Mary Ellen’s Quilt Tours

This quilt, Mrs. Chillingsworth, is so named by my friend Mary Ellen, in honor of the resident ghost in their home in Minnesota.  Mary Ellen is a gifted and prolific quilter whose friendship I cherish.  This piece was made using a pattern called Sidelights and a panel Mary Ellen found at Missouri Star Quilt Company.

Mary Ellen and her photographer husband Bruce, took Mrs. Chillingsworth on a seasonal outing recently and shared photos.  This photo journey is the 48th installment in what Mary Ellen intended to be 52 Quilts-A Journal/Journey of the Stars and Stripes and Other Quilts. I say intended because Mary Ellen says they’re having so much fun, they probably won’t stop at 52.  And, she has plenty more quilts on hand, and is still sewing.

The photo journey with quilts began sometime in 2016 and Mary Ellen has posted groups of photos on Facebook featuring quilts in picturesque settings including roadside vistas, historic sites, and remote areas of natural beauty.  On occasion, they’ve secured permission to pose a quilt on a priceless antique chair for its photo op.

Since the first few installments, I’ve begged for a published version; a history book, travelogue, and quilt reference, all in one!  There’s no commitment yet from the pair, but at Christmastime last year, their children showed them what fun it would be to have a bound copy of their adventures.  Their son and daughter collected the posts and photos and had the first 29 episodes published and bound for them.  Nice, huh?

Mary Ellen had a shop in Battle Lake MN, Sweetapple, where she sold gifts, pottery, primitives, and furniture made by Bruce.  In the same building was B’s Quilt Shop.  The two complemented each other, merged, and the obsession with quiltmaking began.

Mary Ellen does all her piecing on her 1957 Singer Featherweight and all the quilting on a longarm machine.  Some of the quilts in the photos were made as samples; for her shop or for others’.  In each post, she’s shared the name of the pattern used, so when the book comes out, you’ll get lots more details.

In addition to driving around looking for photographic spots, Bruce and Mary Ellen still make and distribute portable pressing tables. Theirs were feathered in Fons and Porters magazine in 2009, on Simply Quilts, and in various magazines.  Now (theoretically retired) they mostly distribute wholesale to shops in their area, but will fill orders from all over.  I have contact info if you need it.  My table is in the foreground of this photo when I was sewing in the breakfast room one cold day last winter.

I know the photos make you hungry for more details of their adventures.  You can see their spirit of adventure and Mary Ellen’s excellent workmanship in the photos here.  In spite of the intriguing locales, no injuries have been sustained in the photo shoots, though Bruce and Mary Ellen do admit to some exhaustion from the hikes.  I love the scenery in all seasons, but anxiously await seeing a quilt at Bruce’s ice fishing hut.

Here are a few more photos.  As always, you can click on a photo to enlarge it.
When their book comes out, I’ll be sure to share the news here!

The Camera


Sometimes the camera tells a story.  Sometimes the camera is the story.

While exploring in some antique stores on Friday, I found some treasures.  Bits of lace, buttons, old hand embroidery.

 

And photos of unknown folks with a story to tell.

 

 

 

 

Jim found a treasure, too.  A miniature 35mm camera with leather case, original box, and paperwork.  He enjoys giving these tools new jobs to do, running a roll of film through them, letting the camera tell stories again.

On Saturday, he took it to a local shop to get a new battery.  The store owner, George, said, “I remember an occasion when I worked on a camera exactly like this one time before.”  It was at a gathering hosted by Phil Walden in the 1970’s.  A fellow came by with a camera like this in his hand, profanely exclaiming that it wasn’t working properly.  George asked what seemed to be the problem, adding, “I work on cameras, I can look at it for you if you like.”  Taking the offered camera, making the necessary adjustments, George got the camera working and handed it back.  Andy walked away and continued photographing the social event.

Years later, the two men’s paths crossed again in New York.  Andy looked at George and said, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”  After hearing, “I repaired a camera for you once in Macon, Ga.,” Mr. Warhol muttered, “Oh, yeah,” as he walked away.

Sewing on the Road

We took a road trip yesterday and I did some sewing while riding.  I haven’t done that in a while.  Lately, I’ve been enjoying the scenery, sometimes helping with navigation and driving.  Before leaving home today, I grabbed one of my favorite projects to go:  English Paper Piecing.

I love this technique.  Some of the first quilt making I did was using this method.  In Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden, I pieced the hexagons for the background by basting fabric to freezer paper templates.  This was a great travel project while visiting with my mother during the years of her life in an assisted living facility, in hospitals while family members were receiving treatment, and later a repeat of the situation with my mother-in-law.

I’ve found other kinds of hand work to be portable, too.  I’ve done wool appliqué and the seed stitch while riding, details described here.  But for quick preparation for an on-the-move project, EPP can’t be topped.  Today I grabbed a mini-charm pack of fabric, some hexagons I had cut from card stock (using my AccuQuilt Go, and a little tin of supplies I keep at the ready.  In this box is a pair of scissors, a couple of pins, a needle, a thimble, and thread.  I can grab it and go.

Here’s a photo of all I got done in the car…of the 42 fabrics in the collection, I think there are 5 left to be basted.  The rest are ready to attach together or to something else.

 

 


Once home, I pulled out this bag of templates to make my version of La Passacaglia, a complex EPP project of many shapes.  I love the geometry of it all, and began playing with it a while back, especially using some fabric with symmetrical designs to demonstrate possibilities while teaching the technique.  It’s all stored where I can pull it out and work on it a while, put it away, and visit again later.  Pieces in progress are pictured in the pile. (The orange and blue probably won’t end up in my final quilt, not colors I like…I was just playing with the colors and symmetry of the fabric in this rosette.)  I took this to our guild a few months ago, planning to offer the whole caboodle for sale at a bargain.  Now I’m glad I rethought it.  Who knows when a ready-to-go project will come in handy?  When Jim says, “let’s go,” I say “I’m ready.  Where?”.  But I feel better knowing I have some sewing to take along, even if it just goes for a ride and doesn’t get touched.

New Old Stuff


I’ve acquired some real treasures in recent days…my brain is spinning with ideas for using them.

The red windowpane checked towels are old linen.  Yes, they do look like graph paper.  But they work well as an underlying grid for free form appliqué and stitching.  The loose weave and years of washing make them a delight to use – the needle just glides through the openings between the threads.  The red/burlap trim and the lace are gifts from a friend.  They came from Europe and look like they belong with a collection of French General fabrics, don’t they?

The doilies are another antique store find.  Yes, they are treasures in their original box, with the label, but they won’t stay there.  Click on the photo to enlarge if you want to read the details.  You will swoon! They will become mats for photos on fabric, I think.

And the blue linen hankie, oh, my, what a beauty!  A friend found this while shopping and thought of me.  And this was before seeing my vintage blues from Bell Buckle!   Enlarge his one to see the hand drawn thread work and the amazing tiny appliqué.  The white squares in the nine-patch measure 3/8” on  each side.

This piece will not find its way into a quilt for a very long time.  It now lives in my basket of blue.

Paper Dolls

My mother entertained little girls by cutting paper dolls from paper.  She would fold the newspaper or catalog pages accordion style, then cut one-half of a girl in a dress.  All of us squealed as she unfurled the string of girls holding hands.

I finally learned to do the folding and cutting for myself, even to change the cuts to make strings of little boys, or of girls linking hands up, then down, then up again.

I had some fabric on hand that looked like little girls’ dresses, so I made a template and appliquéd some of Mama’s dolls on fabric.

Later it occurred to me that one of the granddaughters might like a parade of little girls like she once played with in paper.  I happened to have fabric from five dresses she had worn as a toddler.  I cut a pattern so that five girls would fit on a vintage doily I found, and a memory was rekindled. I layered the dolls and doily on a bit of indigo dyed linen and used machine quilting to add dimension. Buttons from those five little dresses were used as embellishments and to secure the layers to a bit of a vintage cross-stitched quilt.  The finished piece measures 17” x 16”.  

Jerry’s Bottle Tree Farm

What an adventure we had this morning!  Our friends Jerry and Rose Payne invited us to their home, Tick Hill, so that Jim might photograph some uncommon butterflies, Giant Yucca Skippers.  We did see the target insect and some other species, but the highlight of the trip for me was the bottle farm.  Well, that and fascinating conversation with Jerry.
We have a bottle tree in our yard, and so far, it’s done its job of warding off evil spirits.  Jerry does not have a bottle tree, he has a bottle forest – made of 135 trees and counting.  That’s more than 10,000 bottles.  Amazing!

Jerry can tell you a lot about bottles.  He knows which companies use recycled bottles, which ones make brown bottles, or green bottles, or blue bottles, or frosted, or painted.  He knows spikes, too.  Winds at his place will cause bottles to pull the spikes out of the post if they are less than 6” long.  The spacing of the spikes is determined by the bottles he’s planning to use and the intended final design.

As a child in Virginia, Jerry was fascinated by bottle trees he saw on his walk to school.  His forest is a tribute to that memory and to individuals in his life.  There is a tree with colored bottles entwined much like a barber’s pole: a salute to his uncle who wielded clippers for a living.  Another has only bottles from the monastery where a friend resides.  Yet another holds pickle jars, all from a neighbor whose children eat a LOT of pickles.  There are trees comprised only of brown beer bottles, or frosted wine bottles, or medicine bottles, or tiny bottles, or bottles dug from a particular location.


As we walked, our conversation included weather, butterfly behavior, plant identification, educational systems, life in south Georgia, mutual acquaintances from years past, and the history of Catholicism in Virginia.  We exchanged stories of family experiences and art pursuits.  We learned more about each other’s educational backgrounds and professional experiences.

Jerry’s folk art is delightful and we were fortunate to bring home some treasures today.  Jerry paints bits of tree limbs and roots that he finds lying about as well as shells and bones from animals.  There were some roots and branches whose shapes said to Jerry they were a chicken, a whippoorwill, and a tadpole. Here you see the tadpole.

And this piece is one of a series where he painted insects on tortoise shells.  This one, Water Strider Flotilla, includes images of those known as pond skimmers, water striders, Jesus bugs, water skaters, or pond skitters.

Time spent with Jerry and Rose is a treasure in itself.  Rose was away for part of the morning, so our visit with her was abbreviated this time.

Dr. Payne is an amazing person whose breadth of knowledge seems neverending.  He is best known in some circles for his ground breaking work in forensic science.  In the 1960’s, he detailed the changes that occur as insects are introduced to decomposing pig carcasses.  A documentary film has been made about his life and a more complete biography is here.


And for those who read this blog hoping to see a quilt of some description, here is one of my latest art pieces.  A butterfly photo is relevant, don’t you think?  This is Swallowtail in the Briarpatch.  A photo of Jim’s I printed on silk fabric, quilted using free motion machine stitching with silk thread, then framed it with a batik and some cottons.
The stalk of the flower and some leaves are stitched with a heavier rayon thread.  The finished piece is mounted on foam core and measures 11” x 14”.

Hearts in the Kitchen

This time of year we see hearts in abundant numbers.  This symbol of love is everywhere, and often seen in shades of red.

I love the heart motif and have it all around my house and in quilts I’ve made.  This year I’ve been adding to my bowl of blue hearts in the breakfast room.  I made a few last year and in the past couple of weeks, I’ve been adding more.

I’ve used ribbons, buttons, and lace to embellish some of them.  In other cases, I just stitched and stuffed some of my favorite fabrics.  I added French knots to one.  On another I stitched pearls from a rescued strand I bought.  The fabrics include barkcloth, vintage ticking, African indigo batik, hand-dyed linen, bits of an old quilt, and fabrics from well-worn clothing.

This bowl of stories sits on the breakfast room table.  It warms my heart (pun not intended, but appropriate, I guess) to recall memories associated with each element.

Oh, I can use red fabric, too.

 

Photo notes:  The pitcher with heart is part of my Rowe pottery collection.  The wooden bowl (and possibly some of the spoons) is by my favorite wood carver, Ralph Smith.  The heart-shaped bark basket holds memories of St. Simons Island where I bought it many many years ago.

Sharing and Learning

In recent months, I’ve had several opportunities to share my quilting stories.  The emphasis is on sharing – listening to quilting stories from other people as much telling them about mine.  There is the frequent conversation beginning with, “I remember seeing my grandmother make quilts,” but there are many different experiences along those lines.  I also hear, “I’ve always wanted to learn to quilt”, “I have my mother’s sewing machine”, and “I find it so relaxing to sit and stitch.”   I never hear, “what is a quilt?”  Everyone seems to have memories of quilts in their lives.

I never tire of hearing about memories associated with quiltmaking, but I find that I learn about my own experiences in those conversations, too.  When asked questions about why I do what I do, I am often surprised to hear my answer.  I don’t always verbalize to myself the reasoning behind an approach.

A few weeks ago, I spent three days sharing Fifty-two Tuesdays, the quilt and the book at Mistletoe Market ( a festival-like weekend shopping experience in Perry, Ga.).  As I repeatedly summarized my experience with that journal quilt, I came to realize how that adventure changed my focus from traditional quilts to story quilts.  In the fifty-two weeks of 2015, I depicted a scene that represented an experience in my life each week.  I also explored every quilting technique I could, in essence making it a sampler quilt, too.   In so doing, I tried things that I would not have wanted to pursue on a large scale.

I learned that printing on silk fabric gave a luster to photographs that seemed dull when printed on paper or canvas.  Now I’ve explored that more fully with several art quilts. (Examples written about here are Swamp Bird, Flowers for Phyllis, and  Commonly Uncommon).  Success with that approach gave me confidence to try something totally different.  I had old photographs I wanted to print on fabric and wondered if I could successfully use old linen or cotton fabric in keeping with the vintage photo.  It worked and I’ve played with that numerous times. (Some are Spinster Sisters, My Daddy wore Overalls, and Galadrielle.)

Shortly after that market experience, I was scheduled to share my work with a civic group.  I’m accustomed to presenting trunk shows to quilt guilds, but groups of non-quilters are a new experience this year.  The self-examination I had realized in the days at Mistletoe Market allowed me to better understand and therefore explain my transition from the traditional quilt world to the art quilt world.

Make no mistake, I still love traditional quilts and will continue to make those.  But the freedom to tell a story in a small piece of cloth, using traditional quiltmaking techniques is very compelling right now.

As I started a new file for my 2017 journal entries, I couldn’t help but ponder the possibilities of this prime year.  I even wrote a blog post entitled Prime Time, reflecting that since 2017 is a prime number, we should all use that to try something different.  But I never published that post, because I couldn’t conclude with what I proposed to try differently myself.  The list I made of 2016 efforts was so eye-opening, I just want to keep on keeping on with what I’ve learned.

I am assembling the blocks from Fifty-Two Wednesdays, my journal quilt for 2016.  I’m still imagining what the journal quilt for 2017 might be – if I do the weekly quilt block again.  I have a few days to decide; I will continue the weekly format I’ve done before, using Thursday as my deadline.

 

About the photos: hexagonal images are from Fifty-Two Tuesdays.  Rectangular blocks are from Fifty-Two Wednesdays.  Notice that the scenes from the 2016 quilt are not yet quilted.  In addition to changing the shape of the block, I chose not to “quilt-as-I-went” this time, leaving the quilting until after assembly.

Fruitcake

Turman Capote and I have a shared history.  We had loving spinster aunts as partners in fruitcake preparation.  When I taught a high-school course called the American Short Story, students’ reactions to the old-fogey ways Capote related in his A Christmas Memory were not ones of delight.  But I was thrilled to revisit my childhood.

It’s the time of year when I buy things at the grocery store that I would normally never allow past my lips.  Some candied fruit (I don’t even want to know how that is accomplished), a lot of sugar, butter, nuts, disposable baking pans.

This is a result of a lifelong habit of eating fruitcake at Christmastime.  My mother baked the dark fruitcakes for as long as I can remember.  She chopped all the fruit by hand, added nuts that either my grandmother or my Daddy had picked out of the shells, and that I had picked up from underneath the trees at home, and filled the house with a delightful smell including vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Mama made these cakes and gave them to family and friends.  Her gifts were generous, a full recipe baked in a tube cake pan.  They were huge!  Every year the search was on to find a store selling the round tins which would hold these 5-lb treasures.

Once I was grown, I became a recipient of the heavy gift in the tin.  Mama would always have ours ready to take home at Thanksgiving and we would savor the treat throughout the holidays.

Jim found a way to improve on Mama’s recipe.  We would remove her foil or waxed paper wrapping, substituting cheesecloth.  The cheesecloth would soak up the brandy Jim added and make the cake more moist.  Yes, that’s it, moist.  Once when Mama came to visit us at Christmas, I served dessert.  She remarked, “This is GOOD fruitcake.  Who made it?”  “I made it?  Are you sure?”  “Well, I don’t know.  This tastes much better than the one at my house.”  We never confessed the alteration.

Mama gave a cake to anyone who she thought would like them.  Only when I started following in her footsteps did I realize what a gift a fruitcake was.  The time, and expense, to bake these was no small matter.  A few years ago, a cousin said, “You know your Mama always made me a dark fruitcake at Christmas.  I always took it.  But I couldn’t stand those things.”  She lowers her voice when she uttered the words “dark fruitcake,” as it she were speaking of something evil.  Now that I think about it, I bet Mama realized Charlotte was unappreciative, but she was one of those people who would have been hurt had Mama not given her one.

I’ve found some shortcuts to Mama’s process.  I sometime buy nuts already shelled, and bake the concoction in small foil pans.  Once the cakes are cooled, they are ready to wrap for presentation to appreciative friends.  I know fruitcakes are the punch lines for many jokes, and I know we are all more conscious of our diets these days, but most reactions I get to the fruitcakes I share are of the “oh, I love this – it takes me back to Christmas of my childhood” type.  And when I take a plate of sliced fruitcake to social gatherings this time of year, it’s always emptied.

If your mouth is watering for a trip down memory lane, here is Mama’s recipe.

  • Mama’s Stirring Fruitcake
  • 1 lb candied cherries
  • ½ lb candied pineapple (white)
  • ½ lb candied pineapple (green)
  • 3 pts shelled nuts, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ lb raisins (⅔ cup)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ lb butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla flavoring
  • 2 teaspoons almond flavoring
  • 2 teaspoons cake spices
  • Cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at the time and beat well.  Add flour and spices and beat well.  Add fruit and nuts.  Pour into a large greased pan and place in 375 degree oven (note that she found 300 degrees in her oven to be better).  After baking 15 minutes, stir.  Do this a total of 3 times.  After 3rd time, pack in tube cake pan and bake 15 minutes longer.  Let stand in pan for 15 minutes before turning out.

My recipe notes:

I reduce the nuts to about 4 cups.

“cake spices” seem to be unavailable these days, so I use: 1 t. allspice, ½ t. nutmeg, and ½ t. cinnamon

I sometimes use 3” x 5” loaf pans to give as gifts.  This recipe fills five of those.  The plate pictured above the recipe shows one of those small loaf pans sliced.  So the whole recipe is five of those!

Note:  An internet search will yield numerous links to Truman Capote’s story, analyses of that work, and even audio files for your seasonal listening.  It’s worth the time.

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.