We Have So Much . . .

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Oodles of creative energy and desire. A strong desire, the impulse to make, to create . . .

And no resources. No thread, no yarn, no fabric. Nothing to turn my hands to. I can’t imagine . . .

A lot of my recent pleasure in this complicated world comes from my poor power to make something. When I get too overwhelmed by the news, I can turn away, pick up a rainbow of pretty threads, and play. And heal.

I’m reading a book that helps me realize how very, very lucky I am to have that outlet.

The book is Homefront and Battlefield: Quilts and Context in the Civil War, Madelyn Shaw and Lynne Zacek Bassett. It was published as a companion to a 2012 show that was organized by the now-defunct American Textile History Museum. The show traveled to other museums, including Shelburne Museum of Vermont, where Don and I saw the collection a couple years ago.

The show was spectacular, using “quilts, textiles, clothing, and other artifacts to connect deeply moving and insightful personal stories about the war, its causes, and its aftermath with the broader national context and public history.”

I didn’t write a blog post about this experience, mostly because photography wasn’t allowed and the impact of the show was visual—items included the hemp rope said to have been used to hang abolitionist John Brown, quilts made for soldiers to carry with them to battle, and all manner of personal textile items—knapsacks, clothing, and “housewives”—small sewing kits made for soldiers to carry with them in order to do their own sewing repairs.

Seeing these items moved me greatly and brought the reality of the Civil War to life for me, and I bought the well-written and beautifully illustrated book so I could learn more and have the photographs of the wonderful artifacts. I would recommend it to anyone interested in textiles, domestic social history, and human resilience.

I’ve been re-reading the book lately, in another time of American upheaval and uncertainty. Sometimes, as I read, I almost envy the women left home during the Civil War—they were full of a sense of purpose and knew exactly what they could do to make a difference during difficult times. They sewed, they knit, they wove, they quilted, and they sent the product of their labor to the soldiers whose lives were made substantially more bearable as a result.

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from the website of the American Textile History Museum, athm.org 

In these times that try one’s soul, as I turn my hand to weaving, sewing, quilting, I have no such sense of broader purpose. I am doing what I do for myself and my own state of mind. Making is a balm.

Yet, reading Homefront and Battlefield also encourages me to think about how lucky I am, and not just in the obvious ways—we are not engaged in a war with ourselves, I am not sending sons to battle to fight and kill their brothers. I am not burying the silver in the yard to hide it from the enemy.

I am lucky, too, in that in my need to make and to turn my hand to a job of work, I have unlimited power to do so and unlimited resources to draw from.

One of the points made in the book, and something that had never occurred to me is that, often during years of the Civil War, women had nothing–nothing— to work with.

As a result of any number of realities of war, there were no raw materials to be had. No cotton because it was all diverted to the war effort. No wool because sheep were killed to feed troops, rather than kept for their wool. A Georgia woman described the plight in her diary, saying, “There is no cloth to be had and no thread, no yarn—nor anything to do with. Time passes heavily under such circumstances” (164).

Indeed, it would.

No cloth? No thread? No yarn?? Just worry, and a frustrated desire to turn hands to fruitful labor, to make something that could help.

I have worry. But I have yarn and thread and fabric. I can sublimate my worry, my agitation, into something positive.

I read examples all the time of women channeling grief or anger or worry into their craft, turning to the soothing rhythm of knitting needles clicking or the needle and thread purring through cloth . . .

Can you imagine not having that outlet?

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!

Our Quilt Guild Show!

IMG_8836The biennial show of the Champlain Valley Quilters’ Guild of New York was just over a week ago—it was wonderful fun, but pretty intense!

There were a few days there when I didn’t care if I ever saw another quilt!!

But I’ve gotten over that and am thinking happily about new projects, inspired by the work shown by my guild mates and by the vintage and antique quilts on display as well.

For those of you who don’t quilt and haven’t been to a quilt show, a little background might help. A local show like this is not juried—members of the guild can enter quilts that have not been shown in previous years. A numbers of awards are given by community members and by voting among attendees.

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Made by Anne Gillette. This quilt is about 26″ square and was acknowledged by attendees as “Best of Show.” It’s made by a technique called paper piecing. (Sorry about the keystoned image–it was hung above my head!)

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The strips of fabric are about 1/4″ wide!!

Many of the quilts are projects of the quilter’s own choice but others are made around a theme or challenge held by the guild.

For instance, a guild challenge we had last year was to make a long, narrow seasonal banner of a certain size and with a specified range of colors. The fun came with seeing how different makers translated the theme. (You can see larger, full images by clicking on the photos.)

Other special displays were made of mystery quilts (the quilters choose fabrics then follow directions given out over time, to make a pattern that will only come clear at the end of the project), quilts made by junior quilters, and a memorial display, with quilts made by guild members who have recently died.

You may remember me writing about the “Cot to Coffin” quilts done for the Bicentennial of the War of 1812. Some of those quilts were also displayed together. For lots of photos of those, you could visit the original post.

Probably my favorite part of any show is the inclusion of antique and vintage quilts owned by guild members. We had a “bed turning” display that was very popular with show attendees. The format was a stack of old quilts layered on a bed. Each was revealed as its history and story were told. The quilts ranged from 150 years old to 9 years old. We had four generations of quilts from one family and poignant stories. Grandma Van’s quilt made its appearance, too!

Guild shows often reflect the region in which the quilters live and what I would call the guild’s group style and values. Our guild has a definite focus on nature and rusticity, and the members seem to prefer traditional styles and patterns. I saw a lot of pictorial quilts and almost none that I would call “art” quilts (although I would consider many of them artistic). Many of the quilts demonstrate superb technical skills and most are machine quilted, some with virtuosity. As a whole, the guild tends not to do a lot of handwork, although some hand appliqué was astounding.

Here are some of the quilts that caught my eye! So many were wonderful–I wish I could include them all.

And, because some of you were nice enough to show interest, these are my quilts from the show. I’m a hand quilter and, mostly, a hand piecer.

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All Star Quilts at Shelburne Museum

It’s been a great year for viewing exceptional old quilts made by Amish and Mennonite quilters!

I’ve written elsewhere about antique quilt displays and about Shelburne Museum, but I haven’t put the two together and written about the antique quilt display currently hanging at Shelburne.

The Shelburne Museum, in Vermont, is known for its terrific focus on folk arts and for its collection of over 500 American quilts.

This summer one of the special shows has been All Star Quilts. These quilts are all from the 19th– and early 20th-centuries, mostly made by Amish and Mennonite women, made of solid color fabrics, and all made with patterns based on stars.

The quilts come from the collection of John Wilmerding. Wilmerding is best known as a preeminent art historian, collector of American fine art, and curator. But his grandmother was Electra Havemayer Webb, an avid collector of folk art and the founder of Shelburne Museum.

Wilmerding came honestly by his appreciation of folk art quilts!

As was the case with the antique quilt show at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, many of these quilts were displayed against black walls, which made the quilts appear to just glow with color!

 

“This Has Nothing To Do With Staying Warm . . . “

IMG_7244A warm and inviting city.

A world-class museum.

An exhibit of quilts that should forever silence any question about whether the work of “loving hands at home” can and should be viewed as art.

I spent the last few days in Boston, Massachusetts, with my husband and two friends. I could regale you for hours with stories of the fun we had but what I really want to do is show you pictures of the current exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

IMG_1463The exhibit is titled “Quilts and Color: The Pilgrim/Roy Collection” and it will be at the museum through July 27, 2014. If you are able, do go to the show—it’s amazing and will give you lots to think about, regarding quilt making and the definitions of art and craft!

The 60 quilts in the exhibit are from the collection of Gerald Roy and the late Paul Pilgrim. Pilgrim and Roy, trained artists and interior designers, began collecting quilts for their aesthetic value in the 1960s and they amassed glorious examples.

Pilgrim and Roy recognized how women had been using colors and shapes in the making of quilt designs that were every bit as innovative and exciting as the paintings of recognized artists, such as Josef Albers, and other Op Artists and Abstract Expressionists.

The show is organized around different aspects of color theory. It’s all very interesting and informative but, really, I found it difficult to get into reading the explanations.

I just wanted to feast my eyes on the banquet of colors and shapes and patterns. I wanted to get close to every quilt and try to imagine making stitches that tiny. I wanted to think about the women, often Amish or Mennonite, who lived what we think of as such austere lives and yet created such opulent and rich beauties.

This quilt was probably my favorite of all and it was the catalyst that brought Pilgrim and Roy to re-think their notions about quilt making.

IMG_7246 IMG_7251Many of the quilts are displayed against a black wall, which makes them seem to glow and vibrate with inner light and energy. (Click on any photo in this post to really check out the details!)

The craftsmanship of these quilts is superb. Of course, they are all quilted by hand and the quilted designs combine with the colors and shapes of the fabric to create a whole that is far more than the sum of the parts.

But, really, why am I still yammering on? Just look!

Quilting and Gardening: It’s All the Same to Me

I’ve heard it said that quilters are often drawn to gardening, as gardeners are to quilting.

Since I’ve been doing a LOT of both lately, I’ve had time to ponder this proposition and can see a million reasons why these two activities would appeal to the same people!

In fact, I’m a more experienced quilter than gardener and I’ve begun to see that, when I reach a problem in thinking about my gardens, I can draw on my quilter’s knowledge to help give me insight. I bet it works the other way around, too!

Here are my top five ways (out of a million) that quilting and gardening are aligned. Perhaps you can add others!

Planning—While there are improvisational ways to make a quilt, I think most quilters like the planning process, which draws on both the right and left sides of the brain. There’s a fair amount of math involved in quilt making and it was only when I started making quilts that I saw any point in having taken high school geometry.

Math isn’t so important in gardening but there are certainly rules to follow, in order to achieve success. I used to ignore that silly business about plants wanting full sun or shade, until the plants threatened to report me for torture. Similarly, those rules about growing zones really do provide valuable information!

Level of commitment—Both quilting and gardening demand quite a high level of commitment. Even a small quilt involves multiple stages and I’ve learned it’s possible to get hung up at any stage. Quilts do not finish themselves.

Along the same lines, you simply cannot have a garden without a gardener. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve been known to plant things and then walk away from them, and it never ends well.

Both quilting and gardening are easy to start and more difficult to see through to fruition. While quilters talk about UFOs (unfinished objects), gardeners are more likely to simply look at their weedy, undistinguished patches of earth and shake their heads sadly.

Patience and vision—Related to needing a fairly high level of commitment, both quilting and gardening demand real patience and the ability to envision how pieces will come together to form a whole. I suspect that folks who are exceedingly product-oriented have trouble as quilters and as gardeners.

When I start a quilt, I need to be aware that it will be months before I can really see the beauty in what I’m doing. I need to find pleasure in the doing because the start is often messy and uninspiring. I need to be able to see the finished project in my mind’s eye, to give me the trust that all the tedious early work is worthwhile.

It’s exactly the same with gardening. Nothing we plant really looks good at the start. I’ve spent days lately with crud under my fingernails and my flowers look small and insignificant. I tend to over-fill my perennial beds because I have trouble envisioning how big the plants will get in time. As I get slightly more experienced with both quilting and gardening, I get better at anticipating and seeing into the future, which helps me practice patience.

Color and Shape—Perhaps the most obvious similarity between quilting and gardening is the use of color and shapes to create a pleasing whole. I tend to like solid fabrics (or small prints that “read” as solid) in quilts, and get results from shading and use of lights and darks. This translates well to the garden, even though I’m still trying to figure out how to do it.

I like the way bright, saturated colors show up against dark backgrounds in my quilts and am trying to use bright plantings in shady areas—chartreuse foliage and hot orange and yellow flowers. I have definite preferences for color in both venues—you’ll find no purple in my quilts and the only purple in my gardens comes from one happy, healthy rhododendron that was here when we moved in and I haven’t the heart to uproot.

For quilters and gardeners, colors and shapes become the building blocks of their vision.

Individuality—One of the activities popular with quilt guilds is the so-called mystery quilt challenge. Quilters are told to buy, say, four fabrics in a color range of their choice. Then they are periodically given instructions of how to cut and join the fabrics. Eventually, the patterns develop and all the quilters bring their finished products together.

The amazing thing about this challenge is how different and individual the quilts are, even though they are made with the same design! The different choices people make in the fabrics create limitless possibilities in the finished quilts. You would get the same individual interpretation if you asked quilters to use the exact same fabrics but to choose their own quilt patterns.

Makers have always expressed their individuality through quilt design, so much so that certain quilts can be recognized as being made by certain quilters or by having been done in a particular region.

Gardening, too, offers the same endless possibilities with the same basic ingredients. We all use the same relatively small number of plants and flowers that work in our growing zone but the results are as varied as we are. If you and I both start with petunias and geraniums and creeping Jenny, my end product will look entirely different than yours!

So, quilters and gardeners are always achieving their own distinctive look, even while they carefully eye the work of others to provide new ideas. Whether I’m at a quilt show or walking through a new garden, I’m wondering what I can use of the ideas in front of me.

It occurs to me that the points I’m making about quilting and gardening may very well apply to other endeavors as well. Do you garden? How does it relate to your other artistic undertakings? Are there similarities? Do you learn how to approach one from the other? Do tell!

 

As I wait to hear from you, I’m going back to my quilting. Or my gardening. Or maybe both!

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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Quilting Hands at Home: An Adirondack Quilt Show

A huge space, filled with of handmade quilts, on a brisk autumn day! When the biennial show of the Champlain Valley Quilters’ Guild of New York opened a couple of weeks ago, the colors inside the building rivaled those on the sugar maples outside. But the colors on the quilts will last long after the leaves have fallen!

I’ve said elsewhere that I think quilting is, just maybe, the quintessential expression of “loving hands at home.” It conjures images of regular people, using what they have on hand, to create a practical item that transcends the maker and the purpose. The time commitment in making a quilt is not undertaken lightly and the finished quilt envelops and warms the recipient, and brings beauty to any space. To see nearly 300 quilts and other textile projects on display is to see thousands of hours of work and love made tangible.

The photos sort of speak for themselves. Like every quilt show, this one was pure eye candy.

Many of the quilters had participated in a “mystery quilt” challenge, in which they were instructed to choose fabrics along certain guidelines and then follow instructions that were communicated periodically, so the beauty of each woman’s quilt (and, yes, they were all women—no men in this guild at all!) would be revealed slowly. These quilts were displayed together and the range of colors choices was fascinating!

Probably every quilt show has a regional angle or flavor. This one was no different. These quilters are based in the Adirondacks and Lake Champlain region of upstate New York so many of the quilt reflected the colors and subject matter of the area.

I am pretty bummed to say that I did not win the raffle quilt but I did pick up a copy of the Quilters’ Guild cookbook, which they compiled a few years ago. I love these community-based cookbooks for their old-fashioned, and often downright quirky, recipes.

This recipe book reflects the region just as the quilts themselves did. It has far more recipes for desserts and sweets than anything else, with an emphasis on apples and maple syrup, of course!

I’ll leave you with their “Recipe for Happiness This Year” (slightly edited to match my writing rules!)

Ingredients:

Water, Meals, Plants, 3 Es, Books, Exercise, Family and Friends, Excess

Directions:

Drink plenty of water. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a beggar. Large meals earlier in the day are healthier for you. Eat more foods that grow as plants and eat less food that is manufactured in plants. Live with the 3 Es: energy, enthusiasm, and empathy. Read more books this year than you did last year. Take a 10-30 minute walk daily and, while you walk, smile.  Realize no one is in charge of your happiness except you. Call your friends and family often. Each day, give something good to others and get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful, or joyful.

Manly Hands at Home

Don stitch-4To read my blog, and much of what is written about the handmade and hand crafted, one might reach the conclusion that the only “loving hands at home” are female hands.

It’s time to challenge that thinking and start talking about the men who make beautiful things as well. While crafting often seems to be associated with women, we can find lots of examples of beautiful work, in many different media, done by men. And we should encourage it—why should women have all the fun and satisfaction?

It’s not surprising or unusual to find men working in wood and metal and clay. A museum of folk art, like the Shelburne Museum that I’ve mentioned elsewhere, has many examples of furniture and metalware, like weathervanes and hardware, made by men.

It’s less expected to see men’s work in the textile arts. The weaver’s trade was historically a male-oriented art, at least in some cultures, but work with textiles seems, now, to be heavily associated with women. And yet men are just as capable of beautiful, expressive hand-wrought work as women—so why don’t we talk about it more?

I’m going to and I’ll start at home! My husband has been making beautiful cross-stitch samplers for almost 25 years.

It all began in the early 1990s, when I started to make quilts. My husband, Don, was drawn to the craft, the colors and patterns, and wanted to jump right in and work with me.

What he found was that, with his big guy hands, he had trouble making the tiny stitches needed for piecing the patches and for hand quilting. But he wanted something creative to do while I quilted.

A trip to Colonial Williamsburg found him pondering old stitch samplers. The gift shop sold cross-stitch kits and, on a whim, he picked one up. And the rest, as they say, is history!

When he finished that design, he went looking for a new pattern. We went to an embroidery and quilting shop, where he picked out a pattern that looked more advanced. All the women in the store gathered around this guy who was, of course, the only man in the shop. “Oh, you’re going to make that one! How much cross-stitch have you done?” they asked.  “One project,” he answered.

Stunned silence. And a dozen women’s voices, all at once, trying to talk him out of it. To talk some reason into him. They said he should choose a different pattern and go slower and work his way up to the pattern he chose.

But we’re talking about a man, here! A former Marine, with two tours of duty in Vietnam. A college professor who doesn’t know the meaning of self doubt. A guy who, just like all of us, hates to be told he can’t do something and wants to prove he can!

So, of course he started that project and slogged through it. He pulled out a lot of stitches (and swore like a Marine every time!) but he finished that sampler, perfectly, and has gone on to make many more.

Our house is full of these beautiful creations, and other equally beautiful ones live in the homes of our family members. He has done marriage samplers and Christmas stockings for babies, all the kinds of projects one would expect from a pair of loving hands at home.

Don stitch-6 Don stitch-3 Don stitch-2And he gets such a kick out of it! Autumn weekends find him parked, with his enormous stitching stand, in front of the TV. He watches hours of college and pro football, while cheering on his teams and making teeny-tiny stitches on linen in a rainbow of beautiful colors. I’ve never quite figured out where he gets the patience (or why his big guy hands have adapted to this precise craft when they couldn’t adapt to quilting!)

I’d love to hear more about the men who make. Was your grandfather a furniture maker? Does your Dad have a craft? Does your significant other ever join in when you’re making something? Or are you a guy, yourself, who can tell us about what you make? Let’s hear it for manly, and loving, hands at home!Don stitch-7Don stitch-1