Summertime in South Georgia

Memories of a hot summer day in my childhood include sweet, juicy, sticky watermelon.  At our house, there was most always a melon or two cooling in the shade of a pecan tree in the backyard.  Mid-morning was the time we would gather round the picnic table with Aunt Nellie’s butcher knife, some forks, and a big appetite!  I had a salt shaker in my hand, too.

This quilt is made using a photo of childhood friends with slices of that summertime treat.  The photo is printed on vintage linen fabric, the watermelon slices are painted and seeds are hand stitched with black thread.  A seed stitch was used, of course.  Machine stitching and wool batting adds dimension to the piece.  It is layered on red fabric and a remnant of denim jeans, measuring 10” x 12”.

Thanks to Arlene for permission to use the photo.  She and her brothers Wayne and Jerry portray the perfect summer scene in south Georgia!

 

Steel Magnolia

I heard her voice before I saw her.

While I was checking in with the receptionist, I heard her explaining to her husband about his procedure.  She lovingly, kindly, patiently explained the test they would perform on his arteries.

With my clipboard in hand, I sat near the husband on a couch in the waiting room.  I realized a woman in a wheelchair was near him, but didn’t pay much attention.  As I answered the questions about my medical history and symptoms with almost all no’s, I realized how fortunate I am to have these interruptions to my schedule – these bothersome tests that are recommended when one reaches a certain age – be nothing more than that.  I became conscious of the frail woman sitting near me.  She couldn’t have weighed more than 80 pounds.  But her leg braces and shoes looked much heavier.  She sat erect in that chair, though, alert and composed.

After her husband was called for his procedure, she sat quietly waiting.  When I heard a mechanical sound, I realized she had tapped her watch and it was audibilizing the time for her.  I paused to think of the challenges she has every day and now her husband is in for some tests.  My interruption to my day for this pesky test was seeming less troublesome by the moment.

Before I could complete my pages of family medical history and engage her in conversation, her partner returned.  He said, “ I can go now.  Should we call transport?”  “Yes, push me over and we’ll ask them to call.”  She tapped her watch again and it gave the time as “8:05.”  Then again, and it spoke “8:06.”  But it was 11:06 a.m.  Oh, my.

The pair approached the desk where, in a confident voice, she asked, “Could you call our transport for us, please?  The number is ….”. She recited the ten digits confidently.  And, then, “Thank you,”  in as strong a voice as any southern lady possesses.  That voice alerted me that this woman did not want my sympathy.  She has my respect.

I’ve thought of this couple many times in the days since that encounter.  I wonder about his test results.  I wonder who cooks for them.  I wonder if they get out a lot and interact with other people.  But I do not wonder if she is handling everything like a steel magnolia.  I know she is.

Art quilt notes:  The finished size is 13” x 17”.  The line drawing is free-motion machine stitched on a remnant of an old linen pillowcase.  The remainder of the work is hand stitching – layers of vintage lace, buttons, and an old quilt fragment complete the assembly.  The lace tablecloth remnant and linen coaster used as a label were dyed in my indigo vat.

Basking in Blue

I spent a lot of time in June dipping in my indigo dye pot.  I dyed and overdyed treasured bits of fabric.: baby blankets, remnants of old quilts, bits of lace, repurposed shirts.  I experimented with heavy paper and wooden buttons.


Part of the fun is the surprise element.  As time goes by, the vat becomes weaker and the color less intense.  Of course, any blue is beautiful to me, dark, light, and all shades between the extremes.  Every fiber reacts to the dye differently, and the results change based on how many times a fabric is dipped.

In an earlier post, I’ve written more details about the dyeing process.  And, if you want to see more work with my results, type “indigo” in the search box and you’ll find finished art quilts which included some of the pieces I had dyed.

Many of these recent bits of blue will become part of future pieces of art, but I made a journal keepsake preserving many swatches of treasured blues.  There are sixteen pages cut from old quilt remnants in shades of white.  Every added snippet of fabric, button, bead, and even thread, holds a memory of the search, the find, the experimentation with its color.  Preserving stories doesn’t always need words.

Sunday School Picnic

Another family photo has become a quilt.  This image of my husband’s grandparents was taken sometime around 1915, probably at Stone Mountain, GA.  The occasion was a Sunday School picnic.

I printed the image on a bit of vintage linen napkin, painted his tie, and machine stitched using free-motion quilting.  The rickrack frame is hand stitched around the photo on a layer of hand-dyed cotton fabric.


I used metallic thread to stitch the red layer to a vintage quilt remnant using a seed stitch, adding a bit of sparkle.

The label is a vintage coaster stitched to the old quilt remnant, too.  The final piece measures 12″ x 14″.

Paper Dolls

My mother entertained little girls by cutting paper dolls from paper.  She would fold the newspaper or catalog pages accordion style, then cut one-half of a girl in a dress.  All of us squealed as she unfurled the string of girls holding hands.

I finally learned to do the folding and cutting for myself, even to change the cuts to make strings of little boys, or of girls linking hands up, then down, then up again.

I had some fabric on hand that looked like little girls’ dresses, so I made a template and appliquéd some of Mama’s dolls on fabric.

Later it occurred to me that one of the granddaughters might like a parade of little girls like she once played with in paper.  I happened to have fabric from five dresses she had worn as a toddler.  I cut a pattern so that five girls would fit on a vintage doily I found, and a memory was rekindled. I layered the dolls and doily on a bit of indigo dyed linen and used machine quilting to add dimension. Buttons from those five little dresses were used as embellishments and to secure the layers to a bit of a vintage cross-stitched quilt.  The finished piece measures 17” x 16”.  

Four Brothers

The man on the far right…what’s that he’s holding in his hand?  That’s my grandfather, here with three of his brothers.  When I find a photo in which he is included, I’m always intrigued by how the photo was taken, since he was usually the one behind the camera.

I recently wrote about the coincidence that both my husband and I had maternal grandfathers who were professional photographers.  Sometimes we can find a cable in the photo leading to a remote shutter release.  Those were available from as early as 1918 in  advertisements like this one found here.

In this case, zooming and examining (you can click on any image to enlarge it) reveals no cable, and in the 1940’s when this photo was probably taken, there was no timer built in to cameras as we have now.  However, my Grandfather did have a son who helped him with his photography business by that time. Homer, Jr. went to work in the darkroom at age 7, in 1935.  It is likely that he, Jr.,  is the one taking this photo.  And, GrandDaddy is probably holding the remnants of a cigar.

I printed this photo on fabric from a vintage linen tablecloth, painted some elements, layered it on wool batting, and stitched around the figures with silk thread.  It is layered on cotton fabric, a layer of old burlap, and then on an old quilt remnant.  The resulting piece measures 14” x 17”.


The process of stitching these photos sometimes yields as interesting an image on the back as on the front.  Here you see what one viewer considered the shadows of these brothers.

.

Man With Bicycle, 1905

Homer Carter and Homer Youngblood were both professional photographers in the early part of the twentieth century.  In our house, we have a lot of photos taken by these two men who, to our knowledge, never met.

Homer Carter was the father of Sadie, my mother-in-law.  Homer Youngblood was the father of Cleo, my mother.  Interesting, don’t you think?

This serendipitous happening means that we have some images on hand that were made with the best photographic equipment available at the time, and printed on quality paper.  Perfect for scanning and printing on fabric, I think.

This photo of an unidentified gentleman of the early 1900’s was compelling to me.  He was a client of Jim’s grandfather.  I printed his image on a remnant of a vintage linen tablecloth, painted the bicycle red, and quilted the layers with silk thread.  Free motion quilting gives dimension to the man and the bicycle with wool batting underneath.

The image is layered on a denim remnant, hand stitched with a Kantha stitch using red embroidery floss.  All is then layered and attached to a scrap of an old tattered quilt.

The label is written on a piece of an old man’s handkerchief.

Studying a Master

At the urging of my friend Priscilla, Jim and I took a road trip today to Newnan, Ga.  Selections from Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry’s body of work are on display there.  This amazing quiltmaker’s work has always intrigued me, so we hit the road.

Our route was along backroads, as usual for us, and we included some antiquing and enjoying other parts of the day, but the purpose and highlight was studying some 43 pieces of Caryl’s work.  We were almost the only ones there, photography was allowed, so we took our time. I read every word of her descriptions, studying the weight and fiber content of thread, marveling at the stitches she used and noting the color choices in each space.

Like many quiltmakers, Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry began making traditional quilts with commercial fabrics.  Over the years, her style developed using her hand-dyed fabrics, then a line of commercial Gradations fabric that she designed.  Some of her work is abstract, but all is full of meaning.  And the girl knows her mathematics!

Some of the work was familiar to me as signature Caryl Bryer Fallert – like the feather studies, the Fibonacci series, and her dancers.  Others, specifically the pictorial ones, were surprising to me that they were hers. Each piece was interesting in its own way.  I learned a lot from the experience, but being able to take close up photos of the quilting designs meant that I will learn from her work over and over again.

There’s something about seeing a quilt in person that makes it worth the trip.  Technology allows us to learn a lot online, to study excellent professional photos that inform us of details, and even to take classes from experts.  I’m familiar with Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry’s work though those technologies.  But the tactile nature of fabric means that any distance from a piece of fiber art diminishes the intimacy of the art form.  So being close enough to touch (even though I didn’t dare) brings that back into the experience.

I’ve seen some of Caryl’s work in shows in the past, but today at my leisure, I examined a variety of her works spanning forty years of quilt making.  Wow.

The Donald Nixon Center for the Performing and Visual Arts is currently “Forty Years of Light and Motion” through February 17.  Their website is here if you want details.  And Caryl’s website is here if you want to read more about her.

All photos are of Caryl Bryer Fallert’s work on display at the Nixon Center in Newnan, GA.

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.

The Kite

In 1952, he was four years old and wanted to fly a kite.  In this photo, he watched as his Daddy held the string and the kite climbed higher and higher.  The air was crisp, the wind pulling the string quickly.  At the moment the photo was taken, the boy sensed disaster on the horizon.

He was right.  Shortly after the shutter clicked, the string broke and the red kite was gone.  As the little boy grew, more kites flew and did not fly away, but the anxiety born that day was ever present when the kites were in the air.

When asked for appropriate titles for this art quilt, he said, Childhood Trauma, or Hold Tight, Daddy, or Don’t Let Go, would all be appropriate.  In truth, he barely remembers the day, and probably wouldn’t remember it at all were it not for the photo.  This is exactly the kind of experience I love to capture in cloth.  A memory.  A story.  A moment frozen.

I printed the photo on a piece of vintage linen from an old tablecloth and added color to the boy’s jeans and cap with watercolor crayons.  I had overdyed some old linen in the indigo vat that looked a lot like a winter sky, so I cut the foreground image from the photo and stitched it to the blue.  I appliquéd the kite using a bit of French General red fabric, and hand embroidered the kite string and tails.  When I added machine quilting stitches, I used dark thread to emphasize the fence posts and trees.

I finished the piece by attaching the fabric photo unit to an old quilt remnant, adding borders of ribbon and a coarsely woven red checked fabric.  Hand and machine stitching were used for this step.  The piece finished at 16” x 22”.  A vintage doily serves as the label.