A Perfect Fit: The Fusion Quilt

IMG_0598It’s a project that fits me perfectly.

I mean, I love all the projects I engage in but this one . . .

This one, this making of small squares for a so-called fusion quilt, is a perfect match.

It combines so many ingredients that make me happy.

  1. vintage linens—as I said in an earlier post, in stocking my Etsy shop, I come across a lot of linens that aren’t in good enough condition to sell but that have some perfect detail that I can’t bear to throw away. I had amassed an enormous number of these but . . . what to do with them? Now I know. The perfect details are preserved, framed, highlighted in each square.
  2. hand work—I love a project I can do while sitting in a chair with my feet up, by the lake or in front of a fireplace. A lot of my preferred pastimes—weaving at a loom, quilting at a hoop, sitting at a sewing machine—don’t allow for this, but this project does.
  3. variety—several different types of work go into making each little square so I’m not going to get bored. There’s the pleasure of picking the pieces to work with and prepping them. Then comes the machine sewing, satisfying in that it feels like the potential for fun is piling up. Then I sew, by hand, with my feet up, the blanket stitch around the edges. And finally comes the crocheting, by hand, with my feet up.
  4. nostalgia—Because I love doing handwork, I get so much pleasure from seeing what other hands have wrought. Almost every square I work on bears the work of another loving hand. I don’t know these women but I feel I know what motivated them and I feel we are connected. I seek to honor them as much as preserve their handiwork.

The pile of pretty squares grows. I have about 24 blocks finished and 8 more ready for crochet. Each block makes me smile. Some are subtle, some are simply gorgeous, some are a little odd.

I know that I should be crocheting them together as I go. I know when I am faced with doing that stage, for all of the blocks, at the end, I will regret not keeping up with it.

But I am not prepared to make decisions yet about that final product. I don’t know if I’ll end up with 40 blocks or 150. I find new bits of prettiness that could be included almost every day. I’ll probably keep making squares as long as the squares keep making me happy.

And I won’t know how they should be organized and put together until I have them all in front of me.

Right now, I like seeing the stacks and shuffling through the squares, like a deck of cards, an encyclopedia of needlework techniques done by a sisterhood of stitchers and lace-makers and crocheters.

My work and theirs . . . a perfect fit.

In your world, is there one activity, one project, one creation, that’s simply a perfect fit for you?

Advertisements

Hand Quilt Along: A Fail and A Save

Have you ever taken part in a quilt/knit/crochet/whatever along? A blog extravaganza where people commit to sharing progress on a set schedule?

If so, have you felt motivated by pride or peer pressure or the desire to keep a promise and have you met that set schedule with enthusiasm, and grace, and promptness?

Not me, boy.

Three short weeks into the Hand Quilt Along and I am mortified to admit that I have made no progress whatsoever on my stated project! I teased you last time with a promise of a method of basting quilts that I claimed changed my whole, entire, attitude toward basting and told you I would share that with you in this post.

Not gonna happen. (But, as a consolation, I’m including a link to the YouTube video where I learned the technique that changed my life. It’s at the end of the post!)

I could give you a million lame excuses (travel, Thanksgiving, blah, blah, blah) for my lack of forward momentum but, instead, I’ll show you progress on one of the other projects I mentioned in my previous post. It isn’t, strictly speaking, hand quilting, and it won’t become, strictly speaking, a quilt in the traditional sense, but it’s close enough (or at least I hope you think so!)

I have done quite a lot of hand sewing on what will be, ultimately, some sort of throw.

The background: As some know, I collect and sell vintage linens. Among the lovely pieces I come across, I have found many that are damaged just enough that I can’t, in good faith, sell them.

They might have a dark stain or a hole or three. They might be orphan napkins or pillowcases that have known too many heads. And yet . . .

And yet, they often have a frill or a furbelow, a hand crocheted lace edge or a bit of hand-wrought embroidery, a pretty little something that someone bent her head over, labored over, and crafted with her own hands.

I have found over and over that I cannot throw these bits away. For years, I have sought a way to use them, to save the work of the women who made these things.

And then one day, in one of those early morning forays into the bottomless time suck of Pinterest, I saw a photo of what was being called a fusion quilt. The ones I saw were simply squares of pretty, but new, fabric that had been cut and sewed up and edged with crochet.

But I saw, clearly, in my mind’s eye, my bits and pieces of loveliness.

Like these.

Each has three stages.

fusion progress blocks-7

First, the basic padded square needs to be made, work I’ve done on a sewing machine. I cut the “fancies,” the batting, and the backing, sew them together, turn them inside out, poke out the corners, and top stitch around the edge.

Then, I do blanket stitch around the edge by hand.

Then, I crochet the edge on each one. Somewhere, down the road, I’ll crochet the individual pieces together, creating an expanse of vintage handwork, with a myriad of pretty details.

I currently have 20 squares finished to the point of needing the crochet. I am not a very good crocheter so I wanted a stack to do all at once so as to get a rhythm going—I have a stack now!

fusion progress blocks-8

It used to be, when I was going through my linens, and getting them ready to sell, I’d be majorly disappointed when I found a damaged piece. Now I’m often thrilled!

This project has “me” written all over it—I’m doing handwork to preserve the handwork of women whose names I don’t know, whom I know only by their craft. Their work, sewn together in one piece, will be more than the sum of the parts and continue to draw the eyes and admiration of makers. I am honored to work in service of them.

And, yes, I still have a quilt to baste, a quilt that honors still other women who have shown me how to live! More on that in the next installment!


If you hate quilt basting and have wondered about different approaches, I highly recommend Sharon Schamber–Hand Basting Your Quilt.


This Hand Quilt Along is an opportunity for hand quilters and piecers to share and motivate one another. We post every three weeks, to show our progress and encourage one another.  If you have a hand quilting project and would like to join our group contact Kathy at the link below.

Kathy, Bella, Lori, Margaret, Kerry, Emma, Tracy, Deb, Connie, Deborah,  Susan , Jessisca  and Sherry

Ghosts of Holidays Past

ghost linens

An older post that I dust off every couple of years to encourage you to dig out your grandma’s vintage table linens and USE them this holiday season!


This is the time of year that we all start thinking about setting a nice table for whatever holidays we celebrate. Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa—you name it, it involves a meal and we want the meal to be special in both the foods served and in presentation.

It will surprise no one who has been following along, that I like to use vintage linens on the table at these big holidays. A few of the items I have belonged to one or another ancestor but, mostly, I’ve accumulated my linens second hand.

Over the years, I piled up dozens of damask linen napkins to use at parties and many tablecloths as well.  Good-quality damask is like no other fabric—it is heavy and crisp and has a beautiful sheen. It looks good in any setting and doesn’t compete with the rest of your serving items.

Another benefit of these beautiful linens is that you can find superior quality at very good prices—just take a look at Etsy or eBay and you’ll find tablecloths in all sizes and napkins ranging from cocktail size through the huge size that some people call “lapkins.” The lapkins were often as big as 25 inches square and were used both to cover expensive clothing, in a time when laundry was a lot more difficult to do, and as a display of wealth and refinement.

One problem with buying vintage linens, though, is that most of them have been used and, if they were used for meals, they probably have some sort of spots or stains.

In my time as a purveyor of vintage linens, I’ve learned a lot about getting stains out; most of the techniques involve patience and a willingness to let the items soak, for long hours, in hot water and whatever concoction I’m using.

I’ve also learned, though, with my own linens, to leave the spots alone. I see it this way—the spots on the cloths came from a family having fun. They were sitting around a holiday table, maybe the only time all year they’d all be together. The men, at least in my family, were talking about the farm and the herd and the women were talking about how they shouldn’t have another piece of pie but maybe just a sliver . . .

The kids were at the “children’s table” in the kitchen and, mostly, glad to be there because the grown-ups sat around the big table FOREVER, talking and talking and drinking coffee and talking.

And in all of that family time, things got spilled on the tablecloth. Maybe it was when the gravy boat was going one direction and the cranberry sauce headed the other. Or someone was laughing and sloshed the coffee.

And the spills left the shadow of a spot. The proof, really, that a good time was had and people weren’t worried about the furnishings when there were stories to tell and relatives to get caught up with.

So I pretty much think of the faint spots on my table linens as the ghosts of good times past. Good times that left little marks on the linens but made a far greater impression on the people around the table.

A Weekend Steeped in Vintage

I had the kind of delightful weekend available only to the lover, and purveyor, of vintage linens.

Oh, it was a good weekend anyway—the temperatures in upstate New York reached a very unusual 60 degrees, my beloved Penn State Nittany Lions won at football, hand quilting and chocolate were on the agenda.

But the best part of the weekend involved finding a plastic bin full of wonderful linens I didn’t know I had.

How is that possible?

It’s embarrassing to admit but I have been known to hoard such things. I buy linens at garage sales, flea markets, thrift shops, and on eBay. I buy them when I find them and often don’t deal with them right away. I may have as many as 10 large plastic bins stored, waiting . . .

I thought I sort of knew what was in those bins and it did not fill my heart with gladness.

Recently my dealing with old linens hasn’t been much fun. I have a lot of plain white damask table linens—elegant and of high quality but, frankly, they all look alike unless you are a real aficionado.

I have a LOT of tablecloths. Tablecloths are time consuming and a pain to iron and I can only deal with them on days when I can move them straight from the ironing board to the big table and take photos right away.

And, lately, I seem to have had a lot of items that have damage, some of it small but some of it serious. The serious damage means giving up on the piece altogether but the small damage creates the conundrum—do I try to sell it anyway? I have to take photos of the flaws and list it “as is.” Is it worth it? Will it bring the overall look of my shop down if I include such things?

And I admit, I have a tendency to “cherry pick” when I go looking for linens to smarten up. I open bins, rummage around, pull out the unusual, the striking, and leave the mediocre or common. This means I have a lot of mediocre and common waiting around . . .

So, I was thrilled when I opened a bin, thinking it would be more of the same, and instead found a treasure chest of lovely items, vintage but in unused condition—towels with bright printed designs, napkins with perfect embroidery, all manner of unusual and striking beauties.

All the stars aligned.

The sky was bright so I could take photos in natural light.

The days were warm so I could work on our glassed-in porch where that natural light is abundant and the big table awaits.

I could iron tablecloths because I could move them to that awaiting table on that porch where the day was warm and the natural light was abundant.

And I could enjoy all the variety and quality that are the best aspects of dealing with vintage linens.

Over two days, I ironed and took about 300 photos of items ranging from large tablecloths blooming with printed red roses to small tea cloths delicately embroidered.

From sassy chickens to sweet pansies.

From understated elegance to napkins of every stripe.

Of course, I still have work to do. The photos must be edited and listings written before these pretty things are available on Etsy. But the linens gave me something I needed this weekend.

I started with a pile of chaos and ended with crisp, sweet-smelling, beautiful order.

Lately, it seems, little things mean a lot . . .

What made your weekend delightful?

For All It Represents

IMG_3811

I love this dresser scarf. Or is it a table runner? Or a doily?

It doesn’t matter what we call it, I love it all the same.

Do I love it because it’s pretty? Not really. I can see why some people would find it lovely but it is not my aesthetic at all. It’s a little too fussy, a little too pretty and flowery and girly, for my taste.

Do I love it because it’s rare and seldom seen? Not at all. This sort of hand embroidered fabric, meant to decorate a dresser top or sideboard, is pretty much, literally, a dime a dozen. In the world of vintage linens, the only items more plentiful are crocheted doilies.

Do I love it because it’s practical? No. It comes from an era where women seem to have felt compelled to cover blank surfaces with “décor.” Antimacassars, doilies, runners, piano scarves—the philosophy seemed to be “let no piece of furniture go naked.” Some of these items had an ostensible purpose—antimacassers on the backs of upholstered furniture, for instance, were designed to keep a popular male hair product—macasser—off the fabric. But, really, most of these items were just meant to look pretty.

I have lots of reasons not to love this runner and yet I do love it.

I love it for what it represents.

  • A woman seeking to beautify her space. Whether this was made by a Yankee, to hold dark winter at bay, or an Okie, facing dust storms or a lonely road west, this woman wrought her own scene of beauty.
  • A woman with enough leisure to time to be able to think about beauty. Whoever did this piece had done enough of the daily chores, the must-dos, to feel justified in taking her leisure on a want-to-do. I’m happy she found that time.
  • A woman who found a way to “be productive” while sitting quietly and beautifying her world. I can relate to this and I know some of you can, too. If you are a person of action and you like to point at what you’ve accomplished, you relish a job of work that can be done while sitting in the shade and allowing your mind to wander.
  • A woman who took pride in something made by her own hands that would So much of women’s daily work was work that was undone—beds made that were unmade each night, clothes washed and dirtied again, meals made and eaten and made again. To embroider something or stitch a quilt was to create a lasting object, something that might, even, outlive the maker.
  • A woman, perhaps denied other ways of asserting her individuality, finding a voice in her handwork. She chose the pattern, the colors, the embellishment. It was unique and it was hers.

This little dresser scarf packs a lot of meaning for me.

I also love it because I saved it.

Those of us who have pets will probably admit that the ones you saved from a grim fate always seem extra special. The stray one, skittish and fearful, the abandoned one, in pain and alone, those pets have our hearts in particular ways.

This runner came in a box of linens found, as usual, under a table and ignored, at a garage sale. The box actually held many pretty and quite exceptional items but, there, at the bottom, was this country cousin of a runner. And it was stained and filthy. It was a stray, unlikely to be noticed or to find a forever home.

I soaked it for hours in three different washes. I progressed from regular washing through my big guns, the Biz and Cascade combo. It was still stained. I did the Biz and Cascade again and added boiling water to my already very hot washing machine. Finally, the stains faded and disappeared. I ironed it carefully and spiffed it up for its glamour shots.

And now the runner is beautiful.

Was it worth the time and energy? It was not, at least not because it was exceptionally lovely or rare or useful.

But, yes, of course, it was worth it! It was worth it because of all it represents, because of the woman who crafted it and all the women like her, and like us, who make our marks by making a mark with thread or yarn or fabric or paint, or any of a multitude of other media.

I won’t keep this little runner—a person can’t adopt every stray and be fair to them all. I’ll show it to friends and see if there is a worthy home among them. At some point if need be, I’ll list it on Etsy in order to match it up with a good home.

One way or another, I’ll find it a place where it’s appreciated for what it is and for all it represents.

The One That Didn’t Get Away

Sometimes things work out just fine.

A few short weeks ago, I was loudly lamenting that I had not bought a sewing caddy I found at a garage sale. But that recent experience with hesitation and regret left me primed for the sewing box I found two days ago, at yet another garage sale.

While the one that got away was whimsical and handmade and fun, this one is staid and handsome and sensible.

The case I left behind made me smile out loud, but I think I knew that, if I owned it, I wouldn’t really use it. I have other similar cases and I have never pressed them into real service. They are a little tippy and awkward to move and, I don’t know, not really aligned with my organizational style.

I knew this case was really much more suited to my needs; I loved it the moment I saw it.

This is not to say that I paid the asking price for it! It was priced at three times as much as the box I didn’t buy and I would not have gone that high. But the seller wanted it to be loved and appreciated and was willing to accept what I could pay, she said, because she believed I would love and appreciate it.

She was right.

It belonged to the great-grandmother of the seller; great-grandma’s name was Violet.

Violet, and others in the family who came to use the box, left the case filled with the bits and bobs and flotsam of daily sewing. I spent a happy hour or two sifting through their treasures.

Wooden spools of thread, clothing patterns from the 1960s, needle books given away at stores. Pin cushions. Many, many buttons. I will think of Violet whenever I use the case.

But this isn’t Violet’s sewing box any longer. It’s mine now, and I just know she’d want me to use it and make it my own.

I’ll put most of the old stuff away and fill the box with the flotsam of my daily sewing. It will hold the things I use to sew yo-yos together, to embroider my redwork squares, to organize me through projects as yet unimagined.

I will pick it up and take it with me to sit by the lake on these perfect summer days. In autumn, I can carry it to a spot sheltered from the wind and savor the October sun.

I will transport it next to the fireplace when winter arrives and the lake freezes and the north wind blows cold.

And I’ll be awfully glad I didn’t let this one get away . . .

IMG_3227

The One That Got Away: The Sewing Caddy

IMG_0219

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.

Version 2

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.

IMG_0221

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.

Version 2

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.