Modern Sampler quilt

modern sampler quilt Since my first foray into quilting, the motifs and quilts that appeal to me most have been those that lean modern. Bold, graphic motifs, simple but rich fabrics (often solids), minimalistic and often improvisational final pieces -- this is what I am drawn to most. And so that is what I myself have mimicked, used as inspiration, and found immensely and continuously compelling. Most of my quilts have had little pattern to them at all, let alone instructions provided to me. But being a quilter, I understand the massive amount of skill and precision, and the investment of time that goes into each traditional quilt, the many squares on top of squares, the grid of tiny pieces, patchwork that creates a larger pattern when they're all stitched together. I am equally in awe of quilts like this, and in fact have often thought I could not do them because I had not spent much time learning the foundation skills of quilting.

modern sampler quilt

So this was my attempt to overcome those fears and lack of ability. Triangles, y-seams, circles -- all things declared "scary" by quilters over the years, all conquered in an online quilting class I took over the summer. This is by far the most traditional quilt I have ever made, but I've made mine modern. A modern sampler, using a pretty unorganized assortment of fabrics I love. There was something very satisfying about every single one of these blocks, which I created over a three-week span. I left one block out of the finished quilt, the Dresden Plate (pictured below), because I hate the way it turned out, both the coloration and the size, and it was miserable to make as well. To take its place, I sort of improvised a Bear Paw square, which I was moderately pleased with, and which made it into the final quilt. You live and learn, and I know now that I hate Dresden Plate -- too old lady anyway.

Card Trick and Ohio Star

I hate this square - it is absent from my final sampler

Whereas watching the points of my triangles come out crisp and seeing them created an Ohio Star was an absolute thrill. I loved making the Pinwheel so much, I went ahead and made its slightly-more-advanced counterpart, the Double Pinwheel. I took the Drunkard's Path, a square I find usually quite boring and old-fashioned, and made an interesting wave-like motion with my arrangement of the tiny pieces within it. I turned it into something I love. I even had someone in my class say they were going to skip the block, but once they saw the pattern I'd created with the square, decided to make it and copy me. A great compliment! We also made the Modern Chevron, from Sew, Mama, Sew's Modern Block of the Month quilt-along. While some members of my class hated it, I loved its fresh approach to a chevron motif, and loved the way it turned out. The Card Trick might be my most favorite block, and that is a tough call -- but it was the most satisfying to see come together. What a great, classic quilting optical illusion, using fabric and thread. And how can I not mention those y-seams happening in the greatest optical illusion block of all, Tumbling Blocks. This one petrified me; turns out it's not scary, but it is time-consuming and you must be seriously precise with your quarter-inch seam allowance. Not for the faint of heart, for sure. But so fun to have tackled it and come out with a beautiful quilt square.


The squares as I was working on them

Then I ignored the blocks, together in a pile, for about five months. I decided I would like to use them, as a throw-size sampler quilt, as a Christmas gift for my boyfriend's parents, who truly deserve one of my pieces, for all their support, love, and kindness over the years. The sashing and border, in Kona White, took me way longer than anticipated, but made it look so crisp. I mitered the corners of the borders, because I just love the classic line of the mitered corner so much (even though I doubt anyone is looking to see whether I cut corners anywhere). I am being super frugal right now, so I used an old (stained, even) tablecloth-style fabric I found at Urban Outfitters years ago in the sale bin, as the backing for the quilt; the batting I purchased months before, anticipating that I would be making this for Christmas, luckily. I bound the quilt in a solid orange shade by Kona, which turned out so fun and bold.

For this quilt, I learned (or experimented, anyway) with another major quilting technique: free-motion quilting. I have never spent any time with this style, mostly because my own little sewing machine at home needed a few extra parts added on in order to rescue me from the feed dogs' mind their own -- pulling my fabric through from front to back before giving me an chance to try to make a wavy or curved line at all. I finally got the feed dog cover and the darning foot for this quilt, and the free-motion was so fun. It was also a lot of work, and took great amounts of concentration and arm muscle, but I see how people get addicted. I want to do more with it, for sure. That said, I am a die-hard straight-line quilting gal.

The McCrarys loved the quilt, which I finished at 2:07 on Christmas morning, with the hand-sewing part of the binding process. I'm happy they have it, because it means I'll still be able to visit this little gem, with all those skills I picked up embedded into each of its squares.


The back

flying geese sqaure

From left to right, starting at the top left:

Tumbling Blocks Pinwheel Drunkard's Path Bear Paw Modern Chevron Double Pinwheel Flying Geese Card Trick Ohio Star Rail Fence Log Cabin Nine Patch


"This is part of our family history" - meaning in the AIDS Memorial Quilt

I want to share with you the meaning behind Parnell Peterson's quilt panel, which is in Block 2744 of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. I have learned so much about Par through his sisters and my mom since I first visited his panel in January, and much of it shall remain in my unpublished writing and memories. However, I think his quilt panel is an extraordinary example of something that occurs on a larger scale within the enormous memorial--the largest piece of folklore in the world--and that is still expanding with new panels submitted every year. (It currently contains over 48,000 panels.) You can look at a hundred quilt panels and see things that look similar to Par's, which is pictured here.

Now I want you to read his sister Margi's description of their process, each piece, and the meaning of it all:

Making Par’s Quilt panel was a wonderful and healing endeavor for all of us – indeed, many of us.  We had sent out a letter, inviting friends and family to make a small square that we could then incorporate into the larger panel.  We got so many, with so many wonderful stories attached that we soon realized that we would have to make a double panel.  The top of the panel symbolizes the Northern Lights, which became our symbol for Parnell, after an amazing and miraculous experience we had with them, the night Par died.  (That is a story in itself, which I will share at another point.)  We had decided to use a tree as a symbol of life continuing, nature, the land that Par loved in his professional life, as well as personally, having grown up in the UP!  The photo we placed in the middle of the upper panel was the inspiration for the whole thing – and then at the last minute, we decided to attach it because it is so beautiful and fit so well.  The inscription, “Your Light Shines On” refers again to the Northern Lights and our belief in his continued presence which lights each of our lives and always will.  We then decided to put all the small squares on the lower panel and to run the roots of the tree down through and amongst them….symbolizing that this is the ground and foundation from which Parnell came, grew, was nurtured, and lived – all these people who were somehow a part of him.  The hands at the bottom of the tree are those of immediate family members, including niece and nephew, protecting the memory and holding it close.  We loved how it turned out!  We each actually have a small photo album of each square and the story that came with it…such love and grace in each one!

There is a stunning amount of meaning put into every, single, thing in this panel. Knowing how much thought went into his, I imagine similar kinds of deep meaning in each quilt panel. It makes me stop, linger, ponder and examine each square that I do see even more closely. What was compelling and inspiring these people, or this person, who loved this other person, who we are now remembering? If even the dyeing of the denim fabric behind Parnell's panel had boundless personal meaning for his family, imagine this same thought multiplied by the number of people memorialized on this Quilt.

The past two Mondays, I have confirmed a few more of these meanings, backstories, which remain so mysterious and anonymous to most people who visit the Quilt on display, or view its panels online. I have been volunteering to offer my small amount of help to the larger effort of bringing the Quilt back to Washington, D.C., where it will be for almost four weeks this summer. The first team departs this week to bring the acres and acres of fabric to the Mall, the Smithsonian, and various other locations in the capital.

My job has been quite extraordinary: check, assign a working panel number, and document each new square that has arrived this year, so that these unfinished panels may also make the journey to Washington and be sewn into the larger Quilt during the ceremonies and viewings. It will be a very active way of sharing the Quilt, having these newest panels sewn in as part of the displays themselves. So I also go through and record any additional things that arrive with the new panel, like a letter, photo, or other momento.

Last week I read a letter from a woman explaining that this panel was made in memory of her mother, who died in 1994 or so. But it was made not by her--it was a surprise from her fiance. It was he that was also going through the sadness; I don't even think he knew her.

Today I read a letter from a mother asking forgiveness for "mistakes" or "imperfections" in her panel, which she submitted in memorium of her son, Scott, who passed away in 1997. "I've never done anything like this," she wrote. It is so interesting to me to read people's unsure, honest thoughts when mailing in something so personal, so much a part of them. Margi, Parnell's sister, said actually handing over Par's quilt panel, after all that work, was much more difficult that she anticipated. Almost like giving up a piece of Par himself, some of that closeness and memory.

It makes me smile, as I cannot imagine anything that would be similar to submitting a panel to the AIDS Quilt; of course this is new territory. But she described the lovely details she incorporated into her son's panel: dark denim and light denim from the pants of his older and younger brother; velour from his niece's jacket, and a patterned piece of his maternal grandmother's blouse. Once I opened up the panel to see, I was struck by her use of the bits -- not as a random assortment, but as mountains in the landscape she created for him out of fabric--he was also a lover of nature. Again, I am struck by the meaning behind some simple stitched mountains.

Another of my favorites, steeped in meaning and yet so simple, is the family who submitted several squares for individuals in their family who have been taken by HIV/AIDS, and this other panel to accompany them all in the Quilt. "This is part of our family history," it says simply.

This is absolutely so. I hear a lot of family histories in my work at the National Archives. Every other person has a family tree to rattle off to me, a Native American chief ancestor, and several on the Mayflower. HIV/AIDS is such a significant part of human history, and it is now part of the family histories of so many.

"Life in the Age of AIDS is the Story of Us All."

This is the adage that hangs printed in the front offices of the NAMES Project Foundation, the headquarters and keepers of the AIDS Quilt. This sentiment speaks so much truth, and relates exactly to that family's panel, an actualization of their grief, and their insistence on making sure this remains a part of their story. Because we all own it.

I cried only once during 5 hours of processing new panels. I opened one up, unfolded it gently on the table, and pictures of a young man stared back at me. I read his lifespan: January 5, 1987 to September 11, 2010. He is, he was, my age. He was lost to AIDS at the age of twenty-three. How does this still happen? I felt outrage, sadness, shock, anger, thinking we were at least more equipped to handle HIV in the 21st century. But Ricardo did not survive it. This is why the Quilt is still important; and it is not a problem existing only far away from us, in Africa or in the 1980s. We are not immune in the United States and it is crucial that young people have the information they need. Seeing Ricardo's square was a reminder, a wake-up call that this is not an abstract health crisis. He died, and he was my age.

What are the words to properly explain this, to come to terms with it, to understand? I can only keep offering my time, skills, and love to a cause.


Create in NYC, or: fabric that I love and other things

I got to visit Mood Fabrics on our visit to New York City, and it was overwhelming. (Really; I couldn't think of one project I'd even want to attempt with so many fabrics). Then we happened upon Purl Soho in the very last hours of our last day there, on the walk back to the hotel via a new route. In between, we also made it into a few great shops with quirky bits that I loved. Certainly this is a great city in which to seek and find creative inspiration.

Mannequins dressed in home dec fabrics adorn the windows of Mood Fabrics.

For all your mohair needs... they have every kind of material imaginable.

Stacks and stacks of leather, arranged by color and texture. Amazing.

I really love this fabric. I was struck with the immediate desire to buy a dozen yards ($25/yd) to bring home and slip cover my sofa. This is subtle enough but also bold enough to be an amazing living room statement. It's also very me.

The edge of the store... urban chic.

Swooning over midcentury lines and amazing textiles in a Henry Miller pop-up store in Soho. Can I have this?

I desperately want to make wool stuffed pigeons. So adorable! (At Henry Miller pop-up store)

I also adore these wooden people, each with his or her own quirks. But they were over $100 each; this picture was free.

I cannot remember the name of this clothing store, but every wall was lined in old sewing machines. I <3 industrial chic.

Wait, what the what?! It's Purl Soho! I must peek inside!


Oh yes...

These quilts and hangings are some of the projects featured on the Purl Bee blog, in the flesh.

As are these delectable little fruit slices made of high-quality felt and hand-stitched. They are coasters.

Do you SEE how many Kona solids they have on that back wall? That's me in heaven. Heaven. I bought two shades of Kona for a [secret] project I am working on this fall. I also bought a ridiculous half-yard of oil cloth, purely because it was amazing and because oilcloth is so hard to find in anything other than picnic-table check.

So, so many things to file away in the inspiration file. Along with the whole entire city of New York.

I'll finish off Sunday night watching the season finale of Girls. Another NYC homage.