IMG_0061Here is a conceptual nine patch. It is about all I have time for now.
IMG_0062 I am intrigued by how radically an image can be altered, just by changing how  much light gets in.
IMG_0063IMG_0068This little landscape moves from left to right in installments like a comic book.  I like finding the mountains, lakes, and moons in the fabrics. I like including time as an element in the story of the cloth.








front yard


back fence

I am in and out of town one more time — so blogging will be more intermittent than usual until after Labor Day. Enjoy the last days of summer!

Because it rained

20140729-082526-30326986.jpgThank goodness it rained on the last Sunday in July, because instead of taking a walk that morning, I went to the MFA.  It was the last day of a quilt show that it would have killed me to miss.
IMG_4648There were about six rooms of beautiful traditional quilts, with a lot of text about the collectors and the quilters’ use of color.  Another friend of mine took exception with how little was said about the MAKERS and how MUCH was said about the collectors.  I spent almost all of my time looking at the quilts, so it wasn’t something I picked up on.  Before I judge the exhibit on this basis, I would want to know what, if anything, they knew about the crafters.  It’s very possible that in the case of many of the quilts, NOTHING was known.

a whole room of Amish quilts!

a whole room of Amish quilts!

In what little text I did read, I noticed an repetitious emphasis on the use of color (we get it! complimentary colors look good together!!) and a real lack of information about the technical structure of the cloths.  Gorgeous trapunto and stippling went without mention; one quilt supposedly had discharged cloth in it where I could find none.

feathered diamond. Penn. 1890's

feathered diamond. Penn. 1890’s

But! I still thoroughly enjoyed the show and firmly believe that quilts belong on the walls of our art museums — and not just the magnificent Gee’s Bend quilts, either.

All the photos were taken with my phone, so please indulge the lack of focus!


bold and dynamic use of plaid



An entire room of variations on the Log Cabin pattern was my favorite part of the show, not only because of the quilts themselves, but because the grouping revealed how profound an impact color/value choices have on design.  All the quilts in the room used the very same pattern and yet were radically different from each other.



unbelievably small strips!

20140729-082527-30327942.jpg20140729-082529-30329802.jpgIMG_4665 IMG_4667 IMG_4668

20140729-082527-30327633.jpgThis was one of many beautiful nine patches in the exhibit.  The show made me appreciate the uses of white when making patterns and colors sing.



woolen, tied quilt — nine patch and rail fence

IMG_4636 IMG_4637 IMG_4638 IMG_4639 IMG_4640

Quilter Mary Alma Parker

"Memphis Blues" by Mary Alma Parker

“Memphis Blues” by Mary Alma Parker

Even if you have a loyal cadre of readers, sometimes blogging feels like dropping pennies into a deep, dark well.  “Hello?!”  you call out.  “Anybody there?!”

In the spring, as some of you know, after a quick trip to Charleston, South Carolina, I posted some images from the Textile Wing at the Charleston Museum, including the quilt by Mary Alma Parker pictured above.  My sewing readers voiced their appreciation.  Plop!  The penny dropped down. And, that was that — or so I thought.

Turns out, that was not it.  Last month Mary Alma Parker’s daughter, Clare Butler, emailed me. Not only had she had found my post (really?! by what miracle?), but she had read it to her mother and my appreciative words ‘really made her mother’s day’!  How cool is that?!

Ms. Butler and I exchanged a couple of emails, and she has given me permission to tell you more about her mother and her mother’s quilting.

First, find better pictures of “Memphis Blues” in the Charleston Museum’s flickr set.

sorry so blurry! a phone picture shot through glass

sorry so blurry! a phone picture shot through glass

I was taken with the quilt’s exuberant use of prints, its lovely colors, and the playful departures from traditional patterning. Based on those three aesthetic traits, as well as the title, “Memphis Blues”, I speculated that the maker was African American. I could find nothing online to contradict that assumption. Well, I was wrong.

Mary Alma Parker was born and raised in Memphis and has lived in Charleston with her husband (a Charleston native) for the last 25 years.  Her daughter told me that her mother was “very influenced by African-American design aesthetics and artistic composition from her early years and throughout her life”.  Mrs. Parker took my incorrect assumption about her origins “as a compliment”.

Her daughter also wrote this:  “She chose to use the paper template hexagons as her motif on Memphis Blues because many quilters viewed them as crafty and trite”.  She wanted a familiar visual motif so that the “focus could be on the randomness of her composition, color, and pattern choices”.  That certainly worked!

I also learned that Mrs. Parker never used a machine for anything and that she belonged to a quilting group in Charleston where they “focused on learning a variety of techniques”.  It was in that group where she discovered a love of the applique method.  Mrs. Parker went on to make a completely original Baltimore album quilt, as well as a one featuring collard greens, called “State Vegetable”.

Like many quilters, Mrs. Parker was a recycler before recycling was a thing.  Her daughter wrote:  “I now recognize her as one of the thriftiest recyclers of just about everything — way before it was popular as it is today.  You’ll notice the circles used as the quilting pattern on Memphis Blues in the borders — those are tracing of cans of food from her pantry.  She always used cans as pattern weights when she sewed all of our clothes when my sister and I were growing up, so it is logical that she would use them as patterns for her quilting stitch designs too”.

Clare has promised me pictures of the Baltimore album quilt, and if she finds them, I shall be sure to post them.


P.S. Mary Alma Parker was also a collector of unusual vintage quilts and many of those in the permanent collection in the Charleston Museum were her finds.  Here are two links and some text her daughter emailed me:

One in particular that you may recall seeing in the museum is the cigarette silks quilt.  A partial picture and description can be seen on this page:  Cigarette silks were one of the first premiums marketed to influence sales of a product in the US and targeted the growing leisure class of women interested in crafting. Here is a brief explanation of the trend:





summer passing

Wow, the season can really slide by. Today? I am going to go swimming! Have to. Have to.

a beautiful surprise

a beautiful surprise

It’s been a quiet week.  By that, I mean fairly unscheduled (there were nine yard crews and a morning of limb removal on our street).  The light and air were pretty the day I took two of the Star Maps outside.
IMG_9980 IMG_9981 IMG_9989 IMG_9992 I had time to weed, clean, visit my sister, get our rugs cleaned.  Boxed up the old tape players from the Perkins Library to return them.

end of an era

end of an era

Both of my boys qualified for audio books and machines from the Braille and Talking Book Library.  What a great service that has been! Tapes delivered to your door, free postage to return, a large library to choose from.  With my older son, in particular, it made a huge difference.  Some months in middle school, he listened to six or seven books on tape, which meant that he entered high school more literate than some of his better-reading peers.
IMG_4586Me? I am slogging through the excellent novel, “Cloudsplitter” — by Russell Banks.  I don’t really recommend reading THREE 800 pages novels in a year (“Our Mutual Friend” by Charles Dickens and “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt, being the other two).  To get through this one (even though it’s SUPERB), I had to take breaks to read six shorter novels and Stephen King’s wonderful, “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft“.

Earlier in the year, I read another historic novel about the radical abolitionist, John Brown:  “The Good Lord Bird” by James McBride. Have learned a lot about Kansas and Missouri and how the battle about slavery played out there in the years leading up to the Civil War.


how purpose matters

The decision to give The Crow to Wendy  Golden-Levitt to share with traumatized children as part of their therapy (see yesterday’s post), not only inspired subsequent design choices, it gave energy to completion. Like the commissioned quilt, I wanted there to be very soft textures (this one: angora knit, silk wings, satin woven sections, velvet backing). After mounting the rectangle to a jacket, with visions of children running with the crow on their backs, I cut it away, because it wouldn’t fit the little ones, and anyway, three feet of streaming ribbon could possibly problematic.  The captions tell the rest.

damp stretching knit onto felt

damp stretching knit onto felt

defining wing area

defining wing area

rejected bead eye, used button; added silk for wings and belly, felt for feet

rejected bead eye, used button; added silk for wings and belly, felt for feet


split running stitch to better define beak; a strip of my mother’s wool challis scarf to get her in there

stitched to velvet jacket, then cut away, leaving lots of velvet still; added runners of lace and satin

stitched to velvet jacket, then cut away, leaving velvet edges; added runners of lace and satin

vision of child wearing crow and streaming tails changed to something that could sit in their lap, not get caught on anything; size shouldn't matter

vision of child wearing crow and streaming tails changed to something that could sit in their lap, not get caught on anything; size shouldn’t matter

returning to 'treasure map' idea, this time with star map and red X's marking the spot

returning to ‘treasure map’ idea, this time with star map and red X’s marking the spot


IMG_9895 crow communing with birds; tapering rectangle shows need of additional cloth


kept little blue tab on side — it looks to me like a way out or a way in

added soft polka dot panels to even lower edges

added soft polka dot panels to even lower edges

ready to fly away!

ready to fly away!

Crow flew to Canada

IMG_0014As many of you know, awhile back I was commissioned to make a quilt for Wendy Golden-Levitt, a Jungian therapist in Canada who uses cloth in her work with children.

IMG_9154Wendy sent the fiber artists whose work she employs a beautiful book as a thank you.  It is filled with the most moving testimony from the children, including wonderfully wise and curious speculations about the cloth makers.

Here are just a few gems:

“I am getting better working with the cloths. I can feel the people who made them. I think they understand what it is like to wait…”

“You step towards it [the cloth] and it whispers something. By the time you are holding it, you got a real relationship going. You can trust it completely.”

“Were they sad or stitching themselves into serious happiness? Do they have days when they are not feeling good in the heart? Do they listen to their dogs or cats? Do they eat waffles while they are sewing?”

I was so moved to see a young woman using “my” quilt as a prayer rug.

(and, by the way, check out how completely color-coordinate she is with the quilt — right down to her fingernails!!)

I blogged about genesis of the idea of a “Treasure Island” theme here and about it being in progress here, but apparently never blogged about its completion. So here are some pix.
foldableHouse-SanctuaryReady-for-lovingTREASURE-ISLAND-wholeFabric depicting a treasure map got me going with the idea of healing being like a sailor looking for gold.  I wanted there to be lots of animals in the cloth, too — both as guides to the children, and as characters in whatever stories they were busy telling. I bound it with ‘baby-blanket satin’ to make it as touchable and inviting as possible.

Receiving the book was so moving, that it inspired me to send another piece — that Crow I’d been working on.  I’ve heard from Wendy and the Crow has landed!!

IMG_3839 IMG_3840 IMG_3863I took a gazillion pictures of The Crow for some reason, so I plan to dedicate a post to it.  But for now let me say that once I knew I was sending it to Wendy, I mounted it on velvet and added satin binding to the lower section… soft textures that will be inviting to the touch!

Clearing and collecting. Weeding and weaving.

Sometimes we gather things, sometimes we let them go. Our own collecting plus family downsizing have resulted in super-stuffed storage areas. Much sorting will be required — just to re-achieve pathways. Last weekend, we put two recently inherited bookcases in the basement and so much satisfying organization ensued! Candles — all in one place! Tins with no tops — in the garbage!  Our better garbage finds – neatly assembled!

20140725-235054-85854904.jpgAll can be done bit by bit.  There’s such a lesson in that. Finally launching decades old technology? There’s relief in that.

Weeding can be a vigorous form of clutter-clearing.  One year, I got rid of all the invasive pricker bushes in our yard (that was brutal). This year, I tackled the Joe Pye Weed variant.  In a previous post, I referred to the plant as ‘Hitler Weed’ because of its overwhelming and unwelcome habits of aggressive encroachment.  The damn weed was sprouting everywhere! The lawn was at risk! Even though I don’t really give a shit about the lawn, I do care about my time and mood in the garden. Once I realized I was spending an obscene amount of time pulling the vagrants out, it was easy to sputter: ENOUGH!  It will take at least another two seasons to be fully rid of the damn perennial, but at least the major propagators are gone.
20140725-235055-85855247.jpgThere were two more barrels, by the way. Already I have moved on to renovating too very messy beds.  It is a lot like editing. And, I am certain such progress was facilitated by ridding the yard of an aggravating eyesore.

20140725-235052-85852636.jpg20140725-235051-85851975.jpgThe opposite of whittling away is building up. Here, I used techniques learned in ‘Considering Weave’ with Jude Hill to extend a map form. The print is a map, I’m not making that up.  But two islands side by side got me thinking about Ireland and her neighbor England.  I am wondering what it might be like to explore a history of oppression that is in my blood — as opposed to a history of oppression which is not.  The map fabric was last used in the Middle Passage series.


weaving the map

20140725-235053-85853702.jpgLess seriously (always good to be less serious!), I tried out eyes. The base fabric matters, always, doesn’t it? The foundation. This loose weave — a former sweater — made needle weaving its surface more complicated than it needed to be.  Still, I like the result.

20140725-235054-85854061.jpgSanta bobbin and screen easel. Such is the living room of a stitcher!

20140725-235053-85853350.jpgLastly, I finished two Star Maps yesterday. I can’t figure out why, but I love these little scrappy things. How they relate to each other. The suggestion of a vast universe in a six by eight inch composition. And, I suppose a faint echo of the ‘Book of Hours’ (which I always loved) adds to their appeal.