Thursday, March 26, 2015

Crazy for Crazy Quilts

Well, maybe we aren't CRAZY, but we do have a slight obsession with crazy quilts.  Both Teri and I (Kara) are fascinated with crazy quilts of all kinds, and we have our good friend and author Janice Vaine to thank for it. At the end of the 2013 Elly Sienkiewicz Appliqué Academy, Jan showed us her latest quilt purchase and her thoughts and ideas for it to be the subject of her next book. When we saw this quilt, it was love at first sight.

Embroidery and Patchwork Revisited, by Janice Vaine.
See for more about Jan.
We immediately volunteered to help Jan stitch some samples, and much to our joy (and trepidation) she took us up on our offer. Thus, our fascination with crazy quilting began.  Oh, the threads, the stitches, the combinations, the colors!  So many options were there for our choosing that sometimes we just had to put it down and walk away.  At the next Appliqué Academy, Jan unveiled her beautiful book Patchwork and Embroidery Revisited, and we were able to see the fruits of our labors put into a splendid quilt.

Last spring our local quilt shop mentioned that they had some customers who were looking for a crazy quilt class and asked if we would be able to put something together. We of course said yes and put together a couple of samples for the new class that would take place in the fall.

Kara's crazy quilt sampler

Teri's crazy quilt sampler
In both samplers, we used a few motifs from Jan's book, and found inspiration for others from pictures or in our gardens.
During that summer, we were at Quilt Odyssey in Hershey, Pennsylvania, perusing the vendors when we came across a booth selling vintage items.  Our eyes were immediately drawn to an all velvet crazy quilt hanging on the wall.  The velvets were all in the most gorgeous jewel tones, yet the embroidery was simple, which only enhanced the velvets. As we were drooling gazing upon this beauty, the vendor approached us and asked if we needed help (most certainly we did). We asked where she had found the quilt and if there was any information as to its provenance. All she knew was that it came from a small town in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and probably was old. That was it; no more details about such an amazing quilt. Teri asked the price and seriously contemplated purchasing it but wanted to think about it first. After all, we were teaching a crazy quilt class soon, and what a great teaching tool it could be! We walked away from the booth and I tried to play the devil's advocate (her husband doesn't believe that part), but we didn't even get two booths away before the decision was made. We walked back to booth and the quilt was gone! Fortunately, the vendor had set it aside with thoughts of keeping it for herself, but relinquished it into Teri's loving hands.

All velvet crazy quilt, approximately 72-inches square, dated around 1930.

Detail: each block is about 18" square.
Note the tree embroidered in the center, found in the
center of each block, always placed on a red patch.
Since there was very little information about the quilt we began to get creative, wondering how someone could acquire all those different velvets. Did they work in a violin case factory, or better yet, did they work in a place that lined caskets? Those were just a couple of the crazy ideas that we suggested, (because it seems that if one doesn't know the story of a quilt, making up its history is the logical result.) Upon further research, we found out that packs of velvets were able to be ordered, and we also discovered that the pattern for the tree design embroidered in each block was published by Singer around 1930.  Those questions were answered, but many more still remained.  Who made this quilt that had such thoughtfully placed embroidery and colors?  Was it made for anyone in particular? Did the maker nearly lose her mind while piecing all that velvet?  We will probably never know.

Our crazy quilting class was such a success and the demand so high that we ended up teaching two classes this past fall and have another one scheduled this month.  We were both surprised at the response to our class, but shouldn't have been surprised that many others shared our love for this particular quilt genre.  What is it about these quilts that catches our attention, and how did this style begin?

Piecing small pieces of worn out garments into blankets had been a practice since the Colonial times, but it didn't become an art form until the Victorian era.  Some crazy quilts were made with nostalgia in mind and might have scraps of garments that brought thoughts of special people or special days.  Other crazy quilts were made by wealthy ladies as a way to showcase there needlework talents. Japanese art greatly influenced the motifs and settings in these Victorian-era quilts.

When I was in Maine this past fall, I was fortunate to see an amazing crazy quilt. The stunning quilt was a fine example of a Victorian-era quilt.  The embroidery was mostly done in vibrant shades of silk perle, and the motifs and edge stitches were clever and creative. That quilt was a splendid example of why I think crazy quilts are so intriguing—that you almost always see something different every time you look at them.

Carla's quilt, detail
Yesterday, Teri and I stopped into Patches, our local quilt shop, and saw this gorgeous quilt hanging. It was made by Carla Fultz, who works there and took our class last fall.  We were stunned by the beauty of her quilt and loved her color selections.  Carla's creative motif choices add quite a spark of interest to her quilt.  We were honored that she allowed us to share it with you.
Carla's crazy quilt

Given our penchant for stories, we found this adorable reprint of a Victorian postcard that depicted Little Red Riding Hood at Grandma's house and have pieced this block using more embellishment. At some point in the future, this will be another class and will allow our students to broaden their repertoire of skills that can be used on their crazy quilts.
Little Red Riding Hood, as stitched by Kara
The sky is the limit nowadays as to what a crazy quilt can look like and what fabrics, fibers and details can be used.  Some are simple with just embroidery, and some have fantastic embellishments throughout.  A crazy quilt can be themed with a story, or with color elements, or even using one type of fabric such as silk or velvets. Every crazy quilt is unique to its maker and his or her tastes, and not necessarily a reflection of the maker's mental state . . . well, okay, we may be a LITTLE crazy!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

What's your story?

What do quilts and stories have to do with each other? Everything, actually! 

Have you ever had a piece of needlework passed down through your family and wondered who made it, how they made it, and/or why? These are the stories of our families—part of our history. So often these gems are tucked away in a chest or put on a closet shelf. But there is a wealth of information within those stitches, if only we knew their stories.

Kara and I (Teri) have both inherited quilts that were made by our great-grandmothers. We both received the quilts from our mothers, who gave them to us knowing how much we love quilts. (Thanks, Moms!)

Marie and Ertman Steinke
Kara just recently received her quilt, which was made by Marie Steinke. Kara had never seen this quilt and didn't know it existed before her mother gave it to her this past fall. Marie was married to Ertman and had three children, two boys and a girl, the oldest of whom was Kara's grandfather. Marie died before Kara was born, and she knows little about her, except that she was born and lived most of her life in Sodus, Michigan. She and Ertman ran an orchard.

Marie and Ertman, with son, Raymond

Dresden Plate block
This quilt is a lovely Dresden plate pattern, set with a gorgeous gold fabric and bordered with a unique scallop. Sadly, no information is given with the quilt, so we know nothing of the particulars of it but that it was thought to have been made by Maria. There are no written records to tell why it was made, or how. No stories of the quilt had been shared. We are left to wonder.

Dresden Plate quilt with half-plate scalloped border.

The second quilt we will look at today was made in Pennsylvania circa 1930's by my great- grandmother, Jennie Stein, and her sister, Mabel. Jennie was born in 1883 to Charles and Susan Baum, and married Jacob Stein in 1903. They had seven children, two boys and five girls, my grandmother among them. 

Jennie and Jacob Stein's wedding certificate

My Grandmother's Flower Garden
My mother can remember the quilt frame set up in the front bedroom of my great-grandparents' home at 265 North Main Street in Red Lion, PA. She can remember the two sisters, Jennie and Mabel, sitting at the frame and quilting. She also remembers seeing them cutting up feed sacks and old aprons and dresses to make the quilts. While we are not sure that Mom actually saw this particular quilt being made, I like to picture my mother as a small girl, playing with her paper dolls on the floor beneath her grandmother and great-aunt, while they lovingly stitched bedding for their families.

Repair work around the flower center.

For this Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt was most certainly made to be utilitarian; its beauty was to be used for warmth, and it apparently was well used, as there are several places where worn patches have been heavily repaired with whip stitches. But still, care was put into the design: each "flower" has matching yellow calico centers, and it is evident that thought was put into the surrounding petals to ensure that their colors complemented each other.

Careful color choices: matching yellow flower centers,
coordinating petal fabrics.

I was blessed to have known my great-grandmother. Jennie died in 1972 when I was 14 years old. I cherish many memories of visits with Jennie and Jake when I was a young girl. Each time I look at this quilt, I am reminded of her sugar cakes, washing dishes with my cousins after a big Sunday dinner, the hassock filled with greeting cards they had received through the years, their flower gardens and sidewalk lined with portulacas, and the beautiful wisteria tree in their backyard.

Jennie and Jake, in front of 265 N. Main, probably around the time
my mother remembered her quilting...and in the backyard in front
of the wisteria tree, an established backdrop for many family photos.

My great-grandparents as I remember them,
less than a year before Jennie died.
Jennie was always eager to open her home. She would cook all day on Saturdays so she could invite people to join them for dinner after church on Sundays. Though I don't remember it, my mom and I lived with them for a few months when I was about a year old, while my dad was finishing his time in the Navy. I love the thought of that quilt being stitched in the house where four generations lived for some time of their lives: my great- grandparents, my grandmother, my mom, and me. This simple quilt made from rags and bags covers all the generations with Jennie's love. Its story is rich, and I am so happy to know something of it.

While there was no written record kept for the quilt, we had enough information from which to piece many of the particulars of the story of my Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt. We may have filled in some gaps with speculation, but for the most part, we know who made it and where, as well as why they made the quilt. However, the story of Kara's Dresden Plate quilt is different. She knows little about how or why this beauty was made, but yearns to know its history. Sadly, the time has passed to ask questions, for those who would have known the answers are gone.

If you have needlework that has been passed down to you, ask someone who might know something about who made it, where, why, how. Ask for stories about the maker if you didn't know her. And share those tales! 

Our needlework, quilts and otherwise, gives us opportunities to tell our stories to our descendants. Write the details of your needlework on labels secured to the back of the quilts, or keep them in a notebook. Share the information of your quilts with your children, so they can share with theirs, and so on. How comforting to know that our great grandchildren will know the stories of our lives stitched into our quilts, so that they can share that history with their grandchildren. Otherwise, they may have to make up their own stories...and while they may be a bit more exciting than true life, aren't our real stories what we want them to know of us?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

...and it was just right.

Welcome to our blog!

We have been friends for about 20 years and have been quilting together for almost that long, sharing much laughter . . . and some tears. In true story fashion, we thought you could start to get to know us through the tale of one of our first quilting adventures.

Once upon a time, there were two friends who loved to quilt. They set out for a weekend away from their families to take some classes at a quilt show in Gettysburg, PA. Sadly, they waited too long to reserve a room, and upon check-in were a bit disgruntled with the accommodations. Not to be discouraged, they decided to stay in the humble lodging rather than return home to the kids. (Even though they loved them dearly.)

Kara, the perky one, got into her pajamas and leaped through the air onto her bed in excitement. Teri, the cautious one, was lifting the covers on her bed and closely examining the wrinkles and strange fibers on the sheets. 

"Someone's been sleeping in my bed," cried Teri.  

"What do you mean?!" chirped Kara.

"There are hairs in my bed, and they aren't mine!" Teri exclaimed.

"Really? Are you sure? ...Oh, ewww! Someone's been sleeping in my bed, too!"

Thus began our adventures stitching together. Suffice it to say that we got clean sheets, stayed the night, had a great weekend of quilting, AND learned to make our reservations early. It may not have been Goldilocks in our beds, but we have been blessed to combine our creative energies, and working together has been just right.

A little over a year ago, we had a vision for a project which we will be sharing in upcoming posts. We have since started to teach appliqué and embroidery at our local quilt shop, and we've even had an opportunity to share our stories with a local guild. It is our hope that you will enjoy our tales of this journey, laugh a little, and possibly learn some new skills along the way.