Here in New England we’re holding on to the last of our color—a few red and orange leaves cling to sugar maples, a few purple asters still wave at the back of the garden, the last of the season’s tomatoes make a stand in the raised bed where they catch a few strands of golden sunlight in these shorter days. When winter comes, I miss the riotous color of summer and fall, but there is an attraction in the season’s simple palette. I find myself thinking of black and white quilts with only a few sparse accents of bright color.
The When I think of the colors of winter, I am mindful of the words of Hal Borland. A naturalist and author of more than 30 books, he saw with the eye of a poet and wrote evocatively of the outdoors for the New York Times for many years. Of the hues of winter, he once wrote, “The color, we say, is gone, remembering vivid October and verdant May. What we really mean is that the spectacular color has passed and we now have the quiet tones of winter around us…" "The color is still there, though its spectrum has somewhat narrowed. Perhaps it takes a winter eye to see it, an eye that can forget October and not yearn for May too soon.” The colors of winter have their own appeal if we know how to look.
Here's another recipe for when your quilt friends are coming over for a bit of shared sewing time. This pear tart is easy to make--especially if you use a cheater crust, yet looks as if it came right out of a Parisian patisserie. It is delicious served either warm or cold. And, while apple pie really needs a scoop of vanilla ice cream to come into its own, this pear tart is excellent all by itself.
Pears are loaded with essential nutrients, fiber and antioxidants. Yet, when we go to the supermarket, we're likely to see far more varieties of apples than we do pears. Perhaps that is partly because pears in the grocery store are hard as rocks. Unlike many fruits, they ripen best off the tree. So buy those pears at your grocer's but don't expect them to be fully ripe for a day or two after getting them home. You can use fairly hard pears in this recipe with good success. Best enjoyed with quilting friends.
Unbaked pie shell
6 medium pears
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup margarine or butter
4 Tablespoons white flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Peel the pears and slice each one into about 6-8 slices. Arrange the slices in circles, starting with a large circle on the outside, then making a slightly overlapping circle on the inside, and one more circle in the very center. Melt the margarine or butter. In a bowl, mix together the sugars, melted margarine, flour, beaten eggs and vanilla, then pour it evenly over the pears.
3. Put the tart on parchment paper on a cookie sheet (in case of spills), and back for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for another hour. Let cool slightly before serving.
Signature quilts have a long history and tradition. They were an especially treasured and poignant gift in the 1800s, when many Americans moving from east to west did not expect to see loved ones often again, if ever. They were frequently made and given to beloved ministers who moved on to another parish. Signature quilts can be a very moving gift even today.
At our wedding 20 years ago, I asked guests to sign muslin triangles using permanent pigma pens, intending to create a wall hanging with a flying geese border. When my husband drew a sketch looking across the water from Monhegan Island, where we spent our honeymoon, I knew what the center image of the wall hanging would be. Today, that quilted “guest book” is an irreplaceable treasure for us, bearing the names of many people we loved who have passed on to what our old minister called “larger life.”
Recently I was asked to help out with a group quilt. The organizers in charge of the project decided to put what I believe to be the most important part of the quilt—the signatures—on the back where they will not normally be seen. The rationale for this, as I understand it, was that there will be lots of signatures and some of them will be messy, which will mar the overall beauty of the surface design on the front.
Indeed. Some of those signatures will come from five-year-olds with grubby fingers. Some will come from elderly hands that write in a spidery scribble. Some will come from adolescents with ink-stained thumbs. Some will be written in aggressive capital letters and others will be carefully inscribed with a calligraphic flourish. Some might be paw prints instead of written names. Signatures, like life, are messy.
Hiding the mess on the back is a little like the way I speed-clean my house for unexpected company—clearing the tables of books and papers, chucking them into bags and relegating them behind the closed doors of the pantry. What if my papers and my books are the best of me? No matter, my guests see only a tidy surface. Yes, I know about The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but I still think neatness can be overrated. Especially when it comes at the expense of human emotion and engagement. Where do you think the signatures should go? Let me know what you think.
My teenage daughter has a part-time job as a counselor at a local museum. Each year, they have a creative fundraiser. They ask us (members and friends, many of whom are creative themselves) to make a silent auction item around a specific theme. All the creators and interested others gather for an evening, and walk around admiring and bidding on each others’ creations. Good fun and raises a nice sum for a great museum.
Here's an image of what I'm striving for. It’s small and do-able in a short space of time. And, still very much in process, so I'll keep you posted. How do you mix old and new in your quilts?
I was already thinking about colors as I walked through our regional flower show with my husband and friends. The richness of color was everywhere—from the brilliant yellow daffodils in a demonstration garden, to the dusky pink flowering plants for sale at a vendor, to the emerald green of mints at an exhibiting herb farm. Then I spotted a woman wearing a beautiful shawl in purples, blues and blue-greens that stopped me in my tracks. The colors beckoned. I had a surprisingly visceral reaction. Law-abiding citizen that I am, I actually imagined grabbing it from her shoulders and running off with it. Shocking! I don't think of myself as one who covets. I may admire what someone else has, but this was different. I felt an energetic need to wrap myself in those same colors. Needless to say, I restrained myself, but only barely.
Have you ever had a similar experience—where a color was so attractive to you that you would do almost anything to ingest it or own it or drape it around you? Why is it that some colors evince such a compelling reaction in us?
It’s no surprise that humans have strong responses to color. Sometimes those reactions stem from practical experience. From an early age, we learn to discriminate between foods that look safe and appetizing and those that look spoiled. We also learn what colors we look or feel “good” in—for instance those with a complexion that tends to red might choose to dress in cool colors to downplay that tendency. Those with pale skin might prefer wearing warm golds and reds for the same reason. Those with dark skin might feel they stand out more by wearing light shades like yellow, pink or peach.
Scientists have proposed that, in general, people favor colors associated with clear sky and clean water (blue and cyans for example) and are repulsed by colors associated with negative reactions (brown, for example, which is associated with rotting food and feces.)
The upshot seems to be that our experiences with color shape our color preferences. Understanding why we are drawn to some colors and not so much to others can inform our color choices. Sometimes it’s hard to put a less preferred color with one we love—but stepping outside our typical color choices, especially when choosing colors for our next quilt project, can help us grow and develop our color sense. To find out more about your color preferences, try taking a color/personality test. Or, see what one source has to say about what your color preferences reveal about you.
Whatever you do, the next time you see someone wearing your favorite color, just tell them how nice they look. And leave it at that.
Here's my plan for celebrating a snowy day. Take out just one project (not all of them) and lay it out on the dining room table. Now, set yourself a goal that’s doable in a few hours. Not easy, I know, but try. Gather all your tools and materials and get started. Take a break after a couple of hours and make some scones. (Recipe follows.) Drink tea with scones and marmalade. Go back to sewing refreshed. Now, wasn’t that better than just about anything you’ve done recently?
Brown Bread Scones
We’ve all watched “Antiques Roadshow” and heard the expert say, with regretful voice, “If only you hadn’t cleaned/painted/fixed/restored this item, it would be worth thousands. As it is, I’m afraid it’s only worth $3.99.” But truly, for some objects, the value lies solely in the memories they invoke. I’m conserving my friend’s tattered piecework pillow cover that her mom made from her (my friend’s) clothing as a child. Trust me, it has very little value as an antique. But its value as a memento is quite high. As quilters, we know why it’s best to use only new fabrics in your projects. This lovely little piece, with its shredded calico triangles, bears that out.
My friend is not about to hire a professional conservator, so I offered to try my hand at keeping this little treasure alive. I wouldn’t exactly call this a restoration, because it is so badly damaged, it can’t really be put back to usable condition, but I am doing my best to preserve it for the pleasure it will give my friend and her family.
First, I gently wetted an edge of one of the red triangles to see if the color was fast. It was, so I washed the piece using Retroclean with my friend’s permission. If you are unsure about using a product like this, you can also try my grandmother’s recipe: warm water and lemon juice to remove stains from old textiles. Or just leave the stains as part of what life does to a quilt. Once the piece was completely dry, I ironed it gently and began sewing up some of the holes and tears. I used short, single strands of off-white silk thread run through Thread Heaven (one of my fav products!) to keep it from tangling as I worked. I took the tiniest possible stitches to catch frayed fabric edges and tack them to an off-white muslin foundation that I added.
The worst thing about doing this kind of work is that it is boring, tedious and takes an egregiously long time. I was surprised to find that I would start in on a tiny triangle, thinking it would take a few minutes and an hour later, when my TV show had ended, I was still working on the same triangle.
That said, your mother’s pillow or your great aunt’s quilt are your family’s cultural artifacts. Our video-obsessed next generation may not care about them so much right now. But when they are our age, it may well be a different story. So preserving family objects along with their history is worth doing. Just be prepared for the time factor and do your homework. Like painting a room, the most time-consuming part is the preparation. Before you even begin sewing, your piece will need to be aired, vacuumed (if not in tatters) and washed, so read up on the best recommendations before proceeding. Here’s some advice about washing old quilts and DIY suggestions for repairing them. There are some good videos available and more good videos. See what else you can learn on the Internet or at your local quilt shop.
With the leaves gone, you can really appreciate the network of branches and twigs on the trees around you. Trees are amazing. They have inspired some of the most enduring motifs of all time. They have adorned textiles, jewelry and other craft forms since early civilizations. Many of the trees we live with are older than the oldest human around. Yet, they are vulnerable—to utility companies that want to down every tree in sight, to invasive insect species for which they have no defenses, and to people who remove trees simply because they don’t want to be bothered raking leaves.
How do I love trees? Let me count the ways. Trees shade our homes and keep them cool in summer. Trees take in carbon dioxide and fight climate change. They provide oxygen, prevent soil erosion and enhance property values. Want some more reasons to love trees?
Walk around your city, town or neighborhood and find a tree to inspire your quilting. In the meantime, here are some ideas to help you get started thinking about trees.
Ever look at a messy room that needs to be cleaned and just want to walk away? Why is it that we sometimes have such a hard time starting a task? The same can be true of starting a quilt project--even though that is a happier endeavor to contemplate for most of us quilters than housework. Even so, if you were to consider the project as a whole, of the need to search out a particular fabric or sewing tool, of the hours you will spend sitting at that uncomfortable chair you put at your sewing machine table, or the hours you will invest in quilting the project after the surface design is done, then you might not ever start. What is it that carries us over the transom of visualized effort to lay out our fabrics, our colors, our rotary cutters and tracing paper, and have a successful launch?
The key is to get inspired to be creative, but how do you do that? One way is to start with your environment. Everyone has the ability to be creative. Many of us have been conditioned to believe that creativity is some arcane trait that only a lucky few are born with. In fact, creativity can be learned and should be taught, but often isn't. You can, however, set about fostering your own creativity. There are plenty of strategies out there, but the one I want to talk about right now is environment. Having an environment that is conducive to creativity is one way to ensure a succesful project launch. It's why artists have a studio, why writers have an office. It is also more than a place. You don't need a fancy room with neatly stacked shelves of fabric. Your own designated corner of a common room in your house or apartment will do. A table where you can lay out fabrics and tools without fear of them getting moved or mussed is important. Having stimulus in the form of images, colors, tools can be a great motivator. Just as critical as the physical space is time and support. You can't create in a quarter hour and you can't create when continually interrupted. Getting those around you to provide their support and enable you to have an uninterrupted hour a day might be easier than you think. If it's not an option, perhaps you can rearrange some part of your day to make it happen. Get up before the rest of the household is awake, or forego that tv show; you might be surprised at what you can accomplish. As my high school English teacher used to say, "give me a little bit of freedom and I can do a lot with it!"
It's been said that poetry will save the world, not commerce. Frankly, I’m betting on commerce. Once or twice a year, I assess my Kiva account and choose another female sewing entrepreneur to support. I’ve written about Kiva before, but in case some of my readers missed past posts, it’s worth another look. Kiva is a non-profit organization that connects people through lending to alleviate poverty. It’s simple. You visit www.kiva.org, read profiles of some of the small business people in developing nations around the world and choose someone to support. Over time, your loan is repaid (hopefully) and sometimes, the money has already been lent and you are helping the person to repay their loan to a micro-lender. By making a small investment -- as little as $25 – you can help create an opportunity for someone somewhere in the world.
In the past, I’ve been hard-pressed to find a quilter to support. I’ve supported a couple of different women entrepreneurs who own their own sewing businesses. But this time around, I was gratified to run onto Manuchehra.
Her Kiva profile tells us that Manuchehra lives in Tajikistan. She is a 47-year-old mother of two children, a wife, and “simply wonderful person.” I like that because I know so many wonderful people who are quilters. I imagine that Manuchehra, despite living in the poorest country in Central Asia where more than two-thirds of the population lives below the poverty line, has some things in common with the quilters I know. Her profile goes on to say that she is a good hostess and cooks deliciously. Manuchehra also has a talent for sewing and trading. In addition to clothing, Manuchehra sews and sells “kurpa,” a form of quilt. She has been using the same old sewing machine to make kurpa for ten years (I have an old sewing machine too) and seeks to buy a new one. A sewing machine is expensive in her culture and I’m glad to know that she will get one. Kiva doesn’t just connect people through lending. It connects them through hope. Entrepreneurs like Manuchehra hope for a path to a better life, and we lenders hope for a better world, one small step at a time.
The Unfinished Quilter
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