Thursday, March 26, 2015

The DAR Museum in Washington, D.C.

How is it that I lived in Washington, DC, for a couple of years yet never found my way to the DAR Museum? The Daughters of the American Revolution is, according to their web site, a "service organization dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America's future through better education for children." Membership is limited to women who can demonstrate lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution.

As part of their mission to preserve American history, the DAR has amassed a large collection of early American decorative arts, now displayed in the the beaux arts building which first served as their headquarters. Adjacent to to the ellipse and the Old Executive Office Building, it is close to the mall and the museums of the Smithsonian. Rooms originally used as offices have been turned into period rooms, each demonstrating what a specific room might have looked like in a given state at a given time. For example, the Texas Room is furnished as a bedroom from a house in Alleyton, Texas, as it might have looked in the latter part of the 19th century.

The Texas Room

In addition to the period rooms, a dedicated gallery contains pieces in more conventional displays along with special exhibits. I was lucky to catch the "Eye on Elegance" exhibit which features early quilts from Maryland and Virginia. The DAR's own exceptional collection is enhanced with several pieces on loan from other institutions. It is an excellent exhibit of truly beautiful and superbly executed quilts. Each quilt is accompanied by information about the maker or makers, design influences, and techniques used, as well as explanations of overall styles and how they evolved over time and place.  Given the current popularity of quilting, I was astonished to find myself the sole visitor. I had the gallery to myself for a full hour! Entry is free and the exhibit runs through September 5th, 2015.

I purchased the exhibition catalogue and though am disappointed that some of the photographs are not sharp enough to show much detail, the accompanying history of these quilts makes it worthy of a place on my shelf. Fortunately, I was able to take my own photographs and they do show details quite well. You can click on each photo to see a higher resolution version and if you'd like to see more than the ones shown here, take a look at my Flickr page.

I find the early chintz appliqué quilts especially appealing for their subtle colors and overall elegant designs.

Floral applique quilt, Rebecca Sands Gladstone, about 1840-41

Framed medallion quilt, Amelia Heiskell Lauck, 1823

The quilts in this exhibit demonstrate extraordinary levels of technical skill. The lovely flower, fruit and feather designs on this framed medallion piece really stand out due to fine quilting.

Detail framed medallion quilt

Baltimore album quilt, Ruth Pettit Penn, about 1850

Detail of Baltimore album quilt, about 1848 

Reverse applique eagle quilt, 1830s

Detail of pheasant and plum tree quilt, Arianna Sollers Bouldin, about 1815-1825

Detail of sunburst quilt, 1830s

Mathematical star quilt, 1830s

Pieced star quilt, Mary Maccubbin Waters Waters, 1853

This pieced star quilt has some of the finest stitching (15-17 stitches per inch, according to the label) I have ever seen. Each background section is different, with birds, fish, flowers, and other designs, all beautifully drawn.

Detail of pieced star quilt

Detail of pieced star quilt

I am still marveling at how precisely these quilts were pieced. Note the straightness of the edges, the sharpness of all the points, and the exacting fussy cut prints of the inner corner stars.

Pieced and stuffed medallion quilt, Ludwell Harrison Goosley and daughters,  about 1810 and 1820s

Detail of pieced and stuffed medallion quilt

Tree of life and grapevine quilt, 1810s

These old quilts almost make me want to turn my back on the "modern" quilt movement and go back a couple of hundred years. Fortunately, modern tools allow me to be so productive that I can make "modern" quilts, old-style quilts, and everything in between. For near instant gratification I can make quilts using rotary cutters, sewing machines, and now a longarm machine for quilting. A few weeks ago, using the computer assisted option my longarm machine, I quilted this piece in well under two hours.

Thanks to Susan and Chris of Over the Top Quilting Studio for their help in getting me up and running with an APQS longarm and to Angela Hugli Clark of Thread Waggle Quilting for teaching me the ins and outs of designing and stitching with QuiltPath, the software that drives APQS machines.

Since the piecing is busy, the quilting isn't highly visible and so there was no point in using a complicated quilt design. I think the curves of the simple wave pattern I chose are just enough to offset the linearity of the piecing.

"Chinese Coins," inspired by a 1930s quilt of the same name in Roberta Horton's book "Scrap Quilts"

Now that I can quilt tops so quickly on my longarm machine, I have more time to do the hand piecing and hand quilting that I so enjoy. Much as I like finishing tops in a couple of hours on a machine, I think the look of hand quilting, which uses a single thread, cannot be matched by a machine, which uses two threads. Here is my current handwork project. I am just about ready to attach the final two sections of the outer border. Next time I think I will do the piecing by machine and save my hand sewing time for quilting.

Friday, March 20, 2015

QuiltCon 2015!

QuiltCon was in Austin again this year, bigger and better than in 2013.  There were more quilts, more classes, more vendors. It was particularly exciting to see the dramatic improvements in quilt design and workmanship compared to 2013.

I was fortunate to take several workshops, including ones on color theory by Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr. Weeks and Bill, two of the earliest "modern" quilters, are adept at working with the entire color spectrum. I will confess that the heavy use of aqua and orange in quilts shown at QuitCon is one of my pet peeves, as though using these two hues is a requirement if you want your quilt to be considered "modern." Anyway, if you have a chance to spend time with either Weeks or Bill, I highly encourage you to do so. They are energetic, cheerful, open-minded and graciously share their wisdom and insights.  Here are a few of my "take-aways."

Improvisational quilting doesn't mean thoughtless design or sloppy workmanship.  It may mean relaxing some "rules," or cutting and sewing without first having worked out every shape and every fabric. But it still requires that you work with intention and an idea of what you are trying to achieve if you want a dynamic and pleasing composition.

Practice some restraint in use of color. Limit use of color along one or more dimensions -- hue, saturation, or value -- to make your quilt visually stronger. As in photography, the story is often stronger and the message clearer if you put less in the frame.

If using a photo for inspiration, there is no need to replicate the photo.  You already have the photo. If the colors appeal to you, figure out why and use that to choose fabrics. I have been pondering my photos of dinghies from a trip to Massachusetts in 2013, wanting to somehow interpret them as quilts. I got myself stuck on the idea of a literal translation. Thanks to Bill for making me realize that I won't improve on the photo with that approach. Now I will simply use the photos to guide my color choices.

Photo as color inspiration

Too literal a translation is not effective here

Another take-away from their workshops was a more robust vocabulary with which to articulate the details that define a quilt. That has helped me to identify what I find appealing in a given quilt and will thus help me refine my own designs. With that knowledge, I think I am better able to communicate what it was about each of these quilts from the show that made me pause to give it greater consideration.

For example, I found this one interesting because even though it reads as green, there are actually many other hues in it: yellow, blue, orange, grey, and brown. I also like the little pops of floral fabrics that the maker sprinkled around.

"Fuzhou Fujian" by Patricia Lutteral

On this flower-themed piece I like the brave use of a very mod bright pink and blue floral, along with the curving lines. Gently curved lines of hand quilting, similar in scale and shape to the piecing, yet not simply an echo, add to the movement.

"Score for Bias Strip Petals: Daisy" by Sherri Lynn Wood

I enjoy the sheer exuberance of this piece, though on further reflection wonder if there isn't just a tad too much of the saturated pink in the border.

"Sunset Waves" by Laura Hartrich

"Quilt for our Bed" unquestionably has a clear message, though not just because it is literally spelled out. There is a restfulness in the muted colors appropriate for a quilt meant to be slept under and a gentle and comforting expression of love that would seem conducive to sweet dreams.

"Quilt for our Bed" by Laura Hartrich

"Rainbow Magic" is pure fun. I like the free use of various sizes of rectangles, rather than squares, and the unusual collection of fabric styles, all pulled together with a heavy dose of red and orange.

"Rainbow Magic" by Mollie McMahon (age 7)

"Las Ventanas" is fun because of its free-form piecing and vibrant due to its saturated colors, including the eye-popping slightly greenish yellow background.

"Las Ventanas" by Kristin Shields

"Refresh" is interesting because it combines traditional techniques, such as paper piecing, with a modern design elements, such as a large but incomplete star.

"Refresh" by Anna Beonish

Sadly for me, QuiltCon is moving to Pasadena, California, in 2016 and to Savannah, Georgia, in 2017.  By way of farewell to Austin, here is an evening photo looking north along Congress Avenue towards the Texas Capitol.

Good evening, Austin

Friday, February 27, 2015

A Delightful Weekend in Dallas

I recently drove up to Dallas for the weekend to visit my sweet cousin and her husband.  It was a mostly grey, cold and rainy weekend, but perfect nonetheless.  Caroline and I spent Saturday morning on a self-guided walking tour of downtown, where we visited "Big Red," the elaborate 1890 brick courthouse.

Big Red as seen in a bar window
It is as elaborate inside as out.  The tiled floors give me ideas for pieced borders on a quilt top.

The swirling ironwork gives me ideas for quilting designs.

We wandered around the elegant Philip Johnson-designed JFK Memorial, near the site of  Kennedy's assassination.

Most fascinating of all was Pioneer Park, where I expected to see only the herd of longhorn statues.

We were surprised to find Pioneer Cemetery at the top of the knoll, tucked in adjacent to the convention center.  It is actually comprised of four old burying grounds with the earliest graves dating from the 1850s. The carving on many of the stones is weathered beyond reading, though by making a rubbing of one we were able to work out the inscription.

From the gravestone of John J. Eakins, 1822-1846

The iron and stonework have all kinds of beautiful details.

We made our way over to Klyde Warren Park where we weathered the chill and sat in the park to watch passersby and to eat our food truck lunches.

Klyde Warren food trucks as seen from the driveway of the Dallas Museum of Art

Post-lunch we wandered around the Arts District, jam packed with museums and performing arts venues.

Charles Wyly Theatre

I also indulged in a bit of street photography.

Anticipating a rainy afternoon, we planned to spend that time indoors cooking a nice dinner.  Our choice was homemade ravioli and a green salad, with chocolate chocolate chip cookies for dessert. Caroline did most of the work for the ravioli, but I helped to roll out the pasta. The ravioli, made from a Gourmet Magazine recipe, was filled with butternut squash, goat cheese and garlic.

It was topped with a brown butter hazelnut glaze.

The result was so delicious that now I am looking into getting my own equipment for rolling out pasta.

I realize that none of this has to do with needlework, but since the cooking did in fact entail use of a sharp handheld tool (a knife), I think that's close enough! I promise to be back soon with more on the non-edible types of fiber, including details from last weekend's QuiltCon, the Modern Quilt Guild show, which was held in Austin last weekend.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Fresh Start to the New Year

Each member of my family skis with a distinctive style that reflects his or her personality. Steve skis athletically and elegantly, skis chattering in his narrow old-fashioned stance, Eva skis gracefully and always solidly in control, and Isabel is fast, with a wide racer's stance, impatient to get down the mountain first. I tag along behind, somehow getting the job done, enjoying the company, the scenery and the freshness of being in the outdoors. I have occasional moments where everything clicks and I can glide effortlessly through new powder or swoop around a big mogul, drop smoothly down the steep side, and then repeat again and again until the burning in my legs makes me stop. What a rush!

Looking back along the route to "The Crags"

Last month Jackson Hole served up the best Christmas skiing conditions I can remember. Days of low visibility but lots of fresh powder where we stuck near the glades for their enhanced perspective alternated with sunny days in which we carved up open slopes.

In spite of all the great skiing, my most vivid and enduring memory of the week was waking early to watch the snowy peaks of the Teton range brighten in the morning light. As Annie Proulx might have described it, "I stepped out into the grinning morning" and took a few photos.

Teton Sunrise

I brought home some of that exhilaration and energy and am using it to work through projects and chores at home in addition to working on quilts and various pieces of needlework.  One of those projects was the pile of mending that has been nagging at me for months. It turned out to be a matter of less than half an hour to deal with the entire thing. This old pillow case with a hand-crocheted edge, one of a pair my mother gave me years ago, needed only one long seam to repair the edge that had frayed completely through. I love that I am able to continue to use it and know I will sleep well when I put my head on a pillow clothed in that beautiful and crisply ironed pillowcase.

As promised in my last post, here is the pattern for knitting in the round a tiny sweater for a toy bear.  I made the one pictured here for my daughter's roommate, who was recently accepted by the University of Chicago.  Congratulations Noa!

Top Down Knit Sweater for Beanie Baby Bear:

  • Worsted weight yarn in white, cream, or color of your choice (I'm not sure how much you really need, but it isn't much).
  • Worsted weight yarn in contrast color (scraps should suffice).
  • Set of five US 4 double point needles.
  • Stitch holders.
  • Small button (optional).
  • Needle for weaving in ends.
  • 6 stitches per inch.
  • 8 rows per inch.
Begin by working back and forth (not in the round).
  • Cast on 28 stitches in main color.
  • Rows 1 - 3: work in Knit 1, Purl 1 (K1 P1) rib.
  • Row 4 (wrong side): Purl.
  • Row 5 (right side): Knit.
Arrange stitches on four double point needles as follows, with the first 5 and last 5 stitches on the same needle:  5 - 4 - 10 - 4 - 5.  The first 5 and last 5 will be the back, each set of 4 will be a sleeve, and the 10 in the middle will be the front.

Join the stitches to knit the remainder of the sweater in the round.
  • Round 1: Knit, increasing 1 stitch at the beginning and end of each needle (except for the middle of the back) as follows:
    • K4, M1, K1 (half of back)
    • K1, M1, K2, M1, K1 (sleeve)
    • K1, M1, K8, M1, K1 (front)
    • K1, M1, K2, M1, K1 (sleeve)
    • K1, M1, K4 (other half of back)  - 36 stitches on 5 needles
  • Round 2: Knit.
  • Round 3: Knit, increasing 1 stitch at each end of each needle (except for the middle of the back) in the same manner as Round 1 (44 stitches).
  • Round 4: Knit.
  • Round 5: Repeat Round 3 (52 stitches).
  • Round 6: Knit.
  • Round 7: Repeat Round 3 (60 stitches).
  • Round 8: Knit.
  • Round 9: Repeat Round 3 (68 stitches).
  • Round 10: Knit to end of 4th needle (end of left sleeve).
Divide 14 left sleeve stitches onto three needles; place remaining stitches for back, front, and right sleeve on holders.

Left sleeve :
  • Join stitches into round . 
  • Knit 8 rounds.
  • Join contrast color and Knit 1 round.
  • Knit 1 round with main color.
  • Knit 3 rounds in K1 P1 rib.
  • Working in K1 P1 rib, bind off loosely.  Cut yarn, leaving several inches to weave in.
Right sleeve:
  • Join main color yarn and work same as for left sleeve.
  • Place remaining 40 stitches on 3 needles and join into round.
  • Work same as sleeves.
  • Weave in ends. 
  • Using contrast color overstitch letter of your choice on the center of the front.
  • If desired, sew a button to the back neck edge and work the yarn tail into a small loop.