Hartwell Commons

Hartwell CommonsKits to make quilts are wonderful.  They are a great way to make a quilt if you don’t have a large fabric stash, if you aren’t comfortable selecting fabrics, or if you just want to jump right in with a ready supply of coordinated fabrics in the right colors.  A good friend advises that they are great for travel or retreat projects, because they are packaged ready to sew on the go.

Hartwell Commons was made from a kit.  I ordered the block-of-the-month kit early in my quilting career, I suppose it was in 2002 or so.  When the first package arrived, the schoolhouse block, I opened it ready to jump right in.

Instructions were given for two techniques; paper foundation piecing, and appliqué.  I did not know either one.  So I bundled it all back up and put it back in its big ziploc bag.  It waited month by month as its companions arrived in the mail and the charges were added to my credit card bill.  I paid the bill knowing that maybe someday I would have the skills to make the quilt.

My friend’s advice came to light a couple of years down the road when we were preparing for a girls’ getaway to a friends’ lake house.  I was lamenting that I didn’t know what project to take, and Dale said, “do you have a kit?”

Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I did.  I grabbed the first couple of month’s packages, some substitute fabrics (I had already realized that using someone else’s idea of fabric combinations was not my way of working) and off we went to Lake Hartwell.

Hartwell Commons churchBy then, I had learned both techniques of paper foundation piecing and needleturn appliqué.  I love to do handwork and don’t like to travel with my sewing machine, so appliqué was the approach I used.

Once started, I quickly finished all the houses, but uh-oh, I didn’t know all the embroidery stitches and had never worked with silk ribbon.  So the blocks sat again waiting.  The next retreat with the same group of gals to the same place meant the embellishment phase could begin.

The embroidery was done, blocks were assembled by machine, and I was ready to do the quilting.  I referred to Leah Day’s 365 Free Motion Quilting Designs website for ideas and video instructions on filler designs for the background.  All the varied filler designs are still favorites of mine, and I often run downstairs to look at this quilt on the wall when I need ideas on another project.

Hartwell Commons labelQuilt details:  Finished size is 85” x 88”.  The pattern is called The Quilted Village by the City Stitcher. Cotton fabrics, silk thread embroidery.  Completed 2010.  Cotton batting. Quilting thread DMC machine embroidery thread, two-ply, 50 weight cotton.  Free motion quilted on home machine.  Since there are lots of goat farms around Lake Hartwell, I made the label in the shape of a goat.

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.

Flag Bearer

flag bearer quiltHappy Fourth of July from Bunk Bates.  I don’t know who Bunk is, or even if he is a he or a she.  But this photo has been a part of my life for as long as I can recall.  It was in my Great Aunt Nellie’s photo album.  The name “Bunk Bates” was scrawled across the bottom.

I’m sure I asked and was told who that was, but I don’t recall the reply.  But in scrolling through some old photos I had scanned into my computer, I saw it and decided it should become a part of my quilting story, too.

I printed the image on a vintage linen tablecloth and added color to the flag using watercolors. I embroflag bearer labelidered 48 French knots to represent stars, added some free motion quilting, and layered it atop a piece of an old quilt.  I guess it represents my freedom from all the rules of quilting, because I followed few of them.

Wandering Vines

Wandering VinesIn February, I was quite busy with several demanding projects.  Some of them kept me occupied at the computer, others at the sewing machine,  preparing for our guild’s imminent quilt show.  What I needed was some hand stitching to soothe my rattled nerves.

I had these vines already cut from an assortment of fabrics, having planned to use them as a border on another quilt.  Once they were vetoed for that project, I saved them thinking I would just use them alone on a solid background.  I do love needleturn appliqué and find the process restful to my brain.

Wandering Vines backI found three colors I liked, chose a solid fabric for the background, and stitched them over a few evenings in front of the television.  Recently, I layered the top with Dream Wool batting and a piece of hand-dyed fabric from Wendy Richardson as the back.  I outlined the appliqué and stitched several rows of echo quilting using a variegated thread.  The various edge designs; pebbles, straight lines, and continuous curves were stitched using a neutral color thread of the same weight.

All quilting was hand guided, free motion stitching on my domestic machine.

four little pitchersThis whole project was based on revisiting something I had liked from an earlier quilt.  Four Little Pitchers was my entry in our guild’s annual challenge in 2009.  The challenge was to make a four-block quilt.  I drew the shapes of the pitchers based on some pieces from my pottery collection, used needleturn appliqué to stitch them to the black background, and separated the four blocks with a tiny (1/4”), subtle sashing of black with silver dots.  Then I appliquéd the vine using the pattern from Emily Senuta’s basket book, and continued the design with the quilting motif.  In that case, I continued the vine in green, then echoed all with a black thread.

four pitchers detailThe sashing turned out to be so tiny and so subtle that it became invisible, but I always liked the result of the vine motif and wanted to work with that design again.  Especially after I began using wool batting, I wanted to use it to give extra dimension to the leaves in the quilted vines.  The vine in the latest project is twice the size of the original pattern.

I still have more of the larger vines cut, so  I would like to explore even more possibilities with this simple, elegant shape.

Details of quilts:  Four Little Pitchers measures 38” x 43”.  Fabrics for pitchers is all hand-dyed Cherrywood fabric, vines are Fossill Fern fabrics.  Batting is Dream Cotton request.  All threads are DMC Broder machine embroidery thread; 50 weight / 2 ply cotton.

Wandering Vines measures 21” x 28”.  Appliqué fabrics are all commercial quilting cottons, the background fabric is hand-dyed Cherrywood cotton. Threads are DMC Broder embroidery thread; 50 weight / 2 ply cotton.

The Calm that comes with Needle and Thread

blocks in blue work on porchThere is something soothing about the pulling of thread through cloth.  I find myself out of sorts if days (okay, even one day) go by without some time spent stitching.

Some say it’s a prayerful experience to sew.  Some liken it to Zen meditation.  Maybe it’s the rhythmic motion of the needle penetrating layers of fabric.  Whatever it is, it soothes my soul.  The ritual of pulling needle and thread through fabric has been a part of my life since childhood.  Even when very busy with demands of family and motherhood, I had some sort of needlework project in the works.  Then days might go by without much time spent with a needle in my hand, but just knowing it was waiting promised serenity.

During years that my mother and later my mother-in-law were in failing health, I learned to keep a sewing basket in the car at all times.  Since each of them had also been seamstresses, I saw it brought peace to each of them to see me with a project in tow.

In the basket was always a project with a threaded needle in the midst of a stitch.  That is still my strategy – without having to find the spot where I stopped, match the thread, locate the needle threader, I’m ready to take the next stitch.  In preparing for a trip, I sometimes spend more time ensuring that I have enough to keep me busy than I do planning my wardrobe.  I might not ever open the basket while away from home, but most times I do find some stitching moments.

I look at Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden and remember visiting with my mother while sewing those hexagons together.  I look at Granny Zee’s Scrap Baskets and remember sitting with my mother-in-law as I stitched the fabrics she had kept from her mother’s stash.  Both of these mothers of mine were suffering from confusion and dementia, but if words weren’t to be had, we communicated through our love of sewing.  I stitched my soul to each of them during their last years of life.

blocks in blueThe top photo is one of me working on Blocks in Blue while staying at the Inn at Iris Meadows in Waynesville, NC.  That quilt was hand pieced and machine quilted in 2005.  It finished at 27” square, and was one of my early attempts at free motion machine quilting.  I used invisible nylon thread in the top, a matching cotton thread in the bobbin.

 

Annie Mae’s Lace

Annie Mae's LaceSome of my quilting sisters think I’ve recently “gone to the dark side.”  Now that I’m taking art classes with artist Mark Ballard and incorporating my drawings onto fabric and into quilts, it seems to them that I’ve left the world of traditional quilting to become an art quilter.

If there is a threshold to cross between those worlds, I don’t see it.  I have recently been experimenting with the above-mentioned technique, crayon rubbings on fabric, watercolor on silk, and using fabrics that are not limited to quilting cottons.  But that’s not new to me.  And traditional quiltmakers have, for centuries, looked for interesting ways to bring images into quilts.

Look at Annie Mae’s Lace, the quilt I made in 2006.  I printed blueprint images of Queen Anne’s Lace onto pretreated fabric and made a quilt.  This piece measures 40” square, the botanical image is 25” square.  I actually made this quilt to refine the border technique.  I had seen photos of borders with vines with the inside and the outside of the vine being different fabrics, but had not seen any instructions on how to do it.  So, this experimentation worked and I then used that technique on the larger Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden.

I’ve used the same sunprinting technique on several quilts; and on fabrics still in a box waiting to come out and play.  I’ve printed feathers, leaves, scrapbooking stencils, and more.  So far I’ve used two techniques – one dry process and one wet.  Both processes involve spreading the fabric out flat, placing the masking object (leaf, stencil, whatever) on top, securing it so it doesn’t blow away, and exposing it to the sun.  Then, when the “developing” is done, you quickly wash it to stop the action.

I’ll note the obvious here:  this has to be done on a sunny day, and the image is sharper if you expose the fabric while the sun is high in the sky.  I began playing with this technique before I retired.  So, I spent some lunch hours securing big branches and leaves (and Queen Anne’s Lace) to the fabric atop foam board or something firm, waiting 15 minutes, washing it and putting it in the dryer.  Lunch was en route to and from my office, I guess.

The dry process entails purchasing pretreated fabric for sunprinting (also known as cyanotype).  These fabrics have been chemically treated to react to the sun and produce a negative image.  If you are old enough, you’ve seen plenty of blueprints made the same way.  The company from whom I bought my fabric is now known as blueprintsonfabric.comDharma Trading Company also sells some.  Both of these vendors also sell the chemicals to prepare your own fabric.

The wet process involves using some type of paint on fabric which produces a negative image when drying.  It is more labor intensive, but there are more colors available for the final outcome, and it can be applied to a printed fabric to add more interest.  I used SetaColor paints available at any hobby shop.

Note that this quilt is ten years old.  Yikes!  There are lots of videos on youtube showing details of how to make a sunprint if you are interested.

I’ve taught the sunprinting technique to my local guild, and luckily, it was a sunny day and we made some successful prints.  The process is fun, and if the wind blows, the worst that can happen is that you end up with some beautiful blue fabric!

Documenting my quilts and their stories is one of my goals for this online journal.  Slowly, I’m doing that.  But I’m also reminding myself of fun things I’ve neglected for a while.  Excuse me while I go dig through my pile of sunprints to see what I might play with next.

Annie Mae closeupFurther details of this quilt:  This was early in my life as a hand-guided, freemotion machine quilter.  I had previously used matching or transparent thread attempting to make my irregularities less noticeable.  Here, for the first time, I dared to try the continuous curves using a heavier, contrasting thread.  I marked a one-inch grid and used that as a guide.   The border fabrics are batiks, the vine is a quilting-weight cotton cut on the bias,  batting is Dream Cotton request, and threads are cotton.

Annie Mae was the name of the beautiful lady who was my teaching assistant when I taught Head Start at Bruce Elementary in the summer of 1973.  I was 22 years old, knew nothing about little kids, had been trained as a high-school teacher, and was surrounded by five-year-olds.  She was my lifesaver!  So I played with the plant name to give homage to the woman who kept me from exiting the teaching profession.

Playtime

Today’s experiments:watercolor flower on silk

Silk radiance fabric.  Dream Wool batting.  Freeform stitching of a feather and simple flower using Aurafil cotton thread (50 weight/2 ply).  Echoing and background quilting using silk thread (100 weight).  Flower is painted with watercolors, hand embroidery added in the center.

freeform feather on silkFun!

Embellishing with Paula

no presser footIf I had known old ladies had so much fun, I would have aged faster.

Today was session two with Paula Reid.  We stitched ribbons and beads and baubles.  We used dental floss implements, funky charms, and fancy stitches with specialty threads.  We made new friends and laughed a lot!

I even won a cone of wine thread.  Yes, you read that right, wine.  I told you old ladies had fun!

Not only did we disengage our feed dogs, we removed the presser foot!  Sewing is not for wimps.  But, man is it fun!  I have a new tool in my arsenal.  Now I know more ways to use those beads and baubles and fancy fibers I’ve collected.

Every member of the class was playing with ribbons and threads in a different way.  Taking a class is so inspirational – not only do you have an experienced teacher who shares her knowledge, but other participants spin off in different directions.  Take a class!

Simply Quilts was still on tv when I began quiltmaking in 2001.  I was still working, so I recorded the show every day, then watched it when I got home.  I learned most everything I know about quilting basics that way.  When I heard Paula Reid was coming to town, I knew she quilted on a domestic machine as I do, using what she calls the “fluff and stuff” method.  I also remembered her episode on beading and embellishments where she removed the presser foot.  I felt like I knew her already, because I had watched those SQ episodes over and over.

Online quilting shows still keep me up-to-date with the latest artists breaking the mold, or perfecting the mold, but it’s not the same.  I spend money to subscribe to some of the online shows (thequiltshow.com hosted by Ricky Tims and Alex Anderson is my primary resource).  I watch some youtube videos, too.

I read quilting blogs.  I listen to quilting podcasts. I follow links to other artists’ work from Facebook.  I goggle names of people whose work I see in magazines and online.

But nothing takes the place of on-site, person-to-person contact with an expert.  Thanks, Couture Sewing Center, for bringing Paula.  And, thank you, Paula, for coming to GA, and sampling our grits.  And, thank you, fellow classmates, for a fun two-day sewing experience!

Improving Skills

Sandy & PaulaI always love to take classes.  Yes, I could have enjoyed being a professional student.

I’ve been fortunate to take classes in the past from many well-known experts in the quilting industry; Hollis Chatelain, Sue Spargo, Ricky Tims, Kaffe Fassett, Sally Collins, Karen Stone, and more. And, I’ve attended lectures by others including Lisa Bongean and Diane Gaudynski.

But until today, I had never taken a class on free motion quilting.  I had learned by watching videos and reading and practicing.  And more practicing.

Today I took a free motion feather class from Paula Reid at my favorite quilt shop.  I’ve tried my hand at feathers before, with limited success.  Today’s class was wonderful.  Paula has quilted professionally for many years.  Now she travels the country teaching others how to quilt on their home machines.

The class was structured so that Paula demonstrated a variety of paths and patterns to fill a quilting space with feathers, then gave individual assistance as we stitched along.  The morning was devoted to feather designs marked with stencils, the afternoon all free motion feathers, unmarked.  So liberating!

Sandy's featherThis photo is my unmarked free motion design from this afternoon.  Red Mettler 50 weight cotton thread in the top, Aurafil 50 weight cotton in the bobbin.  Echoing is done with 60 weight Kimono silk thread.

Here are samples of Paula’s work (she gave permission to share).  The green fabric is a silk/cotton blend –gotta get some of that!  The motifs are fabulous!  And, you are seeing the bobbin side of her work!  Amazing talent she has.  I’m so glad she’s in GA sharing her knowledge with us.

Paula's silk samplePaula's green featherPaula's red feather

And, tomorrow…free motion embellishments with beads and ribbons.

Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

Ollie Jane's Flower Garden
Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

I recently described this work as “my first major quilt.”  It was completed in 2007, so it doesn’t belong in the catalog of my latest work, but the elements I included in it still appear in many more recent designs.

The quilt was made over a period of six years.  I completed other quilts during that time, but this was an ongoing project.  One of the first piecing techniques that intrigued me was English paper piecing.  I basted the 1” hexagons on freezer paper and had a portable project.  Since I was still working full time, I stitched while riding in the car and on visits with my mother in her assisted living facility, on the porch with her at her nursing home, and in hospital waiting rooms when my sister was ill.

As I was learning more about the world of quilting, I began to think of ways to combine these hexagons with other quilting techniques.  Once I learned needleturn appliqué, I wanted to add some curves to my pieced elements.  I assembled ten of the Grandmother’s Flower Garden units, appliquéd them to a background, and planned to add a vine with leaves in the border.

detail from Ollie Jane's Flower Garden
detail from Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

I actually made another small quilt to explore the technique of the two-colored border with the vine separating them.  That worked, so I interpreted it large scale.

I wanted a bit more interest in the center of the quilt (well, not really the center…I was already embracing the idea of asymmetrical balance), so I made a bouquet of flowers using some elements of flowers from Barb Adams and Alma Allen’s Quilting in the Garden (a quilt I completed sometime in this process).

detail from Ollie Jane's Flower Garden
detail from Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

I made my first bow with trapunto here.  I loved the bow.  I still like bows.  Especially plaid bows.  They reveal the folds created when a ribbon is rumpled to tie a knot.

Certainly not the least challenging was the quilting.  Then a beginner, I quilted the hexagons with a continuous curve motif, echoed around the appliqué, used my version of one of Diane Gaudynski’s filler designs in the inner border, and stitched a double grid in the outer border.  The only element of the quilting that was marked was half of the straight lines (they are 1” apart) and then quilted 1/4” away from that using the edge of the free motion foot.  Then, as now, the straight line quilting is the most challenging motif in free motion quilting, but I do still love the effect.

When it was time to give this quilt a title, I enlisted my husband’s input.  He came up with Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden to honor the traditional blocks of hexagons and give tribute to my quilting grandmother, Ollie Jane Hasty.

This quilt has had quite a career appearing in quilt shows and going to lectures with me.  She has earned some ribbons and accolades, but I haven’t retired her.  She hangs in the stairwell of our home, as close to the center of our lives as she can be.

The quilt used all cotton fabrics, some reproduction feed sacks.  Batting is Dream Cotton request.  Quilting thread is DMC machine embroidery cotton 50 weight / 2ply.  Finished dimensions are 58” x 68”.