Sunday, December 30, 2007

Up Against the Wall

I can't believe that I've been a whole year without a design wall! Today was rainy and icky but a great day to get things done inside. We went to Lowe's and got ceiling hangers and wire. Then Rod helped me hang the white flannel design surface from the ceiling of the teaching room of the Quilt Studio space. It offers a glorious clean background for my imagination. Some folks use quilt batting as a design surface but give me white cotton flannel any day! Seems the right gesture for starting the New Year too-a huge white surface to play on.

If you want a design wall, purchase a full-size flannel flat sheet and wash it twice in detergent without softener. Then toss the flannel, plus a pair of white acrylic sport socks, into the dryer and let 'em fry till very dry. When the flannel comes out, it will be crackling full of static and stick to your hair and clothes--just what you want in a design wall. Since my sheet was already hemmed, I just put a white pipe down the hem and hung the sucker. Now I can toss patchwork pieces at the wall from three feet away and they stay put. Warning: a freshly-washed design wall has so much static that your kitty walking past could get a nice spark!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Log Cabin-The Verb Quilt

Sometimes the neatest quilt pattern is also the simplest. Here's one from my collection. Found here in Morehead City, NC, this quilt dates from the 1950s. There used to be a shirt factory here on Bridges Street and when people went home at the end of the day, they were encouraged to pick up around their work stations. Strips and strings of fabric, too small to be useful in shirt manufacture, could be taken home for one's own use. Someone from the Sabiston family of Core Creek (a small community on the inland waterway) worked at the shirt factory and made this quilt.

The pattern is one enormous Log Cabin quilt block, pieced of strips of varying width. My pet name for it is 'Log Cabin-The Verb', as in, "We'll just log-cabin this here square..." Now that's an attitude I can relate to: just start sewing and see what happens!

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Cat

I wish my own pets were so photogenic! Several years ago a small gray kitten came to live with my sister Mary Frances and her husband Bill. They named the kitten 'Linus' after some computer software and these pictures show his first Christmas. Knowing he had to charm the man of the household, Linus made Bill his particular target of affection. It worked--Bill is Linus' special buddy. Christmas isn't about the presents, the food, or even the carols and service--it's about love. Merry Christmas to all.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Nuts to us all

In our backyard there stands a tall gnarled pecan tree. While recent hurricanes have broken off some limbs, the old tree still serves as our main shade tree. And it keeps giving--this year's been a banner year for pecans. They started to fall the first week of November but since it was still quite warm, the tree kept its green leaves. We couldn't see if there were lots of nuts or only a few this year. Last spring we had fed the tree with sticks of fertilizer which we pounded into the ground all around the drip edge (the approximate diameter of its foliage) and hoped the tree benefited from the treatment. It has and we have bushels of nuts to prove it.

I wander around the yard with a plastic grocery bag most mornings and spot the dropped nuts. They seem to fall in bunches, three to six in one spot. It always makes me happy to haul yet another bag back to the table on the porch and spread the nuts out to dry. After a week or so, the nuts come inside to a large cardboard box and most nights, either Rod or I sit in the living room and crack nuts, alternately eating and saving some. I use a Frisbee as a plate and find that one Frisbee full of pecans yields about 3/4 cup of nutmeats.

The North Carolina Pecan Growers recommend that pecans can be stored up to nine months and refrigerated for even longer. There's great recipes on their site too. So whether you say pi-can, pee-kahn, or puh-khan (how we pronounce it around here in eastern North Carolina), these gifts from the trees are wonderful. Before I head back to the house after picking, I go up to the old pecan tree, place my hand on the trunk, look up, and say, "Thank you."

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Solstice Exorcism

This is a true story. When we moved to Sumter SC in 1967, Dad was an Episcopal minister to mission churches, and as such, the low-paying job didn't come with a rectory. So my parents found a turn-of-the-century pile of a house on Salem Street that they dubbed 'the Monster' and we moved in. Dad fed the basement coal furnace in the winter and air conditioning, aside from the shade of ancient magnolia trees, was non-existent. Most of the time we loved the Monster. Then the noises started.

My little sister Lili and brother Chris were most plagued by the noises. They'd get home from school and be watching TV downstairs and hear footsteps in the upstairs breezeway and on the stairs. They told my parents but the noises continued. The kids were so upset, they didn't want to be home alone. My mother was getting angry. How dare a spirit frighten her children!

Mom herself met the ghost one day when she was ironing in the upstairs breezeway. She heard footsteps coming up the stairs and went to the top of the stairs to look down. She saw nothing but our pets did-the Airdale growled and the cat hissed and arched her back. Mom tried to reason with the spirit. She asked it to go away and stop scaring her kids. While the footsteps stopped that day, they came back. Mom got madder.

December 21st, an ancient holy day, would be a good day to get the ghost to leave Mom decided. She informed Dad that she was going to hold an exorcism. Man of the cloth Dad might have been but this homegrown weirdness was out of his league. He fled the house. We kids were all for it and even invited friends over for the big event. The evening of Winter Solstice, Mom distributed lighted candles to all present and then threw the switch at the fuse box to turn off all the power in the house. We were plunged in darkness, saved only by our candles. The crowd of people, mostly frightened and tittering kids and teenagers, moved from room to room in the house. We opened every door. We said the Lord's Prayer in every room and Mom solemnly asked the spirit to leave. There was also some holy water sprinkled around. About 45 minutes later, we'd visited all three floors of the house. We came back into the kitchen and Mom told us to blow out the candles. For a moment, it was completely black and then Mom threw the power back on. I remember she served cider and cookies afterwards. Being a good Southern hostess, Mom thought even an exorcism was an occasion for serving refreshments.

The spirit left after least while we lived there. Years later, a cross stitch business called Gloria & Pat started in the same house. I met Gloria at a needlework trade show and we soon found out we had the Sumter house in common. After introductions, we both said, at the same time, "Did you know the house was haunted?" The ghost had come back! It bothered Gloria & Pat's employees no end. They moved their business out and finally the house was torn down and a BP filling station built on the spot.

If you should ever be invited to an exorcism, you now know what to serve. Today is the 40th anniversary of the Solstice Exorcism.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Family Quilts

Sometimes I'm asked if I come from a long line of quilters and seamstresses. People assume that because I'm a professional quilter now, I must have inherited the talent from my family. Sorry but I must disabuse you of that notion. My mother mostly taught herself to do domestic things out of articles in ladies magazines and her lifelong interest was gardening and biology. She loved plants and animals and was happiest bent over weeding a flowerbed.

That's not to say Mom, and other family members, didn't dabble in quiltmaking. The picture here was taken in Washington, KY, where my Mom lived, in the winter of 2001. Left to right: my nephew Charles Scott Marshall, his mother (and my older sister) Mary Frances Marshall, and Mom, Mary Lib Peddie. They are proudly displaying a quilt they made from Charles Scott's favorite plaid shirts.

Guys love quilts made from their own shirts. If you've been planning to make a shirting quilt some day, then the time is now--2008 would be a great year to make that happen. Here's a quick how-to:
Wash the shirts. If they wrinkly badly, press them.
Cut off the collar, placket, yoke, and sleeves. Usually the best parts (translation: least worn) parts of the shirt are mid-back to tail and the same in front.
Choose a size block and add 1/2" to that measurement. Use a rotary square tool and a sharp cutter to cut out the squares. Cut enough squares to make the quilt as large as you want.PS-don't be afraid to piece (sew together) some squares--it adds character!
If you don't have enough shirts, supplement from your stash or go shirt shopping at the Goodwill store.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Pie in Your Eye

Last March my sister Mary Frances and I met in Ohio's Amish country and had a great couple of days mooching about the countryside. We both like to visit antique stores, talk, go to quilt shops, talk, and eat in restaurants, where we talk. As we sat down to breakfast one morning in a homey cafe in Berlin (pronounced Burr-lin) we couldn't help but notice the pie menu hanging on the wall. This restaurant was famous for its pies. In Amish country, the food groups are different than on the USDA approved list of foods you should eat. You know the ubiquitous meat-vegetable-breads-fruits pyramid you learned in school? As far as I can tell, the Amish-style food pyramid features meat, gravy, noodles, jellied salads, and pie! Even as we ate our sausage, eggs, and home-made cinnamon buns, we started to drool over the pie board offerings but in a rare show of restraint, we snapped a picture of it!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

An Old-n-New Quilt

One of the drawbacks of moving and re-arranging everything in the studio is that I rediscover all my unfinished projects. Some of them I love, like the quilt top called Europa seen at right. I made that beauty for a teaching sample the last time I taught at Quilt Expo in the Netherlands--Spring 2004. Expo class #1 was hand piecing and featured the rounded faceted-looking block I'd named Bride's Brilliant, as in the table side of a brilliant-cut diamond. The other star-like pattern, the sample for class #2 on foundation-piecing, is Light of Lisbon, named after viewing the culet (pointy end) diagram of a Lisbon cut diamond. That one's pieced by machine over paper. Knowing I needed to pack light, I combined both teaching samples in one quilt!
I really do have to finish this one......

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Over the Sink

My friend Joyce was moving to New Mexico years ago. Her home garden here in Beaufort was beautiful and she urged me, "Come get all the plants you want-hardly anything will make the transition to the desert." I went over with a spade and trowel and dug to my heart's content. One of Joyce's gifts keeps giving, year after year. The paper-white narcissus flowers that lined her driveway now live in my front flowerbed. This time of year, just as everything else is drooping and dying, the hardy paper-whites poke up through the loam and bloom. It's such a joy to see them and the holidays wouldn't be the same without their wonderful perfume.

I cut the narcissus, a few at a time, and put them in the little hanging vase next to the kitchen sink where I can enjoy them as I wash dishes. Today I scouted the flowerbed--they're back! And looks like they'll be blooming just at Christmas. The picture here shows last year's narcissus. Today the kitchen curtains are green (I change them every year-) and the toy Koala bear, dropped in the dish water this summer, is no more. But otherwise it's pretty much the same over the sink--the sign still hold true and the fragrant flowers live on. Thank you Joyce.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Memory Quilt

Sometimes the antique quilts in my collection are the jumping off point for new work, as is the case with the pair in the photo. The quilt at top is an antique and the smaller one on the floor a recent work. The original quilt, a Log Cabin pattern in the Courthouse Steps variation c.1920, was an ebay buy from Georgia. Everything in that quilt, except one tiny flowered patch, was a plaid, check, or solid. It struck me as being masculine with all those shirtings. I wondered if maybe the posy print was a subtle message from the quiltmaker, as in, "See, look, here's a reminder that I made this for you-"

Memories are wonderful but sometimes painful emotions. I have good memories of my father-in-law Peter Magyar who died June, 2003. Pete usually wore plaid shirts and occasionally plaid pants too. I asked my husband to bring back from Michigan some of his dad's plaid shirts so Rod returned from that sad occasion toting a large bag of Pete's shirts and I knew some day I'd use them in a quilt.

The smaller quilt is Pete's Plaids in honor of Peter Magyar. I cut some of his old plaid shirts into bias strips and pieced them over paper foundations so the fabric wouldn't shift. My friend Fran Lindley also helped in the assembly of this quilt. The sunflower fabric had been in my stash for ages but somehow, it worked with all those funky plaids. If you're contemplating a memory quilt, do it now. It doesn't need to be complex or totally planned out--just start. Choose a simple pattern and get going. One of the things I'm discovering is that time will not wait until our creative quilt plan is all in place. I think John Lennon said, " Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans." So, just quilt it.

Monday, December 3, 2007

You Asked For It!

This is going to be short and sweet. The studio rooms are a mess today and, aside from lunch with a friend, it's slave labor labor all afternoon. Several "friends" have emailed me and wanted to see the studio. You're kidding! Online, in front of God and everybody?! Because one day you will be astonished and delighted when I show the new studio, I give you this photo of what one corner of the space looks like now. Notice the custom-made plywood shelves and the designer tubs of fabric scraps and pieces!

The tubs are the huge 52 gallon see-through plastic ones. Although some are pictured here, in reality I own 24 of these tubs and they line the other walls. So that's 24 times 52 gallons of scraps.....

Another "friend" commented that my studio could probably take a direct nuclear hit and I'd survive unscathed. Bombs away and back to work.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

In the Pink (or purple or orange)

The last post poking fun at Feng Shui got me thinking. This morning, I read an interesting story in the paper. Seems that Thailand's beloved aged king, his Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great, was recently hospitalized. An astrologer predicted that wearing the color pink would aid the monarch's health and so, 65+ million Thais have created a run on any article of pink clothing. Factories were working day and night to supply the demand. Everybody wanted King B.A. to get better. And he did. And was photographed leaving the hospital in a natty pink shirt and blazer combo. On the Feng Shui color wheel, pink is the color of love and health. But what about other colors?

I used to be a purple person. At twelve I painted one wall of my bedroom dark lavender and was starting on the other three when my mother stopped me. "One wall I can stand, "she said, "As long as it's the wall with the door so I don't have to look at it all the tim
e." She must have sensed something because, according to Feng Shui, "...purple on the wall may trigger blood disease."

The neat-o quilt pictured here is not mine but an ebay purchase. A wonderful unknown pattern made by a quilter, first name Julie, in the 1970s. She told me her daughter didn't care for the quilt and that's why she was selling it. It's a doozie and lives with me in a place of honor.

Still, I loved the color purple all through school, college, and my younger years. But after turning 50, I shifted my
color allegiance, as least as far as quilting was concerned, to orange. Feng Shui believes orange is the most social color and if you use it in your home, it will promote "good conversations and good times." I don't use it in decorating however, just quilts. OK, how about good times under the quilts.

Back to pink: I do wear it, a lot (see picture). and mix it with every other color. However, I am not adventurous when it comes to make-up. For my glam shot, I was Mary Kay'd by an expert but brought my own lipstick because I only use one, the old Revlon standby Wine With Everything.