My Old-Time Religion

I grew up in a family committed to missionary work. One aunt was a Christian missionary in Mexico, another aunt and uncle were Wycliffe Bible translators in Vietnam.

I spent last weekend witnessing as well, proselytizing and evangelizing, but not for Christianity.

Those who follow along here may have a vague memory of me announcing that I’m an atheist, but that doesn’t mean I’m not religious in my beliefs.

It’s just that my religion doesn’t have a god . . . but its heaven is most inviting, or at least it’s the place for me.

It’s a small sect, with few faithful adherents. Some are the equivalent of C&E (Christmas and Easter) Christians—they practice the faith but casually and only on their own terms.

My religion isn’t well-represented in this region; we few members seek each other out and rejoice when we find another believer.

It’s a fundamentally old-fashioned belief system, slow-paced and beholden to the olden days.

My religion, it seems, is hand quilting.

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Last weekend, I spent two days at the biennial show of the Champlain Valley Quilters’ Guild, sitting at a quilting frame–demonstrating, teaching, talking about quilting by hand–and looking for converts.

Like all missionaries, I got a variety of reactions. Some people walked by and laughed, and walked on. A couple of hand quilting atheists shook their heads and called me crazy.

But my slow work, with the serene smile on my face and the peace in my movements, drew others. They sat, they watched, they picked up a needle and joined me.

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Some people were curious—they seemed to come looking for a new kind of meaning, a place of belonging.

Others were already true believers. We spoke in almost spiritual tones and words of how we felt about the hand quilting. It has a soul; it carries the spirit of our ancestors; it allows us to transcend the mundane, to find a peace unavailable through a machine.

I asked them to look at the three or four quilts, in a show of 400, that were quilted by hand, by members of the faith. We could all see and sense the difference, even though we admitted that the quilts done by machine were often awe-inspiring in their own ways.

We agreed that, while we’d never go to war or start an Inquisition to defend our faith, we’d never foist our beliefs on others, we still agreed that our ways suit us best.

Everyone needs to believe in something, I guess. And I believe in taking it slow . . .

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One of only three or four hand-quilted quilts in our guild show. Maybe next time, there will be more!?

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I Wander As I Wind . . .

IMG_8789I’m winding warp. By the time the day is out, I will have 7 more bundles like this, all for a set of towels.

Winding warp is kind of boring, kind of repetitious, kind of mundane, but without it no weaving can be done.

When my mind wanders as I wind, I think of possibilities.

Because winding warp is all about possibilities and all about anticipation.

In this warp I see Christmas, of course, and winter. Snow and brisk winds and the cozy fires of home.

I see strong fabric where there is now simply thread.

I see useful objects that will please people who have values like mine, who value function and form and the imprint of the human hand.

I see hours spent watching the cloth grow, watching candy cane stripes wend through white, fresh and crisp and pleasing.

Through the occasional stress and struggles and bad news of daily life, I see making and becoming and creating.

So, I will go wind warp.

Our New Roommate . . .

I was delivered in late fall, in the mid-1950s. She was delivered two days later; we’re almost exactly the same age.

She lived her whole life in Vermont while I left upstate New York for many years, only to return and make my home here again.

Lately she found she needed a home so we invited her to live here. But she had to be willing to live in the garage until we found a place for her inside.

Does that sound mean? Making an older lady live in our garage?

It’s okay–she’s tough, and she’s happy to have a home where she is appreciated and can feel useful.

Our new housemate is a Macomber Add-A-Harness loom. Yes, another loom.

The Macomber company, started in 1936, is still in business and they could tell us that the serial number on our new loom meant the loom was delivered in late 1955 to Mrs. Maurice Jones of Montpelier, VT. Mrs. Jones, Jean, died at the age of 88 in 2013.

Her husband, Maurice, died just last year, at 93. When his belongings were dispersed, Jean’s loom sold at auction and we found it on Craigslist.

It’s a wonderful loom, sturdy and clean. It has 4 shafts but, as its name suggests, 4 more can be added, since the company is still going strong.

As often happens, the loom was sold with “extras”—when someone stops weaving, they have no need for the arcane tools of the trade.

And as much as I love the loom, it’s these extras that have really fascinated me.

Mrs. Jones went all in when she chose weaving as a hobby. She got books and magazines, some nice tools, and quite a lot of pretty thread.

In the 1950s, when a person wanted to buy weaving yarn, she couldn’t go on the internet and look at pictures or ask for samples. Mrs. Jones had to write to companies and request samples.

And she did. And she kept every sample she received.

Yarns from Lily and Butterworth and Troy and Golden Rule. If none of these names are familiar, it’s because the companies no longer exists. The Lily yarn you can currently buy has nothing to do with the Lily Mills of Shelby, NC, and though Troy still exists, the company now sells quilting cotton fabric. The others . . . all gone.

Mrs. Jones records are a mini-museum of weaving in mid-20th century America.

Did she become a great weaver? The evidence suggests she did not.

All of the requests for yarn sample are from 1955 and 1956.

The magazines are from the same years.

The items were all stored in newspaper-lined boxes, and the newspaper was from 1967.

Mrs. Jones’s obituary mentions that “Jean enjoyed flowers and gardening, her berry patch, mowing her acreage on her ‘Jean Deere’ tractor, bowling, square dancing, hand work, cooking and entertaining,” but says nothing of weaving.

It may be that she wove for a while. The man from whom we bought the loom remembers that, at the auction, there were hand-woven items and the auctioneer speculated that they were made on this loom.

Or maybe the weaving bug, that old arachnid, never really bit. And maybe the loom has been quiet for all these years.

I’ll keep Mrs. Jones records because I don’t know what else to do with them—I can’t just throw them away.

And all that yarn? Will we use it? That’s a tough one. When that yarn is gone, it’s gone forever, just like the once thriving textile industries is the United States . . .

But the loom will be quiet no more! Don has big plans for her.

She won’t live in the garage for long—at 60-something, she deserves better.

 

When All is Done, and Said

All our words are never said and and all our work is never done . . . but we complete steps along our creative way.

I’ve made reference to and shown glimpses of this quilt I’ve been working on—and the top is finally finished!

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The impetus for the quilt came from the block-of-the-month (BOM) challenge my guild had this past year. The way the BOM works is that each month at a guild meeting, participants are given the directions for a new quilt block to make during the coming month. If one stays on track, by the end of the year one has done a good bit of work toward a finished project. I like finished projects as well as the next person!

And I liked the theme our guild chose: in light of this being the 100th anniversary of New York giving full enfranchisement to women, including the right to vote, the theme of our BOM was Women’s Suffrage.

The theme appealed to me a lot but I wanted to take it further and make my quilt more broadly about women’s rights. And I didn’t want to stop at the 9 pieced blocks that we received instructions for.

I reverted to my roots—my love of words, words that inspire, words that provoke, and words that maybe even foment change.

I chose 10 quotations from 9 women and one quotation from a man, Mitch McConnell, about a woman. I tried to be inclusive and choose from women of different eras and backgrounds.

For the embroidery, I used my tried-and-true freezer paper and computer printer method for transferring the designs to fabric—I wrote about it here.*

I ended up with 9 pieced blocks from the BOM challenge but needed one more for the design I wanted, so I added a block from a pattern called “Contrary Wife”–I figured many people saw the suffragettes as just that (it’s the block at the bottom left).

I sewed the pieced blocks and the embroidered blocks together in an alternating grid, with sashing. At some future date, I’ll hand quilt the whole thing.

I started this quilt well before the US presidential election and worked on it while I watched the voting returns, never suspecting the way things were going to turn out. I lost my way for awhile after that and didn’t work on the quilt for a good long time.

But as it turns out, I felt compelled to finish.

I’ve been thinking about a phrase I read somewhere—weapons of mass creation. Although the word “weapons” makes me uneasy, I do like the juxtaposition of ideas, that we can use the tools we have to build up rather than tear down.

And the tools, or weapons, I have are words, and needle and thread and shuttle and loom.

And I intend to use them–for my own comfort, for the simple joy of making, for the chance to make statement, subtle or less so, about the world I want to live in.

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*I’m thinking about doing another, even more detailed post about this, to encourage others to try the process of embroidering their own words on fabric. Would that be useful? If you have strong feeling, let me know.

 

Studying, One Stitch at a Time

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from the website of Aram Han Sifuentes

It’s a tried and true method of studying for the big test—write the important facts and ideas out, in longhand.

In an age of laptops and smart phones, writing by hand is decidedly “old school,” but good students will tell you that they spend hours before exams, re-writing their class notes, notes they took by writing them out by hand during class.

When we write something out, we study the words. Writing is relatively slow and it gives us time to think about the content. The effort involved in forming the letters creates a memory of what the words symbolize.

I believed this as a student and, later, as a college prof, I urged struggling students to try it.

Now, I never need to study for a big exam. But I still love powerful words, pondering them, and remembering their meaning.

I’ve told you about my inclination to preserve some of my favorite words by embroidering them on fabric. I’ll tell you more, soon, as this project is nearing completion.

If writing ideas out by hand helps one remember, the added effort of stitching them out really transforms the experience!

This idea is old school, too. We know that it was used in Colonial America when young girls made embroidered samplers, to combine learning the alphabet, numbers, a positive adage or Biblical verse, as well as sewing skills.

As the stitches form letters and the letters form words, the stitcher grows with the words.

You can only imagine how much I loved a story I came across recently, from the website Crosscut, that told of immigrants studying for the U.S. citizenship exam by . . . YES! Embroidering the kinds of questions and answers that might be asked on the test!

The project was created by artist Aram Han Sifuentes. Sifuentes, from South Korea, prepared for her own US citizenship test by embroidering a sampler of 100 questions and answers typical of the test questions, questions like, “What did Susan B. Anthony do?” “Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?” “What is the capital of your state?”

Having proved to herself that the process was effective, Sifuentes has since taught art workshops for immigrants that combine embroidery skills and civics. The students are mostly adults—one sampler on Sifuentes’s web page was done by a 77-year-old man—and, in addition to the embroidered words, many stitchers embellish their panels with other designs like the Great Seal of the United States or an image of Rosie the Riveter.

Beyond creating the means by which to help immigrants study, Sifuentes offers the finished samplers for sale on her website and, if they sell, she gives the money back to the stitcher, to pay for their application for citizenship. To me, this is an inspired and inspiring artistic project, one that makes a tangible difference in peoples’ lives.

It’s funny. I had begun to think of my own embroidering of quotations, about women’s rights, as a little frivolous, a little pointless. In the face of a reality that grows increasingly scary and a world increasingly unstable, my stitching felt quaint, tame, lame.

But now I’m seeing it a bit differently. Maybe, as I stitch these powerful words and absorb them and ponder their meaning, I am preparing for a big test, after all. A test of what it means to be an American woman in 2017.


I didn’t want to use a bunch of photos from other peoples’ websites but, really, go look at the links!

Are You Up For A Challenge?

I’m always up for a challenge!

I mean, I like small challenges in my daily life—solving a problem, figuring something out, overcoming a difficulty, meeting a goal.

But even more, I love an external challenge–a set of standards or constraints, presented to a group of people, to see how they respond individually.

For instance, a number of years ago, we did a family fitness challenge. Four of us each put in $125 and set a 3-month time limit. The plan was to see who could exercise, for at least 30 minutes, for the most days in that time frame.

Two of the four participants exercised every single day for three months and shared the prize! And, of course, even those of us who “lost” won because we did far more than we would’ve, without the challenge.

Challenges are a big deal in the crafting world. Sometimes, these challenges are pretty straightforward—for instance, my quilt guild’s challenge last year was to make a red and white quilt and to incorporate, somewhere, two specific red and white print fabrics, which we were given.

Other challenges are more . . . challenging. One of the most intriguing I read about was a Beatles challenge, where each quilter chose a Beatles’ song to provide inspiration. My blog pal, Snarky Quilter, chose Paperback Writer and made her quilt a depiction of a pulp novel.

If you read a lot of craft blogs, you’ve probably come across a lot of craft bloggers who are participating in challenges and reporting back in their posts. Whether the crafters are knitting, embroidering, or quilting, challenges seem to draw us in.

What’s the appeal?

Part of the fun of a challenge is personal—I feel like I’ve done some of my most creative work in response to a challenge. Having guidelines and limitations is both constraining and liberating!

The best part of the challenge, though, is the unveiling, when the participants come together and show how they’ve each addressed the challenge. It is always fascinating to see how different people interpreted the guidelines and all the different directions creativity can go. A challenge creates a sense of community while celebrating individual creativity.

We went to the Vermont Weavers’ Guild show last weekend. We saw a number of lovely hand-woven pieces but, for both of us, the best part of the show was the display of challenge pieces.

The weavers had each chosen a postcard of an Impressionist painting and used that to inspire their choice of color and weaving pattern. The towels were displayed with the inspiration cards.

I loved the idea that practical, earthbound kitchen towels were inspired by transcendent works of art!

We spent a lot of time at the three racks of towels, choosing favorites and talking about what the weavers accomplished.

Seeing this challenge also got us thinking about ways we could use art as inspiration. It was fun to think about our own favorite paintings and consider ways we could use the colors. Don thought he might go the direction of Monet’s water lilies while I would look to the work of my favorite painter, John Singer Sargent. Wouldn’t these colors be pretty in a towel?

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Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent

One never knows where the next challenge is coming from, in life or in craft. Our life challenges may weigh heavily, tire us out, bring us down. Happily, our craft challenges can do just the opposite–lift us up, energize, give us new insight.

Have you participated in a favorite artistic challenge? Have you blogged about it? If so, consider leaving a link in the comments!

Paradise, by the Morning Lights

I am pleased—nay, relieved—to announce that paradise has arrived chez nous.

Paradise, according to my standards, that is.

Your idea of paradise might be very different from mine. Yours might not include early morning walks, with long shadows and stunning green.

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Maybe you don’t care for birds singing and roosters crowing, and woodpeckers pecking. Maybe the sight of old cats finding their inner kitten and frolicking in the sun fails to impress.

Maybe you’re bored with flowers blooming and grass greening, and the sound of lawns being mowed. Maybe the uncurling, unfurling, of tender hosta leaves doesn’t move you.

A lake free of ice and full of sparkles, with boats venturing out in spite of the water temperature being a mere 40 degrees F (that’s about 4 C)—maybe that doesn’t spell paradise to you.

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The signs of spring and the hints of summer abound. The promises of things to come are all around.

My paradise isn’t a static place—paradise doesn’t stand still. It whispers and suggests and promises that even more and even better is . . . soon.

Peonies, Solomon seal, lilies of the valley . . . they will come.

Old chairs on new grass, and the good old, same old sun. Kayaks in the water, bikes on the road, hot dogs on the grill. Music and song at the campfire.

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And two of our favorite people will arrive from their Florida home and take up residence just down the road.

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My paradise is . . . well, paradise! I hope you have your own, whatever it looks like.