Back to the beginning

Over the past five or so years that I’ve been on a hiatus from making fibre art, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about my Muscogee ancestry all the way back to the Mississippian period.  The Muscogee, also known as the Creek Confederacy,  are descendants of the Mississippian culture peoples, who flourished between 800 AD and 1600 AD.   The Muscogee were a confederacy of tribes consisting of Yuchi, Koasati, Alabama, Coosa, Tuskeegee, Coweta, Cusseta, Chehaw (Chiaha), Hitchiti, Tuckabatchee, Oakfuskee, and many others.  

I have been influenced by much of the artwork that has survived and been documented.  I have also read many of the stories and legends which have survived orally and were collected throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Alabama Indians’ creation story tells of the beginning of things –

“Once, long ago, before the time of the oldest people,
water covered everything.
The only living creatures above the water
were some small animals and birds
who occupied a log raft
drifting about in the great ocean. . . . . . .”

First World, Neocolor crayons on paper, 25 x 25 cm, 2014

I began this acrylic painting last weekend on a rainy Sunday.  In the summer of 2015 I took a painting workshop led by Nocona Burgess in which we learned about painting onto a canvas primed with black gesso.  I found a couple of blank black canvases recently during a studio tidy up.

One of the tips I learned from Nocona was how to mask off the canvas to get a super straight and crisp line.

A crisp tip

I surrounded this first world with colors from the Medicine Wheel.

In the Beginning there was only Water, Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40 cm, 2017

For my current work in progress I’m using Sennelier Oil Pastels on 250gsm mixed media paper.  I love working with my fingers and how the colors can be blended.

Water covered everything, Oil pastel on paper, 30 x 30 cm, 2017

I’m going to the art store tomorrow to get some turpentine so I can see what that does to the pastels.  I also plan to pick up some more square canvases.

I suddenly have a lot of ideas and images for paintings and works on fibre waiting patiently to come out.  It is as though everything I have been taking in over the past five years has had a chance to settle, find roots and is growing once again towards the light of day.

Sources:   Creek Confederacy  ::  Muscogee

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On the road again

Well now, I thought I’d written about this next piece two years ago when I started making it.

Working title for a work in progress: The Road to Oklahoma
It is about being torn apart, partings from, partings through, bloodline, arrival, departure, the long straight road that cuts through the land.

September 2015

The base is made from undyed fleece from a Whiteface Dartmoor sheep needle felted onto black acrylic felt. Torn red silk dupioni stitched down with white bugle beads bisects the road.  I machine stitched a sinuous Mississippian riverine motif along the left hand side.

The back side tells a story too.

It has been hanging on my design wall since 2015.  A couple of weeks ago, I have come back to work on it.

I made some gorgets from paper clay.  The original ones would have been carved from whelk shells by the Mississippian ancestors of the Mvskoke.

I stitched them to the top right hand side of the piece with red thread,

but then decided to change to cream thread.  The metal disc is the cremation remains disc from my father’s ashes.

On the lower left side is another Mississippian gorget, printed onto organza of a Red Stick warrior.  This represents and honours my Mvskoke ancestors who lived in what is now the state of Alabama until we were ‘removed’ to Indian Territory in the 1830’s.  We were called Upper Creeks by the European invaders to differentiate us from the Lower Creeks who had settled in what is now Georgia.

This is also about my dad Frank Charles Schwakhofer, who was born in Muscogee, Oklahoma in 1919.  Because he was half Muscogee (Creek) and half white, he never felt like he fit in anywhere.  Both the white and the Indian kids called him a ‘half breed’. He never learned to speak Creek, but he could understand it.  He left home as soon as he could.  First, riding the freight trains out to California in the mid 1930’s when he was 16.  Then when he got older, he always had a car.  He drove off and never looked back.

I printed a map with the city of Muscogee in the middle onto cotton organza.  This map is from 1905, when it was still Indian Territory, soon to become the state of Oklahoma.  I hand embroidered the roads in red thread and sewed a gold bead right smack on top of Muscogee.  The photo of my dad, also printed onto organza, is from June 1955. On the road somewhere.

an Indian and his car

 

Your struggle is stunning

Somewhere in the sea of people,
and along side the asphalt rivers,
just below the canopy of steel giants
is a break in the concrete
where one single, fragile flower grows.
Your struggle is stunning,
and your bravery is beautiful.
I hope you choose to grow in places
no one ever thought possible.

R.M. Broderick

As good as new

Well hey!  I finished quilting all 161 squares and 60 triangles this weekend.  I’m not really sure why there are an odd number of squares, but I did count them at least twice.  During the quilting I’d noticed that some of the peach fabric squares in one of the nine patches were very threadbare and holey.  I put a pin through it to remind me where they were.  We slept underneath the quilt that night, fortunately not getting pricked.

I replaced them with some teeny ones using a buttonhole stitch around each one.  I love the cute little animals on these 1930’s reproduction fabrics!

Then I washed it, ironed the prairie points flat and have put it back on our bed.  The quilt on the wall is our wedding quilt Cleaved.

This has been such a fun and satisfying project that I am thinking about making another quilt.  🙂

Return to quilting

No one is more surprised than I at how much satisfaction and pleasure I’ve gotten from working on Nellie’s Nine Patch.   I ‘found’ myself as an artist when I discovered quilting in 1996.  I focused on art quilting, textile and fibre art for about the next 15 years.  I made my last quilt in 2012 for my bed ‘Enter the Forest of Dreams’.  Then, I started going to a drawing class in 2013 and got into other media for a while.

Enter the Forest of Dreams, bed quilt, 2012.

Still, most people know me as an art quilter and often ask me how my textile work is going;   for the past five years I’ve been saying, ‘I used to make quilts and fibre art, but recently I’ve been painting and drawing and doing other stuff’.

Anyhow, I digress.  I’ve finished all of my repairs on Nellie’s Nine Patch and have decided to quilt the 161 squares which I had left blank back in 2002.

I quilted about a mile of straight lines criss-crossing through each one using my walking foot.  I do not have a long arm quilting machine.  I do have very strong hands and biceps though!

Then I lowered the feed dogs, put my free motion foot on my Bernina and am adding a four petal flower to each square.  I like figuring out the meandering pathway through a set of about 20 squares and ending up right where I began.

I’m also replacing the grade school photo of my mom which was so faded on the back side. I quilted the square (and over the old photo) first, then replaced the photo, so it would not have quilting lines going over her beautiful face.

Back of the quilted square, prior to replacing the photograph.

At first, I was going to use a photo printed onto sheer fabric.  I felt there was something romantic about the 15 year old faded photo being overlaid with a new one, but I had problems lining up the eyes exactly.  First one, then the other was too low.  I ironed on, then tore off the first two.  By the time I got to my third sheer attempt, there was so much fabric glue showing through that she appeared to have a skin disease.

In the end, I decided to print the photo onto Pima cotton.  I’ve also replaced the poem in a font that looks like old fashioned cursive writing.  My mom had great penmanship, which she probably learned as a little girl in the 1930’s.

Once I had zigzagged around the edges of the photograph and the poem with invisible thread to secure it, I re-stitched in the ditch around the nine patch squares from the front, leaving the photograph framed, secure and unstitched through.

The Durabright ink in my Epson Stylus printer is archival quality and is supposed to last for 100  years.  So the childhood image of my mom will be around for quite a long time.  Longer than it takes memories to fade anyhow.

Time for a few small repairs

One of the first quilts I made is a double bed quilt.  I started it in 1998 when 1930s reproduction fabrics were all the rage.  I chose a pattern called Nine Patch which was popular in the Thirties.  I pieced the quilt top in California, quilted it in Scotland in about 2000 and finished it with a prairie point border in 2002 with more fabric I bought on a trip to North Carolina in that year.

A few months ago we noticed that the fabric at the top is beginning to fray and shred after 15 years of use.

I got my ‘precision’ hat on, measured up and made a cutting list.

It has been a very long time since I’ve done any quilting, like four or five years of a long time.  I’ve really been enjoying myself!  I’ve taken over the dining tables in our salon and have been ‘coming and going’ to the work over the past few weeks.

When I culled my stash a few years ago, I’d got rid of most of my print fabrics.  D’oh!  So I had to order a pack of 50 different 5″ squares from the States, which pretty much matched my original fabrics.  I turned most of them from back to front, so they would tone in better with my gently faded quilt top.

When I made the quilt, I ‘stitched in the ditch’ around all of the seams, but didn’t quilt inside of the white squares and triangles.  Now that my repairs are made, I’m thinking of quilting those.

My quilt is called ‘Nellie’s Nine Patch’ named for my mom Nell who was a girl in the 1930’s.  On the back of the quilt is her school picture, probably from the 5th grade when she was about 10 years old.  I printed the photo onto fabric back in the very early days of printing onto fabric.  I used Bubble Jet Set to prepare the fabric, then ironed it onto freezer paper to stabilize it.  In 2001, I didn’t have a computer at home, so I used the one at the little library in Haddington, Scotland and the nice ladies who worked there very kindly let me use their printer for this first experiment.   You can see how much the photo has faded over the years.

Just below her photograph is a very faded poem that she and I found on a sundial in 1976, when we were on a trip Back East together just four years before she died from cancer.

Time flies, suns rise
Flowers bloom and die.
Let time go by and shadows fall
Love is forever, over all.

I’m planning to print her photo onto sheer fabric and stitch it over the faded one.  I’ll also revive the poem.

There is something very poignant about the fading of the photograph and the words.  It brings to my mind the fading of memories and that remembering keeps people, things, and places alive.  One root of ‘memory’ is the Serbo-Croatian word mariti “to care for”.  Perhaps to remember a person is to care for them.