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.

Sunday School Picnic

Another family photo has become a quilt.  This image of my husband’s grandparents was taken sometime around 1915, probably at Stone Mountain, GA.  The occasion was a Sunday School picnic.

I printed the image on a bit of vintage linen napkin, painted his tie, and machine stitched using free-motion quilting.  The rickrack frame is hand stitched around the photo on a layer of hand-dyed cotton fabric.


I used metallic thread to stitch the red layer to a vintage quilt remnant using a seed stitch, adding a bit of sparkle.

The label is a vintage coaster stitched to the old quilt remnant, too.  The final piece measures 12″ x 14″.

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”.  

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.

The Kite

In 1952, he was four years old and wanted to fly a kite.  In this photo, he watched as his Daddy held the string and the kite climbed higher and higher.  The air was crisp, the wind pulling the string quickly.  At the moment the photo was taken, the boy sensed disaster on the horizon.

He was right.  Shortly after the shutter clicked, the string broke and the red kite was gone.  As the little boy grew, more kites flew and did not fly away, but the anxiety born that day was ever present when the kites were in the air.

When asked for appropriate titles for this art quilt, he said, Childhood Trauma, or Hold Tight, Daddy, or Don’t Let Go, would all be appropriate.  In truth, he barely remembers the day, and probably wouldn’t remember it at all were it not for the photo.  This is exactly the kind of experience I love to capture in cloth.  A memory.  A story.  A moment frozen.

I printed the photo on a piece of vintage linen from an old tablecloth and added color to the boy’s jeans and cap with watercolor crayons.  I had overdyed some old linen in the indigo vat that looked a lot like a winter sky, so I cut the foreground image from the photo and stitched it to the blue.  I appliquéd the kite using a bit of French General red fabric, and hand embroidered the kite string and tails.  When I added machine quilting stitches, I used dark thread to emphasize the fence posts and trees.

I finished the piece by attaching the fabric photo unit to an old quilt remnant, adding borders of ribbon and a coarsely woven red checked fabric.  Hand and machine stitching were used for this step.  The piece finished at 16” x 22”.  A vintage doily serves as the label.

 

Shopping Small

I have never been to a mall on the day after Thanksgiving. I’ve just never understood the need to battle for a sale item.  I detest crowds.  So the concept of Shop Small suits my kind of thinking. In our household, we try to support local business owners every day of the year.
church-with-chimneyOn this Black Friday we wanted to drive backroads with the camera and maybe find an antique shop or two.  One goal of photography was some country Christmas scenes.  The treasure of the day was a church decorated with Christmas wreaths on every window.  And, this church has a chimney.  I’ve never seen a church with a chimney.  An old cemetery surrounded by a white picket fence is well maintained by a local boy scout troop.

Following a spontaneous zigzag route from one small town to another, we drove though rolling hills we’d never seen.  Beautiful farmland, horses enjoying the glorious fall day, a friendly gentleman in an otherwise sleepy town, made it seem like a bit of time travel.

We made one stop in a feed & seed / quilt shop near Covington.  Though the business lost a bit of its charm when it moved out of the downtown location, their old time merchandise is still appealing.  As I paid for a fat quarter and spool of thread, the clerk recognized the bank name on my credit card and shared pleasant experiences she had there. Somehow I don’t think I would have had that sort of exchange in a mall shopping experience on Friday.

monroe-safeWe had lunch at our favorite locally owned restaurant in Monroe, GA, across the street from this pocket park.  The focus of this park is an old bank vault (left when the downburst of ’93 destroyed the building).  Two treasures here: the safe itself  and the fact that the town preserved it and made a park there.

 

 

 

shop-small-findsVisits to a few antique stores generated minimal purchases.  The highlight for me was  packages of old bias tape and rickrack, all cotton, all unopened, bearing original $.19 price tags.  I could imagine the vendor thinking, “nobody will want this old stuff.”  And, I’m thinking, “WOW.  What fun is this!”  The wicker item had a tag saying “lampshade,” but I thought “bee skep”.

sunset-in-monroeYes, we did some shopping on Black Friday.  But we didn’t elbow anyone out of the way, never stood in line, didn’t get frustrated, and had no traffic snarls to navigate.  Back roads and small businesses, that’s the way to do it.

All photography (except bias tape) by Jim Gilreath.

Treasure Hunting

A beautiful fall day, an escape from routine, time spent with my best friend, vintage linens; how can I decide which one of these is the most treasured?

treasures-bee-linenYesterday Jim and I went junking.  Well, not really.  Dumpster divers we aren’t.  We aren’t even heavily into yard sales or estate sales.  We like antique malls where someone else has made the selections, maybe done some cleaning up, and displayed items in a pleasing manner.  Well, the last is not always true.  But, we do like antique malls.

We’ve had booths before.  The set up and decorating is fun, but we didn’t make a lot of money because we don’t enjoy the junky level of searching. But as is true in all aspects of life, it’s not about the money.  We do find Saturdays out and about discovering treasures, recalling memories, and driving back roads to get there to be joyous.

Yesterday’s finds were numerous.  Now that I have found a way to include vintage linens that I love in my quiltmaking, I sometimes have a list of things I need.  Often it’s linen to use in the printer for photos, or fabric doilies and coasters to use as labels.  Yesterday I really needed nothing.  I have quite a collection on hand and friends have even started sharing their treasures hoping I can find a use for them.

treasures-old-quiltBut  I did find a few things I couldn’t leave behind.  An old quilt with a masculine look will be perfect as the backing for men in photographs.  The homespun backside is amazing, too.  A blue cross-stitched linen tablecloth.  A couple of bargain pieces which will be amazing labels, and a lovely bee!

treasures-coatsI didn’t really plan to spend a day this week cutting apart old wool coats and felting them.  But at $5.00 each, these 100% wool coats begged to be included in a quilt project.  Ok, will do.  Any ideas about what to do with the fur collar?

treasures-boothAnd I found inspiration!  Not so much in the textiles themselves, but in displays.  Old suitcases opened with vintage trims and fabrics inside, laces and ribbons wrapped around old wooden spindles, jars of buttons pleasingly arranged.  These kinds of things make my heart sing.

Julie Cameron would be proud of the date my inner artist had yesterday.  Not a solitary trip, but a real date with my soulmate and my soul!  The drive though pasture land (the solitary chimney on 52 Tuesdays was on the route), lunch at one of our favorite local establishments, and an ice-cream cone treat reminiscent of childhood drives made it heavenly!

Spinster Sisters

spinster-sistersNeither of them ever married.  This photo was taken sometime around 1912.  They were 18 and 15 at the time.  Within ten years, their mother would be confined to a wheelchair, their older sister would die in childbirth, leaving two young daughters to their care.

The family was rich in acreage, but World War I and the  boll weevil meant cash was in short supply, and these two women contributed financially to the household.

The older of the two earned teaching credentials, sometimes living with families in distant communities (ten miles from home) and sending money home.  The younger ran the household as the orphaned nieces and younger sister grew up.

They saw women get the right to vote, lived through the Great Depression, and World War II.  There were adventures, too:  travel with an eccentric millionaire, letters from faraway lands, and a barnstorming adventure.  Charles Lindberg did fly in Georgia, was he the pilot?

spinster-sisters-olderDuring WWII, the teacher was offered “script” as her paycheck (a promise for money from the state someday), so she traveled further to work in a naval ordinance plant.  The younger worked as a switchboard operator and in so doing, connected many families to news of their beloved ones.  She was the first in town to get the word that the war was over, running down the stairs of the downtown office to spread the news.

As they laid their parents to rest and saw their young charges grow up and establish lives of their own, they continued to hold their shares of the land together, hiring others to farm the land while they moved to town.  They lived together until the death of the younger from breast cancer at age 49.  A few years later, the older would face the same diagnosis, but her treatment would be successful.  She would live her life productively until the age of 91.

These women were a big part of my childhood.  From them I learned that life is to be lived fully and to be enjoyed on a daily basis.  It may be hard to meet responsibilities in front of you, but complaints don’t help; just get the job done with a smile on your face.

Because of them, I am not surprised to read the ‘revelation’ that spinster does not have to be a derogatory term.  In the later Middle Ages, the term spinster was first used.  Then, it denoted a person who spins yarn and therefore has a marketable skill.   Memories of these sisters convey the modern interpretation of” a woman who can live independently and doesn’t need a man to be happy.”

spinster-sisters-backDetails of quilt:  A vintage photo (circa 1912) of two unmarried sisters was printed on a remnant of a vintage linen tablecloth.  Hand-guided, free-motion machine quilting was used to add detail, lace collars and beading were added with hand stitching.  The linen background for the photo was attached to a vintage linen log cabin quilt made from silk.  A vintage cotton doily was used for the label.

Hand stitching on the piece was completed while demonstrating work at the Georgia National Fair.  The quilt finishes at 16” x 20”.

Flowers for Phyllis

phyllis-flowersI was recently asked to create an art quilt as a gift for Phyllis.  I have never visited her home and don’t know her style.  I struggled with the design until I realized that I know one thing Phyllis really likes; art by Mark Allen Ballard.

Mark is my drawing instructor and friend.  He graciously granted me permission to use one of his creations in an art quilt for Phyllis.

phyllis-flowers-closeupI printed the image of the coneflower on silk fabric, layered it on wool batting, and added dense free motion quilting with a fine silk thread.  Dense stitching around the image packs that portion of the design down, forcing the unstitched areas to puff up as if they are stuffed.  Stuffed work, or trapunto, has been done for centuries, especially on wholecloth quilts, to add dimension and interest to quilts.

phyllis-flowers-detailOnce the silk portion was quilted, I added an inner border using a gradated blue fabric, leaving a larger border on the bottom.  I wanted to add interest to that space, so I continued Mark’s design by adding stems and leaves stitched with a heavier green thread.

A second border was added using a delicious damask tablecloth hand dyed by Wendy Richardson.  Over the years, I have collected quite a bit of Wendy’s stunning work, now I’m daring to cut into it more and more often.  This piece was originally a blah white-on-white damask tablecloth.  In Wendy’s studio, she had added many colors of dye which enriched the visual texture and just happened to incorporate some of the same colors as Mark’s drawing.
phyllis-flowers-beadingThat layer was attached to a vintage cross-stitched quilt.  I used Jude HIll’s invisible baste stitch to attach the layers within the blue border, then added blue beads while attaching the outer border.  A raw-edged sleeve and label made from a vintage doily were attached to the back with the same invisible baste stitch. The quilt finished at 16” x 20”.

phyllis-flowers-backI have recently enjoyed incorporating pieces of art from unknown stitchers of the past, using vintage quilts and linens.  This piece did that and more.  I collaborated with Wendy by using her fabric, Jude by using her technique, and Mark by using his drawing.  It was especially fun to share the stitching experience with Mark.  He was excited about the prospect from the beginning, interested in the progress of the piece, and in reports of Phyllis’ reaction.  His agreeing to add his signature to the label makes the gift a special treasure for her.

Swamp Bird

Sandy art quilt

The gist of a recent conversation with a friend:

Friend:  Hey, have you been busy?

Me:  Oh, yeah, a bit.

Friend:  Sewing?

Me:  Some, but I did have a few days last week when I accomplished less than usual.

Friend:  Why the downturn?

Me:  Exercising my Medicare card a bit.  I can’t believe I’m old enough to have one, and I got it just in time for my annual doctors’ visits.  And, an unexpected visit to another.

Friend:  So what have you learned from the interruption to your life?

Me:  That sometimes a few days to rest and reflect is a good thing.  An interruption can allow you to shift your focus.  Also, that I can see better without my reading glasses than I realized.

Friend:  So what’s your latest finished project?

Me:  An art quilt featuring a photo Jim made of a Prothonotary Warbler in a local swamp.

Friend:  Tell me details.

Me:  I printed the photo on silk fabric, layered it with wool batting atop a square of hand-dyed osnaburg fabric and used dense free motion quilting in the background of the image.  The lines are about a toothpick’s width apart, roughly parallel, but it’s obvious that it is hand guided.  I don’t use rulers.  I want the finished piece to reveal that the project was handmade.

The yellow osnaberg layer was hand stitched to a bit of linen I dyed in the indigo vat, then that layer to a piece of commercial fabric, and then to a vintage quilt.  All of these were attached using the seed stitch and varying threads.  The beads were hand stitched, too.

Sandy art quilt

The label on the back is a portion of an embroidered vintage linen napkin. That and the hanging sleeve were attached using Jude Hill’s invisible baste.

The finished piece measures 16” x 20”.  Jim titled it Swamp Bird.

Friend:  Anything else I should know?

Me:  When you ride your bike, wear your helmet.