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.

Wool felt – Felted wool – what?

beauty & beesIn my quilts, anything goes.  I love quilting cottons, silk, linen, denim, and wool.  All together or separately, depending on the project.

I’ve worked with felted wool in many ways.  Wool as the background with cotton appliquéd on top.  Wool as the fabric to be appliquéd on a cotton, or linen, or wool background.  Because the wool doesn’t ravel, you don’t have to turn under the edges, and appliqué is fast.  Because the wool is plush, stitches can hide easily, so if your stitches aren’t perfect, and you use a matching thread, no one notices.  If you want your stitches to show, a contrasting or heavier thread or a blanket stitch will do the trick to add another element to your project.

Wool stitched on wool is like sewing through butter.  Both layers are soft and easy to needle.  Stitching goes quickly.  The result is bulky, though.  That’s something to consider if you are making a large quilt.

Wool stitched on cotton is fun.  You get a firm background which layers easily with batting and backing to get a traditional kind of quilt with dimensional wool applique.

Linen, or a 50/50 blend of linen and cotton, is widely available now in quilt shops.  It has a rougher texture that supports the weight of the wool beautifully.  And, I was surprised to see that quilting stitches show up nicely on the linen.

My preference for wool appliqué is to use felted wool, not wool felt.  There is a difference.  Felted wool is woven wool which has been washed and shrunk to tighten the weave.  The holes between the threads are still there. Wool felt has a flatter appearance and is harder to needle. Wool felt is made from fibers tightly pressed together and has no holes.  It’s a personal preference.  Some people like the wool felt.  I’m all about the process, and I like the feel of felted wool.

Note:  wool felt is not woven, it’s smushed.  It may have glue in it.  It lies flatter and ravels less, they say.  But it has a hard hand and a flat appearance to me.  My blog, my opinion.  Only my opinion.  Play with it and draw your own conclusions.

You can buy some absolutely delicious hand dyed felted wool now.  It’s sold in quilt shops, at shows, and online.  But, there is adventure in felting your own wool from recycled garments.  I recently bought a beautiful red cashmere coat for $10.  The store owner was surprised I didn’t need to try it on for size.  I brought it home, disassembled it, then washed it in hot water and threw it in the dryer.  It is the most luscious wool in my stash.  The linings, interlinings, and interfacings are interesting, too.

To felt your own wool, look for a tag that says 100% wool (blends can work, but the higher the wool content, the nicer the finished product).  I don’t bring it in the house until I’ve prepared it for washing.  I didn’t intentionally buy someone else’s bug problem.  I remove buttons, zippers, linings and interfacings.  I also cut away shoulder and sleeve seams before washing.  It’s hard to cut through all the layers after it’s felted.  I might leave some seams in a skirt or the back of a jacket, though, to have a bigger piece of wool.

Put it in the washing machine with detergent and your hottest water for the longest cyle.  Then put it in the dryer, again on hot.  Do check the lint trap frequently as you may have a lot of fibers in there.

Interesting things can happen if you wash red wool with white.  I sometimes am careful about color separation, but usually not.  I like surprises.

Details of photo:  Beauty and the Bees, 31″ x 24″, based on pattern by Maggie Bonanomi.  Felted wool from recycled clothing along with a few purchased hand-dyed wool pieces.  Tendrils and berries are free-motion couched by machine.  Quilting is all free-motion machine stitching.

Daddy was a Beekeeper

bee skep in frameMy Daddy was a hard-working man who loved sports, good conversation, good people, and a simple life.  He did not have a lot of hobbies; didn’t play golf, didn’t go fishing.  I heard stories of his past exploits (before I came along) going hunting, but whether that was for food or the social drinking that came with it, I don’t know.

He did have a hobby that I enjoyed as a participant or a spectator; beekeeping.  During a phase of not-going-to-church during my childhood, Sunday mornings were the time he would choose to “check on the bees.”  I was allowed to go along sometimes with Mama cautioning him to make me wait in the truck.  He didn’t.  Daddy wasn’t afraid of the bees and neither was I.  We both knew that Mama was afraid, however, and that my visits to the hives would be our secret.

Daddy’s hives were kept in an old family cemetery on the farmland of a friend and neighbor, Uncle Hal.  He wasn’t my uncle and his name wasn’t Hal, but if you are from the South, you understand.

We would bump along a rutted road through the pasture to the wooded cemetery.  Daddy would lift the top off a hive or two, lift up a tray to check the status of the honey, and I could hear and see a quivering.  I suppose he was gentle about it.  The bees seemed to be undisturbed and went on about their business.  Daddy would gauge the time to return to collect honey and we would continue on with our day.

If the scuppernongs were ripe, Daddy would have a ladder in the back of the truck, and we would climb up and get some for Mama to make some jelly.  Other times, he would let me respectfully explore the overgrown grave plots. The graves had once been well tended, some groups surrounded with wrought iron fencing.  But now moss-covered headstones, cracked slabs, and invading roots were signs that the bees were mostly undisturbed.

On days when Daddy went to “rob the bees,” I usually stayed home or waited in the truck.  I don’t think he minded my participation, but just knew Mama would not be happy if I did get stung.  She was very afraid of the bees and thought anyone who wasn’t was crazy.  Daddy said the bees could smell her fear.

I remember the preparation included rags, kerosene, a smoker.  I guess he wore gloves and a mask, but I really don’t remember.  I remember his not being afraid and thinking he possessed a kind of magic that the bees respected.  I do remember the big blue enameled canning pot in which he brought home the honey.  It would stay in that pot until Mama sterilized jars and poured it up.  I loved to walk past , sneak open the lid, and get a pinch of honeycomb with honey oozing and chew on the comb for a while.

I have honey on hand at all time and enjoy it in my coffee every morning.  My way of starting the day with Daddy, I guess.

Beehives enter my textile work frequently.  The image above is of all needleturn appliqué on cotton, with free-motion machine quilting.  I designed it to fit in the 8” x 10” frame.  The sampler background fabric is from a line by Blackbird designs.  I’ve used their sampler fabric a lot.  It always adds an element of historic needlework to the piece.  The bees are little charms I picked up somewhere.

Simple yet Effective

 

Indigo Pearadise
Indigo Pearadise

I was just looking at some of my favorite quilts on Pinterest and once again noting how appealing some of the simplest designs are.  A little charm pack sewn together with wide sashing and quilted.  Divine.

But, I’m afraid I don’t often make those quilts.  I love designing and tend to add my “what if” philosophy to the process – adding and complicating things.  I like doing that.

Indigo Pearadise is one of those quick, relatively unplanned projects that resulted in a pleasing outcome.  Minimal preparation, some very pleasant zen time with my needle in hand, some dancing with my sewing machine, and I have a little wall quilt.

Last spring, I had been stitching pears in preparation for an upcoming class I was planning to teach at my favorite local quilt shop.  I had drawn this pear as a design to use for the introductory class. With gentle curves and a few pieces, I could focus on the beginning steps in needleturn appliqué, making a template, marking the background, learning the stitch.

In doing my homework for the class, I made numerous samples varying fabrics and backgrounds.  Pears are like chocolate (pears are good with chocolate, too); they can become addictive.

We were anticipating an upcoming trip, and is usually the case, I spend more time thinking about the sewing project I’m taking than the clothes I will wear.  I wanted to continue my pear exploration with minimal preparation.  I had a charm pack from Minick and Simpson’s Indigo Crossing fabric line from Moda and knew I would love whatever project I made.  Anything blue is good.  Anything these two sisters design is good.

So I reduced the size of the original pear pattern I had made for the class (from 6″ x 9″ to about 3″ x 5″), made a plastic template, and marked a linen background with guidelines for even placement of the pears.

I stitched all the pears in the evenings in our B & B in Blue Ridge and later at Amicalola State Park in Ga.  No, the fact that one of our destinations was Blue Ridge did not enter into my fabric choices.  It’s serendipity.

Now when I see this project, I see blue pears.  But I also see rainy days in Blue Ridge, delightful walks about the town, nice meals with my husband, and fun with family at Amicalola.

The quilting is done with 60 weight silk thread using a continuous curve design.  I mark a grid, in this case 1/2”, with a removable marker to guide the free motion quilting.  Dream Wool batting.  This project finished at 16″ x 21″.

Serendipity

 

suset Mt Dora

We recently visited Mt. Dora, Fl. (elevation 176 feet).  It was spring break but there were no crazy balcony jumpers there.  Mt. Dora is a nice little old Florida town with a modern art museum, art galleries, shops, and a lake with a lighthouse.

On the evening before we left home for our trip, we had dinner with friends.  En route to their house, we stopped at Publix for a bottle of wine and dessert.  Jim said, “something chocolate” when asked for a recommendation for the menu.  I found their Decadent Chocolate Cake and bought my first one ever.  It was decadent indeed.

In Mt. Dora, our innkeeper was Melanie.  Over coffee, she revealed that Publix bakes fresh bread for the B & B’s gourmet breakfast every day. Our menu included strawberry and ricotta stuffed french toast, served behind a tropical soup of strawberries, blueberries, yogurt, and banana, topped with diced Fuji apple.  Yes, if you suspect that this was amazingly delicious, you are right.

MelanieMelanie knows that Publix uses only the best ingredients because the company was one of her customers when she worked as a salesperson for some of the world’s finest chocolate.

In fact, Publix’s Decadent Chocolate Cake?  She developed that recipe.

Jobs well done, Melanie; at breakfast in Mt. Dora…and on the cake recipe.  I just love unexpected connections.

Ollie Jane and her Basket quilt

Version 3Ollie Jane Wheeler Hasty was my paternal grandmother.  She grew up in the foothills of north Georgia, married my grandfather in at the age of 17, bore him seven children there.  Then they bundled up the six living children and household goods, drove a wagon to the flatlands of south Georgia where she gave birth to three additional children.

A faithful farm wife and mother, I don’t think she ever got over leaving her parents and her two-year-old Susan Margaret in the cemetery in Cherokee County.

After sixty-eight years of marriage, she was widowed and shortly thereafter came to live in the house with us.  For the last seven years of her life, she educated me by example.  An example that a woman’s hands are never idle, that an old person still has a role to fill and contributions to make to this world, and that kindness is the only attribute a lady needs.

When I was 15 and she was 93, Granny died in the kitchen while washing dishes after lunch.  She had been sewing that morning.  I hope to be able to sew on the day of my death.  And, at age 93 would be good, too.

Granny made many quilts in her lifetime.  Daddy, the ninth of the ten children, recalled that she made their clothes from feedsacks, then when they the clothes were worn out, she cut them up and used the good parts in quilts.  I have disassembled old quilts she had made to discover that another old worn quilt had been used as the batting layer.

Her quilts were generally utilitarian.  Often they were string pieced on a muslin background with big stitches using a coarse thread.

Oj basket quiltBut I own an exception.  I have the quilt that she made prior to her marriage.  It was on her bed on her wedding night in 1890 and on every anniversary night for sixty-eight years.  Some of the binding is worn and replaced, which indicates that it was used more than sixty-nine times, but I suspect as time went on and it was beginning to wear, this quilt was put away to preserve its story.

When Granny “broke up housekeeping,” she passed the quilt and its story on to Christine, the oldest granddaughter.  As Christine’s life was coming to a close, she chose to pass the treasure on to me, the youngest.  And treasure it I do.

Now that I make quilts, I’ve examined the details of this construction more closely.  The young girl Ollie Jane pieced the half-square triangles by hand, but appliquéd the basket handles on a machine.  Yes, this was prior to 1890.  The Baptist fan quilting is done by hand.

I did not know this quilt even existed while I had Granny to tell me about it.  I fear that even had I known I would not have listened intently to the details.  But I can learn from examining it and can be inspired by its existence.  Perhaps this explains why I’ve made so many basket quilts.

Lagniappe

clematisMy friend Marie, who did such an excellent job with the layout and editing of Fifty-two Tuesdays recently worked her magic again on one of my publishing attempts.  When I asked her fee, she replied, “consider it part of the original fee you paid me.”  I said, “oh, it’s lagniappe.”

The subsequent discussion led me to pull Celestine Sibley’s book, Small Blessings, off the shelf and reread some of her delightful columns. Included in this volume is the one where she introduced me to lagniappe.

As I read this treasured volume from my library, I realized that if Celestine were writing today, she would be one of my favorite bloggers.  Her personal stories have touched me for probably more than fifty years.

I have at least one copy of all Celestine’s books, have given many as gifts, and reread portions of them often.  As a young girl, I looked forward to reading her column in the magazine section of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution on Sundays.  I got directions to her log cabin near Crabapple, GA from relatives who lived there and begged my Daddy to drive me by the house when we were near there attending a family gathering.  He did.

What an impression that woman and her writing made on me.  On Mother’s Day weekend circa 1995, my daughter and I went to meet Celestine and hear a lecture – a treasured day for me.

Isn’t it funny how one conversation leads to an word you haven’t heard or used in a while, then that leads to more memories of where you first heard the word, then to other associations with that person and others who share the story (our New Orleans’ friends are well acquainted with lagniappe), and you fall down an enchanted rabbit hole of memories?

Celestine’s definition of lagniappe is a “little something extra”.  Wikipedia says about the same thing.  Today’s photo of my first clematis bloom is your lagniappe.