August 30, 2013

Favorite Quotes #2 - Why Make Art?

"Oh, it's outrageous to consider creating art, isn't it? But life is short. And intense. And we need art to inspire and amuse us."
by Lisa Halpern, in "insight: the cornish magazine", 2010.  Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle

This is a brand new favorite quote, not one of my old stand-bys, found last night while musing over college promo materials before chucking them in the recycle bin.

Both my kids have visited Cornish, and neither decided to go there.  But, boy oh boy, do I want to go there!  The school seems to really value and emphasize the artsy-ness of being an artist, that it is more than making objects and performances, but is a way of life, a way of looking at everything.  And the school really honors and feeds interdisciplinary thinking.  I'd love it!  (I have no affiliation, just have toured the campus...)

Anyhow, I have two out of two creative, artsy kids, plus me.  So I've thought a lot about "why make art."  And that concept of what art brings to our lives is key - I'd add joy, connection, insight, self-knowledge, beauty, and probably many other things to Lisa Halpern's inspiration and amusement.

One of my favorite things is when someone tells me what one of my art quilts means to them, and it's something that totally never crossed my mind during the design process.  I like the feeling of having touched someone deeply and helping them learn more about themselves and who they are and how they respond to the world.

The quilt that accompanies this post is called "Nature's Perspective."  I was inspired during an evening drive through the farm fields of Wisconsin.  It seemed to me like we were almost floating through the silent blue air, and that the fields could billow right up, too, were it not for the houses and trees holding them down, like the ties on a comforter.

It's a big quilt - 107" x 81", made way back in the last century, 1989.  I chose the blocks "Corn and Beans" and "Prairie Queen," and my husband helped me draft the blocks in perspective.  (By the way, every single shape in those fields is unique.)  The sky, colored to represent the setting sun, is half of the Sunburst pattern.

What my friend Jon said, after studying it for a while, is that I had made a great rendition of something he's always marveled at - the contrast between the irregularity and textures of the earth and everything that lives here and the smooth dome of the sky - in this quilt, the contrast between the many shapes and fabrics on the fields and the one-patch pattern in the sky.  That was never my intention, and so meaningful and poetic.  That's what I love about making art.

(And, in case anyone is wondering, my daughter picked University of the Arts in Philly, graduated last May with a BFA in modern dance performance and an award for superior choreography.  She and her budding dance company are producing a show in September.  Any dance lovers in the Philly area?  Tix are available at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival.  My son is continuing to homeschool, focusing right now on video game programming, amongst many other areas of interest like acting, video production and editing, and sound design.)

August 25, 2013

Snowflake Quilt part 2 - Repair and Dedication

The previous post told the story of Grace Powell and the quilt she made in the late 1930s.  Here is my part of this quilt's history:  a large patch and an embroidered dedication.

At some point, someone tried to iron the poor quilt!  No one remembers when or how this happened.  This is certainly not a good idea, but became even more troublesome when the iron left a pretty large scorch mark.  The burned fabric on the front flaked away, and on the back the weakened fabric ripped.  The batting in the area fell out.

The first step in patching a hole that affects all three layers of a quilt is to patch the back.  This stabilizes the area where fabric is missing.  It's really, really important to work with the quilt smooth and flat so as to not introduce ripples and puckers.

The original batting, having been ironed, was pretty thin, so I made the replacement piece by tearing 100% cotton batting cross-wise.  I started with a piece larger than the hole, and then pulled off little bits around the edge so there is a soft edge that blends in with the surrounding batt.  I basted the new piece of batting in place.

The owner came up with a wonderful idea - she asked me to make the patch into a commemorative label.  She told me what text she wanted, and we discussed different fonts and whether to embroider or use a fabric pen.  I measured the shape of the scorched area, roughly sketched the patch in Illustrator, and experimented with text size and placement.  Then I printed out the final version.

I transferred the text by taping the paper to a window, then taping on the repair fabric, and then tracing the text with pencil.  The window becomes a big light box.  I steady the fabric a tiny bit with my lefthand fingers on either side of the pencil to keep it steadier while I'm writing.

I basted on some fabric strips to make the patch fit in my embroidery hoop, and stitched the letters with sewing thread.

Appliquéing the patch was a little tricky, since it had to snuggle up to the snowflake appliqués, and keep the text centered and horizontal.  I made several attempts at pinning/marking techniques, and procrastinated a lot until I got courageous enough to actually trim the patch and sew it on.  I trimmed it as I went around instead of all at once, just in case I needed a little leeway fabric at some point.

Finally, I quilted the patch, but not through the embroidery, so it would be easier to read.  I quilted a little bit from the back as well, to help keep the new batting in place.

This is a lovely pattern, and the quilt has such an unusually well-documented story.  I loved being part of its tale.

August 21, 2013

Snowflake Quilt - part 1 The Story

This lovely quilt was made by Grace C. Powell in 1938-9 and given to her granddaughter Elaine on her 16th birthday. The current owner is Grace's great-granddaughter and Elaine's niece.  She has her great-grandmother's very detailed diaries, which are full of references to working on this quilt.

Grace moved from Minnesota to Oak Park, IL, to live with her sister Hattie in 1937 after her husband's death.  She turned 66 in 1938.

Diary entry on June 14, 1938:
     I went to Carson's and looked at quilts and shopped around then to Marshall Fields
     where we found same quilt a dollar higher.  .......and finally bot the quilt pattern at
     Carson's just before we left for home. ........ I felt well pleased with this. Quilt is appliqué
     pattern called Snowflake Block design.   I plan to have it for Elaine's graduation
     so gives me plenty of time to finish if all's well.

It cost $5.95. ($6.13 with tax).  I'm 99% sure that by "pattern" she means "kit."  Kit #00010 was published by the Paragon company in the late 1930s, the pattern known as Snowflake.  The price indicates that this was more than just a paper pattern.

This post by Nova Scotia Quilts details the pattern history. And here is a reproduction pattern that includes a similar snowflake block.  A very detailed article by Judi Fibush about quilt kits from many eras can be found here.

Diary entry on August 20, 1938, about a trip to Detroit:
     ........ We went thru Hudson's store.  I found same quilt that I bot so showed Mary.
     I also bot basting thread 1200 yds 25 cts extra soft.

Grace doesn't mention working on the quilt until September 5, when she writes about cutting out the blocks.  There follow multiple entries that say she is "working on a block."  When the top was completed, the quilt was quilted on a frame in her relative Doris's attic.  She sometimes just kept on quilting and stayed overnight there.

Diary entry on November 3, 1939:
     Began quilting on September 20, and had it off frames November 3. I put in 16 1/2 days, Hattie 
     [her sister, who quilted regularly at her church] put in 11 days, and Mrs. Marcus one day.

She continued working on the quilt, presumably finishing the edges.  They are done with a knife-edge finish.

Diary entry on December 9, 1939:
     I went to work on quilt about 11 o'clock, and again after lunch, and finished about 4 o'clock, 
     having looked over thoroughly.  Began it in Sept 1939 and the last stitches put on it today. 
     It has become like an old friend. I have so enjoyed working on it.
     First cost  5.95
     lining       2.00
     middling    .62
     thread        .40  

Grace got it all done well ahead of Elaine's graduation date, and gifted it to Elaine on her 16th birthday in March 1940 instead.  By June 1940 Grace had returned to live with her son in northern Minnesota.  According to her journal, her quilt was entered in the Marshall county fair June 26-27, 1940, in Warren Minnesota where it won first prize.

Grace was very proud of her quilt.  The diary tells us that at one point, she cleaned up the house for some sort of meeting, and mentions putting Elaine's quilt on her own bed.  Then she notes "but nobody came upstairs," sounding rather disappointed.

As you will see, the appliqué and quilting are both masterfully done, so Grace's love of quiltmaking really shows.

The quilt was stored in a trunk, moved twice long distances without opening it, for probably thirty years.  It was discovered in 1996 with a prominent iron scorch mark (no one recalls when this happened), and gifted to the current owner, Grace's great-granddaughter. She likes to cover herself with it on chilly winter days.  She went back to Grace's journals when she started the process of having the quilt repaired, and carefully researched its story. The owner told me that reading the diaries and learning about the quiltmaking process has made the quilt feel like an old friend for her, too.  Lovely!

A description of the repair work I did will come in the next post, part 2.
And there's another chapter to this story, dated September 2020:  Another Snowflake Quilt

August 15, 2013

Spider Web Quilt

This quilt really grew on me as I worked on it.  This kind of patchwork scrap quilt is what lots of people think of when they hear the term "American quilt."

The pattern is Spider Web, a close variant of several that appear in Barbara Brackman's Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns.  I estimate is was made in the 1950s, from a pretty deep scrap bag with quite a few fabrics dating back to earlier decades.  It's got lots and lots of strong colors, i.e. not many pastels, a good sign that it was made after the 1930s and 40s love affair with pastels and before the neons of the late 60s and 70s.  There are very few solids, and quite a lot of ginghams, plaids, and stripes.

The colors and print styles have lots of 1950s markers.  The block on the left is a great example.  It has turquoise and grey, both very popular 50s colors.  And it has what I think of as "men's pajama prints", small geometric designs, rather than the flowers of earlier eras.

The blocks shown below have more men's pajama prints.  Also note the turquoise one where the designs are in little interlocking rectangular sections.  That also is a 1950s thing.  I think that the really large florals in the lefthand block could be 1940s or 50s.  This photo also shows some of my patches: the black and grey gingham at both top and bottom, and the north-south triangles in the center of the righthand block.  Those are patched with a 1930s reproduction print. 

Here are a few other 1950s markers - the green leaning towards olive in the lefthand block, the solid navy, and the printed navy and red stripe in the righthand block.

The black print with dots and flowers in the righthand block seems quite 1940s to me, while the multi-colored plaid in the left hand block seems 1950s.

The indigo print in this block is one of the oldest fabrics in the quilt.  These prints were widespread from the 1880s to the 1920s, so it's hard to date precisely, but the style looks early 1900s to me.  The big flowers on the right are 1940s.

Here is some more of my patching - two triangles of that black and grey gingham at top center, and the two lozenges lower right, a floral black print and a floral maroon print, both vintage fabrics.  The purple and turquoise print in the center of the lefthand block is another 1950s thing.

And here are several other blocks for your viewing pleasure.

Scrap quilts like this make finding repair fabrics pretty easy.  As long as the colors and print styles are consistent with the other fabrics in the quilt, the patches will blend in quite nicely.  It's two- and three- color quilts, and quilts with regular fabric placement that make the fabric search take a bit longer, sometimes a lot longer.

Here are previous posts that highlight cotton prints of other decades:

August 8, 2013

Rose Wreath Quilt

This sweet Rose Wreath quilt is 33 years old.  Some of the appliqués had come loose, a couple of leaves were very ragged, there was a slit in the white background at one edge, and the binding was totally shot, hanging in long dangles.

It is a lovely heirloom for the owner.  The blocks were made and signed by her mother, mother-in-law, other women in the family, and close friends.  Several of these people have passed away, so the quilt is now also a memorial to them.  

One thing that made this a particularly fun project for me is that it was made in my general neighborhood.  The owner is the daughter-in-law of a quilter, and several of the blocks are signed by people I knew.  Also, being made in 1980, it dates to the era when I learned to quilt.  This is the kind of quilt that got me hooked on quilting!

The other really fun thing is that the owner also has hunks of the original fabrics.  It came with its own quilt repair kit! 

So, finding perfectly matched repair fabrics was pretty easy, except for the fading that's occurred over the years.

You can see how much deeper and brighter the light blue used to be.  We decided it was fine to go ahead and use it on the couple of leaves that needed patching.

For the binding, we decided to go with the darker blue.  Replacing it with the lighter blue that was originally used would have really emphasized the fading, giving an awkward almost-match.  The dark is substantially darker than the faded version, but we figured it would give a nice, strong edge to the quilt.

As a side note, when you are replacing binding on a quilt, use the same style, i.e. straight grain or bias, and also use the same kind of the corner treatment.

For the white patch, I found a good match in my stash of estate sale fabrics.  Here is the torn area, patched and re-quilted.

Comparing the quilt's fabrics with the "new", unused remnants gives a really nice sense of what happens to quilt after 33 years of use and love.

I think both color combinations - the higher contrast, bolder original colors, and the softer, more romantic faded colors - have equal appeal!

August 5, 2013

Not Your Basic Little Black Dress

Oh, I really like this dress!  Not for myself, mind you.  I just don't get dressed up happily.  But I love the styling and unique details.

This is another piece that I repaired for Basya Berkman Vintage Fashions.  The repairs were unremarkable, just closing a few open seams.  But look at how fun the dress is!

From the front, just basic sheath styling.  But what's that in the back?

Chiffon!  Pleated chiffon!  And pleated chiffon taken one step further.  The bottom edge is wired, the same idea as a wired ribbon.  It gives the chiffon what I'd call a large lettuce edge, and keeps it from hanging limply.  What fun!

In addition, the paisleys are not printed, not beaded, but made of tiny chips of plastic of some sort, glued (strongly!) to the fabric.

Pretty cool little black dress, yes?