Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Collaborative Quilt in 'Signature' Colors

I was asked this week what is my favorite quilt block to make.  I suppose it must by default be the Log Cabin. This is one of the first blocks I learned to make using speed sewing techniques--the process by which the steps needed to create the blocks [ of any pattern] are done by feeding the seams through the sewing machine without cutting the connecting threads until that particular step is completed on a designated number of blocks.
Although a Log Cabin block requires no finesse of matching 'points' there are so many seams within the block that it is fairly time consuming to create enough for a bed-sized quilt.
I keep making Log Cabin quilts because I continue to find different ways of arranging the finished blocks to create intricate and different visual effects.

I made the blocks for this quilt during that memorable first week of January when I was home alone during the great freeze.  Since I was keeping fires going upstairs and down around the clock for several days and nights, I took advantage of the warm downstairs room to sew.
Several years ago I made a Log Cabin quilt top for my Amish neighbor, Delila Yoder.  She quilted the top and sold the finished piece at an Amish auction.
We bargined that in return she would hand quilt a top for me.
She reminded me of this before the end of 2013.

I delivered the quilt top, backing and batting to her in March.  Delila phoned several days later to inform me that she had pegged the top on her clothes line to let the wind blow out any creases before fastening it into her quilting frame.
Her second daughter, Caroline, hurried in to state that one of the blocks was turned the wrong way.
I retrieved my quilt, spread it out and looked for the offending block.
I lay my quilt blocks out on our king-sized bed, then pin them together in sections--in this case dividing the quilt into quarters--then I traipse downstairs to my swing machine.
I remembered that I stopped short of stitching the last two rows to the 4th quarter of the quilt--as usual I was working until nearly midnight.
Somehow, next day, I stitched the final row on in reversed position.
I was interested that Caroline spotted this.
She is a shy, quiet girl and her mother has said that she struggles in school more than her 
older sister, Elizabeth.
Whatever her deficiencies in absorbing reading, writing and arithmetic [about all that is taught in the 8 grades of an Amish school] Caroline has an eye for design.
My own eye doesn't pick up on mirror images in a design.  With a more complicated quilt block I must lay out the pieces in a strict order or I find that I'm stitching merrily along and have put a section in wrong on a dozen blocks!
I suppose this is one of the left brain/right brain processes. 

When we returned from our trip to North Carolina during the first week of April, I was surprised by a phone call from Delila.
"Do you want your quilt back?" she inquired.
I knew that the Yoders and several others of the local Amish are planning a move this spring to another part of the state.
'Oh dear," I responded. 'You don't have time for quilting!'
Delila couldn't hide a note of triumph.
"It's all done!  It's ready for the binding!"
As it happened, the Amish women of the neighborhood, bored by the confines of a long winter, had wanted an excuse for an all day gathering, but none of them had a quilt top ready to put into the frame.
Delila offered to host a quilting bee and finish my quilt.

There are slight differences in the stitches of the seven women who worked together to finish my quilt.
As I hand-stitched the edges of the binding to the back of the quilt, I could note the variations in skill and style of stitching. All are of good quality.
Delila pointed out one edge of the quilt where the stitches are slightly larger and with an occasional slight waver. I supposed these might be the work of a younger, less experienced quilter. They were the work of the oldest woman in the group. 
[I would be pleased if I could duplicate her stitching skills!]

The plain muslin backing of the quilt showcases the labor of these women's hands.

Delila wrote down the names of the women who created this treasure for me.
I used an indelible pen to inscribe the names on a label.
It took me 5 or 6 sessions, sitting in my Grampa Mac's rocking chair to hand stitch the binding.around the quilt which measures 84 inches square. 
[I had a cold and felt I deserved the luxury of retreating to a corner!]

During those several days of feeling rather miserable I also paged through a number of issues of 
Country Sampler magazine.
I noticed the repetition of the phrase, 'signature colors' to describe the decor of the featured homes.
To anyone who has viewed a number of my quilts it is obvious that I work mostly within a predictable palette of colors: rich muted shades of red, gold, brown, deep green, plum/purple, offset with a gathering of 
creamy background fabrics.
I acquired my taste for these colors decades ago, long before they gained their current popularity in the field of 'primitive decorating.'
The 'country primitive' style of furbishing a home has become something of a cliche--predictable fabrics, colors, and 'folk art' reproductions as accessories.
In their defense, the homes I've seen decorated in this way are warm, inviting, cozy. They are also often cluttered with an array of items displayed on every wall, table top, shelf, and in every cupboard.
I greatly doubt that our ancestors living in 'primitive' or 'prairie' homes had such a plethora of merely decorative objects strewed about their cramped living quarters!

I feel blessed to have some of the bits and pieces that once did service in the home of my grand-parents and great-grand-parents.
I have picked up small affordable things over the years at charity shops and flea markets--things that please me with their workmanship or with the nostalgic remembrance of yester-year's tools and trades.

I realize that the ways in which we decorate our homes tend to change, often manipulated by merchandising and advertising.
I know not everyone owns family collectibles.
Most of us can't afford 'real' antiques or custom-made furnishings.
I wish more individuals would take courage in hand and pick up a paint roller, choose a color that makes their heart sing--and paint a wall--or a whole room.
Find an old chest of drawers, sand off the original finish and experiment with paint and wax or stain to make a re-purposed piece that is truly your own.
Stitch a quilt--or a small wall hanging or a table runner--even a pair of potholders.
Search out objects that appeal whether or not they are the latest decorating trend.
Share your skills so that a friend can know the satisfaction of making her own curtains.
Swap heirloom garden seeds--and divisions of plants-- and recipes--offer another seamstress the chance to rummage in your scrap basket.
Above all, encourage creativity.
For all the narrowness of their lives, those Amish women know the value of time spent in neighborly company, with a potluck meal and something beautiful accomplished at the end of the day.


  1. what a delightful post, this is one of my favourites. I just adore your quilt, I love the colours (we share the same signature colours) you chose. This is my favourite block setting. I love it that the ladies who worked together are all honoured in the label. I would love to have been part of that group, listening and joining in with the gentle chat of the Moms and Granmas. My craft bee, is one of my great pleasures.
    I enjoyed your words about creativity. I was planning to repaint a bathroom cupbord and now I shall take your advice and "choose a color that makes (my) heart sing".

    1. Kath; I wish you could see this quilt in person. As one who does hand quilting you would appreciate the subtle differences in the stitchery.
      I rather think that you and I would enjoy rummaging in each other's scrap baskets!
      I, too, thought how interesting it would be to watch the women quilting. Be advised that when the Amish are together they converse in their particular dialect of 'Low German.' They often do this in front of any 'English' who are present--it makes me wonder!
      I hope you'll show a pic of your painted cupboard.
      I do think people who 'make things' are contented folks!

  2. The quilt is lovely and, of course, the hand-quilting will only enhance it. I also turn to the Log Cabin block very often, mainly because I want to use up small scraps. This block always makes a pretty quilt.

    1. Lillian; Isn't it fun that the Log Cabin block is so versatile! I've seen it done in very tiny blocks--which I haven't tried, but I wouldn't be comfortable with strips cut finer than 1 inch--or so I think.
      Have you made the uneven log blocks? When the blocks are set together they create curved shapes in the layout.

  3. Your quilt is a beauty! Log Cabin is one of my favorites, also. Loved reading about your Amish neighbors. I spent all day with mine on Wednesday. I always come away from them with such a sense of peace. What lovely people they are. So in agreement with your thoughts on creativity. Life is too short not to take simple pleasures in things that make your "heart sing"!

    1. Jane; How good to hear from you again! I'm interested that your Amish neighbors welcome your company for a day--I think the group here is a bit exclusive when it comes to socializing with us 'Englishers.' They call on those in the area who will drive them various places, Delila has asked me sometimes to order items online for her, etc. The mindset seems to be that we are already doomed by our 'worldliness' so using our technology to assist them benefits them and does no further harm to our own spiritual standing!
      People who take delight in 'making and doing'--refurbishing and repurposing--have my support--we are meant to use our creativity and to share our skills. That brings joy all around!

    2. I think the Amish in this area are a bit more progressive. Of course, our neck of the woods is so "backwards", that it isn't much of a stretch for us to meet in the middle. We were working on a charity for a neighbor that has cancer. The women are still quite reserved, but the older men in the order love to talk. Perhaps because they are used to dealing with us Englishers.

    3. Jane; Thanks for adding that information to the discussion. In talking casually with some of the Amish here, we have realized that different communities have varying ideas on what constitutes 'progressive' or 'conservative.' For instance, phones were allowed in this group but had to be installed in an 'outbuilding' to discourage time wasted in 'gossiping.' A siege of burglaries in our area two years ago prompted some of the Amish women to insist that phones be moved to the houses. However, they don't like relatives living in a more conservative enclave in TN to know that they have the phones and apparently go to some lengths to conceal them! An Amish man living here several years ago hired out as a carpenter, publishing a phone number in the local paper--he used an answering machine to pick up his calls to which he could then respond.

  4. A beautiful quilt and I love your colour palate. The quilting looks lovely too and great it was done at a real old-fashioned quilting bee!

    Apologies for such a short comment but struggling to stay awake here!

    1. Jennie; A relief to hear from you however short the comment! I've been watching for a new post from you and hoping you've not been ill.
      I shall treasure this quilt--rest assured no little cat paws shall damage the work of the Amish ladies!

  5. What an absolutely beautiful quilt. I just love the plain white centre with the subtlestitching. Gorgeous.

    1. Em; I use off-white/cream in most of my quilts. Seems like it gives the eyes a place to rest. The hand-stitching makes this quilt very special.

  6. What a wonderful post about friendship and creativity. This is such a lovely piece that hold dear memories for you and will be lovely in your new home.

    Love and hugs ~ FlowerLady

    1. Rainey; Your creativity with your garden space and with your beautiful needlecrafts is an inspiration! I'll have a bit more room in the 'new' house for displaying things I love.

  7. Fascinating writing, and I do love your quilt and the time and effort that has gone into it, the sharing of work and space through friendship, very inspiring...

    1. Thelma; I am constantly inspired by the creativity that is shared across the distance by bloggers, as well as viewing local work or items on display in a museum. Likewise, the details of another person's travels--such as your recent reports on Cornwall--give my mind imaginative journeys. One need never be bored!