Creating · Something to Think About

Orvieto, Austria and Quilting Designs

I’ve been working on posting to our travel blog (The some photos from a trip we took to Italy in 2007 (I know, I know).  And given that my last post was about a contemporary artist who inspires me, I thought I’d mention that many old architectural sites inspire me too.

This is a pillar on the front of the Duomo (cathedral) in Orvieto, Italy.  Can’t you just see some of these very old (13th century, some of them) inlaid mosaic designs being made into a quilt?  Just simple shapes, really, but really fun to think about. Here are some more shots of that cathedral (it’s what the town is known for).

I love digital cameras.  Before I’d be whipping out my sketch book to take it all down for a future quilt, rather than waste my film (always limited on international trips).

The one on the left is from a trip to Asia (my husband is a scientist and has spoken at seminars all over the world.  I try to go along when I can).  The sketchbook on the right is from a vacation to England long, long ago.  I think I was sketching the armor patterns from the Tower of London.  Of course sketchbooks are always handy when The Powers That Be won’t let you take photos.

And this one’s from my honeymoon with my scientist husband.  I was a single mom with four children and he married me us, then took me on a honeymoon to Austria (hence the notation above of “Wien” was Vienna).  Yep.  He’s a gem.  We just celebrated 22 years together–it took us that long to get all the children raised and out on their own.  And I’m still grateful to my parents for watching the children so we could start our married life in a memorable way.

This post has taken a bit of a detour, but sometimes when I reflect on the path that has brought me to where I am, I marvel at my good fortune.  It has not been without difficulties, like many of your lives, but we are very fortunate to be at a place in time and space where we have blogs, and lots of access to fabrics and sewing, and have the ability to make quilts, both for art’s sake and for use in our lives.

My road has taken me to many places, but I’m always happy to come home, unpack the bags and take up the reins of my life again.

Blog Strolling

Sol LeWitt

When I last visited my parents, I found my father’s Sol LeWitt catalogue and fell in love with his work.  He had a long career of interesting art, and pioneered what’s called “wall art” or the drawing of art directly on the wall (above).  I’d seen some of his works when I’d visited the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.

from the website Field:

Wall Drawing 130
Grid and arcs from four corners. (ACG 103)
March 1972

In 1972 he created a book, “Arcs, Circles, and Grids,” for Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland, which contained pen and ink drawings depicting all possible combinations of the three elements in the title. These combinations take into account both the type of line (arc, circle, grid) and all the possible points on a wall from which an arc can emanate (the center, the four corners, and the four midpoints of the sides.) Many of the combinations in the book also were used as plans for wall drawings, both before and after the book’s publication.

And here’s another interesting one:

Again from Field’s website:

Wall Drawing 797
The first drafter has a black marker and makes an irregular horizontal line near the top of the wall. Then the second drafter tries to copy it (without touching it) using a red marker. The third drafter does the same, using a yellow marker. The fourth drafter does the same using a blue marker. Then the second drafter followed by the third and fourth copies the last line drawn until the bottom of the wall is reached.
October 1995

Why is this interesting to me?  Because before he did all this, he did this:

The man was enamored of the grid, and tried to use mathematical calculations to vary the grid.
I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds like making a quilt.  I can hardly wait to draw some of my own, or else use his, in homage to this great contemporary artist.

And again, from the back of the re-constructed stash closet, I plan to use these in making the blocks.

Are you inspired by artists?  I’ve seen lots of quilts done with the Impressionists in mind — soft washes of ethereal color laid down with fabric, instead of paint — quilts in honor of Monet.  But has there been a contemporary artist that has caught your eye, and your design sense? Sol LeWitt has caught mine.

Quilt Shops

Fabric Hunting in Montreal

Some of you know I’ve been in Montreal with my husband, while he attended a scientific meeting.  While there, I (of course) had to do some fabric hunting.  I Googled “quilt shop.”  Nothing, or nothing that I could get to.  I read several Canadian quilters’ blogs and it got me wondering: how do they do it?

Then, after my button popped off my raincoat, I typed in “sewing supplies” and came up with Fabricville.  Bingo.

However, it’s NOT the entire building.  It’s the basement.  Here’s a shot through the window on the way down the stairs.  I wander around, find the button thread, some needles, then keep wandering as I think I see quilting cottons.


They have their own line, but even on sale for 25% off, it’s still really pricey. Original price per meter is 14.99 Canadian dollars.  I admire those Canadian quilters even more!

The American Le Poulet line is $16.99 per meter. This is what I used to find when we went to Europe.  I’d hunt up a quilting shop (always supporting the independents, even when I travel), but because of import duties, shipping, and the terrible American dollar exchange rate, I’d choke when it came time to purchase fabric at the equivalent of 20 dollars per meter.  So I’d usually buy a pattern, or a stitchery/embroidery kit.

The exception was when we went to Japan, where I went to a shop with multiple floors, and there were lots and lots of things to choose from.  So, even though we’ve all paused a little at the price of cottons now, we are so fortunate to have access to an amazing variety here in the United States. I marvel at what else I can buy at the click of a mouse button–those hard-to-obtain Japanese fabrics are in multiple places, European fabrics can be bought here in the US.

What I want to know is where is that shop that will sell me more hours in my day?

Blog Strolling

Silencing the Quilters

I showed this picture in the last post, of the books I’d picked up at a garage sale.  The three smaller ones are interesting, and I’ve found a few new blocks to try sometime. The other was intrigued me because it reminded me of the Farmer’s Wife blocks that are being made by several around the blogosphere.  The authors, Patricia Cooper and Norma Bradley Buferd, created what they called “a unique oral history” of the quilters of Texas and New Mexico.

I started reading some while standing in the driveway at the garage sale:

“Back in the old days we had to make the quilts so thick.  You know in those old dugouts the wind would come through so bad that you really had to be covered to sleep.  Papa would bring the cotton back from the gin, you know. Just how ever much Mama needed.  It was all clean then. . . . We stayed busy every minute we had quilting.  We all worked in the fields and mother didn’t have any idle time.  If anything let up, she was working on her quilts.”

I was hooked so I bought it and took it home.  But after skimming some of the book, and reading the introduction, I was kind of angry.  Here were all these “oral histories” of women talking about hard times as farmer’s wives, as women on the prairie, quilting whenever they could, yet the authors didn’t identify ANY of these women.  Not one.  How is this preserving oral histories?  As the poet Lowell said, “the gift without the giver is bare,” and so likewise these oral histories are just ephemeral without the women’s names.

The authors make an apology, of sorts:

“In the interest of brevity and continuity we have often condensed conversations, monologues, and run-on conversations on similar subjects without indicating that the speaker has changed.”


And then this horrifying note: “We take full responsibility for editing the tapes and our notes in this way.”  Is this because someone at the publishing house raised an alarm?  I hope that some editor did, somewhere.  My sister, who is a REAL historian, would cringe at this.  As I do.  I still enjoy reading the accounts, but I trust them less.  It’s like that old Aunt Jane stuff we read so often, quoted as if Aunt Jane of Kentucky was a real person.  She’s not.  She’s fiction, and I’m afraid that some of this is like fiction too.

On balance, the play Quilters was taken from this book, and I found that extremely moving the first time I saw it.  And the next time, too.  Perhaps scholarship meant something different then?  That the very fact that these women’s voices — albeit anonymous voices — were published was a Huge Deal?  Maybe.

You bloggers are documenting your quilts with your voice, whether you post one day or four days a week, whether you make a quilt a week or a quilt in a year.  Your blogs and writing have authenticity as you document your ups and downs, your WIPs, your completed quilts.  You have a voice.  You are not like these unknown, silent women from the prairies.  You put a face and name to your creativity and it enriches us all. Keep writing!

Textiles & Fabric

Garage Sale

My daughter and her children came last weekend, and then we had a big family party on Saturday.  But early that morning, before we even had to wash off the patio chairs, Barbara (my daughter) and I snuck out to a garage sale.  I’d heard about it the night before, at Quilt Night, and wanted to see it for myself.

Box after box after box after box of fabric.  Most had been purchased from a now-defunct dime store, and most were in pieces less than 1/2 yard.  Some was substandard fabric–cheap gauzy stuff with garish prints.  But a lot of it was worth looking through.

They’d dragged out their ping-pong tables, some sheets of plywood and set out a few stacks of fabrics to entice us.  I found a stack of ginghams.  More for my stash.  There were a few interesting vintage pillowcases/sheets.  I got a few of those.  Actually I turned one of the pillowcases into a bag in case I needed to pick up more.

Can you believe all this?  Turns out the owner of this house didn’t collect it all.  He’s a realtor and to get the listing for a house he was pitching, they made him agree to clean out the old woman’s collection of fabric and books.  He called in a used book salesman and they took a slew. Then he dumped the rest of the books — 3 dumpsters full — which about broke my heart, because I’m a book lover.

There were even some hand-pieced pineapple blocks, but I didn’t pick them up because I want to make my own pineapple quilt, and the combination of fabrics ranged from sheet batiste to a heavy twill.  And strange color combinations, as you can see.  By this time, as I was lugging my pillowcase of ginghams and sheets, the jokes started among the quilters that were there.  Can you see our daughters having to do this when we all kick off?  Poor Barbara, her friend Shawnie said.  Poor you, Barbara said.  Your mom’s a quilter, too.

I had tried to look through some of the boxes, because it was all just HERE waiting for us quilters to collect it.  But I’m used to the high-quality cottons from my local quilt shops and I remembered my husband home with all of Barbara’s kids and at some point, it all became just too much.  So I paid for my fabrics and threw the lumpy pillowcase into the back of the car.

I walked back and found what few books there were, and selected some to go.  Three of a four-book series on 1000 patchwork blocks.  It reminds me of my Encyclopedia of Quilt Pattern by Barbara Bachman, but a lot more home grown.  I’ve had fun looking through them.

So, I left most of the fabric there.  Be real.  Given the paltry amount in my pillowcase, I left all of it there, comparatively speaking. Lately I’ve been trying to shop my stash and to rediscover some of my earlier plans, so I was okay to leave all those possibilities there on the realtor’s driveway.  So noble. Such restraint.

Can’t say I didn’t think about it for the rest of the day, though.