Pomegranates and Poinsettias


For many years I decorated for Christmas using my Grandmother’s basket quilt she made in 1890 (that story is  here).  When I started quilting, I longed to make my own holiday quilt.  Now one of the first steps in decorating our house for Christmas is to swap out the fall quilts for red and green ones.


I love to sew with red and green fabrics during this time of the year so I often start a new project for my sewing serenity during the season.  In the days of Christmas 2008, I began work on what became  Pomegranates and Poinsettias.  I was spending quite a bit of time with my mother-in-law, Sadie, during a time of failing health for her.

She loved helping me decide which red fabric should be used for a particular bloom, which green should be used for stems and leaves.  She loved the sampler background (as does everyone else who sees this quilt), and when I decided to add buttons for the berries, she giggled like a little girl.  Imagine, putting BUTTONS on a quilt.
That was something her mother had never done!  This piece was finished in June 2009 and has been the focal point on a wall in our house every Christmas since.  It is based the Holly Threads pattern by Need’l Love.  Mine finishes at 44″ square.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Galadrielle

gingko-and-skyIt’s a beautiful fall day, the sky is blue, gingko leaves are at their peak of golden, so we head to the cemetery.  Isn’t that what all families do on a glorious day?  They do if they live where we do and have a more than 200 acres of serene beauty to stroll.

Rose Hill Cemetery was established in 1840 on 65 acres of land along the banks of the Ocmulgee River.  In 1887, another 125 acres of adjacent land was devoted to Riverside Cemetery.  Both of these were designed by highly respected landscape architects and were intended to be used as a park as well as a solemn final resting place for citizens.  Continuing that tradition, both of these cemeteries are now part of the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail, a walking, biking, communing-with-nature space which we treasure.

So, with camera and crayons in hand, we headed out the door.  We had walked these trails and admired the art of the cemetery before I became acquainted with the art of Susan Lenz.  Finding her work answered the question, “how can this beauty be incorporated into a quilt?”  So now I am prepared with fabric and crayons, just in case.

galadrielle-detailMy latest art quilt is the result of last Saturday’s stroll.  Jim took the photo of Galadrielle, an angel at the foot of Duane Allman’s grave.  I printed it on vintage linen fabric, added some stitching though layers of wool batting, more vintage linen, raw silk, and an indigo-dyed remnant of an old quilt.  A few buttons and a bit of angelic lace came out of my treasure bins for this project.

 

galadrielle-backI used free motion machine stitching to define the shape of Galadrielle and add dimension and detail.  Hand stitching was used everywhere else.  Some unknown sewist had done some hand stitching on the remnant I used as the base.  Her hand quilting and cross stitch has a new life. The worn quilt has been cut up and used in several of my favorite pieces.  I’m loving the blue ones best! I wonder if this unknown colleague did her hand stitching while visiting with friends, or perhaps while listening to the television, as I do.

The quilt finishes at 14” x 23”.

Meeting the Challenge

My local quilting sisters and I just saw each other’s secret projects at our annual guild challenge.  The photo above is a closeup of Alice’s entry.  She won a ribbon with this beauty in which she combined our rules with a project in a Craftsy class online.  The online class was free motion machine quilting with Judi Madsen.

Earlier I wrote about my resulting entry here.  I didn’t write about all the ideas I had but abandoned along the way.  As guild members shared their entries, many reported starting and abandoning, or adapting, or rethinking their process.  All reported learning something, and having fun in the process.

Here are photos and snippets of stories of all 16 quilt entries at our meeting this year.

c16-ethel-alice-kelly-janetEthel teasingly dubbed herself the complainer, said she called Queen Tess 65 times.  She doesn’t like square quilts, doesn’t like the fan block, and doesn’t like yellow.  But Ethel is not a quitter, she’s a quilter, and her resulting piece is one of my favorites (the blue in the center is to dye for).

Janet exercised her EQ design features by resizing a fan block to make a manageable project. Kelly’s Sunbonnet Sue quilt contained numerous fans. A sun, a cooling fan, and some blades of grass were also blades of a fan.

c16-angie-susi-mary-lindaLinda combined this guild’s challenge with a project she was entering in a Windows and Doors exhibit at the Ashe Arts Center in West Jefferson, NC.  Working from a photo she had taken in Nimes, France, Linda pieced the doorway panel.  She added asymmetrical borders to bring the project to the 36” requirement for our guild, including pieced fans as butterfly wings and some yellow flowers blooming on the vine.

Angie expressed some frustration, but stuck with her traditional block to make a 36” square for now.  She shared plans for further embellishment to add some zing to her entry.  (Tess often reminds us that the rules do not say the challenge has to be finished to enter.)

Mary had other priorities, so stuck with a simple design, but got it finished in time for the challenge, and now has a functional table topper with pleasing fabrics.

c16-susan-sharon-deann-wandaSharon made, not one, but two quilts.  One was made with fabric she bought in Japan while visiting her son and his family.  The other, Ocho, RibBonz, and Shadow–3 FANtastic Cats, was inspired by several quilts on Pinterest.  She has two cats name Ocho and  RibBonz..  Since she needed three fans, she had to make three cats, and Shadow is the name she gave to her imaginary cat.  She was asked to explain about one cat’s tail.  He’s scared, she said.

Susan looked for an easy pattern, crediting me with inspiring her to look for fun techniques.  I’m known to remind quilters that, “it’s supposed to be FUN.”  I love her ferris wheel blocks and would like to try this myself.

Deann hand pieces and hand quilts everything.  Her work is always amazing, but she shared that her biggest challenge was the curved part. Wanda’s entry was her first foray into our challenge world.

c16-marie-carol-sharon-sandyMarie machine pieced and hand quilted a beauty including linen and cotton fabrics.  Her title was Did you mean these fans?  An M&M’s button on the label depicted her reference to the popular tv commercial.  Dewey confessed that this commercial was his inspiration, too.  His quilt exists only in his mind as he’s been busy building a new quilting studio.

Carol explored paper foundation piecing and got enough practice on her piece that she is now an expert.

challenge-16-winnerSusi’s first place winner, Fantastic Frolicking Felines, brought smiles to all of us.  Look how much fun these dancing cats are having.  I think Dewey had fun, too, quilting this beauty.  He added the thread-painted musical notes as he quilted the entry for Susi on his longarm machine. Susi adapted a pattern from Amy Bradley for this crowd pleaser.

Before leaving for the day, Sharon shared more stories about her cats and their names.  Her quilt was visually appealing, but as with most quilts, the story gives it more life.  Here are details you will remember:

“We adopted the two identical black kittens from our grandchildren’s other grandmother’s cat’s litter.  The grandchildren were squealing excitedly when we brought them to the house and one kitten escaped by running up a tall tree. The more we called or tried climbing higher to get the kitten, the higher it went. After some time, it fell asleep about 40-60 feet  up, then tumbled down through the branches to the ground.  To identify them, we put a couple of ribbons on the untraumatized cat so we could closely watch the one who had obviously used up “one of the cat’s nine lives.”  Not knowing if they were males or females, we named the uninjured kitty ‘Ribbons’ and the one with 8 lives remaining became ‘Ocho’. When we found out that they were both boy cats, we changed the spelling of Ribbons to a more masculine name ‘RibBonz’! We don’t have a third cat, but I thought a third cat needed to be on my quilt since three fans were required for the challenge. The surprised arched-back third cat became Shadow because our outdoor cats love to stalk chipmunks, lizards, moles, etc. from the shadow of bushes and other hiding places.”

 

A Tree Grows in Gondor

I’m still working on my guild’s quilt challenge for 2016.  It’s almost done, and there is nearly a week to spare!  I mentioned it here.

Working on this project has me thinking about how much I’ve learned from the guild’s challenge over the years.  It seems like a good time to document some of those design processes. I’ve shared some challenge quilts earlier, but here’s another.

In 2008, the challenge was “trees”.  The quilt had to contain at least one tree, pieced or appliquéd, and a bit of orange somewhere.  A few years prior, I had been enchanted by the white tree against a blue sky prominent in the Lord of the Rings movie Return of the King.  I’m sure the tree in the movie was a Sycamore, and that must have added to my determination to create this image in cloth.

I chose a brilliant blue hand-dyed fabric from Cherrywood as the background, inserting a narrow inner border of another hand-dyed fabric which included many colors, including orange.  Wanting to include a little interest on the “bark” of the white tree,  I researched quotes about trees and facts about trees.

tree-in-gondor-design-wallThis photo shows the background pinned to the design wall with my paper pattern drawn.  That pattern was transferred to white Kona fabric, then the handwriting began.  Sandpaper underneath the fabric helps to keep the fabric from slipping.  I used Sharpies and Pigma Micron pens.

tree-in-gondor-stitchingOnce the words were pressed to make them permanent, I used needleturn appliqué to fix the tree to the background.  In the areas of white where the blue background fabric showed through, I added a lining layer of white fabric.

tree-in-gondor-closeupCotton batting was used and all quilting was hand-guided, freemotion stitching.  Only the griffins on either side of the trunk were marked, all other quilting was spontaneous.  Most used a matching blue cotton thread (50 weight, 2 ply), but some variegated thread was added in a few places for interest.

The quilt finishes at 40” x 62”.

Information on the label is sunprinted.tree-in-gondor-label

 

Commonly Uncommon

The Common Yellowthroat Warbler is not commonly seen by the average homeowner.  He’s not a “yard bird”, he lives in the swamp.  He likes briars, damp brushy places, weeds, or grass going along country roads (that explains why I like him so much).  This species is a year-round resident in our part of Georgia.

Despite his bright feathers, this fellow is hard to spot, flitting about busily as he does.  This tiny bird is picturesque, though.  So it’s worth the effort to capture his image on film, uh, on a flash card.

These birds don’t come to feeders much, preferring grasshoppers, beetles, spiders over seeds.  According to the iBird Pro app, they love sugar water, fruit, and pieces of nuts.  That may be worth investigating, but water seems to be a big factor in their habitat.  They are most often found near streams, swamps, and marshes.

common-yellowthroatJim captured this shot in a remote area near the Ocmulgee River.  I printed it on silk fabric, layered it on wool batting, and stitched the background densely. As in Swamp Bird, I stitched with silk thread in closely spaced parallel lines.  Then I added a bit of black and white, a yellow fabric frame, and attached it to an old quilt remnant.

common-yellowthroat-backI used a lot of Jude Hill’s invisible baste stitch to secure everything without penetrating the final layer of the quilt on the back.  I added beads stitched by hand, and made a label from an old doily. 100 weight silk thread was used for machine quilting, 60 weight cotton for the handwork.

The finished piece measures 20” x 16”.

I’ve noticed lately that even though I’ve been designing these pieces by starting from the center and working outward, and beginning with different sized photos or vintage motif, these pieces all seem to end up the same size.  I wonder why.

Challenging Quilting

seasquared-mouthOur guild’s challenge quilt is due in three weeks.  It’s secret until then, so I can’t show photos of it now, but I can say I’m excited about what I’m doing.  Tess, our Challenge Queen, gives us the annual specifications in February with the deadline being our November meeting.  I typically think about it, research photos and patterns, basically collecting thoughts until October or so when I have no choice but to make something.

There are years when I’ve started early, but I often aborted the first plan. There have been exceptions; occasions when I started earlier than usual, stayed focused on a project that took a lot of time, and brought it to completion ahead of schedule.  But several have been done the week before the due date.

On the single occasion when I completed the project early, I really disliked the quilt and abandoned the idea of using it as my entry. The challenge in 2013 was “ Dare to be Square” or something like that.  Tess always comes up with catchy titles.  The rule was that the quilt must be pieced (no appliqué!) and every piece must be a square. In October, I sprang into panic mode, grabbed a half-yard cut of a bold fish print by Brandon Mably, some hand-dyed fabrics of similar colors, and started cutting squares.

seasquared-whole-quiltI cut the largest square I could from the focus print (20” finished. (I know – it must have been a generous half-yard cut)), then cut smaller squares from the fish fabric and the others.  20” finished was a nice measure to use as the reference.  It was easy to patch together units using 1”, 2”, 4”, 5”, 10” components.

seasquared-fishesAs the project grew on the design wall, I had fun finishing a fish.  Where one had been cut off, I could find missing components of that fellow somewhere else in the smaller squares and place it close by to make his image extend into the other spaces.  I even discovered a batik striped fabric that mimicked the background of Mably’s fish and inserted that.

seasquared-starfishAs the “squarequarium” grew on my design wall, I began imagining quilting lines.  I could stitch even more of the missing parts of fish bodies, add bubbles in the water, and enhance fish fins and tails.  Oh, my, how fun was that?

seasquared-octopusI sewed quickly to get the piecing done, layered it with cotton batting, and began dancing with my sewing machine.  I used some heavy threads on some of the solid spaces, enjoyed stitching lots of free-motion quilting motifs, and especially enjoyed adding the octopus and starfish.

Even after all that, things looked a little “flat”.  Eyes.  Fish have prominent eyes.  So out came the wool, a circle cutter, some buttons, and voila!

seasquared-backA solid blue fabric on the back made the stitching details noticeable. Susan said she liked the back of this quilt better than the front.  So for her next birthday, I stitched a fish on blue fabric for her beach house.

This quilt does not contain colors in my house or colors I particularly enjoy using in a quilt.  But I love this finished product because seeing it reminds me how much fun a challenge can be.

I called this finished project “Sea Squared.”  Some of my math colleagues will notice the reference to a  project we worked on for years. The finished size is 40” x 34”.

This year the challenge requires at least three fan blocks, and some yellow fabric.  The finished size is prescribed this time: 36” square.  My first reaction was “I’m not a fan of the fan block,” but in my research I’ve certainly learned a lot about those historic blocks and their reinterpretations through the years.  As a friend said yesterday, “I love our challenges.  They force us to think about things differently.”  Indeed.

Update:  A later post revealed my entry in the fan block challenge.  It is here.

Flowers for Phyllis

phyllis-flowersI was recently asked to create an art quilt as a gift for Phyllis.  I have never visited her home and don’t know her style.  I struggled with the design until I realized that I know one thing Phyllis really likes; art by Mark Allen Ballard.

Mark is my drawing instructor and friend.  He graciously granted me permission to use one of his creations in an art quilt for Phyllis.

phyllis-flowers-closeupI printed the image of the coneflower on silk fabric, layered it on wool batting, and added dense free motion quilting with a fine silk thread.  Dense stitching around the image packs that portion of the design down, forcing the unstitched areas to puff up as if they are stuffed.  Stuffed work, or trapunto, has been done for centuries, especially on wholecloth quilts, to add dimension and interest to quilts.

phyllis-flowers-detailOnce the silk portion was quilted, I added an inner border using a gradated blue fabric, leaving a larger border on the bottom.  I wanted to add interest to that space, so I continued Mark’s design by adding stems and leaves stitched with a heavier green thread.

A second border was added using a delicious damask tablecloth hand dyed by Wendy Richardson.  Over the years, I have collected quite a bit of Wendy’s stunning work, now I’m daring to cut into it more and more often.  This piece was originally a blah white-on-white damask tablecloth.  In Wendy’s studio, she had added many colors of dye which enriched the visual texture and just happened to incorporate some of the same colors as Mark’s drawing.
phyllis-flowers-beadingThat layer was attached to a vintage cross-stitched quilt.  I used Jude HIll’s invisible baste stitch to attach the layers within the blue border, then added blue beads while attaching the outer border.  A raw-edged sleeve and label made from a vintage doily were attached to the back with the same invisible baste stitch. The quilt finished at 16” x 20”.

phyllis-flowers-backI have recently enjoyed incorporating pieces of art from unknown stitchers of the past, using vintage quilts and linens.  This piece did that and more.  I collaborated with Wendy by using her fabric, Jude by using her technique, and Mark by using his drawing.  It was especially fun to share the stitching experience with Mark.  He was excited about the prospect from the beginning, interested in the progress of the piece, and in reports of Phyllis’ reaction.  His agreeing to add his signature to the label makes the gift a special treasure for her.

Fair Days

fair-boothI’m home after three days at the Georgia National Fair where I shared my work as one of their Artists in Residence.

Though I’ve long recognized quilts as an art form, I’m still surprised to see the word artist after my name.  This experience was affirming and fulfilling for me, and I hope it was informative and inspirational to others.

The photo shows my booth where I shared my quilting stories and demonstrated techniques.  I had several quilts entered in the fair, and three of them were easily visible from my booth.  Whether by design or coincidence, the fair organizers added opportunities for me to share more stories of making bed-sized quilts on a home sewing machine, improvisational piecing in the style of Gee’s Bend quilts, and Government Bird Goin’ for a Ride.

Jim and I enjoyed the opportunity to visit with former students, their parents, and now husbands, wives, and children.  We saw former work colleagues and friends, made connections with other artists in textiles, photography, woodworking, drawing, painting, and sculpting.  We made many new friends as people stopped to talk about quilts, my ragged lamp, and my Featherweight sewing machine.

fair-with-featherweightI took the Featherweight because it is my traveling sewing friend.  I take it to classes and work sessions at our local guild, I have taken it on a photo trip when Jim was taking a course and I would have time alone in a motel room.  It is compact, light weight, and a work horse.  Maybe everyone knows that.  But everyone doesn’t know that it can be used for free-motion quilting.

One of the goals of my days at the fair was to share the technique of hand-guided, free-motion quilting.  I chose the Featherweight because it is a simple straight stitch machine.  That’s all you need.  I wanted to erase the notion that you can’t quilt without a big, expensive, computerized machine.  The Featherweight conveyed that message well.

fair-with-childrenChildren were fascinated with the Featherweight.  Maybe because it is so small and sweet it looks manageable.  It’s certainly not threatening in any way.  I stitched names into quilt sandwiches for Marin, Christopher, Alexis, Catherine, Mark, and more.  Fragments of cloth, batting, and a bit of thread can bring smiles to faces of children of all ages.

I talked to men and women whose mothers or grandmothers quilted and they wish they had learned from them while they could.  (I’ll be your substitute Grandma.  I didn’t listen to mine like I should have either, but other quilters and I will be glad to step in and fill in the gaps.  Send me an email (sandy@sandygilreath.com) with a question and I’ll link you to a tutorial online or try to answer you in some way.)

fair-grownupsI talked with women who made one quilt, or started one, then became frustrated with a skill they didn’t have, and put it away.  I talked with those who work full time and can’t work it in their schedule.  My answers: “Relax, it’s supposed to be fun.”  “Join a guild.  Someone there will offer advice and assistance,”  “Start with something portable, like English Paper Piecing.”

I talked with young families wherein the husband/dad wants to explore quilting.  One asked if he could start learning with a $100 machine from a bargain store.  My advice was to find a reliable used older machine.  I fear that a new one made with plastic parts will be less sturdy and operate less smoothly than an old one.  “I’m afraid if you have frustrations with tension or mechanics as you are learning, you might think you don’t like sewing; but what you don’t like is a cheap machine.”

I have almost all my baskets unpacked and things back in place in my sewing room.  My brain is bursting with ideas generated by conversations over the past few days.  Fun times stitching ahead!

Portrait of Red Coneflower

 

red-coneflowerA recently purchased linen doily reminded me of a mat for a framed portrait.  I didn’t have a photo on fabric that fit, and wanted to stitch something on this marvelous piece of linen with the wide handmade tatting.

A simple coneflower is always fun to appliqué, and I had seen somewhere the idea of using a spool of thread as the vase.  So, a few snippets of fabric, a good tv show in the background, a bright light at my side, and the stitching began.

Once the appliqué and embroidery were done (see the French knots at the base of the seed head?), it was time to find a base to set off the oval.  The French General print in red was perfect.  So, I layered wool batting beneath the oval, threaded up the machine with silk thread, and echoed the appliqué with free motion quilting.

Once I cut away the remaining batting from behind the red fabric, it was time to seed stitch the piece to an old quilt as the back of the assembly.  A yellow and white pieced basket quilt from an antique store fit the bill, but the white was a bit stark.  A scrap of red ticking came to the rescue, adding another layer of matting to the frame job.

red-coneflower-backAs I neared the finish, I hadn’t come up with a title.  But my original plan to let the doily serve as an inner mat for a portrait was still on my mind, so Portrait of Red Coneflower was simple enough.  One more vintage doily (with a history and stains to prove it) served as the label.

The finished piece measures 16” x 20” and the hanging sleeve utilized a leftover strip of the red ticking.

Ruth’s Drapery Dress

1970s-quiltI met a new quilting sister today.  We have a lot in common.  We grew up learning how to sew, making our own clothes, and each of us added quilting to our lives about 15 years ago.

Ruth does almost all her quilting by hand, in an immaculate room in an immaculate house (I said we have a lot in common, not everything).  Her work is deliberate and beautiful; she enjoys making quilts and other things from cloth, too, like purses and tote bags.

As we shared stories of our first quilts, I mentioned that mine in the 1970s was a pathetic patchwork made from scraps of drapery fabric from my mother’s sample books.  Oh, we shared that, too – mothers who made draperies.  Ruth’s mother was an interior designer at Sears and would sometimes bring home remnants of drapery fabric, or imperfect panels.  Ruth would disassemble them and reuse the fabric.

One of her proudest moments came from a piece of fabric that was a lovely blue floral.  Ruth worked hard to stitch that into a beautiful dress.  She was so proud of it and eager to wear it on her first date.  In those days, the shoes, purse, all the accessories had to be just right.  As she described the preparation, I could imagine her twirling about her living room, light on her feet as the gathered skirt billowed about her tiny waist.

The first stop on their evening out was at his house to meet his parents.  She was confident about her appearance until she entered their living room and was invited to take a seat on their sofa.  A sofa on which she would have become invisible.  She and the furniture were wearing the same fabric.

What a shame.  All that work to make such a lovely dress that would only be worn one time.

Photos:  Ruth doesn’t have any of her fabric left.  But I do have some of my first quilt left; the squares of drapery fabric which haven’t disintegrated.  No, you can’t see the whole thing.  But it measures 87” x  94”  and is hand quilted.  Hand quilted by community women who must still talk about me for asking them to needle this jumble of fabrics, varying in thickness and fiber content.  The backing is flannel.  The whole assembly is ugly, yet warm. That’s the crumpled bundle you see in the top photo.

1970s-quilt-detailHere, in a detail photo, I focused on a fabric that I think might fit the description Ruth gave.  It looks a lot like the fabric covering the first couch I bought.