1812 “Cot to Coffin” Quilt—The Plan

IMG_5789I wrote recently about a quilt I’ve started. I’m going to use this blog to chronicle my progress, mostly so I have all the details in one place. If you’d like to read along, I’d love your company, as well as any feedback you have!

I’m making the quilt as part of a challenge to design quilts to commemorate the bicentennial of the War of 1812. The rules for the 1812 quilt challenge are basically that the finished quilt has to be 70 inches by 30 inches (the so-called cot-to-coffin size) and that it be made with an eye to the use of fabrics, techniques, and designs that might’ve been available to quilters in the early 1800s.

My own desire was to make something that featured hand quilting and that would let me incorporate the words of a song I love, which happens to be about the War of 1812. This song, “The Banks of Champlain,” is said to have been written by the wife of the commander of land forces in the Battle of Plattsburgh, as she watched the battle from shore.

Two men, Commodore Thomas MacDonough and Brigadier General Alexander Macomb, are given credit for the American victory in the Battle of Plattsburgh, which was fought on Lake Champlain and its shores. It was Macomb’s wife, Catherine, who apparently wrote the song. The song, as I learned it from a recording by Pete Seeger, has 6 verses. You can find the words at the end of this post.

My plan for this long and narrow quilt is use a large white-on-white quilt design at the top. The Great Seal of the United States was first used publicly in 1782 and, according to one of my quilt books, patriotic designs were popular in the early 1800s.

I found a simplified version of the Seal online and took the page to my local office supply store, to have it blown up to the size I want. I will put my off-white fabric panel over this and trace the design to be quilted.

colorsealThe bottom half of the quilt will be composed of six panels, with the verses of the song hand-embroidered on them. I’ve been working on these and will show you more when they’re done in a few days! I used the freezer paper and printer method I wrote about earlier to print the song words on fabric.

Between the Great Seal on top and the song verses on the bottom, I’ll embroider, in larger letters, the title of the song. At this point, I’m experimenting with process pieces, to figure out how I want the embroidery to look. I have printed the words out in a large font and will, again, need to trace the shapes onto the fabric.

When the embroidery is finished and I’ve traced the Seal design on the fabric panel, I’ll piece these elements together, with fabric sashing and borders, to make the quilt top. I haven’t chosen the fabric for sashing and borders yet and suspect that may be the hardest part of the whole project for me. We do have a local quilt shop that sells reproduction historical fabrics so that should help!

This is where I am so far. I have everything sketched out on graph paper and have been holding myself to embroidering at least one line of the song each day. More soon!

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The Banks of Champlain–attributed to Catherine Macomb

 

Twas Autumn and round me the leaves were descending

And naught but the drumming bird tapped on the tree

While thousands their freedom and rights were defending

The din of their arms sounded dismal to me.

 

For Sandy, my love, was engaged in the action,

Without him I value this world not a fraction,

His death would have ended my life in distraction

As mournful I strayed on the banks of Champlain.

 

Then turning to list’ to the cannons loud thunder,

My elbow I leaned on a rock near the shore.

The sound nearly parted my heartstrings asunder,

I thought I should meet my dear Sandy no more.

 

But soon an express all my sorrows suspended,

My thanks to the Father of mercies ascended,

My Sandy was safe and my country defended,

By freedom’s brave sons on the banks of Champlain

 

Oh the cannon ceased firing, the drums were still beating,

As far to the northward our foes were retreating.

My friends and my neighbors each other were greeting,

With songs of delight on the banks of Champlain.

 

New York, the Green Mountains, Macomb and MacDonough,

The farmer, the soldier, the sailor, the gunner,

Each party united had pledged their honor,

To conquer or die on the banks of Champlain.

A Quilt for All Reasons: IBMTD #5

1812Since I finished my last quilt (finally!), I’ve been meaning to start a new one (IBMTD). I love to have a project to pick up and work on at odd moments and I love the process of stitching and watching something pretty develop from my own hands.

But I hadn’t started anything because I simply wasn’t inspired. I didn’t know what direction to go, what pattern to use, what fabrics to choose. Nothing was speaking to me.

But then I learned about a quilt challenge that has been going on for a couple of years to commemorate the bicentennial of the War of 1812. This project focuses on the making of “cot to coffin” quilts and has been taken up by quilt guilds in towns where battles took place in the War of 1812. Quiltmakers design and make quilts of 70 inches by 30 inches, using techniques and fabrics consistent with what quilters would have had access to in 1812-1814.

The moment I heard about this project, I was smitten, and inspired to make a quilt for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Plattsburgh, NY, to take place in September 2014. Other members of the local quilt guild will be making quilts, too, and the entries will be displayed during the celebration.

The Cot to Coffin project and my plan for my quilt let me bring together so many elements that I love:

First, of course, I love that I’m quilting. I love adding my hands to the tradition of working with textiles to create beautiful, meaningful, and useful objects.

Second, this project takes history out of the dusty past and asks us to re-consider an unusual war. The War of 1812 was supposedly fought between Great Britain and America but really mostly affected the lives of Americans and Canadians, as well as native peoples of the area.

When the war was over, both Americans and Canadians considered themselves to have been victorious and the outcome has led to 200 years of peace and good will between the two countries—you can’t make that claim for a lot of wars!

I also love that these quilts focus us on people often overlooked by history—the foot soldiers and the women left at home as the battles were waged. The size of the quilts was determined at least in part because of a tradition documented from the later quilts made for Civil War soldiers. The size of 70 inches by 30 inches is “about the size of a man” and organizers of this quilt challenge thought it was possible that such quilts, which were “small enough to roll into a backpack while on the march . . .  and may well have served as a burial shroud,” would’ve been used in earlier wars as well.

I imagine a mother or wife hurrying to make a quilt to send with her son or husband, to keep him warm and to bring a bit of home into battle. And, should the worst happen, the quilt, and the love stitched in, could carry the soldier to his grave.

Third, this quilt challenge appeals to me is because I grew up in the Plattsburgh area and have been hearing about the Battle of Plattsburgh my whole life. I can envision the locales where the fighting took place and I see historical markers every day that remind me of the battle.

Beyond this, my own ancestors have lived in the North Country of upstate New York at least since the late 1700s and, since I know they fought in the American Revolution, it seems likely that some of them also fought in the War of 1812. Did some woman in my lineage make a quilt to accompany a man she loved, as he went off to fight?

Even if not, I know that eyes related to mine watched the battle. The family farm was on a hill overlooking Plattsburgh and Lake Champlain. The story passed down through generations tells of my forebears hiding the cows in the woods, so British soldiers wouldn’t take them for food, and then watching the battle take place on the lake below.

Fourth, this project excites me because it will allow me to honor a song I’ve loved for a long time. I’ll tell you more about all of this in future posts but a key part of my quilt design is a set of panels upon which I’ll embroider the words to this song.

The song is called “The Banks of Champlain” and I learned it years and years ago from an album by my folk hero, Pete Seeger. The song is said to have been written by the wife of the field commander of the Battle of Plattsburgh, to convey her thoughts and worries as she watched the battle unfold.

I love this romantic narrative, as it poignantly relays the thoughts of a woman who worries about her husband at war. She doesn’t just send him off to war and worry from afar but, rather, she watches as he fights the war before her very eyes. Her husband, Alexander Macomb, and his counterpart, Commodore Thomas Macdonough, are given historical credit for the strategies that allowed a small contingent of Americans to defeat the much larger British force.

So, I have a new project that combines a craft I love, history, romance, a family angle, a folksong—what more could I want? One more thing—a clear, unequivocal deadline! With my history of letting projects languish incomplete for years, it’s motivating (and a little terrifying!) to have a specific date by which this needs to be finished.

And that date is the end of June. Expect to be hearing more as time gets tight!

A Florida State of Mind: IBMTD #4

I’m a Yankee. I love winter. Really, I do. No, really.

But, sometimes, a person needs a break from the cold and the gray and the usual.

So, for a while now, I’ve been meaning to (IBMTD) take that break and, with my husband, avail myself of the kindness of two sets of friends who spend winter on the Gulf Coast of Florida. “Come,” they said! “Stay!” Such very good friends . . .

We’re so glad we took the time and went! It was a marvelous trip and, in hopes that these photos will allow you to experience vicariously some of warmth and beauty of this amazing place, I share them here.

We loved the exotic, purely Florida, colors and places. (No Disney for us–sorry!)

We loved the variety of animals that one simply does not see in upstate New York.

And, oh my, we loved the dolphins.

The week went quickly (even with the extra day that we got as a result of a flight cancellation!) We’re back in the snowy and cold Northeast now, pondering winter festivals and snowshoes.

But I also have a mother who lives in Florida! And she says, “Come! Stay!” So, we’ll be heading back one more time, for a little antidote to the rest of winter. What lucky folks we are!

Going Once, Going Twice: IBMTD #3

IMG_1107I think a country auction is just about a perfect way to spend a few hours. Why?

I love vintage and antique, especially unusual items.

I love the drama and thrill that comes from winning a bid.

I love a bargain.

I love people watching.

I’m not sure there’s anywhere else these elements come together and yet, in 3 years of living in this rural area, I’ve been to exactly one auction.

So, this, too, has been on the list of things I’ve Been Meaning To Do (IBMTD). We went to an auction recently and had a great time on all counts!

The auction was all about vintage and antique items. This particular auction house seems to pride itself on offering good quality and the auctioneers are very knowledgeable. They did sell some big lots of books and fabrics for very low prices but most of the auction focused on better-quality items.

The items offered had a very rustic and unusual flair. From the stuffed raccoon, in perfect condition, to the Adirondack-style occasional tables (which belong to me now!), this auction felt like it represented a very specific part of the world. This wonderful handmade leather pillow could only have come from one tiny town in the foothills of the Adirondack mountains.

IMG_1113This particular auction also had some linens for sale. It was a mixed lot of Madeira linens, heavy on hand-embroidered cocktail mats and napkins, with a couple of very nice tablecloths, as well. You know I intended to win the bid for these!

IMG_1111I had already won the bid for the tables and my pulse had remained steady but, when the linens were offered, my heart raced and my pulse quickened. I opened the bidding and hoped no one else would care about these old pieces of fabric.

But a bid came from the opposite side of the room! The auctioneer looked back to me—was I in? Nod. Up it went. Nod. Yes. I’m still in. Yes. Yes. I’m in. Going once . . . twice . . . I won!

My hands were shaking a little! You don’t get that feeling on eBay, my friends, and certainly not from meandering around a thrift shop.

Did I get a bargain? Not on the linens, in particular. It was a good price but not a great bargain. But there were other bargains galore at this auction. Good vintage furniture was going for incredibly low prices—it made me wish I had a much bigger house, so I could bring it all home!

And it has to be said that the buying and selling are only part of the fun at these auctions. The people-watching is superb, with all types represented, from auctioneers to buyers.

Auctioneers are often real characters, so skilled at working their audience. Years ago, I saw an auctioneer trying to sell a box lot of odds and ends. The box was just a mishmash of kitchen tools—not worth much. The auctioneer tried to start the bidding at two dollars. No takers. One dollar? Silence. The bid went down. Would anyone start the bidding at a quarter? No? No?

In his frustration, the auctioneer reached into his pocket and took out a dollar bill. He threw it into the box, with the junk, and hollered, “Now can I get a 50-cent bid?” The audience laughed hard and the bidding commenced.

The auctioneers we saw last week are brothers. Both have the kind of patter we associate with old-time auctioneers and a great sense of humor. They watch the crowd like hawks and play with bidders, to get that bid going. They keep things moving, to let bidders know that you have to be in it to win it—she who hesitates loses!

In the crowd that day were the laconic-style bidders who barely moved when they made their bids. These folks clearly go to every auction and seem to keep their bidding number from one auction to the next. We also saw the young, eager couple, excitedly waving their bidding card and piling up items for their home. The people behind us nearly squealed with delight when they won the beautiful banjo.

People came and went. They drank coffee and ate doughnuts and Michigans. They tried not to show interest in the items they really wanted. They bought things they didn’t really want just because the prices were so good.

It was a fun day for all and a perfect way to spend a cold and snowy winter day. Snug inside a big old auction house, warmed by the excitement of the undertaking, with treasures to be carted home at the end of the day.

I’ll be meaning to go back!

Joining A Quilt Guild–IBMTD #2

quilt guildThis week, my ongoing quest, to do something I’ve Been Meaning To Do (IBMTD) every week, took me to the meeting of my local quilt guild.

I’ve been meaning to go to a meeting and join the guild since I went to their biennial quilt show in October. Being at that show and having a good look at a lot of beautiful quilts inspired me to finish a quilt I had started years ago.

I made my very first quilt about 40 years ago when I was in college, but got more serious about quilting about 20 years ago. Quilting has this very fundamental appeal to me. When we talk about “hands at home,” it’s the image of quilters, working together around a quilting frame, that pops into my mind first.

I love the idea that quiltmaking has such a deep tradition in American life, but can also be so modern.

I love the idea that quilters take scraps of the old and homely and transform them into something surpassingly lovely.

I love the idea that quilting has given generations of women a social outlet and a place to meet and join hands to create something lasting, practical, and beautiful.

Quilt guilds across America are keeping these traditions alive and thriving in the 21st century. The website of the American Quilter’s Society lists 1250 local quilt guilds. That’s a whole lot of loving hands at home!

Like other guilds, the local one teaches new skills, offers quilting challenges to members, and participates in community life. Members make quilted pieces for many local charities, providing warmth and color to people whose lives can be cold and bleak.

I joined the guild the night I went. Being there has already inspired me to start a new quilting project, another item on my IBMTD list. I suspect you’ll be hearing more about that later!

All of this has gotten me wondering—are there quilt guilds in other countries or is it an American phenomenon? Do other traditional crafts have comparable guilds, where crafters meet regularly and organize around the activity? Knitters? Crocheters? Jewelers? Do you meet with others who share your love for your craft?

I’d love to hear!

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More on “I’ve Been Meaning To . . .”

planningDo you have trouble getting around to doing things you really want to do? Do you find yourself saying, “Oh, I’ve been meaning to do that!” when you hear what others are accomplishing (or when you look at your Pinterest boards)?

Since I went public last week, you know I have this problem. As I’ve thought about the things “I’ve been meaning to do” (IBMTD), I’ve remembered a framework for productivity that is helping me think things through. If you’ll bear with me, through this somewhat wordy post, maybe it can help you, too.

Something clicked in my head when another blogger, Sheryl, who writes “A Hundred Years Ago,” commented on my IBMTD challenge for myself, saying, “I think that I do the things that absolutely must be done and the things that I like to do–but I never seem to get around to the things that I ‘want’ to do, but are more difficult for me to do for one reason or another.”

Yes! Exactly! This sparked my memory of a book by Steven Covey and A. Roger and Rebecca R. Merrill, called First Things First. They present a means by which to consider the tasks, goals, and dreams you have before you, and to set priorities.

They use this quadrant to visualize four categories of activities that we spend our time on, in terms of their importance and urgency. Their topics in each quadrant are examples only–we each need to think what we would put in each section:

quadrantsIt’s obvious that we focus a lot of our time in the top-left quadrant, and rightly so. Those things which are urgent AND important need our time and energy.

We can also easily recognize and understand the lower-right quadrant—not important/not urgent. In other words, mindless, though pleasurable, time wasting. Mine is the game Words with Friends.

When we move past these two categories into the other two, things get a little more complicated. Most of us would say we want to move to the things we have deemed most important, even if they aren’t not urgent or pressing. But, really, most of us tend to get caught up in things that feel urgent—things that are making noise or that others are pushing us to do—even when we could see, if we thought about it, that those things are not really very important to us.

This tendency is compounded by the fact that doing those things that seem urgent (even if unimportant) allows us feel productive. We can say, “But I needed shampoo!” and tick it off the list. The things that are truly important may be more difficult to achieve, they may involve hard work or come with baggage of some kind (for example, fear of failure), and those barriers slow us down and focus us back to something that makes us feel productive—the urgent/not important.

Covey and the Merrills say that only by articulating for ourselves just exactly what is really important and committing to it can we make steps toward making time to do those things, whether it’s spending more time with family, finishing a big project, or taking the first steps to begin a new adventure.

I found all of this pretty useful when I was working professionally and balancing that work with a personal life. But when I retired, I just figured I’d have so much time available I could do all the stuff in all the quadrants.

But, it doesn’t work that way! It’s still so easy to find things to do that fill up a lot of time and, only later, do I see that I’ve skipped many of the things that I say are important to me.

So, I’ve gone back to thinking about my goals in terms of the quadrant. It’s more fluid and flexible now that I’m retired—less of the truly urgent—but the approach is still useful.

I’m not telling you all this in preparation for divulging my deepest thoughts about what’s important in my life. Presumably that will come out, to some extent, as I continue you my “IBMTD” challenge. I’m telling you this because it might provide you with a new way of thinking about your goals and how to fit everything in.

What are the most important things in your life that aren’t getting done? What do you always say you want to do, but never get to? Should those things be in that top-right corner?

How do you spend your time when you’ve done everything that’s truly urgent and important, and you still have time left in your day? Are they tasks that, under inspection, belong in those bottom two quadrants? Can you consciously shift the focus to those things you’ve said are really important?

What’s one thing you’ve really been meaning to do?

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The perceptive among you will notice that I still haven’t reported on doing anything I’ve been meaning to do! This is one of my issues . . . I get hung up talking about things, rather than doing them. But I’m working on it!