Christmas Quilts

I love to stitch with the colors of the season.  I know professional artists have to work ahead of the season, getting seasonal prints, cards, books ready during the summer for Christmas, working on Easter themes during snowstorms.  Not me.

I love to sew on pumpkin colored fabrics in the fall, pastels in the Spring, and give me some red and green to stitch while the tree is up.

Right now, I’m stitching on a project called Mistletoe and Holly (that’s the name given to it by the designers, Barb Adams and Alma Allen – and my working title now.  But as the stitching goes on and the design evolves within my life, that name is subject to change).  This is a design I’ve loved for years.

Here is a photo of their finished product. This Christmas season finds me stitching on lots of bindings, finishing some projects for gifts, some for our guild’s upcoming quilt show.  But I had to start a red and green project or the season wouldn’t feel right to me.

Earlier in December, I stitched this wool appliqué piece from a block-of-the-month from Maggie Bonanomi.  I believe this project will be in her book coming out in 2018.

 

 

My quilt ladder shows evidence of my fascination with red and green.  In the center is Five Seasons in Bonaire folded with the Christmas season showing.  The top and bottom are Tree Farm of Lorane and Small Tree Farm. These are two sizes of a quilt I designed and made for my daughter’s family a few years ago.  Friends saw it, loved the simple technique, and patterns were born.

Pomegranates and Poinsettias is in the dining room, Miss Lily’s Baskets are in a basket, and a red and green Irish Chain I made for a challenge one year (but did not enter it, I liked another project better for the competition) are around, too.  Detailed descriptions of these projects in earlier posts are here and here.

 

Above the playhouse hutch, a Santa marches through the woods (based on a design by Jan Patek).  Just as I finished this piece a couple of years ago (needed something seasonal to fit the space), I found the wooden Santa you see on the top shelf marching along in an antique store.  Serendipity!  Oh,  we do know how to spell Noel in our house, but when I bought these blocks in the 1980’s, Jim said to the clerk, “Do you think I should be worried?  I don’t know anyone named Leon.  Why do you think my wife is buying this?”  Her laughter still rings in our ears.  So as a tribute to that memory, we sometimes display the blocks that way.  I forgot to move them when I took the photo.

If history repeats itself, the Mistletoe and Holly thing will be part of next year’s display.  I have another couple of ideas in my brain, too.  But the ideas sometimes flow faster than these fingers can stitch, so only time will tell how much gets done.

Kaffe visits FDR

Look – it’s a president with one of my quilts!  Not the current president, but a president with ties to Georgia. The statue is in Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park, at Dowdell’s Knob, near Pine Mountain.  We had this quilt along with us and I thought he might be a bit chilly.

Following the photographic lead of Kaffe Kassett and Bruce Lundstrom, I decided to take a quilt on a day trip.  This bright fall day seemed a good time to bring Kaffe’s Walk Through the Woods.  Kaffe Fassett is a California-born artist who has lived in England for the last 50 years or so designing knitting and needlepoint designs.  Known for his bold use of color, Kaffe has added patchwork to his textile repertoire, designing vibrant quilting fabrics and using them in simple patterns.  His books on quilting are fabulous photographic journals.  He takes a collection of quilts to exotic locations and stages photos with extraordinary scenes.  Bruce Lundstrom is the photographer mentioned in my latest post here.

Kaffe’s Walk Through the Woods is made from one of Kaffe’s patterns that I began while taking a class from him in 2009.  The pattern is Diagonal Madness and is the result of cutting lots and lots of squares in two sizes and arranging them on a design wall to create patterns in horizontal, vertical, and diagonal rows.

My quilting sister Tess and I shared a work table that day and boldly chose to ignore directions. Here is  Tess beside her rows of squares.

 

 

 

 

I thought my work was destined for the trash bin until Kaffe himself gave his critique and elaborated on the smokey, ethereal quality of my color choices.  He remarked that he felt like he was walking through the woods with the leaves shimmering on the trees.  So I had a title and reason to finish it – if Kaffe himself liked it, it was a keeper!   But not right away, of course.

The pieces stayed rolled up in the flannel design “wall” we had used for quite a while.  In 2012, I stitched the pieces together and had one of my longarm quilting friends, Kathy Darley, work her magic on the quilting.  Just look at her feathers in the closeup – Wow! Click on this, or any other photo, to enlarge and examine details.

On this fall day, FDR enjoyed the quilt, too.  At least one park visitor took a photo of a crazy lady warming a statue.  I’d love to hear the stories the lady with the camera had to tell friends about our encounter.

The finished quilt measures 56” x 76”.

You can google Kaffe Fassett and “images” and spend the day being mesmerized and inspired by color.  This link takes you to a page focusing on his patchwork, fabrics, and books: http://www.gloriouscolor.com.  More info including videos are here.

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.

You Can Make Anything

I’ve long had a quilt in my mind called Family Lines in which I would record oft-repeated lines from family members.  It would bring warmth as a cover, but also warm memories for others to recall the voices from the past.  Some of those lines I’ve already written about, like Daddy singing “Pa, he bought him a great big billy goat…” or Wallace’s oft-quoted line “you shore can’t sop syrup with ‘em.”  Advice like Aunt Nellie’s, “Always plant geraniums in clay pots,” and Jim’s   query to the girls, “did you unplug the curling iron?” will add practical notes, too. (Details of those stories are here, here, and here.)

One line I would have to include from my mother is, “You can make anything.  But you can’t make everything.”  I quoted this to a young quilting friend of mine last year as we were discussing some of the tempting patterns for making tote bags.  Though they are lovely and give one a unique accessory that displays favorite fabrics and techniques, they are time consuming to make.  She repeated my mother’s line and said, “Wow.  That’s so true.  And a powerful line to remember.”

Yes, she was right – it is a powerful message.  I’ve had that line running through my head a lot lately.  I look around my sewing space and see fabric waiting to go in the dye pot, fabric that’s been dipped in the dye pot and ready to compose into Rescued Remnant pieces, photos to print on fabric, strips of fabric waiting to be woven backgrounds ala Jude Hill.  In my sketchbook is a series of churches I want to put on cloth. On my design wall are components for my Paducah journal quilt in progress. In another basket are luscious wools cut and ready to stitch.  Of course, the time for the guild challenge draws closer.  And there’s more, including a few UFOs that could command my attention.

Then there’s the avalanche of images and ideas that press into my mind wherever I look.  Especially if I look online.  Projects that are physically unbegun, but I have to resist the temptation to begin them.  My mother also said, “Finish what you’ve started before you start anything else.”  ( I know –  the mention of a few UFO’s tells that I don’t always follow that advice.)

I try to use the brainpower generated by my morning walk to plan my “work” for the day. (I put that word in quotes because I do think of the “do the work” advice given to artists fits my daily activities, but in no way is what I do in the sewing room anything but FUN.)  Lately my focus of that brainpower has been to narrow the field of possibilities and remember, to paraphrase my mother’s advice, “I can do any of these things, but I can’t do all of them today.“

The photos show snippets of today’s temptations.  At least one of those will get some focused attention.

Sewing on the Road

We took a road trip yesterday and I did some sewing while riding.  I haven’t done that in a while.  Lately, I’ve been enjoying the scenery, sometimes helping with navigation and driving.  Before leaving home today, I grabbed one of my favorite projects to go:  English Paper Piecing.

I love this technique.  Some of the first quilt making I did was using this method.  In Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden, I pieced the hexagons for the background by basting fabric to freezer paper templates.  This was a great travel project while visiting with my mother during the years of her life in an assisted living facility, in hospitals while family members were receiving treatment, and later a repeat of the situation with my mother-in-law.

I’ve found other kinds of hand work to be portable, too.  I’ve done wool appliqué and the seed stitch while riding, details described here.  But for quick preparation for an on-the-move project, EPP can’t be topped.  Today I grabbed a mini-charm pack of fabric, some hexagons I had cut from card stock (using my AccuQuilt Go, and a little tin of supplies I keep at the ready.  In this box is a pair of scissors, a couple of pins, a needle, a thimble, and thread.  I can grab it and go.

Here’s a photo of all I got done in the car…of the 42 fabrics in the collection, I think there are 5 left to be basted.  The rest are ready to attach together or to something else.

 

 


Once home, I pulled out this bag of templates to make my version of La Passacaglia, a complex EPP project of many shapes.  I love the geometry of it all, and began playing with it a while back, especially using some fabric with symmetrical designs to demonstrate possibilities while teaching the technique.  It’s all stored where I can pull it out and work on it a while, put it away, and visit again later.  Pieces in progress are pictured in the pile. (The orange and blue probably won’t end up in my final quilt, not colors I like…I was just playing with the colors and symmetry of the fabric in this rosette.)  I took this to our guild a few months ago, planning to offer the whole caboodle for sale at a bargain.  Now I’m glad I rethought it.  Who knows when a ready-to-go project will come in handy?  When Jim says, “let’s go,” I say “I’m ready.  Where?”.  But I feel better knowing I have some sewing to take along, even if it just goes for a ride and doesn’t get touched.

New Old Stuff


I’ve acquired some real treasures in recent days…my brain is spinning with ideas for using them.

The red windowpane checked towels are old linen.  Yes, they do look like graph paper.  But they work well as an underlying grid for free form appliqué and stitching.  The loose weave and years of washing make them a delight to use – the needle just glides through the openings between the threads.  The red/burlap trim and the lace are gifts from a friend.  They came from Europe and look like they belong with a collection of French General fabrics, don’t they?

The doilies are another antique store find.  Yes, they are treasures in their original box, with the label, but they won’t stay there.  Click on the photo to enlarge if you want to read the details.  You will swoon! They will become mats for photos on fabric, I think.

And the blue linen hankie, oh, my, what a beauty!  A friend found this while shopping and thought of me.  And this was before seeing my vintage blues from Bell Buckle!   Enlarge his one to see the hand drawn thread work and the amazing tiny appliqué.  The white squares in the nine-patch measure 3/8” on  each side.

This piece will not find its way into a quilt for a very long time.  It now lives in my basket of blue.

Mom and Apple Pie

 


A friend visiting in our home said, “what are you working on now?”  I spread this quilt top on the floor in the den.  His comment, “Oh, boy!  That’s just Mom, and Apple Pie, and more, isn’t it?”  I agreed, mentally noting that this project now had a name.


The appliqué for this quilt was done based on patterns from Alma Allen and Barb Adam’s book, Celebration of American Life.  Today most quilt makers change something about the pattern as they work, and almost always change the name to represent their interpretation.

The patterns for the blocks are like those in the pattern except for the lower left block.  I personalized that one, substituting a watermelon slice for their orange, and added some figs, using the broderie perse technique (an age-old method of using designs printed on fabric).  My border and sashing are totally different, too.


The appliqué is something I typically do at night in front of the tv, or when sewing away from home.  One the fabrics are selected and the pieces are prepared, I keep just the supplies for that block (these squares measure 20” on each side) in my sewing basket so the work is portable.  Once all the blocks are finished and sewn together, the big unit is a stay-at-home project.

Another work habit of mine is to select the fabrics at the beginning of a project and set them aside in a basket so they are designated for this quilt and don’t get used in another piece before this is done.  I like to repeat fabrics across the quilt to make the design cohesive, so the same greens used as leaves in one block appear again in several others.  It’s easier to do this if I have a limited selection of fabrics as I prepare each block.  It may take months to complete the appliqué on a big quilt such as this.


I quilted this using 100 weight silk thread, echoing the appliquéd design with stitching lines 1/4” apart.  I refer to hand-guided, freemotion quilting as dancing with my sewing machine, even on a project this large.  This quilt measures  75” x 95”.  I start in the center, working outward block by block on a quilt such as this.  My large table supports the weight and bulk of the quilt as I work.


I don’t normally keep up with the time I spend working on a quilt, but for some reason, I did do that on this one.  The time I spent sitting in the chair pushing the quilt around under the needle while it was moving up and down was 65 hours.  That was spread over 3 months, I think. I work in 30-45 minute intervals and more than two sessions a day is exhausting.  That’s why I have another sewing machine set up so I can be piecing or sewing on something else during those weeks that a big quilt is under the needle.

The finished quilt measures 75” x 95”, covering a queen-sized bed.  It has made a few public appearances, winning ribbons at our local guild show last March, at the Georgia National Fair in Perry last November, and was juried into the AQS Show in Paducah, KY last month.  It is currently en route to the East Cobb Quilt Guild show in Marietta, GA, scheduled for June 8-10.

Free Form Log Cabins

I love hand piecing.  There’s something about pulling a needle and thread through cloth that soothes me.  It’s the rare day that I don’t have to do a little stitching before going to bed.  Most of the time, it’s during the couple of hours after supper when we watch tv.

Even after spending hours in my sewing room as I did yesterday, cutting and sewing at the machine, I still find it necessary to unwind by stitching a bit.

My current project is pictured here.  Log cabin-style blocks that approximate 5” finished.  Mostly in blues and whites.  I was inspired by a blog entry by Jude Hill a few weeks ago when she was piecing some free form log cabins.  I started my own and can’t stop.  It’s so addictive.  Part of the fun is using special fabrics.  Many of these pieces came from clothing remnants, some from scraps of vintage linens.  I selected some special fabrics to be the “heart” of the blocks, too.  Some bits of embroidery, some pieces of a friend’s silk jacket, various old treasures lying about.

In theory, the blocks start with 1” squares and use 1” logs.  But, if the chosen center element is larger, I just adjust as I go.  I have some templates lying nearby and use them sometimes, but other times I just eyeball it and start stitching.

I’m using Jude’s technique of invisible basting the seam allowances open, too.  It makes subsequent stitching so pleasant.

I have no plan.  I’m just stitching for fun.  Enjoying the process, letting the assembly evolve.  I did scatter a few blocks on the design wall a few days ago, on top of a piece of silk I had dipped in the dye pot.  Here’s how that looked.

 

 

Some years ago, I made this little wall hanging.  (I wrote about this before, remembering that I sewed the binding on while visiting a B & B.) Here, I hand pieced tumbling blocks from assorted blue fabrics.  Then I did use a template to have exactly the same sized blocks, and I used commercial fabric.  I collected beloved blue fabrics, including the fossil fern (I love that fabric!) in the border.

A blue and white toile on the back is a favorite of mine, too.  I quilted it using free motion quilting, invisible nylon thread and cotton batting.  It measures 26” square.

Generally, commercial fabrics are not nearly so much fun to stitch as the softer, thinner, more loosely woven fabrics I’m using now.  And the memories ….memories of the homespun jumper my mother made for me and I wore for years, the shirt Jim wore with his overalls, the threadbare linen jacket of mine, and the remnants I dyed indigo last summer make these pieces special to handle.  Those memories don’t come off a bolt in a store.

Quilters’ Retreat

A few days ago, I crashed a party.  We were on a backroads jaunt and I remembered that some of my friends were attending a quilting retreat at a nearby wildlife refuge.  I asked Jim to make a stop and let me say Hello.  He asked, “Can you just pop in?  Were you invited? “  I assured him, “It will be fine.  They won’t mind.  They will all be happy to show me their projects.”

And, they were.  They were busy.  They were happy.  And they did not mind my intrusion.

There is a reason many quilters like the bee motif.  Quilters and bees buzz about with a purpose in mind and get things done!

I was greeted with smiles and hugs from many friends, and made the acquaintance of new quilters as well.  Sheila and Barbara and Jean and Donna were the first to see me and report on the fun.  I didn’t get photos of everyone’s work, but everyone was busy and productive.
Angie was piecing some animals.  Mary was working with baskets.  Jean had stars on her design wall.  She had discovered that her alternate blocks were cut from directional fabric, unnoticed until they were put on the wall.  She had lots of advisors to help her decide how to deal with this dilemma.

Joyce had two big appliqué projects: a Baltimore Album that just needs a few details and a border attached, and a fabulous Kim McLean pattern all with big pieces of Kaffe fabrics.  Joyce is one of our guild’s charter members and she still produces more quilts than several of the rest of us combined!  She was sitting beside Hilda, her BFF for more than FIFTY years.  They have worked on many projects and been to many retreats and heard many stories in that time, don’t you know?

Dewey was there with his longarm machine and an eight-foot table.  He had already quilted two quilts at the retreat for other participants and was doodling on his machine while he waited for others to get backs prepared for him to quilt their tops.

Here is Donna working on a One-Block Wonder.  And Dewey had just finished the quilting on her Friendship Garden  before the retreat.  Now she can add the binding and label and it’s done!

Mary had run to the store, but her work-in-progress is here.  Mary is the organizer of this event.  Someone has to take charge and she does it well!  She reserves the space, organizes the guest list, plans the food, and assures that everyone has fun.  And she is successful, because these people plan their calendars around Mary’s retreat dates.  Because of her, the sisterhood thrives.

Candace is a local designer and teacher with her own line of patterns.  Here she is working on a new pattern design.  And there were some of her finished products with chickens made from her hand-woven fabrics.  Wow!

Lynn was putting the finishing touches on a garden scene, while Eleanor was working on a batik project complete with labels to insure that every block ended up in exactly the right place.

Getting away from home, focusing on a project or two, socializing while you work, learning from each other, what a blast!  I loved visiting this beehive.

Beds and Breakfasts

We are Bed & Breakfast travelers sometimes.  When we leave home, we like adventure.  B&Bs  provide a unique experience every time.  And, in thirty years of enjoying this, I can’t think of one that didn’t prove to be positive.  Of course, there was the one where we stopped and looked around, but choose not to stay the night because it seemed spooky to Jim.

We’ve stayed in one inn, the York House, so many times that we know more of its history than the most recent owners.  Others we’ve visited a few times, many only one time.  In Asheville, we stayed in a former insane asylum, in Pigeon Forge, we stayed in Patricia Neal’s favorite home-away-from-home, and in Waynesville, we were given a free upgrade to the Tasha Tudor room when I recognized some of her work framed on the wall.

Though all are one of a kind, our experiences have revealed some similarities.  Included in this list are quaint decor, privacy, friendly service, and a sense of getting away from it all.  Rarely are there noisy residents (though we did share a B&B one time with a wedding party who was a bit raucous after the rehearsal dinner), phones ringing, televisions blaring.

We’ve stayed in B&Bs in the mountains, at the beach, in warm weather and cold (oh, my goodness was it cold once in Charleston – and our room was at the back of a long addition to an antebellum cottage.  We thought the heat must have been distributed from the front to the back).  We’ve enjoyed them in small, medium, and large cities, and in out-of-the-way places that made us wonder how guests ever found them often enough to keep them in business.

Breakfast is always provided. Sometimes its’s on a silver tray delivered to the room at the designated time with coffee and fresh baked pastries.  Other times, breakfast is served in a large dining room with family style seating with other guests.  My journals have pages of descriptions of conversations with fellow travelers.  Names usually escape me, but some of their adventures I remember.  The couple who rode Segways around an art village, the potter whose mugs hold our coffee twenty-something years later, the Florida couple looking for mountain real estate in North Carolina, and the innkeeper asking if we met the resident ghost during the night come to mind.

I suspect some of those people remember me as the lady who takes a sewing basket wherever she goes.

B&Bs are often in old houses with creaky floors, clawfoot tubs, temperamental water faucets, and steep stairs.  In our most recent B&B abode, we actually stayed in a cottage property which had a kitchen of sorts.  The stove and refrigerator were minimal in size, and even the sloped roof seemed designed for small people.

The tiny desk tucked in a corner made us think of all the creativity that had come from such quaint attic spaces.  Jim commented on the quaintness at the same time that he said he would go insane ducking his head all the time.  My reply was that many creative people did just that – went insane.

The make-do decor in B&B’s is always interesting.  Many time inn owners have clearly been decorating on a budget, saving the big bucks for luxurious towels, fine soaps, and good food.  This kitchen faucet intrigued us.  Perhaps repurposed, it extended past the perimeter of the sink in most positions.  Fun and funny to us!

Photos: The blue tumbling block quilt measures 26″ square.  I was working on it while visiting Waynesville, NC, in 2005.  It is hand pieced and free-motion machine quilted.  Here I am seen stitching the binding.  But the blocks are hand pieced, and that is a great sewing project for travel.

The white house with blue star is the fabric interpretation of a cottage in Mt. Dora, Fl.  That block is part of Fifty-Two Wednesdays, still in progress.