Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Turkey day

One might compare the rather lean and mean looking threesome in the header with those watermelon shaped turkeys in the supermarket or in your oven. 

Like large parts of the US, Cape Cod has a growing population of wild turkeys.  This small group wandered across my lawn last spring just as the final snow was thawing.  Some people I know have had groups as large as 20 in their yards.  We are by no means rural, this lawn is bordered by West Main Street and a very busy artery called Pitcher's Way.  Lots of traffic.  I more often see groups of turkeys near areas that have large amounts of woods nearby. (I am often amazed and pleased that although Cape Cod is densely populated, it still has lots of areas thick with trees.)

I  never saw a wild turkey until I was in my 40s. Since then they have become populous enough that I am not surprised when I see them. I am a bit nervous driving on some roads in areas with houses on large tracts that have plenty of woods for the turkeys roost in. I've just written a humorous short story about someone who hit one on a road.  They are very much on my mind this time of year.
(Also on my mind is what the breeders have done with their domestic cousins with breasts so large (and meaty) they can hardly stand on their much shorter legs.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Work in Progress

Sometimes I see a quilt in a magazine that I just have to make right away.  This isn't one of those but I saw one of those yesterday while I was having a Starbuck's coffee and an orange-cranberry scone at Barnes & Noble. I have a sneaky habit of looking through quilt magazines I know I'm not going to buy  because, perchance, I might see something exciting.  I did. In a Quilt Mania magazine from France which I think costs $14.95 (maybe a dollar or two less but still too much). That quilt will surface on this blog in about three months.  And I'll say no more, there's a lot of sewing involved. But thanks to modern day methods it will look like there was a lot more sewing than will actually have to happen.

This quilt-- the current WIP on my design wall is almost all pieced, it'll take one morning to finish piecing.  I like it a lot, as a matter of fact. The snowball blocks are mixed in equal parts with nine patch blocks (each of which has a white central square).  I think this counts as a "modern" quilt because I'm using a traditional pair of blocks with a great deal of white and very bright "today" colors.

Feeling as I do about the quilt-to-be that's only an embryo in my brain  (and a quick sketch on a piece of paper) this quilt will be  pieced and then put aside while I work on the other.  Fair enough, I think.
But there's just one other thing: I have many small half-square triangles with white and the bright colors that will become a part of the border for this quilt.  I should sew them together and add them to the quilt before I lay it aside.  Ah, me ....  the imagination outruns the time available.

To complicate my sewing life -- which is habitually what I do -- I found a very fun panel with alphabet squares each of which is illustrated with a character from the Dr. Seuss stories.  I have lately been giving Dr. Seuss books to my great-grandchildren -- an underhanded way to wedge in "real" books and not the cartoon-y things they see on a screen -- no, they don't have TV either but they make much use of a computer.  So I want to turn those blocks into a nice puffy quilt that they can all play with as they desire.  It won't take a lot of time and I have plenty of bright fabric around to strip between the squares. So I'd like to get that done before Christmas.  I think I'll have some time the middle of December. Sigh!

Friday, November 07, 2014

Beautiful Thread Painting

From A Quilters Gathering in Manchester, NH two examples of wonderful thread painting by Jodi Scaltreto of Hillsboro, NH. The fox is called "El Zoro" and the cat is called "Fig". As you see Zoro was awarded a ribbon. I think both were delightful.

This show seemed smaller than in the past and had fewer venders. The attendance was scanty, I thought.  However many very craftsmanly, beautifully made quilts were on view.  Most were "contemporary traditional", the majority of the colors were bright, nearly all were heavily machine quilted -- some very elegantly and far too many too heavily, adding nothing to the over all concept of the quilt. 

There were a few that could be called "modern" quilts in the fairly minimalist vein but the two that come to mind were the same design suggesting to me that both quilters took the same workshop  and copied the workshop leader's design. This is seen frequently in this kind of quilt show. 

Besides the very busy long arm quilting, many designs were fussy, too much happening, too busy.  This is a pervasive problem whenever I look at winners from the big shows -- it's the style-de-jour. I like that the fox and the cat have fairly simple backgrounds and the quilting in the foreground of the cat is simply done on a home machine as is the background, nothing to distract from the focus. 

My quilt Marginalized Poets was the only piece that was a bit bewilderingly "arty". Some people read the explanation and "got it" many did not give it more than a glance. That's to be expected.  The theme was Poetry but there was very little nod toward poetry.  I expected quilts that were inspired by specific poems -- I expected at least a couple of quilts with diverging roads in the woods -- but there were none. The theme did not inspire.  Poetry is exciting only to a handful of people.  I'm glad I know a handful although of the many people I know who write "poetry" few have an interest in reading or hearing poetry read beyond their own exercise of expression.  Nothing wrong with expressing yourself in a form that looks on the page like poetry.  But ... well that's another subject.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Finished, fun to make quilt

This is a pattern from Karen Griska (Selvage Blog -- see sidebar here).  She calls it Ferris Wheel,  I think of it as Whirligig.  The cutting and sewing method couldn't be easier.  I had  a lot of scraps in darkish blue, green, red tones.   One cuts two inch wide strips, not necessary to taper them, that happens mostly by eye as they are sewn into squares. And then making four-square blocks in a somewhat random way provides the great variety.  At some points the randomness of it felt wrong. And at some points it felt delightfully free.  But catching a glimpse of it on the design wall as it was being sewn (when I walked past the sewing room doorway) always gave a sense of what fun it is to put together prints and colors that aren't fussily  planned.  Finally I think the two inch red border/binding made a disproporationate amount of difference in tying it together.

I'm more and more a scrap quitler and I love the serendipity of combinations and I love the analogy of disparate patterns and colors with the variety of  people I meet every day. Mine is not a homogenized, carefully planned world.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Jackie Kunkel at Bayberry Guild

Jackie Kunkel was the speaker who did a gorgeous trunk show at the Bayberry Guild's meeting yesterday She makes quilts -- apparently at the speed of light -- has a shop and is a busy speaker and teacher.  She's very much at ease talking about her quilts and her career. She showed probably 25 or 30 quilts, mostly full size, and several bed runners which is a fairly new thing in the quilt world -- strip quilts about a yard wide to lie at the bottom of the bed. They are bright and what I'd call contemporary -- a great many have been published either chosen by quilt magazines for covers or features or because she makes quilts for various fabric companies -- which, enviably, means she is given sets of fabrics before they are on the market -- fabrics that have been designed and printed to work together.  None of the angst many of us feel about what color will go with what color -- and frequent (for me at least) bad choices. That also means she has gorgeous fabrics for the backs of her quilts.

I will call these quilts "contemporary" because they are new, bright colors -- she has a personal preference for the whole pink family.  A couple quiltsa could be called "modern" because have designs that seem to float on a white background --with that fresh simplicity that the "modern" quilts have. She also makes and teaches the various star patterned designs of Judy Niemeyer.

Jackie also designs fabric and has her first book coming out next September. She makes patterns and  kits which are sold through her shop in Connecticut and online. She's a lady really in the peak years of her career and seems to being loving it.Here's a link to her website, shop and blog.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Chicago World's Fair 1933: Century of Progress

The huge world's fair in Chicago, 1933, called  appropriately "Century of Progress", featured among much else, the enormous Sears quilt competition. Sears, the country's biggest mass merchandiser at the time, with it's stores all over the country and catalogs reaching even the most rural areas, offered $7500 in prizes for quilts. The grand prize was $1000 and the rest was for runners-up. Of course 1933, the depth of the Depression, meant those prizes were enough to make any quilter's heart beat faster. Directions said simply, "Quilt designed and made by you." And suggested quilts that echoed the fair's theme were wanted -- the one in the picture is a good example.

Some 24,000 women made quilts! They only had four months from the announcement until quilts were submitted to local stores for local judging. Winners there were sent for regional judging. Finally 33 were sent to the nationally known judges and all 33 were displayed at the fair. The judges happened to prefer traditional designs and did not award prizes to the "theme" quilts.  The winner was Margaret Caden, from Kentucky, a woman who had a shop that sold antiques including quilts (some she sold were not antiques but made by women she employed.) The winning quilt was presented at the end of the fair to Eleanor Roosevelt and now is in the White House collection of presidential gifts.  I have not been able to find a photo of it.

Not until sometime in the '50s did some of Margaret Caden's former employees speak up and tell the world that they, not Margaret, had sewn the quilt. At the time of the competition they were afraid of losing their jobs which would have been financial disaster for them.  Also one of the makers of theme quilts was so outraged that none were chosen she did speak up - in fact so loudly that when the Fair's  presenters decided to open it for several months the next summer (in order to increase their total income) they did display some of the theme quilts.

By the beginning of the '30s the pundits of the magazine world which had, for the past 20 years, featured quilt designs and information, had announced as the style critics are apt to do, that the quilt mania had had its day. (Especially crazy quilts.) They announced quilts were passe and emphasized the clean, new idea of art deco in home decor. The 24,000 quilts contradicted that assumption.  However, something far bigger than magazine editor's tastes was afoot:  first came WWII, and after that the burst of affluence of the '50s when, indeed, quilt making seemed (in the urban areas at least) truly passe. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Underground Railroad Quilt Code

This  Bear Paw quilt pattern (which happened to be the first quilt pattern I ever made, circa 1974)  was one of the patterns said to be used as a signal in homes that participated in the Underground Railroad for escaping slaves before the Civil War. That quilts were used as signals is a pervasive story.  The Underground Railroad definitely existed -- safe houses where the escaping slaves could find food and shelter as they headed or Canada or other safe places facilitated the freedom of a great many slaves.

But the story of the "quilt code" did not exist until approximately 1986. Ah historian from Howard University happened to meet a dealer in antique quilts named Ozella McDaniels in South CArolina, a descendent of slaves, She told him that she had heard from her grandparents how quilts were used as signals to the run-aways. They would be hung on the clothes line or draped over a split rail fence and their patterns meant either safety or danger. The historian wrote a book about the story.  As time went on Ozella told her niece other bits of "information" that went into the story.  This was a very appealing story which soon made it's way into children's books and even on the Ophra Winfrey show. 

And soon somewhat less gullible historians began to collate the stories are they had proliferated and  punched holes in the whole concept.  For instance the bear paw quilt was said to indicate that the run-aways shoud go over the Appalachain mountains, watching for bear paw prints and follow them because bears always knew where there were nuritious berries and fresh water.  The first problem is that no underground railroad trail ran over the mountains and no one in their right mind would get very close to a bear.  Other stories told of various ways a log cabin quilt could indicate safety or danger, depending upon whether the central squares  of a log cabin designed quilt were red or black and whether the lighter side of the various log cabin squares was "Up" or "down".  However the quilts are geometrically equal so equal numbers of dark and light squares are up or down.  And so it went.  In fact, the whole idea of quilt code was ironically disparaged by subsequent quilt historians. 

That's too bad because I had managed to implant a false memory in my own  recollections, thinking that way back in highschool history when I learned of the underground railroad I believed I had also learned about the quilt code.  But I did not; it did not even exist at that time.

Just one of the fascinating things I have learned about quilt history as I've been researching in order to tell my class about it.  To teach is to learn ... true, true, true.