Home Ick

I was ironing from my stash of vintage linens recently and came across an apron that set off a wave of memories for me.

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The fabric is vintage 1960s, sort of cool and retro. The sewing is novice—the waist band is applied awkwardly, so the uneven stitching creates puckers and wrinkles. The colors—the turquoise ties that match nothing in the main fabric—would appeal to a young girl.

I’d bet a lot of simolians that the apron was a project from a long ago Home Ec class.  

I was a young girl, a novice at sewing in the 1960s, too . . . I took classes in this thing Americans called Home Economics. 

It must’ve been the late 1960s and I was probably in 7th or 8th grade. The boys took “Shop” and used woodworking tools and learned about car engines, while the girls took Home Ec and learned about cooking and sewing. 

For a person who now loves sewing and even quite likes baking, I hated Home Ec. Even then, as a 12- or 13-year-old, I thought of it as Home Ick.

I have these clear memories of the teacher showing us how to butter bread. She stressed that we needed to spread the butter or mayonnaise or peanut butter right up to the edges of the bread, very carefully right up to the edges, so that the bread would stay moist . . . for our husbands and children.

She told us to take two slices of bread out of the package and open the slices like pages of a book so, when we put them back together, with filling, they would fit and match perfectly . . . for our husbands and children.

She taught us that it was of utmost importance, when measuring liquids, to squat down and look at liquid in the measuring cup at eye level, so we would get the precise amount and our cookies would turn out perfect . . . for our husbands and children.

Ai yi yi.

The sewing lessons were just as lame, to my 12-year-old sensibilities. We sewed one seam up a length of cloth to make a tube, stuffed it full of batting, and tied the two ends closed with cord and called it a bolster pillow. Really?

We also did class presentations on makeup and I remember a classmate intoning that we shouldn’t use eyeliner because it was passé. I was impressed that she could the word “passé” in a sentence but that whole thing about eyeliner . . . ?

I like to think I was ahead of my time, a mini-feminist in the making. Maybe the attitudes of the late 1960s and 1970s were influencing me, even in the backwoods of upstate New York, but taking an actual class in how to make a sandwich struck me as ridiculous. 

Maybe it was because my mother and father both worked and I had long made my own sandwiches . . . but taking an actual class in how to make a sandwich struck me as really, really ridiculous.

Maybe it was because what we were being taught was SO basic, not to mention sexist, and I knew the boys were learning skills of value—changing the oil on a car, making book ends with power tools—and no one was ever suggesting that they do it just so, for their wives and children.

Home Ec died a few years later at my school. I believe it has since been reincarnated, in different forms, in some schools. Boys can learn to cook and girls can take Shop, or not, as electives. Maybe they’re also teaching budgeting and organizational skills, and useful life skills, beyond how to butter bread and disdain eyeliner.

Thinking about my own Home Ec experience has me wondering—was it just that my experience was a lame one? Did other teachers, in other schools, provide a better, fuller range of skills? The person who stitched the vintage apron certainly learned to sew more than a bolster pillow! 

Was Home Ec just a thing in the United States? Did/do schools in other countries use valuable school hours teaching such things?

Do tell—what experience did you have with Home Ick?

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Hand Quilt Along: On the Road

Sand and suntan lotion and a trip far from home do not lend themselves to hand quilting on a big unwieldy project.

And that is why hand quilters always need a portable project to tote along!

While my women’s rights quilt languishes at home, cold and alone, my fusion squares are enjoying a vacay.

And they are proliferating. At last report, I had finished 54 of these 5-inch squares. I have now finished 97, plus I have 12 more on this trip with me.

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I have woven in all the crocheted ends and blocked the crochet trim on all the squares.

I am feeling like this project might be reaching its logical next step—the crocheting together of  all ochocino-neuve-jillions of squares into one big square, to be known as THE Fusion Quilt. 

I have so many gorgeous bits–some are subtle, some are sophisticated, some are splashy, some are very “loving hands at home.” I love them all.

Does this mean I have used up all the scraps of vintage prettiness that spawned the project?

Not, it does not.

I have dozens more 5-inch squares that may, one day, be incorporated into another quilt. 

But, for now, I’m going to wash the suntan lotion off my hands, stick my feet in the white sand, and sew in the sun. And get ready to finish this project!


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.

KathyLoriMargaretKerryEmmaTracyDebConnieSusan,  Nanette,  EdithSharonKarrin, and Gretchen

Of Making Hay and Glamour Shots

As the daughter of a dairy farmer, one phrase has always had great meaning to me: “Make hay while the sun shines.”

We needed hay to feed the cows during winter. But wet hay, that which had been rained upon, would moulder in the haymow or, worse, could spontaneously combust, burst into flames–the last thing one wants in a barn.

So, we watched the weather and did as the proverb told us—grabbed the sunny days, put other chores aside, and brought in the hay.

Now I am equally aware of sunny days but I grab them for a different purpose.

Now my motto is, “Take pix when the sun shines.”

I’ve been selling vintage linens on Etsy for over 8 years and probably the single most important aspect of that is good photos. And good photos of vintage linens, or anything, really, depends on natural light.

When I initially get the linens I sell, they are often in pretty unappealing shape. I’ve written elsewhere about my whiz-bang techniques for getting out stains and brightening up the linens.

But the rest of the process is equally important. 

When I get a sunny day, I approach my linen photos as glamour shots. 

Do you remember glamour shots from the 1980s and 1990s? Was that only an American thing? Women would get a makeover, with big hair, lots of dramatic makeup, some glittering jewels or maybe a feather boa, and a professional photographer would employ soft lighting and maybe a bit of blur or air brushing to create the glamour. 

I never had my glamour shot taken, but my linens get them regularly!

First, I iron; that’s the makeover part. I’m always surprised, when I go looking at the other listings on Etsy for vintage linens (or even more so on eBay) how many sellers don’t bother to iron! The ironing might be my favorite part and certainly it transforms the linens from bedraggled to beautiful.

Then I find a sunny window, where there’s good light that doesn’t shine directly on the table I’m using.

The combination of a sunny day and the light shining just right in a window is a tough one here, in the winter.

I usually take 15-20 photos of each set of napkins or tablecloth or hankie. I can use up to 10 of those photos in an Etsy listing. 

After all these years of doing it, I have a sort of routine. First, the boring photo of the full item.

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This one will be the last of the 10 photos customers see. If the item has any flaws—a tiny hole or a noticeable spot, I take photos of those, too. 

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I take extreme close-ups if the item has amazing detail, like hand embroidery or fancy lace. 

I take photos of different angles, trying to catch the beauty of the fabric and colors.

Damask linen, which has a tone-on-tone design woven into the fabric, can be the most difficult to photograph well—it can just look like plain old white cloth.

Early on, I read on the internet that, to capture the beauty of damask linen, one needed “strong, raking light,” or light from a deep angle, which can reveal texture. 

So, I stalk around the table, bending low, moving the item slowly around, until the pattern emerges, until the lush sheen of the linen and the flamboyant damask design of mums or roses or fleurs de lis show to advantage. 

I love this process and can get WAY too caught up in it, spending 20 minutes trying to get the perfect photo of something I’ll be selling for eight bucks. 

Like my farming forbears, I watch the forecast and look for sunny days. I set aside other obligations and plans for those days and use them for taking Etsy photos. In mid-January, we had two sunny days in a row and I took over 425 photos.

I see now that Monday will be sunny and you know what I’ll be doing . . . making hay taking glamour shots of napkins!

Hardanger Hijinks

There’s a new stitch-along in town.

Kathy, at Sewing, Etc., is doing tutorial on how to work hardanger.

Hardanger is a special needlework technique that combines embroidery and drawn thread work. You embroider and cut, embroider and cut, all while hyperventilating and hoping you don’t cut too much or too far.

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From Kathy’s blog–see how she’s cutting those threads? Eek.

I’ve seen a lot of hardanger in my years of selling vintage linens and am fascinated by the technique but I told Kathy I wasn’t going to participate in her stitch-along.

And then, you know, she posted the first instructions in a tutorial.

And I said, what the heck.

I whipped out some pretty blue linen I just happened to have on hand—not too fine cuz I’m new to this—and some white thread and I just took the plunge.

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It went pretty well, don’t you think?

I made two placemats then got bored with the pattern so I made two more with a different pattern.

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Then I thought, well, who wants a set of four placemats when six is within reach and I just dashed off two more in yet another different pattern.

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I’m darn good at this, huh?

And then, since I had more fabric left and I was feeling frisky, I stitched up a cute little apron.

I am the queen of hardanger.

Wait . . . why are you looking at me like that? As if you doubt me? Don’t believe me?

I can see what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Really, Kerry??”

NO!

Not really! Ha.

Of course I didn’t make these pretty things. They were part of a stash of vintage linens I got recently. According to a handwritten tag attached to them, they are Danish.

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But they are a beautiful example of the hardanger techniques. You can see how the white embroidery frames and secures the background cloth so that threads of that blue cloth can be cut and removed to create the classic look.

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So, no. I’m not joining this stitch-along. I have plenty to keep me busy and feeling stressed without adding another deadline to my life. But I’ll follow along, watching the progress made by others, and offer my pretty vintage hardanger as inspiration.

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The Perfect Fusion: HQAL and ScrapHappy

The stars are aligned, with a perfect confluence of energy.

In a serendipitous meshing of ley lines, the designated dates for ScrapHappy and for the Hand Quilt Along have come together on this very day.

My scrappy weaving is finished for now and my big hand-quilting project is on hold, awaiting cooler weather. The fusion of ScrappyHappy and HQAL provides just the right time to write again about my fusion quilt.

The fusion quilt, for newcomers (or readers who don’t remember every detail of a post from months ago!), is a quilt combining sewing and crochet. Small squares are made of pretty fabric chosen by the maker, a blanket stitch border is added, and crochet is hooked into that border, to make a lovely edging. Eventually, many, many of these squares are crocheted together, to make a throw.

I’ve seen gorgeous fusion quilts made of all new fabric. But that wouldn’t be scrappy and that wouldn’t be me.

My fusion squares are the special bits of vintage linens–the embroidered flower, the tatted hem, the lacey furbelow.

I can’t bring myself to cut into vintage linens that are in good condition but that hasn’t limited me in any way. I have dozens (hundreds?) of damaged linens. They’re too stained or holey to use or to sell but they have sections of perfection.

Those 5-inch sections are the heart of my project. The last time I wrote about this, I had completed 24 squares and now my total is 54.

I still have not done any work toward attaching the squares one to another; I still feel as I did last time, that “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.”

Their scraps are my happy!


You, too, can participate in one or both of these blog happenings!

The 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.

KathyLoriMargaretKerryEmmaTracyDebConnieSusan,  NanetteSassy , Edith, and Sharon

ScrapHappy is open to anyone using up scraps of anything – no new materials. It can be a quilt block, pincushion, bag or hat, socks or a sculpture. Anything made of scraps is eligible. If your scrap collection is out of control and you’d like to turn them into something beautiful instead of leaving them to collect dust in the cupboard, why not join us on the 15th of each month? Email Kate at the address on her Contact Me page. We welcome new members. You don’t have to worry about making a long term commitment or even join in every month, just let either of us know a day or so in advance if you’re new and you’ll have something to show, so we can add your link. Regular contributors will receive an email reminder three days before the event.

Here are the links for everyone who joins ScrapHappy from time to time (they may not post every time, but their blogs are still worth looking at).

KateGun, TittiHeléneEvaSue, Nanette, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Debbierose, Tracy, Jill, Claire, JanKaren,
Moira, SandraLindaChrisNancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean, Johanna,
Joanne, Jon, Hayley and Dawn

 

The Case of the Larcenous Lady*

It was the trip of her lifetime. She had scrimped and denied herself small pleasures at home so she could fly Braniff.

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So she could stay at the Waldorf.

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And at the Lake Placid Club.

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And the Copley Plaza.

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So she could ride the Pullman Railroad and let the porters bring her tea.

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And as she left each place, each adventure, she knew she’d never be back. This was, for her, the last hurrah.

So, she slipped a little something in her case, just to keep as a small memento of this special time.

It wasn’t that she was a thief. No, never that! She had just looked forward to this for so long and spent so much money, surely a small souvenir would do no harm.

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Do you know this woman? There must’ve been many like her, to judge by the vintage linens I’ve come across from hotels and airlines and resorts.

These linens all speak to an era of travel that is long gone by—elegance and attention to detail. 

I’ve never brought home a pilfered souvenir from a trip, although I was almost seduced  once by the heavy silverware at the Saturn Club in Buffalo, with the tiny stamp of the planet on the handle.

But I admit I’d’ve been sorely tempted by these lovely items of a bygone time.

*My blog post title was apparently the title of an episode of the old Perry Mason TV series!