Thursday, March 31, 2016

Some Special Quilts

By Diana Carpenter White

          A most special quilt was the one I made my Mama, my second and larger totally handmade piece, Simple Times in Tucker (from a Little Quilts pattern called Simple Times). The earlier class with Pam where I made a tote bag was a lead-up for this project.  Except for the cereal-cardboard-templates and scissors-only restrictions, we did all the same all-by-hand approach (she did let us use rulers and rotary cutters instead of cereal box cardboard patterns)  We met once a month, and did one section at a time, for most of a year; then we did the backing and quilting and binding, probably in December or maybe even after the holidays.  Was that in 1994-95?  I gave it to Mama, and could not have chosen a better recipient; if you need somebody to ooh and aah, somebody who will want to hear you tell her all about it, that was my Mama.  She was exalted!  I never gave her anything she treasured more.  She kept it over the back of her sofa, and showed it off, and told people about it, and would pet it as she went by.  In 1998 Mama was 90 when her last illness manifested; it was a glioblastoma.  She lost her sight in the summer and was finally persuaded to go into a nursing home in the fall.   She said her Simple Times quilt was too valuable to leave in a house that would be empty most of the time, and for me to take it home and keep it for her.  I did that, under protest, but she was right and it was what she wanted.  A while later after she died, I knew it needed to be Reid’s and Alex’s.  It seemed only right, since Reid is the oldest grandchild.  It hangs in the first room you enter in their house. 

          Another memorable quilt was Mrs. C’s retirement quilt, in 1996 or '97.   Lillian Cantrell was my principal at Henderson Mill.  When Mrs. C. announced in the fall that she would be retiring in December, Dottie Bailey and Judy Kosick and I looked at each other.  We were all three quilters.  Of course we had to make a quilt for her, and of course we had to involve the whole staff.  We agreed to meet in my room, and started planning right away.   And of course we shopped for fabric at Dream Quilters (Pam and Libby were gone, but Jan was there), and found a wonderful “My Kids” print of childlike stick-figure kids in bright colors, and we paired that with a rainbow stripe on white, for border and binding, and single solid colors to match, to frame the signature squares of white muslin.  We cut muslin squares and penciled out a square within which all the writing had to fit for each person's contribution.  We put interfacing under each square, mounting each on a fairly stiff backing, to make them easier to write or draw on and prevent pulling and distortion.  We discreetly notified the staff.  We set up a schedule and ran people through my room in twos and threes early and late in the day, through the lunchroom, keeping them out of the front hall so they never passed Mrs. C going in or coming out.  We kept after people until we got absolutely everybody, even the lunchroom and janitorial staff.  Some just signed their names, perhaps in a list of those who came in together.  Most wrote a message for Mrs. C., or quoted a Bible verse or a line of poetry.  A few did a little drawing or decoration on their square.  Everybody contributed to her quilt!

          All the writing was done in permanent fabric marker, ironed to set it, and the muslin squares were made into blocks with the addition of solid colors on two sides (from a very systematic master plan with the rainbow colors – I sweat bullets over that, and made many a sketch version before I got one to work).  These partially bordered blocks were joined to others in rows, and the rows of them joined into larger arrays, the bordering for each set added, so that the flow of colors made a stair-step diagonally across the quilt in a spectrum progression.  The colorful-kids fabric bordering the whole quilt included all the solid colors we used, and the striped backing was another arrangement of the rainbow of colors. 
          It turned out to be a big quilt, maybe 70-something by 80- or 90-something, bed-sized.  The three of us added the solid colors to one side and the bottom of the block rows, carefully figuring out the progression of colors, and I arranged and re-arranged the layout, with lots of input.   Each of us joined blocks into rows, and each of us joined a third of the rows.  Dotty maybe put the thirds together, and Judy maybe did the final borders, and I put the batting and the backing together, and did the binding, including the hand-stitching to finish up the back.  I had proposed we tie it, since quilting time was non-existent, and we agreed it was the way to go.  I measured intervals, spaced pins, and threaded needles with colored floss.  We three worked together on the completed quilt sandwich, stitching with big needles and colored embroidery floss.  Maybe it was tied in white, maybe black, maybe
colors, maybe a neutral, I'm not sure – I need to see it again.  We measured and safety-pin-marked the even intervals, several inches apart, and used a double thread in and down and in and down again, and up, ends dangling.  After we tied off each knot, we left the dangling ends until all ties were added, and then the three of us checked it all and trimmed off the tie ends to a standard length.  I used a little fray-check dotted in on the end of a pin, to be sure knots stayed knotted.  We presented the quilt to Mrs. C at her retirement banquet, a wonderful evening at Anthony's on Piedmont.  She was just all but overcome.  It was Mrs. C's decision that it never be used as a coverlet on a bed, but was hung upstairs in her house, in a room where it could be seen in its entirety.  She loved showing it off.  Mrs. C. died a few years ago – I trust her family has her retirement quilt safely put by, maybe in a cedar chest, maybe over a sofa, maybe on a wooden rod in an entry hall.  I hope it's always somewhere visible.

          For his May 3rd birthday in 1998, I made a wall quilt for Don.  JoAnn and I went to a quilt show on Pleasantburg in Greenville in the 1990s.  Or maybe I went to the one on Pleasantburg, a show put together by the Foothills Piecers or Piecemakers Guild in the early 90s, and she and I went together to their show another year; I think Don and Ivan went too, to view the quilts (and then we all went out to dinner together).  Anyway, there were some whose geometry pleased Don, quite a lot, as a mathematician and engineer.  The bargellos particularly appealed to him; I tucked this information away, since I wanted to make a bargello quilt sometime.  At some later point, in the middle to late 90s, a quilt guild in Chattanooga sponsored a class in bargello, given by a quilter who had made some wonderful bargellos.  I had some fabric with a black background covered by a spectrum of dots of different sizes, and I had a bunch of some solid color fabrics in a rainbow progression of twelve fabrics – V, dark R-V, lighter R-V, R, R-O, Y, G (a somewhat Y-G), B-G dark, B-G lighter, B (dark true blue), B-V.  Since the first progression was not strictly a clean spectrum, I suspect I shopped for yardage, picking colors that moved into one another, all in the same store, rather than pulling out a rainbow roll of strips, hand-dyed, which is what I look for nowadays at every vendor and every show.  I got the basic strips pieced in class, with lots of blackground print at each end of the strips of color, and I cut the whole thing into varying widths and began to put them side by side, stair-stepping up one block or down one block, as bargello does.  I tried several arrangements before I got an up-and-down pattern that looked happy.  The slash of color like a lightning bolt starts low on the left and goes up and briefly down and up to a peak, and down a bit on the right.  Of course this took some time after the class, and it was a scary process, since making the final choice about cutting off excess fabric was one of those can’t-go-back situations.  Then I had to find a backing and make a label and attach a sleeve.  The backing was a black background with wavy lines of color flowing down it. 

          Do we sense a theme here?  Black backgrounds to make colors pop, colors in a somewhat defensible progression that resembles a spectrum, or a sort of rainbow?  O yes.

          I got the hand-written label made, attached it in a picture-frame surround in the bottom right, and began to machine quilt.  I followed the lines of the color slash, going diagonally corner to corner across the squares of color, and echo-quilted out from those lines, the entire surface of the quilt.  Interestingly, the machine quilting was fairly stress-free and all but freehand.  I looked up how to attach a sleeve and cut one from black and sewed it, and cut binding strips and joined them, and bound and finished off the quilt. 

          Don and JoAnn had lived in several places in Greenville; when Don left their home in Woodstock to go to Greenville for a new job, JoAnn stayed on for a bit while they checked out some things.  When the decision was made, they sold that wonderful house and opted for storing furniture and camping, and then renting, and finally they found land they wanted and made building plans.  Ivan and I got to walk their acreage with them, and I loved all the trees; one variety was chinquapin oak, which I had never really identified, and there were plenty of hardwoods and a good frontage up Trammell Mountain outside Travelers Rest.  JoAnn mourned every tree that had to be cut, even though she agreed with Don’s assessment about the space needed and about clearing that space.  They chose a modular house, which had to be trucked in, in several parts.  Quite an adventure, getting that thing up the mountain and put in place, and joining the parts, and getting the trucks out again. 

          When they were preparing to move in, perhaps at the point of having the mauve carpet installed, we sat in the living room on the carpet rolls, and rejoiced with them.  They had made their move, they had their house, they had good jobs.  Ivan had made it through open heart surgery and a successful triple heart bypass in the spring of 1997.  We were each and all at a good place.  In the evening JoAnn and I went to Subway to get us all some supper, and she chose Subway because they had healthy heart options.  Perhaps it was during that weekend, or perhaps a later one, when Ivan and I were camping at the nearby campground so Ivan and Don could do some finishing up chores at the house, that I put the finishing touches on Don's quilt.  I had brought the quilt, all done but the hand-stitching to finish the black binding, and I finished that at the campground.  Almost as soon as Don got his quilt, he went out to get a rod and some finials and he hung the thing in their living room, where it has lived ever since.