Thursday, October 29, 2015

Apron Strings

Apron: A piece of clothing worn on the front of the body over clothes to keep them from getting dirty.

This is Webster's definition of an apron, but growing up, my sister and I (Kara) had a different definition for the apron. Aprons were the springboard for some amazing fashion pieces that she and I created using the collection of aprons that our grandmother had. To set the stage for how we were able to attempt this next new fashion movement, I should share more about my Grandma Killian.

Grandma Killian lived in St. Joseph for most of her life and had even been a Blossomland queen when she was young. A picture of her as the Blossomland queen is painted on the carousel at Silver Beach in St. Joseph, Michigan.

Alice Merson (my grandmother) at the blessing of the blossoms
Another pageant picture
The Silver Beach Carousel
My grandma when she lived on the Lake

Grandma was a widow during the time I knew her, and during that time she lived in an apartment right on Lake Michigan in St. Joseph, Michigan. We would visit her every summer and spend a few weeks at a time with her, usually without our parents since we lived so far away. She loved living right on the lake and had an impressive collection of beach glass and interesting rocks. (Okay, the interesting rock collection might have been from all the rocks my sister and I brought up from the beach.) 

We loved to visit her for so many reasons. What could be more fun than spending summer days on Lake Michigan? Her apartment complex had a pool and a massive set of steps that led to the beach. My sister and I would spend our days going from the pool to the beach and back again—sometimes with cousins and parents, but most of the time we were on our own.

Shenanigans at the pools
Hanging out with cousins on the diving board
When we were tired of the beach and pool, we would hang out in the apartment and spend time in her spare bedroom where we slept.  The bottom drawer of the dresser in there held a treasure trove of aprons of all sizes, fabrics, and types.  We would create some of the most divine garments (at least in our eyes) and then force any adult present to sit through a fashion show. We spent hours with those aprons. My aunts don't remember that Grandma set out to collect aprons but believe her collection must have just accumulated over time. As the wife of the county prosecuting attorney, entertaining and cocktail parties were part of their daily lives, and during the '40s an '50s, the apron was sometimes a fashion accessory.  My grandfather, as an attorney for the local fruit farmers, was often given fruits and vegetables as payment. My grandma would then can the payment, so some of her aprons were functional as well.

Now I have started a collection of my own aprons. Most of the aprons have been purchased at antique stores or thrift stores. I've tried to vary the types I purchase when it comes to the fabric and the style.

My collection so far
I love the uniqueness of the pockets on this one.
This crocheted beauty probably wasn't very practical, but very sweet nonetheless.
A beautifully embroidered Colonial Lady
In my mind, my grandma's aprons symbolize the carefree weeks we spent with her. She loved us so much and allowed us to make some pretty big messes with those aprons. I don't know if I will have granddaughters who will spend hours playing with my aprons and making memories, but at least they will be there if I do. What do you have that is a special reminder of your grandma?

My drawer full of aprons

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Kitchen Stitching

A couple of weeks ago, my book club met for brunch at my friend's house. Linda has a lovely home surrounded by an incredible garden, so it is always a treat to visit. Her walls are covered with family photos and heirlooms, and I (Teri) find myself drawn to the stories on her walls. 

The Old Home Kitchen, 1864

One of the first things I noticed upon my arrival was this lovely framed stitching of a kitchen, dated 1864. It's no surprise that I asked her about it. Here is her story.

The Old Home Kitchen was stitched by Maria Hartlein Weller, wife of Gideon. Maria was Linda's grandfather's grandmother. Linda says she likes to imagine Maria sitting in her kitchen sketching and stitching the room. It is stitched on linen, primarily with an outline stitch. We think the color may have been added using chalk, for chalk appears to have been the medium for coloring the sketches in this fraktur, also from Maria and Gideon's home. 

Linda asked a friend to peruse the text for translation. Apparently, it is an old form of German, with the word for fire appearing repeatedly throughout the piece. Perhaps it was a prayer for protection from fire and was hung over the fireplace.
Linda surmised that Maria quite likely used the design in this fraktur as inspiration for the birds on her embroidery. The birds on the top of the kitchen piece and those at the bottom of the fraktur show strong similarities.

She changed the color of the birds in her embroidery, but the shape of the birds and even the leaves mirror those in the pictures on the left.

I'm fascinated by the date centered at the top of the embroidery. It is simultaneously subtle and bold. Maria chose a color that was almost as light as her background, yet it is rather large; at least as large as the title. The stitching itself is intriguing. Part of the numbers are stitched the same way as her letters, with a very close stem stitch. Yet she added more to the numbers; it almost appears as though there are random stitches scattered on some of the numbers, but I feel certain Maria had a plan. Perhaps she was trying to give the numbers more dimension. The date is clearly an important element in her design. I'd love to know what the red embroidered line above the 6 represents. And the scrolled design with the running stitch is a lovely way to separate the title from "the kitchen."

I don't know about you, but this picture draws me right into that room, 150 years ago. I want to sit down in that green rocking chair by the wood stove, drink a cup of tea, and have a chat with Maria. According to Linda, the crocks on the top shelf—also above the cabinet in the full picture above—were evidently filled with milk left to get sour. So I presume they must have made their own cheese, which she might share during my stay. Maybe I could help her to spin some wool on that spinning wheel. What a lovely visit that would be! 

Maria and Gideon Weller

While Linda and I were talking, she pulled out a notebook full of family history, including typed anecdotes and newspaper clippings. She told me that at one point Maria became quite ill, and her husband, Gideon, needed help to take care of her. Their son had died, so his wife moved in to help care for her mother-in-law. After Maria died, Gideon married his daughter-in-law, and they had a large family. 

Before I left Linda's house, a lovely framed quilt hanging on the wall in the hallway caught my eye. It was a baby quilt made for her grandfather, possibly made by his grandmother, Maria. It was such a joy to see so many stitched stories of Linda's family throughout her home! So many treasures.

Many thanks to my friend, Linda, for sharing her stories with me and allowing me to share with you. Isn't is inspiring to think that the works we stitch today can tell our stories to generations hundreds of years from now? Let's stitch our stories!


Linda's garden had this amazing hydrangea bush covered with blooms of various colors.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Making Little Red Crazy

Little Red Riding Hood is one of our favorite fairy tales so when I (Kara) saw this vintage postcard cloth reproduction on Ebay, I knew that it would be a perfect centerpiece for our next crazy quilting class.

Our first class went through the basics of embroidering seam stitches and motifs. After the class was finished, we began to get requests for a class that would teach some more advanced embellishment using ribbon, beads, and trims.

This Victorian Little Red Riding Hood
became the centerpiece of a very simple block

I wanted to keep the block simple so that the project would not be overwhelming but would have enough space to fit all the different techniques we wanted to teach. This particular colorway has to be one of my favorites, so picking fabrics for it was easy.

The first step was highlighting different elements of the postcard with a bit of silk ribbon and wool thread. I just did a few gathered silk roses where there were roses on the print and added some chain, stem, and straight stitches on the birdcage and basket.

After the postcard elements were done, I began to plan the seam stitches for the piece. Those needed to be done next since the embellishments would overlap them a bit.  

Chain stitches and lazy daisies

After the seam stitches were finished, I started on the different embellishment techniques we wanted to teach. The butterfly was created from a piece of scavenged lace and was attached with a crested chain stitch done close together with a Valdani #8 pearl cotton. The little wood beads used for the butterfly's body were the perfect color.

A lacy butterfly

The blue silk ombré ribbon that frames the corners was gathered first and then attached with glass beads.

The next place to be embellished was the lower right corner where I did some more gathered roses, as well as two spiderweb roses. The center flower is made up of silk ribbon using the ribbon stitch, some straight stitches, and more glass beads for the center.

Last but not least were a couple of motifs to balance things out and pull from the imagery in the center. The flowers from the picture were re-created with french knots and silk ribbon. The basket was made with the same wool used on the postcard, but I added a tiny piece of linen for the cover.

None of the techniques used in this block were difficult, but when used in conjunction with the charming vintage postcard, they created a lovely sample for our class.

The Little Red Riding Hood postcard has so many options for embellishment and so do the postcards pictured below. I can see a wreath of French knots surrounding the hands and maybe some ribbon roses for the one on the right.

Crazy quilting lends itself to all tastes, and there are no rules as to what can be used for embellishment. Hopefully you have enjoyed looking at our crazy Little Red and have been able to get some ideas for your crazy quilt blocks. Happy Stitching!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Walk Through the Garden

Who doesn't love a beautiful garden? There is just something about the beauty of a flower that fills my heart with joy. One of my fondest childhood memories is visiting with my great-grandparents and spending time in their backyard, which was almost entirely a flower garden. My great-grandmother stitched this lovely piece, which hung at the top of the stairs in their home. It is almost as lovely as her flower garden was. Whenever we would visit when flowers were blooming, we always went home with a cut bouquet of fresh blooms from her garden. 

This photo of Grandma's garden was probably taken in the 1960s.
To this day, I plant portulacas along my front walk in memory of her.

Because I (Teri) have always loved my flower garden, it seems no surprise that I would be so drawn to stitching flowers as well. That was surely what pulled me so strongly to Baltimore Album style appliqué: there are so many flowers to stitch. And oh, the things one can do with ribbon! (See Another Baltimore Journey.) I thought it might be fun to dig through some of the photographs I've taken in my garden visits and compare them to some flowers I've stitched. So, put on your garden shoes, and let's take a walk through the garden!

I stitched this poppy about thirty years ago as part of a crewel kit—one of my first endeavors.
It was stitched with wool thread.
The real thing, in my garden.

Cherry blossoms, appliquéd with cotton fabric.
Yo-yos are gathered into petals, with embroidered pistils.
Cherry blossoms from the tree in my front yard.

This lovely yellow rose is made with wired silk ribbon. It hasn't found a home yet,
but I'm sure it will be stitched into a "garden" someday. 
I wish I could say that this is from my garden, but I must confess
that this one was taken at the Hershey Gardens in Pennsylvania.

This dimensional hydrangea is stitched with wool,
made of over a hundred squares cut into four petals.
Each blossom is attached with a bead.
These beauties are from the garden at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

I have always loved wisteria, another remembrance of my great-grandparents' garden.
This is stitched using floss—stem stitch and colonial knots—on a miniature crazy quilt sampler
I made for a class we teach.
This lovely wisteria grows in the garden of a dear friend.

My cattails are appliquéd with cotton; 
the real cattails are by a pond near a hiking trail near our home.

This red rose and bud are stitched with red silk, with appliquéd
cotton leaves and calyx, and embroidered with silk thread.
Another stunning rose from the Hershey Gardens. 

The water lily is stitched using cotton fabric, with perle cotton pistils.
Another Hershey Garden bloom

Last week, we looked at Kara's marigolds, which inspired me to look at some of my own flowers. If I'm not stitching a flower, there is a good chance that I'm taking a photograph of one. It was great fun to search my photo files and compare the two. The inspiration I find in a garden, or even a field of wildflowers, is amazing. 

Thank you for joining me. I hope you've enjoyed our garden walk! Are you feeling inspired to stitch some flowers?