Monday, July 15, 2013

With Hands and Heart

30 x 30 wall hanging created with Kansas Troubles /Moda fabrics.
Machine pieced, hand quilted.

A photo-laden post on the merits of crafting is likely redundant when it comes to my little gang of 'followers.'
Most of us who hover around a particular list of favorite bloggers are already crafters, creators, 
makers, doers.
We've tried, tested, rejected, out-grown or refined a number of different mediums before settling on the several which bring us joy. 
I well remember my frustration during Friday afternoon 'art classes' in grade school.
[We're talking 1950's here, and having rather publicly celebrated 50 years of marriage, some of you will recognize the era of which I speak!]
Art class in our one room rural school consisted of teacher choosing a season appropriate colored picture from the illustrated 'Teacher's Guide'--which contained everything from poems, skits, Christmas plays, to a variety of 'busy work' projects.
A 'pattern' was included for the art picture and this was passed from desk to desk to be traced off.
The colored page was then pinned up in sight of all and crayons or colored pencils were chosen.
I remember one such project in particular.
The picture of the day was a blue basket filled with daisies.
Simple--or so one would think.
I hadn't met up with a blue basket, but I knew several vintage baskets at my grandfather's farmhouse--all in weathered tones of brown or grey.
I colored my basket brown, shading the edges carefully--and I made yellow-petaled brown-eyed Susan's instead of white daisies.
The teacher was unimpressed with my creativity--to the point up waving my finished picture aloft in disgust and stating to the class at large, "Who would want an old brown basket?"
I fared a bit better when the traveling art teacher showed us how to make paper mache' bowls. 
We slopped cheerfully about with sodden bits of newspaper and some globbery gluey substance--but at least my bowl dried to a neat shape which was then finished with poster paint in my choice of white with terra cotta bands.
I couldn't draw--or sketch--or paint--and for years I felt regret that my appreciation of natural beauty had no creative outlet.
I honed my skills with a sewing machine during many years of making clothing for my extended 
family and friends.
Quilt making in America surged into renewed popularity following the 1976 Bi-Centennial--beautiful cotton fabrics, time-saving methods and new tools for measuring and cutting appeared for a growing market trend and caught my attention.

Detail of the wall quilt--my hand quilting is far from museum quality!

This quilt was made for J.'s cousin Gloria, to commemorate the life and death of her son, a member of the US Special Forces. Ironically, after several tours of duty to the Middle East, Glenn died in a traffic accident a few miles from his off-base apartment in Florida.
Making this quilt for Gloria, herself an accomplished crafter, was a way that I could express my sorrow. Since her son's death, Gloria has produced a number of colorful baby quilts and taken on the previously planned redecorating of her vintage New England home.
The choosing of fabrics, sewing, striping off old paint and wallpaper, rolling on fresh colors has been a creative outlet at a time when she felt that sanity might leave her.

Here are two little scented pillows of Gloria's making, such as she has sold in her gift shop.
She also carves distinctive Santa's and creates patterns for primitive dolls.

My Amish neighbor, Delila, makes quilts in the tradition of solid color fabrics.
She phoned two weeks ago to tell me that she had finished one, and would I like to see it--and bring 
my camera.
While the Old Order Amish do not approve of personal photos, Delila enjoys having a pictorial record of her quilting, so I print photos and present them to her in a clear plastic sleeve.
This quilt, pieced in "Log Cabin' type strips, mimics the popular [and difficult to make correctly ] Lone Star pattern. When I worked in the Wyoming quilt shop women from the nearby Wind River Indian Reservation brought their version which they called "Native American Star" to be finished at the shop.
The bias points of the 'stars' tend to stretch creating a tented effect in the center 
which is a quilter's nightmare. 
Linda, the shop owner, became adept at taking tiny tucks around the quilt centers as she finished the quilts with her long-arm machine. 
Delila states that she had to 'quilt out' some fullness in the center of her quilt.
Delila does the piecing on a vintage treadle sewing machine, then the  layers of the quilt, batting and lining are stretched on her wooden quilt frame.
This is the third large quilt which Delila has hand-quilted since the turn of the year.
She is casual about housework--passionate about her quilting and gardening.

Detail from the center of Delila's quilt.

Delila's quilting stitch is neater than mine.
Amish girls begin to learn quilting skills well before their teens.

I usually have several quilts in progress.
This one, a New York Beauty, is pieced over a foundation of paper which is marked with the stitching lines.
I've only made the one block which took me an entire evening of sewing time.
I doubt that I will produce sufficient of these blocks to make a bed sized quilt.
The pattern is wasteful of materials, which is a consideration.

My quilt making is hampered to a degree by the interest of my cats in 'helping'
This is Nellie, looking innocent.

My friend Gracie creates beautiful scrapbooks.
She saves maps, small items picked up on family trips, programs from events, newspaper clippings.
These, with carefully edited photos, become themed collections, cleverly presented.
When Gracie phoned last month to ask if I had scraps of fabric from my latest quilt, she mentioned that she was working on a 'project.'
I had no idea that the 'project' was a gift scrapbook for our wedding anniversary.

 Our daughter Gina, gathering photos for her own purposes, was stealthily sharing them with Gracie, who did fanciful things with them using her Photo-Shop skills.
The book was presented to us when we arrived at our anniversary celebration.
Note the tiny pieces of fabric secured to the page and anchored with appropriate embellishments.
I was with Gracie last summer when she shopped for scrap-booking supplies.
The background papers, the stamps, the tools for designing cards and memory books are very enticing.
Those who create in this medium have wonderful choices of supplies, but like any other form of crafting, the maker learns to put the mark of individuality on their creation.

A page created to show some of J.'s special interests. 
The background paper is a grassy meadow--just waiting for his tractor and mowing machine!

The book is a treasure--and was much admired at the gathering.

This photo shows quilt blocks made during the recent spell of gloomy wet weather.
I collected a number of fabrics with pansy motifs when I was in Wyoming.
The cheerful colors called to me on a rainy afternoon.
This quilt will likely become my main project for summer afternoons when the cool of my basement workroom is more inspiring than the heat of the garden.

I had the opportunity to take classes in tole painting during the three years we spent in Massachusetts--1977-1980.
Tole Painting is described as a 'method painting'--one traces the outline from a pattern book, perhaps adjusting or changing a few elements. I learned to blend artists' oils, to create dimension and shading.
It was a wonderful experience for a person who had longed to paint!
Many of the pieces I made were given as gifts, a few were sold.
These two were special favorites.

Our niece Susan created these paper-pieced potholders as a gift for me. 
You can be sure that a greasy casserole will never touch this lovely fabric art!
I plan to hang them where I can enjoy Susan's work.

Detail of one of the pieced flowers.
Susan is an expert needlewoman, my mentor, who encourages me to continue hand-quilting.
Susan has stitched her way through tragedy, ill health, many a stressful situation.
She rises early in the morning to sit quietly with her hand sewing.
Neatly organized totes travel with her to keep a current project at hand.
Susan says, "Creating is a big part of who I am."

My daughter, Gina, doesn't sew--she merely threatens to do so at some future time.
Gina's gifts of creativity are expressed in her baked goods, appealingly presented.
She has a keen eye for balance and harmony in arranging a room, decorating a mantle, for serving a meal in the various bowls and platters which her knowing eye has spotted at charity shops and yard sales.

Gina has a love affair with glue.
[I can't get near glue without creating a disaster!]
This is one of three large photo collages she put together to share our family memories.
They were displayed at the anniversary party.

A current hand-quilting project in the oval hoop/stand which Susan gave me.
I labor away at it, not becoming as skillful as I would like, but finding that the act of stitching can have a restful effect.
Hand work is calming when I must be tethered to a chair while making 'polite conversation' or waiting somewhere while J. transacts his wheeling and dealing. I can transfer this wall quilt [made with extra blocks from a king-sized quilt] to a smaller hoop as a take-along project.
There are other skills I wish I could learn: weaving, spinning, basketry, calligraphy, knitting, to name only a few.  I have worked with dried flowers, crocheted a hideous afghan or two, decorated sets of storage boxes with fabric or paper. I have refinished vintage furniture. 
There is great satisfaction in learning a craft, in gathering the 'tools and tackle and trim.'
I enjoy giving gifts that I have made with a special person in mind.
I've observed that those who 'make things' seem to have a greater degree of contentment than those who are easily bored or need the stimulation of endless shopping or outings.
When we create an item of beauty and/or usefulness, something of the delights we have accumulated, something from the 'heart' or essence of each of us, joins with the skill of our hands to produce a treasure that may be cherished well beyond our own time.


  1. A lovely and interesting posts, - I agree that imagination and creativity contribute greatly to our contentment and satisfaction with life. I spent the day planning a new warp to dress my loom (from which I have just taken some silk rag mats) and time just flew by. So many beautiful photos in your post I hardly know which one to comment on, but I do admire your wedding anniversary book!!

    1. Hildred; I affirm your decision to set up your loom and return to a loved creative skill. I suspect your Charles would have been pleased to know you are doing this.
      I've found that the hours I spend making something are also a fine time for pondering--as long as I can also pay attention to the finer points of my project!

  2. Oh my. SO much to comment on and I am meant to be painting in the attic before it gets too hot. I am thrilled by the quilt photos and the beautiful presents you were gifted - SO much skill there - and this requires careful consideration and a longer comment, so I will be back in my "lunch" break . . . But OH, I just want to be MAKING something right now. However, see latest blog post . . .

    1. Jennie; You've honed a broader range of needle arts than I've managed, but couldn't we just settle in together on opposite sides of a cheerful fire--pot of tea alongside, of course--and stitch and visit to our hearts' content!

  3. What a wonderful post. It's always lovely to see what you've made, and now the beautiful things others also have made. Some of us just have this need to Make, whether sewing, cooking, gardens or a world of other things. I am astounded at people who are bored, especially in retirement. I think it's because they have no creative outlet. I still feel like I never have enough time to do all the things I want to do, and especially make all the things I want to make!

    1. MTVA; Like you, I am amazed that anyone can be bored--at any time of life. I can only hope that my retirement stamina holds up long enough for me tackle at least half of the creative projects which crowd my mind!

  4. Dear Sharon ~ What a wonderful, lovely, inspiring post. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Needlework has been a love of mine since I first tried knitting when I was 10 years old, some 54 years ago. My dear late husband said he loved to hear me sitting in my little creative space, humming to music while I worked. He said I sounded happy and I am, working with needle, hooks, thread, beads.

    Thank you for this post. It is just what I needed to keep going. Your works are wonderful and your talent a gift.

    I love your nieces' potholders. They are works of art like you said.

    Your daughter's baked goods so lovingly made and displayed is another work of art.

    God blesses us each with our own talents.

    I loved this statement of yours, and will close my comment with it.

    "When we create an item of beauty and/or usefulness, something of the delights we have accumulated, something from the 'heart' or essence of each of us, joins with the skill of our hands to produce a treasure that may be cherished well beyond our own time."

    Love and hugs to you ~ FlowerLady

    1. Lorraine; I suspect that tears have fallen on a few of your dainty needlework projects during these past months. I am inspired that you turn to the pleasure of your crafting and maintaining your garden as you work through the first grief of Mark's passing. Your blog with your lovely photos is a blessing.

  5. what a wonderful post Sharon, I think I enjoyed this best of all the posts you have ever written.
    I was sad to read about Glenn, but I am full of admiration for the strength and bravery of his Mother Gloria.
    Thankyou for sharing all these precious photos and stories about your family and friends and of their unique skills.
    I was particularly interested when you spoke about your early experiences of drawing and painting. I had a "domestic science" teacher who was very sarcastic and not at all encouraging. I dropped sewing and cooking as soon as I could. Eventually they went on to be 2 of my great passions.

    1. Kath; I'm envious of your friendly group of crafters. There is nothing like the inspiration gained from sharing time with those who love to make and do!
      I've taken note over several years of the settling influence that hand stitchery has had during your house renovations, with lovely quilts as the end result. Even long distance, you've cheered me on!
      Isn't it odd that teachers of a certain era urged conformity rather than creativity?

    2. Thank you Sharon. And thank you Kath for the kind words. Glenn was one of my greatest treasures in life. Actually Glenn was less then one quarter of a mile from his condo. Although I will always miss my beloved Glenn it is color and creativity that helps me get through each day. And my new Cavelier King Charles pup is helping me.

    3. Gloria; Not only are your wonderful crafts an inspiration to anyone who has seen them, your choice to use your creative skills as 'therapy' for coping with Glenn's death is a good example.
      Animals who need and love us are also a great comfort.

  6. Very interesting post showing that most women try to make something beautiful with whatever skills they have. That seems to be true through the ages.

    1. Lillian; So very true. We can see both utility and beauty in the handwork that survives in museums. Crafting/needlework supplies can amount to a substantial investment, and yet so much can be done with 'found and re-purposed' materials.

  7. Oh, my Sharon, I am spellbound over your quilting. Thank you so much for posting this, this morning. I sure needed this.
    I have taken in several art forms in the past, embroidery, rug hooking, beading, painting, and now, attempting to quilt. I understand art classes in the 60's, it was either you did it like the teacher wanted it, or you were singled out in the class as a rebel. I was the rebel.
    All of us here have a talent, gift, vision, and just plain determination to do just whatever pleases us. May we continue on.
    Hugs my Friend.

    1. Vicki; I hope that you can contrive some portable projects to see you through present difficulties--specially when you must be 'on-call' to take your parents for doctor's appointments.
      Creative art forms don't 'fix' any of the troubles we have--but I think they have a therapeutic value--occupying our hands and at least a part of our perplexed minds. I like your affirmation that EACH OF US can find a way to express our creative side.

  8. You are a multi-talented lady. I was very like you in art classes. Love the scrap book.

    1. Janet; There must have been a few of us who didn't want to do 'cookie cutter' crafting! I'm planning to pass on the compliments and appreciation for Gracie's scrapbook--I'm honored that she spent the hours needed to make this special gift.

  9. My favourites (apart from yours obviously!) are the pot holders and your neighbour's quilt. Please pass on my compliments to Delila - what a stunning piece of work. If I had a lot of money, I would be very happy to hand it over for that!

    1. Em; I will pass along the compliments! I think if I had funds to spare I'd be collecting your sketches.

  10. Had to laugh at your account of the art teacher ...I had one like that.
    Love all your quilting and I love how you have shown all the talents of others ....that Amish Lady is so clever with her hands glad she is allowed to keep a record of her work. Ginas bakes look so yummy ...beautifully presented and I am sure the scrap book will be treasured.
    You must have been so young when you got married as I thought we were similar in age and I was only 16 in '63.Thanks for yet another enjoyable read . xx

    1. Angie; We're not too far apart in age--my 19th b-day was in 1963-- 3 months before we married!
      I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

  11. Hi Sharon, I so enjoyed this post its full of you, your family and friends which are all so very special. Love all the hard work that has gone into everything. Love Jill xx

    1. Jill; I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I'm always pleased when you show us photos of your flowers or the cute things you create with your sewing machine. You have a way of making 'bits and pieces' into something special.

  12. Oh yes Sharon I had the same experiences in art class. Hated them.

  13. A beautiful post, illustrated with love, how busy you are, and that eternal craving 'what other crafts can I do'. Busy hands bring peace of mind I think....

  14. I love the wall art! I think it is beautiful that you made a quilt for Gloria to help her through her grieving. This is such a wonderful gift. It looks like you have quite a few furry friends ready to help you out. Good job!

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