Hand Quilt Along: Women’s Rights

On November 8, 2016, I watched our US election returns, fully expecting that we would be welcoming our first woman president.

As I watched, I embroidered on this block, with the words of the woman I was sure would be that president.

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I was stunned, horrified, and so, so disappointed when things worked out so differently, so cataclysmically wrong.

Disheartened, I stopped working on the quilt for a while but eventually knew that I needed, perhaps more than ever, to finish it.

And through the intervening two years, it’s given me some comfort to work on this. New women leaders have emerged while established standard bearers, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, continue to work toward keeping America America.

I admire Hillary Clinton. Nancy Pelosi. Elizabeth Warren.

I admire Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the other newly-elected women in government, every one of them, and Stacey Abrams and so many others.

I admire the women of Planned Parenthood and the ones who march for women’s rights, and women doctors and scientists and authors and artists, and every woman who has found her own way to say, “I am. I want my human rights.”

And, of course, I also admire the women who have found ways to express themselves when their expressive options were limited. And that brings us to my other quilt-in-progress.

I’ve started crocheting together the fusion squares.

I spent some time laying the squares out in patterns on my bed, trying to decide what worked. But I have almost no patience for that kind of work.

So I settled for a layout that put the all-white squares in the center, with more colorful ones bordering them. I stacked the squares up in order and had a plan, minimal though it was, and tucked all of the squares into a safe cabinet so I could take them out in order, to crochet.

The next day, I found that one of the cats (I’m looking at you, Gigi!) had finagled her way into the cabinet and wreaked havoc with my plan, minimal though it was. The squares were tossed every which way.

So, we’ll just have to wait and see how this turns out!


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

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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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This Is for You. I Made It Myself.

“This is for you. I made it myself.”

You make something for a friend or for a family member.

You think of them, with every stitch and brush stroke and creative impulse.

You consider their likes and dislikes, their favorite colors, their lifestyle. You pour yourself into the making.

You want it to be perfect, to express your love, your affection, the extent to which you value their presence in your life.

You value their presence but . . . do they value your present?

A couple of times lately, I have come face to face with what I consider a bit of a betrayal. I’ve found, at garage sales, beautiful handmade gifts being sold for a pittance.

It’s given me pause and made me wonder about the extent to which handmade gifts can ever be truly appreciated by people who are not, themselves, hand makers.

One of the items I came across is this beautiful hand crocheted afghan, in wild and wonderful shades of green.

 

It was hanging on a clothesline at a yard sale and I idly asked if it was for sale. Yes, it was. How much? Two dollars. Two dollars?! I’ll take it.

I asked, Did you make it? The answer was, No, my best friend made it for me.

Um.

Okay.

Your best friend spent hours making you this gift and you are selling it to a stranger for two dollars.

I knew not what to say. But what I thought was “pearls before swine.” What I thought was your friend deserves a better friend than you. And I became the crocheting friend’s friend, in absentia, and will give her afghan the good home it deserves.

And then I came across this fabulous hand knit sweater.

This sweater has it all. It is big and burly and well made. It has cool colors and a terrific retro design. It has a proud tag, added by the maker, “From the knitting needles of Eleanor E. Heffner.”

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Oh, Eleanor. I am so sorry that your sweater ended up at a garage sale, being carelessly sold for three dollars. For whom did you knit it? I hope that first recipient cherished it, even though the sweater came to this sad end.

But, of course, it isn’t the end for the sweater. I’ll offer it for sale and the perfect owner will present themselves, someone who understands what Eleanor was communicating when she stitched this great old cardigan.

I know that, in theory, a gift is supposed to be given freely, with no strings attached. That the joy is supposedly in the giving and, once given, we can’t determine how the gift will be used and maybe we should try not to care.

But I can’t help but be sad for these makers whose work was underappreciated, for any one of us who makes a gift for someone who just doesn’t get it.

I think it may happen more than I knew. I mentioned the topic to my group of sewing ladies, we who meet weekly to stitch, and knit, and crochet, and quilt. To make things that often become gifts. And, I should note, these women are excellent makers, who take great care in their work—no sloppy, amateurish rags coming from this group!

And I heard their horror stories of quilts that took days, weeks, months to make and that were immediately re-purposed as dog beds. Of handmade gifts that were never acknowledged or were given away. Of faint praise and insincere thanks, or no thanks at all.

Is there an abyss, a huge disconnect between those who make and those who don’t? Am I trying to communicate in a language foreign to others, those who receive a handwoven kitchen towel and think, “Oh . . . a towel. Big deal.”

What do think? Are you happy with the simple act of giving, in a selfless, loving way, the things that you labor over? Or do you consider the recipient and, perhaps, reserve your handwrought work for those you know can appreciate it?

And how about those of you who aren’t makers? Are you thrilled or made uncomfortable by a handmade gift? Are those of us who craft expecting too much? Do you cringe or cheer when you hear the words, “This is for you. I made it myself”?