15 in ’15 Third Quarter Check-in

15 in ’15 Third Quarter Check-in

Three-fourths of the year is over!  Time to report progress on the goals I set at the beginning of the year.

√ 15 fused quilt blocks
I am still making fused blocks of scrappy squares.  I bought a bunch of batik charm squares at a local quilt show, and made a reversible table runner.  I fused the squares down, and stitched up the grid lines.  I put that fused panel onto a piece of batting and added borders, stitching through the top and the batting, with no backing material.

The two sides of the table runner before being joined together.

The two sides of the table runner before being joined together.  The top one is Spring, the bottom one is Summer.

I did another panel the same way, and you can see both in the picture above.  Then I turned the two panels, right sides together, batting on the outsides, stitched up the sides to make a tube, and turned it right-side out.  I folded in the ends and stitched them together.  It came together into a nice puffy table runner that has some body to it.

This is the Spring side.

This is the Spring side.  It’s meant to be a table runner, but it actually wouldn’t be a bad chair pad either.

This is the Summer side.

This is the Summer side.

⇔ 14 fabrics finished up.
I have still only used up 4 of the 14 that I planned.

⇔ 13 technique try-outs
Still at four for the year.

⇓ 12 practice art quiltets
Still only one for the year.

√ 11 quilt video segments watched
This quarter I have watched more than half of a Craftsy quilting class with Cindy Needham.  I have learned some really good tips, and I have also found that I don’t find it distracting to sew and have the video on at the same time.   I don’t really need to watch the screen if it is just about good practices or tips, and if there is a technique I’m unfamiliar with, I can always go back and watch it again.

⇑ 10 new supplies sampled
Two more new materials this quarter, and the results are promising.  I really admire the work of  Doreen at Treadlemusic (you can see one of my favorite pieces here), and I decided to try the threads she often recommends.  However I got it wrong – she often uses Glide for the top thread, but I bought Fil-tec Clear-Glide pre-wound bobbins.

It was a fortuitous mistake though, because they have made an amazing difference in my free-motion quilting, and even my straight stitching.  I have used them with 40 weight and 50 weight cotton, and even 100 weight polyester for the top thread, and everything just flows.  Getting the quilt lines where I want them is almost as easy as drawing on paper with a marker.

I have tried so many different kinds of thread, needles, and machine settings, and I just couldn’t get my quilting to go smoothly.  I was seriously thinking of getting a new machine.  To think that all along, my troubles may have just come from my bobbin! is eye-opening.

I also tried the Pilot Frixion pens for marking, and I like them.  In the Cindy Needham class I am watching on Craftsy, she was saying that the old tried-and-true disappearing ink markers seem like their ink is disappearing faster these days – she said that sometimes you mark a quilt and then go back months or even weeks later, and the ink has disappeared.   With our Gulf Coast humidity, those markings disappear within minutes!  so the Frixion is a welcome alternative.

⇔ 9 new dye plants sampled
No new dye plants this quarter.

√ 8 small quilts
I completed this goal.  The four small quilts I wrote about here are all bound and dispersed to new owners.  And I have my new table runner to add to this too!  Gold star for me!

⇓ 7 layers of surface design on cloth
Still nothing here.

√ 6 sessions of sharing textiles

⇔ 5 fiber field trips
Two more this quarter – two small local quilt shows.  I didn’t see anything that really grabbed me in the exhibits, but I did buy new threads to try (including the Glide bobbins), and I also bought lots of fabric from the fund-raising booths that the quilt guilds had, and I plan to use it for free-motion-quilting practice.

With one more field trip, I will be able to check this one off.  And I think there is some other little quilt festival coming up in Houston soon.

4 warps
Still only one.

√ 3 tops (clothing, not quilts)
I finished three sleeveless tops.  They are very very plain, but I love them!  Two are batiks and one is made from an old linen scrap that I had.  I made the linen one according to the pattern, but tried it on and adjusted the fit several times while making it, and then I used those same adjustments for the other two.  It is wonderful to wear something that doesn’t keep twisting and shifting uncomfortably.  And in our humidity, anything with polyester or spandex feels like you are wearing a plastic bag, so the crisp cotton and the absorbent linen are great.  I may turn all of my old linen tablecloths into tops.

⇔ 2 big quilts
I am still working on Pixilated.  I decided it needed to be hand-quilted.  For a while I was getting some done on it every night, but lately I have not been getting to it.

× 1 show
I gave up on this one early in the year.

So! Five goals completed, and one written off.  I think I will get three more completed, and the other six may just have to wait until next year.  Or who knows?  This fall I may go into goal-achieving overdrive.

Hexie Treasures

We had a little mini-vacation down on Galveston Island, and found a few treasures.

First we came upon this bookstore —

In my world, the tunnel that "goes towards the light" is always filled with books.

In my world, the tunnel that “goes towards the light” is always filled with books.

Where I found some wonderful books –

textile books

After I bought them, I was ready to just sit in the hotel room and read them, and ignore any other vacation-type activities.  But it is a good thing I didn’t, because the next day we went out to an architectural salvage store in a 1940s Sears building —

This house is an exhibit, not a sale item.

This house is an exhibit, not a sale item.  But they sell just about everything you would need to build your own.

And right next door was a resale shop with some nice quilts.


Hexagon quilt from 1930s or 40s.

Hexagon quilt from 1930s or 40s.

Zooming in on the colors.

Zooming in on the colors.

Flannel backing, which was turned over the front for binding.

Flannel backing, which was turned over the front for binding.

Late 1800s to 1900 quilt.

Late 1800s to 1900 quilt.

Pretty pinks and purple patches. (Say it three times fast.)

Pretty pinks and purple patches. (Say it three times fast.)

The fabric designs are simple and graceful.

The fabric designs are simple and graceful.

I especially love the patches where some of the threads have worn away (probably from harsh dyes), and the remaining threads show the weave more clearly.

I especially love the patches where some of the threads have worn away (probably from harsh dyes), and the remaining threads show the weave more clearly.

So it is a good thing I didn’t hide in my room to read.

We also went down on the piers and out to the Seawall, and if you are interested, you can see the birds I saw there in my new blog, Little Wild Streak.  I am going to keep writing here about textiles, but usually I go days without time to work on textile projects, and really, I don’t even buy something for my collection every week either(although lately I’ve been on a roll!),  so too many days go by between posts.  Whereas every day I see something interesting outdoors, and I think it is important to record and share those bits of nature.  So I hope to see you there too!


What Clothes Reveal

You know the image of our industrious forebears —

After studying textile history for the last 20 years, I had a hazy idea that that image casts our ancestors in a glorified light, but I didn’t know just how far from reality it is, until I read a Colonial Williamsburg book,  What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America  by Linda Baumgarten (2002, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation).

My previous assumption:  our self-sufficient colonial ancestors grew all their own fiber and processed it into all the clothing they needed, either themselves or by slave labor.

I never realized: “Colonial dependency on imported textiles began as soon as Englishmen and -women arrived on these shorts.  Historian Bernard Bailyn…compare the output of the most prolific weaver of Rowley, Massachusetts, with the yardages of imported textiles.  During a nine-year period from 1673 to 1682, the weaver produced less cloth than was imported in a single shipload.”  (p. 76)

“In the three-year period ending in January 1772, almost six-and-a-half-million yards of plain linens were exported to the colonies from Britain and Ireland…” (p. 78)

So instead of our lovely lass above, the truth is that our textiles were more likely to be produced like this:

“Many Americans did produce some textiles, yet, except for the period leading up to the Revolution, colonial textile productionon a scale large enough to approach self-sufficiency was not economically adventageous…George Washington compared the cost of imported goods with similar items spun and woven on his plantation in 1768.  He concluded that the modest savings in homemade textiles were not enough to defray the cost of spinning wheels, of hiring a white woman (probably to oversee the work), and of clothing and feeding five female slaves.  Americans could not, and indeed did not want to, escape participation in the worldwide trade of consumer goods and textiles.”  (p. 78)

I was especially amazed at the amount of textiles that were imported to clothe slaves, and that, then as now, things were shipped around the world in a less than efficient system.  In the chapter Common Dress, Baumgarten writes, “…most of the textiles for slaves’ clothing were imported.  Colonists could acquire fabric from Britain, China, India, or Europe, as long as the goods first landed in England, as the law required, before being shipped to the colonies.” (p. 135)  She gives the example of a planter who in 1768, ordered from Liverpool “one thousand ells of German osnaburg, three hundred yards of Kendal cotton, one hundred yards of ‘plaidding for negroe Children’ and 60 ready-made ‘fear nothing waistcoats of the cheapest color.'” (p. 135)  [Osnaburg was a coarse linen, and Kendal cotton was a fuzzy wool fabric.  Plaiding could mean a white twilled fabric and not the multi-colored fabric we think of today.]

Another of my assumptions:  Every garment in a museum collection is a perfect and pristine example of a certain style of clothing, one moment captured.

I never realized:  Many garments in collections have been worn and even altered, sometimes decades after they were first created.  Textile historians can gain a lot of information from these garments as well as ones in mint condition.

“To analyze and catalog a collection of garments from any century requires thorough familiarity with the period and its material culture.  The process includes examining unaltered garments…familiarizing oneself with painting and print sources, understanding how people shaped their bodies, knowing what textiles were available, and recognizing period construction styles.  But costume historians need to know the same information about the centuries following because so many antique garments were altered when the original wearer changed shape, when styles evolved, or when ownership changed.”  (p. 184)

In colonial times, many garments were altered.  First of all, there was so much fabric in gowns that there was enough to completely remake a dress.  Sometimes the decorative under-petticoat was used to make a whole new bodice.  And cloth was so expensive, that it was cost-effective to put in the labor to remake an item.  One of my favorite  examples shows a man’s silk waistcoat that was remade when fashions changed — the original long front flaps were cut off and turned into a standing collar, and the pocket flaps were also turn to become welt pockets situated higher up on the waistcoat.  Many of these altered garments are in the Colonial Williamsburg online exhibit.

Another assumption:  Davy Crockett, one of our Texas heroes,  was a real frontiersman and wore buckskin.

By John Gadsby Chapman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Say it ain’t so:  Davy borrowed hunting clothes for his famous portrait, and was described by others as ordinarily wearing conservative and respectable clothing.  I guess he was no different of politicians of our day who choose whatever costume (or sometimes, lack thereof ) that will make them appear most manly and interesting.  What Clothes Reveal has a whole page about this famous bit of American legend.

These are just a few of the things I learned from this book.  It is full of period illustrations and photos of actual garments, both whole garments and interesting details.  I also appreciated its emphasis on everyday clothing.  Again, almost every garment from the book is online at Colonial Williamsburg at the link above, but the book has so much more information than is available there, that I recommend reading it too if you are interested in historic clothing.

You can also look at 371 individual garments indexed here, and there are also interesting slide shows about different aspects of colonial life, including this one on how flax and hemp were processed.  Author Linda Baumgarten is interviewed in a video about costume accessories.

White Elephant Treasures and a Mystery Item

Yesterday I went to the Brazos Valley Quilt Guild show.  At these small local shows, I love to shop in the White Elephant area – people have cleaned out their closets, the guild gets the money for their scholarship fund, and I get to buy bargains!

These were my big finds yesterday.

Trip Around the World vintage top, probably 1930s

Trip Around the World vintage top, probably 1930s



Kaleidescope pattern quilt top, from the 1930s or 40s.

Kaleidescope pattern quilt top, from the 1930s or 40s.

Kaleidescope detail. I love buying tops that are so much more intricate than anything I can do.

Kaleidescope detail. I love buying tops that are so much more intricate than anything I can do!

I also bought tons of big scraps of solid-color fabric, to use for practicing free motion quilting on.  I have such a hard time cutting up big pieces of fabric for practice pieces, even if I only paid $2 a yard for it.  I want to keep it for a project.  But I know I need to just do practice pieces too, so hopefully with this big bag of scraps I will actually do some.

A few weeks ago, my husband went to an auction without me, and brought me back this lovely object.

Is it a footstool? A shoe polisher? A rack for freshly ironed newspapers?

Is it a footstool? A shoe polisher? A rack for freshly ironed newspapers?

Top view. The "rolling pin" comes out of the framework.

Top view. The “rolling pin” comes out of the framework.

No one at the auction knew what it was, but he thought it looked textile-related.  I have not been able to find anything like it on the internet.  The center “rolling pin”- looking part is solid wood, covered with this thin scrap of carpet.  The carpet edges have been left raw, so that doesn’t look particularly decorative, but the wood is finished so nicely, it can’t have been meant as just a functional item either.  Can anyone help me out?


Three Clues in the Parchment

In the early 1960s, a young agriculture historian named M. L. Ryder had the idea to use parchment manuscripts to research medieval sheep breeds.

He surveyed manuscript illuminations for evidence of the colors, conformation, and wool types of sheep from the past.  Few descriptions of sheep were written until the eighteenth century, so he was looking for clues to breed formation — were sheep raised more for wool or for milk and meat?  Where were new types of sheep imported from? Were the fabled Spanish Armada sheep survivors real?

You can see the list of images he found in this article (p. 10 of the PDF of the article)*, but thanks to the fabulous British Library, I can show you a few of the images themselves.  (And I would encourage you to go look at them on the British Library site, because you can zoom in to your heart’s content.)

Detail showing sheep - also a hog, camel, and unicorn!

Detail of page above showing a sheep and a goat – also a hog, camel, horse, and unicorn!  This book is from c. 1327 – 1335 AD.

That book, the Holkham Bible Picture Book, has a lot more sheep images that Ryder didn’t catalog.  I don’t know why.  Maybe he only had access to a copy of the page above and didn’t even know there were more.  So let me show you another really good one:

Cain and Abel from the Holkham Bible Picture Book, p. 5r, from the British Library.

Cain and Abel from the Holkham Bible Picture Book, p. 5r, from the British Library.  The bottom part of the page shows Adam talking to his sons Cain and Abel, and the top shows them sacrificing the best of their labor to God.


Detail from page above. Here the Biblical shepherd Abel has quite a flock, and he and Adam are wearing sheepskin clothes. Brother Cain, a farmer, is not.

Detail from page above. Here the Biblical shepherd Abel has quite a flock, and he and Adam are wearing sheepskin clothes. Brother Cain, a farmer, is not.

Okay, back to Ryder and the sources he studied.

This is page 163 v from the Luttrell Psalter of 1325 - 1340 AD, from the British Library.

This is page 163 v from the Luttrell Psalter of 1325 – 1340 AD, from the British Library.

Detail of page above, showing 20 sheep being milked and shorn; 2 have horns.

Detail of page above, showing 20 sheep being milked and shorn; 2 have horns.

Ryder listed about 40 sources for sheep images, from Roman times to 1825 AD.  From those, he noted face color, horns, fleece type, and other comments.

"Agnus Dei Ghent" by Hubert and Jan van Eyck - Jan van Eyck painting "Ghent Altarpiece", finished 1432.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Agnus_Dei_Ghent.jpg#/media/File:Agnus_Dei_Ghent.jpg

“Agnus Dei Ghent” by Hubert and Jan van Eyck – Jan van Eyck painting “Ghent Altarpiece”, finished 1432.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

He also considered church carvings, and paintings.  And one of my favorite art history comments ever, is what Ryder said about the van Eyck Adoration of the Lamb—  you know, from the Ghent Altarpiece, one of the most famous and most stolen pieces of art in the world — when commenting on the Mystic Lamb, he wrote “good mutton conformation.”

From the study of these sheep images, Ryder felt you could tell a lot about sheep history.  He noted that most of the images showed the types of sheep found in the times and places the illustrations were made.

But he didn’t stop there.  These ancient documents were written on parchment, which was made from the skins of sheep (as well as calves and goats).  He realized that wool fibers remain embedded in the parchment, and analyzed those!  Getting the fibers from a manuscript as opposed to a piece of clothing has the advantage that the manuscript is dated.  Ryder analyzed about 100 wool fibers from seven centuries.  He created a chart showing how British sheep breeds probably originated and evolved. He surmised that the expanding towns of the 16th and 17th centuries caused more of a demand for meat, and as more land was enclosed,  farmers were able to control and protect their sheep better.  They brought in larger meatier animals, and the medieval emphasis on fine-wooled sheep faded.

Ryder continued to write about sheep and fibers up until 1987 (including an 846-page book!), but the story of parchment analysis continues.

Now in the 21st century, researchers are still uncovering clues to history from parchments, but with a new process – extracting DNA!  At the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York, bioarchaeologists tested some tiny scraps of parchment for genetic information.  Like Ryder, they were looking for evidence of sheep breeds and characteristics .  They chose scraps from a relatively late time period, the 17th and 18th centuries, spanning a time when breeders were looking to improve the quality of British wool [after losing that quality during the 16th and 17th, according to Ryder?  I  don’t know. I’m just reporting the research]. The parchment study resulted in much more complete information than what has been available before, from bone fragments.  Unlike bone, the parchments’ dates are known, and there are millions of them available, in known locations.

Since “wool was essentially the oil of times gone by,” as Trinity College Dublin professor Daniel Bradley said, researchers hope this  parchment study method will reveal more information about the economy and trade of past centuries.  You can read the whole story here.

And thank you to Neighbor Liz, for passing on to me the March 2015 issue of The Scientist magazine, where I first saw the DNA article.

*The first part of Ryder’s article on sheep breeds.  Both of these were in The Agricultural History Review in 1964.  Ryder wrote over 200 articles and I look forward to finding more of them!  And here is Ryder’s 1984 update on the two I referenced here.

And here is an excellent history of British wool.


A Productive Spell

It’s a crafter’s dilemma – should I finish each project before starting another?  Or is it okay to have multiple projects going at once?

I like to have multiple projects going, but I like to concentrate on one stage of the process at a time. For example with quilts, my starting point is one or two fabrics that I want to use up.  I have a vague plan, and as I start cutting those feature fabrics, I end up hauling out piles of other fabrics to see what else wants to go in the quilt.  Random scraps and pairings give me new ideas and I want to put those combinations together while they are fresh in my mind.

I have a folding table up in the living room to use for a cutting and pinning table.  I lay the quilts out on the bed in the guest room to choose the next fabric, and then I sew and iron in the sewing room.  I am constantly walking from room to room.  So while all the mess is already out the creativity is flowing, I go ahead and piece multiple small quilts.  These are the four I have done over the last two weeks.

Donation quilts, summer 2015.

Donation quilts, summer 2015.

This first one finishes up the rest of the fabric I used for a baby quilt back in January.   It will be a dedication quilt for the church where our quilt group meets.  (They let us meet for free, and even provide us with the materials for the dedication quilts, so I am happy to do at least one a year for them.)  I put this one together “stitch and flip” so I will add a binding.

Dedication quilt.

Dedication quilt.  The red line down the middle of the central panel is just basting; it will come out.


Here is the back of that quilt.

Here is the back of that quilt.

The blue lap quilt will go to the VA hospital.  They have women patients too so hopefully this will be appropriate for one of them.  I put these layers together “pillowcase style”, so I will just have to quilt lightly and then sew up the top edge.

For the VA hospital.

For the VA hospital.

The next one, very girly, will go to one of the organizations for kids in the hospital.  Most of these fabrics were donated to our quilting group, and I have been meaning to put them together for about three years!  This one went together “pillowcase style” too.

Intended for a child in a hospital.

This last one will go the VA hospital too.  I had only this small piece of fabric with the parrots, and another small piece of batik with blue and bronzy-green motifs.  Then it was a challenge to find other fabrics to put with those two.  The grass green strips nearest the parrots are pretty bright, but I have a lot of this green and it needs to go cheer up someone else besides me.  I put this one together “stitch and flip,” so it will need to be bound.

I really wish I had more of the batik fabric with the big blue octagons.

I did buy the bright pink fabric (but on sale!) but I had the other two backing fabrics on hand.

I did buy the bright pink fabric (but on sale!) but I had the other two backing fabrics on hand.

I really enjoy doing concentrated piecing for a week or two.  Now I can put away the boxes of scraps, and pick up the thread scraps on the floor, and get back to all the tasks I neglected during this quilt blitz.  The next stage will be fitting in an hour or two each evening, to sit quietly in one place and work on improving my machine quilting skills as I bring these quilts to completion.

Dress Diary 1855-1917

A few days ago, when I was looking at the Hollywood costume sketches at the Brooklyn Museum, I noticed this wonderful dress diary in their archives.

The diary’s owner, Ida Jackson, was born in Cazenovia, New York, in 1855, and at some point moved to Boston.  Twenty-five pages are available for viewing online. The earlier pages of this scrapbook have pictures of Ida– not all of them are dated, but they capture her at about ages 7 to 20.  The later pages have dress drawings cut out from fashion magazines, with samples of the fabrics and trims that were used to make them up.



For anyone interested in determining dates of old photos, a resource like this in invaluable.  And it is also a great resource for design ideas.  Look at that black and white trim on the top right of the page above – that design was woven in, not just printed on to the fabric.  I have, of course, printed up everything available (not all the pages are online) so I can study it in detail.

Accompanying this diary is a 7-page commentary that was written in 1946 by someone named Lawrence Romaine of Middleboro, Massachusetts.  It reads like a presentation that he might have given to a historic society, but it has plenty of informal comments in it, such as “My guess is that you may be a bit tired of it too. It is time to close.”  It seems like if these were notes for a presentation, he wouldn’t need to put in little off-the-cuff remarks like that.

It’s ironic that he spends a lot of time decrying the lack of information in the dress diary –“It is too bad that Miss Jackson didn’t write a bit more in detail… Whether mourning was worn for Mother or Father…we shall never know,” and so on — because he never says who he is, nor for what purpose he is writing.  But through the wonder of the internet, I found out that Laurence Romaine was a book antiquarian, and an expert on American trade catalogs, which he used as a source to study American manufacturing history.  He collected 41,000 trade catalogs which are now in Special Collections at UC Santa Barbara Library.  He also collected all sorts of popular culture items, and that must be how he came across this dress diary.

There are 11 boxes of textile information in that UCSB library, 5 boxes of sewing and needlework information, and 30 boxes of clothing information, but sadly, none of it is online.  All those treasures going unseen!  I feel very lucky to have found this delightful dress diary online at the Brooklyn Museum.