Today the scene behind this quilt is a snowy one. Not at all like yesterday’s blazing blue sky. Rain predicted for later.
Have I ever ripped out as much as I did for this Village Quilt? I don’t think so. I’m so pleased with the result, I’m predicting more fussiness in my future.
First, I had to shrink a glaring rhomboid of orange. Next, the beige square with stitched orbs (center top) looked too static, so I unpicked its two edges and added a triangle to the lower right.
Then, after stitching what I thought was the second to last seam, the roof lines were off so I had to rip out a long horizontal seam and a partial vertical one. ARG! To correct the placements, I added narrow strips to either side of the rectangular section, one pieced, one not.
Someone has expressed interest in the piece and I may leave the finishing treatment up to her. More and more, I like these cloth villages without any backing whatsoever.
Happy Sunday! Any good news to share?
I’ll start: K is home safe and sound from China. Also: I’m enjoying another outstanding Irish author right now and when I say outstanding, I mean mind blowing (the other recent read was by Colum McCann). Also: I managed to get both boys’ birthday boxes in the mail well in advance of their days!
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:
Back to the boards this morning. Garden not quite yet calling.
Sometimes the scale of these larger pieces overwhelms. Today I am liking the fact that progress is made piece by piece, section by section. There is nothing to do except to keep composing each section, viewing the recently-pieced area with the entirety, then tackling another section.
Day will be interrupted, as usual, with a doctor’s appt. Today’s involves a lot of driving. Next week is officially “No Appointment Week”!!
I am back to work on a commission from the spring. How great it feels to wrestle with all the challenges that attend improv quilting rather than the challenges associated with not working at all!!
The sewing challenges presented by improv quilting include — lumps where different weight fabrics meet, lumps where a necessary re-fragmentation of a pieced section renders a formerly bigger patchwork piece into a very tiny postage stamp-sized piece which is butted up against a new seam; the imbalance of motif or color that occurs when rearranging large pieced sections; the sorry loss of a quarter inch of a beloved fabric chunk… like this little fishy’s nose.
I consider the satisfaction of designing-as-I go well worth the lumps and bumps.
Thank you readers, who offered so much encouragement and insight to me recently after a particularly gloomy post. It surprises me when taking the risk of sounding like a whiny baby proves so worthwhile. Thank you.
I particularly took to heart two things — one, that trust is important here, and two, that stepping into the river of creativity is more important than the style of one’s waders — in other words, when time is tight perhaps a medium that lends itself to quicker results might be the ticket. Or, in the alternative, now that I have a paycheck, perhaps I don’t mind making fewer quilts a year.