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.

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!

Not Perfect, but….

front porch in summerThere is a phrase buzzing around on Facebook these days when people describe their husbands, “not perfect, but perfect for me.”  Well, that is certainly true of my husband, but I recently thought of the phrase with respect to houses.  I was cleaning out some old file folders filled with inspirational ideas for decorating, sewing, and gardening.  Along with those, I have kept a folder filled with house plans. For many years,  I thought my dream house was in there somewhere.

I threw the contents of the folder away without even riffling through it.  Not because the dream is dead, but because I am living it.  Our house is not new, and it’s not what I once would have thought I dreamed of.  It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect for us.

We bought this one several years ago and the minute the former occupant was out, it felt like home to us.  Even with painters and workers tromping through for a few weeks to spruce things up, Jim and I knew we were home.  There were nearly thirty years of memories in our former home – memories of our little girls and then their little boys, but this was the setting our souls desired.

What we had come to realize is that we were looking for was a few acres in the woods that had a house we could live in.  That’s what we found.

Home:  a front porch with swings.  A screened back porch which was the favorite room of a little Corgi we loved.  Rooms inside big enough to move around and house all our stuff.  A kitchen where we can eat and feed friends.  A house for us needs books, so we built bookshelves.  A place to compute, to read, to sew, to store a few cameras.  We are good.  We are home.

Some people who read this are looking for words related to quilting.  As I proofread this, the title resonates with recent advice I’ve been reading related to creativity.  The pursuit of perfection is the enemy of creativity.  So, my quilts are “not perfect, but….” But I still love to make them.  I once strived for near perfect execution of the details.  Now I’m more excited about playing with new color combinations or layout or techniques.  It’s all about the fun I’m having!

Cyndi’s killer quilt

killer hexagonsToday at a community event where I was invited to share my quilting story, members of the group were invited to bring some of their family quilts as well.  Several did just that.  What fun to hear others’ quilt stories.

Cyndi brought a beautiful quilt pieced of hexagons.  Of course, the shape of the pieces got my interest immediately.  The arrangement of those hexagonal pieces was one I had not seen before, but the captivating feature of the quilt was its multigenerational story.

The quilt was begun sometime prior to 1917 by Alma, for her daughter Cleona.  Sixteen-year-old Cleona died that year at the age of 16, and  grief-stricken Alma stopped work on the project.  Alma herself died before ever getting back to work on the quilt.

Cleona’s aunt, Norma, took on the project at some point, but she, too, died before completing the work.

Years later, Norma’s daughter Cleona (niece to the first Cleona) married and asked her mother-in-law, Sarah, an accomplished quilter, to complete this piece of history.  Sarah refused, citing “that quilt has already killed three people!”

Determined, but out of connections to help, the younger Cleona took on the task herself.  Her husband built quilting frames for her and she began work.  When the master quilter Sarah saw the sub-standard stitches going into that gorgeous design, she gave in and completed the task.

Sarah lived to be 100 years old, so it seems the curse was broken.

Part of my talk emphasized labeling quilts, writing down the stories for future generations.  Cyndi had already done just that, complete with a genealogical chart to accompany the story.

Version 2Now I’m itching to grab some hexagons and assemble them in the pattern these women used.

Simple yet Effective

 

Indigo Pearadise
Indigo Pearadise

I was just looking at some of my favorite quilts on Pinterest and once again noting how appealing some of the simplest designs are.  A little charm pack sewn together with wide sashing and quilted.  Divine.

But, I’m afraid I don’t often make those quilts.  I love designing and tend to add my “what if” philosophy to the process – adding and complicating things.  I like doing that.

Indigo Pearadise is one of those quick, relatively unplanned projects that resulted in a pleasing outcome.  Minimal preparation, some very pleasant zen time with my needle in hand, some dancing with my sewing machine, and I have a little wall quilt.

Last spring, I had been stitching pears in preparation for an upcoming class I was planning to teach at my favorite local quilt shop.  I had drawn this pear as a design to use for the introductory class. With gentle curves and a few pieces, I could focus on the beginning steps in needleturn appliqué, making a template, marking the background, learning the stitch.

In doing my homework for the class, I made numerous samples varying fabrics and backgrounds.  Pears are like chocolate (pears are good with chocolate, too); they can become addictive.

We were anticipating an upcoming trip, and is usually the case, I spend more time thinking about the sewing project I’m taking than the clothes I will wear.  I wanted to continue my pear exploration with minimal preparation.  I had a charm pack from Minick and Simpson’s Indigo Crossing fabric line from Moda and knew I would love whatever project I made.  Anything blue is good.  Anything these two sisters design is good.

So I reduced the size of the original pear pattern I had made for the class (from 6″ x 9″ to about 3″ x 5″), made a plastic template, and marked a linen background with guidelines for even placement of the pears.

I stitched all the pears in the evenings in our B & B in Blue Ridge and later at Amicalola State Park in Ga.  No, the fact that one of our destinations was Blue Ridge did not enter into my fabric choices.  It’s serendipity.

Now when I see this project, I see blue pears.  But I also see rainy days in Blue Ridge, delightful walks about the town, nice meals with my husband, and fun with family at Amicalola.

The quilting is done with 60 weight silk thread using a continuous curve design.  I mark a grid, in this case 1/2”, with a removable marker to guide the free motion quilting.  Dream Wool batting.  This project finished at 16″ x 21″.

Treasures Under the Knife

treasures cut upI’m upstairs now in my sewing haven cutting up some coveted fabric collections and sewing them back together.  I boast in Fifty-Two Tuesdays that I’m all about using the good stuff.  But sometimes I think I should experiment with less desirable fabric, “in case I mess it up.”  How’s that for a negative self image?

I watched Katie Fowler (www.katiefowler.net) on the The Quilt Show (www.thequiltshow.com) yesterday.  I, like many audience members, was astounded as she cut up her beautiful quilt.  “Dramatic” is not strong enough to describe that episode.

Katie has mastered many quiltmaking techniques and is a creativity coach, helping others to “find their voice”.  Subsequent to the show (#1807) with Alex and Ricky, she revisited them to share the finished product of her cut up quilt in its new life.  Today I watched a skype session between Alex and Katie.  They discussed our reluctance to “untie the bow” on coveted stacks of fabric.

Inspired, yes I am.  Their conversation has me pressing and cutting and resewing some beautiful woven art.  Kaffe Fassett prints, shot cottons, and stripes have made their way off the shelf and are headed into a familiar pattern with a twist.  What fun!

I realize that my quilts I love the most are those in which I dared to explore the unknown with treasured fabrics.  GBI Blues, Indigo Pearadise, and Miss Lily’s Baskets are three examples.  All are in the gallery.

A personal design note:  Though these fabrics “go together” in that they are parts of distinct fabric groups, they are not from one collection.  They span several releases of Kaffe’s over the years.  And I pulled some other fabrics, too (non-Kaffe stripes, something that “reads” solid, other big bold prints).  When I do use a designer’s collection, I usually spice it up with some outliers.  Joanna Figueroa (www.figtreequilts.com) advises 85% collection/15% stash.  I don’t analyze, but I’d say that’s about right.