“Cot to Coffin” Quilts: A Display of Pride and Passion

IMG_1627I wrote quite a lot, early this year, about a quilt I was making as part of a challenge held by our quilt guild. As you will see, this quilt challenge clearly moved many people.

The time and creativity and energy and passion that went into making these quilts was evident and inspiring. These quilts were made to honor our ancestors, our region, our home, our people.

The quilts were made in response to a challenge set by our local guild to create a “Cot to Coffin” quilt, as a way of commemorating the men who fought in the Battle of Plattsburgh, in the War of 1812.

The Battle of Plattsburgh took place in September of 1814 and was considered a turning point of the war. Local volunteers have been anticipating this bicentennial for a long time!

To refresh your memories, the quilts were supposed to be made to measure 70 inches by 30 inches, with the idea that they could’ve been carried to battle with the foot soldiers. The quilts were a size that could be used as a blanket or, if the soldier should die, could be pressed into use as a burial shroud.

We were asked to use fabrics, patterns, and techniques of the types available to women in early 1800s America.

During the week of the Battle of Plattsburgh bicentennial, forty-two quilts were displayed in the City Hall. The quilts were made by women and men, experienced quilters and absolute novices!

This quilt, made by a retired art teacher and the first quilt he has ever made, translates the portrait of naval leader Thomas Macdonough to fabric.

This quilt, made by a very experienced quilter, commemorates Crab Island, in Lake Champlain, the site of a field hospital during the battle and mass burial ground of both American and British casualties of the war. The quilter embroidered everything by hand, including the names of the men buried on Crab Island around the border.

IMG_1643 IMG_1644Other quilts used patchwork designs that were popular at the time and reproduction fabrics to recreate the look of quilts that could’ve gone to battle with husbands and brothers and sons.

One quilt, instead of honoring the soldiers of the battle, honored the volunteers who have, for years, honored the soldiers of the battle. This quilt contains the signatures of the Battle of Plattsburgh volunteers who pulled out all stops to make the bicentennial a huge event!

IMG_1649I especially loved this quilt, made by a cousin I don’t even know! It incorporates a stylized family tree design, honoring 200 years of the Wright family, the family of my maternal grandfather.

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My great-grandparents!

IMG_1655 I almost forgot to take a picture of my own quilt, which focused on a song written by Catherine Macomb, the wife of one of the leaders of the battle! I heard very kind feedback from people who viewed the quilt. The quilt was also pictured in the local newspaper, in a story about Catherine Macomb’s song!

IMG_1658This was a new quilt-making experience for me, tying my work to a larger theme and purpose. I was, frankly, completely surprised at how much I was moved by the whole endeavor. It is so obvious, from viewing the quilts on display, that others were as inspired by the challenge as I was!

For more on this challenge and my quilt, visit these earlier posts:

A Quilt for All Reasons

1812 “Cot to Coffin” Quilt–The Plan

1812 Quilt–A Letter to Catherine Macomb

1812 “Cot to Coffin” Quilt–Progress Report

O, Frabjous Day . . .

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They Sang As If They Knew Me

Morland_Maid-IroningI love linens. I love ironing. I love folk music.

And I love a man who loves a woman who irons.

Imagine, just imagine, how I would feel about the melding of all four of these loves! Can you imagine?!

Well, my friend with a Vintage Attitude could imagine, and she rocked my world by introducing me to this song:

DASHING AWAY WITH THE SMOOTHING IRON

(YouTube video)

‘Twas on a Monday morning
When I beheld my darling,
She looked so neat and charming
In ev’ry high degree
She looked so neat and nimble-o
A-washing of her linen-o
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
She stole my heart away.

‘Twas on a Tuesday morning
When I beheld my darling,
She looked so neat and charming
In ev’ry high degree
She looked so neat and nimble-o
A-hanging out her linen-o
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
She stole my heart away.

‘Twas on a Wednesday morning
………………..
A-starching of her linen-o
Dashing away ……….

‘Twas on a Thursday morning
………………..
Ironing of her linen-o
Dashing away ……….

‘Twas on a Friday morning
………………..
A-folding of her linen-o
Dashing away ……….

‘Twas on a Saturday morning
………………..
Airing of her linen-o
Dashing away ……….

‘Twas on a Sunday morning
………………..
A-wearing of her linen-o
Dashing away ……….

Oh. My. Goodness. I finally have a theme song.

The lovely lassie spends every day of the week working on her linens—I can relate!

But who would write a song about ironing linens??

Ah, the British, of course. The song seems to have been first published by the musicologist Cecil Sharp (1859-1924) and appears to originate from Somerset.

Those Somerset gals knew their linens!

I love that the song has a long history but, more than that, it’s a song about being adored for taking good care of linens. You don’t find a lot of folksongs honoring the hard work women did!

And work hard this woman did, to keep the linens clean.

She washes them. She hangs them to dry. She starches them. She irons them. She folds them. She airs them. And she even wears some of them, on Sunday, when she rests from the other tasks and steps out on the town!

Maybe I should change the last two verses of the song, to reflect the other steps I take—that’s the very essence of the oral/folk tradition, right?

My last verses will go like this:

‘Twas on a Saturday morning
………………..
Taking pictures of her linen-o
Dashing away ……….

‘Twas on a Sunday morning
………………..
A-selling of her linen-o
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
She stole my heart away!

Now if I can just get my husband to learn to play this song on his guitar. And to agree to gaze adoringly at me while he sings it . . .

___________________________________

How about you? Do you have a theme song that sums up large chunks of your life?

Made on the 4th of July

IMG_8143What do your “hands at home” make for a special celebration? The decorations? The flower arrangement? The bread? The ice cream?

One day a year, on America’s Independence Day, we go a step further.

We make music.

IMG_8178Two of us have sung together for over 30 years. A little girl grew up singing and joined in. Two of us married and brought new musicians to the group.

We play and sing only a couple of times a year but always, always, on the 4th of July. Most of us never pick up a guitar at any other time.

Because we play together only once or twice a year, we play with no finesse. Self-taught, we play really easy songs and try to avoid F-chords (or those F-ing chords, as a wit among us calls them). We have trouble finding enough capos, let alone the same key. We drink beer and complain about how much the guitar strings hurt our fingers.

We sing songs you may know—of green alligators and long-necked geese, of times that are a-changin’, of Charley on the MTA.

We have loyal listeners who never find fault (mostly because they are related to us!)

Every time we get together and play, I think we should do it more often—there’s something about making music, even not-very-good music, that seems to be at the core of what it means to be human.

When we sit by the campfire and sing, it’s hard not to think of other fires, other songs, other singers who have found warmth and community and harmony through making music.

It may only happen once a year for us, but the feeling lasts. That feeling always makes me think of one of my favorite songs, by John McCutcheon:

And I wish you songs to speed you through the evening,
And I wish you rest at the close of the day,
And a harbor safe till the morning light,
And I wish you good dreams, good morrow, and I wish you good night

So gather `round, you friends and lovers,
Let the darkness come for the fire is bright;
Though the road is long, love makes us stronger,
And I wish you good dreams, good morrow, and I wish you good night.

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O, Frabjous Day . . . .

IMG_7757Callooh! Callay!

The “Cot to Coffin” quilt is done!

IMG_7729I began this quilt in late January, in response to a quilt challenge my guild was doing. A number of guilds have done these challenges, as part of the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. I’ve written several posts that give more details about the planning and process, if you’re especially interested you can click on links throughout this post.

My personal goals were to a) make something that was meaningful to me, b) try and use fabrics and techniques consistent with what a woman could’ve used in 1814, and c) make hand quilting a big part of the design. Very few quilters in my guild quilt by hand and I wanted to honor the process.

I based the quilt on the words of a song reportedly written by Catherine Macomb. Catherine’s husband, Alexander, was the field general of the land campaign of the Battle of Plattsburgh in September of 1814. The words of the song describe Catherine’s feelings as she watched the battle and worried for her husband’s safety.

I embroidered the words to the song, “The Banks of Champlain,” and the title, and finished that by the end of February. (You can click on these photos for a closer look.)

I used the design of the Great Seal of the Untied States as a focal point; I read that patriotic designs were popular among quilters in this era. I embroidered the outline, with the intention of adding detail with the quilting.

I finished the top on March 23, basted it, and started quilting. By mid-April, I decided that my basting stunk, pulled out hours’ worth of hand-quilting, and re-basted using Sharon Schamber’s method.

I finished the quilting on June 18. Most of the quilting is done with off-white thread on the off-white fabric. On the red borders, I used a variegated brown thread and outlined the flowers in the print.

My favorite parts of the process:

I love the design and all the connections it made for me.

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I loved (loved!) doing the embroidery! That came as a big surprise—now I’m thinking about other projects that incorporate embroidered words in similar ways.

IMG_7745 I loved the hand quilting. There’s something about making those tiny stitches and seeing the fabric transformed that really makes me happy.

IMG_6942 IMG_7885My least favorite parts of the process:

As always, the basting. But this new method I’ve learned helped a lot.

I didn’t enjoy the parts I did on the sewing machine. I sewed the long seams by machine and, even though I am very happy with my new Singer Featherweight, machine sewing still gives me agita.

The part I was most ambivalent about:

The deadline. I’ve never made a quilt under deadline before and the deadline was a source of a lot of anxiety. It didn’t help that the whole time I was working I thought the deadline was June 30 but then, about two weeks ago, I read the small print and learned the deadline was August 31!

So the deadline made me super nervous, but it also meant I got the quilt done MUCH more quickly than I’ve ever finished a quilt before (the last one took 17 years to finish).

This quilt will hang with others—some traditional, some non-traditional, some made by experts, some made by school kids—in a public space in Plattsburgh during the Battle of Plattsburgh commemoration in September, 2014. I’ll probably share some photos of other “Cot to Coffin” quilts with you then.

Thanks so much for accompanying me through this project and letting me show off the final product!

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The Voice in My Head

Photo 15 of 24

Pete Seeger and Tao Seeger-Rodriguez, at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake

I hear voices. More precisely, I hear one voice. It’s the benevolent and stirring voice of an old man who died a few months ago.

Do you think that’s weird?

If you knew me better, it would make perfect sense.

The voice I hear is that of American folksinger, Pete Seeger, and it’s always singing.

I have been hearing, and being inspired by, Pete’s voice since I was a teenager and it has been a sort of soundtrack of my life, in ways large and small. Listening to recordings of him singing with The Weavers introduced me to folk and topical music, and completely changed my musical tastes forever. His version of “We Shall Overcome” made me want to write a doctoral dissertation and a book about the music of the civil rights movement, thus shaping my academic career.

When I drive along the Hudson River to visit my sister, I hear the voice sing “sailing down my golden stream.” When I get a big sloppy kiss from my husband, the voice whispers “kisses sweeter than wine.” When I see McMansions lined up along the road, the voice sardonically comments on “little boxes made of ticky-tacky, and they all look just the same.” *

There are guys replacing a floor in our house right now and all that I can think is, “If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning.” I work every day on a quilt that is covered with words I learned from Pete. Hell, when I go looking for my little black cat, Flower, I sing along with Pete—“Where has little Flower gone?”

It’s not just his voice. When I was a young woman, I bought a banjo and decorated the head because Pete had a banjo and decorated his. We have what amounts to a small shrine to Pete in our house.

You have your heroes, I have mine.

I wanted to write something when Pete died in January but the time was not right. I was away from home, caught up in a vacation with friends and dolphins. I couldn’t focus and I couldn’t pull my thoughts together.

I felt like Pete’s voice had gone silent and I simply couldn’t find words to say how that made me feel. The soundtrack of my life . . . gone? Would this be, for me, the day the music died?

As I’ve had some time to process the death of this hero of mine, I’ve seen clearly that Pete’s voice will never go silent; his music will never die. He spent his life doing what he could to teach America to sing and to care enough to raise a voice. In so doing, he ensured his continued presence and influence.

He taught so many of us so much.

He taught us that it is more fun to sing along than to sing alone.

He taught us that words, and music, have consequences.

He taught us, and showed us with his actions, that individuals matter and can make a difference, whether it’s in the realm of civil rights, war protest, or cleaning up a dirty river.

He also taught us to carry it on. As he grew older, he didn’t stop singing. He didn’t rest on his considerable laurels.

He found ways to carry it on. He brought in younger singers, like Woody Guthrie’s son, Arlo, and his own grandson, Tao Rodríguez-Seeger, to sing with him. He acknowledged, and seemed to embrace, his declining abilities and used it as an opportunity to counsel us others to do the same:

And when these fingers can strum no longer,

Hand the old banjo to a young one stronger.

But he never fully handed over the banjo to the young ones stronger. He kept singing. He sang in 2008, at President Obama’s inauguration. In 2011, at 92 years old, he led the Pete Seeger March, which walked in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. Four months before his death, he performed for Farm Aid.

I took a walk yesterday and, as I often do, I listened to Pete on my iPod. It made me sad but it made me happy. All this wonderful music, carrying on. Then came the song that, to me, sums up Pete’s approach to life. It’s from the tribute album, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” The album concludes with Pete singing, in his quavery old-man voice, a flickering shadow of the rich tenor of his youth. He sings:

Yes I’m still searching,
For a way we all can learn,
To build a world where we all can share
The work, the fun, the food, the space,
the joy, the pain . . .

That’s the voice in my head. The soundtrack of my life. It’s Pete Seeger voice, young and vibrant, and hopeful. Old and thin, and still hopeful. The voice in my head gives me hope. Thanks, Pete. You’re my hero; may you always be the voice I hear.

Photo 13 of 24

Pete Seeger and Tao Seeger-Rodriguez, at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake

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* Pete did not write all of the songs we associate him with. But that doesn’t make them any less his songs.

 

1812 “Cot to Coffin” Quilt–Progress Report

IMG_6218I’ve finished another stage in my “Cot to Coffin” quilt for the War of 1812 Bicentennial challenge!

The quilt top is complete!

The top consists of three sections—a large panel with embroidery of the Great Seal of the United States, a section with the title of the song, “The Banks of Champlain,” and a bottom section made up of six embroidered verses of the song.

The three sections are bordered with narrow strips of a blue-gray fabric and finished with wider bands of a deep red paisley fabric.

Reproduction fabric

Reproduction fabric

Both fabrics are reproduction fabrics consistent with colors and patterns used in the early 1800s (according to the quilt shop owner anyway!)

My plan, originally, was to render the design of the Great Seal in white-on-white quilting only. As I progressed and made choices about fabrics, I began to doubt that choice. From a distance, the quilt would’ve looked blank on top, with only the panels with the words showing up.

So, I decided to embroider the simple outline of the Great Seal in the same stitch I used on the rest—the most basic embroidery stitch there is, the back stitch. I will fill in the details of the seal design with quilting.

IMG_6256 - Version 2

The faint pencil marks will be quilted

To transfer the design, I got it blown up to the desired size and put the fabric panel over the design and traced it. I did the same with the words to the title of the song.

As I’ve said before, I transferred the verses of the song to fabric using the freezer paper method. I used a font in Microsoft Word called Edwardian Script for all the lettering.

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Each verse is embroidered this way

I sewed everything together on my brand-new old Singer Featherweight, which I love beyond measure!

From this point, I need to layer the top with the batting and backing fabric and baste them together. Then I will get started on the quilting, which I’ll do by hand—I’m not sure yet what the design will be.

This project started when I heard about the challenge at meeting of the quilt guild on January 16. Doing the embroidery and making the top has taken about two months and I have about three months in which to do the quilting, in order to meet the deadline.

It might just happen!

1812 Quilt–A Letter to Catherine Macomb

IMG_5925Dear Catherine,

My name is Kerry. This will seem an odd letter to you, since I am writing across the years from 2014. I’m writing about the song you wrote, as you watched your husband, Sandy, fight in the War of 1812.

It’s nearly 200 years since you wrote your song, “The Banks of Champlain,” to express your feelings about the Battle of Plattsburgh. You may be surprised that I know your song but, in fact, it moved many people and your words live on.

It was published in a book in 1842 and people sang it and passed it on by word of mouth—it was that memorable.  Then, in the mid-1900s, more than 100 years after your death, a famous man recorded it.

What does that mean, “recorded it”? Well, it’s complicated; let’s just say this man, Pete Seeger, sang your song in a way that meant people could listen to it any time and anywhere they wished.

I like the song so much, I spent several weeks embroidering the words on a quilt that I am making to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Plattsburgh. In a way, I felt I got to know you very well during the time I spent stitching. I thought about some of the ways our lives are similar, and ways they’re very different.

I have so many questions I’d like to ask! Were you really in Plattsburgh, watching, as the battle was waged? How frightening that must’ve been. Where were your children? I know that you had twelve little ones, including an infant born just a couple of months before the battle. Were they with you? Where did you live? How did you manage?

As I sewed by the fire, I imagined you sewing by the fire. What did you turn your hands and thoughts to, while your husband and Thomas MacDonough made their plans? Did you make a small quilt that Sandy could carry with him, as he fought? Did you have a little cat who played in your lap and wanted to bat your thread? I did.

IMG_1309You wouldn’t recognize Plattsburgh now, although some of the houses would look familiar. There are streets and buildings with the names Macomb and MacDonough on them! Both men are considered heroes here.

Some things, though, haven’t changed at all. The lake and the mountains are still beautiful. Autumn is still glorious. The War of 1812 brought, eventually, a lasting friendship with the peoples of England and Canada.

Sadly, another thing that hasn’t changed is that we still go to war—men and even women, now. We haven’t fought on American soil since a civil war in the 1860s. I won’t tell you about that—it would break your heart.

No, now we seem to fight wars in far-off places. My husband fought in a place in Southeast Asia that you may never have heard of. Right now, even as I write this, Americans are fighting in wars.

We don’t stand and watch our loved ones fight now, as you did, but that doesn’t stop the worry and fear. And the death.

In fact, the same famous man who taught me your song wrote another song about war. In that song, he asked, “when will we ever learn?”

It’s a good question, isn’t it?

Sincerely,

Kerry

­March 3, 2014

Plattsburgh, New York

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 Notes on the embroidery

As mentioned in a previous post, I transferred the words of the song, in the font I chose, using the freezer paper method. I made the printing color quite faint and the embroidery stitches cover the printed words nicely.

I started the embroidery of the song on January 23, 2014, and experimented with different color threads and different stitches for a couple days. When I made the decisions about what I wanted to do, I set myself a stint of doing at least one of the 24 lines each day. I finished on February 25.

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