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.

Basking in Blue

I spent a lot of time in June dipping in my indigo dye pot.  I dyed and overdyed treasured bits of fabric.: baby blankets, remnants of old quilts, bits of lace, repurposed shirts.  I experimented with heavy paper and wooden buttons.


Part of the fun is the surprise element.  As time goes by, the vat becomes weaker and the color less intense.  Of course, any blue is beautiful to me, dark, light, and all shades between the extremes.  Every fiber reacts to the dye differently, and the results change based on how many times a fabric is dipped.

In an earlier post, I’ve written more details about the dyeing process.  And, if you want to see more work with my results, type “indigo” in the search box and you’ll find finished art quilts which included some of the pieces I had dyed.

Many of these recent bits of blue will become part of future pieces of art, but I made a journal keepsake preserving many swatches of treasured blues.  There are sixteen pages cut from old quilt remnants in shades of white.  Every added snippet of fabric, button, bead, and even thread, holds a memory of the search, the find, the experimentation with its color.  Preserving stories doesn’t always need words.

New Old Stuff


I’ve acquired some real treasures in recent days…my brain is spinning with ideas for using them.

The red windowpane checked towels are old linen.  Yes, they do look like graph paper.  But they work well as an underlying grid for free form appliqué and stitching.  The loose weave and years of washing make them a delight to use – the needle just glides through the openings between the threads.  The red/burlap trim and the lace are gifts from a friend.  They came from Europe and look like they belong with a collection of French General fabrics, don’t they?

The doilies are another antique store find.  Yes, they are treasures in their original box, with the label, but they won’t stay there.  Click on the photo to enlarge if you want to read the details.  You will swoon! They will become mats for photos on fabric, I think.

And the blue linen hankie, oh, my, what a beauty!  A friend found this while shopping and thought of me.  And this was before seeing my vintage blues from Bell Buckle!   Enlarge his one to see the hand drawn thread work and the amazing tiny appliqué.  The white squares in the nine-patch measure 3/8” on  each side.

This piece will not find its way into a quilt for a very long time.  It now lives in my basket of blue.

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.

Bell Buckle

Vintage blue calico, antique stores, delicious food, friendly people, and a caboose!  It’s no wonder that we found ourselves returning to Bell Buckle, TN on our recent trip to Paducah, KY.

We had visited Bell Buckle once before on our way home from an AQS show in Paducah.  I remembered the beautiful rolling hills, the pastoral campus of the Webb School, ice cream cones, and vintage blue ticking.  Our stop this time was on a beautiful morning as we headed to Paducah.

After the requisite photo shoot on the caboose, we visited several shops and enjoyed all of them.  But the delight came in the Bluebird Antiques and Ice Cream Parlor.  There we met Billy Phillips and his mother, Nancy.   I recounted memories of being there before and buying vintage ticking.  Billy enticed me to the Mercantile store after we had a bite of lunch by telling me about his latest acquisition; items from a sixty-year collection of vintage blue and white calicos from a Nashville collector.

After sharing a lunch of chicken salad (freshly homemade that morning) and a fried apple pie (also prepared from scratch that day), I visited with Nancy.  In our conversation where she proudly proclaimed her age being 85,  she identified herself as the maker of the pies, not as the savior of the town.  That story came later from Billy.

We didn’t have room to try ice cream in one of their freshly made waffle cones, but I’m certain that’s why the ice cream from a few years ago was so memorable.  We passed up the homemade pimento cheese, and the fried green tomato cheeseburger, but that last is on my list for the next visit.

While we waited for our food, we browsed the shelves in the Bluebird shop.  Dishes adorned with bluebirds, old quilts, old camera equipment, and Tasha Tudor books.  What’s not to love?

I asked about the sign advertising Miss Jeane’s Cafe.  Miss Jeane ran the cafe in that building for forty years, establishing high standards that Nancy and her helpers continue with their menu.

Nancy heard us say we were on our way to Paducah and revealed that she, too, is a quilter.  And doll maker.  It was her love of all things doll related that led her to save the town.

As Billy shared the story,  the mercantile/hardware store had been closed for some seven or so years in the 1970’s, but was still filled with original merchandise.  Nancy saw a cabinet inside that reminded her of a dollhouse.  She called to inquire about buying the cabinet and was first told, “it’s not for sale.”  Determined, she called the owner again and this time got a quote of $750.  She said, “that’s a bit high for a cabinet,” only to hear the reply “Oh, I mean for the store and all its contents.”  Sold!

To save the store from a bulldozing plan to make way for a new Piggly Wiggly, Nancy researched listing the property on the National Register of Historic Places.  Because of shared fire walls, she was able to save not only her new store, but all the buildings attached to it.  I, among many, am so glad she did that.  What a pleasant little town was saved!

With a population of fewer than 500 residents, the town welcomes as many as 100,000 visitors to its festivals. We heard about the Moon Pie Festival (Bell Buckle is the place where Moon Pies, made fresh in Nashville, were first paired with RC Cola), coming in June, and the Arts and Crafts Festival in October.  A google search will give you details in case you are interested.

Though I’m impressed with their festivals and would enjoy the excitement,I’m glad we’ve had a chance to visit the quaint little town on quiet days, with time to browse its treasures.

In the photos, you see what I’m talking about.  The blue calicoes were simply divine.  For someone who loves all things blue, especially indigo, and cloth with a history, it was spellbinding.  I brought home a few treasures, and have them displayed in a basket close to my sewing chair.  Daily inspiration!  Talking with Billy about these treasures was very educational.  I didn’t realize, for example, that English fabric samples in the 1800’s were swatches the size of today’s fat quarters!

With all our time on the road the past few weeks, and then things to catch up when we got home, I haven’t had a lot of sewing time.  But I am working on a Paducah journal quilt, and this little block is one of the pieces representing our stop in Bell Buckle.

Backroad Therapy

The past couple of weeks have been filled with busyness; so we decided on a day of exploring.  Our country drive took us past peaceful scenes of green, pastures filled with cows, fields of hay just mown – and some just baled, and irrigation systems at work.  We were headed to Molena and Woodbury, to check shops we like in those towns, and Zebulon to visit the bookstore.

We explored several antique stores.  A few items came home with us but we mostly collected ideas.  Ideas for the porches, for decorating, for repurposing some old crates and boxes and cans.

Most shops weren’t very busy (one of the perks of being retired and being able to shop on weekdays) so we had Interesting conversations with shop proprietors.  There was the lady who had a midnight visit from a female cardinal in her workshop, there was the handyman who built a bench from an old spool bed, and we missed the Corgi named Macon in one of our regular shops.  It seems her owner had errands to run before opening the shop today, so Macon got the day off. We met Macon on an earlier visit I shared here.

The other customers who did appear offered opportunities for people watching and people listening.  I overheard a man say, “we could buy this and I could strip it down to the original wood.”  He was referring to a table I’ve admired before.  I admired it in part for its wonderful new chalk-paint finish.

Lunch was high on the agenda, because we remembered the fabulous food at The Blackbird Cafe.


The place is entrancing with tables and light fixtures made from pipes, peeling plaster revealing brick beneath, and condiments corralled in sewing machine drawers.  The food is wonderful, too.  Their homemade kaiser rolls were still warm from the morning’s oven and were just as heavenly as we had remembered.  Yum.

We were there early, so the photos showing the space without people is misleading.  The people did come.  They do come.  Every day.

 

More walking, more exploring, more driving about.  Then we went to Red Oak Covered Bridge. It’s the oldest in Ga, and you still drive across it.  We both marveled at the same feature – no graffiti.  Wow.  There is a sign saying “No Graffiti – $1000 fine”.  Maybe Meriwether County officials enforce that.

Another day spent enjoying the world, seeing the beauty close to home, and treasuring the pleasure of the moment.  Those are important goals since two funerals were included in our busyness recently.  Death is a part of life, but when it comes to someone we know, especially when it’s unexpected, we are reminded to enjoy the everyday.  Yesterday we did just that.

Paper Dolls

My mother entertained little girls by cutting paper dolls from paper.  She would fold the newspaper or catalog pages accordion style, then cut one-half of a girl in a dress.  All of us squealed as she unfurled the string of girls holding hands.

I finally learned to do the folding and cutting for myself, even to change the cuts to make strings of little boys, or of girls linking hands up, then down, then up again.

I had some fabric on hand that looked like little girls’ dresses, so I made a template and appliquéd some of Mama’s dolls on fabric.

Later it occurred to me that one of the granddaughters might like a parade of little girls like she once played with in paper.  I happened to have fabric from five dresses she had worn as a toddler.  I cut a pattern so that five girls would fit on a vintage doily I found, and a memory was rekindled. I layered the dolls and doily on a bit of indigo dyed linen and used machine quilting to add dimension. Buttons from those five little dresses were used as embellishments and to secure the layers to a bit of a vintage cross-stitched quilt.  The finished piece measures 17” x 16”.  

Free Form Log Cabins

I love hand piecing.  There’s something about pulling a needle and thread through cloth that soothes me.  It’s the rare day that I don’t have to do a little stitching before going to bed.  Most of the time, it’s during the couple of hours after supper when we watch tv.

Even after spending hours in my sewing room as I did yesterday, cutting and sewing at the machine, I still find it necessary to unwind by stitching a bit.

My current project is pictured here.  Log cabin-style blocks that approximate 5” finished.  Mostly in blues and whites.  I was inspired by a blog entry by Jude Hill a few weeks ago when she was piecing some free form log cabins.  I started my own and can’t stop.  It’s so addictive.  Part of the fun is using special fabrics.  Many of these pieces came from clothing remnants, some from scraps of vintage linens.  I selected some special fabrics to be the “heart” of the blocks, too.  Some bits of embroidery, some pieces of a friend’s silk jacket, various old treasures lying about.

In theory, the blocks start with 1” squares and use 1” logs.  But, if the chosen center element is larger, I just adjust as I go.  I have some templates lying nearby and use them sometimes, but other times I just eyeball it and start stitching.

I’m using Jude’s technique of invisible basting the seam allowances open, too.  It makes subsequent stitching so pleasant.

I have no plan.  I’m just stitching for fun.  Enjoying the process, letting the assembly evolve.  I did scatter a few blocks on the design wall a few days ago, on top of a piece of silk I had dipped in the dye pot.  Here’s how that looked.

 

 

Some years ago, I made this little wall hanging.  (I wrote about this before, remembering that I sewed the binding on while visiting a B & B.) Here, I hand pieced tumbling blocks from assorted blue fabrics.  Then I did use a template to have exactly the same sized blocks, and I used commercial fabric.  I collected beloved blue fabrics, including the fossil fern (I love that fabric!) in the border.

A blue and white toile on the back is a favorite of mine, too.  I quilted it using free motion quilting, invisible nylon thread and cotton batting.  It measures 26” square.

Generally, commercial fabrics are not nearly so much fun to stitch as the softer, thinner, more loosely woven fabrics I’m using now.  And the memories ….memories of the homespun jumper my mother made for me and I wore for years, the shirt Jim wore with his overalls, the threadbare linen jacket of mine, and the remnants I dyed indigo last summer make these pieces special to handle.  Those memories don’t come off a bolt in a store.

Jerry’s Bottle Tree Farm

What an adventure we had this morning!  Our friends Jerry and Rose Payne invited us to their home, Tick Hill, so that Jim might photograph some uncommon butterflies, Giant Yucca Skippers.  We did see the target insect and some other species, but the highlight of the trip for me was the bottle farm.  Well, that and fascinating conversation with Jerry.
We have a bottle tree in our yard, and so far, it’s done its job of warding off evil spirits.  Jerry does not have a bottle tree, he has a bottle forest – made of 135 trees and counting.  That’s more than 10,000 bottles.  Amazing!

Jerry can tell you a lot about bottles.  He knows which companies use recycled bottles, which ones make brown bottles, or green bottles, or blue bottles, or frosted, or painted.  He knows spikes, too.  Winds at his place will cause bottles to pull the spikes out of the post if they are less than 6” long.  The spacing of the spikes is determined by the bottles he’s planning to use and the intended final design.

As a child in Virginia, Jerry was fascinated by bottle trees he saw on his walk to school.  His forest is a tribute to that memory and to individuals in his life.  There is a tree with colored bottles entwined much like a barber’s pole: a salute to his uncle who wielded clippers for a living.  Another has only bottles from the monastery where a friend resides.  Yet another holds pickle jars, all from a neighbor whose children eat a LOT of pickles.  There are trees comprised only of brown beer bottles, or frosted wine bottles, or medicine bottles, or tiny bottles, or bottles dug from a particular location.


As we walked, our conversation included weather, butterfly behavior, plant identification, educational systems, life in south Georgia, mutual acquaintances from years past, and the history of Catholicism in Virginia.  We exchanged stories of family experiences and art pursuits.  We learned more about each other’s educational backgrounds and professional experiences.

Jerry’s folk art is delightful and we were fortunate to bring home some treasures today.  Jerry paints bits of tree limbs and roots that he finds lying about as well as shells and bones from animals.  There were some roots and branches whose shapes said to Jerry they were a chicken, a whippoorwill, and a tadpole. Here you see the tadpole.

And this piece is one of a series where he painted insects on tortoise shells.  This one, Water Strider Flotilla, includes images of those known as pond skimmers, water striders, Jesus bugs, water skaters, or pond skitters.

Time spent with Jerry and Rose is a treasure in itself.  Rose was away for part of the morning, so our visit with her was abbreviated this time.

Dr. Payne is an amazing person whose breadth of knowledge seems neverending.  He is best known in some circles for his ground breaking work in forensic science.  In the 1960’s, he detailed the changes that occur as insects are introduced to decomposing pig carcasses.  A documentary film has been made about his life and a more complete biography is here.


And for those who read this blog hoping to see a quilt of some description, here is one of my latest art pieces.  A butterfly photo is relevant, don’t you think?  This is Swallowtail in the Briarpatch.  A photo of Jim’s I printed on silk fabric, quilted using free motion machine stitching with silk thread, then framed it with a batik and some cottons.
The stalk of the flower and some leaves are stitched with a heavier rayon thread.  The finished piece is mounted on foam core and measures 11” x 14”.