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.

Soulful Stitching

I’ve written before about how stitching soothes my soul.  That happens when I’m in front of the tv and multitasking, when I’m visiting with family and friends and my hands are busy, or sometimes when riding in the car.  Those are often the times when my hand stitching gets done.
I realize I need to add some opportunity to quietly do some hand stitching when I’m alone. Watching Jude Hill’s videos remind me of how studying the texture formed by stitch gives way to thoughts about light and shadow, contrasting textures, symbolic meaning of weave and stitch, even relationships between people.  Though I’m not sure my thoughts run as deep as do hers, I know that mindful stitching leads to deeper appreciation of everything.

As I watched her video where Jude is adding white hearts to a heavily stitched white nine-patch and emphasizing the touch points of the hearts with red thread, she notices that they remind her of a scar.  Her perception always gives me pause, and this struck me deeply.

 

I can’t explain why, but I had a flashback to my life working with teachers.  One of my colleagues heard a teacher say, “we like this book because we can go in the classroom and teach without having to think about it.”  Harriet said to me, “I don’t want teachers who don’t think about what they are teaching.”  Indeed.

Sometimes I sew without thinking about sewing.  And, that is relaxing to me, to be sure.   The rhythmic pulling of thread through cloth allows my mind to be somewhere else, planning something.  But Jude’s symbology in her work, her soul searching thoughts remind me to pursue even more depth in my stitching stories.  She reminds me that only when we share the stories behind our work, the symbology we’ve included, the strategies we’ve used, do others really appreciate our art. I admit if I had seen the white hearts on white stitching, I might not have noticed the red thread, and if I had, I might not have made the “scar” connection.

A needle and thread are how I’m stitching myself to the universe these days, so I don’t want it to be shallow.  With the recent art quilts I’ve been making, I try to ensure that the viewer knows the story behind the photo or appreciates the handwork in a vintage remnant.  I hope that seeing the connection between my work and some element of the past will cause one to think of their own family’s past generations and find the stories that are there.

Another word on Jude Hill and her influence on me.  I found her online a few years ago and realized she was offering some online courses.  The latest series was already underway and i had missed it.  I resolved right then to get in the next one.  But then she opened up her vast base of videos and audios for free.  You are free to watch them and make a donation or not (I have).  But I found a quote from her in one of them that resonates with me.  She was responding to a comment from someone who had warned her, “you share too much of your process.  Protect your art.”…

Jude’s response:  “And, by the way, just to be clear, sharing IS my art.  And in case you haven’t noticed, I am out singing in it.” Sept 10, 2015

Wow.  I have noticed.  And, I am amazed by it.

You can learn more about Jude Hill and her work at http://spiritcloth.typepad.com.

My earlier posts with references to her work are here, and here, and here.

Photos:  The photos of the “beast” piece is one I was fortunate enough to buy from Jude.  When her pieces go on sale, you have to be sitting at the computer watching (or lucky) because they sell quickly.  I love having this piece to examine.  Seeing her stitches and handling her work informed me of her techniques so much that I began to consider selling some of my own work.  If my work could help another quilt maker with a particular technique, or if the final result gave a viewer satisfaction, than I would be willing to share it that way.   You see images of the whole piece, approximately 6” x 9”, and closeups of the front and back.

The photos of the blue hearts are my work.  I made that piece after watching Jude’s Whispering Hearts series of posts on her Feel Free site.  That piece may become part of something else or be finished as is.  That’s one thing Jude and I have in common.  A work may be started, then incubate a while as ideas mature, then later become complete as it is or as part of something else.

This post is published with permission from Jude Hill.

Sharing and Learning

In recent months, I’ve had several opportunities to share my quilting stories.  The emphasis is on sharing – listening to quilting stories from other people as much telling them about mine.  There is the frequent conversation beginning with, “I remember seeing my grandmother make quilts,” but there are many different experiences along those lines.  I also hear, “I’ve always wanted to learn to quilt”, “I have my mother’s sewing machine”, and “I find it so relaxing to sit and stitch.”   I never hear, “what is a quilt?”  Everyone seems to have memories of quilts in their lives.

I never tire of hearing about memories associated with quiltmaking, but I find that I learn about my own experiences in those conversations, too.  When asked questions about why I do what I do, I am often surprised to hear my answer.  I don’t always verbalize to myself the reasoning behind an approach.

A few weeks ago, I spent three days sharing Fifty-two Tuesdays, the quilt and the book at Mistletoe Market ( a festival-like weekend shopping experience in Perry, Ga.).  As I repeatedly summarized my experience with that journal quilt, I came to realize how that adventure changed my focus from traditional quilts to story quilts.  In the fifty-two weeks of 2015, I depicted a scene that represented an experience in my life each week.  I also explored every quilting technique I could, in essence making it a sampler quilt, too.   In so doing, I tried things that I would not have wanted to pursue on a large scale.

I learned that printing on silk fabric gave a luster to photographs that seemed dull when printed on paper or canvas.  Now I’ve explored that more fully with several art quilts. (Examples written about here are Swamp Bird, Flowers for Phyllis, and  Commonly Uncommon).  Success with that approach gave me confidence to try something totally different.  I had old photographs I wanted to print on fabric and wondered if I could successfully use old linen or cotton fabric in keeping with the vintage photo.  It worked and I’ve played with that numerous times. (Some are Spinster Sisters, My Daddy wore Overalls, and Galadrielle.)

Shortly after that market experience, I was scheduled to share my work with a civic group.  I’m accustomed to presenting trunk shows to quilt guilds, but groups of non-quilters are a new experience this year.  The self-examination I had realized in the days at Mistletoe Market allowed me to better understand and therefore explain my transition from the traditional quilt world to the art quilt world.

Make no mistake, I still love traditional quilts and will continue to make those.  But the freedom to tell a story in a small piece of cloth, using traditional quiltmaking techniques is very compelling right now.

As I started a new file for my 2017 journal entries, I couldn’t help but ponder the possibilities of this prime year.  I even wrote a blog post entitled Prime Time, reflecting that since 2017 is a prime number, we should all use that to try something different.  But I never published that post, because I couldn’t conclude with what I proposed to try differently myself.  The list I made of 2016 efforts was so eye-opening, I just want to keep on keeping on with what I’ve learned.

I am assembling the blocks from Fifty-Two Wednesdays, my journal quilt for 2016.  I’m still imagining what the journal quilt for 2017 might be – if I do the weekly quilt block again.  I have a few days to decide; I will continue the weekly format I’ve done before, using Thursday as my deadline.

 

About the photos: hexagonal images are from Fifty-Two Tuesdays.  Rectangular blocks are from Fifty-Two Wednesdays.  Notice that the scenes from the 2016 quilt are not yet quilted.  In addition to changing the shape of the block, I chose not to “quilt-as-I-went” this time, leaving the quilting until after assembly.

Commonly Uncommon

The Common Yellowthroat Warbler is not commonly seen by the average homeowner.  He’s not a “yard bird”, he lives in the swamp.  He likes briars, damp brushy places, weeds, or grass going along country roads (that explains why I like him so much).  This species is a year-round resident in our part of Georgia.

Despite his bright feathers, this fellow is hard to spot, flitting about busily as he does.  This tiny bird is picturesque, though.  So it’s worth the effort to capture his image on film, uh, on a flash card.

These birds don’t come to feeders much, preferring grasshoppers, beetles, spiders over seeds.  According to the iBird Pro app, they love sugar water, fruit, and pieces of nuts.  That may be worth investigating, but water seems to be a big factor in their habitat.  They are most often found near streams, swamps, and marshes.

common-yellowthroatJim captured this shot in a remote area near the Ocmulgee River.  I printed it on silk fabric, layered it on wool batting, and stitched the background densely. As in Swamp Bird, I stitched with silk thread in closely spaced parallel lines.  Then I added a bit of black and white, a yellow fabric frame, and attached it to an old quilt remnant.

common-yellowthroat-backI used a lot of Jude Hill’s invisible baste stitch to secure everything without penetrating the final layer of the quilt on the back.  I added beads stitched by hand, and made a label from an old doily. 100 weight silk thread was used for machine quilting, 60 weight cotton for the handwork.

The finished piece measures 20” x 16”.

I’ve noticed lately that even though I’ve been designing these pieces by starting from the center and working outward, and beginning with different sized photos or vintage motif, these pieces all seem to end up the same size.  I wonder why.