Sunday, August 26, 2012

Assimilation - Lace Seam Tape pre 1940s

Art doesn't happen in a vacuum; therefore art is a reflection of the ideas and culture of the individual creating.

Art History teaches students of the discipline about assimilation around the time period of the Roman dynasty.  It was then that the massive Roman Empire's military strategy was to assimilate the symbols and customs of the Druids into Christian beliefs.  It was much easier to conquer a culture which had the same belief structure.   Eventually the symbols and customs of the Druids with pagan beliefs and a matriarchal society took on a new meaning associated with the story of Christ.

One doesn't have to go back thousands of years for another example; in the twentieth century a universal symbol of good luck found new identity with Nazism.  A symbol which could be dated back through history and several cultures and connected with positive meanings took on the opposite in a very short time span.

Even writing the word swastika is difficult.  But then, I have historical hindsight.

This morning I was busy pressing a few interesting pieces of embroidered eyelet.  I was deciding if I was going to offer them for sale at my Etsy site.  I brought my ironing board upstairs and put it by the deck door so I could enjoy the summer day as it unfolded.  I wasn't really looking at what I was doing, I was just doing it.

The Buddhist swastika symbol rotates clockwise while the Nazi swastika rotates counter-clockwise.  With the seam tape I can flip it to indicate either symbol.

It was then that I looked down at the flower on the lace seam binding while pressing.  It looked strange.  I brought my face down to the tape....   what?   No, it couldn't be?  I picked it up and looked at it in the light.   Why yes, it was a flyfoot pattern.

The lace came from a home of a 102 year old woman.  She was an avid sewer.  This was evident from the boxes of patterns and bags of fabric scraps saved - even the tiniest of pieces to somehow repurpose.  Did she put it away (the massive yardage of the seam tape) and decide never to use it?  Or did she think she could one day use the tape for its intended purpose.  Compared to other lace I have had, I was guessing the lace dated around 1920.

I have read where women were so horrified during the war years of quilts with the flyfoot design that they burnt their creations to rid them from their homes.  I can't imagine how many china pieces, anything which could have this symbol attached to it, were wiped from the culture because of the association to Hitler. 

I wrote two fabric lovers to get their take on the seam tape.  Martha, of Q is for Quilter, had a similar experience with a patterned fabric she used in a quilt.  You can check out her quilt she created using a small piece of this fabric design.  My other fabric lover felt if an object had a symbol which was offensive, she would just part ways with it other than sell it at her shop.  She is a very kind soul and does not want to offend anyone with an object with a negative history. 

Both points of view were very well articulated. 

So while I deliberate about what I will do with this seam tape, one thing is for certain:  I am taking some down to the local historical society for them to keep.  It is a little piece of Americana that has survived the obliteration from our culture and remains because it has a big story to tell.  

Friday, August 17, 2012

Wash Day - Long Story, better grab a drink!

In 1989, I read an ad in the local paper advertising quilt tops for sale.  I made the call.  The seller agreed to meet me off a country road between her town and mine.

I remember this encounter vividly because of the circumstances of why the woman was selling her family quilts; there were medical bills to be paid.  There was only one problem.  These quilt tops smelled.

Smelled - well, reeked is more appropriate.  I was drawn into the the family plight and came home with one very odoriferous, and off kilter top.

For several months I tried everything to get the odor to leave the fibers.  I sealed the top in a container with coffee, it stayed in a ceder chest, hung on the line, I even went as far as having it make friends with moth balls, because moth ball odor was kinder to my nose than whatever permeated the threads of the top.

Finally, I said, "&*(& it."

I layered it with cotton batting and muslin for the backing.  I took it to the machine and stipple quilted the begeezers out of it.  (Yes, begeezers is a word in our household.)  I felt it was going to need as much quilting as possible to hold it together for what I was planning next.

Then,  THEN....   I put it in the washing machine with Lestoil.  PRESTO!  She came out clean - as though she wasn't the ugly duckling going into this adventure.

At the time, I couldn't get a double pink reproduction fabric for the binding, so I took a pink calico and tea dyed it to give it a little patina.

She has served us well.  She is a cuddle quilt and has been in service for an additional 23 years!  The fabrics date around 1890.  She was ready for worm chow at 100 and at 123 she is soft, loved and very comforting.

The blocks are set together like a rail fence, but the blocks themselves were string pieced with scraps.  I loved the chrome orange when I first saw the top, maybe that is what pulled at my heart strings.

Machine quilting was considered taboo by the local quilt group (of which I was a member).  Remember, this was the 80's and these quilters also had big hair, big glasses, and padded shoulders - whether they needed it or not.  I wasn't going to rock their boat!  I just kept machine quilting.  It has definitely served the purpose of keeping this quilt top together.

Reproduction fabrics were just starting to make it big when I was so desperately looking for double pink. 

So why am I telling you this lengthy story??

I was back at the washing machine today with a quilt.  This is one that I acquired at a garage sale.  It looked like it had spent a few decades in the garage - which was sad.

I don't use the wash cycle when I put my quilts in the washing machine.  I use it for soaking and when I wash, I manipulate it by hand.   I'd rather manipulate a quilt standing over a washing machine rather than breaking my back bending over the bath tub.  The YELLOW is how the water was turning as soon as it entered the washer.  I let it soak for over an hour.

When I drained the water....  this is the greasy grime on the sides of the washer tub.  I carefully took out the quilt and had to clean out the washer.  I'm not sure if this was residual oil from seeds in the batting, or grime from how it was stored....but it was grime!

I washed the quilt in gentle shampoo.  The water looks so much better and the quilt is starting to perk up!

Here she is.  :)  She was a dirty thing, but now a sweetheart of a quilt.  Sure, there are some stained areas, but it is so pretty with a great diagonal quilting pattern in the zig-zag layout.  Simple patterns are sometimes the most effective.  The quilt is made of feed sacks and some woven plaids.  I would put a 1940s date on it.  
 So how did I know this quilt was going to be a great one to take home?  I could tell immediately from the binding that there wasn't any wear.  It was made and stored (a big poorly) but a minimally used piece.

A salt bag from the same sale.

Since we live in a big salt producing area (Syracuse is known as the Salt City), I was surprised to find a salt bag from Ohio.  Salt is also mined from Cayuga Lake, about 30 miles from Syracuse.
Here is the disclaimer - not all quilts should be washed.  Only you and your textile historian can determine if the use of soap and water will shorten the lifespan of the quilt.  I use a very gentle shampoo for washing my quilts, but desperate and smelly quilts find Lestoil in the soaking water.  Be sure to follow directions offered by competent sources on quilt cleaning.  The least abrasive method is to vacuum a quilt if it is in need of cleaning.

However, don't be mislead that every quilt is historically significant and so important it can't be cleaned.  Provenance, workmanship, rarity, and innovative design is key.   Grannie's quilt should be loved and enjoyed and used... it's just when Grannie is Lucretia Mott that I would lock the spigot and call the Smithsonian.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

There's a new Dressmaker in town.

Have you ever had something just beg to go home with you.  No, not a person, but an inanimate object.  Yesterday it happened to me at a yard sale and I just couldn't resist.  So I picked her up and brought her home and told her she needed a bath.

I got out some soft white cotton towels and started to clean up my new friend.

At first I wasn't sure how this was going to turn out, but sure enough, those towels turned a butterscotch color.  Wow!

No, not Bakelite,  but just one very dirty sewing machine.  In fact when I first saw her, she was yellow and black!  But, as I said, I couldn't resist....   and I'll show you why.

Windex on cloth towels worked wonder removing years of grime on the surface of this machine.  I had never heard of a Dressmaker brand before

The narrow width and black and ivory color of the machine reminded me of a friend's Viking from the 70's.  Notice the off/on switch on the base of the machine.  The entire machine was once this golden yellow. 

This is what also tipped me off that this machine just needed to be cleaned and oiled and be ready to go:  do you notice how the throat plate has no scratches, nicks or any kind of wear!  I can still see a bit of lingering grime from this photo, so I'm sure the Windex and towels will be back to finish up the job.

Once I cleaned her up, I got out the manual and oiled all her parts.  I plugged her in and just ran the foot pedal pressed to the floor for about five minutes.  She went from a thump, thump to a purr.

All the stitches work beautifully and the tension is excellent.  She is an all metal machine and doesn't shake and tremble when the foot pedal is at full speed.

So why did I buy her?  Did I need to rescue her?  Yes!  She is a good machine that would be perfect for a young girl inspired to learn to sew!   The quality of this machine is far superior to the beginner machines offered in the stores today; no plastic parts on the exterior or interior of the machine.

I'm beginning to wonder if my life mission is rescuing abandoned sewing machines and finding them a good home. 


Thursday, August 9, 2012

On my soap box....

I'm going to get up on my soap box. 

A small child from the 19th century in a wonderful plaid dress.

For a moment, just allow me to control your thoughts.   Pretend you are a seamstress from the 19th century.  You are quietly sitting on your porch catching your breath from some canning in your summer kitchen.  You can hear the voices of your children as they have been sent to the garden to pick beans for tonight's dinner. 

Suddenly you have been transported to today's world... you've been placed in the bedroom of a woman who has identified herself as a quilter.  

The quilter is holding a booklet devoted to quilting fabric and patterns (you can't imagine such a thing) and is pointing to a kit she had purchased and made.

"Oh Deborah," the quilter says to her friend who is standing next to her (and I'm not even going to touch how confused you are by this inappropriately dressed female in a pair of strange blue bloomers with her hair chopped off - such a sight this quilter of 2012).

"Look at this wonderful bed scarf I made.  I love how it picks up the colors in the room."

BED SCARF?  What?  The bed gets cold and needs a scarf?   You beg to return to your canning and escape this nightmare.  I understand your confusion and will now release you from this scene. 

Okay, I've said it.  I've done it in a round about way, but it is out there for everyone to ponder.  What the heck was the reason for having bed scarves? Who would waste their time and money on a project such as this?  Did they run out of time to finish off the quilt?  Did they  just get bored?  Did they make it as a gift and didn't think the recipient would appreciate the entire quilt so only gave them a quarter of it?

And then there are bed scarf patterns?  Again, have quilters lost their pin cushions?  Consumerism at its worst.  Sorry, I just can't warm up to a quilt that barely covers my toes!

And since the summer days are coming to a close and leaves turning brilliant colors means that Christmas decorations will soon be in the local grocery store, and my mailbox will be filled with catalogs....let me part with this image:

Consumerism.  What can they possibly think of next???

Sunday, August 5, 2012

What Would You Do?? or WWYD?

Here's my conundrum:
You can see the top edge with the whisker raveling effect.  There are some areas of condition, so many would just categorize this as a cutter quilt.  But, I just can seem to bring myself to put the Ginghers to the fibers. 

Many of the penny blocks are endearing and capture simple joys of life at the turn of the 20th century.

The workmanship isn't extraordinary.  The scenes are typical penny square motifs.  I could keep listing the quilts faults or reasons to list it as a ubiquitous purchase since I did buy this yesterday at the garage sale.

But then, I look at the squirrel with his nut and I laugh.  I see the girl with the cow and I think of our cow, Fern, when I was a child.  I see the big toad and think of my daughter checking the Frog and Toad books out of the school library every week. 

So, WWYD?  Chop it up for repurposing?  Fold and love?  The hotline is open for comments!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Surprises around the corner...

This morning was the traditional trip to the dump.  Saturday mornings the car gets filled and off my husband goes on this chore that I prefer not to touch with a ten foot pole.

However, this morning there was a sale not too far from the landfill, so off I went with him, bags of refuse in tow.

Sometimes, life just throws you a surprise when you're not expecting it...

Look what I found!!!

Big Ben?  Is this possibly an Olympic themed fabric?

Dog fabrics are always winners!

Who doesn't love Halloween?

Okay, wait.... I need to explain.  This isn't what I purchased at the sale, this is what I found at home because I had to clean out my containers in order to store my new purchases.

I had this tucked in the bottom of a bin and had forgotten I had it because it was concealed by a baby quilt!!!  I was as excited as the day I put in the last stitch.

The pattern is from a Fons and Porter magazine. Mary Koval reproduced the pattern from an antique fan quilt from her own quilt collection.  Her vintage quilt dated from the 1950's .

I loved the fabrics I had selected for the fans and I had more fun using the embroidery stitch pattern from my sewing machine rather than hand embroidering with black floss  -  this was one of the few times my machine had done anything other than a straight stitch.

Maybe the reminder of having this assembled quilt top is what I needed in order to finish it off? 

And my sale purchases?? ... some fun percales and a tin filled with belt buckles.

 I was able to replenish my bin of wooden spools which was EMPTY.  But darn it all....sometimes the grass is actually greener in your own storage space. :)   As Dorothy said, "there's no place like home".