Something for Everyone: A Quilt Show Tonight

Now, I know what some of you are thinking, “Oh, jeez—a quilt show. She’s going to show us pictures of quilts. I don’t quilt. I don’t sew. I don’t care about quilts.”

But I say, with apologies to Stephen Sondheim and the cast of “A Funny Thing Happened at the Way to the Forum,” that no matter who you are, there’s something for everyone at a quilt show, or at least that was the case last weekend at the Vermont Quilt Festival. Come, and hum, along and see if you agree.

Something familiar:

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Something peculiar:

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Something for everyone,
A quilt show tonight!

Something appealing,
Hung from the ceiling

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Something for everyone:
A quilt show tonight!

Something with houses, something with towns;

Bring on the fabric, notions, and gowns!

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Vendors for shopping,
Something eye-popping,

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Something old-fashioned,

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Something with flash and

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Something for everyone:
A quilt show tonight!

Something most modern,

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Something POSTmodern,

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Something with color,
Bright or much duller,

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Something most Op-ish,

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Something more Pop-ish,

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Something for everyone:
A quilt show tonight!

Impressive!

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Obsessive!

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Specific!

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Terrific!

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Something exotic,

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Something chaotic,

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Something Egyptian,

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One with inscriptions,

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Something so striking,

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Much to my liking!

Something so simple and so right!

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Real world tomorrow,
Quilt show tonight!


If those of you who love quilts have any questions, let me know!

The One That Got Away: The Sewing Caddy

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Sometimes being practical is a bad idea.

Sometimes being frugal comes back to bite you.

Yesterday was such a day. I was practical and frugal and now . . . I am repenting.

It was Saturday—garage sale day. My mother and I went off on the byways of upstate New York, to see what treasures lurked.

Not too many treasures, as it turned out, but there was one . . .

In a driveway, in a small village, a beautiful sewing case.

I’ve written about these cases in the past. They were offered, apparently as a project from the Cooperative Extension, for men to make for their wives. I’ve seen probably 20 of these over the years and have ended up owning most of them, at least for a while, before passing them along to others.

This one, though, is the prettiest and most unusual I’ve ever seen.

The fabric on the outside is a wonderful winter scene, and in great condition.

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The inside, though, is what sets this apart. All of these cases were customized by the makers, probably with input from their wives. Some have pin cushions built in, or little drawers. Many have the jars with the lids attached to the box, to collect buttons and pins, and the nails to corral spools of thread.

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But never have I seen one with the fabulous decorative cutouts evident here. The words “This ‘N That,” the initials “LC,” and the shapes of scissors, large and small, were all carefully pierced into the wood.

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And all those pierced panels are constructed to tip out, on hinges, for easy access.

So, I looked at it and I drooled. I coveted it.

The practical persona sat on my shoulder and whispered, “You already own two pretty cases like this.”

The frugal persona asked the price . . . and offered $5 less.

The seller declined that offer.

And the third persona, known forever after as the bereft, disappointed one, walked away.

I got in my car. I drove away. And I haven’t stopped thinking about this treasure since.

Redwork–Mine, Old and New

I fell in love last year.

I was at my quilt guild’s show. Among the antique quilts being shown was a quilt made up of many small panels with simple scenes, done in red embroidery.

Then I noticed two similar quilts, modern ones made by fellow guild members. Redwork quilts, all of a sudden, seemed to be everywhere!

As I looked at these quilts, and coveted the old one, something niggled at my memory . . .

I’ve mentioned that I go to garage sales, estate sales, flea markets and, like everyone who spends enough time at such places, I’ve found treasures.

In 2012, I bought a pile of old linens and fabrics at an outdoor sale. I was busy and distracted at the time but vaguely aware that, in the pile, I had picked up a redwork quilt for a dollar.

I remember seeing that it was in rough condition but figured I could cut it up and sell some of the blocks. It got put away, with stacks of other old linens, and forgotten.

But now my interest was piqued about redwork quilts, so I went searching for the quilt I’d bought.

I found that old quilt and looked at it carefully for the first time.

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Just one section–it’s so faded I couldn’t get a good photo of the whole thing!

It’s faded, it’s ripped and patched, it’s stained. In one block, the design has disintegrated entirely.

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It was finished in April of 1889.

IMG_2753And, to my 21st-century eyes, it is peculiar and quirky and wonderful.

If you went looking for redwork quilt designs today, you’d find countless patterns that look like they were designed by Disney.

My quilt looks much more like Grimm Brothers had a hand in it. The difference between the aesthetics of the late 1800s and the early 2000s couldn’t be more striking. The old quilt is hard-edged, sort of harsh, not at all cute, really quite gritty.

I love it. And it’s clear that it’s been loved before, and loved nearly to death. It’s fragile and unstable.

So I have decided to remake it, to preserve a version of it for a couple centuries more.

I have been using an inexpensive child’s lightbox to trace the redwork panels on to paper, so I can keep them. Then I trace from the paper version on to off-white cotton fabric.

As I trace and then stitch, I enjoy the designs. There are flowers, lots and lots of flowers.

And there are animals; some are the ones the maker would know from the farm and some are exotic, known only from books or dreams.

My favorite blocks, though, are the ones with the people, and, especially, children. The children depicted are not the cute and pampered and romanticized children of modern America but are serious and, often, awkward-looking.

A girl jumps rope.

 

Two boys blow bubbles.

The children in my quilt are all focused and intent. Only one panel shows a child with any hint of a smile—a small person (not especially childlike), listening to a large person read. She stands at attention; no cuddles here.

Looking carefully at these old panels has given me a lot to think about. Do these older quilts reflect a fundamental difference in the perception of childhood, then and now? We can’t attribute the differences to design ability or sewing skills—this seems to be a difference in seeing the world.

It’s true that, by the turn of the 20th century, the shift to gentler and “cuter” designs had already begun. Even then, the Sunbonnet Sue girl was taking over and designs by illustrator Kate Greenaway seem to have dramatically changed, and romanticized, the image of childhood.

Some stitchers chose one depiction of the world and others chose another, even as we do now, I suppose.

So, I stitch and ponder. This is slow stitching, a project with no deadlines, only for me.

I am trying to copy the old blocks precisely but realize that, without wanting to or trying, I am smoothing rough edges, making things “prettier” than they were. I am influenced by a 21st-century way of seeing without wanting to be.

I am thinking that I will, eventually, add some personal and modern panels to my version of the quilt, to let it reflect both centuries in which it was made. I’m thinking about a panel depicting an iPhone (because I love mine so!), maybe one celebrating 100 years of women’s right to vote in the US, and, I hope, a panel celebrating the first woman president of the United States.

We’ll see. For right now, I have my plan and my focus. I have 40-some-odd blocks to do before I worry about moving back into the 21st century.

I’m curious about what you think of this old quilt. Do you like it or think it’s creepy? Find it interesting? Or is it ugly to your eyes? Do you prefer the cuter, softer images we see today? What kind of redwork can you imagine yourself doing?


As I’ve plunged, head first, into the rabbit hole of the Internet, I have found all kinds of redwork resources.

An amazing resource for old embroidery patterns, a catalog published in 1886 and including many of the designs in my quilt: New Sample Book of Our Artistic Perforated Parchment Stamping Patterns, from publisher J.F. Ingalls. Available as a free download.

Some of the Ingalls designs, reproduced on Flickr.

A blog featuring many great examples of redwork quilts and patterns.

A Maker’s Abecedary: R is for . . . Redwork Embroidery

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It was simple and straightforward in style. It was easy to do. It could be personalized for self expression.

Is it even surprising that, for a brief, intense period, redwork embroidery took American women’s work by storm?

Like everything else—art, fashion, music, architecture—sewing and crafting styles change with the times and reflect different interests and aesthetics. Crewel embroidery is in, then it’s out. Everyone is doing macramé, then no one is.

In America, in the late 1800s through the turn of the 20th century, redwork stitching was all the rage. A huge trend, it was characterized by simple outline stitching of decorative designs, done on off-white fabric with Turkey red embroidery floss.

Coming hard off the fussy, overwrought Victorian era and the rage for crazy quilts, the understated simplicity of redwork seems to have been inspired by the Aesthetic and Arts and Crafts movements.

Both movements focused attention on art for its own sake and for bringing beauty into the home. The Arts and Crafts Movement was underpinned by “the concept that a beautiful home was believed to reflect the morality and productivity of its inhabitants.”¹

The popularity of redwork was also explained, in part, by the availability of new Turkey red floss—Turkey red was colorfast and striking against a white or off-white background.

Add to that that redwork was stitched almost exclusively in one simple stitch, the stem stitch, meaning it could be done effectively by stithers at almost any level of expertise, and was a great way for children to learn to embroider.

The flame of redwork popularity was fanned by women’s magazines and by advertisers, both of which made zillions of designs available, either for free, to encourage magazine subscribers or advertising premiums, or as preprinted blocks, to be used in quilts. The preprinted blocks were sold for a penny, giving these blocks their alternative names—penny squares.

In the desire to create a beautiful and upright home, the trend was to cover everything with redwork; splash guards behind wash stands, chair backs, pillow shams, aprons—all were embellished with red embroidery.

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A redwork pillow cover, I think. I did read that such pieces were also used in coffins, though . . .

It was only a matter of time until women started assembling the penny squares into quilts or coverlets.

This was yet another way to add beauty to utilitarian objects and also to express one’s self, through judicious choices of the patterns available. A stitcher could create a bed cover with a personal garden of blocks with flowers, all of which had symbolic meanings ascribed. She could pick and choose blocks that had sentimental meaning only to her:

Many designs were of images or motifs thought to be closely associated with woman’s domestic experiences: children, animals, birds, flowers, nursery rhymes, characters from children’s fiction, household items, women’s hairstyles, and fashion accessories such as fans or purses.²

While many redwork quilts were a hodgepodge of designs, some had a consistent theme. There were redwork quilts made up entirely of Sunbonnet Sues, of nursery rhymes, of exotic animals, of Bible scenes. I’m not sure I could sleep under a quilt with the embroidery of “Blessed are the dead, which die in the Lord” (Rev 14:13) but it must’ve been comforting to someone.³

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Antique redwork coverlet, owned by a member of my quilt guild.

Times change and tastes change. It was inevitable that the trend for redwork would wane and other styles would take its place.

But, as happens with trends, they can make a comeback. While the current popularity of redwork seems nothing to compare with its first incarnation, redwork quilts are popping up consistently at quilt shows. In 2015, the crafting website Craftsy trumpeted a “trend alert” with the “retro look” of redwork.

Where once there were mere zillions of designs available for redwork, now there are zillions and zillions! Where the designs were once hand stitched in the simplest of stitches, today they are just as likely to be done with machine embroidery. The contemporary designs are often quaint and homey, saccharine sweet, but can also be kind of funky, edgy, fun.

Redwork may be popular now for the same reasons it was over 100 years ago.

In a complicated and busy world, redwork is a simple and straightforward in style. When life is hard, redwork is easy. When it’s so easy to get lost in a crowd, redwork can be made one’s own, highly personal in the face of an impersonal world.

My own special interest in redwork began with a purchase at a garage sale . . . I’ll tell you about it soon!

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It’s Just a Matter of . . . Thyme

It’s thyme time in our garden. I could write a new post but I’ve always liked this one, from two years ago!

Love Those "Hands at Home"

Good morning!

It’s been a long thyme!

IMG_2852In June, there’s a moment of thyme . . .

IMG_7501When I have thyme on my hands . . .

IMG_7487 And thyme is on my side . . .

IMG_7494Here, thyme knows no bounds.

IMG_7486I have all the thyme in the world . . .

IMG_7495To enjoy some quality thyme.

IMG_7491But thyme is of the essence . . .

IMG_7485Because, before long, it’s thyme to call it a day . . .

IMG_2853After a good thyme was had by all!

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And, truly, there’s a thyme for every purpose under heaven.

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A Happy Ending, in the Garden

I came late to gardening, only really getting started in the last dozen years or so.

There was no real family tradition of growing flowers at my house or, if there was one, I was oblivious.

My husband and I have learned mostly by trial and error . . . lots of trials, lots and lots of errors. But we had some successes and were pleased.

Then, five years ago, our area was hit by flooding. The lake we live on reached record-high water levels and stayed there for 6 weeks. (As you know, you can click on the small photos to see more detail)

Our lawns and gardens were covered in water and sludge for weeks, and everything died.

Everything died.

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We had a tabula rasa. A nasty, brown blank slate.

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So, you will understand the awe I feel now, all spring and summer, when beauty happens here. I am dumbstruck that we have accomplished so much, with so little knowledge but hard work and patience.

The flowers amaze me, enthrall me.

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This pergola stands where the dirt was in the previous photo. It’s now blanketed in honeysuckle and wisteria.

In spite of all this beauty, only one part of the garden matters to some people.

We grow catnip under the protective cover of staked wire baskets so “some people” won’t rip it out by the roots and eviscerate the little plants.

They get drunk on catnip, I find my intoxication elsewhere.

Yoyo Mojo. No? No.

 

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What is your stance on whining?

Do you see it as healthy and cathartic? Or feel it is the worst of self pity and completely pointless?

Do you enjoy is for yourself but find it distasteful when others indulge?

My very good friend, and former boss, was known to hang up the phone on me when I whined. He would give me one quiet warning and then . . . click.

I’m actually not all that given to whining. It isn’t on the list of approved behaviors published by my patron saint, Pollyanna, you see.

But some days, I can’t help myself . . .

I’m in the mood to whine.

You may avert your eyes, if need be, or go ahead and hang up on me.

I am suffering from ennui. My list of daily stints has stunted me. Every project I have under way is either vexing me or boring me to tears.

And the most tedious among these might be the ubiquitous, unending, what-was-I-thinking yoyos.

IMG_2646I’ve been sewing yoyos together for what seems like eternity.

They were fun to make, so cute and perky.

They are much less fun to sew together.

I have 10 rows to do and I am not yet done three. And then those long rows need to be sewn together.

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I slog along . . . and whine quietly under my breath.