Some textures that catch my eye here on the farm –
Some day these will find their way into a quilt or tapestry!
I am an excellent Idea Finder/Keeper/Organizer, but not such a great Idea Executor. I have dozens of notebooks of saved articles, and I have to take some action! This week I had a few days open and I dedicated them to art quilt experiments.
I started with an article called “Layer It On” by Annette Morgan, from the Fall 2005 Quilting Arts magazine. (Yes, I got to this article within a decade of its being published!) Morgan suggests making new fabric from scraps ironed onto stabilizer, then stamping on designs, covering the whole thing with layers of sheers, cutting through the sheers to reveal the bright fabrics beneath in spots, free-motion quilting and embellishing.
It sounds like quite a process, her book covers and bottle bags were so colorful and cheerful that I wanted to turn my scraps into similar treasures.
Morgan suggested using a lightweight iron-on stabilizer. I didn’t have any so I ironed the scraps on a sheet of Pellon Wonder-Under®, then fused that whole sheet to the right side of a background fabric. (I was hoping to cut through to expose the background fabric so I wanted its bright side visible.) This is a great way to use up those fabrics that are really too flimsy to stand on their own.
When I looked at the results, the oval of silk on the right reminded me of a face, so I decided to go with that for imagery. I love to do contour drawings without looking at the paper, like the one below –
it’s a little more dangerous to do that with a sewing machine, so I peeked as I sewed a basic face and a figure.
The basic thread was too light, so I tried some number 12 size cotton. After a lot of trial and error, I found that a size 100/16 top-stitch needle handled it well, with size 50 thread in the bobbin. I sketched in a hand, and also added lines in and around the face and figure. I really liked the combination of thick and thin lines.
Next I cut away some of the top (scrap) layer, added batting and backing, and free-motion quilted wherever I felt like it. The top-stitch needle had made me brave so I even used rayon thread! And, for the first time in my long quilting life, it DIDN’T BREAK even once!
At this point I turned to the book The Painted Quilt: Paint and Print Techniques for Colour on Quilts by Linda and Laura Kemshall (2007, David and Charles).
(I got this book a mere four years ago! It has barely had time to ripen on my bookshelf.)
The Kemshalls suggest painting areas of the fabric after quilting, and then, after the paint dries, quilting through again with a contrasting thread. They use Jacquard Lumiere® metallic paints, which I had on hand (purchased only three years ago, and never opened before this week).
I LOVED THIS! The painting makes you look like you can do some pretty fancy piecing! The paints can be thinned, blended, layered, and stitched through easily.
I also tried some Dy-na-flow dyes, to overdye areas of the black-and-white paisley fabric, and the bright green background fabric. Those added a nice touch of shading, and the printed lines of the original fabric showed through the dye. You can see that in the photo above. It’s an option I might use again, but it didn’t cause my heart to sing.
Remember that in my initial plan I was going to use layers of sheers, to blend all the random colors, and contain the raw edges. I auditioned layers of green net (for deeper greens) and then pink net (the complement of green, to tone it down) over the whole piece, but decided to skip the sheers on this piece.
I did take a four inch strip of green netting, and bunch it up to use as a binding on the top half, and I liked the way that turned out. It is easy to use along a curved edge.
Then I machine sewed wired gift ribbon for the bottom binding, and I liked how that worked too. The gold ribbon I used is a little gaudy, but I just wanted to try the material. Neither binding would stand up to regular use, but for wall quilts or decorations, I think they would be fine. And! Both of those ideas were my own! I’m sure someone else has thought of them, but I didn’t get them from any of my clippings or books.
Just proof that once you start experimenting, new ideas come along.
Now that I have found the combination of materials and techniques that I like, I will probably do a few more of these mini-quilts, with more thought given to the imagery and to unifying all the elements. I do like the base fabric being made from scraps — it’s not as intimidating as choosing and committing to a big piece of fabric.
Okay, three days of quilt time and one article down!
I enjoyed the structure of a weekly photo post when I did the 1 Day 1 World Project, so I thought I’d keep that going on my own, with just whatever strikes my fancy each week.
(Warning: some creepy crawly creatures ahead. Just take a deep breath and don’t miss out on the beauty in their colors, patterns, and textures.)
This week we had a cool spell that had some birds migrating through, and some reptiles moving slow enough for me to get great pictures. A pair of Eastern hognose snakes came out and sunned in a corner of our garden, for four days in a row. If hognoses are cornered, they can be very dramatic, first puffing up like cobras, and if that doesn’t work, playing dead. I can’t bring myself to mess with animals for my own amusement, so I didn’t try anything to provoke a reaction. Instead I just enjoyed watching them as I came and went in the garden.
And I was surprised to find a Mediterranean house gecko in our wood pile – as you can tell by the name, they are not native, but they are not known to be harmful as some invasive species are. When I lived in Sugar Land, we had these geckos all over the place, but there they were a translucent white, which I guess is much better camouflage on the white siding of subdivision houses. I would love to know if the ones up here in the woods are more likely to be dark, like the one I found.
I noticed some crumpled leaves gathered into a ball on a goat weed — when I checked it out, I found a beautiful green lynx spider guarding a web full of her babies there. She was the perfect color to blend in with parts of the plant.
There was another insect that I noticed only because it was stationary on a man-made surface. If it had been on a tree, I would never have seen it. I’m not sure, but I think it was a lunate zale moth – they come in a spectacular range of variations.
I also discovered two persimmon trees I didn’t know I had, and I learned a lot about them at Grackle & Sun. I am going to try mordanting and natural dyeing with these.
We don’t usually get dramatic fall color in Texas, but these subtle colors are beautiful in their own way.
…is one you’ve forgotten you have!
I bought this king-size quilt out in Big Bend in 2008. I had never bought a current quilt before, only vintage ones, but I loved the mix of black-and-white fabrics.
When I got it home, it just didn’t go with the Mission style bed, antique dressers and wing chair in my bedroom, so I gave it to my daughter. Six years later, she didn’t need it any more and brought it back. Now that we have downsized, our bedroom is much smaller, and it has only a mid-century modern style bed and two small bookshelves in it. This quilt’s strong but simple pattern gives the room a more unified and interesting look.
And when I am drinking my coffee in the morning, I can study all those different prints until they inspire me to get up and create something of my own!
This is called a calendar quilt – the red blocks stand for Sundays, and the other blocks are the other days of the week. Because the quilter used rows of 19 blocks, the red blocks don’t line up or fall in perfectly predictable diagonals.
It’s a cold, gray day — a perfect time for a cup of tea with my favorite party planner, Mrs. Herbert B. Linscott. Years ago I picked up her 1905 book, Bright Ideas for Entertaining, for a dollar, and it is one of my all-time favorite books. The names of the entertainments are so enticing – who wouldn’t want to attend a Conundrum Tea, or a Nose and Goggle Party, or a Wedding of the Operas? Wouldn’t you love to play the Christmas Umbrella Game, or Musicians Buried?
In Mrs. Linscott’s world, dining partners are assigned by themed favors, menus full of puns are printed up to entertain the guests between courses, and the guests come prepared to sing or recite poetry. Everyone is glad of a chance to buy carpet slippers or needlebooks, with the money going to a Sunday School or the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Not very realistic ideas, maybe, but pleasant to ponder.
So here is her report of a Thanksgiving Football Dinner:
While the ladies were upstairs removing their wraps, a maid came in with a tray on which were six wishbones, each having tied to it a knot of ribbon of one of the different college colors. Of these they were to take their choice…Meanwhile the gentlemen downstairs had been presented with ribbon rosettes, and as these matched the ribbons on the wishbones they easily found the ladies whom they were to take in to dinner.
A feature of the dinner enjoyed almost as much as the feast itself was the novel form of the menus. These were written on two opposite pages of dainty booklets, the outside covers of which were decorated with characteristic football sketches accompanied by appropriate quotations. These were so unique and apropos to the occasion that each guest carried his home as a souvenir when he left at the end of the evening’s entertainment.
I have typed up most of the menu for you, but on only one page.
So the courses for the First Half would be:
For Intermission (not yet called halftime, you’ll notice):
For the Second Half:
Mrs. Linscott’s book makes everything sound refined and amusing, but even at the time that she was suggesting this dinner, college football was controversial. Three hundred people had died from football injuries – many of them right on the field!- during the past fifteen years. About twenty died in 1905 alone. Colleges were thinking of dropping football teams. Here is an interesting article on the 1905 deaths, and parallels to opinions about football in our own time.
I do have one great football picture for you, even though it’s from about 20 years later than Mrs. Linscott’s ideal football dinner.
The player circled in white didn’t get to go to any football feasts when he was young, but he always loved the game. He wouldn’t have begrudged those diners their feast, but he would have enjoyed showing them what “mixing it up” means, afterward. :)
That’s my grandpa!
A few years ago I bought some vintage raw silk yardage and a single-size linen sheet with gorgeous hem-stitching. I finally got around to turning them into pirate shirts for my daughter and son-in-law. I was able to incorporate the hem-stitching on shirttails, cuffs, and collar of the man’s shirt, and then I trimmed them out with vintage lace that I’ve had for 15 years.
Since I was making these “long-distance”, I couldn’t check with the recipients on fitting and on every little detail, so I told them to feel free to change whatever they wanted when they got them. They moved the lace from the man’s collar down to add another layer to the cuffs, but otherwise everything worked.
Of course if you look hard you can see the machine stitching, but I think that having the right fabric helps create a more authentic look. They wore these to the Renaissance Festival in our area, for Pirate Weekend. It makes me happy that two glorious pieces of fabric have been put to good use once more!
And, you might remember my big prize at the auction — two of my daughter’s friends have offered good homes to some of those linens. One girl is borrowing six damask tablecloths for her wedding – she doesn’t care that they are different sizes and patterns. The other girl asked for any fabric tablecloths and napkins that I didn’t want, so she can have reusable items instead of using paper all the time. It makes me really happy to see the younger generation realize the beauty and practicality of textiles.
Since I live so close to Houston, Texas, I usually can spend a day at the International Quilt Festival. This year something else came up that required me to miss it, but I was okay with that!
I am so glad that we have been able to gather in this place so many times. I cherish the sense of four generations holding hands across the decades.
Quilt Festival will be there next year.
A few weeks ago, I was invited to participate in the Blog Hop Around the World. I said yes, but at the time I was deep into research on Bronze Age textiles, and I wanted to complete those posts before I forgot everything I had learned. Now that they’re done, it is time to join the Blog Hop!
I was asked by Barbro at Barbro’s Threads. She shares inspirational photos of Nordic textile displays, and I am always amazed by at the variety of colorful patterns on utilitarian objects like socks and caps. But Barbro is very modest about her own work and I actually learned the most about her skills from another author. She recently got a loom and I can’t wait to see what she produces with it.
Barbro was asked by Mazzaus at Local & Bespoke in Australia, whom I also follow. I want to try so many of her ideas about using plants to print on cloth, (she even prints bed sheets) and her tips on repurposing. She has also been raising silkworms, but that is one area where I think I will just follow along virtually!
Mazzaus was asked by Leah of Seattle Spinner who was asked by Valerie of Intricate Knits. I don’t know where this blog hop originated, but there are a lot of threads from it going around, and if you search “Blog Hop Around the World”, you will find lots more inspiring creative people out there who are part of it!
So for this blog hop, there are four questions:
1) What are you working on?
I have just finished up some projects – blue and white handwoven towels, and two pirate shirts from vintage linen and raw silk. I only have a few works-in-progress, and I think this one best portrays my interests.
I love the abstract qualities of natural objects. I take pictures of the things around me, and then use Photoshop Elements to increase the contrast and saturation. Then I print them on fabric, and use them in wall quilts, like the one in my header image. I take these quilts along when I volunteer at nature festivals, and they draw all kinds of people over and give good starting points to conversations about nature.
In this one, I zoomed in and cropped the photos where I saw interesting compositions.
In the piece above I have framed the photos with other fabrics. So far they are in 4 narrow panels with 4 blocks in each. I am not wild about this piece, so I am going to use it for practicing techniques that I have been wanting to try. I’m not sure if I will put all the panels together into one rectangle, or leave them as separate panels.
The image that’s really calling to me right now is the one in the bottom right of the separate photos – I would like to do something with that image on its own.
2) How does my work differ from others?
I don’t think I have a unique voice or way of working. I know that I what I like is random, unpredictable combinations. I will pick originality over technical expertise – I love Gee’s Bend quilts more than Baltimore Album quilts.
This is my favorite out of the quilts I own.
When I weave I usually end up changing the color or the treadling (or both) every few inches. I can weave yards and yards consistently, but I usually don’t.
3) Why do I create what I do?
I love to give people things that capture the comfort and inspiration of the human touch.
I make textiles because they’re a warm soft way to play with ideas.
4) How does my creative process work?
Usually I start from the materials – donated fabric, or some vintage blocks I got at an auction, or something I bought at the International Quilt Show. I gather up the ones that I think go together, and make a general plan, but it always changes as I go.
I don’t piece tops separately and then quilt; I do big blocks with minimal quilting-as-I-go. The most I can fit in my sewing machine is crib-quilt size, so if I’m doing a crib quilt, I do the whole thing at once. I start in the middle and then see “what the quilt wants” as far as adding borders, or strips of blocks. When these sections of blocks are sewn to the batting and backing, I go over all of it again with free motion quilting. To make bigger quilts I join three or four of the crib-size ones.
Most of my projects are done for other people, so I consider what they would want. I try to tone down my natural “design exuberance” because it might be a little overwhelming, but I can’t create a quilt with only three or four fabrics – my “calmer” quilts have at least a dozen.
I want every textile I make to be visually richer and better-crafted than the one before, but I view each one as just a step towards gaining expertise. I haven’t made any showcase textiles and I don’t know if I ever will – I just enjoy experimenting and seeing what comes out next!
Bonus Question (my own addition) – Where do I need to go next?
I need to work on having each element of a quilt contribute to the overall image – I am comfortable with my sense of color and composition, but I need to put more consideration into layers of surface design, quilting stitch patterns, embellishments, and binding, to create a richer total.
And that’s probably why I chose to pass the torch on to Joanna at The Snarky Quilter, whom I find to be very talented but not at all snarky! :) I love her work because it is varied from one project to the next, and she combines ideas from three or four sources into a beautiful unified and layered image.
When we left the fascinating archaeology of Crete a few posts ago, it was about 1450 BC. From the evidence we have it seems the rulers in the palace of Knossos were big consumers of textiles, using them for exchange and religious offerings. Unfortunately we can’t read that language yet, so there is a lot about Minoan textiles that is still unknown.
At some point, Mycenaeans from the Greek mainland took over on Crete.
On the map below you can find Mycenae in Achaea, the turquoise section west of Athens. You may remember that in The Iliad, Agamemnon and Menelaus came from Mycenae.
No one knows exactly how, when, or why the Mycenaeans were able to come into power, or why, about 250 years later, their culture collapsed.
What we do know is that at the end of their civilization, Knossos went through another destruction, sometime around 1200 BC*, preserving more clay tablets for us. And since the Mycenaeans had adapted the Minoan writing system (what we call Linear A) for use with their own Greek language (Linear B), we can read them.
There are whole segments of society that are not mentioned in these tablets – there is very little about weapons, or ships, or pottery. But fortunately for me, there are thousands of records having to do with textiles!
If you try to picture what Bronze Age cloth production was like, you might imagine young people guarding the family flock of sheep and goats, chasing butterflies as they gently “wool-gathered” the locks of fleece that the animals lost on thorny bushes, and bringing the wool home to mother for her to spin and weave into cloth for snow white tunics at her leisure. At least that’s how I pictured it.
But as we saw with the Minoans, rulers require a lot of cloth for their consumption. And it looks like, when the Mycenaeans took over Minoan culture, they liked the system they saw in place, and tweaked it for greater efficiency, managing every step to “acquire raw material (wool) for transformation into value-added finished products for redistribution and exchange.” (The Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age, p. 305)
They kept records of every step in the process, from gathering the flocks to adding garment fringes.
There are 800+ sheep census forms from 30 places around Crete, and they all go something like this:
Shepherd Ti-mi-za at Ku-ta-to – 200 sheep
143 males, 36 females, 21 others
-Record Df 1121
Shearing or plucking record for the same flock
Ti-mi-za at Ku-ta-to
200 sheep [sign for males used, can refer to mix of males and females]
wool paid – 33 units
wool owed – 17 units
total – 50 units of wool
-Record Dk (2) 1076
(John T. Killen in Ancient Textiles:Production, Craft, and Society, Location 1751)
From the collection of tablets we have, we can see that the Mycenaeans were controlling about 100,000 sheep, probably using 1/4 to 1/3 of the available grazing land. Even today Crete supports about 530,000 sheep, so the Mycenaean number, although large, is realistic. The scribes were just keeping internal records. They had no reason to think their work would be preserved or even seen by anybody outside the kingdom, so they had no reason to try to exaggerate the king’s power or control.
I like the idea of the “wool unit” equaling the output of four sheep. I can imagine how this came about:
Tribute Collector: Shepherd Ti-mi-za, if my memory serves me correctly, the amount of wool you are contributing is less than it was last year.
Shepherd: My sheep have been sick, it was a hot summer… half of them just didn’t put on wool like they did last year. They might have a mineral deficiency.
Collector: Fine, from now on, instead of collecting one fleece from each sheep, we will require a certain weight of wool, and it’s up to you how to combine fleeces to make your quota. But you will make your quota. Am I clear?
Other shepherds murmuring: Oh great, thanks Ti-mi-za, for your little idea. I told you you’d never get away with short-changing the tribute collectors, but you said, “No, what do they know about actual fleece weights? A handful here, a handful there, who’s to know? They’ll be too tired from traveling all over the kingdom, lugging their little clay tablets! If we all do it, they’ll never notice!”
We even know what the wool unit was – it was equivalent to about 3 kilograms, which means 750 grams of wool per sheep. And that means that the palace controlled 30 – 50 tons of wool each year (as Killen says, depending on whether the “owed” amounts were ever actually collected).
Once the wool was collected, it must have been spun somewhere, but I did not find a lot of information on that step. (Although one theorist thinks that an undeciphered Linear B tablet means that wool baskets were delivered to a certain work group.)
The records next show us the wool being distributed to weavers, “with the expectation that set production targets would be met with finished textiles delivered back to the palace.” (Burke, Location 1533) And it wasn’t just like, “Here’s your wool, it’ll be interesting to see what you make.” The type of cloth and number of finished units was specified.
There are at least 11 Linear B symbols that we know have to do with cloth. The three below are pretty well understood and tell us a lot about cloth specifications.
Here are descriptions of those three cloths, summarized from From Minos to Midas by Brendan Burke:
TELA-PA used five wool units to three cloth units, and the term is often linked with red or purple. One tablet refers to 453 pieces. Burke credits textile historian Elizabeth Barber’s idea “that this was a thick cloth with three closed edges that could be used as a cloak, a blanket, or a woman’s peplos.”
The sign TELA-PU refers to a thick, folded cloth, where one wool unit equaled one cloth unit. It is described as red, purple, or patterned, so the thought is that this was meant to be outerwear, and was possibly a loin cloth or kilt. Two tablets refer to a total of 980 of these units.
TELA-TE used seven wool units for one cloth unit, which would make the finished object weigh 21 kilograms, or 46 pounds! Burke says it was nearly four times as heavy as the pa-we-a cloth, probably a heavy-duty cloak or rug, maybe bedding or tapestry. Possibly these last two types of cloth were felted.
So even though we don’t know each and every specialty item, we see that there was a system of specifications. (I’m not convinced we have figured them out properly. The weaver in me wants to know why the historians keep assuming that the more wool went into a cloth, the thicker it got, instead of longer and/or wider. The heaviest garment I own is a vintage wool coat, and it only weighs four pounds. What loin cloth would weigh six pounds? Couldn’t one cloth unit be made into several garments?)
The tablets also show a surprising amount of specialization in textile jobs. Workers were not generalists. Every time a product was picked up from one group and delivered to another, there was a record, for the quantity of material left and what was expected to be made from it. There are terms for wool pluckers, wool combers, linen workers, spinning women, men and women weavers, headband makers, and fullers. There were people whose entire job was adding white “fingernail” decorations to finished cloth.
There are also records of the rations workers were given after meeting their targets. These workers probably didn’t live in Knossos itself, but were dependent on the palace system. Some of the weaver groups are described by the place they were from (“women workers of Siteia,” for example) – they may have been slaves or prisoners of war, or descendents of the same. Possibly 1000 workers were in this system.
And what was done with all this cloth? That has been a huge bone of contention among archaeologists and historians. It used to be thought that it was collected into storehouses, and then redistributed to the whole population. Now the thinking seems to be that it was used more for the rulers’ purposes – to clothe their slaves and soldiers, provide tents and sails, make exchange gifts with other rulers, dress themselves in finery, and make offerings to the gods. Burke writes, “I believe most of the exchanges were on a community-to-community level rather than on an individual merchant-to-merchant level…The palace directs consumption of the finished product for military, ideological and political purposes, and to acquire other prestige goods which serve to maintain power.” (Burke, Location 350 of 5490)
Reading about this textile system has really opened my eyes to the complexity of life in ancient times. I am just amazed that the concepts of targets and quotas (and detailed record-keeping!) were around at such an early time, and that textiles were made in such numbers.
When the Mycenaean civilization fell, the system disappeared. (I can’t help wondering what happened to the weaving slaves who were used to being told what to do and where to pick up their rations.) Even writing disappeared, for hundreds of years.
“Indeed, once the palaces were destroyed, this specialist activity clearly ceased, and virtually all the terms which are listed above pass out of use in the Greek language. It is not until a millennium later, in the great conurbations of the Hellenistic and Roman periods like Alexandria, that we again find anything like the degree of specialisation in textile production that we find on the tablets, in that case sustained by a market economy.” (John T. Killen in Ancient Textiles: Production, Craft, and Society, Location 1752)
So these are the three books I have read and reread many times, to try to get a handle on all this information. I think it’s a fascinating era, but I think I am going to take a break from history for the rest of this year, and go back to creating some textiles of my own.
*1200 BC, based on this chronology.
Here are my entries, plus a few for time slots that I missed during the first go-round.
I took these pictures in 6 different Texas towns, representing about 1880 miles of travel! That is pretty standard for us – during the time frame of the project I actually traveled more than twice that in Texas. If you didn’t have to worry about little things like travel time and could squeeze all these activities into one day, it would be a wonderful day!
Here are the other 1 Day 1 World Wrap-ups. I really enjoyed this project!
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