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Our branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild is having an exhibition at the end of June and a week last Saturday was the deadline for handing in completed pieces of work from the last couple of years to the organisers. We had very helpfully been given a list of all the meetings and workshops to jog our memories so I went down the list, annotating each one as to whether I hadn’t been at the meeting, hadn’t finished it or if it was finished, where it was. There seemed to be two main outcomes – didn’t finish, or made into a card and sent to somebody! The only finished pieces I could lay my hands on for the last two years were my faux driftwood piece…

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…the Chris Gray amulet…

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…and the Brazilian embroidery rose I’d made up into a card but not sent because I couldn’t bear to part with it!

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So it ended up a busy week, so busy that I forgot to photograph both the nuno felting which I turned from this:

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…into a simple seascape and a piece of the paper stitching we did with Alice Fox recently which I mounted as a card.

The kantha fish…

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…was the first to be finished by stitching him onto a piece of indigo dyed fabric with rows of running stitch that merged into the kantha and then mounting over a 7 x 5 inch canvas.

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I also finished a selection of little stitched fragments for my Alice Fox book.

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But the really big finish was my English paper piecing. I get bored easily with the piecing process and when we did the workshop, I chose small equilateral triangles – probably not the best shape in the circumstances! At the end of the day I had a pile of triangles in shades of browns and indigo and absolutely no idea what to do with them.

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Seeing the workshop on the list I wondered if it was even possible to finish the project, but I had what promised to be a lengthy committee meeting that week and repeatedly stitching together triangles looked like the perfect way of passing the time. It was: by the end of the meeting I had all the finished triangles stitched together and an idea very firmly in my head.

Without using half triangles the shapes you can make with equilateral triangles are rather limited, so I created a diamond which I planned to stitch onto this gorgeous piece of hand dyed indigo with some quilt wadding in between and a plain piece of indigo dyed cotton for the backing.

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My trusty Frister and Rossmann coped easily with quilting through all the various layers along the lines of the triangles.

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Then I joined a number of strips of woodland themed fabric in three different brown colourways to get enough and had a go at a tutorial I found online (where else?!) for adding a binding with mitred corners as you go. It worked!!

 

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I tidied the ends up, wrote (no time to embroider) a label…

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…added a hanging sleeve and couched some glittery thread around the edge of the diamond to hide the line where I had machined it down. In hindsight and with more time I would have appliqued it invisibly to the top.

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From a handful of triangles…

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…to a mini quilt…

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…in about three days. I still can’t believe it!

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I recently started a Writer’s Circle at SLTC, and the focus of the last meeting was monologues. I love memories and anecdotes; precious fragments of lives, and one of the things that interests me most about stitching is how memories can become part of the stitched work. Perhaps through memories associated with the fabrics used, perhaps more actively through stitching as journaling, but most fascinating of all, through the memories, experiences and emotions that the person was undergoing when they stitched it. For me these so often end up in the piece as a record, invisible to everyone but me, of where I was, physically and emotionally when I set those stitches.

At the Writers’ Circle we write for a blessed uninterrupted hour. This is how I explored some of my thoughts about stitching and memory.

The Quilt

The speaker is an elderly woman in a care home somewhere in the American Midwest. She is talking to a visitor who has admired the patchwork quilt covering her knees.

 Thank you. That’s real nice of you. Yeah, I guess I am surprised. It’s been a part of my life for so long I’ve never really thought about it like that. It’s just a quilt. It’s soft, it keeps you warm; it…it…it ain’t anything special. Not like these fancy quilts people make nowadays. Goodness knows how they get ‘em all pieced and quilted so neat and fine and those fancy fabrics they use; silks and stuff. There’s only one piece of silk in this whole quilt. Course, I ain’t sure if it’s silk exactly. It’s a scrap my Grandma gave me. She said it came from the bodice of her grandma’s wedding dress. I don’t know if that’s true but it’s a pretty story. It’s that piece just there; feels soft, don’t it?

 I pieced that block through a real bad snowstorm we had one winter. Lasted two whole days and knocked all the power out from here to Fort Wayne. Frank and the boys shovelled a path to the barn, dug out all the old lamps of his mother’s and that’s all the light we had for weeks. Don’t look too close – that’s why the stitching ain’t too even. Lily was just a mite then. I used to rock her off to sleep in the old cradle and then I’d sit and sew with the mantle of that old Tilly lamp hissing away like a kettle on the stove and that heavy sort of quiet you get when the snow’s deep and thick, just thinking and stitching.

 That’s some of Lily’s first summer dress right there. Yeah, that pretty blue cotton with the flower sprays; came from Mason’s closing down sale in the spring of ’49. I bought a bunch of stuff that day. We’d not been married long and money was real tight but I knew it’d all come in at some point. Mason’s? It became a drug store for a while after old Mr Mason sold up and then the whole area got pretty run down. Course, it ain’t there now, it was on one of those blocks they flattened in the Seventies when they built the High School.

 That was from Mason’s too. I had a sun dress in that green with the flowers and cherries. It was so pretty and comfortable. Wore it for years and then when I put on weight I cut it down to make pinafores for Lily and Sylvia. That was from a shirt I made for Frank one fall. Remember I just had enough to make one for Kit too; brushed plaid cotton. I had such a bother to match the pattern – I reckon there was more cussing in those two shirts than in anything else I ever made – but they came out a treat. You know, I can see them two boys now, heading down the track to the creek with their denim pants tucked into their boots and their matching shirts and Kit’s little blonde head bobbing up and down by Frank’s waist. He was so proud to be going fishing just like his Daddy.

 Course, that was when Jack was too small to go with them. He’d stand by the kitchen door, sobbing and hollering in an almighty temper and then he’d start slamming and kicking the door till sometimes I’d no choice but to take the back of my hand to him. He always was the odd one. But there’s so much of him in this quilt. Not the material: I think that might be from one of his baby shirts and that’s definitely from a bowtie I made him when he was in High School and nutty on the Sanderson girl, but…no, not an awful lot. Not compared to the others, I mean. He’s there in other ways. In that block mostly. I was stitching on it the evening he came home to tell us he’d enlisted. Frank was a mild-mannered man but he’d seen enough in Europe in the last war and he said he weren’t having no son of his jauntering half way round the world and getting himself killed for some bunch of foreigners who couldn’t even run their country properly.

 And then they started shouting. I knew it’d do no good me saying anything when those two had their danders up like that so I just sat tight and sewed. Jack said some awful things about Frank being unpatriotic and un-American and then he called his father a ‘dammed Commie’ and slammed out of the house. Frank never forgot that, you know. It weren’t true but it hurt him more than anything and of course, they never had the chance to say sorry, either of them. Sometimes I wish I’d spoken up but that’s not what you did in those days. I just sat tight and sewed and it’s like I sewed every word into that block and it’s still there.

 Goodness! I don’t know what’s gotten into me, rattling on like this; you must be bored silly. After all, it’s nothing special. It’s just an old quilt.

Copyright: Alex Hall January 2012

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