Hand pieced and tied baby quilt made by my grandmother Pearl during her reversal of fortunes/young mother/diligently frugal wife stage of life during the 30's. She does not appear to have pre-sorted her scraps or limited the scraps' color/design nature or type of fabric.
Jude's focus on baby quilts and quilts still in their infant stage(s) has slowly pushed my mind into a state of active inspiration related to what's on hand and already of strong interest to me. To the point where yesterday I planned to start deconstructing the quilt above. Have been previously inclined to work with the blocks just as they are but separated from the heavy cotton sateen borders and backing. The sateen used to be a not entirely unpleasant acid green that made the somewhat subdued color range of the quilt sing more prettily.
Pearl had a knack for clashes that work. I didn't realize that was something I came by honestly until this past weekend when I sat with this quilt on my lap and carefully studied each individual block. I chose to spend the better part of an afternoon that way in honor of the many hundreds of afternoons I did not have a chance to spend with Pearl. Despite all the more pressing and seemingly non-negotiable things that needed doing I did this instead.
zero regrets. A much stronger and radiant heart center.
Over decades of me hanging this particular quilt on one indirectly lit wall or another the color has faded considerably and is now completely unpalatable to me. I think because, before it faded, it used to hang on a wall where it should have looked smashing but it didn't. At the time I thought that was the fault of the wallpaper in that particular apartment hallway. But now I think it was the fault of non-existent light sources beyond recessed fluorescent light bars. Since moving to mid-state places I've hung it in spots with enough light to properly showcase the way the bright green enlivened the smatterings of bright strips in the primarily muted tones of her scraps to hand.
I loved and admired my grandmother passionately for (a) making palatable and effective creative resolutions with whatever was right there in front of her. and (b) the wisdom to understand the profound satisfaction (as well as self-sustainability) of wasting-not.
Unless she was making something special and tailored to specific tastes Pearl worked at making patches from the ubiquitous paper grocery bag not quite hidden beside her place at the dining room table. By the time I came along she wasn't sewing as she once had. The grocery bags were vintage scraps she hadn't gotten around to using. She was very un-precious about her piece work. She'd pick up one thing and then another and sew them together.
In my youth I thought this was an example of how girls raised "in the old days" were taught domestic skills as a form of robotic conformity. But now I see what's obvious and far-more likely. She was selling hand pieced and tied quilts made from wool scraps by the time she was 11. Undoubtedly she kept an ingrained eye on the clock to insure maximum return on her time and skill investment.
It's obvious to me this top was made from quilt blocks pieced in the moment and without a lot of pre-amble. in terms of her go to underlying traditional pattern structuring - she focused a great deal the dark/light contrast design staple of successful patchwork quilts that are timeless in nature. She also took care (AL. WAYS.) to space the red scraps evenly throughout the piecing. That was one of her Things: Red scraps were highly prized and a mandatory inclusion whenever possible - but also she felt the color to be inherently tricky and thus subject to innumerable rules/taboos of her own device.
The immediate present tense source of construction/design inspiration also comes from jude and her working methods that are equal parts construction and subtraction. I don't generally have compulsions to stitch through layers that are barely existent but having spent some quality time with the Summer Bitch in my hands as I prepare for the coming season - I can definitely understand the appeal of such working. So I got it in my head I would liberate the pieced blocks from the borders and backing - then tell some kind of relevant (appliqued and stitched) story upon them.
Thought I would indulge in a super-soft collaboration and stitch-in cuttings from a scrap jude sent a staggeringly long time ago. a scrap from her grandmother's silk kimono. I want to tell some kind of story to Pearl in these choices and what I make of them. I guess it's kind of the inverse of what grace does with her blog - as a chronicle of self for Emrie to keep as providence wills. I want to bypass time and sequencing all together. Just showing my grandmother's spirit who I am and how much of her I carry within me.
All these ideas and frames/spheres of influence & inspiration has been a nice thing to consider slowly as the weeks move closer to the season of life force's rapid growth. In that time I've grown accustomed to handling this quilt as Pearl herself probably handled it. Previously I've been careful with its heirloom nature. In the past twenty years I've often kept it rolled within the top layer of a cedar chest full of family linens and needlework. But now I've been carrying it around so that I can arrange it in different ways in different places. Trying to learn what it wishes to become.
For starters I decided it wished to become two distinctly different things. I envisioned working with the ground of pieced blocks. Assumed the cut-off sections of the border would be repurposed. Perhaps as a book cover for an album of family photos I'm amassing. Thought it seemed like a summer project so I put it aside until last week.
Then, once I had it out and had solidified the practical steps of initial transmogrification something happened that's happened before. I have never liked the green sateen finished treatment because it wasn't the right green to harmonize in my eye's mind. I think it would sing a lot more convincingly if she'd gone with a rich dark jade. Think how the BLUE would have popped then - as well as the darker rusty reds and browns. Not to mention the glimmering radiance it would lend the whites and light pastels.
Indeed I have come to this moment of truth four or five times now. I get exactly this far (my goal used to be to get one of those glass-topped table display cases for displaying and contemplating the deteriorating pieced blocks) and then I see the places with visible stitching lines and marvel at the knots of cording - all chosen and placed with my grandmother's hands. And I just can't bring myself to undo the work. So I thought I'd do what I can and in the process approach much bigger work.
I'm not going to undo all the ties and thus create sight-based cutting lines. I'm going to cut away the sateen in strips just shy of the seam lines. Will pick out those stitches and then see how much I can or cannot de-layer. And I think questions to myself over and over such as:
Will I repair anything? Or just let it be with some kind of very delicate binding and then whatever I make on the 'other side' If I decide to go all in on the symbolic family lineage I may use as a ground cloth a very well worn cotton gauze nightgown of my mother's. It was floor length but after she died I cut it down to a short swingy sort of lounge top or a mini dress. On the other hand - I'd just as soon keep her out of this. So I could use some of the same fabric but crisp and new rather than worn thin. There'd be more strength and body to it. Hmmmmm.
The blocks themselves are a trove of fabrics my grandmother used to outfit herself, my mother, and all the windows, tables, etc. She also made men's dressing gowns and camp shirts for hunting excursions arranged and guided by my godfather. I spent a bit of time really studying the blocks and touching all the fabrics. Letting the sensitive edges of my finger tips linger over the confident knots she made without a single one slipping over time.
For the center chimney squares Pearl used a shiny silky gold fabric. I love the places that are worn-away. I thought of here and there very lightly needleweaving. I thought I might ask her questions I've so wished I could ask over the years. stitch them here and there. Or maybe I will just think the questions as a rolling mantra while I work on this in whatever capacity.
have wanted to do something of this sort for 46 years.
and in doing so grieve her death as I did not have the ability, on any level, to grieve at the time when she died.
So I am going to cut-away the faded green panels, leave the ties in place and dye the pieces in a mourning color - either deep purple or grey. Perhaps a bit of both. Have a strong hankering to do this with ink rather than dye. Then I will piece them back together and include fabrics I have that I would like to be able to share with her. To see what she might create from the scraps.
And also I really need to speak a quiet language of sorrow that's gone unexpressed until now - that she didn't live long enough to see my ways of embracing the things she taught me that have become the most significant cornerstones of my life.
it's finally do-able. this particular release & goodbye...
Things that fit. One step at a time.