Swamp Bird

Sandy art quilt

The gist of a recent conversation with a friend:

Friend:  Hey, have you been busy?

Me:  Oh, yeah, a bit.

Friend:  Sewing?

Me:  Some, but I did have a few days last week when I accomplished less than usual.

Friend:  Why the downturn?

Me:  Exercising my Medicare card a bit.  I can’t believe I’m old enough to have one, and I got it just in time for my annual doctors’ visits.  And, an unexpected visit to another.

Friend:  So what have you learned from the interruption to your life?

Me:  That sometimes a few days to rest and reflect is a good thing.  An interruption can allow you to shift your focus.  Also, that I can see better without my reading glasses than I realized.

Friend:  So what’s your latest finished project?

Me:  An art quilt featuring a photo Jim made of a Prothonotary Warbler in a local swamp.

Friend:  Tell me details.

Me:  I printed the photo on silk fabric, layered it with wool batting atop a square of hand-dyed osnaburg fabric and used dense free motion quilting in the background of the image.  The lines are about a toothpick’s width apart, roughly parallel, but it’s obvious that it is hand guided.  I don’t use rulers.  I want the finished piece to reveal that the project was handmade.

The yellow osnaberg layer was hand stitched to a bit of linen I dyed in the indigo vat, then that layer to a piece of commercial fabric, and then to a vintage quilt.  All of these were attached using the seed stitch and varying threads.  The beads were hand stitched, too.

Sandy art quilt

The label on the back is a portion of an embroidered vintage linen napkin. That and the hanging sleeve were attached using Jude Hill’s invisible baste.

The finished piece measures 16” x 20”.  Jim titled it Swamp Bird.

Friend:  Anything else I should know?

Me:  When you ride your bike, wear your helmet.

Is It Fall, Y’all?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

Golden Bells

Recently driving down the road, to a destination two hours south and a few decades in the past, I was playing Angel Band full blast.  People in other cars could see me singing and think I’m crazy.  Well, maybe, but my singing along with Emmylou is not sufficient to have me committed.

This is how I deal with sorrow.  I was headed to the funeral for my cousin Wallace.  So When They Ring Those Golden Bells, We Shall Rise, and Drifting Too Far are soothing sounds to my soul.  Wallace loved these songs, too.

It’s been a long time since I played this collection; so long that I actually had forgotten some of the words.  Jim and I both find comfort in music, and this CD and others by Alison Kraus, Ralph Stanley, and selections from O Brother Where Art Thou and Cold Mountain soundtracks have blasted away in the car on too many trips down that same road. For part of this trip we were in separate vehicles, and my solitary time is when I had the music the loudest.

As Precious Memories plays, I can hear my mother’s voice as I sat beside her in church.  That song was one of her favorites and she and I thought she sounded like Emmylou does.  Another album with soothing voices I sometimes play is Trio.  When that plays, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and I join Emmylou to form a quartet.

The songs on those two albums brought me comfort in the drive to and from visits with my mother in the last seven years of her life.  Visits when I didn’t know if she would recognize me; later visits when I was certain she would not.  But the sounds she loved brought me comfort as they always had her, especially  the song Who Will Sing for Me?

Once in the church for Wallace’s service, more music was part of the goodbye.  A first-time experience for me was a lonesome harmonica playing.  That, and the later solo were nice, but I missed the Bethel Boys, a foursome of local men who have harmonized at several farewells in my hometown.  In answer to Emmylou’s question above, the Bethel Boys (and the entire congregation) sang for my mother.

We buried a lot of knowledge today.  Wallace knew where everyone was buried, who owned which plots in the cemetery, which family owned what farm and who had owned it before them.  In recent years, a visit to Wallace might include a ride around the county.  Wallace would narrate a rolling history lesson with detours to check every neighbor’s crops. He knew who lived in this house or that, who built the house and when, whose dog bit someone in the yard, who had been arrested.

I had learned to take a list of questions and a recorder on some visits.  But I’m already wondering what questions will come up this week that Wallace could have answered.

One of the preachers said that “Wallace lived 87 years and I don’t know that he ever made anyone mad except Miz Dot.”  I’m sure that’s correct.  And, I don’t think he ever said no when someone asked for help with anything.

The next generation has asked for some “Wallace stories.”  Here are a couple:

When he was a lad, Wallace stayed with my parents for a few days, maybe his mother was sick, I’m not sure why.  At breakfast one morning, he remarked, “Aunt Cleo, your biscuits taste alright, but you shore can’t sop syrup with ‘em.”  My Daddy quoted that line over many years, always with a twinkle in his eye.

When I was a child, my bicycle broke.  I don’t know how that happened – I don’t remember a crash. Daddy’s suggestion was that I ride a unicycle.  But since the pedals were on one portion and the seat on the other, that wasn’t going to work.   Wallace had added welding to his list of skills needed on the farm. He reattached the two halves of my bike and I was a happy little girl.  Wheels, whee, freedom!

A fine honest man, a community leader, a foster father to many children, one shining example of humility, integrity, compassion,  is no longer with us.  In the far off great forever, beyond the shining river, they are ringing golden bells for Wallace.

Photo:  Wallace as a boy, maybe about the age of the “sopping syrup” remark.  Circa 1937.

Disconnected and Reconnecting

mountain vistaWe spent a few days in the mountains.  The temperatures were nice, the scenery beautiful, a delightful getaway.  One of the things we got away from was internet access.  At the top of the mountain, you were in touch with the world.  But our cabin was at the foot of the falls, so we were off the internet pipeline.

That was a good thing.

We did have a television in the cabin, but saw no need to see if it worked.  A bubbling stream was entertainment enough.

One purpose for this annual getaway is to reconnect with my husband’s family.  Their reunion has been held at a state park for many years; we go to see the cousins and catch up.

I have come to know most of these people by name over the years, but I don’t share a history with them.  I can’t engage in the “we would go visit…” and “I remember when he…” conversations.

But I do have some history with Charlie.   He is my cousin-in-law, I guess.  When we first saw each other at this gathering some years ago, we shared one of those, “don’t I know you somewhere?” moments.  A few minutes of conversation led one of us to say, “I was a math teacher.”  “Oh, Rock Eagle.”

We had seen each other at professional conferences over the years, but had never had the occasion to realize we shared the same last name and make sense of that.  Now we did.

As the years went by and conversations grew longer, we learned that not only did we share the same profession and know many common colleagues, but that a cousin of mine had been Charlie’s mentor teacher early in his career.  And that another cousin of mine had been his teacher in high school.

Our most recent conversation revealed more commonalities.  We are both married to spouses who always see life through the lens of a camera, both couples enjoy traveling the backroads and exploring the unexpected side trip, and we take pleasure in enjoying every experience that presents itself.

One of the nice things about getting older is that you have had more opportunities to meet people who share the things you do, it’s easy to validate the joys in life, and those connections to the past are treasures.  Whether sharing war stories from teaching, a love of the outdoors, or simply the appreciation of traveling a back road, it’s always fun to reconnect with friends like Charlie.

My sewing basket does not need wifi, so it got its normal workout on this trirescued linensp.  There were some antique stores, and I did rescue some linens.  Some of the green  napkins you see in the center have already been cut up and sewn to something else.

My Threaded Needle

bluebird on linenSaturday night finds me stitching through layers of delight:

A photo of Eastern Bluebirds made by Jim Gilreath  is printed on a vintage linen tablecloth.

The photo is layered on hand-dyed Osnaburg fabric the color of the male bluebird’s breast.

These are atop a remnant of vintage linen dipped in my indigo vat.

My needle is pulling smooth cotton thread through these layers and wool batting.

I am accompanied by live music from the photographer and his stringed instruments.

Are there really people in the world who would prefer to be anywhere else?  I can’t imagine.

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.

People Watching

SatterfieldsEating lunch at a local restaurant, I couldn’t help but imagine the story behind the man sitting behind my husband.

This man was alone.  He was neatly dressed with not a hair out of place.  His wardrobe was casual blue collar – a sports shirt advertising motorcycles tucked into neatly pressed blue jeans.  His hands were clean, but probably not professionally manicured.

He was tearing up a garden salad while intently listening to his phone.  The restaurant was a bit noisy so seeing the phone held with the speaker right in his ear was not surprising, but he never talked, just listened.  A podcast, perhaps?  Audio entertainment for dining alone? No, maybe voicemails.  Someone working outdoors couldn’t hear his phone and might use lunchtime to catch up on missed contacts.

Had he been wearing galluses over a white shirt and pleated trousers, I would have thought he was waiting for a jury’s verdict.  Or getting dirt on a witness from his private eye in the field.

I was impressed with his power lunch.  Then the waitress brought the rest of it.  One-half of a roasted chicken, three vegetables and bread.  With his trim physique, he doesn’t eat like that every meal unless he is doing some physical labor somewhere.  But not a sign of sweat anywhere.

Hmmm…  “the man in the gabardine suit is a spy.  His bowtie is really a camera.”

 

Father’s Day Singing

Mama Daddy & me 1952My Daddy was a church-going man; an old-line, foot-washing Primitive Baptist.  Most Sundays (and some Saturdays) were spent going to one of the churches in our regular rotation.  Each church held services only one weekend per month, having a service and conference on Saturday, just worship on Sunday.

The third Sunday of the month was not the weekend for “his” church, the one where he was a member and church clerk, so we often visited different churches on that weekend.  Sometimes on the third Sunday in June, Father’s Day, we would go to Damascus Methodist Church in the community where locals would gather for a gospel sing.  Gospel groups from all around the area would come and sing.  There would be a mix of congregational singing, too.

It was always a memorable day with friends and relatives and friends of friends and friends of relatives coming in and out and visiting and listening to great harmony.  It was especially joyous for me and my mother if the Oakes Family came to sing.  L.A. Oakes was Mama’s first cousin.  He and his wife sang beautifully and were joined by other strong voices over the years.  It was always a thrill to hear them and to visit with them.  And to tell people, “I’m related to them.”

Some of these groups were accompanied on a piano, but never any other instrument.  And some of them sang a cappella.  We were accustomed to that.  Primitive Baptists do not use musical instruments in their song service, so the pure harmony of humble voices sounds more heavenly to me than any other.  Nonetheless, a good gospel quartet with an ivory-pounding accompanist thrilled me, too.

I miss being with my Daddy on Father’s Day and every day, for that matter.  I know the image our culture has portrayed of Heaven includes harps.  But for the corner of Heaven where my parents are now, I hope there is some good, soul-stirring, a cappella harmony being lifted today.

Not Wet

Not WetAs I approached my fourth birthday, I was looking forward to kindergarten at Miss Emily’s little red schoolhouse.  My only sister was 19 years old and away at college, so I didn’t have playmates of my age around all the time.  My mother recounted hearing me ‘talking to myself’ while playing alone on the front porch of our house.  It seems I was describing the fun I would have with other children at this fantasy land.  According to my mother, I included an outhouse as part of my description.  She was amused and horrified that I added that detail.

Nonetheless, I like to think of the behavior as conversing with my imaginary friend; it sounds less  like a diagnosis of some sort that way.  At the time, I didn’t know what the big deal was anyway.  My spinster aunt who lived next door could be heard engaging in conversation with unseen friends all the time.  I loved Aunt Nellie, so if she talked when no one else was around, what could be wrong with doing that?

I no longer talk to imaginary friends, but I do enjoy imagining stories when I’m observing perfect strangers.  What did that mother say when her son came home with that tattoo?  Does that lady know her boots don’t match?  It seems like she would notice they are different heights.  What does the future hold for the couple huddled over paperwork in the doctor’s office?

Today, while browsing in an antique store, I looked down to see “Not Wet” painted in the midst of s shiny spot on the floor.  I can only imagine how many times the owners were informed that there was “something spilled over by the chalk paint.”  I think they should have just planted a mop nearby and watched to see what happened.

Tidying Up

Kaffe baskets in basketFriends and I were discussing the Tidying Up bestseller at dinner last night.  I’ve not read the entire book, but I have read a lot of it.  First, let me say that this woman’s definition of tidying up is different from mine.  My idea of tidying up means someone is coming over and it’s time to run the sweeper and stash some items in the closet.  (I will admit that I later straighten the closet and periodically purge it of unused items, but not on a rigid schedule and not enough to invite visitors to admire.)

Though I agree that “stuff” can get in the way of living your life, I’m here to tell you that cleaning can do the same thing.  Balance, people, balance.  Don’t be a hoarder, don’t live in squalor.  But, then again, don’t obsess over everything being perfect.

I wonder how many people on their deathbeds wish they had taken one more load of unworn clothing to the Salvation Army.  Can you tell that I spent yesterday cleaning and wished I were sewing?

When it comes to my quilting stash, I do sometimes find the need to straighten it to see what I have.  Sometimes I share remnants with other quilters.  It is fun to see their faces light up when they find a fabric I’ve used in a quilt they like and now they get to play with it, too.

My working style is that I have several quilt projects in progress at one time.  I sometimes get bored with one technique or another, but often the reason is location.  I always need a project that is portable – to stitch while watching tv or sitting on the porch, or recently, while riding in the car.  Once that phase of the stitching is done, that piece might get set aside until I have time to prepare it for the next level.

I do keep the fabrics that I’ve selected for a given project together until it’s completed.  I use baskets to contain them.  Sometimes there are lists in the baskets telling me what is  cut, how many are remaining to be stitched; maybe a sketch of the layout possibilities.  I will confess that there are a couple of projects that I like seeing the blocks in a basket – so I’m not anxious about assembling those at all.  Alma Allen and Barb Adams depict vignettes of such collections in their books and on their website.  They inspire me to enjoy all phases of the quiltmaking experience.

Susan Lenz explains that the beginning phase and the finishing phase of projects are exciting.  But one doesn’t need to be excited all the time.  The stitching phase is relaxing – so psychologically, I’m centering myself with my working style.

I have come to realize that sometimes I slow down on a project before it’s finished, not wanting to finish until another is at its relaxing stage.

Jude Hill says of one of her magic feather posts, “And yet there is still stitching.  Maybe I have slowed down even more.  Just to make it last.”

Oh, yes, I’m in good company if my working style bears any resemblance to Alma Allen, Barb Adams, Susan Lenz, and Jude Hill.  But it may not look tidy.