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.

Sunday, October 05, 2014


A beautiful afternoon after a week of rain.  So Rachel and I headed to Falmouth near the end of Cape Cod to see an art quilt show at Highfield Hall -- a beautiful mansion now used as an exhibition and performance center.  Alas! the doors closed at 2:00 (we thought we had until 4:00) So what to do?  We had noticed, driving into the Highfield, that many trees had been wrapped in knitted somethings, in all sorts of colors and designs, including birds on branches and flowers.  Fat trees and thin trees. Delightful!
We couldn't go in but we could wander the gardens which are full of delights like a bird tree in the middle of the formal garden, a structure like a skeleton of a house with pieces of glass, some with words like Family and Love, flowers, woodland paths.  Nice.

The picture at left is a tree with a knitted sleeve -- it is in Iceland, but the idea is the same. I supposed trees in Reykjavik need sweaters more than our trees do -- the ones we saw were brighter colors; but the idea is the same.

Then we decided to explore the main street of Falmouth. Clothing and tourist-oriented trinket shops. We saw creativity of all kinds from dress designs and wonderful textiles to jewelry, essential oils, ceramics of wonderful design and profusion -- not tacky, cheap tourist junk but  creative craftsmanly designs.  We are not so much shoppers as admirers.  I saw some totally wonderful fuzzy animals that I might have to return and purchase for the great-grandchildren for Christmas. Our own town, Hyannis, has a main street  somewhat on a par with these shops. So do other towns on the Cape.  But we don't often go into any of them so an hour of browsing and admiring, comparing taste an disagreement about what is navy blue, what is purple, what is royal blue, what is deep teal, was a pleasure.

Ah and then we noticed the boulangerie  (bakery, in English which at least I can spell) and knew we really need real croissants and coffee before we started home.  Truly flaky, French croissants are a rarity in any town.  These were authentic and lovely.

It was not a wasted afternoon. We did not see what we went to see, but we saw much else. The sun was bright, a cool breeze was giving the day a bit of an autumnal edge.  It was beautiful.   We'll go back and see the art quilt show -- it's on the whole month of October.