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.

G’s Treehouse

G's treehouseA couple of years ago a friend of mine told me she was having a baby, a little girl.  This beautiful mother-to-be loved a particular line of fabric which included birds and flowers.

I gathered together some of the fabric from the collection, made a tree, planted some flowers at the base, and constructed a birdhouse.  I had a ball!

A note about the some fabric:  just as I never follow a pattern exactly, I don’t think I’ve ever made anything solely from one designer’s collection.  Though the collections are a great way to get coordinating colors and a variety of scales and patterns, I find they are often a bit static.  I like to add a zinger or a focus, or just something different from another source.  In this case, the collection didn’t have a fabric that said “tree trunk” to me, so I used a little brown check.  Likewise, there was not the right blue for the birdhouse.  And I’m confident that the leaves were cut from green fabrics from the collection and perhaps from others as well.

G's treehouse birdhouseI cut the background to the finished size of the quilt (38″ x 65″), adding a bit in all directions to allow for shrinkage that comes with appliqué and quilting.  The tree, branches, and leaves were all freely cut using the eyeball method on top of the background.  Needle turn appliqué was used throughout.  I like raw edges on leaves (as in After the Chlorophyll, Shade Tree Mechanic, and a few other projects) but this was to be a baby quilt to be used, and I didn’t want fraying to be an issue when washed.  Nor did I want the little one getting stray threads in her hand or mouth.

G's treehouse detailBroderie perse (a fancy word for fussy cutting) was used with the flower centers at the base of the tree.  The birds were larger than those printed on the fabric, but I mimicked the birds the designers had used when I made patterns for mine.

The tree bark was quilted with a dark brown thread, the rest with a matching thread that simply gave texture.  The exception to this was some of the embellishing stitches around the flower heads.  In some cases, there were details printed on the fabric that couldn’t easily be cut out and appliquéd, so I recaptured those with the quilting stitch using a heavier thread.  All threads used were cotton, and the batting was cotton.  That is often my preferred fiber for all components of a quilt, but certainly is the case when it’s for a baby.  Seed stitch was used to embroider the seeds the bird on the ground is eating.

All quilting was done on the sewing machine, hand-guided, free motion stitching.  A variety of motifs were used, including echoing, vines with leaves,  curved crosshatching,  vaguely parallel lines.

Now G is having a little brother.  Hmmm….

Bee Still my Heart

bee skep on notebook page leftbee skep on notebook page right

I see that today has been designated as National Honey Bee Day, begun to increase community awareness of beekeeping in the U.S.  Such a holiday is a perfect excuse to share a few pieces of fiber art with a beekeeping theme.

After I sold my childhood home to Billy, a former colleague of my Daddy, I received a treasured package.  Billy was doing some remodeling and found two of my Daddy’s high school science lab books behind the walls of a closet.  His graduation from Sycamore High School was in 1932, so the Biology and Physical Science lab manuals predate that.

I never knew my Daddy could draw, but in these books I found his drawings of crawfish, birds, fish, chemistry lab equipment, and BEES.  I was excited to find his handwriting, which looked exactly like it did later in life, but the drawings were a wonderful surprise.  I scanned some of the images and printed them on parchment paper and framed them as Christmas gifts for family members, but the lab on the bees got special treatment.

Beekeeping detail rightI printed those two pages on commercially prepared fabric for printing, then used those as the background for appliquéd bee skeps, vines, leaves, berries, and bees.  Cotton was used for the vines and leaves, beehives are a woven cotton, berries are made with silk ribbon, and the bees are appliquéd from felted wool.  The quilting is hand guided free motion on a domestic sewing machine. Each piece of this pair finishes at 12” x 15”. In keeping with the school theme, I entitled this pair Beekeeping 101.

beauty & beesThis reconnection with my Daddy’s history with bees spurred me to stitch several more quilts with bees and beehives.  I modified a pattern from Maggie Bonanomi to create Beauty and the Bees in wool.  The background is commercially handdyed and felted black wool.  All the appliqué pieces are felted wool from recycled clothing, mine and Goodwill’s.  The pink berries and tendrils are machine couched with my free motion couching foot, one of the most fun-to-use tools in my toolbox!

Still busy as a bee, I wanted a colony on blue.  So I created a simple design using a single bee skep, and used needleturn appliqué on the Blackbird Design fabric that looks like a cross stitch sampler.  I return to that fabric frequently, in different colorways, because it adds another layer of interest to any quilt while paying tribute to another one of my needlework loves – cross stitch.  A section of this piece appears in the banner at the top of the page.

bees in guest bedroomThe Beehive on Blue was made to fit an oval frame (8″ x 10″) I found somewhere.  That’s a shape I love and find those frames hard to leave in the store.  So one came home with me, got a coat of chalk paint, and holds my quilt.  It is honored with the presence of an original drawing of a bee by my art instructor and friend, Mark Ballard.

Fifty-Two Tuesdays has a block with a beeskep on linen.  There’s one in Fifty-Two Wednesdays, and  I’ve used this motif in a series of beginning appliqué classes.  I’m certain it will reappear many times.  I sometimes find interesting bee buttons or charms that need a home in a textile hive.

My Daddy, the beekeeper, would have been surprised that those lab manuals were still around, I think.  He built this house in 1946, after having owned at least two farms, then living in another house in town. so why did he keep science lab manuals for fourteen years?  I know if he could see my fabric beehives, he would pretend to think they were silly, printing his workbook pages and sewing on them.  But secretly he would be pleased.  As I think he would be pleased that I treasure such wonderful memories of those glorious mornings checking the beehives with him.

Note:  more details about Beauty and the Bees and working with wool are here.

Strollin’

Strollin'My latest art quilt features a guinea.  I love these funny looking birds; the pattern on their feathers reminds me of little old women wearing black calico dresses, and I love their spirit of self-confidence.  I guess it should be noted that I admire them from a distance.  I don’t think our neighbors would like for us to have them on our property.

My guineas must be relegated to quilts and buttons and such.

Strollin' closeupI found a black and white batik fabric a couple of years ago that said “guinea” to me.  I made an album quilt of Sunbonnet Sue-style guineas and called it Guineas on Parade.

 

The art quilt here uses the same fabric and pattern I drew for that larger quilt.  This one is needleturn appliquéd onto a brown and white checked background (more on the philosophy of that here).  The sunflower in the border is raw edge appliqué on a brown  hand-dyed fabric.  All quilting is hand-guided, freemotion quilting using cotton thread.

Strollin' back closeupThis piece finishes at 16” x 20”.  For the back, I used a delightful batik I bought in Paducah.  Even though it’s on the back, it harkens to my philosophy of “using the good stuff“.

In addition to Guineas on Parade, I’ve included guinea buttons on a block in 52 Tuesdays, and an appliquéd guinea in 52 Wednesdays.  

I found a delightful poem about guineas online. In part, it reads

They seldom walk –‘tis a run or a trot,

Snatching bugs left and right, one for each polka-dot.

The poem in its entirety can be found here.

When I see a guinea, or hear one, it takes me back to a sunny day of softball practice where the “buck-wheat” cry of these birds interrupted our practice.  Those friends, the serenity of a spring day, the joy of playing in the rural outdoors, all come to mind and I feel a smile spreading across my face.

The Seed Stitch

I’ve been delighting in a new stitch in the past few months, the seed stitch.  It is a simple little stitch which is carefree and easy, but adds an amazing punch to textile work in many situations.

If you are a stitcher and haven’t used this versatile stitch lately, give it some thought.  Directions and video tutorials are abundant online.  Just search “seed stitch for embroidery”, or you’ll learn knitting.

seed stitch on floozieIn recent years, I used the seed stitch in this block of Floozies, a quilt I made using a Sue Spargo kit she called Bird Dance in 2013.  In this case, the stitch was done as an embellishment. The seed stitch can be seen in the area under the bird’s feet.

detail of Mourning Flight

In Susan Lenz’s class I took in May and wrote about it in detail here, I realized that this stitch could be used as a quilting stitch, to secure several layers.  In this case, I used a heavy black thread making the stitch itself quite obvious.  This photo is one from Mourning Flight, detailed here, where all the hand quilting is accomplished using this simple stitch.

seed stitch in carBut recently, I’ve used the seed stitch on another piece, this white baby dress on blue, still untitled. Here I’m using a fine thread (30-weight cotton) which matches the background.  The stitch is rather small, so all that is visible is the dimple created when the stitch secures the top, batting and backing.  The photo here is one I took while riding in the car. (The seed stitch is in the area of the white in the lop left quadrant of the photo.)  On a road trip yesterday to see and photograph a rare bird, I got a lot of stitching done.  I was not the driver.

The seed stitch is rather random in nature, neither the length nor direction of the stitch having to be consistent, making it a great travel project.  Much of the seed stitch on Mourning Flight was also done in the car, this time on a birding trip to Florida.

seed stitch intended pink basketAnd remember the pile of vintage linens I brought home here?  Well, salvageable parts of one of those old tablecloths has become this piece. After quilting the inner pink border and the setting triangles densely, the striped center is a bit puffy.  So, I’ll be adding some seed stitch in this area.

One caveat:  the seed stitch does not produce an even result on the back of the piece, so an additional back will be needed.  But if you plan an additional layer on the back, or you intend to frame the work, the seed stitch is an interesting one to consider for securing layers.  I’ve planned for that on the white baby dress, using an extraordinarily thin fabric (harem cloth) as the backing now. And on the pink/green piece, the label will be placed over the seed-stitched area of the back of the finished product.

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.

Loving the Blues

indigo fabricsI’ve been playing in my indigo vat for the past few days.  The pile you see here includes some of the results.  I’ve dipped pieces large and small of old vintage sheets, old hankies and napkins, doilies, placemats, purchased commercial fabric, bits of lace, and a cotton Matelasse bedspread.

Fabrics are cotton, linen, silk, and combinations of those.  Some have been dipped once, some several times.  I love to watch the magic as the oxidation process occurs.

indigo vatWhen first removed from the vat, the cloth appears green.  As the dye oxidizes, the blue appears.  If a resist is applied to block the dye absorption, interesting patterns can be created.

The only resists I’ve tried are some tying of the fabric and a bit of folding.  Already I can see how addictive this process can be.  And though I’ve already peered into the rabbit hole of staining with tea and blackberries, and then explored the browns, this lover of all things BLUE is tumbling headfirst into the indigo dye.

indigo stitchingThis third photo shows that I’ve started some projects using this most delightful fabric.  I’m loving the work I’ve recently been doing with vintage linen; it’s so deliciously soft to stitch by hand.  The photo shows a vintage baby dress appliquéd on linen now ready to embroider and quilt and some squares prepared for piecing.  Both pieces use techniques I’ve learned from that amazing artist, Jude Hill.  Her invisible basting stitch and paperless piecing technique have changed my stitching forever!

I haven’t limited myself to playing with yardage.  If I took a selfie right now, you would see a cotton knit shirt and a silk scarf which have both spent some time in the indigo vat.

Hartwell Commons

Hartwell CommonsKits to make quilts are wonderful.  They are a great way to make a quilt if you don’t have a large fabric stash, if you aren’t comfortable selecting fabrics, or if you just want to jump right in with a ready supply of coordinated fabrics in the right colors.  A good friend advises that they are great for travel or retreat projects, because they are packaged ready to sew on the go.

Hartwell Commons was made from a kit.  I ordered the block-of-the-month kit early in my quilting career, I suppose it was in 2002 or so.  When the first package arrived, the schoolhouse block, I opened it ready to jump right in.

Instructions were given for two techniques; paper foundation piecing, and appliqué.  I did not know either one.  So I bundled it all back up and put it back in its big ziploc bag.  It waited month by month as its companions arrived in the mail and the charges were added to my credit card bill.  I paid the bill knowing that maybe someday I would have the skills to make the quilt.

My friend’s advice came to light a couple of years down the road when we were preparing for a girls’ getaway to a friends’ lake house.  I was lamenting that I didn’t know what project to take, and Dale said, “do you have a kit?”

Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I did.  I grabbed the first couple of month’s packages, some substitute fabrics (I had already realized that using someone else’s idea of fabric combinations was not my way of working) and off we went to Lake Hartwell.

Hartwell Commons churchBy then, I had learned both techniques of paper foundation piecing and needleturn appliqué.  I love to do handwork and don’t like to travel with my sewing machine, so appliqué was the approach I used.

Once started, I quickly finished all the houses, but uh-oh, I didn’t know all the embroidery stitches and had never worked with silk ribbon.  So the blocks sat again waiting.  The next retreat with the same group of gals to the same place meant the embellishment phase could begin.

The embroidery was done, blocks were assembled by machine, and I was ready to do the quilting.  I referred to Leah Day’s 365 Free Motion Quilting Designs website for ideas and video instructions on filler designs for the background.  All the varied filler designs are still favorites of mine, and I often run downstairs to look at this quilt on the wall when I need ideas on another project.

Hartwell Commons labelQuilt details:  Finished size is 85” x 88”.  The pattern is called The Quilted Village by the City Stitcher. Cotton fabrics, silk thread embroidery.  Completed 2010.  Cotton batting. Quilting thread DMC machine embroidery thread, two-ply, 50 weight cotton.  Free motion quilted on home machine.  Since there are lots of goat farms around Lake Hartwell, I made the label in the shape of a goat.

Old Churches

Old Churches fullI can hear joyous voices raised in song when I see an old church.  A well-proportioned steeple reaching to the heavens is pleasing.  Stained glass windows are nice.  But even without those finer details, old churches thrill my soul.  I know there are stories within those walls.  Stories of peace and solace received there, of friendship and loving support in hard times, of comfort in grief.  There are stories of gossip and scandal and intrigue, too.

We often stop the car on our backroad jaunts to photograph an old church.  But on a recent Saturday, we went on an expedition with a local camera club to photograph a select group of historic churches in a rural county nearby.  My husband has recently joined this group; thus the title of my latest quilt, Old Churches, New Friends.

Jim’s photos are of the highest resolution, with crisp details.  I often print his photos on silk fabric which conveys this sharpness.  But I wanted these photos to reflect the historic quality of the adventure, so I printed them on pieces of a vintage linen tablecloth, most of them in black and white.  I loved the result – the coarseness of the fabric conveyed a grainy effect on the photos.  Perfect.

old churches sunI continued the primitive look by hand stitching the photos to another old piece of linen.  The rough weave of this background fabric did not allow me to write on it successfully, so I printed the names of the churches on commercially prepared cotton fabric, and stitched memorable words using free motion stitching on the sewing machine.

Old Churhes treeProvidence Baptist in Shady Dale was founded in 1810 and included some Revolutionary War soldiers as some of the first members.  As I walked through the cemetery, I found a very old section and one grave with a magnificent cedar tree growing at its head.  My thought was, “when this soldier died, he became a tree.”  So, that photo grew into a tree on my quilt.

Hopewell Baptist Church was covered with a tarp as it is awaiting a new roof.  But the architecture of it was amazing; not because of towers and turrets, but because of its simple beauty.  The windows and shutters spoke volumes to me and to the other Sandy along on the trip.  She and I photographed them from every angle and I drew sketches of them as we stood there sharing our love of their structure.  Then we noticed the shape of the vent in the front of the church.  Not the square, rectangle, or rhombus that is often the case, but a kite.  So, a geometry discussion was included in the day as well.

Old Churches rolled upThe block on the outside of the quilt is an appliquéd version of one of the windows of that church.  I made another one of these replicas for that week’s block in my journal quilt for 2106, Fifty-Two Wednesdays.  That image seems to symbolize the day to me.

 

Old Churches Queen Anne's LaceSince beginning work on Fifty-Two Tuesdays, I’ve wanted to make other journal quilts, some which chronicled a single trip, or a single day.  This example will just say to others, “nice. They photographed some old churches.”  But to me and to Jim, when we see it, we will remember the friends, the back roads, Queen Anne’s Lace blooming all along the roadsides, and fried chicken.

Old Churches labelDetails of quilt:  Finished measurements are 17” x 38”.  Vintage linen, commercial quilting cotton fabrics.  Label is made from a vintage woman’s handkerchief.  Hand stitching, machine stitching, free-motion quilting.

Another note:  There is a website with beautiful photos and stories related to this adventure, Historic Rural Churches of Georgia.  I’ve found details about some of the ones we’ve visited, and added to our list of “want to visit”, too.

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.