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.

My Daddy Wore Overalls

herbie-holding-sandyThere’s something iconic about a man in overalls.  To me, it means he is unpretentious, hardworking, honest.  Someone with whom I would want to spend time in conversation and in hugging.

There aren’t many photos of my Daddy in overalls.  Though he wore them every day to work, when he came home, his first order of business was to take a shower and change into his “knock-about clothes”, khakis and a sport shirt.  That would be his uniform until bedtime.  And on Sundays, a suit, or at least a sports jacket and tie.

He wore overalls when he farmed.  I heard stories of his walking behind the mules and plow in his overalls and barefoot.  When he left the farm to begin building houses, he added work boots to his wardrobe, but kept the overalls.

The many pockets had designated uses.  The partitions in the bib held his wallet and a fat flat pencil, you know the kind wood workers used. Another held a pocket knife, used for sharpening that pencil, among other things.  One of those spaces sometimes held his wristwatch if it needed protection from the task at hand.

A long pocket on the leg of the overalls held his folding carpenter’s rule and a hammer hung in the loop.  He could flip that wooden rule open to just the right length for a measurement and refold it in the blink of an eye.  If you don’t remember those devices, or that they are called rules, not rulers, you are a young whippersnapper.  See, just thinking of overalls has me using his words.

I can smell the denim.  And the sawdust embedded in the fibers.  Maybe a little tobacco scent, too.  And I remember how heavy they were when wet.  I was a tiny little thing, but one of my jobs was hanging clothes on the line.

man-in-overallsMaybe all that is why I was so intrigued by the man in this quilted piece.  I snapped this street photo the minute I saw him.  Since then, I have come to know who he is and have secured permission to use his image in my art.  He, like my Daddy, is worthy of long conversations and hugs.

 

man-in-overalls-backThe quilt measures 10” x 18”.  The photo is printed on vintage linen fabric, hand painted, then quilted.  I used cotton thread, using hand-guided free motion quilting on my domestic machine.  It is layered with raw silk, a remnant of denim, and a worn reclaimed quilt fragment.  The label is a vintage cocktail napkin.  (I found this one with the rooster in an antique store ramble just as I had finished this piece.  Perfect!)

The photo of my Daddy holding me is one of the few I have of him wearing his overalls.  I guess it’s obvious why men wearing overalls pleases me so.  And, I still have that chair.

Portrait of Red Coneflower

 

red-coneflowerA recently purchased linen doily reminded me of a mat for a framed portrait.  I didn’t have a photo on fabric that fit, and wanted to stitch something on this marvelous piece of linen with the wide handmade tatting.

A simple coneflower is always fun to appliqué, and I had seen somewhere the idea of using a spool of thread as the vase.  So, a few snippets of fabric, a good tv show in the background, a bright light at my side, and the stitching began.

Once the appliqué and embroidery were done (see the French knots at the base of the seed head?), it was time to find a base to set off the oval.  The French General print in red was perfect.  So, I layered wool batting beneath the oval, threaded up the machine with silk thread, and echoed the appliqué with free motion quilting.

Once I cut away the remaining batting from behind the red fabric, it was time to seed stitch the piece to an old quilt as the back of the assembly.  A yellow and white pieced basket quilt from an antique store fit the bill, but the white was a bit stark.  A scrap of red ticking came to the rescue, adding another layer of matting to the frame job.

red-coneflower-backAs I neared the finish, I hadn’t come up with a title.  But my original plan to let the doily serve as an inner mat for a portrait was still on my mind, so Portrait of Red Coneflower was simple enough.  One more vintage doily (with a history and stains to prove it) served as the label.

The finished piece measures 16” x 20” and the hanging sleeve utilized a leftover strip of the red ticking.

Rescued Remnants

It’s been eleven weeks since I wrote about an adventure buying vintage linens.  Only today is this piece finished, featuring pieces of an old tablecloth found on that excursion.

This quilt has been in development since I brought that pile in the house.  Growing, developing, changing.  Pink is not my “go-to” color, maybe that’s why it took so long for me to hear what the fabric was saying.

I know, people have been referred for psychological help when they said their quilts talked to them.  But quilts do talk.  If only you are willing to listen.

Here is the conversation as this process ensued: Vintage Tablecloth (VT) and me (SG).

VT:  This basket motif wants to be the centerpiece of a medallion-like wall hanging.

SG:  Ok.  I’ll cut one out in an irregular shape and stitch it to a background. With wool batting underneath so you rise to be noticed.

VT:  What background?  The green pieces from the tablecloth without holes?

SG:  Ok.  Done.  Centered, stitched on the machine with dense machine quilting to make the embroidery pop.

VT:  Oh, I’m disappointed.  I’m not featured as I should be.  I need accentuating.

SG:  Ok.  I’ll cut you out from that background and put you on something darker.

VT:  How about pink?  See my perky little bow, let’s do pink!

SG:  Noooo, I don’t like pink too much.  Let’s try something else.  Let’s pick up all those other colors.  Here.  I like this stripe.

VT:  Ok.  But horizontally, no.  Vertically, no.  Both too plain.  I’m fancy.

SG:  Agreed.  How about mitering the stripe so there’s some geometric interest?

VT:  Yes, Mrs. G, I know you have to get that in there somewhere.

SG:  Done.  Now on the green.

VT:  uh-uh.  I want pink.

SG:  Pink?  I don’t like pink.  I don’t even buy pink fabric. Oh, wait, here is a gradated solid.  I bought a pack of these pastels (Lord, what WAS I thinking? That’s not me at all.)  But it does work with the colors in the ribbon. How about a pink border around the basket on the stripe?

VT:  Yes.  At last you heard me.  Pink.  Pink.  Pink.

SG:  Ok.  There is now a border around the basket.  It’s pink.  And, can I let it be raw-edged, since that is the way I applied the basket?

VT:  Yes.  Sure.

SG:  Done.  Now that is going on the green background from the original tablecloth.  Good grief, how many layers is this?  I guess I should cut triangles from the green and frame the center rather than continue to build thickness.  More cutting and fitting and sewing.  But that’s what it needs to be.

Now I need to layer the quilt.  Cotton batting this time, and look, I found a pink calico for the backing.

VT:  Ok, I’m done talking.  Have your way with me now as you quilt.  Oh, I guess you will bind me with that stripe, too; since that seems to be the only fabric you can use for a binding.  But will you not make it bias this time?  Let’s be a little bit subtle with it, ok?

SG:  Good idea.  Especially since I’ve used almost all of the stripe and it will have a jillion seams anyway.  But I’ll place the stripes perpendicular to the edge.

Quilting is done.  I repeated the bow motif from the original basket.  I drew a replica, resized, marked it on corners of quilt, and stitched with heavy pink thread.  I quilted the remainder using a matching fine thread (silk) so the emphasis is on the texture, not the stitch.

VT:  Your quilting worked out nicely.  But now the center stripe is a bit puffy.  Can you get it to settle down a bit?

SG:  Sure.  I’ll do the seed stitch with a matching thread.  But it makes a mess on the back.

VT:  Find something pink.  You use vintage linens for the labels anyway.  Just find one large enough to cover that center square.

SG:  I agree that it needs to be pink.  I don’t have any vintage pink stuff (nor pink dye).  I don’t DO pink.  But, you are right – any other color will be too high contrast.  It is the back, after all.

VT:  So, wait.  You don’t have to finish today.  Wait until you find the right thing.

SG:  Oh, WOW.  I saw this pink linen handkerchief at an antique mall. With lace.  It was $3.  More than I normally pay for a hankie to stitch on as a label.  But I thought of you and bought it.

VT:  Good girl.  I’m worth it.

rescued remnants backSG:  Done.  Label attached with seed stitch that just goes through to the batting.  Sleeve attached the same way.  You aren’t square, close though.  (16” x 17″).  And you speak “pink”

 

My Threaded Needle

bluebird on linenSaturday night finds me stitching through layers of delight:

A photo of Eastern Bluebirds made by Jim Gilreath  is printed on a vintage linen tablecloth.

The photo is layered on hand-dyed Osnaburg fabric the color of the male bluebird’s breast.

These are atop a remnant of vintage linen dipped in my indigo vat.

My needle is pulling smooth cotton thread through these layers and wool batting.

I am accompanied by live music from the photographer and his stringed instruments.

Are there really people in the world who would prefer to be anywhere else?  I can’t imagine.

Loving the Blues

indigo fabricsI’ve been playing in my indigo vat for the past few days.  The pile you see here includes some of the results.  I’ve dipped pieces large and small of old vintage sheets, old hankies and napkins, doilies, placemats, purchased commercial fabric, bits of lace, and a cotton Matelasse bedspread.

Fabrics are cotton, linen, silk, and combinations of those.  Some have been dipped once, some several times.  I love to watch the magic as the oxidation process occurs.

indigo vatWhen first removed from the vat, the cloth appears green.  As the dye oxidizes, the blue appears.  If a resist is applied to block the dye absorption, interesting patterns can be created.

The only resists I’ve tried are some tying of the fabric and a bit of folding.  Already I can see how addictive this process can be.  And though I’ve already peered into the rabbit hole of staining with tea and blackberries, and then explored the browns, this lover of all things BLUE is tumbling headfirst into the indigo dye.

indigo stitchingThis third photo shows that I’ve started some projects using this most delightful fabric.  I’m loving the work I’ve recently been doing with vintage linen; it’s so deliciously soft to stitch by hand.  The photo shows a vintage baby dress appliquéd on linen now ready to embroider and quilt and some squares prepared for piecing.  Both pieces use techniques I’ve learned from that amazing artist, Jude Hill.  Her invisible basting stitch and paperless piecing technique have changed my stitching forever!

I haven’t limited myself to playing with yardage.  If I took a selfie right now, you would see a cotton knit shirt and a silk scarf which have both spent some time in the indigo vat.

Old Churches

Old Churches fullI can hear joyous voices raised in song when I see an old church.  A well-proportioned steeple reaching to the heavens is pleasing.  Stained glass windows are nice.  But even without those finer details, old churches thrill my soul.  I know there are stories within those walls.  Stories of peace and solace received there, of friendship and loving support in hard times, of comfort in grief.  There are stories of gossip and scandal and intrigue, too.

We often stop the car on our backroad jaunts to photograph an old church.  But on a recent Saturday, we went on an expedition with a local camera club to photograph a select group of historic churches in a rural county nearby.  My husband has recently joined this group; thus the title of my latest quilt, Old Churches, New Friends.

Jim’s photos are of the highest resolution, with crisp details.  I often print his photos on silk fabric which conveys this sharpness.  But I wanted these photos to reflect the historic quality of the adventure, so I printed them on pieces of a vintage linen tablecloth, most of them in black and white.  I loved the result – the coarseness of the fabric conveyed a grainy effect on the photos.  Perfect.

old churches sunI continued the primitive look by hand stitching the photos to another old piece of linen.  The rough weave of this background fabric did not allow me to write on it successfully, so I printed the names of the churches on commercially prepared cotton fabric, and stitched memorable words using free motion stitching on the sewing machine.

Old Churhes treeProvidence Baptist in Shady Dale was founded in 1810 and included some Revolutionary War soldiers as some of the first members.  As I walked through the cemetery, I found a very old section and one grave with a magnificent cedar tree growing at its head.  My thought was, “when this soldier died, he became a tree.”  So, that photo grew into a tree on my quilt.

Hopewell Baptist Church was covered with a tarp as it is awaiting a new roof.  But the architecture of it was amazing; not because of towers and turrets, but because of its simple beauty.  The windows and shutters spoke volumes to me and to the other Sandy along on the trip.  She and I photographed them from every angle and I drew sketches of them as we stood there sharing our love of their structure.  Then we noticed the shape of the vent in the front of the church.  Not the square, rectangle, or rhombus that is often the case, but a kite.  So, a geometry discussion was included in the day as well.

Old Churches rolled upThe block on the outside of the quilt is an appliquéd version of one of the windows of that church.  I made another one of these replicas for that week’s block in my journal quilt for 2106, Fifty-Two Wednesdays.  That image seems to symbolize the day to me.

 

Old Churches Queen Anne's LaceSince beginning work on Fifty-Two Tuesdays, I’ve wanted to make other journal quilts, some which chronicled a single trip, or a single day.  This example will just say to others, “nice. They photographed some old churches.”  But to me and to Jim, when we see it, we will remember the friends, the back roads, Queen Anne’s Lace blooming all along the roadsides, and fried chicken.

Old Churches labelDetails of quilt:  Finished measurements are 17” x 38”.  Vintage linen, commercial quilting cotton fabrics.  Label is made from a vintage woman’s handkerchief.  Hand stitching, machine stitching, free-motion quilting.

Another note:  There is a website with beautiful photos and stories related to this adventure, Historic Rural Churches of Georgia.  I’ve found details about some of the ones we’ve visited, and added to our list of “want to visit”, too.

Dyeing to Make Something Brown

Brown is a new favorite color of mine.  Blue has always been at the top of the list for me, but in recent years, I’ve come to love brown.  Maybe there is a reason.

Brown vignetteThis photo is one I made a few years ago to use on the invitations to my family reunion.  Pictured are a platter and pitcher from the Tea Leaf dinnerware which was my grandmother’s pattern.  On the evening of Ollie Jane’s wedding in 1890, her mother hosted a supper for family.  She served the meal on those dishes and gave them as a gift to the bride and groom. These two pieces in the photo were later purchases, but I do have one plate left that was on Ollie Jane’s table that night. The large pitcher was one she used and I still use it, too.

Also in the photo is a piece of brown and white checked fabric.  I’ve been accused of “adding a little brown check” when a quilt needs a spark of something different (as in GBI Blues), or when I don’t know what else to use (as in Seven Black Birds). [Photos of those two quilts are in the gallery.] I included that fabric in this photo because it looks like the apron I remember Ollie Jane wearing a lot during the last years of her life.

When I printed the photo of Bunk Bates for the Flag Bearer quilt I wrote about yesterday, I printed the above photo on linen as well.  In thinking about a composition using that photograph, I decided to pour some dye in a bucket and dip some things.  Here you see them drying.brown fabric drying

Stay tuned for the final result, but suffice it to say, I’m having a lot of fun!  I ordered some indigo dye today; I can’t wait to play with that.  Oh, I like blue and brown together, too.

You can read more about Ollie Jane’s wedding and her quilts here.  And more about her influence on my quiltmaking here.

Rescuing Vintage Linens

linens my purchasesWhen antiquing, I keep my eye peeled for vintage linens like the ones I found today at Blue Moon Antiques and Vintage Junktion (both stores in Warner Robins, GA).  I’m always hoping to rescue a treasure from the trash bin.  I look for linen or cotton, and pass up any that have a polyester feel to them.  I want hand embroidery or appliqué, but don’t turn up my nose at some older pieces that were machine made.

Sometimes, if the price is right, I buy a tattered piece for the lace or tatting on the edge.  And, yes, I do buy the occasional doily.  One antique dealer commented to me last week that “doily” was the most creatively spelled word he saw on dealer’s tags.

I know which booths often have nice linens in the antique markets we frequent regularly.  I know those which often have pieces that aren’t marked and have learned to make a fair offer–it’s usually accepted.  I don’t plan to pay top dollar for my treasures because I do intend to eventually cut them up and sew them to something else.  But I often use tablecloths, tea towels, and napkins for their intended purpose first, giving the pieces a personal memory to attach to the art being created later.

Today’s outing found me bringing home some lovely treasures at bargain prices (and a couple that weren’t really bargains, but were just too lovely to leave behind).  I bought dresser scarves, napkins, tea towels, doilies, a couple of linen bridge table cloths, a baby’s dress with delicate blue embroidery, some vintage handkerchiefs, buttons, and ribbon.

linens store displayAs I’m looking and touching and plundering, I’m dreaming.  I’m planning and scheming projects galore!  I love it when a vendor asks, “what are you going to do with these?”  Today I pulled out my phone, shared a few photos of recent pieces, and gave them some ideas to ponder. I could see their wheels turning as well as mine.  After all, they love the vintage cloth, too.  That’s why they have so much on hand.

Photos:

At the top, some of the treasures that came home with me.  Yes, the Longaberger basket was a bargain buy, too.  These double pie baskets make great sewing baskets.

Lower photo:  a booth in one of the stores showing just a small portion of the treasures I viewed today.