Monthly Archives: September 2014

Old Quilts Are Perennials

I help photograph old clothing and quilts/coverlets for my county historical society, which is a joy to do as I love old textiles. Because of that volunteer work I’m starting to appreciate what can happen to textiles over the years. Dyes fade, silk shatters, stitches come apart, body oils leave marks, and old stains seem to get more pronounced.

So it was a treat to see old quilts in not so bad condition and some even in excellent condition at a local town’s senior center sponsored quilt show. A highlight was a trunk show talk on dating and preserving quilts by Carole Wooten, who is a collector of antique and vintage quilts.

I learned not to use bleach (any kind) on old quilts or wash them (vacuum them using a piece of fiberglass screen), to refold them once a month and store them flat if possible, to wrap them in clean cotton sheets, and to sew netting over fragile quilts to hold the pieces in place.

Here are some quilts in Carole’s collection. She seems to have the knack of being in the right place at the right time – at least for buying old quilts.

Wedding quilt never used This quilt which may have been a wedding gift was never used. It has beautiful fern quilting.

Rose of SharonThis rose of sharon quilt has quirky flowers at lower right and upper left. Was this a design decision or lack of time or fabric?

mourning quiltCarole said this quilt was a mourning quilt, which explains the subdued colors.

Ocean WavesYou can see the wear in some red triangles on this Ocean Waves quilt. It’s a lovely pattern that’s a bugger to make. I did learn that a bias edge binding will wear longer because the edge has all different threads rather than one thread across that can fray or break more easily. A bias binding also has more give.

Here are other quilts on display at the show. Most were vintage.

silk tie crazy quilt 7This is a detail from a silk tie crazy quilt that gave me oodles of ideas for big stitch embroidery. The silk was in great shape. You can see the fabric contents tag on one of the ties.

P1040820I love the colors in this exuberant appliqued quilt.

1950s and 1960s fabricThis quilt dated 1960 (and isn’t it great that the maker and date are so prominent) is a grab bag of fifties and earlier fabric.

dresden plateThis Dresden Plate was tagged as 1930s-40s era. It’s certainly pre rotary cutter as you can see from the variations in the spokes’ widths. I like the casual color placement.

To cap off the show, I won two raffle items – a framed photo of boats and a handwoven rug. That’s my good luck for the decade. My other bit of luck for the day was having a friend take photos of the talk and show. Thanks.


Filed under Quilt Shows

Occasional Wednesday Salon

When I came across this piece by Jeannette DeNicolis Meyer I was transfixed. Here was someone who shared my fascination with large blocks of transparent color and achieved the effects I longed for.

personalgeometry_MeyerPersonal Geometry

According to her website, Meyer  teaches at the Studio School of the Oregon College of Art and Craft in Portland, Oregon.  The work shown on her website dates from 2005 and earlier. I have no idea what she’s been making since. I know she teaches workshops in places such as New Zealand, and seems to have ties to that country.

Here’s one of her more recent pieces from a SAQA blog entry posted in 2013.

Jeannette Meyer_essentialmaps6Essential Maps 6

She is co-author with Ann Johnston of Speaking in Cloth: 6 Quilters, 6 Voices, that is a companion to a traveling international exhibit of the same name.

geography_spirit_MeyerGeography of the Spirit


thatnight_MeyerThat Night

Her artist’s statement:

I try to make each quilt as simple, essential, and direct as I can. I want viewers to be able to visually enter my quilts and walk through fields of color to the still, contemplative space within. That is the place my work comes from and the place I hope to lead others to when it is done.

My guess is she combines hand dyed fabric with dyed/painted organza to get that melting, see through effect. I didn’t notice the quilting at first, but it’s integral to the design in at least half the quilts on her website. To me this is refreshing as machine quilting sometimes veers towards showing off how much thread can be used.

My new goal is to take a class with her.


Filed under Art quilts

Finish Two, Start One New

As I reported earlier, I’m rounding up my unfinished tops that are ready to quilt and putting pedal to the metal. Two are now done. One, Swimming Upstream, was pieced this year. The other, Shirtsleeves, has been in a plastic tub for at least a year.

Swimming Upstream 2Swimming Upstream came about because I found some leftover 1.5 inch squares and HSTs plus a few leftover blocks. Using Sandi Cummings’ techniques from Thinking Outside the Block, I did a mash up of traditional and contemporary. I free motion quilted it with a loopy meander. It was misery, with the bobbin seizing up at least 30 times on this small (about 24 by 32 inches) piece. Each time I rethreaded, took out the bobbin, cleaned the bobbin case, etc. I used Aurifil thread on the top and bottom and generally did everything recommended. I also tried putting in a different bobbin. Some days I had no problems. Other days I’d get only about 2 inches of stitching done between seizures.

Shirtsleeves 2Shirtsleeves is made mostly of my husband’s old cotton dress shirts, with a bit of other striped fabric. The bits of yellow sprinkled throughout reflect Kaffe Fassett’s influence. He does a shirt fabric quilt like this in his book Passionate Patchwork. The back uses more of the shirts. There is sure a lot of fabric in men’s shirts, even in the smaller sizes. The quilting is a simple 2 inch grid. The label is part of a front placket. I didn’t want to have any buttons on this quilt in case I give it to some new parents.

Shirtsleeves backNow for the new part. Since I had finished two quilts I could start one new one. (Yes, this is totally arbitrary, but self discipline is a goal of mine.) Since I’ve started Joen Wolfrom’s Craftsy class on color I thought I’d try a color gradation.

Here’s my colors arranged for paper pieced leaves using a pattern by Deb Karasik.

leaf fabricsYou can see the fourth gradation in the leaf below.

paper pieced leaf rose 1I’ll be at this project a while as I have only four leaves done so far. The worst part is picking out the little bits of paper. The pieces are too small to use freezer paper piecing. Guess I didn’t learn how tedious this method was with my last project. But …

paper pieced letters


Filed under Completed Projects, In Process

Leftover Inspiration

In the course of looking at images for my Kansas quilt I found other ideas that I’d like to do something with.

Here’s an aerial photograph of pivot irrigation circles that would make a great abstract quilt in taupe and neutrals. Maybe I could use that 6 minute circle technique.


And Mr Wright’s glass offers more fascinating images.

flw_abstract_stained_glass_frank lloyd wright

Saguero frank lloyd wrightAll of these make use of really skinny divider strips.

Speaking of skinny strips, here’s a quilt from the Nickols collection at the Mingei International Museum. It’s an 1890s window pane charm top. Totally “modern” and it’s a great collection of fabric swatches from the period.

1890s window pane charm top Nickols collection 2012-35-043_001


Filed under Inspiration

Prairie Style

A quilt I’ve been piecing is turning into the love child of Frank Lloyd Wright and Kansas (the state, not to be confused with the rock group.) It began as a small piece based on Ricky Tims’ convergence quilt instructions. I never finished it as I didn’t think the delineations were clear enough, and it’s been stuck in a drawer ever since.

convergenceCue mad urge to clean out my quilt stuff.  I rediscovered the failure and cut it up. I decided the pieces reminded me of Kansas seen from the air, so I combined them with hand dyed yellow and gold cotton in honor of Kansas sun flowers and a bit of turquoise.

Playa Lakes Scott County Kansasplaya lakes, Scott County, Kansas

The reds in my fabric reminded me of the Kansas tallgrass prairie. Yes, parts of Kansas are beautiful. I know this because I’ve lived there.

TallgrassPrairiePDThe result seemed incomplete until I decided to surround those golden fields with various shades of green. The greens improved the top but it still needed something. Enter Frank Lloyd Wright and his stained glass windows.

frank lloyd wright stained glassMaybe some narrow strips would do the trick.

KansasI believe I’m close to where I want this piece to be. And I bet you thought I didn’t do any research for my quilts.



Filed under In Process, Project Ideas

Round ‘Em Up, Get ‘Em Done

I knew I was in trouble when I saw more than five tops on my to-be-quilted list. And I cheat on that list as a series of small quilts aren’t even mentioned. There was nothing for it but to plunge into fitting up backs for my tops.

So my main quilting related activity over the past week has been piecing together backs. I did free motion quilt a small improv piece and a wall hanging, but I won’t continue to bore you with my FMQ travails except to say that the piece below quilted up problem-free and the other one didn’t.

Purple Rays

Back to those backs, all but one is pieced as I like that look and I have very few large pieces of yardage. I even pieced a back for a top still on my design wall. I gave myself an extra scoop of coconut chocolate chunk ice cream for that bit of forward thinking.

To keep up the pressure on myself to get stuff finished, I’ve paired my tops with their backs and hung them in my fabric closet. That way every time I venture into my stash I’ll experience guilt about the unfinished stuff and start quilting instead of piecing. At least that’s the theory.

to be quilted



Filed under In Process

Creature Feature Finished

With a few alterations and embellishments, some fabric markers, hand stitching, and minimal quilting I completed Creature Feature. Here’s what I wrote earlier about the genesis of this bit of fluff.

Creature Feature

The edges are finished with a zigzag stitch over a novelty yarn. I’d love to put something in the middle of that red ball, but didn’t find anything suitable in my sewing room. I did find yarn that was unraveling, and made that the threads of venom released by the sea beast’s tentacles. The flowers? I guess they didn’t read the script.

Creature Feature detailHere you can see the endangered creatures up close and personal.

Sometimes an art quilter just has to get silly.


Filed under Completed Projects

Bits and Bobs

I want to share a few items that I’ve been saving up before I completely forget I’ve been saving them.  If you’re above a certain age you’ll understand this.

First, I was reintroduced to the technique for making 6 minute circles (your mileage may vary) at a modern quilt guild meeting. If you’ve never used this method, let me recommend it. It’s adaptable for various circle sizes and can be used for ovals as well.

Easy Circle

Here’s a link to a HGTV episode where Dale Fleming, the technique’s originator, shows how to do it. It can be further streamlined by just using one layer of freezer paper if you’re willing to tear it once you’re done. The Modern Quilt Guild Blog also features this technique using HSTs.

Another random item is this funny post by the Bitchy Stitcher about the proliferation of deer in recent fabric designs. Since I experience proliferation of deer in my neighborhood, on my block, and in my yard, I’m not about to encourage it in my fabric collection. Bambi has a lot to answer for. I just love the Stitcher’s suggestions for other animals that deserve to be immortalized on fabric. At least the owls seem to have flown off.

Michael Miller deer fabric

Finally, for a bit of eye candy, check out the wonderful star quilts on exhibit at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, as shown on Love Those Hands At Home. The museum’s website shows only one of the eye popping Amish and Mennonite quilts on display, so Kerry’s photos are probably my only chance to see some of these beauties.


Filed under Commentary, Snark

Bath Time

Last weekend I gave my big Olfa cutting mats a bath. Thanks to Pinterest I came across a post about soaking cutting mats in vinegar and cool water to rehydrate them. I had old mats, white vinegar, and a bathtub so I thought, why not?

My older large mat was purchased so long ago it cost only $41.50, according to the price tag on the back. Nowadays JoAnn’s sells that size for $69.99 before any discount. I realize there are many other retail sources that charge less, but I recall that my newer mat cost at least $15 more than my first one. Of course I used a coupon.

I use my mats almost daily so they get lots of abuse. They’ve also been treated to some paint splashes and glue overruns. I think the most damage done to them was caused by an XActo knife.

cutting boardThe largest tub in my house takes up way too much space in the master bath. It’s a corner whirlpool number with a large window right above it so the neighbors can enjoy the sight of me rising from my bath.

But I’ll leave the functional design discussion to another time. I was ready to soak my mats after I cleaned the dust from my tub by standing in the middle of it and running water over the surfaces.  I put four gallons of cool water in the tub, added one quarter cup of white vinegar for each gallon, and slid my mats in.

mats in tub

After 10 minutes I flipped the mats to make sure all parts got a soak. After another 10 minutes I added a squirt of blue Dawn dishwashing liquid to the tub and gently went over the mats with an old bottle brush. The directions call for a soft brush like one used to clean mushrooms. I didn’t even know there were mushroom brushes so I used what I had that seemed soft. After a final rinse I put the mats on towels to dry.

Do the mats seem better now? There are fewer little bits of lint stuck in cuts, but what I thought was a big piece of lint was actually a deep cut down to the white layer of the mat. I wonder what made that.

Honestly, I don’t really see much difference in the mats except they’re less dusty. I think mine have so many cuts they’re beyond self-healing. At least my tub got clean.

My takeaway is the best thing you can do to preserve your mats is make sure you don’t use them as an ironing surface, even with a towel on top. And if you do this, immediately put your mat on the floor, put heavy books on top of the raised up area, and cross your fingers.


Filed under Commentary

Gwen Marston’s “Minimal Quiltmaking”

Gwen Marston has been recognized for many decades as an influential quiltmaker. She developed her style early in her career or, as art quilters like to say, found her voice. Amish and what I call primitive quilts have been huge influences on her work. She quilts much of her work by hand.

Gwen’s most recent focus is minimal quilts. These are featured in her latest book, Minimal Quiltmaking. This is a process oriented book that articulates an approach to quilt design, not a quilt pattern book.

By minimal Gwen means quilts that have been stripped to their essence – sparse shapes done in solid colors. She divides her chapters into hard edge, minimal color, and art inspired quilts.  While she features many of her own quilts, she also gives space to quilts made by others in a minimal style.  This is helpful as it shows other quilt personalities.

Gwen’s process is partly intuitive, but not improvisational. She often begins with a traditional basic form – medallion, log cabin, strippy – and builds from there. She also uses pencil and fabric sketches. While she may begin with a plan, she believes one should remain open to opportunities that present themselves during the construction process.

As Gwen points out, designing a minimal quilt is hard, and it gets harder when you set limits such as using only one color or only pale neutrals.

gwenmarston Minimal in NeutralsMinimal in Neutrals by Gwen Marston

gwenmarston TurquoiseTurquoise by Gwen Marston

In the two quilts above, you can really see the difference in texture created by hand quilting versus machine quilting.  The neutrals one was hand quilted, and I just want to run my hands over it. You can see how much hand quilting adds to the piece below as well. I can’t believe I’d be advocating hand quilting, since I do only machine quilting, but there it is.

gwenmarston Medallion IIMedallion II by Gwen Marston

Minimal Purple Kristin ShieldsMinimal Purple by Kristin Shields (above) is an example of a hard edged quilt that combines hand and machine quilting. That may be the way I end up going on some quilts I have in process.

To get to the bottom line, is this book worth spending $24.95? The answer may depend on where you are in your quilting journey and what inspirational resources you already have. If you don’t have many, the photos are well worth the money. And if you want examples of stunning hand quilting, you’ll want the book for the last chapter alone. If you already have lots of quilt calendars that feature glorious old quilts or books of Amish quilts, you may want to borrow rather than buy this book, though I hope you’ll have the chance to spend some time browsing through it.


Filed under Books