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.

 

Star Over Tahiti

This time of year I often think, “I need to make more red and green quilts.”  And, I sometimes stitch using those colors, part of being  in the holiday spirit.

But here is a quilt I made one Christmas season that isn’t red or green.

I needed something seasonal to hang above the table where my Nativity scene would live for the holidays.  I had always loved the raw-edge technique of Rosemary Eichorn’s work, and had enjoyed making Stella, Harvest Princess using that method.  I was in a hurry to have something on the wall, so I was off to the fabric store to find ancient biblical – looking foliage.

I came home with some leafy fabric, did some fussy cutting, and went to work.  The patchwork sky was easy.  I had some brilliant blue fabric with flecks of sparkle that made for a perfectly magical sky.  I drafted a star with some elongated points, stitched that in place, and cut Bethlehem-like buildings free form.  Then I added palm trees and was proud of my accomplishment.

Jimmy G, who had been called upon a few times to give names to quilts, promptly named this one Star over Tahiti.

Whatever you call it, it served as a backdrop for the nativity scene.  And, I learned some ways to get a functional piece together in a minimal amount of time.

Finished measurements are 22″ x 30″.  I used cotton batting, cotton thread.  The quilting stitch secured the free-form pieced elements and raw-edge appliqué, all accomplished in the quilting process.

Galadrielle

gingko-and-skyIt’s a beautiful fall day, the sky is blue, gingko leaves are at their peak of golden, so we head to the cemetery.  Isn’t that what all families do on a glorious day?  They do if they live where we do and have a more than 200 acres of serene beauty to stroll.

Rose Hill Cemetery was established in 1840 on 65 acres of land along the banks of the Ocmulgee River.  In 1887, another 125 acres of adjacent land was devoted to Riverside Cemetery.  Both of these were designed by highly respected landscape architects and were intended to be used as a park as well as a solemn final resting place for citizens.  Continuing that tradition, both of these cemeteries are now part of the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail, a walking, biking, communing-with-nature space which we treasure.

So, with camera and crayons in hand, we headed out the door.  We had walked these trails and admired the art of the cemetery before I became acquainted with the art of Susan Lenz.  Finding her work answered the question, “how can this beauty be incorporated into a quilt?”  So now I am prepared with fabric and crayons, just in case.

galadrielle-detailMy latest art quilt is the result of last Saturday’s stroll.  Jim took the photo of Galadrielle, an angel at the foot of Duane Allman’s grave.  I printed it on vintage linen fabric, added some stitching though layers of wool batting, more vintage linen, raw silk, and an indigo-dyed remnant of an old quilt.  A few buttons and a bit of angelic lace came out of my treasure bins for this project.

 

galadrielle-backI used free motion machine stitching to define the shape of Galadrielle and add dimension and detail.  Hand stitching was used everywhere else.  Some unknown sewist had done some hand stitching on the remnant I used as the base.  Her hand quilting and cross stitch has a new life. The worn quilt has been cut up and used in several of my favorite pieces.  I’m loving the blue ones best! I wonder if this unknown colleague did her hand stitching while visiting with friends, or perhaps while listening to the television, as I do.

The quilt finishes at 14” x 23”.

Country Boy in Overalls

Marie’s birthday was looming and I had heard her say she loved my Man in Overalls.  I knew there was a photo of her brother John wearing overalls, so my gift-giving plans were in motion.

jones-scan-189John loved riding his tractor and wearing his overalls.  A country boy at heart for all of his 64 years, he represents what men in overalls convey to me: honesty, integrity, and a strong work ethic.  Add a dog and the country boy takes on a loving and playful nature.

The photo I used for the art quilt was taken by his brother Kemp, and features John with his three-legged dog, Precious.

country-boy-backThe photo is printed on cotton fabric, free motion machine quilted with cotton thread and wool batting.  The brown layer is linen and all is hand stitched to a vintage quilt remnant as its base. The label is written on a scrap of vintage linen that was made blue when Marie and I played in the indigo dye vat one hot summer day.  The finished piece measures 12” x 16”.

jones-scan-054aOne earlier photo shows young John and Kemp on the farm.  Another shows Marie flanked by her loving brothers and includes their dog Skippy.

Walker’s Pasture

Version 2In 2010, my photographer husband Jim captured a magical moment at sunrise with cows in the mist.  I was captivated by the photo from the moment I saw it and immediately framed and hung an 8” x 10” print in our house.

Later, when I wanted to experiment with the online service Spoonflower, a business that prints photos on fabric, this image was one of the first I chose to upload.  The print on cotton fabric measures 14” x 19”.  This has been on my design wall for several months waiting for me to be inspired as to what I wanted to do with it.

Our guild’s challenge for 2016 in our guild was “fans”, not my favorite traditional block.  The completed quilt had to be 36” square, contain at least 3 fan blocks, and have yellow in it somewhere.

While researching fan blocks online, I saw a modern interpretation that looked a lot like a windmill to me.  Oh, a windmill.   I just happened to have a pasture waiting for a windmill.

walkers-pasture-toy-windmillI pieced four fan blocks (paper foundation piecing because they are tiny – 2” blocks) to create the windmill.  To create the base, I photographed a toy windmill I have as part of my decor (complete with cows on my hutch in the breakfast room) and printed it in various sizes to test the scale.  Using that photo as a pattern, I painted the windmill base using India ink, appliquéd the fan unit (the windmill) and was ready to quilt.

walkers-pasture-cow-closeupThen I remembered “yellow” requirement.  Yellow, like the sun.  Got it.  The photo was taken at sunrise.  So, a rising sun was appliquéd, then the quilting came into play.  Green grass, blue wind, and continuous curves in the outer border all were quilted with 100 weight silk thread.  Now I’m a fan of fans.

Goats

Pa, he bought him a great big billy goat

Ma, she washed most every day

Hung her clothes out on the line

And that old goat, he’d come that way.

My Daddy didn’t sing a lot, but this song was one of his favorites.  I can hear his gravelly voice belting it out now, often at my request or a plea from any of his grandchildren.  I don’t recall my mother or my sister requesting it – it wasn’t refined enough for them.  Especially the part when the goat belched up that red flannel shirt and he flagged down that durned old freight.

The musical interlude might be followed by the story of Daddy’s experience with goat farming, or rather the decision to end that venture.  Something about a goat and a pond and repeated disciplinary action leaving the goat wet and calmer while Daddy was exhausted.

So fond memories might explain why I like to see goats in a pasture, have taken lots of photos of goats, and why they end up in quilts.

goat-challengeThe guild’s quilt challenge for 2013 required us to use small bits of fabric from Tess’s stash.  The Challenge Queen does this occasionally; requiring the use of what some might think of as uglies.  That certainly was the case for my envelope.  Yuck.  A red and black color combination was given to me, a calico and something else, 2” squares of each.  I tried several things that didn’t make my heart sing, but at some point  I remembered a pattern from Country Threads featuring pieced goats.

I found an assortment of farm and goat looking fabric, pieced three blocks, added a title, and used the ugly fabric as a couple of their kerchiefs.  The piece finishes at 24″ x 18″ and was freemotion quilted using cotton batting and cotton threads.

goat-showA well-dressed goat appears in 52 Tuesdays, too.  One of our visits to the Georgia National Fair in 2015 included attending a goat show.  I was intrigued by the goats awaiting their competition.  After being bathed, blown dry, and powdered, they were often wearing jackets so they stayed clean and sawdust free until their competition.  One wearing a leopard skin coat caught my eye and became the image for that week in the journal quilt.

And, once a goat appeared on the label of one of my quilts, Hartwell Commons.

The photo of the live goat, not in cloth (yet) was taken at the Jimmy Carter Boyhood Home national historic site near Plains, Ga.

A Tree Grows in Gondor

I’m still working on my guild’s quilt challenge for 2016.  It’s almost done, and there is nearly a week to spare!  I mentioned it here.

Working on this project has me thinking about how much I’ve learned from the guild’s challenge over the years.  It seems like a good time to document some of those design processes. I’ve shared some challenge quilts earlier, but here’s another.

In 2008, the challenge was “trees”.  The quilt had to contain at least one tree, pieced or appliquéd, and a bit of orange somewhere.  A few years prior, I had been enchanted by the white tree against a blue sky prominent in the Lord of the Rings movie Return of the King.  I’m sure the tree in the movie was a Sycamore, and that must have added to my determination to create this image in cloth.

I chose a brilliant blue hand-dyed fabric from Cherrywood as the background, inserting a narrow inner border of another hand-dyed fabric which included many colors, including orange.  Wanting to include a little interest on the “bark” of the white tree,  I researched quotes about trees and facts about trees.

tree-in-gondor-design-wallThis photo shows the background pinned to the design wall with my paper pattern drawn.  That pattern was transferred to white Kona fabric, then the handwriting began.  Sandpaper underneath the fabric helps to keep the fabric from slipping.  I used Sharpies and Pigma Micron pens.

tree-in-gondor-stitchingOnce the words were pressed to make them permanent, I used needleturn appliqué to fix the tree to the background.  In the areas of white where the blue background fabric showed through, I added a lining layer of white fabric.

tree-in-gondor-closeupCotton batting was used and all quilting was hand-guided, freemotion stitching.  Only the griffins on either side of the trunk were marked, all other quilting was spontaneous.  Most used a matching blue cotton thread (50 weight, 2 ply), but some variegated thread was added in a few places for interest.

The quilt finishes at 40” x 62”.

Information on the label is sunprinted.tree-in-gondor-label

 

Commonly Uncommon

The Common Yellowthroat Warbler is not commonly seen by the average homeowner.  He’s not a “yard bird”, he lives in the swamp.  He likes briars, damp brushy places, weeds, or grass going along country roads (that explains why I like him so much).  This species is a year-round resident in our part of Georgia.

Despite his bright feathers, this fellow is hard to spot, flitting about busily as he does.  This tiny bird is picturesque, though.  So it’s worth the effort to capture his image on film, uh, on a flash card.

These birds don’t come to feeders much, preferring grasshoppers, beetles, spiders over seeds.  According to the iBird Pro app, they love sugar water, fruit, and pieces of nuts.  That may be worth investigating, but water seems to be a big factor in their habitat.  They are most often found near streams, swamps, and marshes.

common-yellowthroatJim captured this shot in a remote area near the Ocmulgee River.  I printed it on silk fabric, layered it on wool batting, and stitched the background densely. As in Swamp Bird, I stitched with silk thread in closely spaced parallel lines.  Then I added a bit of black and white, a yellow fabric frame, and attached it to an old quilt remnant.

common-yellowthroat-backI used a lot of Jude Hill’s invisible baste stitch to secure everything without penetrating the final layer of the quilt on the back.  I added beads stitched by hand, and made a label from an old doily. 100 weight silk thread was used for machine quilting, 60 weight cotton for the handwork.

The finished piece measures 20” x 16”.

I’ve noticed lately that even though I’ve been designing these pieces by starting from the center and working outward, and beginning with different sized photos or vintage motif, these pieces all seem to end up the same size.  I wonder why.

Challenging Quilting

seasquared-mouthOur guild’s challenge quilt is due in three weeks.  It’s secret until then, so I can’t show photos of it now, but I can say I’m excited about what I’m doing.  Tess, our Challenge Queen, gives us the annual specifications in February with the deadline being our November meeting.  I typically think about it, research photos and patterns, basically collecting thoughts until October or so when I have no choice but to make something.

There are years when I’ve started early, but I often aborted the first plan. There have been exceptions; occasions when I started earlier than usual, stayed focused on a project that took a lot of time, and brought it to completion ahead of schedule.  But several have been done the week before the due date.

On the single occasion when I completed the project early, I really disliked the quilt and abandoned the idea of using it as my entry. The challenge in 2013 was “ Dare to be Square” or something like that.  Tess always comes up with catchy titles.  The rule was that the quilt must be pieced (no appliqué!) and every piece must be a square. In October, I sprang into panic mode, grabbed a half-yard cut of a bold fish print by Brandon Mably, some hand-dyed fabrics of similar colors, and started cutting squares.

seasquared-whole-quiltI cut the largest square I could from the focus print (20” finished. (I know – it must have been a generous half-yard cut)), then cut smaller squares from the fish fabric and the others.  20” finished was a nice measure to use as the reference.  It was easy to patch together units using 1”, 2”, 4”, 5”, 10” components.

seasquared-fishesAs the project grew on the design wall, I had fun finishing a fish.  Where one had been cut off, I could find missing components of that fellow somewhere else in the smaller squares and place it close by to make his image extend into the other spaces.  I even discovered a batik striped fabric that mimicked the background of Mably’s fish and inserted that.

seasquared-starfishAs the “squarequarium” grew on my design wall, I began imagining quilting lines.  I could stitch even more of the missing parts of fish bodies, add bubbles in the water, and enhance fish fins and tails.  Oh, my, how fun was that?

seasquared-octopusI sewed quickly to get the piecing done, layered it with cotton batting, and began dancing with my sewing machine.  I used some heavy threads on some of the solid spaces, enjoyed stitching lots of free-motion quilting motifs, and especially enjoyed adding the octopus and starfish.

Even after all that, things looked a little “flat”.  Eyes.  Fish have prominent eyes.  So out came the wool, a circle cutter, some buttons, and voila!

seasquared-backA solid blue fabric on the back made the stitching details noticeable. Susan said she liked the back of this quilt better than the front.  So for her next birthday, I stitched a fish on blue fabric for her beach house.

This quilt does not contain colors in my house or colors I particularly enjoy using in a quilt.  But I love this finished product because seeing it reminds me how much fun a challenge can be.

I called this finished project “Sea Squared.”  Some of my math colleagues will notice the reference to a  project we worked on for years. The finished size is 40” x 34”.

This year the challenge requires at least three fan blocks, and some yellow fabric.  The finished size is prescribed this time: 36” square.  My first reaction was “I’m not a fan of the fan block,” but in my research I’ve certainly learned a lot about those historic blocks and their reinterpretations through the years.  As a friend said yesterday, “I love our challenges.  They force us to think about things differently.”  Indeed.

Update:  A later post revealed my entry in the fan block challenge.  It is here.