In the Studio


And all over a sudden, almost overnight, I went from escaping here for the air-conditioning, to escaping here for the sunshine. From cursing its hot beams radiating through our thin tin roof, to welcoming them through the northern window that fills most of the wall next to my sewing machine.

Perhaps it was the change in the weather, or the finishing up and shipping off three more quilts for Free Spirit. Or maybe even the big fuss over on Instagram about the impending changes to my feed, but I woke this morning with the desire to write. To think about words and the state of things, without limiting it to the space before the ... or how to caption a picture so that you don't just flick away.


English Paper Piecing has become more than just a summer fling. And something about my Free Spirit Quilts becoming my 'day job' has made me feel completely justified in working on more than one EPP quilt at a time. Afterall, it's my relaxing-in-the-evening sewing. I'm allowed to follow my whims, right? And even before this Pinwheel Posy quilt is all stitched up, I have another in mind that's ready to explode out of me if I don't hurry up and give it form. And hey, it's the weekend. Maybe I'll just succumb.


A completely new and exciting adventure for me is Scraps In Tubs. I know. Not new or exciting really, but all the happy feelings come mostly from me actually diving in and doing it. About a month ago, my mum came and helped me sort through my monster of a scrap stash. It was like a virus, making its way into all corners of the house (mostly with the help of our oh-so-helpful two year old.) My mother never passed on her organising genes to me, so I asked her to give them to me in a weekend, and we had a lovely time together wrapping yardage around comic book boards, and reorganising my scraps into these spider-proof, toddler-proof tubs. We threw out anything ridiculously un-useful, and then added my fat quarters and big scraps in the mix too. Now I only have two places for fabric storage, rather than five or six. Oh, it's so good!


I've been slowly going through the boxes and putting all kinds of favourites and not-so-favourites alike through the 2.5" square die with my Accuquilt, for the aforementioned next-in-line hexie quilt. If only I could hand-stitch as quickly as I can cut 2.5" squares!

The big tidy up revealed a longish forgotten scrap project, which this week has been brought out into the sunshine to hopefully be all sewn up. It's made completely with the scrap triangles from a second mountain campfire quilt I've sewn up and was also put on the 'waiting pile.' Fin wanted to be in the photo, but didn't want to be in the photo. She turns two today. And she lives most of her life this way, wanting to join in, and wanting to be in control. I'm like that too so I understand. And liking her despite the infuriating bits helps me like myself more.


I started this blog 5 years ago next month! Back in the very epicenter of baby-rearing chaos. It feels a little strange, a little too good to be true that today we say goodbye to the baby days. All those hundreds of times that I wrote, and said, and prayed, "This too shall pass", and it actually did! Who would have thought?

Some mothers are absolutely, wonderfully themselves with little ones underfoot. But me, I'm enjoying me right here in my Autumn sunshine and my tubs with lids.

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.


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!


Bigger


Every so often, you have a sudden realisation that your kids are growing up. This week has been one of those moments. It's never anything earth shattering, maybe just overhearing their conversation about their day while in the bath, or that they get through their morning chores without cajoling, or they can start to help out with quilt photos, rather that me needing to work creatively around them. But somewhere in there you look at them and think, "Listen to you! Look at you! You're bigger!"


I'm not the kind of person to mourn this change. I love grown up conversation, help with the washing, wee in the toilet. This is the stage I've been waiting for. The one where we know we are done having more, and we just sit back (in a figurative sense) and enjoy the ride. No more cesareans, no more morning sickness, no more stopping every 2 hours in car trips to pull over and breastfeed.
I have friends with teenagers and I know there's still some stuff ahead of me, but right now, I have a big boy that I can still beat in a wrestle, and a little girl who I can still beat trying to escape under the front gate, and one in between who doesn't like to wrestle or escape (yet). Right now it's nice.


This quilt was pulled from my Works in Progress box already sewn into quarter-square triangles. I cut those up diagonally and sewed them back together without too much thought or design. I think it's good to do that with WIPs sometimes. I thought a little about how to make it bigger, or add some white or grey for interest, and in the end, I had two spare blocks, and could have cut some more to make an extra row, but I just kept making that decision to keep it simple. I sewed the finished blocks together, spray basted, quilted and bound it in a long afternoon. I have other quilts I want to throw my creativity and thoughtfulness at. I could just let this one be a happy, scrappy gift for a friend.


I started this blog almost 5 years ago because things weren't all that nice. Because I wanted to take photos and tell stories that processed what was hard, but mostly recognised what was good. Today, taking photos of these sweet kids, and a quilt I didn't have to fight to finish, it felt good to stop and say, "Hey, look where we are! How good is this?" Life is chaotic and interrupted and full and it's easy to find things I want to change, to think, I can't wait till we're nappy-free or till Tim finishes his Masters, or the kids are old enough to leave for an evening. But right now, in this moment, I am surrounded by beauty. I have much to be thankful for.

Tent City Quilt


Elizabeth Lilian Neilson Mitchell lived in Melbourne, Australia at the turn of the 20th Century with her husband and eight children in a small two bedroom cottage. Her husband worked for a fabric manufacturer and would bring hope small samples for Elizabeth to stitch.

Maybe it was the twinge of jealousy at a constant supply of new fabric samples. Perhaps the memory of our two bedroom cottage last year that forced negotiation and creativity to live there peacefully and comfortably. Or maybe it was just the fresh peaches and cream and the occasional blues in her quilt made in 1900, that felt so modern and inviting. Whatever the reason, this quilt, featured in Annette Gero's Fabric of Society, a delicious book of Australian historic quilts, sung to me, calling for a reproduction.


This quilt reminded me how much I love throwing scraps of fabric at my machine and seeing what it becomes. I started with my Wild and Free triangle scraps from my Mountain Campfire quilt, some Petal and Plume scraps by Bari J, added the paler Wanderer prints by April Rhodes and the entire line of Skopellos by Katarina Roccella. I cut rectangles 4" x 6", and then in half diagonally, and then sewed them back together at random. The half square triangles are 4.5" and 3". I sewed the rectangles together in long rows and then cut them to around 80", purposefully offsetting the points.


I was tempted to lay this one out on my design wall and put more thought into colour layout, but I decided against it, and I'm so glad I did. Since putting up my design wall this year, investing in a grid book, and then recently, EQ7, many of my quilts have been heavily planned, consuming more time and thought in the process. If I wanted this one to look scrappy, I needed to trust it to the scrappy way. And what a relaxing, smooth way that is. It's amazing how easy it is to keep stepping back to the machine in the little moments when the decisions have already been made, when all that is required for layout is to keep on stitching. The three quilts I'm working on currently are all big decision quilts. Lots of stopping and starting. Lots of staring and thinking. And they'll be worth it in the end, I'm sure. But there was a special kind of joy in this one. It's good to remember the choice to go simple isn't a compromise.


Elizabeth's children slept in tents in the backyard, hence the name Tent City. I laughed out loud when I read that, thinking of how child services would never allow it today. So much of my brain goes in to wondering if my children are happy, growing, going to turn out OK. Did we make the right decision to homeschool? Do I pay them enough attention? Will they inherit my love of colour, or my complete indifference to cooking and housework and gardening? I wonder if Elizabeth ever wondered the same things, kissing her children goodnight under the stars. Did it occur to mothers in the 1900s?



Having this quilt turn out so beautifully has reminded and reassured me that in the end I don't have have a whole lot of control over the decisions they'll make in the future or the people they'll want to be, all I can do is keep throwing in the right colours, and be so, so thankful for this big old house in the country, and pray the scrappy way works its magic.