December 31, 2013

A Quilt From The Heart

This little quilt carries more heart-felt love than pretty much any other quilt that has come my way.  Writing up its story seems a great way to wish everyone a loving and warm new year.

When the owner and I determined that it was far too damaged for a total repair, I decided to salvage the few remaining (sort of) intact blocks and border sections.  The rest of the quilt was almost literally hanging by a thread, just tatters and empty spaces between them where the batting used to be.  I hasten to say that I virtually never, ever advocate for cutting into quilts, but this one had such a wonderful history, that I decided it deserved a lot more than being relegated to the rag bag.  Here is the story, in the owner's own words.

"When I was about 6 years old, my mother was killed in an auto roll-over.  I had lost my father to TB three years before, and my mother's best friend took me to live with her.  

Her mother, whom I called Grandma Kinney, made me a quilt so that I would have it when I grew up, and she was no longer alive.  The maker of the quilt was Louella Kinney, and she had made the quilt for me even before the accident when I went to live with her daughter, Helen.  

About a year later, Mrs. Kinney had a stroke in Roswell, NM where we had all lived before the accident.  She could not speak or walk, and was immobile for the next seven years. I think I read the book, "Heidi" far more times then she would liked to have heard, but she was always so kind and had an indomitable spirit in her illness. She lived with us in Monahans, Texas, and was cared for daily by Helen, her husband, Elmer, and what little bit I could do as a child.  My sister took me to live with her in Kansas when she married, and Mrs. Kinney died about a year after I left Texas.

You would think that someone would have been sure that I realized the care it would need in the following years, but after moving to Kansas with my married sister, I lost sight of it.  I don't remember how it resurfaced after many years, but by then I was a young mother with a baby and apparently used the quilt as a beloved but needed household item.  I now live in New Mexico, and while planning to move with my daughter and her family, after my husband's death in 2005, the quilt has resurfaced.  It was high in a cupboad they were cleaning out. It was dirty from neglect, and I was heartbroken that somehow I had allowed that to happen. I could not see putting it in the Goodwill Box until I had someone look at it.  I really don't know where it became so damaged. It truly does live in my heart and my mind as a symbol of her love, and in that realm it is in perfect shape.

Of course you may use my story, and I would be proud to have you use my name. That is sort of a story in itself, as I was named Shirley Ann during the heydey of Shirley Temple.  There are a lot of us over 70s ladies that have that name.  My sister, Pat, began calling me Shannie, and that stuck and matured into the Shan that you know.  My mother's best friend named me as she had no children of her own, when she took me to live with her in Texas directly after I was released from the hospital in Colorado, where my mother died after our tragic car accident that separated our family.

I am so proud for Mrs. Kinney to be remembered in this way.  No wonder people like quilts so much, as they certainly do seem to have little spirits of their own!"

December 22, 2013


My friend Julia brought me this sweet evening bag made by the designer Judith Leiber, in need of repair.  An image search for "Judith Leiber bags" will bring you to a fantasy land of rhinestone-encrusted little bags. 

This one is quite tame by comparison, but I find it very classy and elegant.  It's two bags, one silver-tone and one gold-tone, attached to one another.  There's a double strap with each color of leather.  The closures are coin purse style baubles with gold and clear stones.  They were missing quite a few rhinestones. 

I ended up learning a cool new technique to add to my bag of tricks.

An internet search brought me to a shop called Mimi's Gems.  I could order single stones there (unlike places with a minimum of a dozen or a gross.)  So I ordered a few single stones to make the best match of colors.  On top of that, the overall service was spectacular, with virtually instant replies to all my questions, and then, the best instructions for applying these teeny little stones.  What could have been a headache of glue and poor stone placement turned out to be one of the most fun projects I've done in a long time!  Big thanks to Melanie at Mimi's Gems.

Supplies: beeswax, stones, epoxy, foil, rubbing alcohol, cotton swabs, toothpicks

I spread out some stones on a little piece of velvet.  (My husband's uncle the watchmaker did that when working with all his little, bitty watch parts, in the long ago when watches had moving parts.)  I turned the stones all right-side up for easy handling.

Also, I made a little ball of beeswax and stuck it onto the tip of a toothpick.  This is where the fun begins!  

The epoxy, if you've never used it, is a two-part glue that doesn't become active until the parts are mixed.  That's what the foil is for, and the toothpicks. 

First, spread on a bit of glue with a plain toothpick.

Use the toothpick with the beeswax tip to pick up a stone.  A light tap on a stone sticks it to the wax.  

It's super easy to carry it over to the purse.  A light tap on the glued area grabs the stone off the beeswax.  A little gentle nudging can line it up just where you want it.

The glue sets up pretty quickly, so mix it just a bit at a time.  When it starts to get too tacky to get on and off the toothpick easily, mix up a new little batch.

Here are the before and after looks:

It was so fun!  I was really sorry when the project was over.  Oh, the alcohol and cotton balls are for cleaning up any stray glue that might get on the setting.  I found it also nice to wipe my fingers occasionally.

Here are a couple of portraits of the lovely little bag.  See more details, and even buy it, at Julia's shop, Basya Berkman Vintage

March 2014 update:
This little purse is in the spotlight - picked by Refinery29 as a top vintage find on Chicago Etsy.  Yea!

December 20, 2013

Favorite Quotes #4 - Art with Fabric and Art about Fabric Artists

Two friends posted links today to really delightful art by and about women who sew.  I hope you visit, and find a happy interlude to your day like I did.

Incredibly beautiful fiber art by Louise Saxton.  Thanks for sharing, Ellen!

A lovely collection of paintings, of women sewing and of the sewing supplies we love to use.  Various eras, many styles.  Thanks for sharing, Julia!

December 16, 2013

Little Cabin in the Woods

I have just completed working on a set of twin-size quilts made in 1934.  I restitched several places where the appliqués were coming loose, and rebound both quilts.
I haven't been able to find any info on the pattern, so if anyone knows anything about it, please let me know.  All I know is that I like it a lot!

Here are a few fun things about the construction of the quilts.

There were two green fabrics used.  One was used for the trees of one quilt and the binding of the other quilt, and the other green was used in the opposite placement.  One of the greens held its color pretty well, while the other faded away to almost nothing.  I really like the idea of alternating the two fabrics like that though, making the quilts clearly a set, but not identical.  (The owner and I decided that I should use the same fabric to rebind both quilts, since there really is nothing left of the faded green to match to, and she likes the look of the dark edging.)

The cabin shape is outlined in quilting in the alternate blocks.

I like the choices of prints for the smoke fabric.  You can see how the fabrics for the smoke, chimneys, and cabins also make the quilts "the same, but different."

I marvel at the quiltmaker's dedication to this project.  The amount and delicacy of the appliqué needed for each tree is amazing.......and there are a lot of trees!

The inscriptions are really cool.  The embroidery is many tiny little stitches perpendicular to the strokes of the letters. It makes a nice, strong line.

A signed and dated quilt is always fun to see.  George was a lucky person, indeed!

And then, here's what started going on outside my house while I was taking these photos.

This makes me want to stay inside my little house in the trees and start a fire in the hearth, too.


December 8, 2013

Being an Author

Being an author means getting good at self-promotion.  That is, being an author who actually sells books means getting good at self-promotion.  This is not something that comes easily to me.

Therefore, having friends who volunteer to do some promotion for me is a really, really good thing.
Summer Sanctuary by Ann Fahl
Many thanks to Ann Fahl for writing such a wonderful review of my book on her blog.  I met Ann quite a while before my 23 year old first child was born, so we go back a ways.  In the intervening years, her quilt career has taken her into authorship as well as teaching and making prize-winning quilts featuring flowers, birds, and cats.  Visit her website to "meet" her and enjoy her graceful art.

Lately, Ann has been restoring a red, green, and white tulip quilt, and chronicling her progress via her blog (follow the "restoring old quilts" label.)  Those 19th century red, white, and green lovelies have always been among my favorites.

Between the quilts, and fondness for cats, Mother Nature, and ancient Egypt, we have lots more in common than just our names.

Thanks, Ann!!!
Garden of the Sun God by Ann Fahl

December 5, 2013

Antique Silk Jacket

Here we are at the intersection of two of my interests / careers:  costuming meets vintage clothing.

Thin Ice Ensemble Theater is producing "Anne of Green Gables" this weekend.  One of our young actresses will be wearing a most exquisite antique silk jacket. We inherited it with a set of costumes created by the theatrical grandmother in one of our families.  The jacket will be worn by Mrs. Barry.

The tan jacket is lined with a tiny red and white stripe, both silks.  Then there are super wonderful gathered silk flowers with bead centers, and a metallic lace trim.  Here are some close-ups.  I am in love!



November 29, 2013

Fantabulous Eagle Quilt

Photo by Sotheby's
I can think of no better way to celebrate the release of my book on antique quilt care than to tell you the story of this amazing quilt. Now, I love all sorts of quilts, and appreciate repairing anything, from simple comforters that hold memories of overnights at Grandma's house, to jaw-dropping wonderful artwork. This is one of the latter.

It was sent to me by Mark Wilcox of Summer Antiques in upstate New York. The quilt is inscribed "Phelps 1853".  I assumed that Phelps was a family name, but Mark told me that it is a town not far from his shop. Phelps is near the Erie Canal, which was relatively new at the time the quilt was made, and the quilt celebrates the economic growth the canal brought to the area.

And yes, my jaw dropped when I opened the package. Mark and I discussed at length what I would do for the quilt, and I spent a lot of time searching for just the right supplies.

One of our big topics was the choice between "restoration" and "conservation."  

For the torn fabrics in the eagle's body and wings, we chose conservation in order to maintain the original fabrics. I found solid tan fabrics to slip under the tears, giving some extra support for my stitches, and also smoothing the visual appearance in those areas.  The loose tatters were then secured with couching stitches.

The one place we decided to do some restoration was the arrows in the eagle's talons.  There was virtually nothing left to conserve, plus they are an important part of the overall design.

I found a narrow woven tape for the shafts and a fine silk for the points, following the lead of the little bits of original materials that were still on the quilt.  Placing the new arrows was simple, because the old appliqué stitches and quilting were all still intact. The talons and beak fabrics were pretty threadbare, but enough was left to maintain the design, so we decided to let them be.

There was a small tear in one of the red scallops that I pulled back together with some more couching.

Other than that, the quilt was in fine shape, which given its age, is really marvelous. 

The next exciting step was when Mark put it up for auction at Sotheby's. So cool!  But the story gets even better: Sotheby's liked it so much that they featured it on the covers of the sale catalog. Of course, I registered with them, and bought a copy.

front and back covers

 inside back cover

sale listing

The descriptive text is:

A Fine and Rare Appliqued and Trapunto Cotton 'Sculptural' American eagle quilt, anonymous, Phelps, New York, dated 1853

The white cotton diamond quilted field with extravagantly scaled 5 foot American eagle, rendered as sculpture with layers of trapunto and piecing; in its beak a ribbon embroidered with the legend "WHERE LIBERTY DWELLS, THERE IS MY COUNTRY"; below its wings quilted sunbursts with flower-quilted circles; a pieced sunburst above the eagle enclosing the legend "INDUSTRY"; below a pieced compote filled with spring blossoms rendered in pieced and reverse appliqued cotton flanked by the inscription "Phelps, 1853"; the borders with appliqued clusters of red blossoms and vines along with grape vines and tendrils; a cluster of three strawberries and quartet of three-rose bouquets; the whole within scalloped red borders.
88 by 90 in. (223.5 by 228.6 cm)

The village of Phelps New York was one of the first in commercial and industrial importance in Ontario County. Through railroads and the Erie Canal system the theme of towns along that passage way helped create the emergence of 'Industry' in the western section of the Empire State of New York.

The quote is from Benjamin Franklin.

I was able to watch the auction live via the internet. So exciting to see "my" quilt at Sotheby's! The quilt was valued at $30,00-50,000, and the sales price ended up pretty much right in the middle of that range. I really see as this my moment of fame, anonymous though it may have been.  

Huge thanks to Mark for choosing me to do this work, and giving me the chance to enjoy this marvelous quilt up close and personal.

P.S.  Another quilt with a different interpretation of this design came up for auction at Freeman's in 2016, a few years after I worked on this quilt.  It was made a few years earlier, and family history indicates that it could also have been made in New York.  I am so curious to find out more of the history of these quilts and the design!