“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 . . .

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!

IMG_7749

The Sound of a Door Closing

closed for the season

photo by Alison Hurt

Listen—did you hear that? That was the sound of the door closing on my candy shop, for the 2013-2014 season.

One of the best things about working with chocolate is that you can’t do it when it’s warm. Chocolate simply cannot be tempered if the temperature is above about 70 degrees. So, as a home-based chocolatier, with no interest in a bigger operation, the coming of summer means the end of chocolate making. Right when I want to do other things, I can!

I just finished dipping the last of the candy that I will take to a spring boutique later this week. Last week, I deactivated the candy listings on Etsy. I’m out of the chocolate business until October!

I’m both happy and a bit verklempt about the end of the season. It was a good year, and very busy. I plowed through the 230 pounds of Callebaut chocolate I wrote about in August and had to order 55 pounds more of milk chocolate. That adds up to something like 700,000 calories worth of chocolate, spread around the US!

I did my first-ever face-to-face sale in December and it went so well I’m doing another on Wednesday, with a lot let angst this time.

I developed some new candies, most notably lemon meltaways and Irish cream meltaways, both with silky smooth flavored-chocolate innards, dipped in more chocolate. I also added delicate, crispy English toffee to my offerings.

I’ll miss my little morning routine of drinking my coffee, getting caught up with the news, and putting on my apron. I mostly make candy in the very early morning and those hours will be open to me now.

I’ll miss the smells—the chocolate, of course, the caramel bubbling on the stove, the mint oil, the peanut butter. And I’ll miss the heavy responsibility of taste testing!

But, as they say, when one door closes, another opens.

It is finally beginning to be spring in upstate New York so the door opens to lawn and gardens, and they need a lot of work.

The door opens to the linen closet, too—I have been very lax about listing vintage linens on Etsy and those piles of pretty linens are not getting any smaller!

The door will open soon to another glorious summer on beautiful Lake Champlain and summer activities—bike rides to go for soft ice cream, garage sales, campfires, and s’mores, and family time.

Who wants to be in the kitchen, making candy, when there’s so much else to do?!

So, I’ll go downstate and sell candy for one more day. I’ll stash any leftovers for sampling and sharing over the summer. I’ll put away the candy equipment and ingredients and soak my apron in Oxi-Clean to get the chocolate out.

And I’ll go outside, to play in the sun. I’ll weave things and finish a quilt. I’ll talk to you and do a lot of ironing of pretty things. I’ll get back to that list of things I’ve been meaning to do (IBMTD)!

And, along about September, I’ll start yearning for the smell of melted chocolate and the comfort of the candy-making routine. And then the door will open again. . .

 

What Ever Happened to IBMTD??

mop lady

What does she have to smile about?!

Do you remember me setting a goal for myself? Something to do with the letters IBMTD?

You’re forgiven if you didn’t remember because it’s been one heck of a long time since I’ve mentioned it. And, if you did remember, you’re forgiven for thinking I might be just another big talker with New Year resolutions that went “poof” after a couple of months.

I was going to tell you all about the things I’ve Been Meaning to Do, and how I’d done them.

The fact of the matter is I still have things I’ve been meaning to do but I figure you don’t want to read blog posts on topics like, “I’ve been meaning to wash the kitchen floor,” “I’ve been meaning to call my mother,” and “I’ve been meaning to get outside and exercise my sorry butt.”

Life is a little busy and a little overwhelming right now. The clock is ticking on the deadline for that quilt I’d been meaning to make. The weaving class I’d been meaning to take has ended and turned into a new class, meeting twice as often. And I signed up for another chance to sell my candy in a face-to-face setting, at a Mothers’ Day holiday boutique in a couple of weeks.

It’s not all work and no play, of course (and, of course, even the work is play in its own right!) I went to a pancake breakfast. We’re getting caught up with friends who finally saw fit to come back north from Florida. I go out to lunch with my sweet husband regularly and often make room for a beer! I stop by here to talk and listen to you, my stress relievers.

Someday I’ll get back to new adventures and, when I do, you’ll be the first to know! In the meantime, I’ve been meaning to wash that kitchen floor . . . .

Weaving Hands

Just look at these busy, happy hands!

As one of the people behind these hands, learning the most basic techniques of weaving, I can tell you that the hands often felt awkward, inept even. The hands faltered but did not fail. And the inexpert, novice hands were guided by the expert, experienced hands to a place of satisfaction.

I told you about a month ago that I’d been meaning to learn to weave (IBMTD) and that I’d found a workshop to take.

It had been a long time since I had taken a course. I like to think I can learn things on my own, by doing research and reading. I’m often stubborn about seeking guidance and asking for help. I tend to flap about and try to teach myself and make a lot of mistakes and get frustrated.

But, having just finished the workshop, with my husband and two other weaving newbies, I’m reporting back and also want to encourage you to take a course the next time you want to learn a new skill. And, P.S., weaving is a wonderful route to go, if you haven’t tried it before.

The workshop was perfect. Run by our local arts council, we had a teacher who is both an expert weaver and passionate about introducing new people to a craft she loves. As a bonus, she is also a retired teacher, so she actually knows how to teach!

Examples of our instructor's work

Examples of our instructor’s work

The workshop was limited to only four students so we got to know each other well and got lots of specialized help. None of us had any background at all in the craft so we learned together and from each other.

We learned on very simple frame looms; basically these were made of four pieces of wood and some nails to wrap string (the warp) around.IMG_5973

At first I thought I’d hate these looms—I wanted to learn on a big, fancy floor loom! I wanted to make shawls and blankets and twills and tweeds.

But we all learned to love our small, portable frame looms.

With the guidance of our teacher, we each made a small tapestry, incorporating many basic weaving techniques. We learned a new vocabulary, along with the skills—warp and weft, of course, but also sumac and tabby and rya.

The neatest thing about this kind of weaving is that it could be almost entirely improvisational and encouraged experimentation and creativity. Whereas loom weaving, as I understand it, relies heavily on following patterns and being very precise, our weaving evolved mostly without plan.

We chose colors as we went. We added different textured yarns and string and other fibers. We were shown how to incorporate shells and metals and stones and beads.

It was as if we couldn’t make mistakes and that is a wonderful, liberating way to learn!

We had our final class yesterday, put the finishing touches on our masterpieces, and sat back and appreciated them.

As the final session of class wound down, we got great news! Our instructor has arranged with the arts council to allow three of us to continue to the next level. In two weeks, we’ll start a new workshop to learn to use harness looms and to thread the heddles and sley the reed (whatever that means)!

I’m excited about this new venture but I know I’ll miss my homely little frame loom.

When I looked at our finished tapestries, the best part was seeing how different they were. Four people started at the same place, with access to the same materials and techniques, and created four entirely unique tapestries.

I’m sure there’s a profound metaphor for life here somewhere . . .

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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!

So Shall You Sew: IBMDT #7, #8, & #9

Singer FWSerendipity swept down the street and stopped at my house yesterday,

It all started when I finally did something I’ve been meaning to do (IBMTD) for ages and, in doing that one, I managed to knock off two other goals at the same time. I hit the trifecta!

IBMT:

  • Call the sewing machine repair guy and have him come fix my mechanical machine
  • Kick my fancy computerized sewing machine to the curb
  • Buy a vintage Singer Featherweight sewing machine

I’ve had the intention to call Mr. P., the wizard of sewing machines, for ages. Every time I talked to anyone who sews, his name came up, and everyone raved about this man. “He’s kind.” “He’s sweet.” “He can fix anything.” “He’ll come to your house!”

I’d been meaning to call him but am so phone-averse that I just kept putting it off. But as I’ve been trying to work on my quilt project, the need became more pressing. Every time I used the machine, the thread was constantly leaping out of the take-up lever and jamming everything. I’m bad enough at sewing without having to deal with that!

So, I called Mr. P. and he came later the same day—all the wonderful things I had heard about him were true! He cleaned and spiffed up my mechanical machine, and now it works just great.

While he was here, I brought up the subject of my fancy computerized machine. I have had this machine for quite awhile and I LOATHE it. It has been a big computerized albatross around my neck for years and has generated quite a lot of family lore, in all of which I come across as a fool.

Everyone else who has this kind of machine loves it but I have not been able to reach any sort of détente with mine. Some will say the fault, dear Kerry, is not in the sewing machine but in yourself. Whatever.

The fact was, it was not working, yet again, and I asked Mr. P. about it. He, the sewing machine whisperer, couldn’t fix it.  The nearest location where it could be fixed is a two-hour drive away. Ai yi. Here we go again.

Fast forward in the discussion.

I was talking about how much I like a mechanical, as opposed to a computerized, machine. I mentioned how a Singer Featherweight seemed to be just about my speed and how I’d always wanted one.

Long pause.

“Well,” says Mr. P., “I have two or three refurbished ones.”

“Could I buy one?,” I pleaded.

And he, lovely man that he is, came up with a solution that made both of us happy—we could swap. He would take the evil, devil-possessed computerized machine and trade me a sweet, docile Singer Featherweight!

Yes! YES!

For those of you not familiar with the Featherweight, they were made in the mid-20th century. They are designed to be portable, fit neatly into a carrying case, and weigh only 11 pounds. They are small and quiet and have no bells and whistles whatsoever. They are especially popular among quilters.

It’s everything I could want! Mechanical. Old school. Sturdy. Easy to fix. Cute. Most important—it is NOT smarter than I, unlike some machines whose names must not be spoken!

You may think this is the dumbest decision you’ve ever heard and that I got the short end of the deal. But if you could have felt the joy and relief I felt when that computerized machine went down the driveway, maybe you’d understand.

So, today I’ll spend some time getting acquainted with my sweet new friend.

Have you ever wanted something so bad that, when you got it, all you could do is sit there and grin at it?

SInger FW2

 

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

_________________________________________________________

 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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A Tangled Web I’ll Weave: IBMTD #6

loomI just realized it’s been two weeks since I’ve written about something I’ve been meaning to do! I’ve been meaning to write about what IBMTD—really, I have!

I wouldn’t want you to think I’m a slacker so I will give you the most recent news, although there will be more to come.

I, with my husband, signed up for a beginners’ weaving workshop offered by our local Arts Council.

The classes start a week from today and will lead us, we hope, to finally making sense of the biggest, dumbest impulse purchase we may have ever made.

We’ve been meaning to learn to weave because last year, at a garage sale, we bought a humongous floor loom. We bought it even though it’s a) humongous, b) we have no place in the house for it, and c) we have no idea how to use it! But we got a great deal on it!

It has been sitting in our garage, mocking us in a slightly sinister way, ever since.

But that’s all going to change. Pretty soon I’ll be throwing around words like warp and weft and heddles. And stalking blogs about weaving, trying to figure out what I’m doing.

God knows, I need a new hobby. To fill up my free time.

Do you know how to weave? Any basic words of wisdom for us?