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!

Meeting Sue

“Those are quilts?”

“How did you do that?”

“You mean these aren’t paintings?”

“Wow.”

“I’m amazed.”

These are phrases I overheard while standing near the booth where Sue Turnquist was demonstrating her art at the Georgia National Fair in Perry.  I’ve been an admirer of Sue’s work for several years, but had never had the chance to meet her.  We share a love of stitch, a passion for storytelling though cloth, and have trod some of the same soil in south Georgia.  I was delighted to have a chance to finally talk with Sue and learn more about her quilts.

Sue began quilting in the 1990’s after being entranced at the state fair in Missouri.  She bought a sewing machine and taught herself to quilt, beginning with traditional patterns.  A class with Caryl Bryer Fallert changed her approach, and she’s become a star in the quilting world.

Sue’s background in veterinary medicine is reflected by the animals she depicts in her quilts.  The selections you see in the photos are all Sue’s unique creations.  She starts with a photo, has it commercially enlarged, then creates her pattern.  Fabrics are fused to a background and she uses free-motion machine quilting to stitch it all down. Her attention to detail and precision cannot be denied.  And the visual impact is amazing!

Her zebra quilt is entitled Do These Stripes Make My Butt Look Big?  This quilt has won many awards, including the New Quilts from Old Favorites challenge by the American Quilter’s Society.  This and other of Sue’s quilts have traveled and exhibited extensively, nationally and internationally.  Sue  travels to guilds to share her work and teach classes.  I’m sure those audiences are as enthralled as the visitors I overheard in her booth.  Her work is amazing!

Other quilts you see pictured include Skeeter Eater, Piney Woods Mule, and Pony Express.

 

 

 

Sue’s winners at the fair for this year’s competitons are shown below:

October Welcome

The calendar says it’s time for more orange in our lives.  Another fiber art piece has orange in it now, based on a drawing of a jack-o-lantern by our front door.

The jack-o-lantern is a cherished piece made by one of our favorite Georgia potters, Shelby West.  Shelby’s work is normally southern folk pottery with an ash glaze, but for Halloween, he creates some unglazed pieces with personality.  A watering can on an old stool created a fun vignette which says “Welcome to Our Home,” country style.  The photo was printed on cotton fabric, free-motion machine stitched; then embellished with paint, hand embroidery, and beads.

The image is bordered with hand-dyed Cherrywood fabric, layered on linen canvas, then on a remnant of an old quilt.  The orange in the old quilt (a basket pattern) made it the perfect backdrop.  The piece measures 15” x 17”.  A portion of a vintage napkin with delicate appliqué in the corner serves as the label on the back.  I tilted this one October Welcome.

Dyeing Notions

My indigo dye pot has seen action this summer with fabric and notions.  I found a big bag of  wooden buttons in an antique store and wondered, “will these take dye well?”  For a $3 investment, I thought it was worth the risk.  The payoff was spectacular!  I suddenly had a tray filled with blue buttons drying on the back porch.

I love buttons almost as much as I do fabric and love to find old buttons of bone,  horn, or wood to add the perfect note to projects.  These that went in the dye pot were NOT antique treasured wooden buttons.  They were machine-made for craft projects, just hadn’t been used and were being sold for a song.

After that success, I decided to try dyeing some threads.  I have dipped some embroidery floss and some perle cotton.  It adds a little more personality to know that I’m stitching with something unique.

So my latest finished piece is called Blue With Blue on Blue.  I appliquéd the melons onto a vintage linen tea towel, then did minimal machine quilting around the appliqué, and attached the dyed buttons using dyed floss.

 This turned out to be a  fun project which will generate memories of hand stitching, dyeing, and playing every time I see it.  It is now keeping company with another couple of favorite pieces in an out-of-the-way corner that almost no one sees.  But I see it.  And I like it!

Treasures from Toshi

I saw Toshi a few days ago and she came bearing gifts – delightful sacks of fabric scraps.  One was silk, the other indigo cotton.

The Japanese silks were from Toshi’s sewing basket.  A friend had sent her some fabrics from Kyoto, others Toshi had kept from her sewing days.  There was a baker’s dozen silk remnants in all colors, sizes, and weights.  The light reflected off all those colors delights my soul!

And, then, there was the dress in another bag.  Indigo.  I don’t know how old.  Toshi wouldn’t guess, either.  She had begun deconstructing the dress because the indigo is so precious, so beautiful, it needed to be reused somehow.  For sure, it does.  I am thrilled beyond belief.  I was delighted to find woven cotton earlier this year (in black), with a variety of weaves across the yardage.  But to have this in indigo blue, in fabric with a history, oh, my, my.

Even the bags in which Toshi brought these delights were thrilling to me.  The silk remnants were in a small plastic bag with French writing, the outer bag was a Japanese store’s bag with, as you would expect, practical, simple, elegant handles.  And the moment of serendipity came when I realized the dress was in a bag imprinted with the name of a church where Jim’s great-grandfather was once the preacher.  And Toshi has no knowledge of that family history.

Isn’t it fascinating how time and people are woven together?

I’ve incorporated some of the indigo cotton into some blocks I’m hand stitching and I’ve cut squares from each of the silks to make a sampler piece.  The rest will be incorporated into my silk collection for a stunning project.  I think I have enough variety now to make something special.

An update on the baskets on my design wall – they are now assembled into one unit.  The moment when many blocks become one piece of fabric, a quilt top, is always satisfying to me.  In this case, there were 39 blocks and 22 setting triangles stitched together.  Now it’s pinned to my design wall while I contemplate whether to add borders or not, and, if so, what they will look like.

I’m including two photos in the progress of assembling the blocks.  The green bits of tape were used to number blocks as I moved them to the sewing machine, the safety pins reminded me which way to press the seams so they nested when the rows were sewn together.

Witches on Parade

My friend Penny came to visit.  Penny is oh-so-talented.  With a sewing machine, and with a paintbrush.  Usually, she paints furniture and stitches with fabric – but this day she brought fabric she had painted.

Serendipity again…she was using a pattern developed by Meg Hawley of Crabapple Hill.  That’s serendipity because I had recently watched Meg on an episode of The Quilt Show, so I had a better understanding of her technique.  Meg uses crayons on fabric, then embellishes with some embroidery.  Penny is using Derwent Inktense pencils which yield a very vibrant color.  I love it, don’t you?

The details in this group of witches is amazing.  Every time I looked at the piece, I saw more fun surprises hidden.  Penny has personalized hers, of course, making it even more special.  I can’t wait to see the final result

Here is a photo of another panel in progress.  Look how much control she has with the shading and contour.  Coloring books moved to fabric!

I know Penny is like me, she juggles several projects at once.  So whether these witches will be marching across a finished quilt by this Halloween or not, I’m not sure.  But she’s promised to share with me as it goes, and I’ll be sure to post final pictures, too.

In the meantime, she brought some of these pencils to share with me, so I’m off to play now.

Note:  These photos were taken with my phone, but you can click to enlarge an image and see more and more of Penny’s details.  Do that in the parade, and be enchanted (or maybe under a spell).

Steel Magnolia

I heard her voice before I saw her.

While I was checking in with the receptionist, I heard her explaining to her husband about his procedure.  She lovingly, kindly, patiently explained the test they would perform on his arteries.

With my clipboard in hand, I sat near the husband on a couch in the waiting room.  I realized a woman in a wheelchair was near him, but didn’t pay much attention.  As I answered the questions about my medical history and symptoms with almost all no’s, I realized how fortunate I am to have these interruptions to my schedule – these bothersome tests that are recommended when one reaches a certain age – be nothing more than that.  I became conscious of the frail woman sitting near me.  She couldn’t have weighed more than 80 pounds.  But her leg braces and shoes looked much heavier.  She sat erect in that chair, though, alert and composed.

After her husband was called for his procedure, she sat quietly waiting.  When I heard a mechanical sound, I realized she had tapped her watch and it was audibilizing the time for her.  I paused to think of the challenges she has every day and now her husband is in for some tests.  My interruption to my day for this pesky test was seeming less troublesome by the moment.

Before I could complete my pages of family medical history and engage her in conversation, her partner returned.  He said, “ I can go now.  Should we call transport?”  “Yes, push me over and we’ll ask them to call.”  She tapped her watch again and it gave the time as “8:05.”  Then again, and it spoke “8:06.”  But it was 11:06 a.m.  Oh, my.

The pair approached the desk where, in a confident voice, she asked, “Could you call our transport for us, please?  The number is ….”. She recited the ten digits confidently.  And, then, “Thank you,”  in as strong a voice as any southern lady possesses.  That voice alerted me that this woman did not want my sympathy.  She has my respect.

I’ve thought of this couple many times in the days since that encounter.  I wonder about his test results.  I wonder who cooks for them.  I wonder if they get out a lot and interact with other people.  But I do not wonder if she is handling everything like a steel magnolia.  I know she is.

Art quilt notes:  The finished size is 13” x 17”.  The line drawing is free-motion machine stitched on a remnant of an old linen pillowcase.  The remainder of the work is hand stitching – layers of vintage lace, buttons, and an old quilt fragment complete the assembly.  The lace tablecloth remnant and linen coaster used as a label were dyed in my indigo vat.

Pink Ribbon

My sister was beautiful.  This photo was taken when she was about twelve years old – she was still an only child at that time.  It would be three more years before I came into her life.

When I was younger than twelve, I would look at this photo and dream of looking like Jane when I reached that magical age.  The years rolled by and my mother took me to a photographer to mark that special birthday, but I was disappointed in the result.  I did not have Jane’s thick, wavy hair, her tanned complexion, or her beautiful brown eyes.

The original photo of Jane was taken by my grandfather and there is a version hand tinted by my Aunt Corinne.


Recently I scanned the image, printed it in on fabric, and painted the bow.  Jane’s favorite color was pink,so a deep shade of that was the obvious choice for her ribbon.  In the photo, she was wearing a locket, and I had a mother-of-pearl bauble which seemed to be a good substitute.

A bit of batting, some free motion machine quilting, and I was ready to hand stitch the piece to a bit of vintage edging.  I used some metallic thread to stitch her necklace (hand embroidered backstitch) and some silken twist thread to attach the photo to the lacy border.  Both threads were gifts from a friend, items from his late mother’s stash. The in-progress photo is one I sent to the friend while I was working, letting him see his mother’s supplies at work.

 

All these layers were stitched to a red background, commercial cotton fabric.  This is custom framed in a 16” x 20” frame, with a double oval mat.

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.

Mom and Apple Pie

 


A friend visiting in our home said, “what are you working on now?”  I spread this quilt top on the floor in the den.  His comment, “Oh, boy!  That’s just Mom, and Apple Pie, and more, isn’t it?”  I agreed, mentally noting that this project now had a name.


The appliqué for this quilt was done based on patterns from Alma Allen and Barb Adam’s book, Celebration of American Life.  Today most quilt makers change something about the pattern as they work, and almost always change the name to represent their interpretation.

The patterns for the blocks are like those in the pattern except for the lower left block.  I personalized that one, substituting a watermelon slice for their orange, and added some figs, using the broderie perse technique (an age-old method of using designs printed on fabric).  My border and sashing are totally different, too.


The appliqué is something I typically do at night in front of the tv, or when sewing away from home.  One the fabrics are selected and the pieces are prepared, I keep just the supplies for that block (these squares measure 20” on each side) in my sewing basket so the work is portable.  Once all the blocks are finished and sewn together, the big unit is a stay-at-home project.

Another work habit of mine is to select the fabrics at the beginning of a project and set them aside in a basket so they are designated for this quilt and don’t get used in another piece before this is done.  I like to repeat fabrics across the quilt to make the design cohesive, so the same greens used as leaves in one block appear again in several others.  It’s easier to do this if I have a limited selection of fabrics as I prepare each block.  It may take months to complete the appliqué on a big quilt such as this.


I quilted this using 100 weight silk thread, echoing the appliquéd design with stitching lines 1/4” apart.  I refer to hand-guided, freemotion quilting as dancing with my sewing machine, even on a project this large.  This quilt measures  75” x 95”.  I start in the center, working outward block by block on a quilt such as this.  My large table supports the weight and bulk of the quilt as I work.


I don’t normally keep up with the time I spend working on a quilt, but for some reason, I did do that on this one.  The time I spent sitting in the chair pushing the quilt around under the needle while it was moving up and down was 65 hours.  That was spread over 3 months, I think. I work in 30-45 minute intervals and more than two sessions a day is exhausting.  That’s why I have another sewing machine set up so I can be piecing or sewing on something else during those weeks that a big quilt is under the needle.

The finished quilt measures 75” x 95”, covering a queen-sized bed.  It has made a few public appearances, winning ribbons at our local guild show last March, at the Georgia National Fair in Perry last November, and was juried into the AQS Show in Paducah, KY last month.  It is currently en route to the East Cobb Quilt Guild show in Marietta, GA, scheduled for June 8-10.