December 30, 2016

Favorite Quotes #14 - Martha Graham

Inspiration for the New Year of living and creating:

Martha Graham gave this advice to Agnes de Mille shortly after she choreographed Oklahoma! in 1943.  The story is that de Mille was curious as to why this work had captured the critics' attention even though she thought much of her other work was much more complete and valuable.

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”

Here's to all of you and your very own vitality, the light of your life!

Signature on a Victorian crazy quilt

December 24, 2016


This is Celestina.  She was born at my house, as a special treat for my friend Debbie's birthday.  I'm really happy with her!  She is inspired by the Waldorf-style creations at The Puppenstube, a place Debbie loves very much.  Debbie is really fond of blue and white patterns, hence the clothes and jewel that Celestina picked out.  She has fuzzy grey hair, just like I do. 

She now lives at Debbie's house, with lovely friends, stones, art, and other magical items.  I visited her there today.  She asked that I send her photo out along with my wishes to you all for a sparkly and loving holiday, whichever of the winter festivals of lights is the one that you love to celebrate.

Thanks to all of you that read my blog and best wishes to all in the coming year and thereafter!


December 20, 2016

Heirloom Quilt with Family Photos and Some Flashy Peacocks

One of my favorite parts of the quilt repair biz is when someone brings a family heirloom quilt and shares the story and occasionally even photos of the quiltmaker.  More often, people tell me sadly that none of their offspring care very much about "old things" or the family history.  But here's a quilt brought to me by a young woman who is very, very much in love with the family story.  Warms my heart!

Here is her story of the quilt and the quilter. 

Attached are photos of my Manx great-grandma. The first one is from just before she left the Isle of Man, she is in her early 20’s. The second photo was from the early 60’s.


Eleanor Jane Cleator was born in the Isle of Man on August 11, 1891. She was known by family and friends as Janie.

She migrated to the United Sates in 1915. Upon arriving she married her sweetheart from the Isle of Man. They settled in Kansas.

She was a woman of her times. Doing all a housewife and mother did. She raised 2 children, tended the family vegetable garden, raised chickens, tended house, cooked everything from scratch and more.

When the cooking and cleaning were done there was no rest for her. She spent her evenings quilting, knitting, sewing, doing embroidery and crocheting. Everything was practical. Quilts were made from old worn out clothing. Sweaters, hats, mittens and such were not bought but knitted. And the home was decorated with furniture made by her husband and decorated with embroidered fabric and crochet doilies and tablecloths made by Janie.

I am not sure where she learned her crafts. Her mother died when she was 8 and a few years later she had a step mother. So perhaps it was mainly the stepmother that taught her and, of course, necessity. Janie’s only daughter and my grandmother only learned to knit, but never with the skill that her mother had.

I never got to met her. She died when I was one. I currently own many items made by her including a quilt, 2 button down sweaters, 3 embroidered and  framed images of flowers, some crocheted items, and a stool that was made by my great-grandfather with an embroidered cover made by Janie.

And about the quilt itself:

I found the name of the pattern, Pointed Tile, in Brackman's Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns.  It's kind of fun, because it's not an actual block.  It's an overall pattern made up of squares and what might be called house-shaped pieces. 

The fabrics are a really nice collection of 1950s and 1960s prints.  I'll start with my favorite - these great peacocks and roses on a flashy magenta background.

In the rest of these photos, you'll see such 1950s color combinations as salmon pink-olive green-grey and the prints with repeating square medallions which I always call men's pajama prints.

Big thanks to this lovely young woman for taking the time to send the family story and sweet photos of her great-grandma and letting me share it all with you!

Here's another quilt I repaired, a c.1890 crib quilt, with the story and family photos supplied by the quilt's current owner.

December 13, 2016

Log Cabin Magnified

This quilt is one of a collection of family heirloom quilts that I've been repairing. 

Years ago, I worked with the Illinois quilt documentation days, one of the projects that produced so many statewide data bases and books.  I remember some talk about quilts with extra large blocks like this being regional styles in some areas.

The quilt was made in Louisiana.  I'm dating it to the 1950s.  These photos show colors and prints that are really indicative of that decade.

To paraphrase Dorothy in Oz - Turquoise, salmon, and grey!  Oh, my!

December 7, 2016

Whirling Hexagons

Here's a pattern I'd never seen before having this quilt come in for repairs.  And green is my favorite color.  So I had a good time working on it!

Barbara Brackman's book shows it with two names - Whirling Hexagons and Texas Trellis. The block has a really simple geometry that makes a vibrant overall pattern.  It might work well as a scrap quilt, too.

This quilt is one of several family heirlooms that I've been repairing.  The quilts were made in Louisiana, and the family is now having me mend as many as possible after a long time in storage.  This one needed a new binding, a couple of patches (for which fabric from one of my husband's vintage shirts was a perfect match), and quite a few open seams closed.  I imagine the quilt was made in the 1960s or so. 

This quilter had an interesting solution to the ever-curious question of how to finish off the uneven edges of a hexagon quilt.  The two most jagged of the uneven sides were appliqued onto border strips.  The binding along the other two sides was finished with a scalloped inner edge which fills in the waviness between the hexagons (see the top photo). 

The original binding was the turquoise back fabric brought around to the front of the quilt. Here's a "before" picture of the torn edge.

December 1, 2016

Edwardian Bodice, Embroidery and Fine Detailing

My friend Julia, proprietress of Basya Berkman Vintage Fashion, comes across some really marvelous old pieces during her search for marvelous old clothing.  This one is a super marvelous, old, old piece that is too delicate and troubled to be mended and worn.  It will be lovely as a decorative piece, just to marvel over.  And I also get to share it here with you.

It is a silk Victorian era shirtwaist, to be worn with a skirt.  There is a cream-colored blouse attached inside the black shirtwaist with an embroidered panel tucked inside the lower half of the opening.  Each layer closes with its own set of hooks and eyes. 

The center edges of the black silk are decorated with a double silk trim with delicate edge stitching, attached with a faggoted seam.

Unfortunately, the trim is in pretty bad shape in quite a few places.

The cuffs have more of the embroidery and trim, plus lovely thread-covered buttons.

The sleeves and yokes are cut in one piece.  The shirtwaist is shaped by pleated midriff panels.  The seam between the two sections is outlined with a small covered cording.

Made in Paris!  How fun!

I found a picture of dresses for a garden party, printed in 1900.  At the bottom is the name of this dress shop.  I also found a receipt for a sale at the shop in 1906.  (These are both items for sale, so the links may not stay active for very long.)

This is the lovely embroidered center panel.  (I learned more about the history and origin of the embroidery from one of my followers, and wrote a second post.)  The buttons are clear, with tiny pink flowers embedded inside.

I remain convinced that my favorite women's fashions come from the Edwardian era!

November 11, 2016

A Tale of Two Eagles

Two American eagle quilts, in honor of Veterans Day.

Several years ago, I was honored to be asked to conserve a spectacular eagle quilt.  It is embroidered prominently with the date and location - 1853 and Phelps, at town in upstate New York.  Beyond that, it is totally gorgeous, and in pretty good condition.

I was asked to do the work on this quilt by Mark Wilcox of Summer Antiques in Lake Placid, NY.

He auctioned the quilt at Sotheby's.  The auction catalog has a full description and larger photo.  My blog has photos of the conservation work I did on the quilt.  It is still one of the most important and fun adventures I've ever had in the quilt repair biz.

Well, then a week or so ago, I came across an auction listing at Freeman's for an incredibly similar quilt!  The auction will take place next week.
Photo: Freeman's
The date on this one is 1845.  The descriptive materials say that the name of the quiltmaker is known for this quilt, as it has been handed down in the family.  She was married in 1811, and died in New York state.  She could quite reasonably have been living somewhere in New York at the end of her life when the quilt was made.

I’m wondering whether or not the two quilts were made by the same person.  The borders and the halo over the eagle’s head are very different stylistically.  The designs on the 1845 quilt are quite angular by comparison, and more formal and symmetrical.  I wonder if this was a design that appeared on some other item that quiltmakers were drawn to copy and interpret on their quilts.  I poked around a bit, but haven't found anything yet.

If it was the same person, she was certainly having loads of fun coming up with different ideas!

My challenge to you all - look for a design source for this grand old bird.

Another amazing coincidence is that there is one and only one previous exhibit on the quilt's "resumé", and that was right here in my home town!  And no, I didn't know about it.  Wish I had!

November 2, 2016

Sleuthing Around a Quilt - Part 2 Fabrics

What a lively quilt this is!  A full description is in the previous post.  Here are some more photos of the fun fabrics in the quilt.

1940s, the decade I believe the quilt top was begun.

These stylized flowers in purple and blue seem very 1950s or 60s to me.

The fabric in the center of this block couldn't be more 1950s if it tried!  And I think the floral in the triangles dates to the 1950s, maybe 60s.  I'm pretty sure this whole little block was a patch.  The way the edges lie certainly helps me believe that.  Plus it's not quilted!

I want to place the triangles in the 40s or 50s, and the square in the 60s or even 70s, on the basis of the colors and design styles.

The print in the right hand square is quite 1940s. 
That magenta plaid in the triangles on the left is not!

The grey and soft brown, watercolor style leaf print seems very 60s to me.

I see these bright yellow and kelly green calicos in the 70s.

And here are a few more fabrics, just because they're fun.

Such a cute print, right?

I was really happy to see this print because I used to own pieces of it, one in blue and one in red.  I think I must've used them all up, because I can't find any scraps to photograph.

This pink plaid appears in several squares on the quilt, and every time, the squares are pieced of smaller pieces.  This quilt is definitely about using up scraps.

And finally,
a gorgeous umbrella conversation print.

I welcome any comments or ideas you may have on fabric dates and the construction and repair history of this quilt.  Please write in! 

October 31, 2016

Sleuthing Around a Quilt - Part 1 The Date and Story

I always love to see a quilt with vintage repairs.  Well, I've maybe coined a new term!  What I mean is that the quilt has been patched in the past by other folks who cared for it.  Vintage repairs speak volumes about how much history and love and meaning quilts can carry.

So here's an example of a cheerful quilt with vintage repairs that just visited my studio.

Most of the missing and disintegrating bits on this quilt seem to be rayon or silk.  The prints on those remaining bits and the remaining intact fabrics are mostly geometric, Art Deco style. There are also quite a few cotton 1940s style prints. 

But there are also prints that are clearly from several other, more recent decades.  At first, I was thinking the quilt had been made with a "deep scrapbag", that lovely term for a pile of fabric gleaned over several decades of home sewing.  But as I kept sleuthing, I kept finding anomalies and oddities.

My first clue to the vintage repairs, and a rather loud one indeed, was this square:

The black/grey stripe is one of the disintegrating rayons.  The red pin dot is probably 1970s or even 80s - those pin dots were popular in every color under the sun during those decades.  I'm not sure exactly when they first hit the market.  Also, the pin dot is clearly an addition on top of the existing patchwork.

So then, I went back and really investigated some of the other pieces from the decades since the 40s.  Bingo!  Some are pretty clearly patches, both because of the fabric styles and colors and because of the way the fabric lies on the quilt.  Some are perhaps entirely new little blocks.  The sleuthing is pretty difficult because the repairs were done so well!

Another bit of the history of this quilt is that the batting is polyester and the backing is a cotton-poly sheet - both of which point to a story about an older top that was finally quilted a few decades after the top had been started.  There's every chance that the repairs were made at this time, and maybe some entire blocks added - and with more than one decade represented in all those steps.


Barbara Brackman's pattern reference book gives quite a few names for this simple block:
Triangle Design
Broken Sash
Dutch Tile
Friendship Album Quilt
Diamond in the Square

My next post has more detail photos of the fun fabric history displayed in this quilt.   I welcome any comments or ideas you may have on fabric dates and the construction and repair history of this quilt.  Please write in! 

The moral of this story:

When you've repaired a quilt, write up a description of what you've done, date the page, add a photo of the quilt and as many detail shots as you'd like, and include swatches of the fabrics you used to patch.  Sleuthing can be fun, but having great documentation will be a real treat for any future historians who meet your quilt!

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."