Category Archives: Hand sewing

How I Learned to Think Diagonally and Sew with My Soul the Gee’s Bend Way

Mary Ann Pettway

Mary Ann Pettway

The long leaf pines swayed in the mountain breeze. The atmosphere inside electric with color, song and humming sewing machines. This past week I attended a 4-day Gee’s Bend Quilting retreat in the beautiful rolling hills of northern Alabama. We were in the midst of two inspiring Gee’s Bend quilters: Mary Ann Pettway and China Pettway.

The Pettways have an interesting way of teaching. Demonstrating, then observing. Showing, then praising. They loved us through the process until we “got it”. The quilting itself was not the Big Thing. The Big Thing was the small voice inside that spoke through our hands as we worked. From time to time the Pettways would break into song – sounds of praise so deep, the voices of the two women reverberated in that room so that anyone would have thought there was a choir of twenty.

basil

Basil ready to slice his strips into angles

There were fifteen quilters. Basil, the only male quilter there, is an art quilter from St. Louis. Arleen brought her Gee’s Bend Quilts book for the ladies to sign. She worked quietly in the corner and produced gorgeous angles in her blocks – obvious that she had studied the style prior to the workshop. Others struggled to let go of all they had learned about quilting to learn a new way of sewing tiny pieces of fabrics together.

“Yes, you’ve got it! You’re quilting the Gee’s Bend way.”

When one of us heard that, we knew we finally understood that we were slicing and dicing our way into a new way of quilting. On the 2nd day, I finally got it. Allow the Spirit to take over in your sewing! Sew with your soul instead of what the world says you should do.  Forget about straight lines. Forget about patterns. Forget about bringing a preconceived notion of what you will make. Let the quilt develop into what it wants to be.

Arleens

“You’ve got it.”

“That’s where the art is,” China Pettway says.

What have you learned to do in a new way? When have you realized that they way you have always done something may not the only way, the best way?

pettwaysI’m sending out a huge Thank You to the Gee’s Bend Quilters and the Alabama Folk School at Camp McDowell!

almost finished

 

gees bend quilts

a few quilts the Pettways brought with them

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The Contemplative Nature of Hand-Stitching

There’s something I love about hand stitching. Actually several things.

  • The stitcher must slow down and focus on the work at hand.
  • There are choices to be made (threads, colors, designs), or not – free your mind and choose intuitively and quickly, with no plan.
  • The mind opens to dimensional possibility (beads, buttons, tassels)
  • Stitches, colors, shapes bring memories of past projects, events and people
  • Thoughts and feelings, sometimes about others, are incorporated into the stitches

When I stitch I do not always plan the colors or stitches. I like to see what develops as I go along. I add dimension as I stitch, and use a variety of stitch styles and a variety of cords and threads. Today, I used wool felt squares and DMC #8 cotton embroidery thread – my fave. These are what I call Prayer Flags. I know, there are prayer flag traditions all over the world. And each style is unique. Mine are a little unorthodox and wonky, but meaningful to me. I stitch tiny pockets on the back and write names of people, events and such on small papers and tuck those into the pockets as prayers. As I complete each set of 5, they represent time spent in conversation with the creator of the universe, and a time spent not thinking about myself.

As I stitch each ‘flag’, I may go back and forth between them until I’m satisfied that the square holds all the stitches (prayers) it can hold.

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The chaos of every day.  How do I focus on each one? Do we need to? should I prioritize?

 

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And then there are the storms. Do I cause the storms? Am I in the middle? the sidelines? Am I being injured by the swirling winds? Can I escape? Where can I hide?

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Roots run deep. What you see is only the tip of the iceberg. Patience is the gift of the gardener. Nurture the place where you are. Can I really do that?

 

 

 

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Do I struggle to open the door to something different? Why is the door closed? What is hiding there?. Is it locked? Perhaps it’s the wrong door.

 

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Am I in a precarious place? Should I run away? Or should I stay? There is comfort in a safe secure place. Remember, the ship that never leaves the dock does not experience adventure. Fly. Fly Away.

 

 

Done.
prayerflagsemma
When do you find time to think of others – of their pain, their needs? How do those thoughts manifest in your life?

Culture of Lack

My husband Robert and I have worked together in Honduras and Panama. One of the things that impressed us was the resourcefulness of the people in recycling goods. There was very little trash. They used up everything they had. Picked up used nails. Wove baskets from weeds, stitched clothing from scraps. We could not help but think of all that our culture of abundance throws away.

My mother was born in 1915. May father in 1912. Depression era mentality. Culture of lack. My father never threw away anything. My mother used to melt together the leftover small slivers of soap. I have stories.

Today I completed a hand-stitched quilt made of throw-a-way fabric. Small pieces of linen leftover from garments I have sewn. Small lengths of embroidery threads. A small piece of loosely-woven multi-color cotton homespun-type fabric I’ve been hoarding for a long time.

quilt1

front – embroidery and hand stitching

quilt2

back – We are all made of stars

 

 

I have a difficult time throwing away small scraps of fabric. Among other things.

What do you have a difficult time throwing away?

The Art of Noticing: Have We Lost it?

I read good words the other day about how our lives have become so tech obsessed in this article  and can’t stop thinking about it. The story in the little book, Sidewalk Flowers, is told in pictures. We have to intentionally notice the graphics to see what the story is about. This is a line I remember:
“How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives,” Annie Dillard wrote in her magnificent defense of living with presence. But in our age of productivity, we spend our days running away from boredom”
There was a story on the news last night about a young girl killed by a  train. She had earbuds in her ears and did not hear the train. Video taken after the accident showed person after person crossing train tracks. Most were either wearing earbuds or talking on their cell phones. And how many times have you been in a public place and heard someone say ‘hello’, and you thought they were speaking to you when they were answering their phone with a hands-free device? Many people attach these devices to their ears, or the speaker hangs from earbuds and people walk around a store talking as if someone is walking beside them. I know, I could rant forever on this subject. Fact is, we as a culture have become a big blob of “attention deficit disorder” folks.
What would happen if we stopped what we were doing when we received a call and focused only on the conversation?
In my last blog post I wrote about picking up embroidery again. Yes, I know, I’m obsessed. One thing I enjoy is the intense focus on creating the tiny stitches of embellishment on each little animal or doll I make. A chain stitch becomes a conversation with my daughter I need to have, each stitch a word. A daisy stitch brings memories of my grandmother, and our nights spent together listening to the radio and sewing pillowcases. With every stitch a memory I had long forgotten floats across the screen of my mind’s eye.
Sunday afternoon we had a class in the studio making nesting Matryoshka dolls. photo copy 11The finishing touch is the embroidery on their little bodies. As I stitched that afternoon with the other women I had a clear picture of what creativity in community can do. We talked about our lives, our children, our dreams with every stitch. Embroidery is one activity that gives me the pause I need to stop and notice.
What gives your psyche pause to “notice”?

March is National Craft Month

What? Only March?
Those of us who are “makers” know that every day is craft day (or we wish it were so). A friend, Lisa Craig, re-introduced me to the fine art of hand embroidery. Long forgotten stitches reappeared across the screen of my brain: chain stitch, French knot, lazy daisy and even the fun feather stitch. Yes, I did have to google these to remember how to do them.
I’ve been wanting to make some pattern weights for a while now and I found a sweet pattern for tetrahedron weights made from cotton fabric and filled with rice at Sachiko Aldous’ blog, Tea Rose Home.  I tried a few from her instructions; however, these were not weighty enough for me. So off to the Big Box I went to look for weights. First I looked at fishing weights, but those are made of lead and I felt they were unsafe. Also a little pricey. Especially compared to rice. Next I looked at old fashioned Daisy BBs. Brought back memories of my brothers shooting squirrels with these, but I digress. Also cost more than rice, but the best alternative for weight, I believe. I purchased two heavy packs of steel BBs, got some strange looks from folks in the checkout line. I imagine they were wondering what this mammau was going to do with 12,000 BBs. (Okay, so I’m a little compulsive.) I’m happy say it was not necessary to use the retorts that quickly came to mind – and believe me, I had several imaginary stories ready.
DSC00623But back to the real story here. I cut my little triangles out of  wool felt because I wanted to try my hand at simple embroidery on these. My French knots look decent, but my chain stitching needs practice, after all it has been over 40 years since I’ve embroidered. In celebration of National Craft Month I made the entire set of 6 with only hand sewing.
They are filled with steel BBs and are weighty enough that the pull of scissors cutting on fabric will not easily move them from placement on a pattern.  And who will know they are filled with .177 caliber steel airgun pellets. I think they turned out beautifully, don’t you? photo 3No more pinning patterns for moi! And I have enough BBs to make more sets for my sewing friends! Wanna try your hand at a few? All begins with 3.5″ triangles, fold each end up to the center, press and stitch. And use 100% wool felt. There’s nothing better. So celebrate! Make something, and send me a pic!