October 21, 2016

Women's Rights Quilt

I was just browsing through the Met Museum quilt collection and happened upon this quilt.  Boy, did I get excited!
Photo: Hearts and Hands: Women, Quilts, and American Society, 1987.

Just to toot my own horn a tiny bit:  When I first started teaching quilting in the early 1980s with little 6-week beginner classes, one of my students brought in an old quilt that was in her family.  I didn't know then nearly what I know now about quilt history, but I knew enough to be utterly amazed and urged the owner to treat it like the incredible piece that it is.  It did get exhibited and then published a couple of times (including in one of my all-time favorite books, Hearts and Hands: Women, Quilts, and American Society by Elaine Hedges, Pat Ferrero and Julie Silber, Quilter's Digest Press, 1987).  And now, oh boy oh boy, I see it's become part of the collection at the Met!!!  I feel like the beaming godmother!

The quilt was made in Illinois c. 1875.  It has both botanic appliqué designs and unique and detailed pictorial blocks showing the social history of the time.  There are some pictures that refer to the Civil War and some to the question of women's rights that sprouted during the war years.  Along with the quilt, the family had a piece of paper with captions and sometimes comical commentary for the pictorial blocks.  Such an incredible treasure!

You can read more and take a closer look at the Met collection entry.  The quilt is also described on the Quaker Quilts page in an article titled "Quaker Causes and the Women's Rights Quilt."


October 10, 2016

Mending, Mending, Mending

Well, if you have visited my blog before, you know that what I do is a whole lot of mending.  For those of you are who new here, my profession is repairing antique/vintage quilts and clothing. For example:

I mended this unfortunate tear in a mid-19th century tulip appliqué quilt.

I replaced missing beading on a gorgeous wedding dress

I'm fascinated by finding old pieces that have been previously repaired over the decades of their lives.  And I am simultaneously saddened by what seems to be a growing proportion of folks who have no sewing knowledge whatsoever.  A real change over time, I think!

The other day, while enjoying my morning tea, I came across an inspiring article via a long bit of following links from one page to another.  Sometimes these sessions are not totally a "waste!"  Right?

The article is called "The rise of mending: how Britain learned to repair clothes again".  It appeared in The Guardian in 2014.

The article describes an English shop called Make Do & Mend that opened in 2002.  And then as the owner, Pippa Bray, relates, “When the recession hit, people became more conscious of cost and started valuing their clothes more. We do a lot of replacing zips, taking up hems, altering old clothes to fit.”  The shop's popularity skyrocketed.  At the time the article was written, the shop had expanded enough to employ 12 people!

The article also mentions an idea called Home Repair Café.  These are kind of little pop-up workshops where people can bring all sorts of broken things and find people to repair or teach them to repair.  It's done as a community building activity and sounds really neat.  The website serves as a networking hub for cities - all over the world - that are creating their own repair sites.  Sounds like bunches of fun!

Why do I like repairing things so much?  I've thought about this a lot, and have concluded:

#1 - I like making things neat.  Repair cleans up all the rips and dangling threads.  (By the way, this does not mean my house is neat as a pin.  But I do put my clutter in fairly neat piles!  And I am also aware that I enjoy weeding because it neatens up the yard.)

#2 - Repairing and reusing is frugal - both for my money and for the world's resources.

#3 - I enjoy handling old things, and getting to explore the fabrics and construction techniques up close.

#4 - Repair is a way to learn about and preserve the history embodied in each item.

#5 - Repairing honors the creativity, skill, and work of whoever made the item. 

Mending can actually be very creative - lots of problem solving.  I show some fun mends on a previous post.  It's not necessarily the drudgery that most folks expect!

September 26, 2016

Just For Fun Embroidery Projects

Tablecloth update:

Having finished embroidering and doing the cutwork in all but one corner, the tablecloth is on hiatus.  My daughter is going to finish up the last corner so we will end up with an heirloom stitched by three generations.  The whole story of the tablecloth is elsewhere on this blog.

Next project:
I always like to have some carry-along needlework at the ready to fill tedious waiting times and to doodle away on when watching some show with loads of commercial breaks.  So.....

This is a dresser scarf with a delightful debutante at each end.  She has a cleverly appliquéd skirt complete with hem ruffle.  She is pre-printed for embroidery, and there are also butterflies flitting around in the center section of the scarf.

She was found by my friend Julia during her sleuthing for vintage clothing for her shop.  She loves to pick up odds and ends that she thinks will suit her friends.  This find was just perfect for me!

Here are my planned floss choices.  I decided to make her brown-haired (like I used to be!) because there is already so much yellow in her skirt.  And then she's a portrait of me as the girly, ball gown wearing, princess that I have never been.

The butterflies will have a lot of pinks and maybe some red.  The details on her gown will be green and blue, with a darker blue for the ribbon that twines around her.

Right away, some plans changed.  I hadn't realized how much using a single strand of the floss dulls out the color of the whole skein.  Of course, this makes sense.  So the two colors I picked for the bodice looked exactly the same and I had to find a new second color.  I ended up using some of the variegated yellow from the tablecloth threads.  Cool.

I'm still stumped on a skin thread.  I don't want to use pink because I'm not pink, but a pale tan kind of gets lost.  We shall see. 

And then there's this:
The guild I belong to, North Suburban Needlework Guild, asks members to make and wear needlework a name tag.  So....

Another find by Julia.  She brought me some old hankies that weren't in great shape, but had nice details.  One of them had a decorated corner where a name or initials had probably been embroidered and removed.  The fabric was a bit messed up.  So....

I cut out the corner, backed it with another layer of the hankie fabric and some flannel and cotton to give it some body.  And embroidered my name.  And added a few more leaves to fill in the empty spaces.  (Kind of a problem with my first and last names being such different lengths, also because as hard as I tried, my name still didn't come out quite centered.)


FYI, this little darlin' is 4" x 2 1/2", and on silk fabric.  Now I can feel really pretty at every meeting!

September 23, 2016

A Tale of Two Dresses

My buddy Julia over at Basya Berkman Vintage finds the best stuff!  In the last couple of weeks, she's given me two really delightful dresses to mend.  They are from different decades even though they are similar in style.  Both prints are great, and they are really what inspired me to share the dresses here.

The older one is rayon, probably 1940s.  I absolutely love the color combo in the print!  The dress has shoulder pads, self-covered buttons, and - my favorite detail - velvet covered piping at the collar and sleeves.

The lovely styling and detailing make this another piece that reminds me how much simpler off-the-rack clothing has become since that era.

It's interesting to me that the piping is done in black even thought there's no black in the print.  This fits right in with tons of examples of quilts that are highlighted with black embroidery even though there is no black in the patchwork or appliqué.  So this dress is right in step with the style choices of its era.

The second dress is cotton and from the 1950s, or maybe around 1960.  It's a bit more tailored than the first dress, with a front placket and roll cuffed sleeves.  I love it because of its great conversation print.  It just plain makes me smile! 

September 20, 2016

Stitching Our Stories

Stitching Our Stories is an exhibit currently running in Santa Fe through October 20.   It's at the Santa Fe Arts Commission’s Community Gallery, 201 W. Marcy Street.  The use of needlework to express  family and social history is one of my favorite topics.  I'd go for sure if I was anywhere close!

The subtitle is:  Connecting Immigrant and Local Communities Through Story Cloths and Conversations.

The programs and exhibit were created by Art and Remembrance, an organization founded around the needlework panels made by Holocaust survivor Esther Nisenthal Krinitz.  The panels illustrate her memories of her early life in Europe and her escape from the Holocaust as a young girl.

Art and Remembrance has created a program called HeART and Story which guides recent immigrants to create their own story cloths about their journeys.  Their work is also on display. 

You can see the lovely Esther Krinitz panels in a book, Memories of Survival, and a video Through the Eye of the Needle (which you can also purchase).

September 14, 2016

Seminole Patchwork


Here is my good friend Julia of Basya Berkman Vintage.  She usually is behind the camera photographing her models, but this time, I took the camera and photographed her in this great Seminole skirt.   As an anthropology major way back when who long ago became a quilter and then much more recently took on vintage clothing, mending this skirt was a real treat!

This is a patchwork style created and stitched by the Seminole Indians of Florida.  After the sewing machine and cotton fabrics were introduced to the Seminoles in the late 1800s, they developed their own patchwork technique by the 1920s.

The technique is to first stitch long, parallel stripes of colorful solid cottons.  These strips are then cut vertically across the stripes, either perpendicularly or diagonally.  Then the little bits are offset or flipped, stitched back together, and then finished with edge strips.  It didn't happen on this skirt, but sometimes pieces from several base strips would be combined into a more complex design.

Here are some shots of the reverse, so you can be amazed by all the tiny bits of fabric.  This is a technique that's really only possible with a sewing machine and with this clever kind of mass production.  Can you imagine cutting and stitching and knotting off each piece individually by hand?!

On top of all that patchwork precision, there are these amazing little pleats at the top of the skirt where it is attached to the waistband.

This little doll (she's just 4" tall) shows the whole traditional Seminole outfit.  Along with the patchworked skirt (though she's too tiny to have actual patchwork), there would be a short cape, beaded necklaces, and a stand-up hair-do.  The hair was styled over rolls and boards, the bigger the better it seems.  The long skirts and little capes were inspired by Victorian styles.  There are also patchworked shirts and traditional short skirts for the men.

The doll's body is made of palm fiber.  This one is nicely labeled.  She's likely a souvenir of someone's long ago vacation to southern Florida.  The colors of her outfit look to be 1940s.  I found her at an estate sale quite a few years ago.

The Seminoles have a long history of persecution.  In fact, there wouldn't be a Seminole people if it were not for decades and decades and decades of persecution.  Members of the Creek and other tribes in what would become the southeastern US fled into Florida as European settlers arrived, grabbing land and spreading new diseases.  They joined with the local Florida peoples and with escaped slaves and settled in the swamps that the Europeans didn't want.  After many early wars and skirmishes, their rebelliousness and the harboring of escaped slaves became a worry for the newly formed US.   In the early 1800s many of the people were marched westward on the infamous Cherokee Trail of Tears, a forced resettlement plan in which many, many people died.  History has it that a mere 300 people were able to hide deeper in the swamps and survive.  Their incredible tenacity amidst the whole uprooting and mixing process lead to a new people and a new culture.  In fact, the word "Seminole" comes from the Spanish and then Muskogee word for "wild ones."

September 8, 2016

Great-Great-Grandma and Her Great-Great-Grandson

Well, I have another story to tell about quilts and needlework in my friend Debbie's family.  Debbie's Grandma loved to sew and craft, and made so many useful and pretty things for her family.  These have become much treasured heirlooms.

Last weekend, at our annual day at the Fox Valley Folk Festival (always a wonderful event!), and I got to meet the newest addition to the family, Debbie's first grandbaby.  Debbie had brought along the quilt her Grandma had made in the 1980s for her daughter Emmie was she was a little girl.  And now, here is baby Will, the first member of the next generation, in his jaunty little hat, sitting on his great-great-grandma's loving needlework.  How cool is that!

The quilt is a crazy quilt, made entirely of scraps from the clothing Grandma made for herself and her husband.  There are a lot of double knits - it's very heavy!


The fun thing is that the quilt has a zipper and snaps and could be folded in half to become a sleeping bag for Emmie.  It's backed with flannel, so makes a soft, cozy place to sleep.  It was used often!

Debbie's Grandma first showed up on my blog because I made doll clothes as her proxy, when she was 106 years old and her eyesight was gone.  Grandma wished for her great-granddaughter Emmie to inherit this doll and her clothes as a someday gift for a someday possible great-great-grandaughter.

The doll is a vintage Madame Alexander doll that Grandma purchased when Debbie was a little girl, but never got around to dressing.  I followed Grandma's list to make her a properly complete wardrobe and used vintage fabrics for all pieces. 

In the meantime, great-great-grandson Will came along last January, the son of Debbie's son Nathan.  He appeared on my blog with the Hugs and Kisses crib quilt I made for him. 

I love being involved in all the needlework history of this family of longtime friends, and all the great stories that go along with the fabrics.