Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Ghost Quilt

It's been a week for quilt fragments and reflection.

When I was clearing out my grandmother's house some years back, I found some mattress pads in the bottom of a large cedar chest. One caught my attention--with fine quilting stitches all over it, it clearly had not begun its life as a mattress pad. It was a smallish quilt that had been folded right sides in, and roughly machine stitched into a cot-sized pad. I picked out the machine stitching and this is what I found.

It's the ghost of a quilt.

The backing, sashing, and quilting are perfectly intact,

but nearly everything else on this quilt is....gone.  Out of 25 blocks, only three are intact, and one of those has pieces whose colors have faded out to almost nothing.

This week, I finally got around to asking an area quilt appraiser to take a look, and she tells me that the volatile fabric dyes of the 19th century are to blame. That and hard use, heavy laundering, and time, the enemy of just about everything.

The appraiser dates the quilt at 1860, which means it was made in the Thousand Islands area of New York State by my great-great-grandmother, Fannie Grapotte Senecal. Fannie gave birth to 14 children and raised eight of them. One little son named Moses drowned in a rain barrel.

It might have been nice to discover a Baltimore Album or other better preserved quilt in that cedar chest, but I'll take what I have here.

 It's nothing, it's everything. Hands to heart, from the mid 19th century and a long-ago grandma to me.

I come from a line of quiltmakers who didn't have the luxury of making showpiece quilts or of keeping their quilts pristine. They made utility quilts that were used and loved, and in many cases, used up.  It's hardly even a quilt any more, but I plan to label it with what I know about its history, and keep it safe. Despite its sad looks, I see something more in this quilt every time I look at it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Confetti Socks

Socks are done. I showed these in-process here a month or two ago, the latest in a line of odd-moment socks.

These have been to Florida, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, not to mention keeping me company on a number of shorter road trips, and at the allergist's office. (I get monthly allergy shots, then have to sit there for half an hour to make sure I'm not going to die. The nurses there say, "Are you still working on THAT pair of socks??")

I'm going to say here that I'm done, at least for a while, with making this sock. I'm planning to crack open that Cookie A sock book that's been here for at least two years. And a recent addition to the knitting library is this book. That's right. It's OK to use sock yarn for other things, right??

These have already been given as a birthday gift. Hoping they look nice and cheery on dark winter days.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Ascending the Scrappy Mountain

A couple years ago, a non-sewing friend gave me a generous pile of homespuns and plaids. Seems they had been used for something at her church, that event was over, and she figured I'd give them a good home. She was right about that.

Those homespuns have been weighing on my mind, maybe because they were never out of sight in my sewing room--they have spent all their time in my possession piled on a corner of my cutting table.

A free quilt for the making... Well, not quite free, but closer to free than if I'd had to buy all those fabrics.

So I've been casting around for the perfect project for plaids. I've played in Electric Quilt, looked through lots of books and websites. Once again, I found what I was looking for in Quiltville's most generous stash of free patterns, ideas, and quilt recipes. Scrappy Mountain Majesties is devilishly clever--the look of half square triangles without actually having to make, and true up, half square triangles. Brilliant! Just having finished making a fairly detailed quilt, I figured I was up for a bit of quilt-related smoke and mirrors.

There is a good deal of sewing, sub-cutting, and re-sewing involved in this block, so the sum total of work may be a wash. Even so, this idea looks good to me.

I made a couple test blocks and decided to make the block smaller, finishing at 4 X 5.5 inches.

This, of course, is insane. My Electric Quilt mockup of a bed-sized version uses nearly 450 blocks. Yikes.

How big a quilt? Don't know. I'm going to make a bunch of blocks, throw them up on the design wall and see what percolates.

In the back of my mind is the fear that, to some extent, a quilt with this much of an old-timey country look may be a train that has left the station. But still--all that free fabric. And there may be some twists and turns along the way up this particular scrappy mountain.

Off I go...

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Reveal

Last night, I placed the final stitches in the Christmas Lone Star, sighed, went to bed, and then couldn't sleep till after 3 a.m. I don't think there's a connection, but at any rate today's been a slowish day for me--perfect for spending time outside taking pictures of a quilt, and calling that the high point of the day.

I'm not much of a pattern person when it comes to quilts. I like to do my own thing and enjoy the challenge of those "What now?" moments. And there were quite a few of those as this Lone Star came together. What follows is a account of the thought and design process for this quilt. Anyone who looks in at my blog has probably seen some of the steps along the way.

And thank you for being patient with the occasional moaning and whining, as this quilt moved along.

The quilt was born in a Lone Star class I took in May, 2010, a simple and supposedly quick Lone Star with plain fabric insets. I got the inner star diamond sections completed in a weekend and then just didn't know where to go from there.  The setting squares and triangles, which would bring the star to a square shape, looked so huge to me--the setting squares would need to be nearly 22 inches square. I knew I needed to do something else with those setting pieces, but what? I couldn't decide, so the big diamonds, not yet sewn into a star, were folded up and sat in a project box for many months.

I flirted with appliqueing the setting pieces, and went so far as starting one square. This idea provided endless amusement for my quilting friends--they know that applique and I don't mix. They especially laughed at the idea of my tackling so big an applique project.

Well, OK, so they were right... I got this much of one square sewn,

and knew pretty clearly that it wasn't happening for me. And this incomplete piece has now been sitting on top of a 30 inch square ruler, on top of a desk in my bedroom, for a year and a half. Sad lack of follow-through, I know.

Last fall, I got serious about finishing this quilt. I played a good deal with piecing options for those setting squares and triangles in Electric Quilt, finally settling on star and chain blocks. Piecing always feels like the right answer for me.

So far, so good.

Another issue with the original quilt was that I didn't want it to finish at only 72 inches, which was the finished dimension of the original class Lone Star. I wanted a large bed quilt. So instead of piecing big setting squares AND triangles, I made them ALL squares. This would extend the quilt beyond the original 72" dimensions.

At this point, geometry entered into the mix, which is never a happy thing for me. But Judy Martin's wonderful Shining Star Quilts from the 1980s (the very first quilt book I ever bought) came to the rescue. What was needed were eight more big pieced diamonds, just like the diamonds making up that inner Lone Star. These diamond pieces would fit within and circle around the big pieced squares.  

Shining Star Quilts has tables that tell you just how big the pieces need to be for various Lone Star configurations. If you make quilts and do not own this book, you need to buy it immediately, or 25 years ago, which is preferable.

With this new direction, I had to scramble to find more of the original fabrics, and I was able to find all but one. And fortunately, I found a substitute for that one missing fabric that I could live with.

So I made eight more big diamond pieces. And the quilt still wasn't a square. It needed four gigantic corner pieces to complete the square. It seemed like a sunburst was the only way to go. I drew a sunburst design in EQ, took it to an office supply store and had it blown up to huge proportions.

Aaand then I procrastinated on the making of those sunbursts for about three months. Blah, blah, blah--I whined here and on Facebook, to anyone who'd listen. Paper piecing with those long, skinny points was drudgery, but I finally set myself to completing it all and got 'er done. Not fun, but in the end, well worth the time and energy.

Marge West, my long arm quilter, came up with a perfect quilting design. It's called Cotton Candy. Love it, love it. Doesn't it look fabulous on the stripey shirting background fabric?

I'm really happy with the outcome. It's hard to go wrong with these colors! And despite all the crazy biases along the way, the quilt is pretty much square. Happy, happy.


Sooo, do I have permission to pitch that wretched piece of partially completed applique??

The Details:

Christmas Lone Star Quilt
Dimensions: approximately 102" square
Fabrics: 100% cotton
Batting: 80/20 cotton/poly
Long arm quilted by Marge West
Quilting design: Cotton Candy

Saturday, July 28, 2012

PA and Ts

I'm back from Pennsylvania. It was a great trip. The centerpiece was my high school reunion, which made for three days of get-togethers both organized and impromptu. I'm still smiling.


And of course, there were quilt-related activities. I teamed up with one high school friend, a quilter based in North Carolina, for a road trip through the Allegheny National Forest (where there is NO phone service, but there are mountain roads where you get to drive right through the clouds). Destination--the Warren, Pennsylvania area and its quilt shops. We email back and forth about our quiltmaking, but it was a real treat to get to compare notes in person. Yak yak, yak. Good thing the guys stayed home.

In the Warren area, we visited one shop we liked very much, and one where we, to put it delicately, did not feel the love. A proprietor's hovering over us like she expected we might shove bolts of fabric under our shirts? Seemed a bit over the line. We ended up in Bradford, PA at Little Fabric Garden, owned by high school friend Judy Pascale Brown. Judy's shop was crazy busy that day, and it was fun to see everyone enjoying Judy and her shop. Wish I could visit more often.

I got back home Tuesday afternoon, after making the return trip into a two day drive. That was good thinking on my part; it's no fun at all tackling Chicago traffic at the end of a thirteen-hour drive. I broke up the return trip with an overnight stop in Shipshewana, Indiana, a place I'd heard about for years. There was a stellar quilt shop there,

but I found it all a bit unsettling. I'm not entirely comfortable with the concept of turning the Amish, or any religious group for that matter, into a tourist attraction.

Still, despite any reservations on my part, the Amish appeared to be completely on board with everything in Shipshewana; I guess they need to earn a living too.

Anyway, I hit the ground at home and immediately had to turn my attention to the next set of T Blocks, due several days later.

These blocks just can't be rushed. If you give them the right attention, they turn out perfect, but they take a certain amount of time. I grind my teeth as I'm making them, but in the end, they're soooo cute.

Three T Block exchanges completed; SIX more to go. Oy.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Long Way

I'm packing up today for a long drive home to the mountains of McKean County, Pennsylvania. I'll be on the road at the crack of dawn Tuesday and hope to arrive in my home town before dark.

One HECK of a long drive.

But after white-knuckling myself through Chicago and Cleveland, this will be at the payoff at the end:

I'm hoping it will be green there, and a bit cooler. After the parched conditions here in Wisconsin, I'm really hungry to see some greenness.

My Featherweight and a mindless machine project will coming along with me, as well as a couple knitting projects for the odd moment. Also a couple books for other odd moments. (Pure by Andrew Miller, and Brooklyn by Colm Toibin.)

Excited to see home for the first time in five years!