Mother’s Day Memories

Cleo 1951On this Hallmark day when so many people feel guilty if they don’t visit their mothers, or buy them flowers, or take them out to eat with 40,000 of their closest friends waiting in line to eat at a restaurant, I’m thinking of calmer Mother’s Days.

When I was growing up, we observed the holiday with a gift for the Mothers in our lives.  Sometimes, I bought my mother something. My Daddy would take me shopping to select something for her.  I cringe when I remember some of the choices I made – but she displayed the horrible treasure anyway.  And, I still have a ragged sheet of paper on which I wrote her a poem.  I think I was about ten years old at the time.  I recall hiding in the closet to secretly write it when I was supposed to be vacuuming the house.  She scolded me for dawdling at my task, but all was forgiven when she read the poem on Sunday morning.  I found it in her belongings after her death 46 years later and it’s tattered state leads me to believe she read it and reread it a few times.

We always wore corsages to church on Mother’s Day.  The only time I recall Mama spending money at the florist was for a funeral, or for Mother’s Day.  Mama wore a white corsage (because her mother was dead, she explained; none of this “passed away” language at our house) and I wore a red carnation.  We always bought an orchid for Aunt Nellie (the spinster great-aunt who lived next door and who had “raised” Mama after she was orphaned at the age of four.  “Orphaned” was Mama’s word, too.)  I was a bit perplexed because the orchid wasn’t exactly white, but in Mama’s world, it worked.  Since Aunt Nellie attended a different church from ours, we made a visit to her house on that Sunday morning to pin on her corsage before her departure.

When Granny (my paternal grandmother, Ollie Jane) lived with us, she wore a white corsage to church, too.  Now that I think of this, I realize how important that corsage was to my mother – and I wonder, did I take care of that EVERY year after I left home?  I know I did if I was there to visit and go to church with them on that day, and I do recall phoning the florist in our hometown and having a corsage delivered some years.  I hope I didn’t forget any time, but I know if I did, I was forgiven.

There were occasions when I couldn’t get home for Mother’s Day.  I remember Mama saying, “It doesn’t matter to me.  Any day you come visit can be Mother’s Day.  It doesn’t have to be when everyone else thinks it is.”  I still felt guilty about it, though.

Now that I’m a mother, I do understand.  Sometimes other things come up.  The last thing I want my children to feel on Mother’s Day (or any day) is guilt if they have lives to live.  I know they love me.  And, any day they visit is Mother’s Day to me!

The photo is of my mother in 1951, the year I was born.  The photo was taken by her father, a professional portrait photographer, and was hand tinted by her sister.

Grandpa Tom’s Chair

Grandpa Tom's ChairThis chair sits in our kitchen near the door.  It appears to be an empty chair, but it isn’t.  It is filled with memories from six generations in my husband’s family.

In 1903, when Tom Gilreath was thirteen years old, he rode a horse from Suches to Blairsville, via Sosbee Cove.  A distance of twenty miles, across a mountain, meant that he had to spend the night on his way there and on the return trip.  Tom’s mission was to pick up four chairs which had been hand made for his family.

Many details of this story been lost over time, the bare essentials I’ve outlined are all we’ve been told.  But a thirteen year old boy who had to take his food and bedding and find his way to his destination and home must have had some frightened moments.  Hmmm, four chairs, a boy, and his belongings – does this mean he walked the twenty miles home?

And his mother, Margaret, don’t you know she was worried?  Though I guess she was accustomed to wondering how things were going for the men in her life.  Tom’s Dad, Jonathan, was a circuit riding preacher as well as a farmer.

That made Tom a man earlier than many even in those days, I suppose.  Their Dad being gone to minister to others meant that the children had certain responsibilities.  Tom recalled going out on cold winter evenings and breaking the ice from around Jonathan’s boots so he could dismount from his saddle and stirrups.  Maybe his older brother Henry had to stay home and tend the farm – that would explain the younger one going on the mission to collect the chairs.

I’m sure when you examine an old chair in an antique store you appreciate the craftmanship of assembly without nails.  But next time, look a bit beyond the pegs and think about how the chairs were delivered.  Maybe on horseback, on a mountain road, accompanied by a lad whose mother was trusting that he would be unafraid.

This chair is empty in the photo, but sometimes it serves as a staging area for things we need to remember to take with us as we head our the door.  I did not know Grandpa Tom when he smoked cigars, but those who did say they can smell his tobacco when they see one of these chairs.  All four of the originals are still in the family.

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 ( 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!

Improving Skills

Sandy & PaulaI always love to take classes.  Yes, I could have enjoyed being a professional student.

I’ve been fortunate to take classes in the past from many well-known experts in the quilting industry; Hollis Chatelain, Sue Spargo, Ricky Tims, Kaffe Fassett, Sally Collins, Karen Stone, and more. And, I’ve attended lectures by others including Lisa Bongean and Diane Gaudynski.

But until today, I had never taken a class on free motion quilting.  I had learned by watching videos and reading and practicing.  And more practicing.

Today I took a free motion feather class from Paula Reid at my favorite quilt shop.  I’ve tried my hand at feathers before, with limited success.  Today’s class was wonderful.  Paula has quilted professionally for many years.  Now she travels the country teaching others how to quilt on their home machines.

The class was structured so that Paula demonstrated a variety of paths and patterns to fill a quilting space with feathers, then gave individual assistance as we stitched along.  The morning was devoted to feather designs marked with stencils, the afternoon all free motion feathers, unmarked.  So liberating!

Sandy's featherThis photo is my unmarked free motion design from this afternoon.  Red Mettler 50 weight cotton thread in the top, Aurafil 50 weight cotton in the bobbin.  Echoing is done with 60 weight Kimono silk thread.

Here are samples of Paula’s work (she gave permission to share).  The green fabric is a silk/cotton blend –gotta get some of that!  The motifs are fabulous!  And, you are seeing the bobbin side of her work!  Amazing talent she has.  I’m so glad she’s in GA sharing her knowledge with us.

Paula's silk samplePaula's green featherPaula's red feather

And, tomorrow…free motion embellishments with beads and ribbons.

Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

Ollie Jane's Flower Garden
Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

I recently described this work as “my first major quilt.”  It was completed in 2007, so it doesn’t belong in the catalog of my latest work, but the elements I included in it still appear in many more recent designs.

The quilt was made over a period of six years.  I completed other quilts during that time, but this was an ongoing project.  One of the first piecing techniques that intrigued me was English paper piecing.  I basted the 1” hexagons on freezer paper and had a portable project.  Since I was still working full time, I stitched while riding in the car and on visits with my mother in her assisted living facility, on the porch with her at her nursing home, and in hospital waiting rooms when my sister was ill.

As I was learning more about the world of quilting, I began to think of ways to combine these hexagons with other quilting techniques.  Once I learned needleturn appliqué, I wanted to add some curves to my pieced elements.  I assembled ten of the Grandmother’s Flower Garden units, appliquéd them to a background, and planned to add a vine with leaves in the border.

detail from Ollie Jane's Flower Garden
detail from Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

I actually made another small quilt to explore the technique of the two-colored border with the vine separating them.  That worked, so I interpreted it large scale.

I wanted a bit more interest in the center of the quilt (well, not really the center…I was already embracing the idea of asymmetrical balance), so I made a bouquet of flowers using some elements of flowers from Barb Adams and Alma Allen’s Quilting in the Garden (a quilt I completed sometime in this process).

detail from Ollie Jane's Flower Garden
detail from Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

I made my first bow with trapunto here.  I loved the bow.  I still like bows.  Especially plaid bows.  They reveal the folds created when a ribbon is rumpled to tie a knot.

Certainly not the least challenging was the quilting.  Then a beginner, I quilted the hexagons with a continuous curve motif, echoed around the appliqué, used my version of one of Diane Gaudynski’s filler designs in the inner border, and stitched a double grid in the outer border.  The only element of the quilting that was marked was half of the straight lines (they are 1” apart) and then quilted 1/4” away from that using the edge of the free motion foot.  Then, as now, the straight line quilting is the most challenging motif in free motion quilting, but I do still love the effect.

When it was time to give this quilt a title, I enlisted my husband’s input.  He came up with Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden to honor the traditional blocks of hexagons and give tribute to my quilting grandmother, Ollie Jane Hasty.

This quilt has had quite a career appearing in quilt shows and going to lectures with me.  She has earned some ribbons and accolades, but I haven’t retired her.  She hangs in the stairwell of our home, as close to the center of our lives as she can be.

The quilt used all cotton fabrics, some reproduction feed sacks.  Batting is Dream Cotton request.  Quilting thread is DMC machine embroidery cotton 50 weight / 2ply.  Finished dimensions are 58” x 68”.

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.

Treasures from India

Oh, I feel loved!

Indian scarvesEarly this morning I got a text message from someone who loves me.  My son-in-law is literally halfway around the world on a work assignment and sent the photo you see here.  He said, “I saw all this fabric and thought you might want some.  There is wool.  There are wool/silk blends.  There are more.  Tell me what you might like.”

Oh, really?  WOW!

I have no shortage of fabric.  I’ve even been on sensory overload this week seeing fabrics of all descriptions at vendors’ booths at the AQS show in Paducah. I bought a lot that thrilled me and I can’t wait to play with it.

But, exotic fabric yet unseen thrills me more.  I’m so excited!  I actually felt a spring in my step as I walked around after the text message exchange.  WooHoo!

Making fabric is a multi-step process involving many people, often in several countries.  Someone plants and harvests the crop, or raises and shears the sheep, or tends the worms. Someone spins the yarn.  Someone weaves the cloth.  Someone grows the dyestuff, mixes the dyes, applies the color, prepares it for distribution and markets it.  I usually don’t know any of those people.  But when I touch the fabric they have produced, I am connected to them.  Across miles and maybe oceans, we share something that helps me realize a comforting project for someone or a piece of art.

But to know that Kenny selected the fabric and brought it to me from a land far away will add a special link in the chain that somehow makes it stronger.  He mentioned scarves.  So I may get to wear it a while and cherish it that way, making memories with it before it becomes anything else.

Not Perfect, but….

front porch in summerThere is a phrase buzzing around on Facebook these days when people describe their husbands, “not perfect, but perfect for me.”  Well, that is certainly true of my husband, but I recently thought of the phrase with respect to houses.  I was cleaning out some old file folders filled with inspirational ideas for decorating, sewing, and gardening.  Along with those, I have kept a folder filled with house plans. For many years,  I thought my dream house was in there somewhere.

I threw the contents of the folder away without even riffling through it.  Not because the dream is dead, but because I am living it.  Our house is not new, and it’s not what I once would have thought I dreamed of.  It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect for us.

We bought this one several years ago and the minute the former occupant was out, it felt like home to us.  Even with painters and workers tromping through for a few weeks to spruce things up, Jim and I knew we were home.  There were nearly thirty years of memories in our former home – memories of our little girls and then their little boys, but this was the setting our souls desired.

What we had come to realize is that we were looking for was a few acres in the woods that had a house we could live in.  That’s what we found.

Home:  a front porch with swings.  A screened back porch which was the favorite room of a little Corgi we loved.  Rooms inside big enough to move around and house all our stuff.  A kitchen where we can eat and feed friends.  A house for us needs books, so we built bookshelves.  A place to compute, to read, to sew, to store a few cameras.  We are good.  We are home.

Some people who read this are looking for words related to quilting.  As I proofread this, the title resonates with recent advice I’ve been reading related to creativity.  The pursuit of perfection is the enemy of creativity.  So, my quilts are “not perfect, but….” But I still love to make them.  I once strived for near perfect execution of the details.  Now I’m more excited about playing with new color combinations or layout or techniques.  It’s all about the fun I’m having!

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.

Orphan Baskets and Bunnies

framed pearMany quilts are made in small units, or blocks, which are then assembled into a larger quilt top.  Most quiltmakers I know have an abundance of “orphan blocks”.  These can result when a project is abandoned, when extra blocks were made to test color combinations or size, or when the stitcher simply changed her mind about where the design was going.

I sometimes intentionally create orphan blocks.  I find hand stitching to be therapeutic and if I’m not in the midst of a big project, I love to explore single block designs.  Whether piecing or appliqué, I love playing and planning.  Many times, a big idea grows from a small block.

After I completed the appliqué for Indigo Pearadise, I continued to play with this motif in the smaller size.  A single pear fit comfortably in a 5” x 7” frame and makes a sweet little gift.

Early in my appliqué experience, I found that I could successfully stitch the running rabbit pictured in the design below.  To practice the appliqué stitch, to have handwork to do while visiting with my mother, and to explore the soft colors of Spring, I stitched many running rabbits.  Somewhere along the way, I began hearing the phrase “Baskets and Bunnies” in my mind and a theme emerged.  I found patterns for other bunnies, drew a simple basket with a rickrack handle, and kept sewing.

baskets & bunniesSome of these baskets and bunnies still reside in a basket awaiting their opportunity to shine.  The photo you see here is a quilt top that came about when my minigroup needed a quick project for a donation effort a few years ago.  The timing was Spring, my stitching sisters remembered my collection, and we got busy.  The completed top was quilted by a local longarm expert and we had a sweet little quilt in record time!

That little block with the rickrack handle has reappeared in reds and framed for Christmas gifts, too.  I don’t read many books twice, I don’t watch a lot of reruns on tv, but I do my share of repeating blocks I love.