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

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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!?

When All is Done, and Said

All our words are never said and and all our work is never done . . . but we complete steps along our creative way.

I’ve made reference to and shown glimpses of this quilt I’ve been working on—and the top is finally finished!

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The impetus for the quilt came from the block-of-the-month (BOM) challenge my guild had this past year. The way the BOM works is that each month at a guild meeting, participants are given the directions for a new quilt block to make during the coming month. If one stays on track, by the end of the year one has done a good bit of work toward a finished project. I like finished projects as well as the next person!

And I liked the theme our guild chose: in light of this being the 100th anniversary of New York giving full enfranchisement to women, including the right to vote, the theme of our BOM was Women’s Suffrage.

The theme appealed to me a lot but I wanted to take it further and make my quilt more broadly about women’s rights. And I didn’t want to stop at the 9 pieced blocks that we received instructions for.

I reverted to my roots—my love of words, words that inspire, words that provoke, and words that maybe even foment change.

I chose 10 quotations from 9 women and one quotation from a man, Mitch McConnell, about a woman. I tried to be inclusive and choose from women of different eras and backgrounds.

For the embroidery, I used my tried-and-true freezer paper and computer printer method for transferring the designs to fabric—I wrote about it here.*

I ended up with 9 pieced blocks from the BOM challenge but needed one more for the design I wanted, so I added a block from a pattern called “Contrary Wife”–I figured many people saw the suffragettes as just that (it’s the block at the bottom left).

I sewed the pieced blocks and the embroidered blocks together in an alternating grid, with sashing. At some future date, I’ll hand quilt the whole thing.

I started this quilt well before the US presidential election and worked on it while I watched the voting returns, never suspecting the way things were going to turn out. I lost my way for awhile after that and didn’t work on the quilt for a good long time.

But as it turns out, I felt compelled to finish.

I’ve been thinking about a phrase I read somewhere—weapons of mass creation. Although the word “weapons” makes me uneasy, I do like the juxtaposition of ideas, that we can use the tools we have to build up rather than tear down.

And the tools, or weapons, I have are words, and needle and thread and shuttle and loom.

And I intend to use them–for my own comfort, for the simple joy of making, for the chance to make statement, subtle or less so, about the world I want to live in.

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*I’m thinking about doing another, even more detailed post about this, to encourage others to try the process of embroidering their own words on fabric. Would that be useful? If you have strong feeling, let me know.

 

Getting It Done: Focuser or Flitterer?

What makes a person productive? Doing a little on a lot? Or doing a lot on a little?

It becomes clearer to me all the time that different people have different measures for productivity.

Some folks love to get a project done—finishing is how they know they are being productive. These people are focusers—they focus, spend hours on their project, and get it finished.

Other people flitter from project to project. I don’t just mean having multiple projects and moving between them, a day on this, a day on that. I mean flitting, hour by hour, from one endeavor to the next.

I am a flitterer of the first order.

To feel really good about a day, really productive, I seem to need to work on many, many projects, just doing a little on each.

A typical day will have me:

  • Working on Etsy—today I might add new listings and/or soak and iron some linens. I’d like to take photos for listings but it’s raining again.
  • Working on one or more quilting projects—today I might hand quilt for an hour and/or cut and trim some of the 200 HSTs I need for another current project. Or I might make some repairs on that <expletive written in CAPS and then deleted> yoyo coverlet.
  • Working on one or more weaving projects—today I might weave on the band loom and/or dress the big loom for a set of blue and white towels and/or throw the shuttle on more of the tab towels.
  • Working on the house and/or yard—today I will probably do laundry and clean the top of the stove (Don made spaghetti sauce yesterday!) I’d like to spend a little time on turning the compost pile or weeding but it’s very, very wet outside.
  • I always give myself extra pats on the back for working on a blog post and for exercising. So far today I’ve done both—yay, me!

I don’t do all of these things every day, of course, but I love a day where I can knock off several of them. I spend an hour here and an hour there, and move happily from one kind of a task to another. The more the better!

I never get bored and I rarely get frustrated. If either of those states of mind grips me, I just move on . . . because moving on is what I do best.

The downside to all of this is that I rarely finish anything. My stints of an hour or so are a drop in the bucket of what it takes to make a full-size quilt or weave 10 towels from a long warp.

Because I never finish anything, my list never gets shorter and that can be stressful. I always feel like I have SO much to do; it’s overwhelming.

I kind of envy people who are focusers, and the satisfaction they get from regularly finishing or making noticeable progress on a project.

I think I’d like to be a focuser more than a flitterer . . . but I’d like to be tall and thin, too. I have little control over either.

In the immortal words of Popeye the Sailor Man, “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam . . .”

How about you? Do you spend your creative time focused on one or two big projects per day? Or do you flit around and do a little on a lot of fronts?

The Not-So-Boring Begats

When I was a child, I went to church.

In that church, we read the Bible. The whole Bible.

Or at least that was the idea, the goal. We were encouraged to read the whole thing, as well as memorize the names of the books of the Bible (which I can still reel off with weird precision 50-ish years later, for the first 20 or so).

Parts of the Bible were interesting. But then one would get to the boring begats, the long lists of genealogy, like this one in Genesis:

[7] And Seth lived after he begat Enos eight hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters:
[8] And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years: and he died.
[9] And Enos lived ninety years, and begat Cainan:
[10] And Enos lived after he begat Cainan eight hundred and fifteen years, and begat sons and daughters:
[11] And all the days of Enos were nine hundred and five years: and he died.
[12] And Cainan lived seventy years, and begat Mahalaleel:
[13] And Cainan lived after he begat Mahalaleel eight hundred and forty years, and begat sons and daughters:
[14] And all the days of Cainan were nine hundred and ten years: and he died.
[15] And Mahalaleel lived sixty and five years, and begat Jared:
[16] And Mahalaleel lived after he begat Jared eight hundred and thirty years, and begat sons and daughters:
[17] And all the days of Mahalaleel were eight hundred ninety and five years: and he died.

And on and on. Who were these people and how did they live so long? These were the sections I skipped.

I find, now, that my life is full of a different sort of begats. I think of this as the crafting begats, the way one project begets others.

These begats are anything but boring!

Each weaving project begets new ones. I start with one color and think what a different one would look like. Or one treadling pattern and imagine others. I work on a scarf and want to see how the structure would translate to towels or a baby blanket.

Each quilt begets new ones. As I work on the redwork squares to reproduce the antique quilt I have, I think of ideas for a modern version, with blocks that reflect my current life.

This weaving project begets ideas for a quilt—wouldn’t this look pretty in pieced fabric?

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I work on the quilt I am making, with quotes about women’s rights, and think of embroidering a short phrase, a few words, to represent every day of my year, a stitched journal.

I iron vintage linens and inevitably find pieces with damage that makes them unsellable. I put them aside because, in my mind, they beget a quilt made of the pretty bits pieced together. Or they beget rag rugs, woven from strips of the usable fabric. Or they beget special buttons . . .

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I imagine this organic moving from one project to the next, each unique but related to something that came before, happens to us all—gardeners, bakers, painters, potters . . . makers.

With my making begats, I’ll never be bored.

My projects are fruitful and they multiply. How about yours?

Advent, My Way #2

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As luck would have it, the quilt on my quilting frame right now is red and white, perfect for this time of year!

I like the traditional colors of Christmas best–the white of pure, new snow, the red of a feisty Cardinal, the green of pine boughs.

If you celebrate Christmas, what colors do you favor? Or do you celebrate a different winter holiday, with its own traditional colors?

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Busy, Busy . . . Happy

Autumn is always this way.

We realize that time’s a’wastin’, that soon we’ll be hunkering down for winter, and we try to pack a lot of living into these perfect days.

Chores abound. The perennials are being cut back. The outdoor furniture needs to be stored.

A quilt is basted, waiting to be finished this winter. The yoyos are almost, almost, sewn together and finished. Two other quilt projects wait in the wings.

The looms are momentarily naked but plans have been planned and one warp has been wound, a yummy wool for fall.

It’s time for chocolate, a new and different venture on Etsy, and, always, vintage linens.

It’s the time for spending quality hours with family snowbirds who are ready to fly away and it’s time for a little travel of our own, to enjoy autumn in New England.

Busy, busy. Happy, happy. And you?