Wednesday, March 11, 2009

quilting- in my life

this is a family portrait that includes my paternal grandfather as a 5 or 6 year old boy center who was a champion speller and rode horse over the mountains to visit his sweetheart and deliver US Postals. His nick name was Judge and his father there on the left was nicknamed Squire. This was a German/Irish Appalachian family that ended up with 9 kids by the time they finished growing.  

It was made when she was a teenager for use once she was married, then it was passed down to great aunt MaryEllen then my mother Phyllis.

Since I was a young boy, I was interested in sewing and my grandmother Sallie Smith Nunley was the first to let me do some sewing on a machine after showing me how to do simple work by hand. I recall Grandma often asked me to thread her needles due to poor eyesight.  She used  a cast iron black Singer treadle machine the family bought her years before to do repairs on clothes back when patches were an everyday backstop from running around with holes in your pants. I was fascinated by that foot peddle which I could sit and pump as long as it was detached from the machine. I found no end of  fun pretending to sew. She first allowed me to use that dangerous machine to help sew together striped blue/white and pink /white sections of  seersucker fabric for a quilt to fit on my small twin bunk bed. The story of how she sewed her index finger right through with that machine was my warning to be very careful around it every time. The index finger extended to show her scar as proof this was no wives tale made only to scare me. I think I was about nine years old when we sewed up that pink and blue quilt top and I had to wait a couple years before the church ladies finished adding the backing and quilting it all together before I got it as a highly cherished Christmas gift. 
My parents slept under a beautiful quilt  made my Great Grand Mother Shannon Cassell when she was just a teenager back in the 1880's whom I never met. As a kid there were quilts and comforters a plenty down at Grand mother Sallie's in Narrows Virginia and other homes we visited in Appalachian where my family is from. At home in Northern Virginia we didn't have any but this one that my mother protected carefully on her bed. I can remember as a boy laying on top of it admiring the little patches of colorful antique fabric trying to imagine what the dresses looked like that these small samples came from and who wore them and where they went before they ended up on our quilt. It was a comforting to imagine all those people I never met but I knew had been thinking of their family of the future when they made these quilts to share with us. I can still get lost in those swatches of fabric and I was delighted when visiting home recently to find it added to cover my bed. This quilt is lined with lambs wool instead of cotton for batting for extra warmth and perhaps that gives it the special perfume of it's own that makes those memories of childhood naps come back today.
It is with all this in mind that about ten years ago I began discussing with my sister Jenny Leigh the idea of making a crazy quilt. The crazy quilt is different from our family quilts, in that it is usually made of more fancy fabrics and is asymmetric in design with elegant embroidery to decorate the top. Crazy quilt was less often used as a layer for warmth but more to show off intricate stitching and to emulate the Japanese asymmetric designs that swept the nation first when shown at the 1876 Bicentennial Exposition in Philadelphia. I didn't know very much about embroidery in 1999 but I knew that Jenny did and sought out her help and advice. Jenny is also a fashion merchandiser and I wanted her to help me with some fabrics to make the quilt together or as it worked out on my own. She was great offering me her embroidery floss and fabric samples and a box which houses the floss. I visited her in Houston Texas Feb. 2000 for some first hand advice on French knots and found I was pretty good at the rest. There I was embroidering  small patches of black fabric with flowers of all different varieties that I invented to reflect my love of gardens and flowers. I got a book on the crazy quilt "The Magic of Crazy Quilting" by J. Marsha Michler which I discovered has pictures of a few quilts that were on display in last weekend's antique show. In the book, which is in partly online in Google books: I found many great examples of the old crazy quilts and the history and all the various types of stitches used on crazy quilts and a long section on embroidery stitches that were developed to edge the crazy quilt panels. The Smithsonian helped me a lot as well by displaying a crazy quilt at the Renwick American Crafts Collection early on where I did some sketching of stitches I liked and got a good close look at a really beautiful work of art done in fifteen years from 1895-1910 by one woman Georgia Maltbie and given to them in 1999. It was very delicate and this quilt was made of small squares that were only about 10 inches square and all stitched together to make a large bed sized quilt. It had fine cotton velvet and silk satin and all sorts of lovely animals and flowers. Once I saw that I was hyper motivated to get to work and make a "turn of the next century crazy quilt" with all the family fabrics I could find and any other fabrics that I could fill in to give my quilt colors and stories of my life. I had some set backs but after ten years I think I am ready to begin finishing up the Frederick Crazy Quilt. It is home in a room of it's own now ready to work on in Manassas. I have most of the top ready to piece together, it is large enough to cover a double bed and some areas of extra embroidery to tie them all together then it will need a backing and the edges and that will be my millennium quilt by a gay man of the 20th-21st century. 
There are a couple other quilts I wanted to mention. There is the yo yo quilt I began when I was about 11 or 12. This one is simple circles of multi colored fabric sewn into little gathered up pouches that then flatten out. These are sewn together to create a overall random pattern. I discovered this quilt on a trip to Connecticut where we visited some college friends of my parents who had one on the bed I got to sleep in for a night or two. I fell in love with it and because I figured out how to make the circle pieces I began my own version soon after our visit. The think I liked about the antique one on my bed was that it was incomplete with no backing. It is just a simple lacework of little circles stitched together to decorate the bed. I have a bag full of circles but not yet enough to cover my big bed. Last but not last is the quilt my partner's mom had made for his bed. It is a sort of simple Appalachian design of rectangles joined by long strips of yellow and the backing is red and tied with bits of navy blue yarn. A simple quilt still keeps the bed warm as does a fancy one. What do you sleep under? 

1 comment:

godzilla said...

I really like your crazy quilt, it must have taken forever! It looks very neatly done. The didn't know the name of the yoyo quilt, it has been one I've always liked.

I had big dreams of quilting and finally jumped into it with the Rail Fence pattern. I attached the layers by the tied yarn knots. I also like the feeling of a finished quilt.