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.

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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.

Thanksgiving in England

The 25th of November.  The eve of Thanksgiving 2011 in Moretonhampstead, my home town in my adopted country England.  In America, Thanksgiving is all about feasting with family and friends; the people we want to gather round us or travel near or far to be with.  We have eight lovely friends coming for dinner mid-afternoon tomorrow.  Some from around the corner, some from further afield (more than 10 miles hence) and some from even further afield (the other side of the country!).

This is my favorite American holiday and one that tugs deeply at me, even though my home is now on British soil.  Steve and I  planned the menu to include many of my beloved childhood Thanksgiving dishes – Heavenly Hash, Candied Sweet Potatoes, Frank’s Pea and Cheese Salad.

We shopped and started cooking today.  I had to order miniature marshmallows, canned pumpkin (Libby’s), Nabisco Graham Crackers and ‘Nilla Wafers online.  But the supermarket was a breeze (Sssssssh!  .  .  .  .  .  no one knows it’s Thanksgiving over here!)  This is our third Thanksgiving together and it’s already one of the best ever.  Even though Steve has yet to experience Thanksgiving on American soil, he enthusiastically joins in.  We love to entertain and host our friends, I am so thankful that he and I share this together and with others.

Tonight Steve and I made Gingered Nuts & homemade onion dip (tomorrow’s appetizers w/ Prosecco), three different pie crusts – Gingersnap pecan, short crust & Graham Cracker for Punkin Pie, Chocolate Pecan Pie and Maple Syrup Cheesecake w/ Roasted Pears , respectively, rinsed the brined turkey and made homemade corn bread for the stuffing.

I have a tin pie pan my cousin Cynthia gave to me in 1997, when I was still living in California.  She’d come out from Virginia to visit her sister (and my cousin Lanneau) and brought me an apple pie from the Julian Pie Co.,  near San Diego.  I keep the pie pan under my flour sifter (where we always kept one when I was growing up).  Once a year, it comes into service in its intended use,  as a vessel for my pecan pie.  All of these childhood memories, connections to foods and people, are woven into the  dinner preparations.

Cynthia's Pie Dish

Tonight, following on the success of our cocktail party two weeks ago (details to follow, but in the meantime here’s a teaser) we tried a Green Ginger Wine, Vodka & Cointreau concoction.  After a very full and productive day, time to have a well-earned sleep.

In the morning, the pies will be assembled and baked, the bird stuffed and cooked, the vegetables prepared, and setting up our kitchen and dining tables for ten to gather round.  Then the welcoming of guests and the enjoyment of each other’s company and fine food, lovingly prepared and shared.

A bit of earth

One of my favourite stories is ‘The Secret Gardenby Frances Hodgson Burnett.   First published in 1911, it is considered a classic of children’s literature.  Orphaned Mary Lennox finds a key to a secret garden on her uncle’s estate in Yorkshire.  She asks her uncle’s permission for ‘a bit of earth’ to make things grow.   Using the garden motif, Burnett explores the healing power inherent in living things.

A few days ago I bought some sprouted hyacinth and Tete-a-tete narcissi bulbs to pot and put in our living room. I love to watch indoor bulbs grow and flower this time of year.  It reminds me that, even though I am still in the depths of an English winter, springtime and another cycle of growth lie ahead.

More importantly, it reminds me that when we plant seeds or bulbs beneath the soil, they need to lie and rest and germinate, hidden from view, before starting to grow.   Like new ideas and endeavours or old issues and griefs, they may need time before they come to the light of day.

We live in a flat and have a patio out front where I grow a few herbs and flowers in containers, and have some space to mess around with dirt and pots. I went to the hardware store for my bit of earth, explaining that I don’t have the space for a big bag of potting soil. So I came away with a carry bag of soil for £1.

My bit of earth

When I plant things and garden, I also feel connected to my mother Nell who loved beautiful things and flowers and was a keen gardener.  She died from cancer on January 20th 1980, when I was 16.

At the time, due to my youth and family circumstances, just like a stone or a bulb, I buried my grief away.  I have, over the years, “dealt with it”, yet this time of year it can still feel very fresh and close.  Sometimes I’m surprised at how it can still split me in two and bring me to my knees.

So on this showery morning, I got my bit of earth and transplanted my bulbs into some pretty pots to bring inside.  As I gently separated the roots and sprinkled and patted the earth around the bulbs, I felt close to my Mom.    I remembered her elegance and the beauty that she taught me to notice and create in the world around me.  As it began to rain, a few of my tears moistened the soil too.