Ode to Janus

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Janus, the ancient Roman God, is often considered the namesake of January. With his two faces, one looking at the past and the other toward the future, he certainly represents our marking of a new year with its mixture of retrospection and anticipation.

As the end of 2017 approached, I had the good fortune to find this wonderful vintage quilt top at Eighth Elm Farm Antiques in Vergennes, Vermont. How I know about this shop is a story unto itself, a bit of old combined with new involving the renewal of a long-time friendship and social media.

Vintage insideThe antique shop is packed with the usual wares – furniture, art, ephemera, toys, tools, and of course linens and the like. I spotted this quilt top and could tell right away it was a gem. The construction was entirely by hand. There were a few spots and a little discoloration, but all in all it was in great shape for its age. The fabrics lead me to believe it is from the 1930s. I bought it without hesitation.

Upon closer inspection I realized the first thing it needed was a good washing. Although I did that carefully by hand, in my zeal to get it clean I used water that was a bit too warm. I didn’t notice until it was dry that a few of the red fabrics bled. I decided this was minor, and to not let it deter me from my final goal.

With the top in tow, I made a trip to my local quilt shop where I found the backing – a vintage looking beige neutral with navy stars. I chose navy blue for the binding. For the longarm quilting I wanted something not too fussy that would allow me to adapt as I ran into bulky seams. Vintage4

The finished quilt is now a combination of old and new, simple and complex. It belongs in both centuries that contributed to its making – an Ode to Janus and our continual need to look to the past and to the future even as we celebrate the present moment.

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Let it Snow!

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snowglobe back2During a winter like the one we are having now, where no snow is on the ground as we approach Christmas, the world starts to look a little too gray and stark. Snow makes the world a brighter place in the dark months from Thanksgiving to Easter.

Sometimes you meet a person who also makes the world a brighter place, and if you are lucky, you get to work with that person. So it was for me when I met Ann. She was one of three people who interviewed me for a job in college admissions in 2001. I got the job, and for the next 12+ years Ann was my co-worker. Sometimes we were in offices side-by-side, sometimes we worked in different institutions but collaborated through contractual work she did for my institution. She was instrumental in getting me my last job in higher education where we worked closely to create an admissions operation for a new college. We shared a lot over those years – the ups and downs of raising children, joys and sorrows of our personal and professional lives, hopes for the future, regrets from the past, and somewhere in all of that I learned that Ann loves snow globes.

When I saw a picture of a snow globe block, I immediately thought of Ann and knew that I’d found the theme for the quilt I’d promised to make her a few years earlier. snowglobe1I called the quilt All about Ann. Each globe reflects something about her life, including places she loves, careers, hobbies, family, and even a shared imaginary co-worker. Planning and making the quilt was a fun challenge, from shopping for the fabrics for the specific globes I wanted to feature, to creating the VCFA globe from the Vermont College of Fine Arts logo. The snow fabric and coordinating sashing were unexpected finds. After making the globes and piecing the top together, I quilted it on my longarm with a design called Breath of the Gods.

When I delivered the quilt to Ann I was thrilled with her reaction. It elicited that look of joy and appreciation that she so readily shares. Although it may be a cliché it is still true that like each snowflake, each person is different, so it follows that each friendship reflects that uniqueness.  This is much more eloquently expressed by Anais Nin: “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

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Cabin Fever in July

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log cabin back

Log Cabin back – star pantograph

Labor Day always seems like the last hurrah of summer, even though school started last week and the leaves started turning even before that! While I often bemoan the impending start of cold weather, I do look forward to my longarm business picking up once quilters return to their machines after their days of gardening, hiking, and other warm-weather pursuits.

 

After a very busy spring and early summer, that included a college banner, many customer longarm jobs and two baby quilts as gifts for friends, by the end of July I found myself project-less. It’s true that I had three quilts of my own in various stages of completion, but none of those seemed compelling. Feeling restless to do something else, I went to my stash and started sorting.

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Cabin Fever in July

The first thing that popped out at me was a dark brown with green and pink swirls and stars. It seemed a good choice for the “hearth” square of a log cabin quilt. I pulled out greens and pinks in various shades from light to dark. I knew I might not have enough pinks so I added in some white.

 

I cut strips and laid them out, then started chain piecing. The result was this lap/twin quilt, in a pattern called “Fields and Furrows”. I’m calling it Cabin Fever in July. It was quilted on the longarm, with a new pantograph I wanted to try. I’m not sure why my stash doesn’t seem smaller, but my sewing urge was satisfied. And in August I turned my attention to sun, sand, and swimming!

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Fun at Old Orchard Beach, ME

They Say It’s Your Birthday …

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As a quilter I’m an easy person to buy presents for. Think about it – if you give me fabric I use it up so I’m always ready for more. If you give me tools I can keep older models for back-ups; needles wear out, pins get lost. Basically anything related to quilting and sewing will put a smile on my face.

scissorsThis was especially true on my last birthday several months ago. My oldest granddaughter, who has recently taken an interest in sewing and who has been spending time with me in my studio, helped her mother pick out my gifts at the local fabric shop. She did a great job – new scissors (what a difference from the pair I’d been using, and trying to sharpen at home, for 30 years!), packets of fun buttons, and three bundles of fat quarters.

About a month after my birthday I started thinking about what to get my granddaughter for her upcoming birthday. I’d made her a quilt when she was a baby and although she still uses it she really has outgrown it in size and style. Maybe that is what led me to the idea of using one of the fat quarter bundles she’d given me for my birthday to make her a quilt for her birthday.

First I went on a search for a pattern – something simple that I could get done in time and that worked with the fat quarter bundles I wanted to use. Since a fat quarter is only 18″ x 22″ and one bundle had five in coordinating fabrics, I obviously had to supplement with my stash. I found several fabrics that worked with the color scheme and enough white to offset the bright colors.

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The final result turned out to be a happy quilt that is fitting for my granddaughter’s energy and disposition. And to give it a little more of her personality I found the perfect playful cat fabric for the back. All in all, I think we celebrated each other quite appropriately, and I look forward to many more years of creating memories from memories.

Spreading the Love

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Graduation season has once again come and gone. That time of year when the end of an academic era gives way to “the real world” or perhaps to the next level of educational attainment. As they are launched into the next phase, most graduates are feted by family and friends, with all the hopes and wishes that involves.

When I graduated from college my grandmother made me a crocheted bedspread, something I’d been coveting. I loved the bedspread from the very beginning, but I didn’t realize until I was older just what a labor of love it was. I’d never really crocheted, except to make a single strand under the guidance of my grandmother, but I’d seen her effortlessly crochet since I was a child so I suppose I thought it was just another project, albeit a large one. I’ve used the bedspread off and on through the years, and just recently got it out of a prolonged storage. Although it was created to be a double, it really is more suited to a twin bed so it’s found a new place in the little guest room.

bedspread2I like to acknowledge the graduations of those near and dear to me. One of my great-nieces graduated from high school this spring. She lives far away, and I can probably count on my fingers the number of times I’ve seen her in her 18 years. I was fortunate to spend a little time with her on a recent visit to my family in Oregon. The bond through my niece, her mother, and my sister, her grandmother, is powerful, but I also felt that connection that comes from realizing you really like someone. There’s no bedspread making its way to her, and not even a quilt in the works. But sometimes love can spread in other ways – through cards and contributions, by sharing family stories, or by being that someone on the edge of your family circle who would stretch their arms to embrace you whenever you need it.

Celebrating Alice

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There are so many lines I love in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be this stanza from the poem The Walrus and the Carpenter (in Through the Looking Glass).

Alice original“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

I became well-acquainted with Alice during my sophomore year in college. After seeing this annotated edition at a friend’s, I searched for and found my own copy. It is especially enchanting because of the original illustrations by John Tenniel.

Alice has inspired many ideas, been quoted extensively in movies, films, books, and book titles, and she has even made her way into the world of quilting. When my sister and I saw a finished Alice-inspired quilt in a quilt shop window we agreed to buy and share the pattern so we could each make a version.

Cheryl's Alice

First up is Cheryl’s quilt, made like the original pattern, with sharp contrast between the black border and orange sashing, with a variety of fun black and white prints in the blocks. In the photo above, the quilt is back from the longarm quilter, but does not yet have the binding sewn on.

My Alice

I was determined to use fabrics from my stash and not purchase anything new, so I opted for a lighter border, and a mix of gray and black backgrounds for the blocks. I also swapped out the block featuring the rabbit mannequin for a block I designed to feature the potion Alice drinks, with the distinctive “DRINK ME” label like in Tenniel’s illustration.

new Alice block     Alice back border

I love both of these versions. Cheryl had hers quilted by her highly skilled longarm quilter and I copied some of those ideas for finishing mine. I also used a mushroom design on the borders, which is more visible on the back than the front.

DaliMore recently a dear friend of mine, a young woman who appreciates literature and art, gave me a special birthday gift of  the 150th Anniversary Edition illustrated by Salvador Dali. It is definitely not the whimsical woodcuts from the 1865 original, but it captures the fantastical world we enter with Alice – another spin on this well-traveled journey.

 

 

 

Swedish Textiles

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Many, many years ago I spent a year in Sweden as an exchange student. During that time, my host mother and sister taught me to make clothes without using a store-bought pattern (a skirt, a halter top, and a dress), something I hadn’t done before even though I’d been sewing for many years. I haven’t tackled pattern-less construction since then, but occasionally I make alterations to patterns and I’m sure this earlier experience gave me some of the confidence to do so.

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Ditte in one of her creations

During the end of the long, dark Swedish winter and into the spring I spent a good deal of time in the batik studio of Ditte Ek. I met her through another exchange student who had managed to arrange an extended internship with her. I didn’t actually do the batik work of waxing and dyeing, but sometimes I would help with various minor tasks. Those were afternoons of a lot of laughter, delicious homemade soup, and probably the first insight that the rhythm of self-employed studio work was appealing.

 

 

 

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Aunt Mait’s Summer Cottage

For Swedish Midsummer my host family traveled to visit friends and relatives. A few days before the solstice we arrived at Great Aunt Mait’s rustic, charming, summer cottage. She was a lively, elderly woman and we had an immediate affinity. I remember spending a lot of time eating and sunbathing. Each evening we would lower the flag, even though the sun itself never seemed to really set.

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Lowering the flag with Christina, my Swedish sister, and Aunt Mait, while my Swedish mother looks on from the porch.

A few months after I returned to the States, I received a small package from Aunt Mait. I was surprised, and delighted, to find these two tapestries she had made for me. Many years later I had them framed so they could be properly displayed.

And I still have the lovely note she wrote in response to my thank-you.

Faster Mait card

At a yard sale several years ago, I found some vintage Swedish prints featuring traditional costumes from various provinces. I knew that I wanted them although I had no clear plan as to what I’d do with them. After languishing in a box for the intervening years, this past fall I pulled them out and decided the time had come and started construction on a wall-hanging. I wanted to keep the piece simple so as not to detract too much from the actual prints. I was also still in the “use what I have in my stash” mode, so I didn’t want to shop for new fabrics. The red and yellow checked fabric seemed good for sashing, and the navy blue borders provide strong contrast. I only wish I had prints for all the provinces, but at least my “home” province of Vastmanland is here.

 

Swedish customes

I’ll always have a little bit of Sweden in my psyche, and having textile pieces and reminders reinforces the bond and connection I feel with my second country.