April 28, 2016

Favorite Quotes #12 - Essence and Limitation

"Objectivity is of the very essence of photography, its contribution and at the same time its

I found this quote in the description of the current retrospective of photographer Paul Strand's work at the V&A Museum in London, and love the connection he drew between essence and limitation.

I consider this to be a very magical photo.  I took it for the marvelous sunset sky.  Only later did I see that in that little triangle of light between the bushes at the center there is a man sitting on a park bench, also enjoying the view.  The objectivity of the camera lens created its own essence!

For me, I really enjoy the challenge of working within limits.  I know some artists don't do commission work because of the size or design limits that customers can require.  Not me.  And I always love a great collection of challenge quilts or a show requiring a clear theme - the amazing variation within limits is a real testament to creativity.

I love limits so much, that I've set myself a challenge and have been working on the series for several years now.  The series is called "Something From Nothing".  The series was inspired by a pile of decorator fabrics I inherited from a designer clearing out her studio. The bottom line of the challenge is that I can only use fabrics and supplies that I got for "nothing" or bought for pennies at estate sales.  I allow myself, if absolutely necessary, to buy batting or backs, but I use batting scraps in many of the pieces.

Sometimes, these limits get a bit tricky!  But that's my goal: persevering as a way to discover something new.

I had a very hard time finding a fabric for the background at the top of this quilt.  I auditioned several, and quite honestly, never found one I totally like.  I really wanted something else with a botanical print, but settled for a pale blue sky.  Which may be a better thing in the long run, if I can convince myself of it one day.

The dark flowers on this quilt all came from the set of colorways of the same print.  But it turned out that most flowers were cut by the edges of the samples.  The solution you see was to use those partial flowers to make a faux border on a whole piece of the pastel print.  Truly, I never would have thought to do that without the limitation of having so few full flowers.  And I love it - I've always had a fascination with ways to create lines and edges without actually drawing them in.

This quilt was inspired by realizing that a handful of samples shared both color palettes and designs based on 2 1/4" squares.  There are 5 fabrics in this little 21" square quilt.

All three shapes in this quilt are from the one sample set.  Again, the limitation was having only a few full flowers.  The partial flowers became leaves, and the spaces between flowers became stars.

This quilt was totally inspired by color.  The question of what to do with a pile of brick red fabrics sort of answered itself!  In the process of researching actual brick patterns, I learned a bunch about the construction of brick walls.

I'm making this quilt for a show with a relatively small size limit.  Miraculously the width of the sample piece is just enough to give me the borders that I want.  About an inch to spare, if that!  Some of the diamond appliqués also use every bit of their sample.  I'm adding beads, and have exactly the number I need.  I'm enjoying the serendipity!

Besides this project being a design challenge, it also is a vote for the benefits of the "reduce, reuse, recycle" lifestyle.  It's astonishing how much in our world is discarded while still in good condition.  I buy most everything used these days, and have come to prefer resale shopping.  It's always an adventure, it's creative, it helps the planet, and it's more enjoyable than shopping under the fluorescent lights in impersonal big box stores.

You can read about and see the whole series here on the blog and on my website.

April 19, 2016

History Comes to Life on a Quilt - Part 6 - Delving Deeper

The amazing saga of this quilt continues.  My research into the names inscribed on this quilt showed that it was made between 1897 and 1898 in Melrose, MA.  Reading between the lines of the census records has built up a fascinating glimpse into the era.

(The first five chapters of the saga are:
Part 1 - background and start of my search for the details of its history.
Part 2 - how I narrowed down the dates, and some of the interesting family stories. 
Part 3 - the story of the Phinney, Dyer, and Hersey families. 
Part 4 - general observations on life in the late 1890s. 
Part 5  - research summary.
And a little aside about the fun of being able to look at original records online.)

During the height of my research process, I received an order for my quilt repair book (link to the book is on the right, by the way) from a woman who lives in Melrose!

I sent a surprise note tucked into her copy of the book, and we have since talked about the quilt.  She sent me a link to book about Melrose that was written just a few years after the quilt was made - The History of Melrose, County of Middlesex, Massachusetts, by Elbridge H. Goss, published 1902.

Several people who are named on the quilt are mentioned in the book.

I found full names for some people who are on the quilt with just their initials, which allowed me to find them in the census files.  One couple who have been added to the story are Herbert and Christie Chandler.  They were superintendent and matron of the "city poor farm". 

Here's the title page of the book, including a photograph and inscription by Mr. Goss himself.  The whole book has been photographed and can be accessed at this link.  There are photos of important buildings, and on page 249 there is a photo and full telling of the military triumphs of one of the people named on the quilt - Nehemiah Mayo Dyer.

I learned that Melrose was incorporated as a city in 1899.  Perhaps this was the impetus to make the quilt.  The event was commemorated with major celebrations.  I still don't know why this particular group of people were named together on this one quilt though.

from the preface:
....there came to exist a desire on the part of many citizens, that a more thorough and complete  history of our municipality be written. Possibly this wish was stimulated by the near approach of the time when Melrose would become a city, and, of the completion of the first half century since it was incorporated, May 3, 1850. But, be it remembered, the history of our territory reaches back over two and a half centuries. 

Early in the year 1898, in accordance with this often expressed wish, Franklin P. Shumway obtained the following names to a petition, requesting that the History of Melrose be written...

So it's pretty obvious that this quilt was made at a time when civic pride was at a high point.

There are 28 names on the petition.  Only one is someone named on the quilt: Fernando C. Taylor. 
The result of the petition was a letter written to Mr. Goss.  He included the letter in the book, which is great for me, because it was written by a man named on the quilt, Walter DeHaven Jones.  (Mr. Jones' wife and two children are also on the quilt.)  The letter was written right in the date range that I suspect the quilt was made.  Nice!

April 21, 1898
Dear Sir: — At the Annual Town Meeting you were unanimously invited to write a history of the Town of Melrose, under the following vote :

That the Town invite, and authorize Mr. Elbridge H. Goss to write an illustrated history of the Town of Melrose. That the Town grant him full access to, and the privilege of copying or reproducing any records, maps, illustrations, &c., from the Town records and files, that he may desire, on the condition that he shall not receive any compensation from the Town for his services.

Respectfully yours.
Attest: W. DeHaven Jones,
Town Clerk, pro tem. 

Mr. Goss ends his preface with this warm sentiment:

Melrose is the youngest city in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. From a small, sparsely settled town, it has grown, during its little more than a half century, to be an influential city of more than thirteen thousand inhabitants. Its history as a municipality has been eminently patriotic, noble and prosperous. Honesty and integrity have characterized its citizens. Its religious and educational interests are well established and liberally sustained. May the coming years be, by God's good guidance, equally blessed with peace, happiness and prosperity.

Elbridge H. Goss.
Melrose, June 30, 1902.

And I will close this chapter of the saga with a quote (pp. 137-8) I came across while searching for people on the quilt.  I don't know if Mr. Goss intended the quaint humor here, but I do like it.

The next preacher, Rev. Ephraim Wiley, remained three years, from 1814 to 1817, the same salary being voted: "half the amount of $2 a Sabbath be paid at the end of the first six months, and the remainder at the close of the year." A portion of this time he lived in two rooms of the house of Capt. Phineas Sprague, on Main Street, opposite Ell Pond, now occupied by Samuel H. Nowell.

Considering the salary received we are not surprised to learn that Mr. Wiley worked through the week at his trade, that of shoe-making, often with a book open before him studying to prepare for the next Sunday's services. 

April 17, 2016

Not Too Shabby

From my last couple of weeks of sewing!  

I ended up by chance using lots of nearly empty spools, so my little collection here looks super good!

A couple of these indicate quilt repair quantity and progress.  Also, I will soon be unveiling some new Something From Nothing quilts, once a couple more are done and we have a photo session. 

What do you do with your empty spools?  I always think they could build a nice futuristic city model. 

April 12, 2016

Vintage 1950s Fabrics

Every now and then, the most exciting thing about a quilt is on the back!  This collection of fabric prints and colors could be considered iconic of the era.

A 1950s string quilt came to me for repairs.  The back was also pieced, using rectangles of many sizes and shapes.  Some of the fabrics are totally iconic of the 1950s.

Here's the full shot of what I'm calling "The Liberace Print":

And another fun conversation print:

Here's a print that I find very mysterious.  Any one have a guess as to what these shapes are meant to be about?

I can imagine my mom making kitchen curtains with this one.

These two printed plaids and the little rows of colored dots are all about favorite color schemes of the 1950s, aren't they?  

These are two of the pieces of barkcloth on the back of the quilt.  This is a textured cotton that was very popular as a decorator fabric.

And here are two pieces that I include just because I like them.

The owner decided the quilt was too damaged to justify having the repairs made.  The back has about 5 worn out fabrics, but the top has at least 45 pieces in varying states of disrepair.  Patching the 20 or so worst pieces would lower the repair bill, but leave many fabrics ready to open up even more.

This is a plea for giving some thought to using family heirloom quilts.  The choice needs to be made between enjoying sleeping under an old quilt and the desire to keep it as an heirloom.  It's generally not possible to do both.  Old fabrics are weak and only get weaker as time goes on.  Sad but true.

April 7, 2016

Hands All Around

Something like 10 or 12 years ago, I cleared out lots of my old creations with a giveaway to friends and family.  One friend took a pillow, one of the first I made way back when.

She has used that pillow so much, even taking it along in her camper on a cross-country trip, that it has faded away until the navy print is a super pale grey.  Time for a new pillow, I figured.  (The block on this one is Single Wedding Ring.  And in case you're curious, the semi-circles quilted around the border were traced around the inside of a roll of masking tape.)

Here's the new pillow I made for her.

The block is Hands All Around, one of my all-time favorites, and one that suits her personality well.  She is much into building community, her hands knit and cook and garden, and she is a loving and supportive friend.

The fabrics represent green foliage, purple flowers, and blue skies.  I didn't plan it that way, but just pulled out fabrics until I found a combination that I liked, and there it was.

I had a lovely, relaxing time making the pillow - no deadline, no rules - and therefore, I put aside everything else on my to-do list, and finished it quite quickly!

April 2, 2016

Rose Baskets

Oh, my!  The design and technique on this quilt is amazing! 

The quilt was made in the mid to late 1800s, maybe 1860s or 1870s.  It sustained some damage at some point in its life that faded out the center block but left the fabrics mostly intact. 

The owner was contemplating having me patch the center block to bring some color back to it.  I found myself wanting to leave the block as is though.  It certainly would be possible to patch over the old fabrics and put some more color back into the area, but of course I wouldn’t be able to make a perfect match.  Searching for enough of just the right vintage green could be a long adventure.  And new fabrics, even new vintage fabrics, will likely be different in texture.  So it becomes a question of which is more visually distracting in the long run, plus how important it would be to maintain the original workmanship.  I saw one leaf that looked like it was missing some fabric, and I could have done some stitching in that spot to hold the raw edge down.  In the end, after we discussed all this, I did nothing.

The owner was kind enough to let me share her photos here.  Thanks to her for that!  This quilt is a real treat.

The variation in the coloration on the leaves is likely due to the dye process used.  Before there were real green dyes, the only way to get green was by over dyeing blue and yellow, aptly known as a two-step green.  Sometimes there is uneven fading that results in some blueish and some yellowish places.  What’s curious to me are the baskets and the inner petals of the flower buds that are tan.  That color is often what happens to the very early actual green dyes when they faded, which they tended to do very quickly.  So this may be a quilt that sits right on the border between the two dye processes!  That would date it to the 1870s.  Pretty cool.

The flowers themselves are made with what is known as a double pink - a style that was very popular from the mid 1800s through the first quarter of the 1900s.

And then there's that wonderful quilting!  Tiny, tiny stitches.  I love how the quilting echoes the appliqué pattern.

The tight background filler lets those flower baskets pop forward as if they were trapunto.


I'll end as I started - oh, my!