Dyeing to Make Something Brown

Brown is a new favorite color of mine.  Blue has always been at the top of the list for me, but in recent years, I’ve come to love brown.  Maybe there is a reason.

Brown vignetteThis photo is one I made a few years ago to use on the invitations to my family reunion.  Pictured are a platter and pitcher from the Tea Leaf dinnerware which was my grandmother’s pattern.  On the evening of Ollie Jane’s wedding in 1890, her mother hosted a supper for family.  She served the meal on those dishes and gave them as a gift to the bride and groom. These two pieces in the photo were later purchases, but I do have one plate left that was on Ollie Jane’s table that night. The large pitcher was one she used and I still use it, too.

Also in the photo is a piece of brown and white checked fabric.  I’ve been accused of “adding a little brown check” when a quilt needs a spark of something different (as in GBI Blues), or when I don’t know what else to use (as in Seven Black Birds). [Photos of those two quilts are in the gallery.] I included that fabric in this photo because it looks like the apron I remember Ollie Jane wearing a lot during the last years of her life.

When I printed the photo of Bunk Bates for the Flag Bearer quilt I wrote about yesterday, I printed the above photo on linen as well.  In thinking about a composition using that photograph, I decided to pour some dye in a bucket and dip some things.  Here you see them drying.brown fabric drying

Stay tuned for the final result, but suffice it to say, I’m having a lot of fun!  I ordered some indigo dye today; I can’t wait to play with that.  Oh, I like blue and brown together, too.

You can read more about Ollie Jane’s wedding and her quilts here.  And more about her influence on my quiltmaking here.

Wandering Vines

Wandering VinesIn February, I was quite busy with several demanding projects.  Some of them kept me occupied at the computer, others at the sewing machine,  preparing for our guild’s imminent quilt show.  What I needed was some hand stitching to soothe my rattled nerves.

I had these vines already cut from an assortment of fabrics, having planned to use them as a border on another quilt.  Once they were vetoed for that project, I saved them thinking I would just use them alone on a solid background.  I do love needleturn appliqué and find the process restful to my brain.

Wandering Vines backI found three colors I liked, chose a solid fabric for the background, and stitched them over a few evenings in front of the television.  Recently, I layered the top with Dream Wool batting and a piece of hand-dyed fabric from Wendy Richardson as the back.  I outlined the appliqué and stitched several rows of echo quilting using a variegated thread.  The various edge designs; pebbles, straight lines, and continuous curves were stitched using a neutral color thread of the same weight.

All quilting was hand guided, free motion stitching on my domestic machine.

four little pitchersThis whole project was based on revisiting something I had liked from an earlier quilt.  Four Little Pitchers was my entry in our guild’s annual challenge in 2009.  The challenge was to make a four-block quilt.  I drew the shapes of the pitchers based on some pieces from my pottery collection, used needleturn appliqué to stitch them to the black background, and separated the four blocks with a tiny (1/4”), subtle sashing of black with silver dots.  Then I appliquéd the vine using the pattern from Emily Senuta’s basket book, and continued the design with the quilting motif.  In that case, I continued the vine in green, then echoed all with a black thread.

four pitchers detailThe sashing turned out to be so tiny and so subtle that it became invisible, but I always liked the result of the vine motif and wanted to work with that design again.  Especially after I began using wool batting, I wanted to use it to give extra dimension to the leaves in the quilted vines.  The vine in the latest project is twice the size of the original pattern.

I still have more of the larger vines cut, so  I would like to explore even more possibilities with this simple, elegant shape.

Details of quilts:  Four Little Pitchers measures 38” x 43”.  Fabrics for pitchers is all hand-dyed Cherrywood fabric, vines are Fossill Fern fabrics.  Batting is Dream Cotton request.  All threads are DMC Broder machine embroidery thread; 50 weight / 2 ply cotton.

Wandering Vines measures 21” x 28”.  Appliqué fabrics are all commercial quilting cottons, the background fabric is hand-dyed Cherrywood cotton. Threads are DMC Broder embroidery thread; 50 weight / 2 ply cotton.

The Calm that comes with Needle and Thread

blocks in blue work on porchThere is something soothing about the pulling of thread through cloth.  I find myself out of sorts if days (okay, even one day) go by without some time spent stitching.

Some say it’s a prayerful experience to sew.  Some liken it to Zen meditation.  Maybe it’s the rhythmic motion of the needle penetrating layers of fabric.  Whatever it is, it soothes my soul.  The ritual of pulling needle and thread through fabric has been a part of my life since childhood.  Even when very busy with demands of family and motherhood, I had some sort of needlework project in the works.  Then days might go by without much time spent with a needle in my hand, but just knowing it was waiting promised serenity.

During years that my mother and later my mother-in-law were in failing health, I learned to keep a sewing basket in the car at all times.  Since each of them had also been seamstresses, I saw it brought peace to each of them to see me with a project in tow.

In the basket was always a project with a threaded needle in the midst of a stitch.  That is still my strategy – without having to find the spot where I stopped, match the thread, locate the needle threader, I’m ready to take the next stitch.  In preparing for a trip, I sometimes spend more time ensuring that I have enough to keep me busy than I do planning my wardrobe.  I might not ever open the basket while away from home, but most times I do find some stitching moments.

I look at Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden and remember visiting with my mother while sewing those hexagons together.  I look at Granny Zee’s Scrap Baskets and remember sitting with my mother-in-law as I stitched the fabrics she had kept from her mother’s stash.  Both of these mothers of mine were suffering from confusion and dementia, but if words weren’t to be had, we communicated through our love of sewing.  I stitched my soul to each of them during their last years of life.

blocks in blueThe top photo is one of me working on Blocks in Blue while staying at the Inn at Iris Meadows in Waynesville, NC.  That quilt was hand pieced and machine quilted in 2005.  It finished at 27” square, and was one of my early attempts at free motion machine quilting.  I used invisible nylon thread in the top, a matching cotton thread in the bobbin.

 

Skinny-Dipping Quilts

mimi's boys skinny dippingChildren are so observant.  They see details that we adults pass right by.

Some of the first quilts I made were for grandsons.  There are now three teenagers, but at the time of the quilt you see pictured at the end of this post, there were two toddlers.  I saw an episode of Simply Quilts in which Judy Martin demonstrated the large block which dominates this quilt.  I had bought some Tom Sawyer themed fabric and companion pieces, and I went to work.

I made the largest block, (24” square, I believe) using two different scenes from the toile print in the center.  One was of the boys fishing, the other of them painting the fence.  I made smaller blocks using the fabrics I had in the collection and coordinates from my stash.  Now that I think about it, I was using my version of improvisational piecing from this beginning.  I laid blocks on my design table (otherwise used for eating dinner; the design wall came much later in my quilting life), measured spaces, and inserted filler pieces or blocks.

Now I sometimes lay out such a design on grid paper, calculating dimensions using the squares, but in 2002, I wasn’t so deliberate.  I gave the two quilts titles based on the toile, “Mimi’s Boys Fishing” and “Mimi’s Boys Working” and presented them as Christmas gifts.

Several years later, one of the grandsons attended a quilt show with me. I’m not affirming or denying if bribery was involved.  I saw a quilt with familiar fabric, and exclaimed, “look, this quilt has fabric like yours.”  I was quickly corrected, “Well, not exactly.  This boy has pants on.”

“Yours aren’t wearing pants?”

“Not the ones going swimming.”

His mother was as surprised as I was.  She hadn’t noticed either.

Back at their house, we all examined the quilt to see that, yes, indeed, the fabric I bought prior to 2002 had skinny-dippers.  I don’t know the manufacturer’s storyline, but I’m guessing someone was offended, and subsequent yardage was more modest.

Yes, I have scraps of the risqué print, even a bit of yardage.  Hmmm, I think there’s a story quilt idea.

Mimi's boys quiltQuilt details:  Finished measurements: 36″ x 50″, batting was probably 80% cotton, 20% polyester, quilting was straight lines with walking foot.

Quilting Sisters

Hilda's art quiltI had the pleasure today of visiting with not one, but two, of my favorite quilting sisters.  Joyce and Hilda are great friends. Friends to each other and friends to everyone they meet.  To visit with each of them separately in their homes today was a rare treat.

Joyce and Hilda are seldom still.  They are often not at home waiting for visitors, but instead are out galavanting about.  They participate in several small stitching groups that meet about town, they are active in guild meetings and go to several quilting retreats every year.  And, when they aren’t engaged in a church or stitching activity, they might be out shopping, in the pouring rain, looking for that perfect quilt backing to finish a project.

Does this sound like your typical image of more-than-90-year-old friends?  If not, you’d be wise to revise your stereotype.  Joyce and Hilda are dynamos. Their minds are sharper than a size 14 straw needle – I learn something every time I talk with either of them.

Hilda lives alone in the two-story house she’s occupied since 1990 or so.  She now has her sewing studio downstairs because her children worried about her climbing stairs so much while she was home alone.

Some of the approximately 100 bed quilts she’s made since she began quilting in 1987 are still here, others have been given away.  She’s hasn’t counted all the art and wall quits she’s made, but they are numerous and spectacular!  An avid student, Hilda has about a dozen trips to the John C. Campbell Folk School on her resume.  There she has explored topics such as basket making as well as quilting.

Her children and grandchildren are artistic too.  Her house is filled with art she likes and art they have made.  Pottery, wood turning, jewelry making, fabric printing, drawing, painting, all are in the family DNA.

The sewing studio is a haven for any stitcher.  There’s a cutting table open on all sides for easy access, and at a comfortable height for the statuesque lady.  A machine, tv, design wall, comfortable chair for hand stitching in front of the tv, cabinets to house the fabric overflow, and a fireplace for cozy wintertime work.  A serene workspace for a quilter of any age.

My visit with Joyce was not focused on stitching today.  We sat on her glorious wrap-around porch overlooking the lake.  Her luscious plants were a topic of conversation, as well as her recent experiences as caregiver for her 95-year-old sister.  We discussed her work with Western Union during WWII, her civilian work at our local Air Force installation during its early years, and her 33-year career at a wholesale pharmaceutical company.

Joyce was one of the charter members of our quilt guild in 1985.  Hilda joined the group in 1987.  Just think, each of these women was a career woman before being such was expected.  And, since retirement, each has had a long and productive career as a quiltmaker.  Many ribbons and awards have decorated their quilts along the way, and we are all still learning from them.

I’ve written before about missing the opportunity to explore quiltmaking in depth with my grandmother.  But with the quilting sisters now in my life, I’m reclaiming some years of experience and love.  Oh, how I love these women!

The photo is of an art piece made by Hilda.  It hangs over the mantel in her studio.

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.

Home Again

Version 2“Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jog,” is one of this family’s oft-repeated phrases when we pull into the driveway.  I know, it’s a misquote from the nursery rhyme, but we like it.  It has history in our household.

But today, my version might be, “home again, home again, figgity-fog.”  Today was our first full day at home in several weeks without another trip on the horizon.  And, even when we were home between trips, there were meetings, and deadlines, and classes, and you get the idea.

So on this day without pending preparation for another trip, I’m unraveling the impressions of the past few weeks.  Impressions which have become almost a blur.

I have been inspired by images from all our travels.  The scenery on backroads, quilts from contestants and vendors in Paducah, art in galleries, techniques from fabulous textile teachers, and Nature herself are all jostling for position in my brain.

Those forms are mingling with fabrics, threads, buttons, and beads found on these travels, too.  Now I am processing all those tidbits as I stow the treasures and sketches and thoughts, anxious to begin combining some of them in new work.

In my resting phase, I turned to Jude Hill’s Spirit Cloth blog.  Her textile work is amazing,  her words poetic.  I have read her blog for years.  Since she opened all her former online classes to all of us through her Feel Free site, I’ve browsed many old posts, too.  Her words soothe, much like handling cloth does.

On all our travels, I carried my sewing basket.  I accomplished some soothing stitching on an ongoing project, and even worked on a new one on the road.

But being at home with all my implements is a different kind of creating.  So now I’m ready to combine thoughts and materials anew.

The photo is Headed Home, a small piece I made for our local guild’s “two-color” quilt challenge in 2014.  The house is hand appliqued, the background machine quilted with vaguely parallel lines stitched closely together.  The twigs are from our yard, whitewashed and couched down by hand.  The quilt finished at 8” x 20”.

Embellishing with Paula

no presser footIf I had known old ladies had so much fun, I would have aged faster.

Today was session two with Paula Reid.  We stitched ribbons and beads and baubles.  We used dental floss implements, funky charms, and fancy stitches with specialty threads.  We made new friends and laughed a lot!

I even won a cone of wine thread.  Yes, you read that right, wine.  I told you old ladies had fun!

Not only did we disengage our feed dogs, we removed the presser foot!  Sewing is not for wimps.  But, man is it fun!  I have a new tool in my arsenal.  Now I know more ways to use those beads and baubles and fancy fibers I’ve collected.

Every member of the class was playing with ribbons and threads in a different way.  Taking a class is so inspirational – not only do you have an experienced teacher who shares her knowledge, but other participants spin off in different directions.  Take a class!

Simply Quilts was still on tv when I began quiltmaking in 2001.  I was still working, so I recorded the show every day, then watched it when I got home.  I learned most everything I know about quilting basics that way.  When I heard Paula Reid was coming to town, I knew she quilted on a domestic machine as I do, using what she calls the “fluff and stuff” method.  I also remembered her episode on beading and embellishments where she removed the presser foot.  I felt like I knew her already, because I had watched those SQ episodes over and over.

Online quilting shows still keep me up-to-date with the latest artists breaking the mold, or perfecting the mold, but it’s not the same.  I spend money to subscribe to some of the online shows (thequiltshow.com hosted by Ricky Tims and Alex Anderson is my primary resource).  I watch some youtube videos, too.

I read quilting blogs.  I listen to quilting podcasts. I follow links to other artists’ work from Facebook.  I goggle names of people whose work I see in magazines and online.

But nothing takes the place of on-site, person-to-person contact with an expert.  Thanks, Couture Sewing Center, for bringing Paula.  And, thank you, Paula, for coming to GA, and sampling our grits.  And, thank you, fellow classmates, for a fun two-day sewing experience!

Time Travel

Barnsley Gardens houseI am creating a journal quilt again this year, Fifty-two Wednesdays.  Each week, I select one image from my life and stitch it into a rectangular block.

The week ending on Wednesday, April 27, was filled with possibilities.  We were in Padcuah, KY at the annual AQS show there, ending each day with time on the river.  Of course, the thousands of inspirational ideas from quilts and vendors there would make many quilts, and we played on a caboose, saw bison in a prairie at Land Between the Lakes, and made a special trip to photograph fields of canola.

But the image that has been front and center in my brain since Sunday morning is that of the hauntingly beautiful walls of the house at Barnsley Gardens.  Cotton broker Godfrey Barnsley bought 10,000 acres of land outside Adairsville, GA, and began building a manor house in 1842.

More than a century of misfortune had brought the mansion and its once magnificent gardens to ruin.  You can read details at wikipedia or other online sources, but the Civil War and a tornado in 1906 explain a lot.  In 1988, the remains of the property including the manor house were purchased and restoration begun.

I was entranced.  Spellbound.  On this quiet Sunday morning, Jim and I were in another world, another time.  The skies were spectacularly blue, the sun bright, but at that early morning angle that photographers love.  Shadows changed with every tilt of the head and with every step on the wooden floors.

Bare brick walls nearing two centuries in age reached to the sky.  Window openings, sometimes with wooden frames clinging to the old mortar, were more spiritual than any stained glass window.  Empty tealight holders nestled in openings in the brick walls, hinting at how magical this place would be in the darkness, too.

Before we left the trails surrounding the house, Clent Coker, author and historian, caught up with us and filled in some details of the restoration.  His knowledge gave us a more complete understanding of the family and the land here.  I am so thankful that someone decided to preserve this beautiful place as part of the lovely resort that is now on site.  I am more thankful that they stopped before recreating a fine Italian villa.  I love the crumbling bricks covered with algae, the skeletal structure of the building revealed.

This place will appear in Fifty-two Wednesdays and perhaps other quilt projects as well.  I photographed bare walls with plans to stitch vines growing on them. I photographed the foyer floor whose brick inlay pattern looks like a unique quilt layout to me.  And the three-tiered fountain and flowers blooming may show up in yet other projects.

“Seemingly insignificant moments…”,  Jim remarked as we drove away.  Had it not been for traffic delays and detours on Saturday, this magical Sunday morning might not have been part of our story.

Cyndi’s killer quilt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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