Ghosts of Holidays Past

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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.

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Someday . . .

Someday I’ll get caught up.

Someday I’ll tell you about the craft show and the trip to Florida and autumn in upstate New York (except now it’s over . . .)

Someday, I’ll update you on a lot of weaving and hand sewing I’ve been doing. Someday, I’ll be a regular correspondent here . . .

But not today.

Today is full of outside errands and chores, helping my mom adjust, keeping up with the basic details of family life.

So, today I’ll just show you a couple of photos that makes me happy–handwoven Christmas towels!

They started here.

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And now they’re done.

 

Quilting Along, Keeping the Faith

So.

We’re having a hand quilt-along. What in the world does that mean?!

Several of the members of my “faith,” led by Kathy Reeves, of Sewing Etc, are making a commitment to work on slow stitching of a quilt-making variety and to write about our progress every three weeks.

For those of you who have not yet been converted to quilt making and doing it by hand, perhaps reading about our projects will give you insight into our small, often misunderstood, sect.

If you are already an adherent of the faith, perhaps you’d like to join us in this mission? Just contact Kathy and let her know!

My Project

This is the quilt top that I made and that I will be quilting on for this project. You can read about it here.

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I’m also working on two other quilting projects that combine a little machine sewing with a lot of hand stitching and I may occasionally report about them, too.

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Fusion quilt–combining bits of vintage linens and crochet

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Cathedral windows quilt, with scraps from vintage dish towels

I have a quilt top. What else will I need to make it a quilt?

Not much, as it turns out. One of the nicest things about hand quilting is that it is minimalist.

This is the batting that will add the warmth to the quilt top that I made.

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There are zillions of options for quilt batting—it’s the fluffy stuff in the middle of a quilt. It provides warmth and gives the finished quilt a textured, three-dimensional look. I think this one is called “Warm and Natural”—it’s warm, lovely to “needle” for hand quilting, and I have it on hand.

This is the backing that will finish the “sandwich” and contain the batting on the quilt top that I made.

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Quilts are generally made of three layers—the top, the batting, and a fabric backing, all stitched together. It’s very trendy right now to do fancy pieced backings on quilts, in addition to the fancy pieced tops. But that just makes trouble for hand quilters.

Everywhere there’s a seam, on the top or the backing of a quilt, it’s an extra layer to stitch through. Quality hand quilting relies on rhythmic, regular stitching and it’s almost impossible to achieve that rhythm when stitching through lots of seams. I use plain fabric for my backing.

This is the thread that will join the batting and the backing to the quilt top that I made.

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I use thread made specifically for hand quilting. It’s a little heavier and stronger than regular thread. It’s also 100% cotton because I read somewhere that, because polyester is stronger than cotton, polyester thread and can actually cut into the cotton fabric of a quilt over time.

This is the needle that will draw the thread through the backing and the batting on the quilt top that I made.

Hand quilting needles are called “betweens.” They are very fine and quite small, compared to other needles. The theory is that the smaller the needle, the smaller the stitches that can be made and one way to judge the quality of hand quilting is to count the number of stitches per inch. Size 12 needles are the finest; I usually use a 9 or 10.

This is the finger cot that will pull the needle that will draw the thread through the backing and the batting on the quilt top that I made.

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I use the rocker or rocking method of hand quilting and that means I load as many as 5 stitches on my needle before I pull it through the fabric. The needle can be slippery and hard to pull so a latex finger cot, worn on my index finger, gives a little extra help. I buy them in the first-aid section of the drug store. Yes, I know what they look like . . .

This is the thimble that will protect the finger that pushes the needle that will draw the thread through the backing and the batting on the quilt top that I made.

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Again, I use the rocking method of hand quilting which means the bare fingers of my dominant hand don’t touch the needle—I use the thimble on my middle finger to provide the pressure to rock the stitch. Some thimbles are made especially for this kind of quilting—instead of the traditional domed top of most thimbles, these have a ridge around the top that prevents the needle from slipping off and maiming the quilter.

It would simply not be possible to do this type of quilting without a thimble. My thimble fits tightly and I am so used to wearing it that I never sew anything without it. I lost my thimble for a few days last year and nearly had a breakdown.

These are the scissors that will that will cut the thread from the backing and the batting on the quilt top that I made.

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Any small scissors will do but I think these stork scissors are super cute. I wear them around my neck on a (hand woven!) ribbon and some days I put them on in the early morning and don’t take them off all day.

This is the hoop that will hold the thread and the batting and the backing and the quilt top that I made.

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photo from terapeak.com

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It also makes a nice hidey hole for my assistant

Quilters can choose among lots of ways to hold a quilt for stitching—huge wooden frames that are engineering marvels, modern contraptions made of PVC pipe, and so on. But I love my hoop. I like my quilt to be taut as I quilt and this style frame lets me tighten the hoop a lot. It’s easiest to do the quilting stitch when sewing towards oneself and the hoop allows that because it pivots and tilts in all directions. It’s free standing, leaving both hands free, takes up little floor space, and looks quite pretty as it sits, holding a quilt in progress. The best part? I got it at an estate sale for $20! The worst part? I can’t find one like it for sale anywhere now—I’ll need to treat mine well!

I have all the items I need for hand quilting assembled and, yet, I am not ready to start quilting yet.

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Why not? I need to baste the three layers of my quilt-to-be—the top, batting, and backing—together to keep the pieces from shifting around.

I used to LOATHE basting but I learned a method a couple of quilts ago that changed all that. I’ll tell you about it in my next update!

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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.
BellaLoriMargaretKerryEmmaTracyDeb and Kathy

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!?

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.

After the Storm . . .

IMG_0385“It’s like a dark cloud encroaching on a sunny day . . . that cloud hovers there and distracts us from carefree joys of summer, causes deep concern for what comes next, brings a measure of dread.”

I wrote those words two months ago, feeling like a storm was approaching, threatening to rock our world.

Sometimes storms change direction and pass us by. Sometimes they peter out.

Sometimes they hit us hard and cause damage from which it is difficult to rebuild.

My step-dad, John Malcolm Bauman, died about a month ago. He had been in an intensive care unit for about 3 weeks before he died.

He was an exceptionally fine man, which made his loss exceptionally difficult. Even the medical personnel who worked with him commented frequently on their affection for him—one ICU nurse told me, “we’ve all fallen a little in love with him.”

He was a retired newsman, had worked as the evening TV anchor in a good-sized mid-western market. He was the Voice of the Quad Cities, and what a voice it was–mellifluous, intelligent, quietly funny, and wise.

Our loss of him has shaken our world, all of us, but it has been hardest on his wife, my mother.

She has moderate dementia and he was her anchor. He did most everything for her and considered it a privilege to do so, so he said.

Now I do those things for her, at least for the time being, and doing so has changed my day-to-day life in major ways.

For the last two months, she has lived with us and much of my time has been spent learning what I need to know to help her through this transition—what medications does she take? From where do we order them? How are they administered? Where are her bank accounts? How do I gain access to them? What do we do about her belongings at the home in Florida she shared with her husband? And what do we do about the place she owns here and will no longer be able to use?

I give you all this information by way of explanation. My time has been spent on family this summer, with little flexibility. What time I have claimed for myself has been spent, not on writing, but on making things. I’ve used my limited free time to quilt and to weave, my quiet pursuits that provide the balm I’ve needed.

In some ways, the sky is clearing. My mom plans to move to a lovely assisted living facility nearby and, when she does, she and I can resume our fine mother-daughter relationship, which has been unavoidably altered by my becoming her caregiver.

In all of this, we’ve found silver linings to that dark cloud. We are lucky in many ways. She worked hard for many years and lived frugally, so money is no issue at all. She is emotionally strong and a real trouper, ready to move past her grief and forge ahead, into the next stage. When we were kids, she told us to view every challenge as an “adventure,” and she is taking her own advice.

Some day, when things are more settled, I’ll tell you about the things I’ve been making. I’ll be back to rhapsodize about the joys of ironing vintage linens, weaving cloth, finding the perfect autumn apple, enjoying making something by hand.

In the meantime, know that your writings have buoyed me. I hope you’re weathering whatever storms have blown through your lives!

And, John, I have three words for you—alors, pellucid, forsythia. You’ll know what I mean . . .

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John and my mom, on their wedding day.

Summer 2017

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It’s been a summer, with highlights and struggles.

We’ve been weaving.

Working, and playing, outdoors.

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Enjoying the lake.

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Over-indulging, on ice cream, adult beverages, and catnip.

I’ve been inordinately thrilled with my first food crop—a total of about 30 raspberries from two forlorn bushes we planted last year.

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We’ve spent lots of time with family members. We’ve seen a good deal of the ones we are closest to, and treasured every minute, and we had a chance to spend time with cousins I hadn’t seen in 25 years.

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Don and I participated in our first craft show as weavers—we had a perfect summer day, great feedback on our weaving, and a fine number of sales.

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It hasn’t all been sunshine and cocktails and easy living, though.

One of our number, a man we love, is struggling with scary health issues and we are trying to do all we can to support him.

It’s like a dark cloud encroaching on a sunny day . . . that cloud hovers there and distracts us from carefree joys of summer, causes deep concern for what comes next, brings a measure of dread.

I will hold summer in my heart, though, and remember that even on the darker days, this time is precious, every single moment of all the days.

So much going on . . . I haven’t had so much time for, or felt much like, writing. But your writing and your photos buoy me. Keep those summer posts coming . . .