You Can Make Anything

I’ve long had a quilt in my mind called Family Lines in which I would record oft-repeated lines from family members.  It would bring warmth as a cover, but also warm memories for others to recall the voices from the past.  Some of those lines I’ve already written about, like Daddy singing “Pa, he bought him a great big billy goat…” or Wallace’s oft-quoted line “you shore can’t sop syrup with ‘em.”  Advice like Aunt Nellie’s, “Always plant geraniums in clay pots,” and Jim’s   query to the girls, “did you unplug the curling iron?” will add practical notes, too. (Details of those stories are here, here, and here.)

One line I would have to include from my mother is, “You can make anything.  But you can’t make everything.”  I quoted this to a young quilting friend of mine last year as we were discussing some of the tempting patterns for making tote bags.  Though they are lovely and give one a unique accessory that displays favorite fabrics and techniques, they are time consuming to make.  She repeated my mother’s line and said, “Wow.  That’s so true.  And a powerful line to remember.”

Yes, she was right – it is a powerful message.  I’ve had that line running through my head a lot lately.  I look around my sewing space and see fabric waiting to go in the dye pot, fabric that’s been dipped in the dye pot and ready to compose into Rescued Remnant pieces, photos to print on fabric, strips of fabric waiting to be woven backgrounds ala Jude Hill.  In my sketchbook is a series of churches I want to put on cloth. On my design wall are components for my Paducah journal quilt in progress. In another basket are luscious wools cut and ready to stitch.  Of course, the time for the guild challenge draws closer.  And there’s more, including a few UFOs that could command my attention.

Then there’s the avalanche of images and ideas that press into my mind wherever I look.  Especially if I look online.  Projects that are physically unbegun, but I have to resist the temptation to begin them.  My mother also said, “Finish what you’ve started before you start anything else.”  ( I know –  the mention of a few UFO’s tells that I don’t always follow that advice.)

I try to use the brainpower generated by my morning walk to plan my “work” for the day. (I put that word in quotes because I do think of the “do the work” advice given to artists fits my daily activities, but in no way is what I do in the sewing room anything but FUN.)  Lately my focus of that brainpower has been to narrow the field of possibilities and remember, to paraphrase my mother’s advice, “I can do any of these things, but I can’t do all of them today.“

The photos show snippets of today’s temptations.  At least one of those will get some focused attention.

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.

 

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”.

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.

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.

Is It Fall, Y’all?

stella-closeupIt’s still hot.  The calendar says tomorrow will be fall, but temperatures still reach 90 everyday.

Nonetheless, I have some pumpkins out in my house.  I love the fall colors.  Maybe it’s the vivid blue skies when the humidity drops, maybe it’s the complimentary colors of the turning leaves and that glorious atmosphere.  I wince whenever Tess, our guild’s Challenge Queen, requires a bit of orange in a quilt, but I don’t know why.  I could just always put a pumpkin in.

In recent years, I have collected pumpkins from other artists including needle-felted beauties by a north Ga artist, wooden pumpkins a friend made, and several pottery ones from Shelby West and Charlie Bob West.  But many of my autumn decorations are of the fabric variety.

pumpkins-and-fall-basketsFall Baskets was made in 2008, using autumn colors of batiks and quilting cottons.  This may be the first quilt I designed using Electric Quilt software.  Now using EQ7, I sometimes turn to this software to audition such quilt features as block size and width of borders and sashing. This one finished at 45″ square.

 

sunbonnet-with-pumpkinThis Sunbonnet Sue piece is one of the first times I made one block ( 9″ x 12″) and said “done.”  Quilting, a binding, and it’s a remarkably fun way to welcome the season.  The block is from a book by Betty Alderman.  I guess it’s unnecessary to point out that the apron is a little brown check.

pumpkins-fusedI have a few quilts with pumpkins on them.  Some wool appliqued pumpkins, some needleturn appliqued ones, and even this fused one (sorry, I don’t recall the name of this pattern or the designer).

 

 

 

stella-harvest-princessMy favorite fall quilt is Stella: Harvest Princess, finished in 2004.  It uses raw edge techniques in the manner of Rosemay Eichorn.  Fall motifs were cut from a commercial autumn print or two, pinned to a base fabric, and free motion quilted with a flannel layer as batting. The technique was fun, the motifs whimsical, and the learning process was transformative.  I use this raw edge appliqué method still.  Looking at this piece for the first time in almost a year, I wonder why I don’t play with those decorative stitches on my machine any more, or use metallic thread very often.  It was FUN to do this experimentation. It measures 25” x 16”.

There is more to Stella’s story – there was quite a learning curve for this one. I saw the technique on Simply Quilts, bought a book by Rosemary and studied her technique, cut and pinned the raw edge motifs in the fall of 2003.  Then it sat in a basket for almost a year, waiting for my free motion quilting skills to improve to the point of completion.  Finally I dared to load the machine with some invisible thread and give it a go.  When asked at my guild how long it took to make it, my answer then was, “a day and a half, or a year and a half, depending on how you look at it; actual construction time, or time from beginning the process to sewing on the label.”  That’s often the most direct answer I can give.  I work in spurts on some things.

pumpkins-in-jailhouseA couple of years ago, Jim and I spent a lovely fall day in Porterdale, GA, where we saw hundreds of pumpkins for sale in and around an old jailhouse.  I took many photos, planning to make a quilt someday called Pumpkins in the Jailhouse.  Maybe this year will be the year that gets done.

Portrait of Red Coneflower

 

red-coneflowerA recently purchased linen doily reminded me of a mat for a framed portrait.  I didn’t have a photo on fabric that fit, and wanted to stitch something on this marvelous piece of linen with the wide handmade tatting.

A simple coneflower is always fun to appliqué, and I had seen somewhere the idea of using a spool of thread as the vase.  So, a few snippets of fabric, a good tv show in the background, a bright light at my side, and the stitching began.

Once the appliqué and embroidery were done (see the French knots at the base of the seed head?), it was time to find a base to set off the oval.  The French General print in red was perfect.  So, I layered wool batting beneath the oval, threaded up the machine with silk thread, and echoed the appliqué with free motion quilting.

Once I cut away the remaining batting from behind the red fabric, it was time to seed stitch the piece to an old quilt as the back of the assembly.  A yellow and white pieced basket quilt from an antique store fit the bill, but the white was a bit stark.  A scrap of red ticking came to the rescue, adding another layer of matting to the frame job.

red-coneflower-backAs I neared the finish, I hadn’t come up with a title.  But my original plan to let the doily serve as an inner mat for a portrait was still on my mind, so Portrait of Red Coneflower was simple enough.  One more vintage doily (with a history and stains to prove it) served as the label.

The finished piece measures 16” x 20” and the hanging sleeve utilized a leftover strip of the red ticking.