September 30, 2014

Narrative Portraits

My Grandma, Marion Straus, c. 1899-1900
My previous post introduced you to a vintage collector I've just met via blogging, and some lovely old French fabrics.  Here's an intro to another friend of mine.  

My friend Barbara Novak has a really interesting and unusual business.  She makes audio recordings of elders speaking about their lives and experiences so that they can review and interpret their lives, and so that families can keep and share family tales and memories.  She's just recently been starting up a second theme - stories about birthing babies.  Barb has loads of experience as an oral historian and interviewer, and is able to gently draw out lots of information and thoughtful insights.  I love the name she's given her business.

When people ask me about repairing family heirloom quilts, this paragraph is always part of my reply:

"I always recommend to people with family quilts to write down the history of the quilt and quiltmaker - the maker's name, where she was living and what her life was like at the time she made the quilt, how it came to you, etc.  All this information makes it much more special as a family heirloom, and also can be really great if a local historical society is interested in local quilts.  You can keep the information, maybe with a photo of the quilt attached, with your other important papers."

A stellar example is a snowflake quilt that I repaired.  There is detailed documentation of its creation in the diaries of the quiltmaker.  Priceless!

Barb's oral history business takes that process one step further. You can learn more about Barb and her process on her website and her facebook page.

I have a little, old cassette tape of my uncle telling all he remembered of family genealogy and some stories, too.  It's a real treasure!  I wish I had recorded my mom telling her memories, too.  She was really good about labeling all the family photos we have, but she didn't write down the stories.  I've since wondered why she didn't do that as well, because she loved to write.  And I was too young to be quite aware enough to urge her to do so.  Now I need to fill in that gap with the stories I remember hearing as a child.

My parents, Adelaide Flexner and Henry Wasserman, on their wedding day, August 30, 1946
Here are two stories I remember her relating, on the theme of names.

When one of my mom's uncles, David Straus, enlisted in the army, he had a bit of a problem.  He'd filled out all the forms, but they were returned to him for being incomplete.  He hadn't filled in the "middle name" space.  Well, the thing was, he didn't have a middle name.  The army didn't care about that though; all spaces had to be filled in.  So he gave himself a middle name on the spot.  Copperfield!  David Copperfield Straus.  He became a lawyer, and used the middle initial on his letterhead for the rest of his life.

Another of her uncles, one of David's brothers, was given the name Samuel Straus.  All through childhood, he really hated the name Samuel; he didn't like saying "mule" in his name.  So when he was old enough, he changed his name to Noel.  He became famous as the long-time music critic of the New York Times, and I have seen him quoted in a symphony program as recently as 10 years ago.  That was really cool.

This photo was taken c. 1920.  My Mom is sitting on David C. Straus's lap.  His father - my mother's grandfather, Simeon, sits on the left.  David's sister, my Grandma Marion, is standing on the left.  Then their brother Ira and his wife Veronica, and their sister Edna.  The only sibling missing is Noel, so I'm assuming he took the photo.

Family stories are wonderfully fun!  And sharing them gives us a personalized view of history beyond the big dates and names in the history books.  This is where history is really lived, and I feel it's very valuable to document our heritage as much as possible.

September 25, 2014

Vintage French Fabrics

A short while ago, I came across a really nice blog that I'd like to share with you.  Actually, to be more precise, this blogger came across my blog and wrote to me with a question.  I, of course, visited her blog as I was answering her, and was really excited by her posts.

The blog is called "Treasures From A French Attic".

Joan lives in South Yorkshire, England, and has a deep love for and collects and sells French antiques, including some wonderful fabrics.  Her blog is a lovely introduction to textiles and antiques that are, needless to say, very, very unlikely to come to my studio.  Her photos are very well done and her love for these things shines out in her writing.  There's a lot of good historical info in Joan's descriptions.

Here are some examples:

Toile de Nantes, roller printed in madder on cotton, c. 1810, showing four scenes from Joseph's life, an especially finely detailed print.  In this scene he is being sold into slavery by his brothers.  I have seen a few toile quilts in museums in this country, but not many.

Tapestry fragment, 18th Century, Aubusson tapestry.  Joan notes that Aubusson was the first center for tapestry weaving, dating back to the fifteenth century. 

An artifact related to the tapestry industry, a tapestry "cartoon".  These designs were (still are, in tapestry weaving today) mounted behind the looms and served as guides to the weavers for their designs.  Joan tells that the painters were sometimes well-known artists, sometimes anonymous.  This is a design for a chair back.

Tassels, early 19th c.  I learned a new word:  passementerie.  Joan's definition:  ornamental trimming of fringes, tassels, bobble and flat trim and used on drapes, cushions, furniture and clothing  Joan says: Before the modern age most trimmings were of natural materials and those made in France were the best in the world, justifiably world renowned both for variety and excellence of execution.  

Joan's collecting tastes are wide-ranging.  She has a post on ecclesiastical antiques, which includes this gorgeous angel.

She collects everyday objects of all sorts:

19th c. straw hats, which she likens to those seen on farmers painted by Van Gogh and others.

Here are a couple of groupings, including more practical household linens, a child's workbasket dating to the 1930s-50s and a wooden coat hook.

Joan also has a Etsy shop where she sells some of her wonderful finds.  Her blog is certainly a feast for the eyes and imagination.  I'm so glad she wrote to me!

September 20, 2014

Shipping Quilts

Over the last couple of months, I've had quilts arrive from customers in some pretty badly battered boxes.  So I decided to write some guidelines for packing for safe shipping.

Here's one battered box.  It's quite crumpled and almost bashed in.  Also, one digit was missing from my house number on the address label.

Here's the box that really scared me and prompted me to write this post.  This quilt came so very close to being lost or damaged!  One side was badly ripped and one edge (front left in the photo below) was totally unsealed and open.  Thankfully, everyone who handled this along the way was careful enough to keep the quilt from falling out and getting lost.

In addition, the plastic bag that held the quilt was not sealed.  Had the open box encountered any precipitation, the quilt could have easily gotten wet.  Had this happened at the beginning of its journey, it could have been starting to mildew by the time it got to my house.

Here are some better ways to pack and hopefully avoid these problems.

1. Enclose the quilt in plastic for protection in case of box damage.  Make sure the bag is closed and sealed.

(And just to be very clear, while plastic bags are necessary for shipping and other kinds of transport, they should not be used for full time storage.  The plastic can catch condensed moisture from humid air, and cause mildew damage.)

2. Include (outside the plastic bag) a piece of paper with sender's and recipient's names and addresses.

3. When choosing a box, use a new or undamaged box.

4. Choose a box that closely fits the quilt.  If there is very much empty space, as you see here, fill the extra space with packing peanuts, crumpled paper, or the like.  It's also possible to cut a box down to proper size - takes time and lots of tape, but possible.

I'm guessing that the damage to both the boxes pictured here was probably caused by being under heavier boxes without having enough inside the box to support the weight.

5. Fully tape all seams and edges.  This ensures that the box stays closed, and adds to weatherproofing.  Use lots of tape, including several inches to securely grab over the edges and around the corners, unlike the minimal taping in the photo below.

6. For even sturdier protection, put the boxed quilt inside another slightly larger box.  Fill the excess space with packing material.  Securely tape both boxes.

7. If you don't want to do all this yourself, shippers will do the packing for you (for a fee, of course).

8. Proofread the address.  Or if you got the address in a email, copy it out and machine print the label to avoid transcription errors.

9. Re: insurance.  I have been told, by UPS, that buying shipping insurance for a box that you have packed only covers the case of a lost box.  If you want coverage for damage during shipping, you need to have them do the packing.

September 15, 2014

Ice Skating Costume

This friendship goes way back, 14 years and counting.  My son met Chris Davis in a gymnastics class when they were 6 or so, and his mom and I struck up a great friendship sitting on the benches outside class each week.

Chris has gotten seriously into competition level ice dance.  At this point, I consider him another son, so when they come to me for costume help, I am right there!

This was a last-minute job. (I'm beginning to think that all costume jobs are last-minute jobs, actually...)  About a week and a half before a competition, the coach called for some new costuming.  So good ol' Skater Mom went shopping and found a great vest.  It fit perfectly, except for being a bit too short, so that his shirt peeked out a bit at the back waist when he moved around.

So I came up with the idea to get a woven ribbon or braid of some sort to lengthen it.  The braid also adds the required flash that is part of any proper ice skating outfit.  Chris's mom and I picked it out.  I'm totally a "less is more" person, so buying a gold trim and then doubling it is not my usual style!

In the meantime, the coach decided that he needed a different shirt too, something with puffy, floaty sleeves.  Chris and his coach found a shirt with huge sleeves and brought it to me as well.

So - the fitting.  Turns out that the shirt was far, far away from fitting.  It's probably a XL or maybe even bigger (no tag, can't be sure).  For example, it looked almost like the shirt had drop shoulder seams, poet shirt like, but really it's that the shoulders were miles too wide.  Things like that.  Anyway, I think drop seam shoulders would look wrong coming out of this very fitted, tuxedo style vest.

The solution:  I shortened the shirt by 4+" (it hung down way below crotch level and would've bunched terribly inside the skating stretch pants).  I tucked up the shoulder seams 2 1/2" on each side so they actually sit on his shoulders.  I ran four 1"+ deep tucks from armpit level to hem front and back, so the shirt fits inside the vest and doesn't try to poof out of the armholes.  Really!

Oh, and the ruffle on the front is put on crooked.  And the neckline is way too large.  These things were sort of fixed with hooks and snaps.  Still not really right, but the ruffle hides a lot of sins.  Hopefully.

All this took me a whole day, including the shopping and fitting time.  It was time well spent - my skater "son" spent the weekend winning one dance after another!  Way to go, Chris!!

September 11, 2014

Embroidery Mistresspiece part 3

Here's how I replaced and re-embroidered a couple of patches on this wonderful crazy quilt.

Usually, I patch just up to the embroidery, so the original stitches are maintained.  But there were a couple of patches where the embroidery covered nearly the whole fabric, so the owner and I decided that I should replace both.

The worn patch.
This photo became my reference for reproducing the embroidery.

Tracing both fabric shape and embroidery placement.

New red fabric cut out.

Ladder stitching to appliqué the patch.

Completed patch.

Tracing paper laid on top, pins mark spacing for embroidery.


Completed patch.

Before and after photos of another re-embroidered patch.

The two previous posts have photos of embroidery and fabrics, and the wonderful story of this quilt.

September 10, 2014

Embroidery Mistresspiece part 2

Here is a wonderful story from the owner of this wonderful, mistresspiece crazy quilt:

"When I was a teenager I mowed a lawn for a very nice elderly lady in St. Petersburg Florida. She had a very large Spanish home that had been built in the 1920’s and was beautifully maintained. In the summers she had me do various things around the house and always brought me inside to talk to me before I left to go home. At the age of 78 she was courted by a gentleman who had owned the first Ford dealership in Philadelphia and was very wealthy, he swept her off her feet and they were married and moved to his home in Palm Springs Florida. Before she left she told me she had something special for me and gave me the quilt.

Well a 17 year old boy doesn’t think a quilt is special, maybe if it had been a 17 year old girl, but I was nice and thanked her for everything, and took the quilt home and complained to my grandmother who told me I was foolish and said to me “I will put this away for a time when you put away your childish ways.”

I forgot about the quilt until my Grandmother died and at the reading of the will it was given back to me, 20 years later. I took it home and showed my wife who fell in love with it and it has been a special part of my home and a reminder of my grandmother’s wisdom ever since."

I don't know which I love more - the quilt or the story.

Detail photos of the embroidery and fabrics are in the previous post.  The following post has photos of some of the repair work in progress.

September 9, 2014

Embroidery Mistresspiece part 1

This quilt is a full-out embodiment of the height of the crazy quilt style.  The embroidery is off the charts for precision and creativity.  

Here are some pieces where the maker toyed with and built upon the designs on the fabrics:

Wagon wheel spokes embroidered over the circles on a line and circle brocade. 

Embroidery added to cut velvet stripes.

Woven textured stripes became a garden fence or edging, 
when a row of embroidered flowers was added. 

Here is some amazing pictorial embroidery:

There is boundless creativity and joy all over this quilt - no space is left undecorated, color play is everywhere:

Here are some unusual and beautiful fabrics:


Cut velvets

Woven texture (the yellow and black stripes are one piece of fabric)

 And finally, here is gorgeous personalization:

In the center of the quilt.  
Maybe the maker was a fan of Elizabeth I.

Both embroidered and painted violets appear quite a few times, all over the quilt.
You can see some of them in the above photos.
Maybe E.R. are her initials and violets her favorite flower,
but I like to believe that this tiny and beautiful piece is the name of the quiltmaker.

Violette was an amazing needlewoman!

The owner's story of how he came to own the quilt, and some photos of repairs in progress follow in the next two posts.