Thursday, September 24, 2015

Inspiration for a Baby Quilt

Another baby is on the way! Grandchild #3 is expected to arrive in November, and I (Teri) am thrilled to have a little girl joining our family. One of life's greatest joys is being a grandma! If you've followed the blog for the past few months, you may remember that my "baby quilts" tend to be more like toddler quilts. Isaac received his Thing 1 and Thing 2 quilt on his first birthday, and Jacob had to wait until he turned two for his Cat in the Hat quilt. Time will tell when my granddaughter will receive her quilt. But I'm already thinking and looking for inspiration.

I love to stroll through antique malls. Often, I buy nothing. But I take lots of pictures, especially if I find something that makes my heart sing . . . usually fiber-related. Some recent gems are in the forefront of my mind as I think of quilt possibilities for our new baby girl. This dress caught my eye; it is a simple beauty with so much care put into the embroidered touches. Sometimes, the love shines through those kinds of details.

Obviously, this is not a quilt, but I just love the care put into this darling little dress. The embroidered flowers are dear, and doesn't the feather stitch on the sleeves and bodice add charm? I love that I can think of dresses!

How cute is this embroidered animal quilt? Each block is a different animal, stitched in a rainbow of colors. How fun this must have been for a little one to study each of these little critters. Perhaps they might have been given names, or become the characters in stories told in the nursery. So many possibilities for such a sweet quilt.

This next quilt is one that I wish I would have bought. I actually went back to the antique mall hoping it was still there, but someone else was smarter than I and bought it. Powder puff pink is not my favorite color, and I am not a cat person, but this appliquéd and embroidered quilt is just beyond special. The design is ingenious; each unique little kitten is sitting on a stem, perched on a calyx. I confess that it took me a second to "get it" and realize that I was looking at pussy willows. How I wish I'd have bought this treasure!

Adorable vintage pussy willow quilt, appliquéd and embroidered; tied with floss.

When I was a little girl, my grandmother had the book called The Little Red Hen, which I can still hear her reading in my mind. She would also tell us a different story about the red hen being captured by a sly fox. Not long ago, I found a copy of an old book with that story, ironically printed about the time my grandmother was born (over a hundred years ago.) Being the lover of stories that I am, wouldn't it be fun to create a Red Hen inspired quilt, based on the illustrations in the book? 


My last source of inspiration is a baby quilt that I received for my youngest son when he was born—my son, who is the father of this new little granddaughter. I was teaching fourth grade at the time, and this sheep quilt was a gift from my class, lovingly made by the mom of one of my students. At the time, I knew nothing of quilt making. I knew that this quilt was amazing and beautiful, but I had too little appreciation for all the love that went into making such a gift. I do now, and I wish I could let her know that I still cherish this gift.

Patchwork sheep. Each face is hand quilted; the rest is machine quilted. 

The baby quilt in the doll bed that my great-grandfather made for my mom when she was a little girl. Three generations have played with this doll bed, and it is waiting for a fourth to enjoy it. My great-grandmother stenciled the bed and made the crocheted cushion under the doll.

The possibilities are endless. Stay tuned to see what quilt my new granddaughter will receive. Maybe she will actually get a BABY quilt!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

To Grandma's House We Go

Why do I (Kara) love to stitch? I have from a young age loved to do any hand work that involved a needle. My inspiration has always come from this lady, my Grandma.

Esther Steinke was a beautiful person inside and out, and during the course of her 90+ years on this earth, she was an inspiration to many. She lived in St. Joseph, Michigan, for most of her life. With her husband, Ray, she raised two daughters and had a profound influence on her five granddaughters and her thirteen great-grandchildren.  

Esther and Ray Steinke's wedding day
She was an outstanding seamstress and made all of her own clothes as well as for her two daughters while working full time. When her granddaughters came, she made us all matching outfits for Christmas and Easter, even though we lived in different parts of the country.

Our velvet Christmas outfits
Another set of Christmas outfits
She would come home from her factory job, make dinner, and then sit down to the sewing machine. But sewing clothes was not all she would do. She loved to knit and crochet afghans, doilies, and tablecloths. 

Some of her doilies
Afghans she made for my children

A beautiful crocheted tablecloth
As she got older, she didn't sew so many of her clothes anymore, and arthritis limited her knitting and crocheting. But she found an outlet for her need to sew when she and the ladies from her church got together to make flannel baby quilts for children in need. She also stitched a few of those flannel quilts for her great-grandchildren, and my son Alex fell in love with his from the time he was born. As the great-grandchildren got bigger, she made them all a larger size flannel quilt. 

This was our daughter McKenna's flannel quilt made by her great grandma
Alex loved his big quilt so much that he took it everywhere he went: sleepovers, camp, and even college.  Because of its travels, his blanket is in rough shape.  

As Grandma began cleaning out her house of things she wasn't going to be using anymore, I usually received most of her fabric, since I was the seamstress granddaughter.  So given the condition of my son's blanket, I am so grateful that I have these leftover pieces from my Grandma to make him a new one with a little bit of her in it.

With me living in Maryland and my Grandma living in Michigan, I didn't get to spend as much time with her as I would have liked, but the times we did visit were all the more special. We'd walk in from our long drive and inhale the scent of just being in her house. She was usually in her back bedroom watching her "stories" while working on a baby afghan. Because she spent much of her time in that room, I wanted to make her a lap quilt that would go nicely with the colors she had back there and could be used as a quick cover-up for her naps. I chose the Snail Trail pattern, as it was my favorite block at that time. She loved it and used it daily until she moved.

I miss her so much now that she is gone, but I feel blessed to have so many examples of her handwork.  But more than the tangible examples of her inspiration in my life, I have so many memories that I treasure and that my children treasure of her inspiration in all our lives.  

Has someone in your life inspired you?  We'd love to hear your stories about them.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

What a lady!

My mother-in-law, Cecelia, was a thoughtful and kind-hearted woman with a gentle and quiet spirit. I (Teri) was honored to have become part of her family, and over the years we grew quite close.

Shortly before she moved from her home in Virginia to live closer to our family, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After her surgery, I took off a week of work to go down and help her out during her initial healing. We spent that week talking and sharing family stories, making and freezing easy meals, going to doctor appointments, and beginning to pack for her move. Though the reason for the visit may not have been ideal, we truly had a great time together. At the end of the week, she told me she had something she wanted to give me for helping her. She came out of her bedroom holding this quilt, and she lovingly put it in my arms. This quilt was made by her favorite Aunt Mae, and she told me that it would give her great joy for me to own it now, because she knew how much I loved quilts and would cherish it as much as she did. I was touched beyond words and tearfully accepted this incredibly generous gift. And I do cherish it, as I cherish the relationship I was blessed to have with this woman who treated me more like a daughter than a daughter-in-law.

The ladies are quite charming, each wearing a two-colored dress with parasol and bonnet to match. The colors of the dresses are beautifully matched. There doesn't appear to be any repetition in the fabrics; each block is unique. I'm sure if I were an expert, I would know something about whether that indicated that they were feed sacks, or possibly old aprons or dresses. I have not yet had it appraised, which would likely give me a bit more information. My best guess is that is was made some time in the 1940's, but even my mother-in-law couldn't remember exactly when she received it.

In each block, the center panel of the dress, the parasol, and the flowers are a solid fabric. 
The bonnet and skirt is always a print and lighter in value. 

She stands in an embroidered garden, with French knotted red flowers...
...and pinwheel blooms to match her parasol.
I just love her shoes! 
Her parasol is embroidered and "fringed" with French knots.
Each lady is looking away, her face hidden by her bonnet. And note the cute little bow at her neck.
My favorite belle in my favorite color
The back of the quilt
The entire quilt is appliquéd, embroidered, and quilted by hand. It is evident that much love went into each and every stitch. By quilt show judging standards, it may not be perfect, but the love in this quilt was indeed perfect. And the love expressed to me when my mother-in-law gave it to me was just as special.

I have done a tiny bit of research, trying to locate the source of the pattern. I know it was not original, because I found one picture of a quilt online with the same lady and flowers. (You can see it on our Pinterest page.) I was unable to determine who distributed the pattern, however.

According to Barbara Brackman, my Colonial Lady is a derivative of Sunbonnet Sue, (of whom ironically, I've never been a fan.) A similar lady is found in Barbara Brackman's Encyclopedia of Appliqué, along with several pages of bonneted girls and ladies. For more information about the colonial lady, read Barbara's blog, Old Fashioned Nostalgia. And for a good laugh, check out her recent blog, Colonial Lady: Wardrobe & Other Malfunctions. In comparison, my Ladies sure are elegant!

Recently, I have found a couple variations of the Colonial Lady in antique stores. Both were embroidered dresser scarves or table runners. One had a lovely crocheted skirt. On each, the Lady is mirrored on both ends of the scarves.

As lovely as my Colonial Lady quilt is, it is all the more special because of the story that those stitches tell. The story of the love of a favorite aunt for her young niece, and the love of that young niece grown to an old woman, passing that cherished heirloom onto her daughter-in-law. And someday it will certainly be passed on to future generations, who I pray will appreciate the stories these Ladies have to tell.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Pincushion Potential

The pincushion. An item in the sewing room that used to be strictly utilitarian and plain in appearance. (I [Kara] think of the traditional tomato pincushion here.) However, in recent times the lowly pincushion has been elevated from just being functional to a stylish, creative, decorative, item that graces not just our sewing rooms but can be used as a part of any room's decor.

As a former seamstress (see Out With the Old and in with the New), my tomato pincushion was my right-hand gal, and I'd go into panic mode if my assistant cat knocked it somewhere into the messy depths of my sewing room. It's still downstairs next to my sewing machine, ready to fulfill its duty for that time that I come out of seamstress retirement, or for when I can get some time to do some quilt piecing.

 But now my assistants are these two gems:

They sit beside me at my kitchen table where I do most of my stitching now. The flower pincushion was made this past April at Jan Vaine's Tea and Stitches Retreat, and the crazy quilt one was given to me by Teri at our last Appliqué Academy.

A couple of months ago, our friend Jo brought a craft to do during our weekly stitch time. It was a pincushion made from a bottle cap. I was hooked after making the first one and proceeded to scour my house for bottle caps.

Without realizing it, I now had a pincushion collection and began to think that I really needed to add to it. I had also been seeing a lot of creative pincushion ideas on Pinterest and different blogs that I followed. Combine that with my love of all things vintage, and I now had another collection: items for "potential" pincushions. My thrift store wanderings took on a different mission as I viewed the housewares aisle as a place to find future pincushions.

Here are a few of my recent finds:

The sugar bowl top will hide the pincushion and the bottom will be storage
 Won't these look lovely as pincushions with some vintage trims?
This basket will have new life with some wool for a pincushion top
Hidden storage and a pincushion
This brass acorn used to be a lighter 

A bee-themed pincushion with storage
So what to do with all this potential? I think each item will lend itself to a certain decorative flair and I've gathered a few items that I think will work for the new purpose these pieces will have. Antique quilt blocks, doilies, and velvet will make beautiful decorative tops, and this sari silk ribbon will certainly be used somewhere.

Add in some vintage-style trims, beads, lace and silk and I've already found so many options for creating some beautiful yet functional works of art.

Do you have a pincushion collection or have you transformed any unconventional items into pincushions? Stay tuned to see how these treasures find new lives as pincushions, and check out our "Pins and Needles" Pinterest board for inspiration to add to your own collection!