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!

Bee Still my Heart

bee skep on notebook page leftbee skep on notebook page right

I see that today has been designated as National Honey Bee Day, begun to increase community awareness of beekeeping in the U.S.  Such a holiday is a perfect excuse to share a few pieces of fiber art with a beekeeping theme.

After I sold my childhood home to Billy, a former colleague of my Daddy, I received a treasured package.  Billy was doing some remodeling and found two of my Daddy’s high school science lab books behind the walls of a closet.  His graduation from Sycamore High School was in 1932, so the Biology and Physical Science lab manuals predate that.

I never knew my Daddy could draw, but in these books I found his drawings of crawfish, birds, fish, chemistry lab equipment, and BEES.  I was excited to find his handwriting, which looked exactly like it did later in life, but the drawings were a wonderful surprise.  I scanned some of the images and printed them on parchment paper and framed them as Christmas gifts for family members, but the lab on the bees got special treatment.

Beekeeping detail rightI printed those two pages on commercially prepared fabric for printing, then used those as the background for appliquéd bee skeps, vines, leaves, berries, and bees.  Cotton was used for the vines and leaves, beehives are a woven cotton, berries are made with silk ribbon, and the bees are appliquéd from felted wool.  The quilting is hand guided free motion on a domestic sewing machine. Each piece of this pair finishes at 12” x 15”. In keeping with the school theme, I entitled this pair Beekeeping 101.

beauty & beesThis reconnection with my Daddy’s history with bees spurred me to stitch several more quilts with bees and beehives.  I modified a pattern from Maggie Bonanomi to create Beauty and the Bees in wool.  The background is commercially handdyed and felted black wool.  All the appliqué pieces are felted wool from recycled clothing, mine and Goodwill’s.  The pink berries and tendrils are machine couched with my free motion couching foot, one of the most fun-to-use tools in my toolbox!

Still busy as a bee, I wanted a colony on blue.  So I created a simple design using a single bee skep, and used needleturn appliqué on the Blackbird Design fabric that looks like a cross stitch sampler.  I return to that fabric frequently, in different colorways, because it adds another layer of interest to any quilt while paying tribute to another one of my needlework loves – cross stitch.  A section of this piece appears in the banner at the top of the page.

bees in guest bedroomThe Beehive on Blue was made to fit an oval frame (8″ x 10″) I found somewhere.  That’s a shape I love and find those frames hard to leave in the store.  So one came home with me, got a coat of chalk paint, and holds my quilt.  It is honored with the presence of an original drawing of a bee by my art instructor and friend, Mark Ballard.

Fifty-Two Tuesdays has a block with a beeskep on linen.  There’s one in Fifty-Two Wednesdays, and  I’ve used this motif in a series of beginning appliqué classes.  I’m certain it will reappear many times.  I sometimes find interesting bee buttons or charms that need a home in a textile hive.

My Daddy, the beekeeper, would have been surprised that those lab manuals were still around, I think.  He built this house in 1946, after having owned at least two farms, then living in another house in town. so why did he keep science lab manuals for fourteen years?  I know if he could see my fabric beehives, he would pretend to think they were silly, printing his workbook pages and sewing on them.  But secretly he would be pleased.  As I think he would be pleased that I treasure such wonderful memories of those glorious mornings checking the beehives with him.

Note:  more details about Beauty and the Bees and working with wool are here.

Never Say Never or Dye

prewashing fabricsToday I find myself doing two things I thought I wasn’t doing anymore.  Prewashing fabric, and dyeing fabric.

Once upon a time, I prewashed all my commercial quilt fabric.  I loved seeing the colors up close at the ironing board, I found myself reshuffling fabrics to make new groupings as they hung on a rack to dry, and I planned all kinds of projects during that stage of the process.  Lately, though, I’ve enjoyed piecing with the crisp fabrics as they came home from the store.  And, I enjoyed having the time spent sewing rather than washing and ironing.  I do only buy quilt shop quality fabrics and haven’t had a problem with colors bleeding.  Well, I have had one problem red fabric, but it was a top quality brand, and it had been prewashed.  So, there is that.

I’ve lately bought some vintage linens that were heavily starched and I didn’t want the bugs to attack.  Recently I’ve been doing a lot of hand stitching, exploring more of Jude Hill’s techniques, and like touching the soft rumpled linen and cotton in that process.  I wanted to use some Irish linen handkerchiefs I recently bought which had never been used (I removed the Rich’s label before throwing them in the washer) and wanted to be sure the creases were not yet holes.

mb wool with snailAnd, last week I stitched the wool piece you see here from a Maggie Bonanomi pattern.  I was anxious to work up another one of her pieces, and grabbed a piece of silk matka for the background of the next piece.  To complete the load, I added a few pieces of Japanese woven fabrics I had bought in Paducah.  They needed softening a bit, too.

Maybe dyeing isn’t the right word to describe the process you see in the bowl.  Staining might be more like it.  Some of the fabrics I’ve been working with lately are a bit too WHITE for my taste.  And, I had this set of blue linen napkins that I’ve been working with and wondered what I could do to give them some visual interest.  Yes, the weave is nice.  The color is nice.  It’s just a bit flat.  And, I admit to being spoiled by using hand-dyed fabrics; I’ve gotten accustomed to their subtle variations.  blackberry dyeingSo, I had some blackberries we weren’t eating as fast as we should, I boiled them with some water in the microwave, and added some fabrics.  If you think you see bits of berries in the bowl, you are right.  I’m hoping for a mottled effect.

I love hand-dyed fabrics.  I’ve said that before.  But I don’t like the chemical nature of synthetic dyes and the equipment needed to dye my own fabric.  However, I have recently embraced watercolors on fabric and like to alter the color a bit myself.  So, natural recoloring might be something I can do with rust and berries and nuts and dirt.  Think of it as a country girl’s approach to hand-dyes.

Stay tuned for the outcome.

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.

Deadlines are Good

I’m easily distracted.  I love to start projects, but sometimes other obligations (or newer projects) call, and this gets put aside for that.  Sometimes the “this” languishes.

buttonwood farm pruningButtonwood Farm is a wool appliqué project (adapted from Maggie Bonanomi’s book by the same name) which I was anxious to have hanging in my dining room.  To help ensure it was finished in a timely manner, I entered it into our local quilt show.

I finished the applique (some cotton and some felted wool on linen) weeks ago, knowing it “wouldn’t take much time” to quilt a project 43” square. As the show approached, I checked other things off the to-do list:  help with layout of the show floor, format and type booklet for the show, add sleeves to several other projects entered in the show.  Buttonwood Farm’s quilting kept getting postponed.

On Saturday, March 12, before the show was to be hung on Thursday, March 17, I pinbasted the quilt top to the batting and backing.  A few hours home alone that day meant I got the interior section of the quilt outlined and some filler designs done immediately.  In the next few days, sitting down to quilt gave me focus for a few hours, distracting me from the anxiety of the upcoming show.  Stitching soothes me.

On Wednesday, March 16, I added a binding, sleeve, and label.  Whew!  But after a ribbon was attached, I saw stray threads hanging.  One of our vendors loaned me some scissors to do a little pruning.

Oh, and I was “busted” during the awards ceremony.  The project was so fresh that I had forgotten its name and thought they meant the ribbon was going to a friend’s project with a similar title.  But now the quilt is finished and can hang in my dining room.

Details of quilt:  Cotton and felted wool appliqué on linen.  Quilted with Aurafil 50 wt cotton thread.  Dream wool batting.  The name “Buttonwood Farm” is Maggie’s.  I stuck with it when I investigated and found that buttonwood and sycamore were both common names for Platens occidentals.  My hometown of Sycamore was founded in 1891, so I changed the date on my rendition.