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?

 

Autumn, Come She Will

Soupy. Steamy. Sweaty. Summer.

It’s all those things right now in upstate New York. Summer blazes on, with little rain and high humidity.

And yet, when I least expect it, when I’m wearing my sun visor and wiping the “dew” off my face, autumn sneaks up on me.

She is quiet, faint, just a hint of a ghost of a wraith but I know she’s there.

She gets close and whispers her cool breath in my ear. I whip my head around, to get a better look, and blush when I find only summer there. I was hoping it was autumn . . .

I’m not the only one autumn makes blush.

Autumn seduces me, energizes me, makes me feel alive. My blood sings and fizzes like champagne when autumn comes to me.

Again, I’m not the only one who is susceptible to her charms; she is profligate with her attentions. She beguiles the geese to start their noisy journey. She provides the nudge that makes the squirrels so intent on hunting and gathering that they forget to look both ways when they cross the road. All living things respond to autumn.

Her invigorating imperative affects people like me, and maybe you, people who live in cooler climates and who love to make things. We feel the impulse to prepare for winter making and to hunker down in our homes.

Because my main locus for taking photos of vintage linens for Etsy is my glassed-in porch and because my glassed-in porch is not winterized and gets REALLY cold in the winter, I will spend autumn busily taking photos, getting things ready while I can.

I also baste quilts at the big table on the glassed-in porch so I will soon be doing this job I loathe so I can do the part I love, hand quilting, all winter.

I want my home to be as clean and fresh as autumn feels. I want the garden to sleep well and come to spring renewed and refreshed. I want to bring the color of the maple trees and late fall sun to handwovens.

Autumn is a demanding mistress, but she’s worth it.

I know she’s coming, autumn is.

I love you, autumn. I’ll be ready for you. Don’t make me wait too long . . .


*This photo makes me think of a wonderful book, C D B!, by William Steig. According to Steig, the full caption for the photo should be “C D B? D B S A BZ B.” Can you crack the code?

Something for Everyone: A Quilt Show Tonight

Now, I know what some of you are thinking, “Oh, jeez—a quilt show. She’s going to show us pictures of quilts. I don’t quilt. I don’t sew. I don’t care about quilts.”

But I say, with apologies to Stephen Sondheim and the cast of “A Funny Thing Happened at the Way to the Forum,” that no matter who you are, there’s something for everyone at a quilt show, or at least that was the case last weekend at the Vermont Quilt Festival. Come, and hum, along and see if you agree.

Something familiar:

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Something peculiar:

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Something for everyone,
A quilt show tonight!

Something appealing,
Hung from the ceiling

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Something for everyone:
A quilt show tonight!

Something with houses, something with towns;

Bring on the fabric, notions, and gowns!

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Vendors for shopping,
Something eye-popping,

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Something old-fashioned,

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Something with flash and

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Something for everyone:
A quilt show tonight!

Something most modern,

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Something POSTmodern,

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Something with color,
Bright or much duller,

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Something most Op-ish,

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Something more Pop-ish,

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Something for everyone:
A quilt show tonight!

Impressive!

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Obsessive!

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Specific!

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Terrific!

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Something exotic,

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Something chaotic,

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Something Egyptian,

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One with inscriptions,

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Something so striking,

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Much to my liking!

Something so simple and so right!

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Real world tomorrow,
Quilt show tonight!


If those of you who love quilts have any questions, let me know!

Redwork–Mine, Old and New

I fell in love last year.

I was at my quilt guild’s show. Among the antique quilts being shown was a quilt made up of many small panels with simple scenes, done in red embroidery.

Then I noticed two similar quilts, modern ones made by fellow guild members. Redwork quilts, all of a sudden, seemed to be everywhere!

As I looked at these quilts, and coveted the old one, something niggled at my memory . . .

I’ve mentioned that I go to garage sales, estate sales, flea markets and, like everyone who spends enough time at such places, I’ve found treasures.

In 2012, I bought a pile of old linens and fabrics at an outdoor sale. I was busy and distracted at the time but vaguely aware that, in the pile, I had picked up a redwork quilt for a dollar.

I remember seeing that it was in rough condition but figured I could cut it up and sell some of the blocks. It got put away, with stacks of other old linens, and forgotten.

But now my interest was piqued about redwork quilts, so I went searching for the quilt I’d bought.

I found that old quilt and looked at it carefully for the first time.

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Just one section–it’s so faded I couldn’t get a good photo of the whole thing!

It’s faded, it’s ripped and patched, it’s stained. In one block, the design has disintegrated entirely.

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It was finished in April of 1889.

IMG_2753And, to my 21st-century eyes, it is peculiar and quirky and wonderful.

If you went looking for redwork quilt designs today, you’d find countless patterns that look like they were designed by Disney.

My quilt looks much more like Grimm Brothers had a hand in it. The difference between the aesthetics of the late 1800s and the early 2000s couldn’t be more striking. The old quilt is hard-edged, sort of harsh, not at all cute, really quite gritty.

I love it. And it’s clear that it’s been loved before, and loved nearly to death. It’s fragile and unstable.

So I have decided to remake it, to preserve a version of it for a couple centuries more.

I have been using an inexpensive child’s lightbox to trace the redwork panels on to paper, so I can keep them. Then I trace from the paper version on to off-white cotton fabric.

As I trace and then stitch, I enjoy the designs. There are flowers, lots and lots of flowers.

And there are animals; some are the ones the maker would know from the farm and some are exotic, known only from books or dreams.

My favorite blocks, though, are the ones with the people, and, especially, children. The children depicted are not the cute and pampered and romanticized children of modern America but are serious and, often, awkward-looking.

A girl jumps rope.

 

Two boys blow bubbles.

The children in my quilt are all focused and intent. Only one panel shows a child with any hint of a smile—a small person (not especially childlike), listening to a large person read. She stands at attention; no cuddles here.

Looking carefully at these old panels has given me a lot to think about. Do these older quilts reflect a fundamental difference in the perception of childhood, then and now? We can’t attribute the differences to design ability or sewing skills—this seems to be a difference in seeing the world.

It’s true that, by the turn of the 20th century, the shift to gentler and “cuter” designs had already begun. Even then, the Sunbonnet Sue girl was taking over and designs by illustrator Kate Greenaway seem to have dramatically changed, and romanticized, the image of childhood.

Some stitchers chose one depiction of the world and others chose another, even as we do now, I suppose.

So, I stitch and ponder. This is slow stitching, a project with no deadlines, only for me.

I am trying to copy the old blocks precisely but realize that, without wanting to or trying, I am smoothing rough edges, making things “prettier” than they were. I am influenced by a 21st-century way of seeing without wanting to be.

I am thinking that I will, eventually, add some personal and modern panels to my version of the quilt, to let it reflect both centuries in which it was made. I’m thinking about a panel depicting an iPhone (because I love mine so!), maybe one celebrating 100 years of women’s right to vote in the US, and, I hope, a panel celebrating the first woman president of the United States.

We’ll see. For right now, I have my plan and my focus. I have 40-some-odd blocks to do before I worry about moving back into the 21st century.

I’m curious about what you think of this old quilt. Do you like it or think it’s creepy? Find it interesting? Or is it ugly to your eyes? Do you prefer the cuter, softer images we see today? What kind of redwork can you imagine yourself doing?


As I’ve plunged, head first, into the rabbit hole of the Internet, I have found all kinds of redwork resources.

An amazing resource for old embroidery patterns, a catalog published in 1886 and including many of the designs in my quilt: New Sample Book of Our Artistic Perforated Parchment Stamping Patterns, from publisher J.F. Ingalls. Available as a free download.

Some of the Ingalls designs, reproduced on Flickr.

A blog featuring many great examples of redwork quilts and patterns.

Yoyo Mojo. No? No.

 

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What is your stance on whining?

Do you see it as healthy and cathartic? Or feel it is the worst of self pity and completely pointless?

Do you enjoy is for yourself but find it distasteful when others indulge?

My very good friend, and former boss, was known to hang up the phone on me when I whined. He would give me one quiet warning and then . . . click.

I’m actually not all that given to whining. It isn’t on the list of approved behaviors published by my patron saint, Pollyanna, you see.

But some days, I can’t help myself . . .

I’m in the mood to whine.

You may avert your eyes, if need be, or go ahead and hang up on me.

I am suffering from ennui. My list of daily stints has stunted me. Every project I have under way is either vexing me or boring me to tears.

And the most tedious among these might be the ubiquitous, unending, what-was-I-thinking yoyos.

IMG_2646I’ve been sewing yoyos together for what seems like eternity.

They were fun to make, so cute and perky.

They are much less fun to sew together.

I have 10 rows to do and I am not yet done three. And then those long rows need to be sewn together.

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I slog along . . . and whine quietly under my breath.

This Would Be Great, Except . . .

“Being a college professor would be a great job . . . if it weren’t for the students.”

I’ve heard these very words spoken, and have uttered them myself, if only as a joke. After all, if there were no students, there would be no job, no need for college professors, right?

All jobs, no matter how fun and fulfilling, have their downsides, I suppose.

In all my years teaching, it wasn’t the students that were the problem for me—I liked the students. It was the grading I hated.

But teaching, at least in American higher ed, means grading. Without students and without grading, there wouldn’t be a job.

In every craft I’ve done, there are tasks I dislike.

Making yoyos is great, if it weren’t for sewing them together.

Quilting is great, if it weren’t for the basting. Ack—I hate basting.

Making jewelry is great, if it weren’t for the polishing stage.

Weaving is great, if it weren’t for winding warp/sleying the reed/ threading the heddles/finishing the fabric off the loom. This whole topic of unpleasant tasks is actually on my mind right now because I face a day, or more, of hemming eleven towels and tablecloths. I have been postponing this for a while!

And, yet, without these tasks would the craft be the craft?

Without sewing them together, yoyos are just a pile of useless, albeit cute, pieces of fabric.

Without basting the quilt top to the batting and the backing, there is no quilt, just a piece of fabric of no particular use.

Without polishing, jewelry is just, simply, ugly.

Without all those steps of weaving, no weaving happens, no fabric grows.

When I was first learning to weave, I read a book where the author’s response was very clear, to a student who hated to wind warp.

The student said, “I just want to weave, not do all this other stuff.” She meant she just wanted to throw the shuttle.

The author’s position was that, when you wind warp, you are weaving. When you sley the reed and thread heddles and otherwise prepare the loom, you are weaving. It’s all weaving.

All the aspects of any job are critical to its being done.

So, if we care enough about the making, and the finished product, we learn to manage the bits that we find difficult or tedious.

I suppose, in some cases, we find more tedium in the craft than joy, and that may explain why we give some activities up and search out new creative outlets, to find the ones where the tedium/joy ratio is more to our liking.

For me, and the crafts I continue to do, I’ve either looked for ways to make the process more enjoyable or tried to re-frame my attitude.

I found a technique for basting quilts that works beautifully for me and, while I still don’t look forward to basting, I do it with much less gnashing of teeth than before.

For the yoyos and the weaving, I have simply (or maybe not so simply) changed my thinking.

Sewing the yoyos together remains a drag. But the only really unpleasant part is the longer stretches of stitching and it’s those longer stretches that also provide a sense of how satisfying the finished project will be. I keep my eyes on that prize and take time to step back and see how lovely this will be!

With weaving, I’ve found that many of the steps I used to hate get less soul crushing as I get better at them. Winding warp used to be my bête noire and now I have no trouble, although it’s still tedious.

I’ve come to grips with other steps by treating them as challenges, as fights I must win. Can I thread the heddles without mistake? Can I get the warp wound on without major tangles? I think I can, I think I can . . .

And along the way, I tell myself that, no matter what stage I’m in, I’m weaving. I am touching the threads and enjoying the textures. I’m watching the colors shift in the light and planning how they will come together. I’m doing some task that is integral to the making. It’s all weaving.

I wonder why we don’t talk about all this more often. I can’t imagine that we don’t share some frustrations about our crafts, as beloved as they are, but we spend our time talking about the fun parts and the finished projects.

Will you tell me about what you don’t like in your craft or in a job you’ve done? Or do you relish every step? Have you found ways to make the icky parts more fun?