Monday, November 24, 2014

A Visit on a Snowy Day

I don't have a studio.  I'm not an artist, and it's not false modesty that makes me say so.  I'm not making anything even slightly original.  I just like to sew.  I make quilts, mostly from scraps, using traditional patterns.  I also sew clothes and pillowcases and do mending.  This is my sewing room.

Let's move around the room from right to left.  This is my piecing station, which currently houses my Singer RAF 15.  She's a faithful workhorse that came to me as an electric from a junk shop.  Sometimes I switch her out for a Singer #9W (based on the old Wheeler and Wilson design), or for a #66 Red Eye.  The cabinet started out housing a #27 from 1904, which I may put back again sometime.  The heads that fit this cabinet are on a shelf in the basement.
This quilt hangs above the piecing station.  It's hard to see, but the light blocks all have transfers of antique sewing machines.  Until I fixed up the sewing room last summer, the quilt just lived in storage.  I'll probably change out the quilts from time to time.  No direct sunlight finds its way here, even on bright days.
Here's my bookcase, but the books are all in the downstairs bookcases.  Here's where I keep my wind up clock, my radio, sewing machine oil, various tools, and a few scraps needing to be sorted.  On the bottom two shelves are four bins with projects in progress.
Next to the bookcase is my pressing station, with the ironing board cover I wrote about previously.  As I stitch the rows of the string quilt together, I'm stacking them here. 
This is my cutting station, on top of my dresser.  It doesn't look like it from this angle, but I can open the drawers without coming near the ironing board.  The basket holds scraps waiting to be trimmed to the sizes I save for scrap quilts.
Above the dresser is a bulletin board, which is great for cutting instructions, etc.  I definitely need more light in this area, though.
My new electric Pfaff sits here atop an old desk.  My poor husband moved this heavy oak desk up two flights of stairs for me.  I call this my quilting station.  The basket in the back holds my safety pins for pin basting.  At the far right of the photo you can see my window shades, that still need to be put up.
I have a real closet!  On one side, I have tops waiting to be quilted, plus the backing for them.
On the other side of the closet are my sorted scraps, in bins and drawers.  I save strips and squares in sizes from 1.5 in. to 4.5 in. wide, with a few larger pieces.  I separate the bright colors from the rest, and use them mostly for quilts for kids.

Here's the first picture again, showing my "design floor".  I am so happy to have this space.  An hour or two spent here makes me purr all day.
Next time I'll show you where I keep my stash.

Just a question--does anybody else do this?
Above is a scrap bag I bought at Mill House Quilts.  Yes, I actually BOUGHT scraps.

I bought this one, too!  Sight unseen!  They were the same price, around $8.50.
This is what the first one had in it--great stuff!

The second one was even better!  I especially like using triangles when I'm making string quilts, because they work so well on the corners.

This weekend my husband and I went antiquing, and I found this:
It's like opening a present when I get these packages home.
This one had a short pieced section, and lots of strips and rectangles.
More scraps, more variety, more quilts!

I wish you the joy of sewing this week.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Saving the Stories

This is Sarah Petticrew McWilliams Hawes, with her son Samuel Raymond Hawes.  Sarah was born on October 16, 1872, in Ramsey, Illinois.  Sarah's granddaughter brought three more of her quilt tops to our documentation day on Saturday, plus many wonderful family photographs.
This is Sarah's Carpenter's Wheel quilt top, made in the classic blue and white.

When she was 18 or so (about the time this photograph was taken), Sarah left the family farm to start her own millinery business, making and designing hats.  She told her family she left home because she was tired of pulling off her brothers' muddy boots for them when they came in from the fields.

Here is another of Sarah's quilts.  The set is unusual.  The quilt owner also has an extra block, and a pillow made out of two more blocks.

All of us who are interested in quilt history owe a great debt to the family historians, who care for the quilts and preserve the stories of the people who made them.

Our documentation day last Saturday at the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts & Fiber Arts was the usual mix of excitement, hard work, and joy.  There always seems to be a theme that runs through the quilts we see.  This time it was labels.

Over half of the quilts we saw on Saturday had labels!  This is an especially nice example.  This quilt maker also adds a list of the quilt shows where the quilt has been exhibited to the label, with the awards and ribbons it wins.

We only saw one crazy quilt on Saturday.  This one was made as one whole piece, rather than several blocks or strips.
Usually we give a range of dates when the quilt could have possibly been made, based on the fabrics and other clues.  Not necessary this time!  We have the date, but, unfortunately, the quilt maker didn't put her name on the quilt, so she remains unknown.
This is a close up of the fan in the corner.  The embroidery stitches were amazing throughout the quilt.

We are one of the few quilt documentation projects in the whole country that documents newly-made quilts.  Six of the quilts we documented on Saturday fit that category.

Check out the wonderful colors!  And all of the newer quilts had labels (great job, ladies).

I'm not sure if we've ever had a documentation day without a Grandmothers Flower Garden quilt!   (I should look that up.)  This is a particularly nice example.  The maker made two of these for twin beds, and a larger one for a full sized bed.
The edge is beautifully bound.  This was not easy to do!

Here's a terrific scrap quilt.  We're calling the pattern Nine Patch Cross.
This quilt was made from a nice deep scrap bag.  It is absolutely fascinating to look at.  Some of the pieces are the same print in different colorways.

And here, nearly 100 years later, is another quilt of the same "recipe"--simple scrap pattern, lots of different fabrics, pulled together with red cornerstones.

My favorites are always the scrap quilts, and lately I've been drawn to quilts made in the 1960s, like the one above.

There is such a variety of these funky prints, plus all the plaids we used to wear then.  The red corner squares really stood out when we hung it for photography, and they pull things together even though they are not all the same red print.
This quilt was made by the owner's grandmother, who lived in rural Georgia and made quilts for warmth.   Although most of the year was warm, the winters were cold, and there was often no heat in the house.  The maker's daughter said she recognized her Sunday school dress fabrics in this quilt.

All of the stories of these quilts are now recorded, and will soon be entered into the Quilt Index online.  The people who make documentations possible are our volunteers.  Many, many thanks to Maribeth, Bonnie, Kathleen, and Carol.

Now, how about sewing a label or two on your quilts?
Piecefully yours,

Sunday, November 9, 2014

String Quilts, Part Two

As promised last time, I'm going to show more of my antique string quilts and blocks in this blog entry.

Isn't this one a hoot?  Instead of string pieced squares or diamonds, these are hexagons.  The fabrics in the hexagons are kind of plain, but who could notice that with all that orange hitting you in the face?  The quilt maker has added a yellow hexagon center to each block, and green triangles to the tips of the hexagons. 

In the close up, you can see the strings better.  You might also notice the machine quilting.  This one dates from the 1950s or so.

Here we have a less successful example.  This is a finished quilt, that I bought in an antique store.  (Sometimes, if the price is right, I have been known to adopt quilts just because I felt sorry for them.)
At first glance, you might be wondering what on earth is going on here.  (I know I was.)

Let's look at an individual block.  Can you see the 8-pointed string star?  It's stretching the definition to call this a string quilt, since the "strings" are so wide.  The maker has also string pieced the corner squares and the side triangles, and even the sashing!  It's a tour de force of recycling, but not a very attractive quilt.

Yet another example.  This one is a six-pointed star.
This quilt maker has string pieced the six center diamonds, the diamonds surrounding them, and the narrow triangles in the corners.  It's a fun collection of fabrics from the 1890s through the 1930s, but not much to look at.

The reason is contrast.  Your quilt teacher was right, contrast is the key to a good design, either in scraps or strings or new fabrics.  Without contrast, the design disappears and it just looks like chaos.

This top is a little better.  These are rectangles instead of squares.  Most of the fabrics are from the turn of the 20th Century, but a few are from the 1930s and 1940s.

Many of these fabrics make my heart go pitty pat.  (Check out the gray print!)  This quilt maker machine top-stitched the strips to each other with black thread.  It's a pretty good quilt, but it could be better (in my opinion) if there was more variety in the fabrics and colors.

Variety is really important in scrap quilts in general and string quilts in particular.  This block is okay, but not nearly as much fun to look at as the blocks in this quilt below (which I showed last week).

Hint:  An easy way to get more variety is to use smaller pieces.
Here's another block in the yellow and green quilt:
This one really suffers for lack of variety.  Nearly every diamond has a big hunk (or two!) of the same blue print.

Another hint--make sure the tips of your diamonds do NOT match the background.  It makes them disappear (contrast again).

One last chaotic top:
These are rectangles, pieced with everything but the kitchen sink.  There are even orphan blocks and pieces!  From the amount of wear, I think it was a tied comforter that has been taken apart.  An Ebay find, this one was made in 1925.

How do I know that?  Take a look:
Embroidered on one block is this inscription:  Lena, From Grandma B. 1925.
Good job, Grandma B, signing and dating your quilt!

One of the things I like about finding string quilt blocks pieced on paper is the possibility of finding a date on the papers.  It doesn't necessarily mean the quilt blocks were made on that date, but they could not have been made before that date.  It gives us a place to start.

Many string quilts have been made in this pattern, often called Rocky Road to Kansas.  These blocks were probably pieced in the 1920s or so.
Their papers were removed before I got them, but you can still see the fragments on the back.

I have a whole set of these blocks, which are made a lot like the ones I'm currently sewing.
On the back is an advertisement for a sale on women's coats.  It says "Sale Closed October 14, 1922".  So if you guessed this block was made in the 1920s, you are correct!

Another one of the blocks advertises fabric for sale.  Yes, that's right, the most expensive fabric on the page cost 38 cents per yard.  It was tougher to get 38 cents then, of course.

String piecing was very popular during the Great Depression, and also during World War II when fabric was harder to get.  These blocks were hand sewn on pieces cut from newspapers.
This pattern is called Baseball or Snowball.  It is usually set with plain white circles (thus the pattern name).

These triangles are some of my favorite string blocks. 
They are pieced on pages from the Sears Roebuck catalog of 1907.
I originally bought all of these block sets with the idea of finishing them into quilts.  It might happen, someday.  If not, I'll pass them on to someone else to enjoy.
Thanks for looking through my collection with me. 
Happy quilting!