On My Design Wall

I have a magic wall in my sewing room.  Two 4’ x 8’ sheets of foam insulation board are covered with fleece and nailed to the wall.  They hold projects for me to consider, analyze, rearrange, and organize for sewing.

My grandmother did not have a design wall.  Quilters these days are advised to use a vertical wall to consider color placement and other options in the quiltmaking process.  I am fortunate to have space to have a permanent design wall, but there are options to use one that can be put away when it’s not in use.

In the photo here, you see that my space is larger than most quilts I make.  The left side holds a wall quilt in progress.  Once I start sewing the blocks together, I’ll put them back on the wall in units so the layout doesn’t become confusing.  The magic of this wall is that fabric clings to the fleece (or flannel, or batting, whatever you use) without pins. This makes it easy to move blocks around until the arrangement is just right!  Once several blocks are sewn together, the weight sometimes makes it necessary to add pins to hold things in place.  And, yes, I do move to the floor when the whole thing is too cumbersome to hang – but by then the design decisions have been made.

My wall also serves as a holding station for projects on the way to becoming.  As I see pieces in progress (as on the right side of the photo here) I plan ways to bring them to completion, or combine them with another project.  Serendipity comes into play sometimes as stray blocks sit beside each other and become companions in a quilt.

The blocks on the wall are a reinterpretation of Miss Lily’s Red Baskets, which I shared here.  I stitched all these little baskets (they finish at 5 1/2” square) with Kaffe Fassett fabrics onto a Cherrywood background.  Once I put them on the wall, they needed something.  I decided to use the focus baskets like one in Miss Lily’s project, but, rather than one, I used three.  And, rather than a bow, I added these birds cut from a funky whimsical fabric I had on hand.  The leaves came from that fabric, too.  While the baskets are all needleturn applique, the birds and leaves are raw-edged.  They are held in place with Jude Hill’s invisible baste stitch.  As I do the free motion machine quilting, I’ll stitch these pieces down.

This photo shows my debate about using all basket blocks, or including some free-flying birds.

As usual, you can click on any image to enlarge it.  When done, just exit the photo and you’ll come back to this page.

Sewing Notions

Look at this bit of info I found inside a package wrapper on some vintage seam binding.  What a wonderful marketing strategy to entice sewing mothers to introduce their daughters to the craft!

I found this when I opened a package of rayon binding to use as ties in a drawstring bag.  There is no copyright date or price on this package, but a similar one with 1939 as the date has a price of 29₵.

And then this one advertising a product to increase the length and breadth of a child’s dress is interesting, too.  My mother sewed beautiful clothes for me and for others, but I never recall seeing this product.  Maybe because I was so frightfully petite, there was no need to have “galloons” in our vocabulary.

This discovery was fun, the research on Wrights reveals its long history in the sewing industry…since 1897.  The name is still used on notions, but now owned by Simplicity.  This is according to Wikipedia.  Another site with even more info is here.

You know from past posts that I love buying vintage fabrics and trims.  I find the old ones to be superior because of materials used and the flea market pricing, but the history lessons are valuable, too.  I bought some of these trims on this adventure.

There is good news about young people learning to sew in today’s world.  The Modern Quilt Guild and the aesthetic they promote is enticing young people to sewing and quilting in a big way.  Applause, please.  Times have changed and children aren’t learning to sew from their mothers by making doll clothes any more, but children are interested in sewing.  And more good news:  it’s now ok to get boys interested, too.

The drawstring bags are made using a pattern from Jeni Baker here.  I see now that her site has a video tutorial for the bags, but the pattern alone is very clear.  Her design is great!  You quickly end up with a nice lined drawstring bag and directions are given for multiple sizes.

Hearts in the Kitchen

This time of year we see hearts in abundant numbers.  This symbol of love is everywhere, and often seen in shades of red.

I love the heart motif and have it all around my house and in quilts I’ve made.  This year I’ve been adding to my bowl of blue hearts in the breakfast room.  I made a few last year and in the past couple of weeks, I’ve been adding more.

I’ve used ribbons, buttons, and lace to embellish some of them.  In other cases, I just stitched and stuffed some of my favorite fabrics.  I added French knots to one.  On another I stitched pearls from a rescued strand I bought.  The fabrics include barkcloth, vintage ticking, African indigo batik, hand-dyed linen, bits of an old quilt, and fabrics from well-worn clothing.

This bowl of stories sits on the breakfast room table.  It warms my heart (pun not intended, but appropriate, I guess) to recall memories associated with each element.

Oh, I can use red fabric, too.


Photo notes:  The pitcher with heart is part of my Rowe pottery collection.  The wooden bowl (and possibly some of the spoons) is by my favorite wood carver, Ralph Smith.  The heart-shaped bark basket holds memories of St. Simons Island where I bought it many many years ago.



Lee Smith is one of my favorite Southern writers.  I just bought her memoir and can’t wait to start reading it.  I love her writing, I love memoirs, I love the South.  So I know it will be a treasured experience to read her story.  More than that, the title suggests that I might identify with some of her experiences.

My first job as a teenager was in a dimestore.  Oh, I had earned money at home for various special chores.  Like Truman Capote, I picked up pecans in the fall of the year. (Some grammarians would rather read that I gathered pecans, but that’s not what we said in Sycamore. Furthermore, as you read it, think pea-cans, to get the sound of the word right in your mind.)  If you’ve ever read his “A Christmas Memory,” you can get an idea of the experience of fruitcake baking that took place at our house.  I even had a spinster aunt to guide me as Capote did.

And, there was a day picking cotton (probably a couple of hours) at Uncle Hal’s field, and a day in the tobacco barn (also Uncle Hal’s).  My Daddy had given up farming for building by the time I was born, but he realized the experience of field labor would be soon forgotten and that I should have those memories.  He was right on both counts.  Of course.

Oh, my job at the dimestore.

The year I turned fifteen, I was eligible to get a work permit and get a job.  My mother took me to the school superintendent’s office to complete the appropriate paperwork.  I recall Mr. Royal counseling me that, “this should not interfere with your schoolwork, of course.”  Well, of course; it wouldn’t.  I was the class nerd before nerd was a word.  Nothing came before my schoolwork.

But now I was legal.  On Saturdays, I reported to Elrod’s Five and Dime on Main Street in Ashburn.  I guess I worked from 9:00 until 5:00, I don’t recall the exact hours.  I do recall the pay.  It was $5.00 and change.  Literally.  Cash.  In a small manila envelope.

There were three of us teenagers working; the manager, and another adult full-time employee.  Carl lifted all the heavy boxes, swept the oiled wood floors with sweeping compound, and helped with serving customers.  Carolyn and I offered assistance to customers, kept shelves filled with reserves from beneath the old wooden counters, and watched for shoplifters.

Saturday was a busy day; there wasn’t much time for small talk,  But, in the quiet times, I learned to bond with co-workers.  We did not know each other so had nothing in common other than this experience.  We learned from our customers, too.  A wide range of society came through those doors, and the dimestore sold everything from toys to tools.  There were clothing items for children and underwear for adults.  The first time a customer asked for “step-ins,”  I replied that we didn’t carry those.  Carolyn had to translate for me.  Oh.  I taught her the difference in a wrench and screwdriver.

We sold bulk candy, learning to scoop from the bins and weigh on a scale now sold in antique stores.  We mixed the sticky syrup that went into making “slushies” when they were new.  Dare I say that we did not wash our hands frequently, and there were no plastic gloves?  It was a simpler time.

We wrapped Christmas packages with the stern manager watching over our shoulder to ensure that the paper didn’t overlap too much and that we didn’t use too much scotch tape.  The paper was quite thin, and tearing it was wasteful, too, so we learned to be fast and careful and frugal.  There were no boxes or gift bags, so some oddly shaped packages required some creative thinking. The paper curling ribbon was final flourish.  Today, even though I have wired ribbon on hand to decorate my packages, I keep some paper curling ribbon on hand.

I worked at Elrod’s on Saturdays, some weekdays in the summer, and during Christmas holidays for the last three years of high school.  In the last year, the business relocated to a more modern building.  I guess it was more comfortable; being air-conditioned and having slick tile floors.  But it never seemed the same.  The old building, the theatre next door, and the railroad track across the street were all part of the ambiance.  That theatre sold the world’s greatest french fries.  To this day, if I am served extraordinarily good, greasy, salty fries made from freshly sliced potatoes, I remember the ones Carl would go get for all of us at mealtime.

Now I guess it’s time to travel down Lee Smith’s memory lane with her Dimestore.

Photo:  If Carl, Carolyn, and I were working teens these days, we would have numerous group selfies, I’m sure.  But the best I can do here is a blurry scanned image of myself during those years.  Yes, I made the dress.

Jane’s first–grade wardrobe

In 1942, my sister started school.  My older sister.  Much older.

Jane as child

At that time, any respectable little girl had new clothes at the beginning of every school year.  But for first grade, it was especially important, in my mother’s eye, that Jane have new clothes.

My mother made every stitch of clothing that she, Jane, and later (much later) I would wear.  So, it was time to sew.  On her treadle sewing machine.

Just one problem.  Mama had burned her legs quite badly in a kitchen grease incident.  She had stiffness and pain and couldn’t power the machine.  But the show must go on.  The wardrobe must be complete.  Jane’s clothes must be sweeter than any other child’s in first grade (maybe the whole school).

So Jane sat in the floor, pushing the treadle with her little hands when Mama directed her to start and stop.

Now, I wasn’t there.  I can only imagine.  I’ve sewn on a treadle machine a few times for the novelty experience.  I know these few things:

Getting the motion started is not easy.

Stopping the motion (of the needle going up and down) is not instantaneous.

Five-year-old hands are not very adept at some things.

Five-year-old little girls have short attention spans.

Five-year-olds are fidgety.

Jane was always fidgety…well after the age of five.

In 1942, there was not a lot of leisure time on the farm.  So the effort that it took to corral a child and include her as an integral part of the ruffles, tucks, buttons, and sashes being assembled astound me.

Maybe this explains where I got some of my determination.