Monday, July 30, 2007

Grandmother's garden revisited

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was trying to find a way to continue with my Grandmother's Garden quilt, and that I was not entirely happy with the grandma in the pattern.
I came up with the idea of using my own grandmother in some way or another, and started searching for photos. I wanted one of her standing proudly in her own garden, but that proved difficult. All the ones I had in mind had either legs hidden, she was squinting, or there was some bush or other item getting in the way. The best one I could come up with was this one: There were two problems with it though: it was very small, so her features would be blurred if I were to enlarge it, and she was wearing sunglasses. I found one much later version - apparently her 75th birthday, but it had the happy smile I remembered - this was the gran of my childhood.
Time for some photoshopping. This is the image I ended up with. I copied the colour from her forehead onto her arms and legs, and because my mother remembered her dress as being blue and white, I went with that and gave her blue shoes.
I printed the picture in the size I needed for the quilt and cut it out to use as a pattern.

Once I saw that this might work on the quilt, I printed the picture on fabric as well. I used a sheet of Cotton Lawn from Color Plus Fabrics that you just put in the printer and print the image on. The fabric is attached to paper that you peel off after printing, and works really well. The Cotton Lawn is very fine and soft and was great for this project.

I used the paper pattern to make a figure from batting as well. All the trees in the quilt are appliquéd around batting shapes to give a 3D effect, so I went with that. The fabric cutout was basted to the batting with the edges turned under and then basted to the background. I know I could have used some pins and turned the edges under as I stitched, but with the bulk of the batting underneath, it becomes a bit more akward to do so, and this way I avoided pricking my fingers on lots of little pins as I did the appliqué.

Once I had attached the figure to the background, it was time to add the dress. I used the paper cutout to make a pattern for the bodice and cut a batting shape from that. To create a fuller figure, I added "bosoms" as well - just a figure 8 shape on top of the previous one. It was probably not a good idea to take a picture of this with my black sofa as a background and in evening light, but you get the general idea...
I fashioned the bodice from two pieces of fabric, one overlapping the other and the top one folded in. I then used the batting shape as a pattern to cut the fabric and tucked the seam allowances to the back, adding little darts on the side and up from the waist like one would in a full size dress. I must admit that I was having serious doubts about the way I spend my spare time at this point... However, I persevered and managed to appliqué the thing on to the quilt, adding little sleeves and a skirt as I went along.

These were made by folding pieces of fabric in half, right sides together and stitching a seam along each side. I then turned the pieces inside out and stitched them to the background leaving hems unstitched. What with all the batting and double layers of fabric, the figure was looking rather bulky at this time.

I added buttons (french knots) to pull the bodice together and also pleated the sleeves with little buttons to make them less bulky. An embroidered collar and some french knots for her hair, and the image was beging to come together.

I decided that the shoes were not working, so I embroidered them as well, and there she is, a cheerful folksy grandma in her garden. All very surreal, but I quite like the effect. I might add some silver to her hair, to soften it a bit, although there isn't as much contrast between the face and hair in real life as one would think from these pictures.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Late WIP

I was just about to post my Friday WIP yesterday when a terrific thunderstorm started, and thought it best to switch off my computer. It was fascinating to watch how quickly the weather changed - one minute it was bright and sunny, then I noticed that the wind was picking up and my clothes drying rack outside was about to fall over. I rescued it just in time, caught a glimpse of the most beautiful rainbow before I went inside. A few seconds later the rain was pouring down from a black sky and then the first zig zag of lighting pierced the clouds. Thats when I switched the computer off. The thunder was deafening, and Nature threw on quite a display!
It is easy to understand how ancient cultures have thought up stories about angry gods with hammers and swords clashing across the sky at times like these. I'm torn between watching the sky in fascination and following a primitive urge to cower under something hoping for the best until it passes. I did some of the first, but ended up doing the latter, under a cosy quilt with a good book after a while - maintaning interest for well over an hour isn't easy for someone with my attention span!
My attention span, or lack of, also explains why I alwas have several projects going at any given moment and end up with lots of finishes at once. My WIP above is my stack'n'wack kaleidoscope - it just needs a border and some light quilting, and my summery tablecloth is done. I'm almost done with my Mumbo Gumbo as well, and having lots of fun with my Grandmother's Garden Quilt - more about that later..

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The flavour of summer

When I was a child we used to spend summers at my gran's little house in the country. Her neighbour was a strawberry farmer and there were Strawberry Fields Forever (sorry, couldn't resist that ...), and we got to stuff ourselves on juicy red berries all summer. As soon as the sun got out, so did the pickers. There were full baskets of the stuff everywhere, and even the air we breathed seemed to taste of strawberries. Somehow sunshine and strawberries have become intermingled in my mind, so that when I breathe in the smell of these lovely berries I imagine it is the smell of sunshine itself.
Imagine my delight when a friend of mine phoned yesterday evening saying "I have five kilos of strawberries with your name on them!" She had passed through my childhood paradise and stopped to buy some for herself, and decided to get some for me as well.

Not only did she bring berries, but she also brought sugar and pectin and the berries were without husks so I could start making jam right away. What a great friend!
In less than an hour all the berries had been through the food processor, mixed with sugar and pectin, poured in containers and put in the freezer. How great is that! I just love this kind of jam, because you don't have to use so much sugar, and you get the lovely summery taste of fresh berries all winter.
Mmmmm - lovely!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Well I did, didn't I?

You didn't think I could go to the quilt shop and just buy what I had planned on buying now, did you? I got some batting for the tablecloth. That yellow striped fabric was the kind of yellow that goes with anything - a nice stash addition. I saw a New York Beauty quilt somewhere recently that had used that green fabric in the quarter circle in the corner pieces of the blocks to great effect, and since I have a NYB on my to do list, I decided that I needed this.

And then there was a very sweet fabric with little sayings. Great for labels and postcards. I found it virtually impossible to get a close up, so no picture, but the one that won me over is a broom with the caption: "Housework when done correctly can kill you" - my kind of motto! I also found some nice mother-of-pearl buttons for a couple of jackets I'm going to sew - found some great knitted fabric the other day. And, believe it or not: I got some yarn! I'm not that much of a knitter these days, but I have been stash building for a while now, and have knitted some scarfs and this little hat, among other things, so maybe it's time to start something bigger. The Frost Flower Leaves shawl is what I have in mind. Am I crazy? Maybe so, but I have decided to enjoy the fact :-D

And the backing fabric that was the reason for the shopping spree? Didn't get any! I decided I had just the thing at home, a nice floral which will do nicely...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Living in the present

After a trip down memory lane the other day, it's time to show what's going on in the present. We're enjoying lovely summer days, shared with cruiseloads of tourists - here's the view from my balcony of the QE2 leaving after it's latest visit, to the soundtrack of "We'll meet again" on full blast from loud speakers at City Hall. She's a beauty, isn't she? A lot of the more modern ships look like floating hotels, but this one looks the way a ship should look, I think.
Back to the homefront, where I have finished all my kaleido blocks. I obviously can't count, so I ended up with 31, so there is one more than I need for my tablecloth. I started stitching them together by machine, but found that I haven't got the patience for all that stopping and starting to adjust the fabric every time the angle changes - it must be the heat, because that sort of thing usually doesn't bother me. Anyway, I decided to stitch the blocks together by hand, so that's what I'm doing now, and it doesn't take too long, because I keep having to do 'just a little more' to see how it turns out... - told you I was having fun with this one, didn't I! I have found a bright green fabric, similair to the flower stems in the original fabric, to use for extra pieces in the corners to make it square, and for an outer border.

This is the fabric I have used for all the blocks, by the way (I should have learned by now to run and iron over the fabric before I point my camera at it...), amazing isn't it, the variety of blocks you can get from just the one fabric? The fabric is "Estrella" by Valorie Wells for Free Spirit Fabrics.
I'm off to town now - having the quilt top almost finished is the perfect excuse for visiting the quilt shop. I haven't been there in a while because of long days at work, but I'm just going to get some backing fabric, and that's all! I think... -And they have probably not got any new fabric in since my last visit...

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Stitching through the generations

Talking about my grandmother yesterday reminded me that I had been meaning to show some of the tablecloths she embroidered. No time like the present, so I pulled a bunch of them out of the cupboard and got my camera out. Now I should have got my iron out too, but it was way too warm for that, so they are a bit crumpled, I'm afraid.

My grandmother worked as a maid and housekeeper until she married. Later, after running a café for some time, she spent the rest of her working life at a small flower shop, making flower arrangements and wreaths until her fingers were too stiff and crooked for her to do that kind of work any more. She was always working extra hours around holidays so she didn't spend a lot of time cooking. Luckily she was married to a cook, so she didn't have to!

When at home, she was always cleaning though. And I remember having to wait for her on the steps while she cleaned her way out the door when we were going to har little house in the country, because she couldn't face coming back to a dirty house. And then when we came back, the first thing she would do was to grab a bucket and a floorcloth and repeat the process. Sadly, that sort of thing never rubbed off on me, but her way with a needle might have...

All the tablecloths I rescued after her death were well worn, and unfortunately most of them have stains that I have been unable to remove. I have been thinking of ways to display them or use them in other projects, but I'm not sure what to do with them yet.

I can't actually remember gran stitching anything this fine, her fingers were probably too stiff by the time I was growing up, but she would crochet delicate bedspreads and the like and later it was wool tapestries. When we were in the country house she would also weave rugs. When she wasn't gardening, working or cleaning, she was always working on some kind of craft. Like me, she "listened to TV", just glancing up from time to time to catch what was going on.

She always cheered me on in my craft efforts too and gave me tasks I was sure I couldn't do, telling me "you will find a way". When I was about twelve, she had me making new lampshades for their bedroom. I had to study the old ones to find out how to do it, and stitch the slippery, silky material on to them the best I could. The were not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but she showed them to everybody and kept them on the lamps in that bedroom until the day she died. Thanks to her I'm not afraid of trying new things - I hear her saying "you will find a way" and off I go.

Funny this. I was just going to show a few pictures of some old tablecloths, and it sent me down memory lane. I had forgotten all about those lampshades until I started writing.

I also found some tablecloths that her mother, my great grandmother made, but that's material for another post.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Grandmother's garden

I have been working on this old crinkly thing on and off for years. I found the pattern in Australian Patchwork and Quilting and was drawn to it because it had lots of interesting techniques and effects. The applique is done with batting underneath, and it is all appliqued to the background and a thin layer of batting. When all the appliqué and embroidery is done, there will be another layer of batting and a background fabric, and I'll quilt through all layers. Parts of the quilt will then have three layers of batting! Add to that mini yo-yos for pine cones and apples, buttons, french knots and beads, and it should eventually become quite an interesting quilt.
I have yet to add the vine with leaves and yo-yo flowers in the border, and you will notice that I have kept one square empty. I started this to have a long term project to bring to my quilting group, and it has been met with a lot of interest from the others - what will be added next? I have adapted the pattern and added ideas of my own along the way, for instance the 3D palm leaves that are only stitched to the middle, to add further interest. Sticking to the pattern? Where's the fun in that? Now it has been left hidden in a drawer for quite a while, and that empty square is the reason for that. The quilt is called "Grandmother's garden" and that square is where the grandmother is supposed to be...

This is the grandmother in the pattern. She's not my kind of grandmother, though. I thought at first that it was made so that the jacket could be opened, but that was not so. Well, I could do that anyway, I decided, Then it was her hair. Nah, didn't fancy those buttons. Maybe I could use some doll's hair or something? And those poor feet in those huge shoes - no, that's not what I wanted. Not that there's anything wrong with the design, for a country craft look it is fine, but with my starting point of a Tuscany fabric line, I have been thinking more along the lines of making a colourful mediterranean woman. But I have been stuck when it comes to what she should look like, and how I would make her.
Then I started thinking about my own grandmother and how she loved gardening. Her garden used to be a riot of colours and she'd use any empty vessel she could come across as an excuse to plant something new. She would have loved the idea of a container garden.
I have been playing around with different ideas on my computer lately. One problem is that the square is a bit brighter than the rest, so I was thinking that I might use a layer of organza to tone it down. Then the idea of adding images occured to me. Maybe a garden, or a Tuscany landscape printed on fabric and my grandmother placed on top. Maybe even a photo of her? Like this one, where I have placed a Tuscany landscape in the background?

The photo is too stiff and formal for what I have in mind, though, so I'll see if I can find a good snapshot of her, looking like her jolly old self, the way I remember her from my childhood. And maybe I'll appliqué a dress on top of that picture... hm, this is getting interesting... I'm off to play!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Pretty ugly quilt

I’m not really sure I like this quilt… Maybe it’s because I have been struggling so much with it lately. I started it to try out the Mumbo Gumbo pattern from Pie in the Sky. The idea was to really get at my stash and use some of those old pieces of fabric that have been there for ever and that I never seem to be able to find a place for in other quilts.

I started it in January when a group of us went on a weekend retreat to sew and have fun. I brought lots and lots of strips of blue fabric (and a few accent colours) – which is by far the largest group in my stash. Somehow I always end up buying new fabric when I need blue, because I can’t find anything to go with whatever I’m making, so my stash keeps growing. The idea was to shrink the stash and leave room for new fabric, but you know the way it goes, right? The fabric you cut for a scrap quilt seems to multiply and you end up with more than what you started with …
Anyway, I finished the top last week and decided to back it with polar fleece to make it into a soft and comfy quilt. The problem was that the fleece was alive! No matter what I did when trying to baste it, it wouldn’t keep still. I kept trying to pin it into submission, but it was a struggle – remind me to never do this alone ever again!!! I persevered, and eventually I managed to get it basted, and ready to be quilted. It’s a riot of blue fabric, and I’m not really sure I like it yet – it looks good at a distance, but I may have been too close to it lately to really appreciate it … I think I will quilt it with dark blue thread to unite all the shades of blue, and hopefully the end result won’t be too bad…

In between my sessions of struggling with this thing, I have been making more stack-and-slash blocks, and they are really addictive! Here’s another glimpse. I’ll try to get in another photo session tomorrow when the light is better. They are all so different; it’s hard to believe they are from the same fabric. Oh what fun!