Bee Still my Heart

bee skep on notebook page leftbee skep on notebook page right

I see that today has been designated as National Honey Bee Day, begun to increase community awareness of beekeeping in the U.S.  Such a holiday is a perfect excuse to share a few pieces of fiber art with a beekeeping theme.

After I sold my childhood home to Billy, a former colleague of my Daddy, I received a treasured package.  Billy was doing some remodeling and found two of my Daddy’s high school science lab books behind the walls of a closet.  His graduation from Sycamore High School was in 1932, so the Biology and Physical Science lab manuals predate that.

I never knew my Daddy could draw, but in these books I found his drawings of crawfish, birds, fish, chemistry lab equipment, and BEES.  I was excited to find his handwriting, which looked exactly like it did later in life, but the drawings were a wonderful surprise.  I scanned some of the images and printed them on parchment paper and framed them as Christmas gifts for family members, but the lab on the bees got special treatment.

Beekeeping detail rightI printed those two pages on commercially prepared fabric for printing, then used those as the background for appliquéd bee skeps, vines, leaves, berries, and bees.  Cotton was used for the vines and leaves, beehives are a woven cotton, berries are made with silk ribbon, and the bees are appliquéd from felted wool.  The quilting is hand guided free motion on a domestic sewing machine. Each piece of this pair finishes at 12” x 15”. In keeping with the school theme, I entitled this pair Beekeeping 101.

beauty & beesThis reconnection with my Daddy’s history with bees spurred me to stitch several more quilts with bees and beehives.  I modified a pattern from Maggie Bonanomi to create Beauty and the Bees in wool.  The background is commercially handdyed and felted black wool.  All the appliqué pieces are felted wool from recycled clothing, mine and Goodwill’s.  The pink berries and tendrils are machine couched with my free motion couching foot, one of the most fun-to-use tools in my toolbox!

Still busy as a bee, I wanted a colony on blue.  So I created a simple design using a single bee skep, and used needleturn appliqué on the Blackbird Design fabric that looks like a cross stitch sampler.  I return to that fabric frequently, in different colorways, because it adds another layer of interest to any quilt while paying tribute to another one of my needlework loves – cross stitch.  A section of this piece appears in the banner at the top of the page.

bees in guest bedroomThe Beehive on Blue was made to fit an oval frame (8″ x 10″) I found somewhere.  That’s a shape I love and find those frames hard to leave in the store.  So one came home with me, got a coat of chalk paint, and holds my quilt.  It is honored with the presence of an original drawing of a bee by my art instructor and friend, Mark Ballard.

Fifty-Two Tuesdays has a block with a beeskep on linen.  There’s one in Fifty-Two Wednesdays, and  I’ve used this motif in a series of beginning appliqué classes.  I’m certain it will reappear many times.  I sometimes find interesting bee buttons or charms that need a home in a textile hive.

My Daddy, the beekeeper, would have been surprised that those lab manuals were still around, I think.  He built this house in 1946, after having owned at least two farms, then living in another house in town. so why did he keep science lab manuals for fourteen years?  I know if he could see my fabric beehives, he would pretend to think they were silly, printing his workbook pages and sewing on them.  But secretly he would be pleased.  As I think he would be pleased that I treasure such wonderful memories of those glorious mornings checking the beehives with him.

Note:  more details about Beauty and the Bees and working with wool are here.

Strollin’

Strollin'My latest art quilt features a guinea.  I love these funny looking birds; the pattern on their feathers reminds me of little old women wearing black calico dresses, and I love their spirit of self-confidence.  I guess it should be noted that I admire them from a distance.  I don’t think our neighbors would like for us to have them on our property.

My guineas must be relegated to quilts and buttons and such.

Strollin' closeupI found a black and white batik fabric a couple of years ago that said “guinea” to me.  I made an album quilt of Sunbonnet Sue-style guineas and called it Guineas on Parade.

 

The art quilt here uses the same fabric and pattern I drew for that larger quilt.  This one is needleturn appliquéd onto a brown and white checked background (more on the philosophy of that here).  The sunflower in the border is raw edge appliqué on a brown  hand-dyed fabric.  All quilting is hand-guided, freemotion quilting using cotton thread.

Strollin' back closeupThis piece finishes at 16” x 20”.  For the back, I used a delightful batik I bought in Paducah.  Even though it’s on the back, it harkens to my philosophy of “using the good stuff“.

In addition to Guineas on Parade, I’ve included guinea buttons on a block in 52 Tuesdays, and an appliquéd guinea in 52 Wednesdays.  

I found a delightful poem about guineas online. In part, it reads

They seldom walk –‘tis a run or a trot,

Snatching bugs left and right, one for each polka-dot.

The poem in its entirety can be found here.

When I see a guinea, or hear one, it takes me back to a sunny day of softball practice where the “buck-wheat” cry of these birds interrupted our practice.  Those friends, the serenity of a spring day, the joy of playing in the rural outdoors, all come to mind and I feel a smile spreading across my face.

Loving the Blues

indigo fabricsI’ve been playing in my indigo vat for the past few days.  The pile you see here includes some of the results.  I’ve dipped pieces large and small of old vintage sheets, old hankies and napkins, doilies, placemats, purchased commercial fabric, bits of lace, and a cotton Matelasse bedspread.

Fabrics are cotton, linen, silk, and combinations of those.  Some have been dipped once, some several times.  I love to watch the magic as the oxidation process occurs.

indigo vatWhen first removed from the vat, the cloth appears green.  As the dye oxidizes, the blue appears.  If a resist is applied to block the dye absorption, interesting patterns can be created.

The only resists I’ve tried are some tying of the fabric and a bit of folding.  Already I can see how addictive this process can be.  And though I’ve already peered into the rabbit hole of staining with tea and blackberries, and then explored the browns, this lover of all things BLUE is tumbling headfirst into the indigo dye.

indigo stitchingThis third photo shows that I’ve started some projects using this most delightful fabric.  I’m loving the work I’ve recently been doing with vintage linen; it’s so deliciously soft to stitch by hand.  The photo shows a vintage baby dress appliquéd on linen now ready to embroider and quilt and some squares prepared for piecing.  Both pieces use techniques I’ve learned from that amazing artist, Jude Hill.  Her invisible basting stitch and paperless piecing technique have changed my stitching forever!

I haven’t limited myself to playing with yardage.  If I took a selfie right now, you would see a cotton knit shirt and a silk scarf which have both spent some time in the indigo vat.

Backroads

country storeHow long has it been since you saw a young lad execute a backflip from a wooden platform into the river below?

My answer to that question is “a few hours.”

On a day trip to Warm Springs, we took a route we’d not followed before.  All routes there are backroads, but most are some we’ve traveled many times.  A new path holds wonder.  With a favorite remark my driver likes to make, “this time and one more will make twice I’ve been on this road,” we were off on a new adventure.

Taking grandsons on a historic field trip, we saw numerous churches and cemeteries, a small community populated with an old store, schoolhouse, and church, all white buildings wearing red roofs.  We found two small towns filled with antique shops, a delightful restaurant with homemade bread, hamburgers topped with pimento cheese, and met a Corgi named Macon.

At the Little White House museum, I learned more about barkcloth than I ever realized I didn’t know.  Someone gave FDR a gift of beautiful yardage of tapa, and the story led me to new details about one of my favorite fabrics.  Who knew I would learn fabric history on this adventure?

It was on the way home that we saw him.  As we crossed a bridge over the Flint River, we saw the jump.  We were too high to see how cleanly he made his entrance into the water.

It doesn’t matter.  He had all afternoon to perfect his form.

We had had our moment.  A glimpse, memories triggered, stories to share.  Time travel.

Porch Swings

porch swingWhen I was a little girl, I loved to take a book and an old quilt and head for the swing in our backyard.  While there, I traveled to faraway lands and met some interesting characters.  Though there were plenty of interesting characters in Sycamore, the people I met in the pages of library books took me on journeys through forests, big cities, and westward. (I’m remembering, Girl of the Limberlost, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Jubilee Trail, all books I read several times over).

When I heard Meryl Streep deliver the line, “I’ve been a mental traveler,” in her role as Isak Dinesen in Out of Africa, I identified completely.  I devoured so many library books, especially in the summer reading program, that I worried about what I would do when I had read all the books.  My husband and children were amused by this revelation until they saw the tiny building that had housed my childhood world of literature.

Now I no longer fear reading all the books.  I fear not having time to read all the wonderful stories I want to read.  I fear not remembering which titles I have read.  I fear wasting time reading bad writing.

I do appreciate instant access to, if not all the books, many more books than I can read, in the palm of my hand.  Yes, I love my shelves of books, I love visiting the public library (I spent some time there yesterday) but I also love reading on my iPad.  I can browse new titles, read reviews, perhaps check out the author’s website, and download sample pages or an entire book without ever leaving home.

Sunday afternoon was cool enough to spend quite a while in the swing.  With the overhead fan adding to the natural breeze, and the sound of the sprinkler and the occasional bird calling in the background, I was transported to dreamland.  I was reading, then dozing.  But in the half-here/half-there consciousness for which Sunday afternoons are famous, I realized that I was living a dream.  In a swing.  On my front porch.  On a summer afternoon.  With a breeze, a book, and a lawn sprinkler.

Simple pleasures are the best.

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.

Dyeing to Make Something Brown

Brown is a new favorite color of mine.  Blue has always been at the top of the list for me, but in recent years, I’ve come to love brown.  Maybe there is a reason.

Brown vignetteThis photo is one I made a few years ago to use on the invitations to my family reunion.  Pictured are a platter and pitcher from the Tea Leaf dinnerware which was my grandmother’s pattern.  On the evening of Ollie Jane’s wedding in 1890, her mother hosted a supper for family.  She served the meal on those dishes and gave them as a gift to the bride and groom. These two pieces in the photo were later purchases, but I do have one plate left that was on Ollie Jane’s table that night. The large pitcher was one she used and I still use it, too.

Also in the photo is a piece of brown and white checked fabric.  I’ve been accused of “adding a little brown check” when a quilt needs a spark of something different (as in GBI Blues), or when I don’t know what else to use (as in Seven Black Birds). [Photos of those two quilts are in the gallery.] I included that fabric in this photo because it looks like the apron I remember Ollie Jane wearing a lot during the last years of her life.

When I printed the photo of Bunk Bates for the Flag Bearer quilt I wrote about yesterday, I printed the above photo on linen as well.  In thinking about a composition using that photograph, I decided to pour some dye in a bucket and dip some things.  Here you see them drying.brown fabric drying

Stay tuned for the final result, but suffice it to say, I’m having a lot of fun!  I ordered some indigo dye today; I can’t wait to play with that.  Oh, I like blue and brown together, too.

You can read more about Ollie Jane’s wedding and her quilts here.  And more about her influence on my quiltmaking here.

Never Say Never or Dye

prewashing fabricsToday I find myself doing two things I thought I wasn’t doing anymore.  Prewashing fabric, and dyeing fabric.

Once upon a time, I prewashed all my commercial quilt fabric.  I loved seeing the colors up close at the ironing board, I found myself reshuffling fabrics to make new groupings as they hung on a rack to dry, and I planned all kinds of projects during that stage of the process.  Lately, though, I’ve enjoyed piecing with the crisp fabrics as they came home from the store.  And, I enjoyed having the time spent sewing rather than washing and ironing.  I do only buy quilt shop quality fabrics and haven’t had a problem with colors bleeding.  Well, I have had one problem red fabric, but it was a top quality brand, and it had been prewashed.  So, there is that.

I’ve lately bought some vintage linens that were heavily starched and I didn’t want the bugs to attack.  Recently I’ve been doing a lot of hand stitching, exploring more of Jude Hill’s techniques, and like touching the soft rumpled linen and cotton in that process.  I wanted to use some Irish linen handkerchiefs I recently bought which had never been used (I removed the Rich’s label before throwing them in the washer) and wanted to be sure the creases were not yet holes.

mb wool with snailAnd, last week I stitched the wool piece you see here from a Maggie Bonanomi pattern.  I was anxious to work up another one of her pieces, and grabbed a piece of silk matka for the background of the next piece.  To complete the load, I added a few pieces of Japanese woven fabrics I had bought in Paducah.  They needed softening a bit, too.

Maybe dyeing isn’t the right word to describe the process you see in the bowl.  Staining might be more like it.  Some of the fabrics I’ve been working with lately are a bit too WHITE for my taste.  And, I had this set of blue linen napkins that I’ve been working with and wondered what I could do to give them some visual interest.  Yes, the weave is nice.  The color is nice.  It’s just a bit flat.  And, I admit to being spoiled by using hand-dyed fabrics; I’ve gotten accustomed to their subtle variations.  blackberry dyeingSo, I had some blackberries we weren’t eating as fast as we should, I boiled them with some water in the microwave, and added some fabrics.  If you think you see bits of berries in the bowl, you are right.  I’m hoping for a mottled effect.

I love hand-dyed fabrics.  I’ve said that before.  But I don’t like the chemical nature of synthetic dyes and the equipment needed to dye my own fabric.  However, I have recently embraced watercolors on fabric and like to alter the color a bit myself.  So, natural recoloring might be something I can do with rust and berries and nuts and dirt.  Think of it as a country girl’s approach to hand-dyes.

Stay tuned for the outcome.

Whistle of Home

train jg photoSome part of my soul goes home every time I hear a train whistle.

I grew up near a railroad track parallel to US highway 41 in south Georgia.  I now live near a railroad track near US highway 41 in middle Georgia.  A lot has changed about me, the highway, and the sound of the trains.  But the constant is that the rumble of a train on the tracks, the predictable ‘two longs, short, long’ blast of the horn brings a smile to my face.  Every time.

My parents brought me home from the hospital and put me in a crib less than fifty yards from the railroad track.  Yes, I’m still a sound sleeper.  I grew up waving to engineers as the train came by, counting cars, learning something about motion and direction and the hauling of goods and people.

There were passenger cars, flatbeds hauling pulpwood and granite headed south, tanker cars, box cars with freight and hobos, and stacks of automobiles headed north.  Occasionally the train stopped in front of our house.  Occasionally a hobo would come to the door looking for work, or food, or both.  Once the engineer came to the door and borrowed some of my mother’s clothesline to make a repair.  A coupling had come uncoupled, so that train pulled away with two cars attached with a makeshift linkage.  My mother often wondered how far her clothesline traveled.  And, forever after, we made do with two rows of clothes drying instead of three.

And, cabooses.  There were really red cabooses at the end of every train.  With a conductor who wore a striped cap and sometimes stood on the porch and waved.  Recently, we have begun stopping at every retired caboose we see and Jim snaps a photo of me onboard (or trying to get onboard if there are “crazy women should not climb on the train” signs).

My nephew Woody explored the inside of a caboose when he was about six years old.  He was visiting with us and announced over the suppertable that “there’s a lot of room in those little cars.”  My mother was horrified, my Daddy tried to hide his smirk, as we learned that the train had stopped and Woody had climbed aboard for a look-see.

As I recounted yesterday’s trip to the JugFest in Knoxville, GA, I realized there was a train theme.  We collect southern folk pottery, and seeing all the new work was certainly a thrill, especially that of Shelby West.  But the non-clay purchases I made seem to all be related.  There is the crow, Heckle, made from a gear, a pair of pliers, and a railroad spike.  There are earrings which are hammered, fold-formed, and enameled pewter.  The artist’s anvil is made from a piece of rail from a train track.  And, we shot the requisite photo on the retired caboose in downtown Roberta.

During the forty-something years I lived out of earshot of a train, I never lost my love of their sounds.  Thankfully, I’m married to a man who loves them too.  Though I do recall on the first night he spent at my parents’ house (in the same bedroom I first slept), he woke me at 3:00 a.m., sitting straight up in bed and exclaiming, “what is THAT?”  My reply, “what is what?” revealed that I heard nothing out of the ordinary.  Once awake, I realized the shaking of the house, and in fact, the very earth beneath, was nothing but the train.

Over the years, we have both delighted in finding a B & B near the railroad tracks.  When weather conditions were right, we could hear a distant train when living in our first home together. The sound of the whistle at night came to mean peace to Jim, as it always had to me.

The proximity of the railroad was a plus for us when deciding to buy this house.  Shortly after moving here, we were returning home from a trip with friends and we stopped to get lunch in a small town. Jim and I heard a faraway whistle and shared a smile across the group, knowing only we appreciated the sound – and realizing how we had missed hearing that during the week away from home.

Photos:  Jim Gilreath’s photo of the Nancy Hanks steam locomotive in Gordon, Ga. Fall, 2015.

train play paducahSandra Dee playing on the caboose in Paducah, Ky. Spring, 2016.

Grandpa Tom’s Chair

Grandpa Tom's ChairThis chair sits in our kitchen near the door.  It appears to be an empty chair, but it isn’t.  It is filled with memories from six generations in my husband’s family.

In 1903, when Tom Gilreath was thirteen years old, he rode a horse from Suches to Blairsville, via Sosbee Cove.  A distance of twenty miles, across a mountain, meant that he had to spend the night on his way there and on the return trip.  Tom’s mission was to pick up four chairs which had been hand made for his family.

Many details of this story been lost over time, the bare essentials I’ve outlined are all we’ve been told.  But a thirteen year old boy who had to take his food and bedding and find his way to his destination and home must have had some frightened moments.  Hmmm, four chairs, a boy, and his belongings – does this mean he walked the twenty miles home?

And his mother, Margaret, don’t you know she was worried?  Though I guess she was accustomed to wondering how things were going for the men in her life.  Tom’s Dad, Jonathan, was a circuit riding preacher as well as a farmer.

That made Tom a man earlier than many even in those days, I suppose.  Their Dad being gone to minister to others meant that the children had certain responsibilities.  Tom recalled going out on cold winter evenings and breaking the ice from around Jonathan’s boots so he could dismount from his saddle and stirrups.  Maybe his older brother Henry had to stay home and tend the farm – that would explain the younger one going on the mission to collect the chairs.

I’m sure when you examine an old chair in an antique store you appreciate the craftmanship of assembly without nails.  But next time, look a bit beyond the pegs and think about how the chairs were delivered.  Maybe on horseback, on a mountain road, accompanied by a lad whose mother was trusting that he would be unafraid.

This chair is empty in the photo, but sometimes it serves as a staging area for things we need to remember to take with us as we head our the door.  I did not know Grandpa Tom when he smoked cigars, but those who did say they can smell his tobacco when they see one of these chairs.  All four of the originals are still in the family.