March 20, 2017

Things Are Looking Up

After a long dry spell due to a broken foot, I am finally able to stand and walk long enough to get back into my sewing room and back to playing with fabric!  Phew!!!

It's amazing to feel the creative flow again.  And let me tell ya, it's whoosing after being pent up for so long!

The in-progress quilt in the Something From Nothing series got finished, thanks to my friend Julie who came and helped me with the basting.  It's 10" wide and 8' (yes, feet) long!  It will hang vertically.  The orange polka dot fabric is an old sheet as foundation fabric, and is not part of the finished effect. 
Working title:  Right Side / Wrong Side

Now, three more are now in various stages of planning. 
Working titles:  
left - Faded Photograph
center -Petals
right - Cathedral

I've got about four or five more in my mind's eye.  I am determined to finish the series in not too much longer!  You can read about the process in some previous posts, and see all but the four most recently finished quilts on my blog


March 14, 2017

Card Trick Quilt

This quilt is about 25 years old.  It was purchased on a Pennsylvania Amish farm.  I recently repaired a couple of tears it had acquired over the years. 

The quilt is based on a block called Card Trick.  These rows use the basic block.

The block also has been enlarged to medium and large sizes, and constructed with Log Cabin style strips, a creative way to vary a traditional patchwork block.

The white background areas are filled with the feather quilting that is so beloved by Amish quilters, which also include hearts around the center medallion.


I am always fond of the purple and green color combination, and the addition of blues and soft reds is really successful.  The result is a lovely contemporary use of a traditional block!

March 9, 2017

Sweet Vintage

There’s nothing better than a surprise gift and then when it’s vintage and then when it’s about sewing and then when it has a real vintage button attached. 

Thanks, Hat Lady Mary!   Doesn't this just define the word "adorable"?!

Mary Roback writes a wonderful blog with the delightful name FrouFrou 4 YouYou that is a huge compendium of hat history, especially Chicago hat history.  Tons and tons of info!!  You will be amazed, I assure you.  She also sells on Etsy, hats, supplies, and the occasional trinket.  And finally, you can follow her on Instagram #maryroback.

March 3, 2017

Feedsack Fabric Bonanza

What a gift!

Not long ago I was the happy recipient of a cardboard box labeled "old fabric."  
The story:

I belong to the North Suburban Needlearts Guild.  It's a really inspiring group of fiber artists - first because the guild explores every kind of fiber and needlework you can imagine, and second because of the dedicated, super productive, and amazingly talented members.

The guild is often given fabrics and yarns and decades old needlework magazines, and on and on.  The lovely ladies whose job it is to sort and bring things to the meetings set aside this box for me! They had never opened it, so it was a total mystery.

Lo and behold, what met my eyes was a huge stack of feedsack fabrics.  And more feedsack fabrics.  Many of them are still full feedsacks.  In amongst them were a few partially constructed pieces of clothing.  And there were other cool fabrics from other decades, too.  Here come the photos:

(Please excuse the wrinkles.  I generally don't iron until I am ready to use fabric, since it will need to be ironed at that point anyway.  And this is even more important for vintage fabrics that are drier and more prone to scorching if over ironed.)


And more feedsacks.

The purple one up at the top of this post is my favorite.  Which do you like best?

A few of the feedsack pieces were faded.  Lots of folks would probably feel sad about this, but for me, who's always looking to match the fabrics in faded old quilts, it's a real godsend.  Golly, this blue one even has pieces faded in two different ways!


And here's my wire lady, named Edna after my artistic and spiritual great-aunt, modeling the clothes.

The dress.  It has quite a few tears.

The skirt.  It's a gored skirt, lots of bias.  It's made of one of the faded fabrics I showed earlier, so I wonder if it had been finished, worn and washed, and then partly taken apart.  Maybe it had been a dress and the bodice removed.  I pinned some tucks around the waist so it would stay on Edna.  It either had been a gathered skirt or a wrap-around.  I think gathered is much more likely for a 1940s item.  And then again, it's long for a 40s who knows?

The blouse.  I love this pattern with the fun peplum styling!

Here's the inside so you can see the construction a bit better.  The first photo shows the front opening on the left and the center back on the right, armhole at the top.  The second photo shows one of the sections opened flat so you can see the shape of it that creates the peplum.

Next.  We move on to another decade.  Here are several border print fabrics.  I'm guessing they are 1950s or 60s, but I haven't done any research into that as of yet.

Close-up of the Old Mother Hubbard print, rebus style!

Close-up of the hoedown fabric.

And finally, some fun conversation prints that were in the mix.  The one on the left is a feedsack scrap.

The red one there has probably the wackiest mushrooms ever put on fabric!  If you enlarge the photo, you'll see that the flowers on the left are in delicate glass vases, a really pleasant print.

I loved placing these two together.  On the right, true toile style illustrations, and on the left a 20th century treatment of the same themes.

What a joy this gift has been!!

(Links to articles on the history of feedsack fabrics can be found in the previous post.)

March 2, 2017

I Always Love a Quilt with a Great Story

Well, I'm of a certain age, which means I'm still totally enchanted and amazed by the ease and extent of all these means of electronic communication.  Here's one of my best experiences so far.

Ruby wrote to me via my blog, and in addition to the question she was asking, mentioned an antique quilt she had restored and finished that had a great story.  And I answered with the title of this post!

Ruby answered with what truly is a great story.

(Reprinted with permission from “A Family History Quilt” by Ruby L. Marcotte, 2011.  Voices, The Journal of New York Folklore, Volume 37, 1-2, pages 36 – 40.  Copyright 2011 by New York Folklore Society.)

A Family History Quilt
by Ruby L. Marcotte

I was raised in a small community called West Mountain, in the southern Adirondacks of New York. Family and friends all lived near one another, giving me a great out-of-the-way place to grow up. I am a third-generation quilter and fourth-generation seamstress. My grandmother, Viola White LaPier, taught me at a very early age how to make crazy quilts. I remember at age five or six going into my uncles’ lumber camp. While she cooked meals for the lumbermen, I would sit next to the wood stove stringing quilt triangles that she had cut out of old, worn wool pants. My great-grandmother, Fanny Newton White, made the family’s clothing by hand, without the aid of a modern-day pattern. She could cut out and construct a dress just by looking at another one. I’m fortunate to have inherited some of those skills.

Noted folklorists George and the late Vaughn Ward started me on the road to becoming a community scholar. I was privileged to take part in many of Vaughn’s workshops and the Summer Field School for Community Scholars sponsored by the New York Folklore Society and Empire State College. Participating in several of Black Crow Network’s Adirondack Women events, I learned how to listen, interview, and present to the public the outstanding lives of local tradition bearers. Being a tradition bearer myself gave me a unique perspective into what was needed to pique the interest of the public.

Because of my background and quilting experience, I was commissioned by William Powell Chamberlin and his wife Dorie to restore and finish an antique quilt top. The quilt top was made by Bill’s great-grandmother, Susan Dunn Powell, in Mercer County, Kentucky. Bill recalls seeing the quilt in the bottom drawer of an old Queen Anne–style cherry desk that was also a family heirloom. It was wrapped in tissue paper, folded, and stored in a flat cardboard box. A note inside the box with the quilt top read, “Made by Susan Dunn Powell, around 1860.” The quilt top became Bill’s when his mother died in 1985.

The quilt top, sewn in a tumbling block pattern, measured 70 inches by 70 inches. It was made of rich black silk, deep-colored brocades, and dark taffetas. Each block was cut by hand and hand-stitched with silk thread at 15–17 stitches per inch, using a method known as English paper piecing.

To restore this quilt top I would need to replace approximately eighty blocks with vintage material. Different types of fabrics fade and wear differently over time, making it necessary to find fabric from the Civil War era. The process would require removing worn blocks and basting in new ones, using a stabilizer on the back of each piece, and hand-sewing them into place.

When I started removing the old blocks, I found the construction I had expected. Most antique quilts are stabilized with paper pieces, cut to shape and hand-sewn into the blocks to keep them from distorting when assembled. Generally, the pieces are cut from discarded paper—whatever a quilter might have at hand. I put aside the snippets of paper and replaced them with a new nonwoven stabilizer. But it wasn’t long before I noticed that old letters, envelopes with three-cent postage, and printed bank statements dating to the 1800s had been used as backing for the blocks. As I restored this particular quilt and read the letters, I began to feel that I was piecing together another type of quilt: a family history quilt. Various names, dates, and stories started coming together from the old quilt. The more I read, the more I learned about Mrs. Rice, John Osborn, the Cleveland Railroad, cod fishing, and Andrew and Joe, to name a few.

Eventually the time came for me to start scouting around to find period fabric, similar in type and color to the fabric in the Dunn Powell quilt. Sometimes it takes months of searching antique shops, flea markets, and auctions to find matching fabrics, but using like materials in the restoration process is vital to the authenticity of the quilt. On one of my trips into the Adirondacks, I stopped at Clen’s Collectables and Antiques in Riparius to look for vintage fabric. What I found was absolutely astounding, particularly as this was the first place I checked. I found a quilt top that someone had started, but never finished. The pattern was the same—tumbling block—only the blocks were cut about a one-quarter inch larger than those I was already working with. The larger-sized blocks would allow me to disassemble, recut, and reuse them in the restored quilt. The fabric appeared to be from the same 1860s era.

I used the same process to take the newly acquired quilt top apart. As I ever-so-gently removed the first pieces of stabilizing paper, I noticed that—like the Dunn Powell quilt—the pieces were parts of a handwritten letter.  The ink color looked familiar, and so did the cursive. I took out a few more pieces of paper, and they also looked familiar. I had seen these letters before! I realized that the letter pieces I was reading were written in the same handwriting, with the same colored ink, as the pieces from the Dunn Powell quilt.

I reexamined the first set of papers, taking a much closer look. Not only did the penmanship and ink match, but the subject matter seemed to follow the same story line as Mrs. Powell’s quilt top. In both quilts, I found matching fabrics and stitching of the same style using silk thread. This was a rare find. The Dunn Powell quilt came from Kentucky, and the one I purchased in Riparius came from a woman in Syracuse, New York, who had gotten it in Missouri.

When I finally finished repairing the quilt, it looked as though it had never been taken apart. The fabrics matched in color and were from the right era. I shamelessly kept the quilt an extra month after completion, so I could do more research on the letters. Before returning it, I scanned several of the letter pieces. Using modern technology, I printed them on muslin and used them to make a star-patterned pillow for the Chamberlins’ enjoyment.

To authenticate my work, I contacted Dee Dadik, a certified appraiser of quilted textiles, in Columbus, Ohio, and asked her to look at photographs of the quilts and give me her opinion on whether they could possibly be made by the same person. Her response: “I don’t know of a way to ‘be certain’ they were made by the same person. All you can do is compare fabrics, read the papers in both tops and the pieces you have to see if any of the printing copy matches.”

After working with the Dunn Powell quilt, it is my conclusion that I was able to restore it with genuine, original quilt pieces made during the same time period and by the same quilter! I’m not sure what I enjoyed more: the restoration process or the research to uncover the story of Susan Dunn Powell’s quilt. The Chamberlins were very pleased with the restored quilt and interested to learn more about their family’s history.  

Now isn't that just the best quilt story!  And here's Ruby's bio, so you can get a glimpse of her deep interest in collecting local history.

A quilter for more then fifty years, Ruby L. Marcotte is a traditional artist descended from the Sacandaga Valley Abenakis, French Canadians, and eighteenth-century New England settlers. She was an early board member and assistant director of the Black Crow Network, a nonprofit educational and cultural organization devoted to supporting Adirondack tradition bearers and regional culture, and helped to produce a series of biannual celebrations of womens’ history, lore, and crafts in the Adirondacks. 

Here you can see both sides of the quilt, and the pillow Ruby mentions with reproductions of the paper pieces.

Big thanks to Ruby and to Laurie Longfield and Eileen Condon at the New York Folklore Society for allowing me to share the story here.

Ruby tells me that the Black Crow Network is currently inactive, and suggests the New York Folklore Society as an alternative source for local history programming.  Either way, I'm all for any organization that collects and promotes local history!

To see more paper piecing, you can visit this previous post about a set of English paper pieced blocks I was given.  Ruby's comment there is what began this whole conversation.

February 28, 2017

Family Feedsacks Quilt

This little quilt showcases a collection of feedsack fabrics, some purchased and some family heirloom fabrics.  These make such a cheerful quilt!

The printed feedsack idea blossomed during the Depression, and lasted through the fabric shortages during World War II and beyond.  Frugal living doesn't go out of style!  The Quilt History website has an overview of feedsack history.  Another article has loads of resources and some great vintage photos.  This article has some entertaining vintage ads from companies proud of selling their wares in such useful bags. 

These fabrics are guaranteed to bring a smile to even the grumpiest of days!

(See lots more feedsack fabrics in the following post!)

February 18, 2017

Crazy Quilt Embroideries

In 2009, the International Quilt Study Center & Museum hosted an exhibit called A Fairyland of Fabrics: The Victorian Crazy Quilt.  I just visited the Museum site and read through the great accompanying materials.  There is historical info plus photos of several of the beautiful crazies that were in the exhibit.

What caught my eye was a photo detail of one of the exhibit quilts:

International Quilt Study Center & Museum

I recognized the same two dancing children from a crazy quilt, dated 1883, that I repaired a while ago.  Here they are on that quilt:

Now isn't that fun!

One of the many embroidery traditions associated with crazy quilts are renditions of artwork by the popular author Kate Greenaway.  And here we see two different quilters who chose the same illustration and added their own detailing.

My post about the quilt I repaired shows several other Greenaway designs amongst other crazy quilt staples such as flowers, animals, and fans.  And, we get a more personal glimpse into this particular lady as she shows us several pieces from her favorite china set!