Spinster Sisters

spinster-sistersNeither of them ever married.  This photo was taken sometime around 1912.  They were 18 and 15 at the time.  Within ten years, their mother would be confined to a wheelchair, their older sister would die in childbirth, leaving two young daughters to their care.

The family was rich in acreage, but World War I and the  boll weevil meant cash was in short supply, and these two women contributed financially to the household.

The older of the two earned teaching credentials, sometimes living with families in distant communities (ten miles from home) and sending money home.  The younger ran the household as the orphaned nieces and younger sister grew up.

They saw women get the right to vote, lived through the Great Depression, and World War II.  There were adventures, too:  travel with an eccentric millionaire, letters from faraway lands, and a barnstorming adventure.  Charles Lindberg did fly in Georgia, was he the pilot?

spinster-sisters-olderDuring WWII, the teacher was offered “script” as her paycheck (a promise for money from the state someday), so she traveled further to work in a naval ordinance plant.  The younger worked as a switchboard operator and in so doing, connected many families to news of their beloved ones.  She was the first in town to get the word that the war was over, running down the stairs of the downtown office to spread the news.

As they laid their parents to rest and saw their young charges grow up and establish lives of their own, they continued to hold their shares of the land together, hiring others to farm the land while they moved to town.  They lived together until the death of the younger from breast cancer at age 49.  A few years later, the older would face the same diagnosis, but her treatment would be successful.  She would live her life productively until the age of 91.

These women were a big part of my childhood.  From them I learned that life is to be lived fully and to be enjoyed on a daily basis.  It may be hard to meet responsibilities in front of you, but complaints don’t help; just get the job done with a smile on your face.

Because of them, I am not surprised to read the ‘revelation’ that spinster does not have to be a derogatory term.  In the later Middle Ages, the term spinster was first used.  Then, it denoted a person who spins yarn and therefore has a marketable skill.   Memories of these sisters convey the modern interpretation of” a woman who can live independently and doesn’t need a man to be happy.”

spinster-sisters-backDetails of quilt:  A vintage photo (circa 1912) of two unmarried sisters was printed on a remnant of a vintage linen tablecloth.  Hand-guided, free-motion machine quilting was used to add detail, lace collars and beading were added with hand stitching.  The linen background for the photo was attached to a vintage linen log cabin quilt made from silk.  A vintage cotton doily was used for the label.

Hand stitching on the piece was completed while demonstrating work at the Georgia National Fair.  The quilt finishes at 16” x 20”.

Preserve the Story

SG at Southern Crescent“This has been so good for me today.  I’ve been so down in the dumps lately.  I lost my best friend and have been unable to do anything.  Now I have new ideas and I’m going to make….”

These words came from a new friend at a quilt guild where I gave a talk yesterday.  She came up to me at the end, when people had questions or wanted to see a quilt up close again.  She was beautiful, seemingly calm, serene; her outward appearance did not reveal her troubled soul.  But she and I know that stitching will soothe her.  She can make something while thinking of her friend.  She will recapture memories in the threads and forever after, when she looks at that finished project, she will remember the good times as well as the sorrow that she felt with the loss.

My talk was Capturing a Story in a Quilt.  I shared stories that had prompted a quilt project of mine, like Granny Zee’s Scrap Baskets, or Government Bird Going for a Ride, as well as stories that evolved with the quilt (one example being Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden).

The centerpiece of the talk was Fifty-Two Tuesdays, a Journal Quilt, where I intentionally set out to chronicle a year of my life in fabric.  But all of us who stitch know that every quilt we make holds memories; of friends who sat with us as we stitched, of travels where some fabric was purchased, or situations in life that accompanied the project’s progress.

In order for others to know those stories that live within the quilts, we need to write them down.  A story quilt is a good visual cue to share family stories with future generations, but a written record will help preserve the details.

A quilting friend has recently prepared a manuscript ready to print a few copies as gifts for family members.  A daughter-in-law interested in genealogy asked Ethel to write down some family stories, so she did.  Keeping it simple, she wrote as if she were talking to this daughter-in-law.  No editors, or publishers, or agents are needed these days, even if you want it bound and want multiple copies.

I treasure some memories my aunt wrote on scraps of stationery; she shared stories my mother had told me, but the details were fuzzy.  I love that I have a written record of those childhood stories, compliments of my cousin Susie and her copying machine.

I left yesterday’s meeting with new friends and new intentions.  Some of them shared their plans to write down memories associated with their quilts.  I saw projects that inspire me to go to the sewing machine!

SG3 at Southern Crescent

Memories for Sale

photos family birthdaysIn the Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron advises artists to “take your inner artist on a date once a week.”  Go to a museum, or a movie, or the beach, to feed your soul.  Go alone.

I don’t do that.  Not exactly that.  No schedule, no plan.  But I do enjoy the moment when it happens.  Seize the day.  Or the hour.  Or the 15 minutes in a hot, old mill where antiques are sold.

photo shopping SGThat’s where you see me in this photo.  Shuffling though family memories.  Not my family, but a family for sale.  Well, their memories are for sale.

Sad, you say.  Yes. It is sad that a bunch – I estimate 500 or more in the bin I picked though (I looked at every one, bought dozens) family photos were sold in bulk to a stranger. The names and places may be gone, but the stories are still there.

I don’t know the name of the family, the location of the photos, or even the time frame for certain.  But because they look so much like old photos in my family, I can guess 1950s and 1960s.  I know they lived in a house with a backyard, that they built a water feature there at some point, they had a spot where they always took photos on birthdays.  As the children aged, the bushes at the corner of the house grew and matured.  The birthday boy or girl was almost always situated in the same spot with that corner of the house in the background.  photo birthday boyUsually it was the child alone with the cake, sometimes sitting on the ground, many times with the cake on a stool from inside the house.  Later there was a picnic table added, and the cake sat there.

And, then the birthdays moved inside.  My photographer husband notes that they got a camera with a flash.  I didn’t think of that, but I’m sure he’s right.

I know this family dressed up for Easter, for Scout meetings, and what I hope was “tacky day” at school.  They hunted Easter eggs in an area with pine trees and broomsedge.  They visited older relatives, went to the beach a few times, to the mountains, and had family members in the armed forces.  They fed ducks and went to a petting zoo. There were graduations, engagements, and a big anniversary celebration in later years.  They bought new cars now and then, kids got wheels, too – wagons, tricycles, and then bicycles.

The core family consisted of a Mom, Dad, son, daughter.  There were extended family members; brothers and sisters of the parents, their spouses, grandparents, close friends.

Mom baked cakes and kept an immaculate house.  Dad worked hard and enjoyed playing with the children after work.  They paid their bills on time, added a few improvements to the half-acre they called home as extra money allowed, and were good neighbors.  You may think my imagination has run away with me here, and you could be right.  But I think I know these people.

At least I know a family I imagine like this and that makes my day better.  If I can create art from these photos that conveys part of that good feeling, that’s good for even more people.

So, is it still sad for the photos to be sold?

Is this what Julia Cameron wants to come out of my date with my inner artist each week?

I’ve already been working on more photos on fabric since Flag Bearer was done.  Several are in various stages of completion; you’ll be seeing some soon.

And I’m pretty sure you expect a fabric story based on these children and their birthday cakes.  Yep, I’m doing that!

Old Churches

Old Churches fullI can hear joyous voices raised in song when I see an old church.  A well-proportioned steeple reaching to the heavens is pleasing.  Stained glass windows are nice.  But even without those finer details, old churches thrill my soul.  I know there are stories within those walls.  Stories of peace and solace received there, of friendship and loving support in hard times, of comfort in grief.  There are stories of gossip and scandal and intrigue, too.

We often stop the car on our backroad jaunts to photograph an old church.  But on a recent Saturday, we went on an expedition with a local camera club to photograph a select group of historic churches in a rural county nearby.  My husband has recently joined this group; thus the title of my latest quilt, Old Churches, New Friends.

Jim’s photos are of the highest resolution, with crisp details.  I often print his photos on silk fabric which conveys this sharpness.  But I wanted these photos to reflect the historic quality of the adventure, so I printed them on pieces of a vintage linen tablecloth, most of them in black and white.  I loved the result – the coarseness of the fabric conveyed a grainy effect on the photos.  Perfect.

old churches sunI continued the primitive look by hand stitching the photos to another old piece of linen.  The rough weave of this background fabric did not allow me to write on it successfully, so I printed the names of the churches on commercially prepared cotton fabric, and stitched memorable words using free motion stitching on the sewing machine.

Old Churhes treeProvidence Baptist in Shady Dale was founded in 1810 and included some Revolutionary War soldiers as some of the first members.  As I walked through the cemetery, I found a very old section and one grave with a magnificent cedar tree growing at its head.  My thought was, “when this soldier died, he became a tree.”  So, that photo grew into a tree on my quilt.

Hopewell Baptist Church was covered with a tarp as it is awaiting a new roof.  But the architecture of it was amazing; not because of towers and turrets, but because of its simple beauty.  The windows and shutters spoke volumes to me and to the other Sandy along on the trip.  She and I photographed them from every angle and I drew sketches of them as we stood there sharing our love of their structure.  Then we noticed the shape of the vent in the front of the church.  Not the square, rectangle, or rhombus that is often the case, but a kite.  So, a geometry discussion was included in the day as well.

Old Churches rolled upThe block on the outside of the quilt is an appliquéd version of one of the windows of that church.  I made another one of these replicas for that week’s block in my journal quilt for 2106, Fifty-Two Wednesdays.  That image seems to symbolize the day to me.

 

Old Churches Queen Anne's LaceSince beginning work on Fifty-Two Tuesdays, I’ve wanted to make other journal quilts, some which chronicled a single trip, or a single day.  This example will just say to others, “nice. They photographed some old churches.”  But to me and to Jim, when we see it, we will remember the friends, the back roads, Queen Anne’s Lace blooming all along the roadsides, and fried chicken.

Old Churches labelDetails of quilt:  Finished measurements are 17” x 38”.  Vintage linen, commercial quilting cotton fabrics.  Label is made from a vintage woman’s handkerchief.  Hand stitching, machine stitching, free-motion quilting.

Another note:  There is a website with beautiful photos and stories related to this adventure, Historic Rural Churches of Georgia.  I’ve found details about some of the ones we’ve visited, and added to our list of “want to visit”, too.

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.

The Peddler’s Quilt

Mr. GlazeThis gentleman is Mr. Luther Glaze, a peddler who sold fabric to my husband’s grandmother, Zelema, in the 1920’s and 30’s. Once a week, Mr. Glaze arrived  in his truck, his wares protected with a canvas cover.  “Granny Zee” never paid him with money, but with butter and eggs from her farm.

"Sadie Belle's Scrap Baskets", 2007. Made from scraps from my mother-in-law's mother's fabrics. Zelma Carter bought these from a peddler, Luther Glaze. She never paid cash, but paid him with butter and eggs. All fabrics except the white bacground came from her 1930's stash.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The quilt here, “Granny Zee’s Scrap Baskets,” is one I made in 2007 using fabrics left from some of Zee’s sewing.  Her daughter, Sadie Belle, was my mother-in-law.  In her twilight years, Ms. Sadie found a large bag of scraps and offered them to me to “use in a quilt.”  I washed, ironed, and sorted some 69 different prints.  Many of them were from feedsacks, some were fabrics Ms. Sadie recognized as being a school dress for her or an apron for her mother.  The remnants I had were often the negative space that resulted from cutting pieces for clothing; a shirt front, a sleeve, a collar from a child’s dress.

I delighted in the fabrics and thought egg baskets to be an appropriate block.  Using a solid white fabric as the background, I pieced the entire quilt using Zee’s scraps.  I made a wall hanging and worked quickly to complete the quilt, knowing Ms. Sadie’s memory was fading every day.  She treasured it and shared memories from the fabrics every time we looked at it together.

Sitting on Mama G's back porch with her and stitching on her quilt.

Ms. Sadie had some moments of anxiety and anger with her dementia, but my sewing basket seemed to calm her.  As it always calms me.

One might question, as I did, why the family had a framed photo of the peddler.  Asked, but not answered.

Government Bird Going for a Ride

On Saturday mornings, my Daddy would go to the filling station in Sycamore and meet up with some of his friends.  Mama said there was more gossip spread there than at any beauty shop.

govt bird

One day a newcomer to our rural way of life came to the station and asked about “those white birds I see with the cows in some pastures.”  He was told that “those are government birds.  They eat flies and protect your cows.”  Oh, he wanted some of those for his bovines.  “Go on down to the ASCS office – and tell them we sent you.  They’ll ask how many cows you have and issue you one bird per cow.”

The regulars kept their composure as the city slicker walked back to his truck to speed to the office of the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service to put in his requisition. As he drove away, the knee-slapping laughter ensued.

I don’t remember any follow up to the story regarding when the new fellow realized he’d been taken for a ride.  But from that day on, any time we rode past a pasture with cattle egrets among the grazing cows, my Daddy made reference to the government birds.

My latest quilt is based on this story and on a photo a friend took a few months ago. Based on his photo, I drew this scene using colored pencil, then transferred it to silk fabric and added some details with quilting.

Silk fabric, Cherrywood hand dyed fabric, commercial cotton, and Moda linen were used.  Lots of raw edges!  Dream Wool batting.  Kimono silk thread and variegated YLI cotton thread based on Cherrywood colors. Finished size is 20″ x 19″