Thursday, December 21, 2017

Elegant Geometry Exhibit - Taft Museum of Art - Post 1

Medallion quilt from the collection of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum
2008.040.0014
Seen at the Elegant Geometry exhibit at the Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, Ohio

I like to give myself presents.  After all, I know exactly what I want and I don't judge my own quilt obsession.  In fact, I think it is perfectly normal.  You do, too.  That's what I like so much about you.

My special gift this year was a trip to Cincinnati, Ohio, to see the Elegant Geometry quilt exhibit at the Taft Museum of Art.  If you are a long-time aficionado of antique quilt study you might have seen this exhibit at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum, of which these quilts are part of their collection.  There was also a catalog that went along with the first exhibit but those are all gone now.  I have one but never saw the first exhibit.  I guess you can say I "read the book but didn't see the movie."  Unlike most books, however, the visual version is far superior.

This exhibit blew me away.  The museum is gorgeous and the staff were the nicest museum staff I've ever encountered.  I could do a whole post on them but I didn't take their pictures.  I thought it would be weird.  As I was saying, it was a great venue and the quilts were breathtaking.  It also passed the all-time measure of what makes a good exhibit...they allowed photos.  Hooray!  After all, if you can't post it on Facebook, did it really happen?  I took 262 pictures so this will have to be a multi-post topic for the blog.  

Medallion quilt detail - crossed laurel leaf block in Turkey red solid and green print.

I'm going to start with a Maryland quilt.  At least the info card says it is possibly Baltimore origin.  I have to agree.  When I first saw the quilt I immediately thought it was from my area.  That crossed laurel leaf border was very popular - as a quilt in itself and as a block in Baltimore album quilts - in Baltimore in the 1840s-1850s.  I personally haven't seen it used as just a border and that is something that raises questions and makes this quilt extra interesting.

Center medallion detail - mosaic patchwork style c. 1830s

The style of the center of the quilt is called mosaic patchwork by the museum and quilt researchers.  I doubt the pieces were called "hexies" back then and "Grandmother's Flower Garden" is a name from the 1930s.  Po-tay-toe/Po-tah-toe for me because I'm only talking to me.  Guess it matters more if you want to talk quilts with the experts.  Anyway, the style and fabrics of the medallion part of the quilt were popular a decade or two earlier than the red and green applique border.  The museum's educated guess is that the center was constructed earlier and someone - same or different quilter - may have finished it in the 1840s or 1850s with blocks and fabrics that were more popular at that time.

Detail of applique branches and broderie perse flowers

I find the corners of the center medallion interesting.  I consider them an applique rendition of arborescent chintz.  In case you are not already aware, arborescent chintz comes from the Tree of Life motif and is a fabric with printed (often thick) gnarly tree branches.  It was popular in the 1830s.  These applique branches are not very rough and gnarly but the width of the main branch is reminiscent of the thick arborescent branches.  The large broderie perse flowers are also reminiscent of the flowers that appear on arborescent chintzes.

This is an example of arborescent chintz from a quilt dated 1837.  Seen on eBay.

The medallion style of the quilt would have been more popular in the 1830s time period than the 1850s.  It appears the quilt was started as a medallion because there is a center mosaic pattern set on point and framed with the applique corners.  For those familiar with quilts from this era, can't you just see more broderie perse and perhaps some simple pieced blocks framing the center or an applique Turkey red dog tooth border?  It was, in fact, finished as a medallion quilt which might indicate a quilt completed in the earlier part of the 1840s-50s estimated time period since medallions were being made but their popularity was waning.  The center and borders don't "go" as well as those constructed with coordinating fabrics might but the result is still very striking and definitely gets antique quilt lovers thinking about it. 

Gratuitous antique fabric picture #1

Gratuitous antique fabric picture #2

I added these extra pictures because who doesn't want more antique fabric photos?  It's also interesting to note that you can still see the pencil quilt marking in the lower picture.  I highly doubt this quilt was ever washed because many of the chintzes still have their glaze.  I you want to learn more about the quercitron yellow fabric in the top photo, see a blog post on by Barbara Brackman here.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Start small


Lily block with hand appliqued triangles and squares on the white corners.

I've been thinking about getting back to blogging because there is a direct correlation between the time and effort I put into my own sewing and my number of blog posts.  If you look at the last post, you will see that I haven't written anything since November 2016.  And there were only a handful of posts for the years before that.  I blame Facebook.  And Instagram.  Especially Instagram.  So many of my blogging buddies have abandoned their writing for the instant gratification of a Facebook and Instagram post.  I have to admit, I l-o-v-e the pictures.  But there is something in the blogging that involves thinking things through that gets me away from mindless scrolling and back to productive sewing.  But it is overwhelming to just pick up where I left off, especially since my sewing is still nearly non-existent.  So, I will start small...some easy information on something that someone else stitched.

Detail of signature - Aaron H Huntzberg

This block is my very favorite pieced block (with a bit of applique if you look closely) of all time.  There are several reasons I won't go into now - that's for another post.  This is just a single block that my friend Julie very graciously pointed out to me at a vendor's booth during the recent AQSG seminar.  She is a good friend indeed because she wanted it for herself but knew I would be sad to miss it so she gave me first dibs - and I took it immediately!

Tiny blue and white 9-patch quilt: hand pieced and hand quilted.

Fortunately, we weren't both coveting this quilt.  I couldn't walk away from Stella Rubin's booth empty handed and I've been looking at this one for a long time.  This quilt has 1,034 9-patch blocks which means there are 9,306 little squares in those 9-patches.  They are all hand pieced, no assembly line piecing on a machine.  I had to put it on my hotel bed for a photo opportunity.  I think it makes the hotel very homey but I'm not really sleeping under it.

Close-up view to get an idea of the scale of the pieces in this quilt.

Here is a picture with a quarter to better get an idea of the scale.  Each 9-patch is about 1.5 inches.

View of quilting with the red binding.

This is a simple blue and white quilt (if you call it simple to piece over 9,000 half-inch pieces plus assembling them with the plain squares) but I like that the maker added a red binding.  I've heard many times..."Red is a neutral."

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Hand Quilting My Little Quilts

Quilting...hand or machine?  As quilters, we make decisions, have our preferences, and our biases.  These are individuals choices and when I speak about them I am strictly speaking about my own personal decisions, preferences and biases.  There is no judgment about those of others.  This is my disclaimer because I am going to talk about one of my favorite quilt things, hand quilting, and why I don't quilt my little quilts by machine.

Fine hand quilting and stuffed work - Quilt is in the collection of the DAR Museum

Before I went back to working outside the home full-time I enjoyed the luxury of having several hours a day to spend sewing and quilting.  At that time I was teaching at a local shop and machine stitching class samples in addition to my personal sewing.  Frankly, the class samples took up more of my personal time than I liked.  When I took my full-time job and experienced a substantial reduction in that personal time, I evaluated what was important to me with regard to quilting.  I stopped teaching and got rid of all my fabric that wasn't reproduction.  (Note: don't worry, I've since plugged those holes with plenty of new repro fabrics.)  I switched from making large quilts to mostly small ones that offered the chance to play with fabrics and patterns while making a quilt that I could hang on my office wall to enjoy during my time out of the house.

I need to get a ladder so I can put quilts above my white board and add another row above those on the right

Personally, I am not a fan of machine quilting on little quilts.  I think that is because it is so obvious.  Remember, this is personal taste - not right, not wrong - just my opinion.  I love the designs created by quilting but I love the subtlety of hand stitching.  I am guessing that others share my opinion but choose to machine quilt their projects in order to finish them faster...or at all.  I certainly can appreciate that.  In another moment of introspection, I decided that, going forward, I would stick to a hand-quilt-only policy for my own little quilts.  I started with some very small projects (see the tiny one pictured below) that I could complete in an evening and some very slightly bigger ones that took a couple of days.  Then I started hand quilting a larger project: Cheddar Cheese and Crackers - Humble Quilts project.  That was in 2010 and it still isn't finished.

Pinned to my bulletin board on my desk

Reflecting further, I decided to stick with my hand-quilt-only policy but to employ the tactic many, many others use:  Hire the quilter.  That's when I turned to Bellwether Dry Goods.  I've talked before about Bellwether because I love their service which ranges from simply having your quilt top marked by Dick Fries for you to do  your own hand quilting to purchasing a completed quilt.  While hiring someone to hand quilt for me isn't cheap it is definitely a good value.  I get to play with fabrics while sewing my tops and wind up with little quilts I absolutely love which I use in my house and in my office.

Dick Fries marking a quilt top before it goes to the quilter

I first fell in love with Bellwether quilts when I visited an event that used to take place near Dulles, Virginia, at the Sotterly Plantation.  I can't tell you how much I loved walking over the hill and seeing dozens of hand quilted quilts gently blowing in the breeze and folded on shelves where you got glimpses of patterns and color.  The Sotterly event featured many antique quilt dealers and the Bellwether quilts fit right in because of their vintage look and feel.  But, they smelled good!  Alas, the Sotterly show is no more so Dick and Jane Fries started holding a three-day open house event on their own property in southern Anne Arundel County, Maryland, during the first weekend in December.  This year the show is December 2-4 from 10am-4pm each day.

Details about the Bellwether Open House

In addition to seeing and being inspired by lots of great quilts, you can enjoy some delicious cookies and cider as well as the Fries' antique house.  I highly recommend it!

There is a large tent so the open house takes place rain or shine

Welcome to Bellwether Dry Goods!!
P.S.  If I ever complete another king-sized quilt for my bed it is totally going to the machine quilter.  Somehow, the stitching disappears more in the big quilts.  Or, so I tell myself.


Monday, August 29, 2016

"It's a nutcracker. To crack your nuts."


My daughter has recently returned home to live to save on costs while she attends graduate school.  Her old room had become my quilt room and I now must turn it back over, thus necessitating a reduction in the quilt collection since there isn't another space large enough to house everything safely.  Today I was supposed to be working on that task but you could say I got caught up in a conversation.  Or rather, caught up with conversation prints.  I found this stack of 79 pinwheel blocks with some of the most delightful prints so I spent my work time photographing them.


This is my favorite because it immediately reminded me of a scene from Downton Abbey.  If you're a fan, you'll remember when Isobel gave the Dowager Countess a Christmas gift.  When the Dowager asked, "What is it?"  Isobel replied, "It's a nutcracker.  I thought you'd like it.  To crack your nuts."  As if she needed a nutcracker for that.  I'm thinking these prints are from a little bit earlier than the Downton era.  But not much.


Horses were very popular in the prints.  I'm impressed by the detail in the guy on the left.  The other one is paler but very cool.


This is just the bottom of the horse's foot.


More horsey motifs.  I like when fabrics are pieced to make it big enough for the template.


How about these revolvers?  Having just listened to the soundtrack of Hamilton I wondered if they were, perhaps, dueling pistols?


A screw?


A lot of the blocks had these shovels.  The fabric in these blocks is great but the sewing is, to put it nicely, "folky."  Notice the miss on aligning the points in this one?


Another very detailed motif.  You can even see the soulful looks in the dogs' eyes.


I have a contemporary reproduction with these tops on it.  I guess the guns are too politically incorrect these days to reproduce.


I don't think these blocks were ever assembled.  There is a good reason for that.  You saw the misalignment in the earlier block.  Someone seems to have tried to draw in the stitching line but the blocks vary in size by more than an inch so a top from them would be very lumpy.  Most are machine pieced but some were done by hand.  The blue is bright and cheerful, there is a variety of dots and stripes of different sizes, and just enough red to add some pizzazz.  It's a great set of blocks.  I'm deciding whether to list what I'm downsizing on Ebay or Etsy.  Any advice?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

WOW - WIPs on Wednesday - A Day Late


Do you ever find yourself needing to quilt?  I mean NEEDING to do it.  Like if you don't somebody might die?  That's where I am this week.  Everyone wants a piece of me, at home and at work.  I usually relax by stitching for at least 15 minutes on an ongoing hand piecing project every evening.  But, this week I have to get up extra early and I'm exercising, which is not something I do.  Should, but don't.  And, it isn't because I want to exercise.  We are doing some car juggling and I'm getting to work via train and then joined a bikeshare program to peddle my way the last two miles of my journey.  I start sweating all over just typing this.  So, it should be obvious that when I hit the bed I am asleep, not sewing.

To relieve some stress I headed to quilt blogs today and saw Esther Aliu's post from yesterday.  She has invited us to share our Works in Progress (WIP) on Wednesdays.  Hence, the WOW.  She is making her daughter's wedding dress - big WOW!  I just need to talk about quilts so I am recycling some photos some of you might have already seen because I've shared them on social media.  Social media has cut down on a lot of blog posting because it's just so darn easy to share the pictures we love.  However, I miss the opportunity to just talk quilts.  So, here goes...

The picture above is the back of my ongoing hand piecing project.  I'm pretty proud of how neat it looks.  Below is a photo from a blissful Sunday morning.  My week started well but the wheels dropped off on Monday.


I've also indulged my love of pomegranate quilts recently.  The one below was really interesting to me because it is mostly pieced!  Only the stems and the center motifs are appliqued.  As I said, I've shared this photo before and more than a few people just wonder "why?"


You might be able to see the seams by the leaves if you enlarge this photo below.


I love this next one.  The quilting is incredible and the dots add that touch of whimsy that just makes me smile when I see it.



Well...I feel better.  Thanks for indulging me for a few minutes.  I am heading into my afternoon with a much better attitude.  

P.S.  I have my hand stitching in my desk drawer.  I might just have to sneak a stitch or two.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Four Patch Inspiration


Last week I fell in love with a little quilt on Laundry Basket Quilts' Instagram feed.

saved from @laundrybasketquilts on Instagram

I didn't intend to reproduce it right away but I happened to notice a pan of four patches I've been making for another project.


Surely, I wouldn't set myself back too much if I pilfered 24 of them from the pile.  And, this blue just happened to be right on the cutting table.


It's there because I used it in my tantalizing triangles (a.k.a., Panama Pyramids) which are not on the cutting table but residing on my stool for now.


And, this red seemed perfect for the borders and it was in a pile of fabrics I bought (last year) that is waiting patiently to be filed away in the stash.  I'm not showing the pile of fabric - too embarrassing.


So, this little quilt came together in about 90 minutes.


Now, back to hand sewing triangles and squares.  My hand stitched postage stamps are adding up rather nicely.


And I have a little collection of triangle block kits ready to stitch.


Sunday, May 29, 2016

I'm on the bandwagon



My friend Linda Collins - Quilts in the Barn -  has started a bit of a phenomenon.  It's called Panama Pyramids.  It started with a pattern published in Quiltmania #94 of a scrappy antique triangles quilt from her collection (photo of original quilt is below and is used with permission from Linda).  It has grown into "Panama Pyramids Sew-Along 2016," a 350+ member Facebook group created to encourage those making the quilt to share their projects and cheer each other on with their stitching.  Recently, she came out with a set of plastic templates that make it much easier and more accurate to cut the many triangle shaped pieces needed to make the quilt.


I was resisting starting yet another project but as you can see from my first photo, I didn't resist long.  Linda had the templates at the Zieber Quilts Retreat in California earlier this month.  Several of my fellow retreaters (perhaps that is not a real word but you know what I mean) started making their own Panama Pyramids and their various color combinations were enticing.  It was Brenda Papadakis' red and green version that got me to purchase a set of templates of my own.  Since our retreat this year focused partly on "name inscribed" quilts and we studied "blue" at last year's retreat, my version will be a signature quilt and features indigo fabrics.  My hat tip to you Zieber Quilts!


Many in the Facebook group are hand piecing their blocks.  It's nice to see so many enjoying the "zen" of hand sewing and seeing just how quickly a block can go together without getting a machine involved.  I'm going to share a couple of quick tips to answer some questions that have come up in the FB group.  First, let me address how I trace a template for hand piecing.  As you can see in the photo above, the templates have the center cut out so you can trace the stitching line onto your fabric.  I've seen people also tracing the outside of the template as a cutting line.  If you cut with scissors, you need this line.  However, it is much faster if you skip that line and rotary cut your triangles 1/4" away from your stitching line.  See below.



The next thing I'd like to address is grain.  No, not grains of rice or grains of sand.  Fabric grain.  As in the pesky fact that fabric is woven from horizontal and vertical threads and fabric cut on the grain is much more stable than if it is cut on the bias.  There is no avoiding bias when working with equilateral triangles but the trick is to know where to put the straight of grain side.  If, like me, you are assembling the quilt in long strips and then stitching those long strips together then you should make sure the top and bottom of those strips are on the straight of grain.  This will prevent many headaches (and distorted fabrics and lumpy quilt tops).  The plus side of bias is that you've got some sides with a little stretch which is handy in case your pieced triangles don't come out exactly the same size as the solid alternate triangles.


Also, if you look at the original quilt, there are some blocks cut in half along the sides.  If you make sure the grain line runs straight down the middle of the pieced triangle block it will help avoid those annoying ripply quilt edges.


I feel like I'm channeling my fussy and fastidious 8th grade Home Economics teacher with this post.  I used to thumb my nose at her insistence on lining things up correctly with the fabric grain but a few garments that bulged in all the wrong places taught me the lesson the hard way.  So, I bow to you Mrs. McMurtray.  Grain does matter.

P.S.  If you ignore the grain and things come out lumpy then you can always quilt the dickens out of it.  That's the difference between quilts and dresses.
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