Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Surprising Quilts from Vintage Hexagons

When quilters think about antique hexagon quilts, here's the kind of thing that comes to mind:

I am guessing that this 1880 quiltmaker suffered a Victorian ailment which kept her bedridden, improved her vision and fine motor skills, and extended her lifespan.

When pieced accurately, hexagon quilts are a miracle; when pieced badly, which is easier, they're a ripply mess. Both are incredibly time-consuming. That's why unfinished hexagon tops and pieces - especially the wonky ones - are relatively cheap and abundant in flea markets and antique shops.

When I first became a quilter, and fell madly in love with vintage quilts, I went through an inevitable phase of collecting hexagonal tops and pieces, Here's one of my purchases:

The purchase is followed by inevitable wondering what to do with it, followed by inevitable realization of how enormous the task is, followed by inevitable stuffing them into a closet until I'm dead, which will inevitably be followed by my children giving them away so they end up in another flea market where another dewy-eyed young quiltmaker will fall in love with them and bring them home.

But wait! There is finally a book that can help interrupt the cycle of hexagonal heartbreak!

Mary Kerr, award-winning quilter and certified appraiser, had a similar appreciation of unfinished hexagon blocks and tops, but instead of merely hoarding them, she made unexpected quilts from them.

Her new book - I asked for a review copy - is "Recycled Hexie Quilts," from Schiffer Publishing, and it contains more than 100 photos of very wonderful quilts made from vintage hexagons, most of which break stereotypes and rules.
Kerr explains that hexagons have been in pieced quilts for at least 300 years. In the 20th century, hexagon piecing designs became known as Grandmother's Flower Garden.

The book shows some antique eyepoppers - like the first quilt at top of this post - but most of the photographs are of quilts Kerr made from old pieces and tops. She combines new fabrics with old,  cuts off hexagons at 90 degree angles (!), and places them  in unlikely locations, like borders, sashing, and setting squares. Most do not require the kind of time and skill needed to complete the top quilt on this page.

Here's "Mosaic Star," which has a Modern feeling, and requires only hundreds instead of tens of thousands of pieces:
And here's one with even fewer pieces, which means an even more Modern feeling - and guess what - it's FUSED to that black background! (Quilt police hair just caught fire!).
There's a whole chapter on fusing, and really, it's the perfect solution to damaged seams.

Here, almost randomly-cut hexagon quilt top segments become sashing and borders, and are combined with vintage ducks:
In the next quilt, "Roses for Opal," Kerr circled floral panels painted by her grandmother Opal, with  hexagons from the 1930s. The pink fabric is from the 1920s. "Mixing eras  just creates a more interesting piece and a much better story," Kerr says.  I think it also cuts the bubble gum sweetness to a degree that's just right.
Note that she refuses to fuss with the corners. We don't need no mitering! Symmetry is for sissies!

If you don't happen to have vintage duck or floral panels lying around, buy a brand spanking new  jelly roll instead and make one of these, combining log cabin with hexagons:
Kerr used a Moda Jelly Roll, but if you Google "pastel fabric jelly roll" you'll come up with lots of options.

The next quilt, "Lancaster," is brilliant - a Grandmother's Flower Garden top cut into diamonds, and joined with a sashing, for an effect that's remniscent of a traditional Japanese art motif.
And finally, to PROVE that hexagon quilts don't have to be a lifetime of work, and can be Modern/Gee's Bend, there's this:
It's a large 1940s hexagon fused asymmetrically onto a vintage tablecloth.

And there's a much, much more in the book. If you have your own stash of vintage hexagons, this is just what you need to inspire yourself to give them new life.  Thanks, Mary Kerr, for writing a great and useful book!

If you'd like to win a copy of the book straight from the Schiffer Publishing, please leave a comment, (maybe about your perspective on hexagons?) and I will use a random number generator to select and announce a winner on April 10, 2015. A random number generator chose our winner - congratulations Quiltshopgal!

PS One more idea: Here's a blog post from a couple of years ago about something I did with orphan blocks, combining them with Terrie Mangat fabric gew-gaws.

(UPDATE: Here's a link to an utterly astonishing hexagon quilt from 1940 with 58,640 pieces.)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Hills Are Alive, With Awkward Freemotion Quilting

The well-intentioned continuous-line freemotion quilting designs just keep coming!  I was originally inspired by Leah Day, but don't hold her responsible! (First two awkward quilting adventures here: 1, 2).

In February, my daughter was a singing nun in her school's production of The Sound of Music, and as a result, I've got the tunes seriously stuck in my head, If you continue reading, you will too.

Humming led to drawing, and if you're over 40, and/or a Lady Gaga fan, you'll know exactly what I'm humming here:
I even stitched it out, just to prove it's possible: 
Yes, it's raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles, warm woolen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with string (Theseareafewofmyfavoritethings, phew.) All easy to draw and connect, with only a little backtracking. But suddenly, the song's mood turns dark: 
When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I'm feeling sad, I think about all the stuff I've hoarded, and a great big smile comes to my very simple face. Freemotion fans, I discovered that if you run facial features into the side of the head, you won't have to lift your needle or cut the thread. It takes practice and you may wind up with disturbing skull shapes.
The next verse was much more challenging:
Cream-colored ponies (tough), crisp apple strudel (easy, like a HoHo), doorbells and sleigh bells (major artistic liberties) and schnitzel with noodles.
Here's a  closeup of my sketch for the last two, schnitzel w/noodles and wild-geese-that-fly-with-the-moon-on-their-wing (I ran out of paper on the right side, that's why the goose is so stumpy):
Now  you are saying to me, "OMG, Cathy, that schnitzel is a hot mess, even by your low standards!" You are right! But look at this actual Internet photo of schnitzel with noodles! The stuff is literally a hot mess!

 The final lyric of the song was the hardest:
Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes,
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
Silver white winters that melt into spring.
The sashed dress wasn't bad. Freehanding a snowflake,without marking or tracing, turned out to be murder. It has to have six points, and they should be more or less equidistant? After numerous disasters, I started with an asterisk in the middle, then backtracked to add points, eyelashes, and the bottom of a nose.
OK, so it's not "snowflakes," it's one giant suffocating killer snowflake. Why wouldn't that be someone's favorite thing? The last line, I interpreted as a snow-covered tree struck by sun on the right side until leaves emerge. Admittedly, it's a stretch.

At our non-schnitzel dinner a few days later, my family test-sang other showtunes for freemotion quilting potential. One idea - speaking of hoarding - was the Little Mermaid song - "Part of That World" - but when we looked up the lyrics on our dinner smartphones, we discovered they are stunningly vague:
I've got gadgets and gizmos a-plenty
I've got whozits and whatzits galore
You want thingamabobs?
I've got twenty!
But who cares?
No big deal
I want more
I haven't the slightest clue how to depict whozits and whatzits, let alone thingamabobs, and unquenchable material greed. Maybe just general meandering, interrupted by the occasional smartphone.

So back to Sound of Music. it occurred to me a few days later that it has another noun-strewn song: Climb Every Mountain, Ford Every Stream...
The streams, in the middle above, could alternatively be interpreted as: Eat Every Bacon. Then comes Follow Every Rainbow (or Enter Every Igloo)....
....Until you finnnnnndd yooooour dreeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaammmmmm!!!!
(That's my daughter, the singing nun with transparent wrists. She sang so beautifully, I'm kvelling. She deserves a freemotioned wholecloth Sound of Music quilt, no?)

PS: There's nothing new about quilts inspired by Broadway musicals. To see recent quilts based on Wicked, go to this page

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Birthday Quilt for an Overachieving Angel

How do you celebrate your birthday?  Here's my approach:

(1) Approximately 11 months in advance, I begin a disciplined program of progressively increased  self-pity,

 (2) On the actual day, I make my family take me to my favorite ice cream place, Fosselman's, in Alhambra, CA, where I order a hot fudge sundae.

That's pretty much it, for about a month, when I start feeling sorry for myself about the next  birthday. (It's annoying being the oldest person in the house - that's what I get for marrying a younger man.)

Other people handle birthdays better, such as my friend Margaret. Her whole life is helping people - as a parent, a professor, a friend, a Girl Scout leader and mentor to my daughter. She is also a great baker and a hilarious blogger/novelist; if you buy her book about life in New Age Los Angeles, you will laugh a lot.
(Unpaid Endorsement, I am not an Amazon or Finnegan financial affiliate)
So Margaret's 50th birthday was coming up this past February, and, speaking of Goddesses, she astonished all her friends by setting out to do 50 good deeds in her birthday month, which is also my birthday month (except I'm older, but not bitter.)

I should say, 50 MORE good deeds than usual, since as far as I can tell, 98% of what she does benefits others. She documented each as it took place on her blog. You will get a sense of the fun and toil in her retrospective post here. Some were astonishing! My 15 favorites:
#2. Picked-up and threw away scary razor blade found while walking. 
#3."Dropped" five dollars in park. 
#6. Bought coffee for the person in line behind me.
#7. Brought homemade soup to a neighbor who has been ill. 
#8. Brought a head of lettuce from my garden to a neighbor who just had a baby. 
#12. Super courteous driving day (If you needed to merge or turn left, I was there for you). 
#18. Donated books to the Friends of Cal State LA library. 
#21. Dropped off blankets for a dog rescue organization. 
#22. Gave $5 to a musician in front of the bookstore. (Thank you universe!) 
#24. Paid for the donut order of the guy behind me at the donut shop. 
#27. "Hid" eight one dollar bills among the toys at the 99 cent store.  
#29. Put some succulents (cut from some in my garden) in a pot I wasn't using and dropped it off at a friend's house. 
#33. Notes to family members telling them the top ten things I love about each of them. 
#36. Threw wildflowers seeds on open area reserved for electrical towers. 
#46. Put a great book on an empty table in the school library saying, "This is a great book! Enjoy!"
When she initially announced the idea, I knew I had to make a quilt from it. which would be less strenuous than actually doing my own 50 good deeds.

At the time, I happened to be in the midst of an improvisational batik weaving streak, which I showed here a few weeks ago (1, 2, 3). One of my weavings had about 60 rectangles on it. Very peaceful.
Through the magic of time-lapse photography, here's the same quilt, a month later, embellished with symbols of Margaret's half-a-hundred adventures: 
The first thing I did, with inspiration from Leah Day, was to freemotion quilt the blue background: 
(Don't wait until after embellishment, when the quilt will be much harder to manipulate in the machine). I added a headline, Fifty Fifty: 
Words are fused and zig-zag appliquéd. 
The tiny round alphabet beads in next horizontal row say "A busy month"
Then I went to my crow boxes, my four wackiest boxes of doodads and detritus - belly-dancer coins, rabies vaccine tags from my late dog (she died years ago of old age, not rabies), 20th century shrinky-dinks, cake decorations, toy soldiers, novelty buttons, and on and on.

One by one, I added to the quilt. It starts out with a red aluminum wine lid with white star (picking up trash), a novelty button shaped like a pencil sharpener (good deed #2, above), another shaped like a dollar sign (#3), a pencil (for a letter she wrote)...
Below, a plastic Christmas candy (to represent donuts given), a cup and saucer (#6), a soup-like mottled shiny button (a stretch of a metaphor for the homemade soup? I was desperate),..
Below is the middle third. Details include more a car (#12), donuts (I ran out of plastic Christmas candy and switched to tiny brass washers), a gold plastic guitar cut from a Mardi Gras necklace (#22),  a cactus button cover (#29):
Faux tiny books (#18). I made them by decoupaging rectangles of thin cardboard with Japanese paper and machine-stitching pages inside;
...A dog charm on a minky blanket (#21)
There's a tiny plastic 100 dollar bill to symbolize the bills Margaret and her daughter hid in the 99 Cent Store kids' section. 
Here's one more decoupaged faux book. It has "This is a great book! Enjoy!" pasted onto the front of it  ( #46).
I glued a tiny toy wooden rolling pin to a brown button, plus more buttons, to represent the many cookies she baked for deserving people. 
The two labels on the left, "Ceylon" and "Earl Grey," are cut from foil tea bag wrappers, to symbolize tea she brought sick people. 
The last square on the lower right, glass sneaker beads, represent a charity walk that was her final 
good deed. 
Are you exhausted just reading this? And there are dozens more! It was hard enough (actually, superfun) selecting and stitching them. Imagine actually DOING them! In the shortest month of the year! Talk about overachiever? 

On the back of the quilt, I stitched a hanging sleeve and a fabric envelope in which I put a printout of her blog post summarizing the deeds. (The white button is the envelope flap.)
There's also a label, a hanging sleeve, and a dowel cut to fit.

I have to say that Margaret inspired me so much that I actually became a better person. I started leaving bigger tips in the coffee house jars, for one thing. I clicked through more emails and Facebook posts demanding money for good causes. I must have done well over three good deeds inspired by Margaret.

Doesn't she deserve a Nobel Prize? At the very least, she should spend her newfound leisure time launching a nonprofit organization devoted to urging everyone to spend to their birthday month doing their age in good deeds. Enjoy the whole story at her blog

P.S. She liked the quilt.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

14 More Awkward Reality-Based Freemotion Quilting Designs

Inspired by the awesome Leah Day, I started practicing freemotion designs. Before long, I found myself making up my own. Two weeks ago, I produced 29 plus, each more awkward than the one before! It's hard to stop! The worse you draw, the more you laugh!

Plus, connecting motifs is excellent brain training if you ever get serious. Here's something I couldn't do before studying Leah's technique - the background quilting on this little scrap quilt (which I showed a few weeks ago. Since then, I added a moon and a lot of McTavishing).
McTavishing is the multidirectional quilting on the blue area. This may look messy, but it is pretty impressive, for me. Here are Leah's McTavishing instructions - thanks to Karen McTavish, too.
This week, over a dozen new freemotion designs emerged.It's no longer safe for me to drive with a pad of paper in my purse.  I am hooked, like a texting teen. Without further ado: 

My Son is in New England:
Llamas are on the Lam: 
Pi Day is Imminent (March 14), and It's a Really Big Deal This Year 
Read the third paragraph here to learn why.)

If You Touch My Fabric Scissors, You Will Be Struck Down By Lightning:

And Don't Use My Quilt for a Picnic:

I Signed Up for a Ballroom Dancing Class...
...But After One Lesson, I Never Went Back.

I Can't Believe I Ate Three Hamantaschen
Could Have Had a Banana:

I Say Sweet Potatoes, You Say....

 Friends Don't let Friends Use KCups:
 (Kcups also work nicely in quilt borders, and they double as vertebrae):
(Even the guy who invented Kcups regrets it.)

Continuing to honor the world of Leonard Nimoy, we have here Late-Era Klingon Foreheads:

The Starship Enterprise in an Alternate Universe Populated by Infinite Numbers of Them?...
...Sure, and it's also Time for Your Mammogram. 

Cmon, you can play along! Send me your designs as low-res jpgs, and I'll post the ones that are not in insanely poor taste! Last week's designs are here.