Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Watermelon Summer + Skipping Stones


I had such happy mail today! My special, curated, summery little bundle of Aurifil Thread for Ms Midge, purveyor of very fine thread...


...and this beautifully brooding new collection by Anna Maria Horner, called Skipping Stones for Free Spirit. And did you notice those Filigree reprints? Swoon!

I chose these threads for watermelon and Splice icy poles. And today was the perfect day for them to arrive, the kind of warm, summer day where you enjoy stepping outside, enjoy the windows wide open, even enjoy hanging out the washing! Not too hot, and just the right amount of breeze. These are the colours of swimming pools and swimming costumes and bright beach towels. If you've already signed up for Ms. Midge's monthly Aurifil club, you'll be getting these in your happy mail box too! Otherwise, they'll be available for purchase in her shop next month.

The stormy cottons are for a new project for Free Spirit. I can't share much yet, but I couldn't help taking photos of these for you. Lovely, rich, neutral reprints of some of my favourite florals. They are far from your usual, stark, geometric low-volumes. They remind me of lace, and those silhouette brooches my grandmother wore. Warm and friendly.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Free Spirit Quilt Top


This is how high I got up the ladder before my fear of heights set in!

I've spent the last two weeks working as hard and fast as I can to get this quilt top done in a timely manner for Free Spirit. All that's left is to applique a big white logo across the top and quilt it, and then ship it off to Charlotte, to Free Spirit HQ, so that they can take it to Quilt Con West next month!


So I thought today you might be interested in hearing a little about my work with Free Spirit?

In about September last year, I was approached by Free Spirit's marketing department in an email saying that Anna Maria Horner had recommended me as someone who might be interested in mapping some virtual quilts for her upcoming lines. The email was such a surprise, as I'm sure you can imagine, that I had to read it three times to see if I'd understood it correctly. And I didn't understand it. What was mapping? And what were virtual quilts? Anna Maria Horner knew who I was? And if I wrote back with these questions, was I giving myself away that I was completely in the dark, and therefore, possibly the wrong person for the job?

I took the plunge, politely, but excitedly replying that I was very interested, if they could just let me know exactly what I was interested in.
It turns out 'mapping' is designing, using the pictures of the fabric designs. I would design a quilt (actually, three or four quilts) on my computer with the images of the fabric line and submit them for consideration. They would get back to me with their favourite, and I would write a pattern for them.


I really enjoy the work. And if I may say so, I think I'm good at it. Though, that's not to say I haven't had to learn a lot. It's a very different process writing a pattern for a quilt before you've made it. My usual quilting process involves a lot of trial and error at the best and quickest way to put together blocks or quilt tops. I can't go through that process here. Often I tend towards scrappy quilts that play with value, rather than two-colour blocks, which makes cutting instructions really tricky. And I don't think I have ever, ever, sat down and thought about how much of each print I need and what exactly I need to cut before diving into a quilt. I usually just start cutting until I feel like I have enough, which is usually only about half of what I need. I sew it together and then start cutting again. And I guess, most importantly, while I'm making the quilt, I often make changes, because of how I feel about it now that I'm working with it, or because I've built on my original plan.

But quilt design on a computer is a completely different animal, and it's one I've learned to really love. I've had to learn that even in a scrappy quilt, I should use a similar amount of cuts per print, making the pattern much easier to read, and to write. I've learned, as I come up with new blocks or layouts, to ask myself "Could I actually describe that to someone? How?" and, "Do I even know how I would put that together?" It's easy to get creative with lines on a computer. It's a whole other thing to sew fabric together in the same way. The whole process has felt like learning a new science, or a new language. It's like the grammar here is different to the way I'm used to speaking, but I can find other ways to get my message across.

I've been amazed to see old designs I discarded on a previous job, suddenly come to life with a completely different line of fabrics. It's helped hone a sense of what brings different fabrics out, what do different styles need to look beautiful.

The lovely folks at Free Spirit have been so kind and open to me learning these things, happy to answer my questions, and I am very grateful for the opportunity. I've worked with lines that are exactly my taste, and I have more ideas than I can use. And I've worked with lines that are so different to what's in my stash, but the challenge of making something I'm really happy with has been so satisfying. I wish I could show them all here now! But I'll wait until the quilts have been shown at Quilt Market.


And then, about six weeks ago, I was asked to design this quilt, a special request for the Free Spirit Booth at Quilt Con West in Pasadena next month. Actually, again, I designed three quilts. I mapped the cityscape at the top of the post, the medallion quilt above, and the one I'm making. My brief included using a colour gradient, from purple to aqua, and the Free Spirit Logo in white. I really, really love the other two quilts, but I'm so glad they chose this one. It does make me feel like a Free Spirit. And it's also the simplest design, a good thing for me because I'm making it on the other side of the world.

Still, it's taken about twice as long as I anticipated to sew it up. I've always been terrible at guessing such things, and my optimism got the better of me here too.  I've been so fortunate that Tim is at home these days, able to look after the kids and the food and our other needs. Working from home is a challenge! But it still feels like a gift that I can tell my kids, who have walked right past Tim in the kitchen to come ask me for a sandwich, that that's Daddy's job this week. Oh, and to have my very own coffee connoisseur in the next room!


And my very own Quilt Critic. Here he is telling me what I didn't quite achieve in the design. We've been married ten years next month, and I'm glad I've learned to appreciate his feedback, and then still hold it up confidently against my own! And I love this quilt. I really love it. I can't wait to start the next challenge of appliqueing the logo. I can't wait to use some very new, yet to be released, wideback cotton for the backing! And I can't wait to see it hanging in the Free Spirit booth at QuiltCon.

Will you be there? Will you take a photo for me?

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Farmer's Wife 1930s ~ Mrs Morgan


I really, really love hand-stitching. But yesterday, when I suddenly remembered today was my turn for the Farmer's Wife Sew-Along, (AH!) my big, red machine started calling! Now, I love my big, red machine too, but I'd already cut out the printed template, chosen the colours and started to cut out fabric for basting, so I decided to run with what I had.


Using the 'Block' printable from the CD enclosed with the Farmer's Wife book, I quickly coloured in some of the shapes so I'd remember which prints to match them with, and then cut them all out. Then I used plain, old, regular glue stick to fold and fix the fabric over the papers.


Then, starting with those two little pointy half-house-like shapes, I pressed them right sides together, stitched a few, quick staying stitches, and then hand- stitched along the seam.


I then added a large, coloured triangle to the upper right side, and a small low-volume triangle to the left. I now had a half-square triangle. Then I stitched the white triangles around the square to make a second half-square triangle.


I pressed the two triangles together, careful to match up the seams, and stitched along the seam.
Hmm. It was now time to make dinner, and Mrs Morgan was turning out to be a day-long visitor.
After dinner and a story, Tim and I put the kids to bed and I went back to giving Mrs M. some attention when we heard a knock at the door. A young friend with her Chilean mother and aunt had called in to meet us. Suddenly the house was a buzz of tea making, conversation and laughter. Our guests asked if they could help with my block, and I willingly obliged, passing out glue and scissors and thread.


Over stitches, we talked about their old life in Chile, our travels, embarrassing stories about learning a new language, fabric, quilting, fashion design... Mrs Morgan wasn't finished until after midnight, a block that might have only taken me 20 minutes if I'd let myself change course earlier in the day. And now that I'm here, still typing even later after midnight, I wonder if that would have been best. I'd really love to be in bed right now! But paper piecing for me has the uncanny knack of drawing people together. Visitors never offer to help with my machine sewing, but I'll often get asked how they can help if I'm stitching on the sofa. People ask me to teach them, ask me why I did it this way, and then like a good wine, hand-stitching opens up the conversation. I've listened to people talk about their hopes and their grief while I teach them to stitch. So I'm trusting that maybe Mrs Morgan knew this was the way to go. She's one I would have preferred just to check off the list and keep going, but she helped me play host instead.


After we'd made the four little identical squares, I lay them out to match up my seams. I then sewed the top two and the bottom two together, and then I sewed those rectangles to each other. And voila! A tiny 6" block made by four chatting woman and a kind husband who kept refilling tea cups.

You've reach the next stop of the Farmer's Wife 1930s Sew Along hosted by Angie of Gnome Angel, Marti Michell, and the Fat Quarter Shop. Thanks for stopping by!

05/01/2016: Angie @ GnomeAngel.com & Marti @ Marti Michell
06/01/2016: Melissa @ Oh How Sweet & Nathalie @ Les Ouvrages de Nat
07/01/2016: Angie @ GnomeAngel.com & Marti @ Marti Michell
08/01/2016: Lucy @ Charm About You
12/01/2016: Angie @ GnomeAngel.com & Marti @ Marti Michell
13/01/2016:  Jodi @ Tales of Cloth
14/01/2016: Angie @ GnomeAngel.com & Marti @ Marti Michell
15/01/2016: Alyce @ Blossom Heart Quilts & Tonya @ The Crafty Mummy
19/01/2016: Angie @ GnomeAngel.com & Marti @ Marti Michell
20/01/2016: Jess @ The Elven Garden
21/01/2016: Angie @ GnomeAngel.com & Marti @ Marti Michell
22/01/2016: Melissa @ Ms Midge
26/01/2016: Angie @ GnomeAngel.com & Marti @ Marti Michell
28/01/2016: Erin @ Why Not Sew & Rachel @ Family Ever After & Renee @ Sewn With Grace



The Farmer’s Wife 1930s Sampler Quilt: Inspiring Letters from Farm Women of the Great Depression and 99 Quilt Blocks That Honor Them by Laurie Aaron Hird for Fons & Porter/F+W; RRP $28.99 – Click here to purchase.

Each time I've made one of these blocks, I've toyed with the idea of machine piecing. And each time, hand-stitching has made me more available, more inclusive, and a whole lot slower. They're all things I'd love to embrace more this year. How about you?

Monday, 11 January 2016

New Day, New Year.

Today is the first day.

Tim's at the dining table reading about earthquakes with the kids. And I have escaped to my air conditioned cave to sew and write a blog post.
When we were at university, Tim and I used to joke about how his degree (in engineering) would get him a job, and mine (in history and Russian) was great for dinner parties. But when suddenly, a little over a year ago, the north wind blew, and two souls, feeling dry and a little lonely in suburbia, got a call about a house in the country, it didn't take much, if any, convincing for us to pack up our house and move to the land of the deep breath.


We've been living in Canowindra, NSW for 13 months and it's golden hills and deep silence (except for this time of year, when the cicadas are celebrating their yearly riot) have affected us deeply. Here there is no academia, no race, no big shopping malls or beeping horns. I have enjoyed a year off comparing myself to that model on that billboard, or that family in that big house. There is hard work, there is a connection with the seasons, there's an optimism, and a kind of submission to the whims of the weather. If you've read the Little House books, you'll know what I mean. "Surely this year, it will rain. Surely this year, our hard work will pay off."

I like living here with these people, and these hills. Every so often there'll be a remark about having to go back to 'real life'. But I wonder if we've stumbled upon it here, where we know our neighbours and work with our hands.
This time last year I changed my blog name to reflect these other changes. Tales of Cloth became what I was hoping for, a place of stories and connection, of colour and learning. I didn't have as much time for it as my dreams needed to be fully realised. But I had time to sew and to read. When Red Sky at Night came to a close, my year did too. And suddenly my mind was blank. I had nothing to write about. So I let it sleep for a while.



Sometime during the second half of last year, I was approached by Free Spirit to design some quilts for Anna Maria Horner's upcoming lines. Yes! I made up some 'virtual quilts' and submitted them. They liked my work, and asked me to design with some other lines. And then that work led to more, until finally, last month, I was asked to make a huge quilt inspired by the Free Spirit Logo for QuiltCon 2016! Having spent the whole year in the history books, and working a lot with red and white, working in this way has felt like an absolute gift. It's interesting and challenging and fast. And I'm soaking up every bit of it.

One of my submissions for the QuiltCon 2016 quilts that wasn't chosen.

Around the same time, Tim and I started to reflect on this new 'real' life we'd stumbled upon. His Masters was drawing to a close (though even now drags on beligerantly), and our work here with Cornerstone was rich and fullfilling, but low student numbers were taking its toll on the community finances. Surely there was some way we could make the most of my connections with the quilting community, that could provide some unskilled labour for the young adults who stay here with us, work to pay their way, and study the Bible. We think we've come up a corker of an idea. But I won't share it now. All that just to say that we've caught that kind of farmer's optimism, "The harder I work, the luckier I get", and like ducks, we're paddling away behind the scenes to bring something new and colourful to the quilting community.

And that's why I am here! And Tim is out there learning about earthquakes. It's why, when I finish writing, I'll start sewing, instead of cutting up apple. 2016 will be a year of working together, of trying new things, of argueing, I'm sure, whose turn it is to do bath time or cook dinner. But nothing new is ever smooth, and I feel hopeful for a year of working at something that is meaningful and interesting to both of us.


Monday, 23 November 2015

Red Sky at Night Quilt


When I first embarked on a quilt history adventure, I expected to find a tonne of resources on the internet. I heard snippets of interesting stories from blocks, slaves rescued, quilts donated, stories of war and weddings, that I figured it would be easy to dig up others. But just like we ordinary women make quilts in the present, as a gift, or for the sake of design, without much thought as to how it fits into a wider narrative, or what future generations will want to know about us, the million old quilts out there are often silent. I've written here before, while men's history is The History, the history of politics and war and civilisation, the history of women is often more like archaeology. We dig around and make inferences based on the tools they used, the magazines they read and the quilts they made.
But this escapade has not been in vane. While we may not have learned many women's names, not been able to read their diaries, or have their stories passed down through generations, we have gleaned beautiful things about them.



We know that when the sewing machine was first invented during the industrial revolution, around the 1850s, that women flocked to it, having previously spent up to 12 hours a day sewing and quilting. We know that quilt blocks became popular in America around this time, as an alternative to British medallion quilts, possibly because they were easier to sew in quilting groups, or because the repetition made them faster to come together. Quilting was a community endeavour, the space where women shared themselves and were known.
We know that quilts were the significant way women contributed to war efforts throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. They were sent to soldiers, they made political statements, they commemorated victories and losses. They were stitched from extremely limited resources, and yet still made immensely beautiful. 
We know that women made quilts to celebrate birth, birthdays, engagements, weddings, leaving West, and to commemorate a death. Quilts became a family's way to tell their story.
As pioneers settled across the country, quilt blocks were shared and altered, often without names. It was the introduction of published patterns in journals and newspapers in the 1890s that canonised quilt block names across the country. It was a time of great depression, and quilting boomed as women made do ever so artistically with old sheets, flour sacks, and dress scraps.
Quilts were art as well as necessity, and they carried both titles beautifully and equally. They reflected everyday life, nature, history and literature, as well as political and social concerns. They celebrated the mundane churn dash, and cups and saucers, and riled against slavery and alcoholism. And in a simple mix of squares and triangles, they created several thousand variations of design. They were generous and they were genius.

RED SKY AT NIGHT QUILT TOP CONSTRUCTION:

You will need:

Red: Sixty 1.5" squares, two 9.5" squares cut in half diagonally for the corners, Four 18" squares cut into quarters diagonally for the side triangles.

White: One hundred 12.5" x 1.5" strips.


1. Lay out your quilt on point. Your quilt will have 41 blocks of 5 blocks across the top and 5 down the side. The extras will fill the spaces in between. Take note of blocks with more dark or light colour, and spread them evenly.

2. Starting in one corner, sew a white strip to the left and right side of your block. Press away from the block.

3. Take another white strip and sew two red 1.5" squares to each end. Sew it to another side of the block. This will be the corner. Press.

4. Sew a corner triangle to this white strip. Press.

5. Sew a side triangle to the white strips on the side. Press.

6. Take 3 white strips and sew red squares between them, end to end to make a line of sashing. Add to the first row.

7. You will now repeat these steps in diagonal rows through the quilt. First sewing strips between the blocks, then sewing red squares between lines of strips, then side triangles, before adding another row of sashing. I sewed these in rows as below before sewing my quilt top together.



I used Carolyn Friedlander's Doe Wide for the backing, and handquilted through the sashing, and in a simple echo of each block. I find hand-quilting easier with a queen size, though obviously much slower. I like the look of the thick, chunky perle on the red, but I also wonder if a simple cross hatch design on the machine would have worked well too. Washing it made some parts puffy rather than giving it an even crinkle, which I love. You can see in the picture above that there's a little overhang with the triangles. I trimmed the top before basting, but you could also wait till after. I washed the quilt three times with colour catchers before I felt safe giving it to my mum. There was lots of pink in those babies, and a little bleeding after the first wash, but it was gone by the third.


I made a single Dresden Plate for a side corner and considered making more, but I worried it would be too busy. I think it's sweet there on it's own.

It's a humbling thing for a Quilt Along to be a huge learning experience, rather than a raving 'success'. For me it's been a fumbling, scrounging, eye-opener, not a neat, organised package. But I'm not sure I could have come to quilt history any other way. And it's made me all the more certain of the need to tell stories through quilts and about them. It's been a winding path, but the next leg of the journey feels clearer because of it.


Thank you, thank you for your following, encouragement, and allowing the freedom to grow and fail and learn in this experience. Right back at the very beginning, I noted one of my reasons for doing this was to shake that quiet, persistent voice that quilting was an extravagant waste of time. If there is one great success in this, it is that. I never hear that voice now. And it's why I believe so passionately in understanding our story. Quilt making is not an excess or a passing phase, it is an old art form, once so highly regarded, and deemed necessary, and now pushed to the side as a hobby. I for one am honoured to be passing on the tradition. This Quilt Along has moved quilting in my mind from a bit of a sanity keeper, perhaps even a distraction from real life, to a calling. 



An InLinkz Link-up

This link up is open internationally!


Thursday, 19 November 2015

Love in a Mist - Red Sky at Night Quilt


Our final block! And this week I got some unexpected, paid quilt design work (hurray!) and a sick baby (boo!) and so we're late again. This series has certainly brought out the best and the worst of me. It's confirmed my love of story telling, women's history, and research, and my deplorable weakness when it comes to routine, organization, and regularity. But as a good friend of mine says, there is no failure, there are only learning experiences. And I am thankful for this one, and for you who have followed along.
I left Love in a Mist until last because it looks like a super celebratory ribbon-star, and because, although it's a kind of cheesy name, it's a fitting one for a history of quilting.
This block was first published in Farm Journal, possibly as early as the 1890s, when published patterns were beginning to spread across the country in journals and newspapers. The patchwork quilt was experiencing a surge in popularity due to tough financial times, and the publication of patterns fed this boom. Women were invited to design blocks and submit them, or share old blocks passed on to them with their story. It was old style craft blogging in perhaps it's earliest form. In a country where most of its inhabitants were still living rural lifestyles, it was a way for women to connect, share their knowledge and grow their skill.
Before the 1890s, blocks were often given names like 'patchwork' or 'quilt block', but as publications became more popular, and in competition, titles became more creative. Love in a Mist makes me smile, because it's so cheesy. It's such a bold, happy design. Who gave it this name? And what did they use it for? A wedding quilt perhaps?
It is, as usual, these stories that have been lost in a mist, but if we have learned anything in this series, we know that quilts were made by women and girls for their families and friends to mark special occasions, to say goodbye, to hang in shows, or simply to warm at night. The practical and necessary nature of quilting, however, did not stop these women creating an incredible number of varied designs. To me, it reflects the very nature of creativity and generosity. We may have lost their stories, but we know they were thoughtful, they were conscientious, and they were artists.


LOVE IN A MIST 12"QUILT BLOCK TUTORIAL

You will need:

Red: One 4.5" square, eight 3 3/8" squares, cut in half diagonally, four 3" squares cut in half diagonally to make half square triangles.

White: Four 3 3/8" squares, cut in half diagonally, four 3" squares cut in half diagonally to make half square triangles.


1. Taking the white 3 3/8" squares, place them on point, and sew a 3 3/8" red half square triangle to two opposite sides. Press toward the triangles and sew two more to the other sides.

2. Trim to 4.5"


3. Sew the red 3" half square triangles to the white ones. Press toward the red and trim to 2.5"

4. Lay out as below.



5. Sew the little squares in the corners to the ones next to them. Press away from the triangles.

6. Sew these together. Press open.


7. Sew together in three rows. Press seams open.

8. Sew rows together.


Can you believe we're actually here? I can't! On Monday, I'll show you how I stitched the quilt together, and my photos of the finish. And I'll have a linky party open for the rest of November for you to share your progress from your blog or Instagram. There'll be a prize! Be sure to come back, especially to check out the incredible work of one talented 15 year old.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Cups and Saucers - Red Sky at Night


Here we are! Our second last block! I missed last week because of internet troubles and a traveling husband, and decided rather than trying to fight it out, I'd leave it to rest. It feels good to be back here today.
I've been thinking about which areas of quilt history are left to explore in our final posts, and this week I've been drawn to my books and information about slave quilting history. It interests me partly because of the overwhelming tie of 19th Century America to cotton, making it the centre-stage of both American wealth, and ethical and political debate. But also I find it fascinating, because while linked to White American quilt history, the African American slaves also formed their own culture and identity around quilting, heavily influenced by their African roots.

I guess I'd always assumed the African American slave women were responsible for sewing the bedding and clothing for the white household, as well as their own. But actually, it was far more complex or varied an arrangement. Sometimes the lady of the house sewed for her whole household and beyond, sometimes the work was shared. Sometimes slave women were allowed to sew in their free time to make quilts to sell. Quilts became an important part of African American culture because time, resources and rules often limited slaves from learning new skills for creative and intellectual expression. Reading and writing were often banned. Painting and other forms of art were extremely rare. But quilting was expected and necessary, and therefore became the canvas (apart from music, of course) for expressing culture, identity and creativity.

Quilting among slaves was often done together, to provide for the small community of families, or draw in extra income. It became an important symbol of 'togetherness' in a time when family and community ties were often tenuous, easily separated at the whim or need of their owner. Sometimes slaves managed to buy their freedom by their quilts, and sometimes, their creative skills just made them more valuable and sought after by wealthy families. Of course, sometimes these quilts were simple and rough, using what was on hand from worn out clothing and cotton left in the fields, and quick piecing techniques to make what was needed. But sometimes, as in the case of Harriet Powers, these quilts were a place to document their illiterate life, their history and myths.

PowersBibleQuilt 1898.jpg

"PowersBibleQuilt 1898" by Original uploader was Jreferee at en.wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

I've never really been drawn to quilts like Harriet's above. But taking another look at it today makes me wonder how I can bring some of these techniques and story telling into modern quilting. Contemporary quilters have embraced the old blocks as their own. But bubbly pictorial applique remains in a category I have never associated with. Something altogether 'not me'. Harriet's quilt, however, draws on very old African techniques of applique, it was stitched over many night time hours in low light, it was sold very reluctantly for a meagre $5 in a time of desperate poverty. Harriet took great care to make sure the new owner understood each of the pictures, and cared for it accordingly, and she came to visit it regularly, to enjoy it again. It inspires me to make a kind of Great Work like that. Something that draws on old techniques and stories to tell who I am today. I'm going to have to mull over that for a while.

CUPS AND SAUCERS 12" BLOCK TUTORIAL

You will need: (after making this block, I decided life is too short to use half square triangles for Flying Geese! Feel free to use your preferred method!)

Red: Two 5" squares cut in half to make half square triangles, one 3 3/8" square, and eight 3" squares cut in half diagonally to make half square triangles. (These last ones are for your geese)

White: Two 5" squares cut in half to make half square triangles, two 3 3/8" squares, cut in half diagonally, and eight 3" squares cut in half diagonally to make half square triangles (also for your geese).


1. Sew your half white 3 3/8" triangles around the red 3 3/8" square as pictured below. First to two opposite sides, press, then to the remaining sides. Trim to 4.5"


2. Sew your white 5" half square triangles to your red ones. Press and trim to 4.5".

3. Sew your white 3" half square triangles to your red ones. Press and trim to 2.5".


4. Sew the 2.5" red and white squares together into red geese as above. Press open.

5. Sew the geese into pairs. Press.


6. Arrange your block as below. Sew into rows. Press seams open.


7. Sew the rows together.

The term "cups and saucers" reminds me of being a little girl, pretending to be a lady. In history, the everyday lives of women, especially the oppressed and illiterate, become stories told, not by themselves, but by their rulers, owners, journalists and politicians. But these quilts are uniquely theirs. And it's amazing we still have them, kept, and loved because of the reluctant sale of a slave woman trapped in poverty. It reminds me that I should never take my opportunity for education, for expression, for the documentation of my creativity for granted. I wonder what my quilts will say to the next generations?