The Underground Railroad

Something else that I have read about since becoming interested in Civil War quilts and reproduction fabrics is the Underground Railroad.
Just like Red Rock Cider (It’s not red and there’s no rocks in it) the Underground Railroad is neither underground nor is it a railroad. That’s disappointing but nevertheless still interesting.

I understand that the Underground Railroad grew as a romantic myth describing a network of secret routes used by slaves trying to escape their confines and assisted by abolitionists and freed slaves along the way. I wouldn’t have heard about this unless I was reading about the history of quilting in the US and what initially caught my eye was the story that slaves and abolitionists made quilts which included secret codes and messages enabling escapees to seek out friendly homesteads and safe routes towards freedom. For me, this was a great idea and what a fantastic story. The more I read however, the more evidence I found to render this story invalid.

What a shame. I would much rather think of white abolitionists fighting against the regime to help the slaves gain their rightful freedom, than read about the harsh reality. Slaves were more likely to escape on their own, safe routes were often closed down quickly and those enslaved in the deep south were unlikely to survive the longer journey northwards to the free states.

Personally I can’t grasp the idea of having a slave employed to do my bidding. It is unthinkable. Slavery still exists in some countries and cultures which I find incomprehensible but thankfully it is much less widespread than 200 years ago.

So much for coded quilts.

Dogs and Hogs

I love all animals and given the choice and funds, I would have a huge animal sanctuary in the countryside catering for all creatures great and small who need a home.
Unless I win the lottery, I have to make do with animals I do have, namely a gorgeous dog called Jasper and a number of hedgehogs who live and/or visit our garden every night now that their hibernation period is over.

I say a lovely dog, but he was less than gorgeous when he came back from a walk with his Daddy last Sunday. When he left, Jasper was a light golden colour, fluffy with a swishy plume of a tail. When he came back 2 hours later he was…… What can I say?


He had certainly changed colour quite dramatically, although he was clever in keeping his favourite ball very clean in comparison!

He is great company and he is also very good at sniffing out the hedgehogs when they appear.

Over the past few weeks, I have spied more and more hedgehogs running around the garden enjoying the warmer, dry weather and the cat food and mealworms which I feed them. I followed one after he finished eating and am thrilled to learn that he has made his nest in the ground-floor space of the insect house which I built last year. Lets hope it becomes a family home this spring and we have some hedgehog babies (urchins)to boost numbers.


keep calm

Guilt-free quilting

Going through difficult times and wanting to stay at home rather than venture further afield makes it very easy for me to feel guilty that I’m not doing anything. Of course that is nonsensical as it is impossible for me to do nothing except when at my lowest nadir confined to bed and sleeping all day.

So when I look back at the last week or so, although I haven’t been out and about as much as the previous week, I have still achieved a lot and should take pride in that instead of beating myself up. We could all learn that lesson and be kinder to oneself more often.

I finished my mini-quilt swap for my swap partner in the US. I will now be able to put it in the post and wait for her reaction. I just hope she likes it. Likewise, I will be waiting for mine to drop through the letterbox and I am sure I will love mine! Just the thought that someone has spent their precious time and energy on a project for me is warming and I love this idea of quilt swapping.

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Mini-quilt swap Spring 2017[/caption

My quilt-swap partner lives in Texas and I therefore settled on a pattern which has one star at the centre as I understand that Texas is known as the “Lone Star State.” I also hand-quilted it with stars. I love how you can personalise even the smallest quilt either by pattern or colour, or both and all quilts are made with love. They are almost living things and each one gifted goes with a piece of me.

I have also started to hand-quilt one for me. It is divided into 4 large squares which I will sash together when quilted. I find it very relaxing to sit and stitch in the evenings whilst watching TV. Good chill-out time and, as I am being creative and making something tangible, it’s all guilt-free.

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I am also learning a lot about the history of quilting both in the UK and the US. I have to say that the US wins the “most interesting” award and I am now fascinated with the quilting stories, history and myths which abound. All this in addition to the Civil War quilts and fabrics mentioned previously.

[caption id="attachment_14798" width="2560"]IMG_5075 Easy 4-square mini-quilt

I may not be racing around like an ant, but I am still being productive and creative. This should not be underestimated!

Creative

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Learning with quilting

When my love for sewing was reignited and I began to make quilts a couple of years ago, I never thought that I would be learning about US history. It was enough to cope with terms such as jelly rolls, layer cakes, charm packs, in-the-ditch, HSTs (half-square-triangles) and long-arm quilting and I never spared a thought about the history behind quilts.

Here in the UK, I don’t have a great sense of history regarding the making of quilts other than  several homes had them; Heirlooms painstakingly hand-made by grandmas to pass away the time rather than fulfil any practical need. Of course, I make this observation from a position of ignorance in that I have never researched the history of the quilt in the UK. It hasn’t been a topic of interest. I like sewing and love making something which is pretty, practical and 100% unique and I piggy-back on the current revived interest in all things home-made.

This all changed a few weeks ago when I joined an on-line quilting group (see previous posts) where most of the members live in the US. Immediately I spotted that the fabrics they tend to use (in general) are different from those available in the UK and in particular, Civil War quilts, reproduction fabrics, colours and patterns are prevalent. I wasn’t sure whether I liked the more muted shades and simple patterns at first but over the weeks they have grown on me. I have therefore started to order fabric which reflects this period and have made some items using these. The mini-quilt shown below is from a pattern in Kathy Tracy’s new book “Small and Scrappy. ” Reading about the history behind these quilts has made me appreciate the hardships faced by many US families during and after the American Civil War and especially the migration of the masses from East to West. It is a fascinating subject and makes history come alive to me.

Mini quilt

Scrappy pinwheels

One of my new “Smallquilttalk” friends pointed me in the direction of Barbara Brackman who writes a great blog not only about the history of quilting in the UK but incorporates national and local history and events with illustrations in her posts. Its a great source of information if you, like me, want to know more.

Quilting has a lot to answer for!

Mystery quilt Block 1

Civil War reproduction fabrics

Weeks 4 and 5- Facing the world

worry

 

Anyone who has suffered with depression and/or anxiety knows how difficult it is to face the world. Since starting my annual break back in February I have been quite happy to remain indoors quilting, sewing and even organising my office in preference to venturing outdoors.

It’s a good job therefore that I have plenty of previous experience in dealing with these issues and know myself well enough to kick my own ass into gear. Challenging my negative thoughts I set myself some goals to try and recover some normality;

  1. I arranged to visit Will at University so he could drive me to IKEA for a mosey round the aisles then treat me to lunch. This was my agreed Birthday present carried forward from February and which I had been putting off.
  2. I agreed to go out with the girls for a pasta night-and thoroughly enjoyed myself!
  3. I arranged to go to the local Farm Shop to meet a friend for lunch-this was a big step and it had to be with someone who understands why I am not actively in touch for months but remains supportive and non-judgemental.
  4. I started to join in the Jasper/Feri walks-taking him to the fields for a good run and play in the muddy puddles and found that there is something incredibly uplifting watching a dog enjoy himself so much with total unbounded joy and
  5. Helping Will with distributing and collecting questionnaires in the town for his University dissertation. This involved talking to several strangers about his work and the flooding which affects our town regularly. I found it energising and interesting and it took the attention away from me and my thoughts to thinking about other problems and solutions.

All in all, my objectives were to become less focussed on remaining in my “craft-cave” and to be more interactive. It worked a treat and starting the process with people I trust led to me being more comfortable venturing outside those boundaries.

So over the last couple of weeks I have been busy out and about. A welcome change but, although it’s nice to go out, it’s nicer to come home.home

 

 

Week 3-“hiding”

It’s too easy to hide.

I need to make more of an effort to get out and meet people, communicate and take in some of the Spring sunshine. Sadly, I had enough to keep me busy indoors last week to provide my semi-guilty conscience with sufficient excuses to avoid people and continue my isolation indoors. Naughty.

Too peoply

So what did I do?

Quilting of course- I finished my scrappy mug-rugs. Another sign of a restless mind is focussing on smaller projects which can be completed quickly and without too much concentration involved. I enjoyed putting together these mats with scraps from previous projects and it gave me a chance to practice a new quilting pattern (braiding) and to use my freebie quilting templates which I’ve had for a few weeks-see, I’m pretty good at justifying my lack of socialising by making something 1) out of scraps which otherwise wouldn’t be used; music to my frugal husband’s ears and 2) something practical.

I spent two days during the week sorting out my sewing kit and stash and my office so that everything is now in its place ready to use without rummaging through countless plastic boxes for just the right piece of fabric. Now I am not the tidiest person around, preferring to keep moving and leaving a trail of destruction behind me instead of being organised and tidy. This again is a sign that sitting on my bed folding small pieces of fabric into colour-coded bags was far more appealing than venturing outdoors.

I may have had to speak to someone. Horrors!

Whilst scouring Pinterest for mini-quilt ideas however, I did stumble across a fantastic Yahoo Group called “Smallquilttalk.” This is a mini-quilting group run and moderated by the “Sentimental Quilter” Kath Tracy. I found some of her free patterns on Pinterest, loved them and followed the links so that I finally came to the group. Most members are based in the US, but there are international quilters too. Kath’s blog describes the group as somewhere where you can “meet new quilting friends from around the world, share tips and show off your quilts.” All without leaving home- Perfect!

Being very self-critical it’s an easy option and a bit of a cheat but it’s a start. I have only been a contributing and active member of this group for two days but I have already found a new “tribe” of like-minded fellow-quilters who all seem incredibly friendly and helpful. It all seems so easy online. Why can’t I feel this comfortable in the actual presence of people? Strange and as yet, unexplained for me.

I’m trying to be kind to myself and am sure that this low-mood will lift in due course. In the meantime, I am participating in the “Mystery Quilt” challenge and the “Small-quilt 2017 swap.”

For the Mystery challenge, Kath gives the group instructions for a patchwork quilt Block every few weeks. The finished quilt won’t be complete and the mystery revealed until the last Block is made. This is good fun and although the challenge has been running for a few weeks now, I have managed to catch up;

 

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Mystery Quilt 2017-Block 1

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Mystery Quilt challenge- “square-in-a-square” blocks for later on

The quilt swap hasn’t been sorted out yet but I have listed my interest and am waiting for my “swap partner” to be allocated to me. I understand that we then correspond with each other regarding the quilts in order to find out favourite colours and patterns in the hope that the quilt I make for my swap partner and the quilt I receive is, at least, something that will be treasured.

Interestingly this is when the differences between quilts produced in the US and my quilts come to the fore. I have had a good look through the photos on the group pages and the different preferences and fabrics used are a lot more muted (in general). I understand that, having done some research, many of the fabrics and quilt patterns used relate back to the American Civil War  which clearly doesn’t impact us in the UK in the same way as in the US. I find this very interesting and with a passion for social history, I am already interested in finding out more of the history behind quilting both in the US and the UK.

Am I a nerd? (rhetorical)

So the end of week 3 leaves me with a new tribe, some interesting quilting tasks and an intention to make more of an effort to get out and about.

Let’s hope I can force myself past the front door and into the big wide-world.

happiness outside

 

 

Week 2- “productive”

After last week’s hectic schedule, this week just gone was a lot more relaxed and productive.

One of my favourite 2016 projects was revived for 2017 and I spent a couple of days putting together a “fidget” or “dementia activity” quilt following a request from a friend of my Aunt who had seen previous examples of mine on Facebook.

This project is more personal in that I have some information about the person I am making it for; I understand that he is a retired priest, a poet, loves Christmas and has an allotment. My task therefore is to tailor-make an activity quilt designed to be interactive, stimulate memories and discussion and to keep a sometimes troubled mind occupied.

I’m pleased with the result.

I also included a card printed with one of my favourite poems by Gerard Manley-Hopkins;

Pied Beauty.

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced –
fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

I hope he likes it.