Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Folk School, Part 2

Waking early when at John C. Campbell Folk School is no hardship. The views are beautiful, lots of people walk in the morning, and afterward a substantial breakfast plus an ocean of tea and coffee to set you up right for a hard day of quilting. There were even a few breaks in the week that didn't involve quilting.

A stroll through the herb garden was a nice field trip. A few raspberries were left on the vines.

In the middle of the week, an enthusiastic duo of border collies, Suki and Bess, came to the east lawn and gave an energetic demonstration of sheep herding. Suki (seen here) was the more experienced dog and started the show.

Bess finally got off the leash and ran so fast she was a blur! The sheep were still unimpressed.
And of course the week wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Brasstown Store. I got my T-shirt and apron, both emblazoned with 'Possum-the other OTHER white meat.' The apron, by the way, glows in the dark!

My friend Penny Prichard came with a project already in mind. The 'plaid' theme was merely coincidental as she dumped large bags of flannel plaid shirts out when asked about her fabrics. Her mission: make a memory quilt for her friend Elaine. Bob--Elaine's husband and Penny's friend--had suddenly passed away--these were his favorite shirts and Penny was determined to make the quilt in a week.

I was dubious. A large quilt in a week? Sewing with springy well-worn flannels from old shirts? I should have known better. Not only did Penny finish the quilt top as planned but we found that at the Show-and-Share session last day of Scottish week, non-quilters reverently touched her quilt and were quite affected by the sentiment of making a quilt from a loved one's clothing.

Penny sent this picture of Elaine when she got the quilt. Boy, is this one a winner!

                                                                    Marla Baden went full-steam ahead with her star wall hanging. She's going on to applique vines and flowers on two sides of the quilt. When she sends another picture I'll share it.

Betty Belanger made a wall hanging using rather unfamiliar colors but grew to like her piece. We loved it.
      Susan McLaughlin from New York scored with her bull's eye quilt in shades of tan, gold,and purple.

On the long ride home, Penny and I talked about the experience. Yep, I'd do it again in a minute. At Tara-on-the-Tracks, I took a picture of the beautiful window in Penny's dining room. The builder of her 1912 house, a wealthy cotton broker, had commissioned this window to commemorate his livelihood. It's four cotton blossoms.

Then south of Kinston, I stopped at a roadside produce stand and turned around to see a flowering cotton field. We quilters work with cotton fabric all the time but rarely consider where it comes from. Cotton in North Carolina is in high bloom in early September and only weeks away from harvesting.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Quilts-n-Kilts , Part 1 (Teaching at the Folk School again)

Earlier this month I traveled to Brasstown, North Carolina to teach at John C. Campbell Folk School again. Had a blast! The news and pictures will make for two full blog posts because there's so much to talk about and to see. The juxtaposition of the kilted blacksmith (who wanted to see what we were doing since I'd told him we fondled fabric-) with Betty Belanger's String Star wall hanging on show-n-tell day about says it all. Little did he know he was in danger of getting a nice patch cut out of his kilt...

The class was titled In Praise of Plaids and of course was on during Scottish Heritage Week. My traveling companion and able assistant in class was Penny Prichard who lives in Tara-on-the-tracks, a huge white columned house sitting right on the side of the railroad running through downtown Benson, NC. She and her husband David no longer even hear the trains but I can tell you that at least six trains come barreling through Benson every night!

As an instructor, I got to stay in the lovely little Log House and saw this view every morning as I hiked to breakfast--not hardship duty. JCC is well-known for its great meals and thankfully, while the Scottish cuisine students did make a pass at faux haggis, we were spared that experience in the dining room.

Class enrollment was six enthusiastic students and we had a great time. The first evening I unrolled my masterpiece--a queen-size sampler quilt top using almost all plaids. I was so proud of having thought of a way to utilize diverse quilt blocks and yet unify them in one quilt. I hoped it would be an inspiration for students to try different blocks and of course to use plaids. The handout packet had the graph for the sampler and six different blocks to try. Boy, did I learn a huge lesson--actually two lessons. The first is this : when you make an enormous quilt, it can be intimidating instead of inspiring.

So how big was the plaid quilt? It measured 82" wide and 116" long. As I hung it on the design wall of the classroom, the quilt was so big it had to be hung sideways and thus somewhat destroyed the effect since directional blocks, like the Schoolhouse block in the middle, lay horizontally. Viewers had to tilt their heads to take it in--not the dazzling result I'd hoped for.

This photo was taken after returning from JC Campbell. The quilt top is stretched out in the parking lot behind the studio and I'm up on a ladder. The plaid quilt top officially has a name now:
the Big Ass Sampler Quilt.

This is the nameplate block in lower right.

So what was the second lesson I learned? That you can never tell exactly what will take folks' fancy. Turns out an antique quilt I'd brought as an example of shirting plaids swept half the students off their feet and that's the quilt they wanted to make. Meet the Oklahoma String Star quilt, the quilt that inspired half the class to work with plaids and  love 'em.

This c.1920 quilt was an auction find. I rarely show it when teaching since it's heavier than a dead mule (translation: it's VERY heavy) and takes up too much space in a suitcase. But since Penny and I drove (OK, she drove, I rode like a sack of potatoes-) I could bring extra sample quilts to the JC class. Serves me right-- first day of class, I found myself drafting an enormous 45-degree star leg so people could paper-piece over it with strips. While half the class took off on their string-pieced-over-paper-eight-point-enormous-stars, the remaining three went their individual ways. 

Paula from Georgia came with a project in mind. Turns out she had more diverse fabrics than the quilt shown in the book and seeing as how it was her first fling with a design wall, keeping all those triangles straight was a challenge.

After a night's visit from the Quilt Fairy, her layout came together and she charged on. Truly, her quilt turned out prettier than the one shown in the book!

Then there was Hilda, also a Georgia girl. who had taken my class two years ago. She chose the Easy String Star pattern (four points) and started to produce blocks in her beloved batiks with the occasional nod to the plaid theme. At 88 years young, Hilda worked circles around the rest of us.

                                              I want to be like Hilda when I grow up.

Stay tuned for another episode of

next week on this blog. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Family Birthday Memories for Beth

     When I was a kid, the day of our birth was special. Not because we might get a lot of gifts. With five kids, that rarely happened. I don't ever remember getting any birthday gift in particular except my first bicycle. That was when I turned seven. Like many whining young girls, I'd been going on about a pony. I had a friend who lived in a trailer park, for pity's sake, and SHE had a pony! That's the year I got the bike. Dad spent most of the day trying to teach me to ride without falling over, training wheels and all, into the hard gravel driveway. Eventually I could wobble twenty feet or so without flopping onto the rocks but I was a scraped-up mess for days. 

    Mostly our birthday was extra-special because Mom, in her most energetic and enthusiastic way, would loudly announce, "It's your day!" She made a big deal out of letting you think you could do what you wanted all day long. You could make big person decisions! This was brainwashing of course because if you were unreasonable and announced you weren't taking a bath or didn't want to do an assigned chore, your self-will if contrary (birthday or not) was immediately 'set aright.' Then you pondered just how much power you actually had as a birthday girl (or boy). However, with Mom's magic, she still could make you feel that you ruled the domestic world, in a small way, for that one day. 

Want cinnamon toast for breakfast? You got it! 

Want to wear your favorite striped shirt with your polka dot shorts? Fine! 

Go up a tree and read a book most of the day? OK-just come down for dinner, please. 

     The best part was that Mom was a terrific cake maker. I don't remember her producing any wonderful pies but when it came to cakes, she excelled. Mom considered using a mix was cheating and only succumbed to the lure of Pillsbury in later years. She was proud of doing the whole shebang-- a multi-layered cake (flavor of your choice), the eggy vanilla filling, and the icing by hand. She unrolled a whole kit of icing tips and little bags and could obtain any color of the rainbow with careful drops of food coloring stirred into white icing and ranged around her in a multitude of small bowls. No artist ever mixed a paint palette more carefully than my Mom concocted shades of cake icing. 

     Your birthday cake was decorated with some colorful appropriate theme involving lots of icing roses and leaves and then the cake was kept a secret from you until it was brought in after the evening meal. The lights in the dining room turned low, the candles on the cake lit in the kitchen, and then Mom came banging through the door with this flaming cake, her face beaming, as she led the family in a loud rendition of "Happy birthday to you-". 
Tomorrow is my niece Bethany's 27th birthday. I don't have a card but thought she might enjoy this: do what you want all day Beth-you have my permission. I remember you when you looked like this--God, you were a pixie of a baby! Come to think of it--you still are!  

   Happy 27th and many more.
   Love from Aunt Pep.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Big Mama and Big Mama Quilt

     OK-the upcoming Mother's Day holiday is a tad bittersweet for me. I'm not a mother (unless you count numerous animals I've fostered over the years) and my own's been gone since 2002. Mom's death was unexpected. Even at 81, Mary Wetzel Peddie was a force of nature and somehow I couldn't picture life without her. Frankly, I took her death hard and realize in looking back that I spent the fall/winter of 2002/2003 in a depressed state. Finally between my husband and a good friend's prodding, they helped me 'fess up to the funk I'd fallen into and to try to do something about it. The turning point was this slim little book called Understanding Mourning. It made a world of difference. I find most of my copies used on Amazon now and send a copy to any friend in need.
     But Mom still creeps into my thoughts as I work, especially as how she was the one who shamed me into buying and using my first computer. She had taught herself DOS way back when and was determined not to be left behind in the digital age. One small problem with Mom's love affair with her computer was that my sister Mary Frances had to clean up her ebay debts for weeks after her death since Mom was always trolling for treasures online!
     Fast forward to October 2010, almost nine years to the day that Mother passed away. The folks at the Missouri Star Quilt Company contacted me in a panic. They'd designed a Charm Pack program based on my little Apple Core template I'd made years before for the EZ Quilting Company, a subsidiary of Wrights. Wrights had discontinued the item and Missouri Star asked if I might do another Apple Core template for them. No problem but I did redraft the Apple Core shape to have a slightly shallower inward/outward curve. The Apple Core shape just got way easier to sew! Missouri Star and I also went for a much larger version of the Apple Core template. We thought that with gorgeous large-scale prints, the bigger Apple Core would be newbie-friendly and also lend itself to the fabric cut called a Layer Cake. Missouri sells both sizes retail and wholesale to shops. Go here http://www.missouriquiltco.com/catalogsearch/result/?q=apple+core+template .

Both sizes of the new, improved Apple Core template have been a hit. Here's the small size, made into a teddy bear's quilt and some other pictures of the large size in a quilt top.

By the way, instead of the traditional 999 pieces for a classic Charm Quilt, my Big Mama Apple Core template needs a mere 99. This is a crib or wall hanging-size version with 25 pieces.

My first quilt top made with the Big Mama was from favorite fabrics and one of those fabulous-I-don't-know-what-to-do-with-it-fabrics in my stash. The zebra in the middle was cut from one of Mom's blouses since she was also an animal lover and the zebra was her all time favorite mammal.

The picture was taken somewhere around 1971 at Mom's place of business in Washington, Kentucky.
And if you want to get really nostalgic, this snap dates from my very first passport picture in 1952. We're in about the same positions and Mom is looking directly out into the viewer's eyes.

Happy Mother's Day to you all.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Handwork--it's catching!

     In March I taught at the New Jersey Quilt Festival. As one of several teachers, we were paired with a roomie and that's when Laura Wasilowski and I got to know each other. If you looked at our work, you might think we'd be apples and oranges but we have lots in common it turns out. Both of us try not to take ourselves too seriously. We found we could trade paperback books (for airplane reading) but the big news was that we discovered we both liked hand sewing. 

Laura's latest book Fanciful Stitches, Colorful Quilts had just come out and to my surprise, the book features hand sewing touches.

     In addition to being Professor Emeritus of the Chicago School of Fusing, Laura loves hand embroidery. We got to talking about needles and here's a mini-interview I did with Laura. 

Pepper: " What type of needles did you use when stitching the quilts in your new book?"

Laura: "You'd never know by looking at me but I'm really fussy about the embroidery needles I use when stitching my little fused art quilts. Most of the
stitching on the quilts is done with  my hand-dyed Size 8 threads. My favorite needle for a size 8 pearl cotton is a size 4 Richard Hemmings embroidery needle. These excellent needles are from Colonial Needles http://www.colonialneedle.com/ and they slide through the fabric like
butter. (Not that I've ever sewn butter.)"

Pepper: "Do you use a hoop when adding embroidery stitches?"

Laura: "No, Pepper, I am a totally hoopless stitcher. If you place a raw-edged
fused quilt into a hoop, it may stretch the fabric and fray the edges. So I
avoid a hoop and add embroidery stitches just through the batting and quilt
top. If you'd like more fascinating tips for stitching a fused art quilts
on my blog under Thread-u-cation.

Pepper: "Thanks Laura!"

To my blog readers: you might not have known it but you're on a blog tour. So, if you comment on this blog posting, your email will be put into the pot and you'll have the chance to win a copy of Laura's new book. The offer lasts until 9 PM this evening April 30. Good luck!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ocracoke Chapter 2

Getting back to this second blog posting about teaching on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina seemed impossible. The Ocracoke trip was my only teaching trip in January 2011 but come February, I'd started to run. Short version: teaching and work commitments picked way up. Looking back,  the whole Ocracoke experience was about a re-commitment to work. To be able to work for three blessed days with the same group of happy people toward a common goal was quilting bliss. Sounds idyllic, right? Makes you want to move to the island, right?

Before you sell your house and set sail for Ocracoke, you ought to know a few things about the place and its people. Although connected to the mainland by ferry service at both the south and north ends of the island, you never get to Ocracoke by accident. In the summer it's overrun by tourists. Food and gas cost more here. There's always the problem of what to do if a medical emergency arises. Especially in the winter, people learn to be self-reliant. It doesn't hurt if you enjoy your own company more than being in a crowd. You don't run down to the corner store for a loaf of fresh Italian bread--you make it yourself. There is no Starbucks. Lori, holding her block, is multi-talented. She appeared every day with a different hat, sweater, or scarf. She had spun, dyed, and knitted them herself and is planning to open a store on the island come summer.

This group boasts a very diverse gathering of personalities. The woman peering over her sewing machine is Susan M. Dodd, a well-known author of novels about difficult women. Susan once said, "Luck is largely a matter of paying attention. " That's the next thing I'm going to embroider on a pillow. I found out she was its author by accident when I Googled her and found I'd copied the line on a sticky note and slapped it on the side of my computer monitor over a year ago.

Other quilters in the group were artists, musicians, stain glass workers, teachers, librarians, and at least one psychiatrist. Remember the radio show tag line --"... where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." The word 'Ocracoke' might well be substituted for Lake Woebegone. Being independent types, a number of people decided to hand piece the block rather than machine stitch. Frances (hands seen in the picture) did exacting work and used a Viyella wool plaid as her Lily block's background.

The hand stitching contingent wisely staked out a table with excellent lighting near the kitchen.

By the end of Day 2, some folks, like Genvieve, were ready to baste their Carolina Lily wall hangings. This group really moved along.

Other pictures include Merle's block. Merle is always so fashionably dressed that within her circle of quilting friends, the term 'merle' has come to mean downright spiffy. She was the only person to use metallic fabrics in her block.

On the last day, it was obvious this group needed a little diversion from the task at hand so I taught them how to do the folded Log Cabin block as it's done on the Isle of Man. We used the group's plaids. Busy beavers every one-- a group shot of the blocks we made that morning.

After lunch we all lined up and had a group photo. Here are all the                                                    Carolina Lily blocks in their glory and the group members grinning broadly.

Saturday morning came all too quickly and it was time for me to leave on the ferry going back to the Down East mainland--bye-bye Ocracoke.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Quilting on Ocracoke Island, Chapter 1

A long time ago (20 years or so) Rod and I traveled to North Carolina from our home in Michigan for a much-needed vacation. We met in Charlotte, rented a car, and doodled across the state. We crossed onto the Outer Banks at Roanoke and after a spin to Kitty Hawk and the Wright Brothers Memorial,  found ourselves driving south on Route 12. It was early May and the weather was brisk but always sunny. Finally we took the ferry to Ocracoke Island and stayed there several days. While visiting the historic lighthouse, I overheard someone talking about the quilting group that met the next day. I wangled an invitation, we stayed another night, and I  attended the group. The ladies met in the schoolteacher's home. Mostly we simply chatted, worked at a few bits of hand stitching, and had coffee and cookies. I was impressed by the unusual wood paneling of the dining room. My hostess said that shortly after she and her husband married in the 1930s,  a yacht had sunk off Ocracoke and as the most recently wed couple, they were entitled to pick through the wreckage. They salvaged the teak decks and used them to panel the dining room of their cottage!

While on Ocracoke Rod and I relaxed and talked and let the sea air and vast ocean horizons do their magic. We decided to work toward moving away from Michigan. While neither of us had ties to North Carolina, we felt we would like to move to this state. Ocracoke was the turning point. This year 2011 marks the 15th year since coming to North Carolina. When I got an invitation to teach for the Ocracoke Quilting Group, I was delighted to have an excuse to go visit this magical place again. I traveled over last Tuesday and Rod joined me Wednesday.

On Ocracoke we stayed at a cottage called Charlotte's Daughter owned by Marcy Brenner and her husband Lou Castro. The picture makes the cottage seem like an average two-story house. It isn't. Below the green porch is another story, the stilts of the house enclosed by screens, so the cottage is really three stories high.  It reminded me a little of Babba Yagga's hut of Russian folktales--in the nicest way of course. Skylights in the ceiling of the bedroom let in both moon light and sun light. This place has good karma and everything you'd need for a visit or vacation. When not quilting or renting cottages, Lou and Marcy are musicians and are the duo Coyote (http://www.coyotemusic.net ) and also play with the group Molasses Creek. Here's a link to a YouTube video where you can see Lou and Marcy and Molasses Creek at work http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWxxQMby9Lk&feature=player_embedded .

What impressed me about the quilting group on Ocracoke was that the women who took the class were fearless. A few were experienced quilters, like Eleanor who had a 95th birthday which seemed to stretch to a month-long celebration. A few regarded the rotary cutter as a foreign tool to be tamed but after a little practice cutting got right into the spirit. We also had a nice show-n-tell of Ocracoke quilts from a private family collection.
The Ocracoke group had a large quilting stash folks could draw fabrics from but most also added their own materials. Some people sewed by machine and others chose to piece by hand. The pattern was the classic North Carolina Lily and I'd emphasized plaids in the class description since plaids were the only fabrics woven in North Carolina and are always associated with this state.

My own black and white blocks for an eventual quilt were coming along but the first NC Lily block I made (orange of course) became the class sample.