“Quilts and Color” at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts

I had three opportunities this spring and summer to attend an exhibit showcasing the quilts of Paul Pilgrim and Gerald Roy at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. It is on view until Sunday, July 27, and definitely I’d recommend attending, if you can.

As I understand it, Roy and Pilgrim were interested in collecting quilts that showed unusual, daring, or unorthodox use of color. They wanted the quilts they bought to be in good condition, but they cared more about bold and memorable use of color than about stitches per inch.

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The quilt above is the one that you see publicizing the exhibit on city buses. A Double Wedding Ring from about 1940, its African-American creator used a generous (but alluring) amount of purple.

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One of the first quilts you see as you enter the exhibit is this Carpenter’s Wheel quilt (above), made by a Mennonite woman in the 19th century who stitched quilts for her seven children. She wasn’t afraid to use bold colors – in this case, orange, red, and green – or an attention-getting pattern. Also in the same room is this Nine Patch from the 1880s (below), which uses a similar high-energy palette of orange, red, and blue-green.

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Some of the patterns are instantly recognizable, such as Star of Bethlehem or Sunshine and Shadow (below). photo (5)

Others use patterns I had never seen before, such as this Snail’s Trails (below) from the 1930s, which was created by a member of an Illinois Amish sect.

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This Tumbler’s Block pattern (above) from about 1920 was unusual, but I thought it looked modern with its slightly off-kilter rectangle/triangle pieces in black and gray.

My favorite quilts were by the Amish.

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This Framed Diamond in a Square quilt (above) from about 1890 was one of the simplest quilts in the exhibit, but the minimalist design spoke to me. Also Amish was this Thousand Pyramids quilt (below), which looks both timeless and modern.

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Speaking of Amish quilts, my family recently spent a few days in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We happened upon an open-to-the-public auction organized by the Amish in which they were selling handmade items to raise money for special needs children. The quilts that I saw there were stunning, yet they featured printed cottons and elaborate designs. Call me a dinosaur, but I love solid fabrics and pared-down designs.

As I read over this post, I realize that I’ve included only those quilts I liked; thus, I fear I’m not doing justice to the full spectrum of quilts included in the exhibit. Some used color combinations that did not speak to me. This Sunburst quilt from 1856 (below) was considered the “ugly quilt” by the family who owned it, so they stored it away for many years. Even though I don’t love the palette, I appreciate the bold use of color.

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So that’s the exhibit in a nutshell, but there are many other quilts on the walls that I haven’t shown here. If you’re in the Boston area, you will thank yourself if you go see the exhibit.

Joy Pillow

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From the moment I saw Debbie Grifka’s Joy Pillow in the 2013-2014 Holiday issue of Quilting Arts Gifts, I knew I wanted to add it to my to-do list, partly because I have always admired the work Debbie posts at Esch House Quilts. Its elegant simplicity spoke to me. Debbie made hers in a sophisticated tan-and-white combination. I love the color red, especially around the holidays, so I decided to use red and white. 

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I began the pillow in November 2013 and am finishing it up five months later. I feel a little sheepish to admit how long it took, but in my defense I will say it isn’t the only project I worked on in this period. Still, though, I originally thought I could have this pillow done for Christmas, and when that didn’t happen, I figured the color combination would make it ideal for a Valentine’s pillow. Now I’m thinking I could call it a Fourth of July pillow if I propped it up against a blue background!   

All kidding aside, I made a few changes to Debbie’s pattern. Her pillow measures 16” x 26”, while mine is about 10” x 15”. She used a zipper to close the back, while I used a simple envelope closure. 

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Despite my tinkering with the pattern, I love both the design and the message of the pillow. Thanks, Debbie!

Denyse Schmidt at New England Quilt Museum

I had the privilege of hearing Denyse Schmidt speak at the New England Quilt Museum this past Friday. She is a much admired figure in the Modern Quilting movement, although she doesn’t consider herself solely a modern quilter.

She was raised by parents who lived through the Depression and who embodied the philosophy of “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” As a grad student at the Rhode Island School of Design, she majored in graphic design, took classes in stone carving, and developed her own font. After graduation she moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut and eventually started her own business, which has led her to design fabric for Free Spirit and Fabric Traditions (the former line is sold to independent fabric stores and the latter to chain stores).

Denyse believes in “haphazard, accidental beauty” and feels it can be found everywhere. She closed her talk with an assortment of images from the mundane (battered metal doors) to the inspirational (a church billboard with the assertion that “Everyone Can Sing” – one of her core beliefs). Her words were accompanied by a slide show of images and a sprinkling of quotes from writers and artists. My favorite was from Jack London: “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

Boston Traffic Quilt

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This quilt is near and dear to my heart because it is the first one I’ve ever made for my young son, who loves all things that honk, beep, and rev. It’s also special to me because it’s my first attempt at free motion quilting on my home sewing machine.

I found the pattern online a while ago. It’s by Vanessa Goertzen of Lella Boutique. If you go here, you can see the lovely colors she chose for her version.

I entered this quilt in my local agricultural fair recently and it won an honorable mention. (Full disclosure: every quilt there seemed to win a ribbon.) The judges were kind in their critique, pointing out something I already knew: I need to work on keeping my stitch length even.

I used Kona solids for the fused vehicle shapes on the front. The back is a novelty print.

IMG_4140I had to add two rectangular panels to either side of the larger middle panel in order to have the back panel be the right width.

IMG_4136My favorite vehicle shape is the green bus. (You can see that I used the same shade of green for the binding.)

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All in all, I’m very pleased with how it came out. Making it was a lot more fun than raking!

Parisian Market Tote

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I’m blogging today about the first bag I’ve ever made.  It was inspired by a free online pattern available from allpeoplequilt.com here. The two text prints are home decorating fabrics that I found at Zimman’s, a fantastic independent fabric store in Lynn, Massachusetts. The lining is Kona cotton in cream (if I remember correctly), and the bag handles are cotton webbing.

I made a few modifications to the pattern: I used the webbing for the handles rather than strips of the text fabric and I used regular quilting batting for the body of the bag rather than Timtex (this resulted in a somewhat floppy feeling to the sides). Still, I love the text prints and the dimensions of the bag — its relatively large size makes it ideal for stowing lots of stuff. I’m calling it my Parisian Market Tote as a nod to the exterior fabric and as an expression of my hope that I get to go back to Paris someday.

Amish Country Fabric Shopping

Last week I spent three days in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania with my family. I love browsing all the quilt shops, and it’s always good for me to be reminded of the Amish way of life, which is to simplify and slow down.

I had the chance to visit four excellent fabric shops: the Old Country Store, Zook’s, the Quilt and Fabric Shack, and Weaver’s Dry Goods. My favorite is the Old Country Store in Intercourse (love the name of that town!), where I picked up some gray-and-white prints by V. and Co. and browsed the museum/gift shop upstairs. I appreciated that the book section included some modern titles, including Urban Views by Cherri House.

Next, I crossed the street to Zook’s, which has an excellent selection of solids. I picked up an unusual deep purple by Kona (Midnight, perhaps?).

The Quilt and Fabric Shop is in the adjacent town of Bird-in-Hand. The Amish gentleman running the store was very friendly to my 5-year-old son, which was nice. I had just a quick visit here, but I did manage to buy some Kona gray (I’m on a gray kick lately).

Weaver’s Dry Goods in Lititz was the fourth shop and one I highly recommend, not least because the Wilbur Chocolate Museum is located downtown and they give out free samples! Weaver’s has a huge selection of fabrics on multiple floors, including sale fabrics in the light-filled basement that can be had for as little as .98 cents a yard if you purchase the end of a bolt. I bought a beautiful shade of Kona green — Jade, I think — and would have bought more of everything had the budget allowed it.

Persistence

“Any quilt is better than no quilt.”

Quilters Newsletter columnist Pam Rocco made this observation in her August/September 2013 column and I agree completely. This quote encourages me to shut off the voices in my head that make me feel I need to be perfect and just get out the fabric and have some fun.