wednesday, April 27, was filled with possibilities.  We were in Padcuah, KY at the annual AQS show there, ending each day with time on the river.  Of course, the thousands of inspirational ideas from quilts and vendors there would make many quilts, and we played on a caboose, saw bison in a prairie at Land Between the Lakes, and made a special trip to photograph fields of canola.

But the image that has been front and center in my brain since Sunday morning is that of the hauntingly beautiful walls of the house at Barnsley Gardens.  Cotton broker Godfrey Barnsley bought 10,000 acres of land outside Adairsville, GA, and began building a manor house in 1842.

More than a century of misfortune had brought the mansion and its once magnificent gardens to ruin.  You can read details at wikipedia or other online sources, but the Civil War and a tornado in 1906 explain a lot.  In 1988, the remains of the property including the manor house were purchased and restoration begun.

I was entranced.  Spellbound.  On this quiet Sunday morning, Jim and I were in another world, another time.  The skies were spectacularly blue, the sun bright, but at that early morning angle that photographers love.  Shadows changed with every tilt of the head and with every step on the wooden floors.

Bare brick walls nearing two centuries in age reached to the sky.  Window openings, sometimes with wooden frames clinging to the old mortar, were more spiritual than any stained glass window.  Empty tealight holders nestled in openings in the brick walls, hinting at how magical this place would be in the darkness, too.

Before we left the trails surrounding the house, Clent Coker, author and historian, caught up with us and filled in some details of the restoration.  His knowledge gave us a more complete understanding of the family and the land here.  I am so thankful that someone decided to preserve this beautiful place as part of the lovely resort that is now on site.  I am more thankful that they stopped before recreating a fine Italian villa.  I love the crumbling bricks covered with algae, the skeletal structure of the building revealed.

This place will appear in Fifty-two Wednesdays and perhaps other quilt projects as well.  I photographed bare walls with plans to stitch vines growing on them. I photographed the foyer floor whose brick inlay pattern looks like a unique quilt layout to me.  And the three-tiered fountain and flowers blooming may show up in yet other projects.

“Seemingly insignificant moments…”,  Jim remarked as we drove away.  Had it not been for traffic delays and detours on Saturday, this magical Sunday morning might not have been part of our story.



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.


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.

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.


Dear Manager:

Congratulations!  You did a good day’s work when you hired Alexis.change at zaxbys

I don’t know Alexis personally, but I know she is a fine young lady.  She took our order at lunchtime today when things were quite busy.  After we paid and secured a table, poured our drinks, and were waiting for our order, she came to find me to tell me that she charged me too much.  I had ordered a Zax snack and she had charged me for a Big Zax snack.  She needed to refund my money.

She was so polite as she asked me to step over to the cash register.  She calmly explained to the people next in line that she needed to help a previous customer.  When she asked another cashier for clarification about the process, they were both calm and collected.  When her supervisor, or whoever had the code to make such a correction came over, all employees were still unruffled.

So, I, a customer who never would have known there was an error, was spellbound as this 16-year-old lady realized she had made a mistake and went about correcting it with poise. Your books now balance with your inventory, your business’s bank balance is $1.50 lower than it would have been, but we are all richer.

There is hope for the future; for the future of our country, of your business, and for Alexis.  Certainly for Alexis.

My new friend Janet

FullSizeRenderI arrived at our quilt show today to find Janet waiting for me.  Janet lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  She had read about our show, and my quilt, 52 Tuesdays, in our local newspaper while here working with Habitat for Humanity.

Janet’s first words to me were, “this is my life,” pointing to the quilt.  She said, “I taught high school math for 30 years, retired, and started quilting.”  I agreed, this is her quilt, too.  We share a love of geometry, retirement, sewing, and life!

janets dear janeJanet reached in her bag and showed me some Dear Jane blocks she’s been making while traveling around the country with Habitat.  She’s piecing them all by hand in their RV, buying a fat quarter in every stop they make to build a house.

That Dear Jane project is Janet’s journal of her travels and adventures.  I’m so glad that 52 Tuesdays led her to visit with me and tell me her stories. We talked math curriculum, joys of family, strategies for quilting, and the technical aspects of sewing machines.   Through the wonder of email, we can stay connected.  I can’t wait to see what her travel journals reveal.  Especially the ones in cloth.

They’re here…..

books are here

They’re here…


The books are here!

After a year of stitching and thinking, “this could become a book,” while never really believing it, big boxes are here at my house filled with copies of my words.  And photographs of my stitching.  My designs.  My life.


I had an idea.  I began stitching.  I developed a journal format to write details as I went.  I wrote more details about the thought process in another journal.  All just in case this really worked.

It did.

With the help of a friend who gave form to my raw material.  It did.

They’re here!