The Sea Island Indigo Workshop weekend* began on Thursday, September 18 at the Charleston Museum with a rag-quilting workshop and storytelling by Sharon Cooper-Murray, aka ‘the Gullah Lady‘. Sharon is a compelling performer and interesting historian, as well as a fiber artist and writer in her own right.
Here’s a 25 second example of a Gullah tale that she told at Boone Hall Plantation recently. If you hunt around YouTube you can find lots more! Charlestonmag.com posted an interview with her here. The Gullah story that we heard was vivid, complete with foot stomping and arm gestures. Translation needed — I could tell that some urgent message needed conveying, but not exactly what (turns out the hens used to rise first in the morning, not the roosters, and the story told why).
Rag quilting is a no-sew method of quilting making. Strips of fabric are poked into a loose weave base and tied on top. We used burlap for the base and a nail for an implement. Earlier makers used feed sacks or possibly, the loose weave fabric used to construct slave garments, osnaburg (also called ‘Negro Cloth’). It is a resourceful means of cloth making — requiring no needles, thread, or large scraps. Sharon brings a work-in-progress along with her, to which we were all invited to insert a strip. Here is Sharon — as herself — constructing one of her Indigo Babies for the dye vat. She sells these at fairs locally.
Of course once I got home, I devised a shortcut — using a tapestry needle and longer strips. By stitching with enough slack between pokes, the strip can then be cut and tied, four at a time.
This method would be a terrific way to use up fabrics that are not needle-friendly.
Next up: visit to Avery Research Center, then two days of indigo dyeing in a pole barn!
Sea Island Indigo Workshop took place September 18-21, 2014 in Charleston, SC. A field of indigo was grown for us by Donna Hardy, on Rebellion Farm, in Ravenel, SC. Fiber artist Kathy Hattori, of Botanical Workshops, flew in from Seattle to co-lead the two days of hands-on indigo dyeing. My participation in the workshop was funded by a kickstarter campaign.
Well, I am flying. I am NOT going to check two bags. So this morning I am balancing my squirrel-like packing skills (of which I am rather proud) with the greed to bring more (and more) fabric. To my surprise, it was a great relief to put half of the cloth away… to name the feeling, ‘greed’, and put that away, too. Setting aside greed allowed love to come in.
You see, I had collected a bunch of needle-resistant cloth for the rag quilting workshop. Made sense…. it looks like sewing will be limited with this method. But an awful lot of the tough fabrics I own are a tad gross in feel. I find myself protesting, “NO! NO! I’m only bringing fabric I love”.
Selecting fabrics you love is not at all the same, of course, as fending off greed. Instead, it is governed by pleasure, aesthetic discernment, cultivated tastes, sensory delight… by all those irrational preferences for some colors over others, and in my case, by a slight mania for a good jumble of patterns. When you’ve gathered a pile of fabric you love, sometimes looking at the stack is enough!
Raise your hand if you know what I’m talking about.
I will save my greedy impulses for food. There’s gonna be some AMAZING food on this trip!
But first — more kickstarter gratitude. I continue to be bowled over by the immediate and overwhelming response of my readers and friends. Twenty-two of you have given me $850!!!
I almost wish there was a way to receive funds without seeing how much each donor is giving (it wouldn’t work) because EVERY gift meant the world to me — and, in fact, sometimes a ‘small’ gift from someone feels HUGE because I have a sense of financial struggle out there. So, again — thanks!
Just booked a room in West Ashley. It’ll be my first airbnb experience. I’m a little hesitant about staying in a room in someone’s house, particularly because I’m not that chatty a person (ha!)… and because who knows about people, right?
I picked a convenient, very reasonably priced place with almost 50 positive reviews. But seriously? It was the picture of this guy’s dog and his backyard that clinched it! A sweet old hound and beautifully tended perennial beds — surely these indicators of character?
The folks at Sea Island Indigo are being super accommodating in terms of helping to coordinate rides out to Rebellion Farm, where two days of the event are being held. Given how many OTHER details they are managing right now, I especially appreciate this. It looks like I will be able to get by with a couple of cab and bus rides and no car rental at all.
Oh, and did I tell you they will be feeding us like queens?!
Eagerly awaiting the supply list.
Soul Collage card, 2012 – “Dreamer”
Going back to 2012 dye pictures, I found this Soul Collage card. Funny, that a card titled ‘Dreamer’ features blue hands, huh?
Oh, and I just noticed that the sleeper in the background may be covered by a pieced denim coverlet — that’s one of the great things about Soul Collage — the discovering of things later.
Off to the pages. But not for long. It is also a Farm Share pick up day. Possibly a post office day (chocolate to Boulder). Have to pick up a script. And, there’s a quick, near doctor appt. Not much time for writing today, in other words. But thank goodness it is cooler. Yesterday was a beast of a day.
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
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:
Meet Rose Marie Manigault, basket-maker extraordinaire. She is holding the basket that I purchased from her at Magnolia Plantation, near Charleston, SC. There is so much to say about her work and methods and presence, but let me start by directing your attention to the poking tool in the basket on her lap. It is a utensil (spoon? fork?) with the utilitarian end removed and the remaining stem blunted. Thinking about all the harm I do to myself while quilting, I asked if her fingers were calloused. She said “no”. As I watched her work, it was clear why she found my question puzzling (maybe it was just weirdly personal). She poked and tugged and wrapped with deft skill — no fingers harmed! Look at those incredible pine needle knots!
Her wares were lined up on a high table set up under a pergola draped with wisteria. It was a little too early in the season for the vine to be in bloom, but it couldn’t have been a prettier site — especially dovetailing, as the time did, with a horribly raw week in Boston.
Look at the variety! That central, smallish basket in the foreground is a pattern called “Elephant Ears”. I learned that the baskets darken with age and that sweetgrass, once abundant, is becoming harder to procure. Unlike osier and other basket-making materials, sweetgrass, palmetto, and pine needles require no soaking to render them pliable.
Many beautiful examples of African American basketry are collected in the Lowcountry Digital Library. The knowledge about how to weave fanner baskets and employ them to winnow rice were two of the many African skills that allowed planters to amass fortunes growing rice with slave labor. The fanner basket below, is at the Charleston Museum, and is made of bulrush. Here are a few more examples of baskets at the Museum. Ms. Manigault was kind enough to pose for my pictures and sign the bottom of my basket. Anyone presuming to take her picture without making a purchase was shoo’d away. As a crafter (even absent issues of race), I could relate to this. I haven’t quite found the right place for my basket yet. But I will. And it will be used. Here is a link to Magnolia Plantation. I could not find a single reference, pictorial or otherwise, to Ms. Manigault or her baskets. Can anyone else?!!