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The Lane Cotton Mill

Cotton fabrics from my closed storefront shop are now stored in a former mill that manufactured cotton fabric in the 1800s on Tchoupitoulas Street. The mill first opened in 1852 and operated until 1950 – today it has been reconfigured (adaptive re-use) into storage units. The history of Lane Cotton Mill is fascinating to me. But what I really found most interesting is this photograph of Lane Mill workers taken in the late 1800s, early 1900s.

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Lewis Hines, “Group of workers in Lane Cotton Mill, New Orleans,” The Historic New Orleans Collection

What’s the first thing you notice? The boy speaking to his buddy behind him. “Stop poking me.” Or the one directly behind him with that lock of hair and impish grin? The one beside him, on the right, standing proud, hat in hand? Every person had/has a story.

What I also notice is the worn-out knees of those pants, the youth who were expected to help support the family at 10-12 years of age. Child labor was a necessary thing at that time. Perhaps those are sisters, brothers, in the background.

Our house on Laurel Street here in New Orleans is located about three blocks from this mill complex. Built originally as a “double shotgun” with two apartments, each side of the house had a living room, middle bedroom and a kitchen in the back, with no indoor plumbing (more history about shotgun houses here). I don’t know if our house was built originally by manufacturers for their workers or not – probably not – but it was converted years ago into a “single” with three small bedrooms and 2 baths.

The evidence of streetcar rails can be found in certain spots along Laurel St, so the location was convenient for workers to travel to and from their jobs. Or walk to Lane Cotton Mills.

In my imagination, people were packed into these little houses. Living rooms doubled as bedrooms. High ceilings (ours is 11-12′) and numerous windows allowed for air flow and the closeness of these houses allowed for little privacy. Noise travels. Young women probably worked until they married and had children, usually very young. Here’s a pic of some of those young women, with their tin lunch buckets.lane+cotton+mill

I now work out of that same cotton mill, only now I’m set up in the wide hall and I cut fabric for my online shop while imagining those voices and noises from the past as those loud machines processed cotton from upriver and made it into cloth. During the Civil War the mill was commandeered by Union forces to stop the manufacture of Confederate uniforms, to destroy morale. This photo shows those oil-stained floors (where I set up to cut fabric) and some of the machinery that wove cotton cloth, now replaced with metal storage units.

img_4538Are those boys and girls longing to have their stories told? I think they are.
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The photographs here are from the archives of Store-All, the current owners of these fabulous brick buildings.

 

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Letterhead from Lane Cotton Mills. The large building at the left of this photo is currently occupied by Rouse’s supermarket. The remainder of the complex has been adapted for storage. Cotton fabrics and all that we materialistic people hold onto.

P.S.: Just listened to archived interview of Charles Neville prior to his death. He grew up on Valence St., with no electricity and an outdoor toilet – when they moved to the Calliope Projects he said that was a ‘step up’. He said his mom, Amelia Landry Neville, had worked at Lane Cotton Mills where my fabrics are currently at home – right at the end of Valence St! This is the only person whose name I’ve heard who has worked there – I wonder if she is in the photo above. Charles Neville passed away on Thursday, April 26, 2018 at 79 years old. Click here for an archived interview: https://www.wwno.org/post/music-inside-out-remembering-charles-neville

Re-Blog from SewCanShe.com

I love seeing how others deal with fabric scraps!

What does the fashion industry do with their TONS of scraps?

Five things to know if you want to learn to sew …

UggjqRsn3MRl-1See this dress? Does it look easy to sew/make?

Every day in the shop a few people walk in and ask about sewing lessons. We get phone calls every day asking the same. I always like to get to know them, what their goals are, whether or not they have a sewing machine and we talk about their experience with mother, grandmother or aunts who may have sewn. Most students enjoy the conversation and can’t wait to dive into sewing. They realize that learning to sew is a process that takes time.

About once or twice a month someone walks in and asks to learn to sew because they have one thing they want to make. And they want to make it by next week. And all they have is a photo on their cell phone.  This ambitious project is usually (but not always) something made from lycra and lace and very stretchy. Definitely not something a beginner will tackle in their first lesson.

When I tell these ambitious potential students about the learning curve involved in sewing, that they must learn how a sewing machine operates, how to thread it, and how to sew a straight line before they make their first item – a simple project like a pillow or tote bag – some decide they do not have the patience for all that. Some become intrigued and decide to undertake a series of classes regardless of the time it takes to learn. Sewing is not for everyone.

Five Things You Need to Know if You Want to Learn to Sew:
1. Take sewing classes. Sewing may or may not be something you enjoy. Start simple, and if you enjoy the process think about buying a machine.
2. Do not rush to buy a machine. I know several people who decided they were going to learn to sew and bought a machine that just sits in their closet. They did not enjoy sewing as much as they had hoped. Before you purchase a sewing machine, ask your friends that sew what type machine they use. Test out different brands of machines when you take lessons. Choose a machine that you are comfortable using. Never order a machine online unless you are familiar with the brand name and model and have some experience with that type machine. You may luck out and find one for sale on Craigslist or an estate sale. The more you know about how a machine operates and how to use it the more qualified you are to purchase your machine.
3. Gather the proper and necessary tools and have a box or tote to store them all in. Basic supplies can be purchased at reasonable prices. What do you need? Good shears in two or three sizes; thread in various colors; seam ripper; measuring tape; seam gauge or small ruler; iron and ironing board; straight pins; disappearing or erasable fabric marking pen/pencils; safety pins; sewing clips; thimble; hand-sewing needles; pincushion. There are many other supplies to consider later on.
4. Learn to do basic hand-sewing. Sewing on buttons, hemming a skirt, mending a pair of pants – all this will build your hand-sewing skills. All machine sewing involves hand-sewing in the finish work. YouTube has wonderful tutorials in just about any area of sewing.
5. Go easy on yourself. Take your time in learning to read and understand a pattern. Choose patterns for beginners or purchase a beginner sewing book that includes patterns.

CLASS6Sewing is mostly a solitary process, but it doesn’t have to be. To really enjoy sewing, find a sewing community where you can learn tips and tricks of long-time sewists and quilters. Sewists love to gather and share projects and ideas. Sew social!

Call our shop if you’re ready!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything Grows

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Lemons still on our tree

The best thing about New Orleans is that everything grows. The worst thing about New Orleans is that everything grows. Given time, a tiny cat’s claw vine will take over anything in it’s way. It will even invade an attic if there is a crack in a window. It will grow underneath siding and emerge through a hundred-year-old wooden shutter, clinging to rusty hinges and reaching towards the sunlight.

Every year Robert makes preserved (salted) lemons. He squeezes the lemons, cuts them up, adds Kosher salt and seals this up in jars. After about ten days or so, the lemon juice becomes syrupy and the lemons become soft enough to mash. The juice has a distinctive rich lemony taste that adds deep flavor to anything – guacamole, soup, salads. We have several citrus trees in our yard. Our semi-tropical climate is conducive to thousands of plant species. Many we don’t want. Many we do.  Our grapefruit tree has its first 3 fruits that we are waiting to pick, as soon as the green disappears.

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Grapefruit, almost ready

There is an old storage shed in our backyard made from the original slabs of bargeboard in the walls of our house. Beside the shed grow invasive elephant ears and Mexican petunias. We dig them up month after month and they keep coming back. On the walls of this shed, the cat’s claw vine creeps up. At one time it covered the roof but we hired someone to pull it all down and dispose of it. But it comes back. Always. In dry climates I hear that the plant is propagated because it is drought tolerant and has pretty yellow flowers. Well, yes, it does. But it grows maybe a half-foot per day here in NOLA.

So how do we co-exist with things that grow and are valued elsewhere, but are hated here in our own back yard? I think of the cat’s claw vine like I do my husband’s cancer cells.

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Cat’s claw vine trying to take over our backyard shed

We tolerate them, but we try to live as if they are not there. We try to do what we can to eliminate them, and we hope what we do is good for us and for the “good” plants (and “good” cells). All we can do is try to keep these things under control so they do not smother out the good things in life.

We enjoy our fruits, and keep planting good things – like more orange trees, more herbs and veggies – the “good stuff”. Maybe the good stuff will outgrow the bad. We can only do what we can. We can only hope.

That’s what this Christmas season brings to me. Hope. Hope in the future. Hope in good health, good energy, good friends and

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Cat’s claw vine growing through our neighbor’s historic shutters. There’s no apparent origin – unless the vine is growing under the siding.

good fruits.

 

Sneaking up on me.

stitching housesEvery year this happens. We celebrate a nice Thanksgiving with family; I think how close to the end of the year we are again, and our neighbors put up their Christmas decorations. About two weeks later I look up and realize Christmas is only 2 weeks away.

I should remember that after Thanksgiving it’s a downhill slide to Christmas. Every year, Emma. Every year. Our house is not decked out for the holidays. No tree. No lights. We look like grinches. When you have a retail store, that’s where the excitement happens: Christmas handmades, classes, cheerful customers, bright and happy children. I’m busy making things to sell and to give. Too suddenly time passes and all this busy-ness will slow.

One thing Robert and I love to do in the days before Christmas is attend the concerts at St. Louis Cathedral. This year we have several such events on our calendar. As long as the temps are not bitter cold and there’s no rain we intend to go. The Luna Fete is another draw for us. Gotta see those lights, just in driving down St. Charles.

And if we have the time and assistance we may be able to retrieve our holiday decorations from the attic. And we may even put them up before Christmas. This may be the year. This may be the year! I’ll keep you posted.

How do you find time to decorate and make?

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.

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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

Little Boxes, Filled with … what?

A couple of months ago, my husband R. was diagnosed with Metastatic Carcinoma of Unknown Primary. At first we are numb. Walking around staring at each other, trying not to get teary-eyed, but doing it anyway. Now, a few weeks down the road on this new journey, we’ve moved into another phase. Not acceptance. It’s something else for me. R. has an “attitude of gratitude”, and I’m into some other twilight zone of feeling I have not quite owned up to. I’m dealing with this new circumstance as I deal with most others.

I’m making things, keeping my hands moving. Yes, I’m escaping in a sense. Sometimes escape and denial is necessary to get you through. I’m making tiny houses. What is a house but a place where a soul resides. Little doorways. When I’m stitching, I do not have to think so much about the fact that my husband will gradually disappear from this life. But all these thoughts jump back into my stitches. I pray for him to not have pain. I try not to think about how lonely I will be in the future in this house.
I try not to think a whole lot about what I’m doing and my mind can wander off down the endless avenues of my brain. Every stitch a prayer. Going down one way I think of the beauty of the fall season here in New Orleans, which is the cooler temps. Then my thoughts take off another way and wonder about that hurricane that is forming and heading our way.
But with each stitch, each pull of this deep purple thread tightening that little doorway, I am thinking of what these cancer cells are doing to my husband day by day. And that I can do nothing to stop them, nothing to stitch those cancer cells up in a little box and burn them – and my scissors cannot cut off their threads of multiplication. It’s going to be a long journey.  Over time, about twenty minutes into my little house, my brain settles into the rhythm of my stitching, and I am once again in a meditation zone. I’m not in charge. And every stitch is a prayer.