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!

Treasures from Toshi

I saw Toshi a few days ago and she came bearing gifts – delightful sacks of fabric scraps.  One was silk, the other indigo cotton.

The Japanese silks were from Toshi’s sewing basket.  A friend had sent her some fabrics from Kyoto, others Toshi had kept from her sewing days.  There was a baker’s dozen silk remnants in all colors, sizes, and weights.  The light reflected off all those colors delights my soul!

And, then, there was the dress in another bag.  Indigo.  I don’t know how old.  Toshi wouldn’t guess, either.  She had begun deconstructing the dress because the indigo is so precious, so beautiful, it needed to be reused somehow.  For sure, it does.  I am thrilled beyond belief.  I was delighted to find woven cotton earlier this year (in black), with a variety of weaves across the yardage.  But to have this in indigo blue, in fabric with a history, oh, my, my.

Even the bags in which Toshi brought these delights were thrilling to me.  The silk remnants were in a small plastic bag with French writing, the outer bag was a Japanese store’s bag with, as you would expect, practical, simple, elegant handles.  And the moment of serendipity came when I realized the dress was in a bag imprinted with the name of a church where Jim’s great-grandfather was once the preacher.  And Toshi has no knowledge of that family history.

Isn’t it fascinating how time and people are woven together?

I’ve incorporated some of the indigo cotton into some blocks I’m hand stitching and I’ve cut squares from each of the silks to make a sampler piece.  The rest will be incorporated into my silk collection for a stunning project.  I think I have enough variety now to make something special.

An update on the baskets on my design wall – they are now assembled into one unit.  The moment when many blocks become one piece of fabric, a quilt top, is always satisfying to me.  In this case, there were 39 blocks and 22 setting triangles stitched together.  Now it’s pinned to my design wall while I contemplate whether to add borders or not, and, if so, what they will look like.

I’m including two photos in the progress of assembling the blocks.  The green bits of tape were used to number blocks as I moved them to the sewing machine, the safety pins reminded me which way to press the seams so they nested when the rows were sewn together.

On My Design Wall

I have a magic wall in my sewing room.  Two 4’ x 8’ sheets of foam insulation board are covered with fleece and nailed to the wall.  They hold projects for me to consider, analyze, rearrange, and organize for sewing.

My grandmother did not have a design wall.  Quilters these days are advised to use a vertical wall to consider color placement and other options in the quiltmaking process.  I am fortunate to have space to have a permanent design wall, but there are options to use one that can be put away when it’s not in use.

In the photo here, you see that my space is larger than most quilts I make.  The left side holds a wall quilt in progress.  Once I start sewing the blocks together, I’ll put them back on the wall in units so the layout doesn’t become confusing.  The magic of this wall is that fabric clings to the fleece (or flannel, or batting, whatever you use) without pins. This makes it easy to move blocks around until the arrangement is just right!  Once several blocks are sewn together, the weight sometimes makes it necessary to add pins to hold things in place.  And, yes, I do move to the floor when the whole thing is too cumbersome to hang – but by then the design decisions have been made.

My wall also serves as a holding station for projects on the way to becoming.  As I see pieces in progress (as on the right side of the photo here) I plan ways to bring them to completion, or combine them with another project.  Serendipity comes into play sometimes as stray blocks sit beside each other and become companions in a quilt.


The blocks on the wall are a reinterpretation of Miss Lily’s Red Baskets, which I shared here.  I stitched all these little baskets (they finish at 5 1/2” square) with Kaffe Fassett fabrics onto a Cherrywood background.  Once I put them on the wall, they needed something.  I decided to use the focus baskets like one in Miss Lily’s project, but, rather than one, I used three.  And, rather than a bow, I added these birds cut from a funky whimsical fabric I had on hand.  The leaves came from that fabric, too.  While the baskets are all needleturn applique, the birds and leaves are raw-edged.  They are held in place with Jude Hill’s invisible baste stitch.  As I do the free motion machine quilting, I’ll stitch these pieces down.

This photo shows my debate about using all basket blocks, or including some free-flying birds.

As usual, you can click on any image to enlarge it.  When done, just exit the photo and you’ll come back to this page.

Witches on Parade

My friend Penny came to visit.  Penny is oh-so-talented.  With a sewing machine, and with a paintbrush.  Usually, she paints furniture and stitches with fabric – but this day she brought fabric she had painted.

Serendipity again…she was using a pattern developed by Meg Hawley of Crabapple Hill.  That’s serendipity because I had recently watched Meg on an episode of The Quilt Show, so I had a better understanding of her technique.  Meg uses crayons on fabric, then embellishes with some embroidery.  Penny is using Derwent Inktense pencils which yield a very vibrant color.  I love it, don’t you?

The details in this group of witches is amazing.  Every time I looked at the piece, I saw more fun surprises hidden.  Penny has personalized hers, of course, making it even more special.  I can’t wait to see the final result

Here is a photo of another panel in progress.  Look how much control she has with the shading and contour.  Coloring books moved to fabric!

I know Penny is like me, she juggles several projects at once.  So whether these witches will be marching across a finished quilt by this Halloween or not, I’m not sure.  But she’s promised to share with me as it goes, and I’ll be sure to post final pictures, too.

In the meantime, she brought some of these pencils to share with me, so I’m off to play now.

Note:  These photos were taken with my phone, but you can click to enlarge an image and see more and more of Penny’s details.  Do that in the parade, and be enchanted (or maybe under a spell).

Sewing on the Road

We took a road trip yesterday and I did some sewing while riding.  I haven’t done that in a while.  Lately, I’ve been enjoying the scenery, sometimes helping with navigation and driving.  Before leaving home today, I grabbed one of my favorite projects to go:  English Paper Piecing.

I love this technique.  Some of the first quilt making I did was using this method.  In Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden, I pieced the hexagons for the background by basting fabric to freezer paper templates.  This was a great travel project while visiting with my mother during the years of her life in an assisted living facility, in hospitals while family members were receiving treatment, and later a repeat of the situation with my mother-in-law.

I’ve found other kinds of hand work to be portable, too.  I’ve done wool appliqué and the seed stitch while riding, details described here.  But for quick preparation for an on-the-move project, EPP can’t be topped.  Today I grabbed a mini-charm pack of fabric, some hexagons I had cut from card stock (using my AccuQuilt Go, and a little tin of supplies I keep at the ready.  In this box is a pair of scissors, a couple of pins, a needle, a thimble, and thread.  I can grab it and go.

Here’s a photo of all I got done in the car…of the 42 fabrics in the collection, I think there are 5 left to be basted.  The rest are ready to attach together or to something else.

 

 


Once home, I pulled out this bag of templates to make my version of La Passacaglia, a complex EPP project of many shapes.  I love the geometry of it all, and began playing with it a while back, especially using some fabric with symmetrical designs to demonstrate possibilities while teaching the technique.  It’s all stored where I can pull it out and work on it a while, put it away, and visit again later.  Pieces in progress are pictured in the pile. (The orange and blue probably won’t end up in my final quilt, not colors I like…I was just playing with the colors and symmetry of the fabric in this rosette.)  I took this to our guild a few months ago, planning to offer the whole caboodle for sale at a bargain.  Now I’m glad I rethought it.  Who knows when a ready-to-go project will come in handy?  When Jim says, “let’s go,” I say “I’m ready.  Where?”.  But I feel better knowing I have some sewing to take along, even if it just goes for a ride and doesn’t get touched.

Mom and Apple Pie

 


A friend visiting in our home said, “what are you working on now?”  I spread this quilt top on the floor in the den.  His comment, “Oh, boy!  That’s just Mom, and Apple Pie, and more, isn’t it?”  I agreed, mentally noting that this project now had a name.


The appliqué for this quilt was done based on patterns from Alma Allen and Barb Adam’s book, Celebration of American Life.  Today most quilt makers change something about the pattern as they work, and almost always change the name to represent their interpretation.

The patterns for the blocks are like those in the pattern except for the lower left block.  I personalized that one, substituting a watermelon slice for their orange, and added some figs, using the broderie perse technique (an age-old method of using designs printed on fabric).  My border and sashing are totally different, too.


The appliqué is something I typically do at night in front of the tv, or when sewing away from home.  One the fabrics are selected and the pieces are prepared, I keep just the supplies for that block (these squares measure 20” on each side) in my sewing basket so the work is portable.  Once all the blocks are finished and sewn together, the big unit is a stay-at-home project.

Another work habit of mine is to select the fabrics at the beginning of a project and set them aside in a basket so they are designated for this quilt and don’t get used in another piece before this is done.  I like to repeat fabrics across the quilt to make the design cohesive, so the same greens used as leaves in one block appear again in several others.  It’s easier to do this if I have a limited selection of fabrics as I prepare each block.  It may take months to complete the appliqué on a big quilt such as this.


I quilted this using 100 weight silk thread, echoing the appliquéd design with stitching lines 1/4” apart.  I refer to hand-guided, freemotion quilting as dancing with my sewing machine, even on a project this large.  This quilt measures  75” x 95”.  I start in the center, working outward block by block on a quilt such as this.  My large table supports the weight and bulk of the quilt as I work.


I don’t normally keep up with the time I spend working on a quilt, but for some reason, I did do that on this one.  The time I spent sitting in the chair pushing the quilt around under the needle while it was moving up and down was 65 hours.  That was spread over 3 months, I think. I work in 30-45 minute intervals and more than two sessions a day is exhausting.  That’s why I have another sewing machine set up so I can be piecing or sewing on something else during those weeks that a big quilt is under the needle.

The finished quilt measures 75” x 95”, covering a queen-sized bed.  It has made a few public appearances, winning ribbons at our local guild show last March, at the Georgia National Fair in Perry last November, and was juried into the AQS Show in Paducah, KY last month.  It is currently en route to the East Cobb Quilt Guild show in Marietta, GA, scheduled for June 8-10.

Free Form Log Cabins

I love hand piecing.  There’s something about pulling a needle and thread through cloth that soothes me.  It’s the rare day that I don’t have to do a little stitching before going to bed.  Most of the time, it’s during the couple of hours after supper when we watch tv.

Even after spending hours in my sewing room as I did yesterday, cutting and sewing at the machine, I still find it necessary to unwind by stitching a bit.

My current project is pictured here.  Log cabin-style blocks that approximate 5” finished.  Mostly in blues and whites.  I was inspired by a blog entry by Jude Hill a few weeks ago when she was piecing some free form log cabins.  I started my own and can’t stop.  It’s so addictive.  Part of the fun is using special fabrics.  Many of these pieces came from clothing remnants, some from scraps of vintage linens.  I selected some special fabrics to be the “heart” of the blocks, too.  Some bits of embroidery, some pieces of a friend’s silk jacket, various old treasures lying about.

In theory, the blocks start with 1” squares and use 1” logs.  But, if the chosen center element is larger, I just adjust as I go.  I have some templates lying nearby and use them sometimes, but other times I just eyeball it and start stitching.

I’m using Jude’s technique of invisible basting the seam allowances open, too.  It makes subsequent stitching so pleasant.

I have no plan.  I’m just stitching for fun.  Enjoying the process, letting the assembly evolve.  I did scatter a few blocks on the design wall a few days ago, on top of a piece of silk I had dipped in the dye pot.  Here’s how that looked.

 

 

Some years ago, I made this little wall hanging.  (I wrote about this before, remembering that I sewed the binding on while visiting a B & B.) Here, I hand pieced tumbling blocks from assorted blue fabrics.  Then I did use a template to have exactly the same sized blocks, and I used commercial fabric.  I collected beloved blue fabrics, including the fossil fern (I love that fabric!) in the border.

A blue and white toile on the back is a favorite of mine, too.  I quilted it using free motion quilting, invisible nylon thread and cotton batting.  It measures 26” square.

Generally, commercial fabrics are not nearly so much fun to stitch as the softer, thinner, more loosely woven fabrics I’m using now.  And the memories ….memories of the homespun jumper my mother made for me and I wore for years, the shirt Jim wore with his overalls, the threadbare linen jacket of mine, and the remnants I dyed indigo last summer make these pieces special to handle.  Those memories don’t come off a bolt in a store.

What’s in a Name?

Sarah Beth, Sarah Bob, Sarah Frances.  Margaret Ann, Lou Emmelyn, Mary Frances; all are common names in the South.  And with women, both halves of the double names are used on a daily basis.  Shortened forms of Mary Elizabeths I’ve known were Lilly Bet, Mae Liz, and the ever popular Mary Beth. To get the right perspective here, you should read the list aloud, slowly.  Very slowly.  Put a little twang in there.  Now you’ve got it.

Names run through cycles of popularity.  In one generation, almost all the Sadies have died out.  Then there is a rash of little Sadies running around. I think that particular name is beautiful, because it is beautiful, and the Sadie (actually in her generation it was Sadie Belle) in my life was a beautiful person.  She is the woman pictured at the top of this post.  There was a beautiful Cleo in my life, too.  But I’m not hoping to see that name resurrected.  The same goes for Ena Belle, Maudie Lee, and Mary Etta.  Those don’t roll trippingly off the tongue.

In the South, if a woman doesn’t have a double name already, we make it so by adding Miss or Aunt.  Miss Lily, Miss Emily, Aunt Gladys (though no kinship exists) were big in my life.  And then I became Miss Sandy.

When it comes time to naming quilts, I sometimes resort to the southern names of my childhood.  I’ve made a Miss Lily’s Basket, Ruby’s Red Bouquet, Miss Emily’s BasketsOllie Jane’s Flower Garden was named for my grandmother and the pieced pattern used for the center.  Granny Zee’s Scrap Baskets has a sentimental reason for its name, too.

Miz Sadie Turns 80 was made for my mother-in-law in 2004.  The blocks are the traditional Ohio Star blocks, finished at 9”.  Sashing is 1” wide (beginning my insistence that narrow sashing separates, but doesn’t overwhelm the blocks).  The overall quilt measures 63” square. It is pictured here hanging at the Georgia National Fair in 2004, one of the first quilt competitions I entered.  It won a blue ribbon, and Miz Sadie was so pleased that she asked if she could have the ribbon, too.  The quilt hung in her home with ribbon attached, as long as she lived there.

The label is a sunprinted image using metal letters used in scrapbooking as the mask.  I didn’t have three lower case s’s, thus the spelling of Miz. The quilting is a pantagraph done by Pat Holston on her longarm.  This quilt was featured in a Kansas City Star publication, My Stars, in 2009.

 

Soulful Stitching

I’ve written before about how stitching soothes my soul.  That happens when I’m in front of the tv and multitasking, when I’m visiting with family and friends and my hands are busy, or sometimes when riding in the car.  Those are often the times when my hand stitching gets done.
I realize I need to add some opportunity to quietly do some hand stitching when I’m alone. Watching Jude Hill’s videos remind me of how studying the texture formed by stitch gives way to thoughts about light and shadow, contrasting textures, symbolic meaning of weave and stitch, even relationships between people.  Though I’m not sure my thoughts run as deep as do hers, I know that mindful stitching leads to deeper appreciation of everything.

As I watched her video where Jude is adding white hearts to a heavily stitched white nine-patch and emphasizing the touch points of the hearts with red thread, she notices that they remind her of a scar.  Her perception always gives me pause, and this struck me deeply.

 

I can’t explain why, but I had a flashback to my life working with teachers.  One of my colleagues heard a teacher say, “we like this book because we can go in the classroom and teach without having to think about it.”  Harriet said to me, “I don’t want teachers who don’t think about what they are teaching.”  Indeed.

Sometimes I sew without thinking about sewing.  And, that is relaxing to me, to be sure.   The rhythmic pulling of thread through cloth allows my mind to be somewhere else, planning something.  But Jude’s symbology in her work, her soul searching thoughts remind me to pursue even more depth in my stitching stories.  She reminds me that only when we share the stories behind our work, the symbology we’ve included, the strategies we’ve used, do others really appreciate our art. I admit if I had seen the white hearts on white stitching, I might not have noticed the red thread, and if I had, I might not have made the “scar” connection.

A needle and thread are how I’m stitching myself to the universe these days, so I don’t want it to be shallow.  With the recent art quilts I’ve been making, I try to ensure that the viewer knows the story behind the photo or appreciates the handwork in a vintage remnant.  I hope that seeing the connection between my work and some element of the past will cause one to think of their own family’s past generations and find the stories that are there.

Another word on Jude Hill and her influence on me.  I found her online a few years ago and realized she was offering some online courses.  The latest series was already underway and i had missed it.  I resolved right then to get in the next one.  But then she opened up her vast base of videos and audios for free.  You are free to watch them and make a donation or not (I have).  But I found a quote from her in one of them that resonates with me.  She was responding to a comment from someone who had warned her, “you share too much of your process.  Protect your art.”…

Jude’s response:  “And, by the way, just to be clear, sharing IS my art.  And in case you haven’t noticed, I am out singing in it.” Sept 10, 2015

Wow.  I have noticed.  And, I am amazed by it.

You can learn more about Jude Hill and her work at http://spiritcloth.typepad.com.

My earlier posts with references to her work are here, and here, and here.

Photos:  The photos of the “beast” piece is one I was fortunate enough to buy from Jude.  When her pieces go on sale, you have to be sitting at the computer watching (or lucky) because they sell quickly.  I love having this piece to examine.  Seeing her stitches and handling her work informed me of her techniques so much that I began to consider selling some of my own work.  If my work could help another quilt maker with a particular technique, or if the final result gave a viewer satisfaction, than I would be willing to share it that way.   You see images of the whole piece, approximately 6” x 9”, and closeups of the front and back.

The photos of the blue hearts are my work.  I made that piece after watching Jude’s Whispering Hearts series of posts on her Feel Free site.  That piece may become part of something else or be finished as is.  That’s one thing Jude and I have in common.  A work may be started, then incubate a while as ideas mature, then later become complete as it is or as part of something else.

This post is published with permission from Jude Hill.

Sharing and Learning

In recent months, I’ve had several opportunities to share my quilting stories.  The emphasis is on sharing – listening to quilting stories from other people as much telling them about mine.  There is the frequent conversation beginning with, “I remember seeing my grandmother make quilts,” but there are many different experiences along those lines.  I also hear, “I’ve always wanted to learn to quilt”, “I have my mother’s sewing machine”, and “I find it so relaxing to sit and stitch.”   I never hear, “what is a quilt?”  Everyone seems to have memories of quilts in their lives.

I never tire of hearing about memories associated with quiltmaking, but I find that I learn about my own experiences in those conversations, too.  When asked questions about why I do what I do, I am often surprised to hear my answer.  I don’t always verbalize to myself the reasoning behind an approach.

A few weeks ago, I spent three days sharing Fifty-two Tuesdays, the quilt and the book at Mistletoe Market ( a festival-like weekend shopping experience in Perry, Ga.).  As I repeatedly summarized my experience with that journal quilt, I came to realize how that adventure changed my focus from traditional quilts to story quilts.  In the fifty-two weeks of 2015, I depicted a scene that represented an experience in my life each week.  I also explored every quilting technique I could, in essence making it a sampler quilt, too.   In so doing, I tried things that I would not have wanted to pursue on a large scale.

I learned that printing on silk fabric gave a luster to photographs that seemed dull when printed on paper or canvas.  Now I’ve explored that more fully with several art quilts. (Examples written about here are Swamp Bird, Flowers for Phyllis, and  Commonly Uncommon).  Success with that approach gave me confidence to try something totally different.  I had old photographs I wanted to print on fabric and wondered if I could successfully use old linen or cotton fabric in keeping with the vintage photo.  It worked and I’ve played with that numerous times. (Some are Spinster Sisters, My Daddy wore Overalls, and Galadrielle.)

Shortly after that market experience, I was scheduled to share my work with a civic group.  I’m accustomed to presenting trunk shows to quilt guilds, but groups of non-quilters are a new experience this year.  The self-examination I had realized in the days at Mistletoe Market allowed me to better understand and therefore explain my transition from the traditional quilt world to the art quilt world.

Make no mistake, I still love traditional quilts and will continue to make those.  But the freedom to tell a story in a small piece of cloth, using traditional quiltmaking techniques is very compelling right now.

As I started a new file for my 2017 journal entries, I couldn’t help but ponder the possibilities of this prime year.  I even wrote a blog post entitled Prime Time, reflecting that since 2017 is a prime number, we should all use that to try something different.  But I never published that post, because I couldn’t conclude with what I proposed to try differently myself.  The list I made of 2016 efforts was so eye-opening, I just want to keep on keeping on with what I’ve learned.

I am assembling the blocks from Fifty-Two Wednesdays, my journal quilt for 2016.  I’m still imagining what the journal quilt for 2017 might be – if I do the weekly quilt block again.  I have a few days to decide; I will continue the weekly format I’ve done before, using Thursday as my deadline.

 

About the photos: hexagonal images are from Fifty-Two Tuesdays.  Rectangular blocks are from Fifty-Two Wednesdays.  Notice that the scenes from the 2016 quilt are not yet quilted.  In addition to changing the shape of the block, I chose not to “quilt-as-I-went” this time, leaving the quilting until after assembly.