Friday, June 29, 2007

The Table

Now that I have a usable dining room table the inevitable has happened: it has been loaded up with a sewing machine, some bits of fabric I’m piecing into scrap blocks, and a stack of books I’m reading for a course I’ll teach in the fall. I’m using my Janome, which is permanently installed in the sewing room, to machine quilt my last QOV, so I decided to set up my Featherweight on the dining room table so I can do some piecing when I feel the urge.
I haven’t used the Featherweight in quite awhile. I’ve really come to love the automatic thread cutter and all the other luxuries of the new machine. But the Featherweight is as decorative as it is useful, and I like seeing it on the table. I also like seeing my work in progress displayed in my home’s public space.
A table is a powerful thing. I recently had a party for a friend and colleague who won a campus award. People from across the university were invited. In preparation, I cleaned my house, and especially the living room, so that people could have a variety of places to sit and visit and eat. However, most of the guests stayed in the kitchen around my green table and an expanding array of food (it was a potluck). Guests stood around the table two and three deep and only a few people sat comfortably in the living room. It was as if the kitchen table was a magnet. There were plenty of plates so that guests could serve themselves food and move around the house, I had even set up chairs on the porch, but the kitchen table remained the focal point.

The kitchen table is an important icon of African American feminism. Rather than exclusively a place of women’s oppression, it is recognized as a space where women build community and solve problems. It is a place where women’s confidences and wisdom are articulated and shared. The kitchen table is a space for spiritual healing and transformation, for nurturing and restoration.
The dining room table, in contrast, (for those of us who have one) is a formal space where we set the scene for meals that mark important days. But between formal celebrations, the dining room table gets reclaimed for everyday uses. The work of the kitchen spills out into dining room. It is a platform for both creative and mundane tasks.
A lot of dining room tables sport sewing machines. In my previous homes it was the only space where I could set up a sewing machine, even if I had to take it down daily so people could sit and eat there. It’s not coincidental that I’ve also used the dining room table over the years as a place to write. The dining room table is the crossroads of the domestic and the creative, of the familial and the individual. It can be the space in the house where we can claim even a temporary space for our creative lives.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Different Kind of Orphan Block

I love orphan blocks and orphan quilt tops. Finn has started a fun challenge on orphans that you should check out.

I collect not only orphan blocks and tops, but also orphan embroidery projects. There's something very poignant to me about an incomplete project of any kind. They're full of dreams and hopes unfulfilled, but by completing them, we can close that loop and fulfill the vision of the maker.

I'm on the verge of finishing this little quilt for my sister's birthday. It has an orphan piece of embroidery as a focal point. A few months ago, I found in a thrift shop an unfinished stamped cross-stitch kit of Holly Hobby from the 70s. She's an old favorite of mine and of my sister. I finished the kit and then pulled some complementary fabrics from my stash for a simple 50x50 quilt. I deliberately included some bits of that old vintage calico, and the binding strip uses up the last of my supply of red. The framing of the embroidery is uneven and I decided that fit the style of the quilt. If you try something like this, interface the embroidery before you trim it up because linen and loose weave cotton are very unstable. I'm currently machine quilting it in straight lines on the diagonal and I'm using a 100% cotton batt, because I love that old fashioned drape.

While visiting one of my favorite thrift shops last week I came upon two items I've been scouting ebay for. One is a scroll embroidery frame. I've collected a couple of larger crewel embroidery kits that would be better to do on a frame, and the one I found came with not one, but two orphan projects and all the wool yarn needed to complete them.
Now these projects are not the kind that I would intentionally buy, but they came with the frame so I took them gladly. I like house motifs, but the kits are for long stitch, which is pretty boring. I'll probably complete the one on the frame, but the other I'm not sure about right now.

I also got this skein of wool yarn for 95 cents, and four unopened packages of stamped quilt blocks in a pattern that is not too hideous. I don't know why I have this affinity for stamped cross stitch and I love those quilts made from stamped blocks. I have enough in this pattern for a twin quilt, 24 blocks. I'm going to need some long winter nights to get through this one. Or maybe it's a summer project since one block at a time isn't too much to hold in the heat of the afternoon. I'm sure the original owners of these projects had the exact same visions. See, these things are the stuff of dreaming.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Summer Projects

Last week I painted my living room. When I moved into this house 9 years ago, all the walls were white. The living-dining room is now a light camel. The hall and entry way are terracota. The dining room used to have the table pushed up against the wall and we used it for a computer table for the kids. The computer is now on a desk upstairs, and I got my dining room back. The quilt, of course, was made by moi, and the black and white photos were taken by my daughter. Those are my smaller Madonna quilts in the hall. I was planning to paint these chairs black, but I'm sort of sick of painting right now.
Curtains are next. I have the fabric, I just have to sit down and sew them. Not as fun as quilting.

I'm planning my next 12x12x12 quilt, following my bird theme and being inspired by Finn's recent posts about using orphan blocks. My take on orphans is a bit different. I found this one block, which is an orphan because having made one (wonky) hand-pieced pickle dish block, I never wanted to make another. But I recently retrieved it from the bottom of the drawer...
...and paired it with these drawings, which are inspired from some Mexican ceramics. I'm off on my next bird quilt. Let's see what develops...

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Folly of Stash Reduction

Here's a shot of the quilt I was making while using up a sizable portion of my stash of brown fabrics. The lovely embroidered blocks were made by Debra, and the pattern is inspired by one I saw in an Australian magazine. The inner and outer borders were also conveniently from my stash, but before I decided to use them, (the blue one was hiding in the blue drawer, even though it fit perfectly in this brown quilt) I foolishly doubted I had anything that would do, so I went out and bought these fabrics

So much for stash reduction, right? Maybe we should call it stash refreshment instead. I think I'll use one of the dark browns for the binding. If I don't already have the perfect fabric in the brown drawer already, right? This quilt top is now finished. The borders are sewn on, and it's joined the line of tops in the closet waiting to be quilted.

I've been weeding through my stash and converting fabrics I don't think I'll use into strips so that I can crochet another rag rug. The first one was made from old t-shirts, and I'm happy to report that it washes very well and that after the first washing it doesn't fray at all. These cotton strips were cut at 3/4 of an inch, so I'm hoping for less of a struggle pulling the stitches through than last time. Here's a link to the post with a picture of the first rug.
There are lots of patterns on the web for making bags and such out of plastic bags you cut into strips just like you do to make rag rugs. Here's a bag I made. Guess what I use it to store?

Yes, those are balls of plastic strips waiting to be made into another bag. The New York Times comes delivered in bags this lovely shade of blue. How nice of them to use such an appealing color.

Sweater Genesis

  A few years ago I learned to harvest yarn from old wool sweaters.  I don't do it so much anymore, with the exception of if I find...