Sunday, November 18, 2007

Collaborating With Strangers

I seem to have a reputation as somebody who knows how to get rid of unwanted fabric, and I'm called on in this capacity more often than you'd think. I skim the best for myself -- of course -- but I also have a pretty good idea of which charities would be interested in which fabrics, and how to get the fabrics to them. And, I know when something is just garbage.

Early this year, a big cardboard box of scraps landed on my lap. Initially, I thought it was one of the worst hauls ever. Lots of shirting, much of it literally from old chopped-up shirts, and stretch fabrics galore in wildly unfashionable colors and patterns. I took the box home and ignored it for a while, and only a few days later set myself to the task of sorting it out. In the bottom, wadded up under all of the dross, I found this:

It is a complete quilt top. Each of the blocks has a woman's name embroidered in the center, most of them old-fashioned first names but a few "Mrs. x" and one, interestingly, "Mother." And that was that. No other clues at all.

It was a quandry. It represented far too much work, and was inherently too cool a thing, to throw out. But it was also far too much someone else's project for me to want to devote weeks to making it into a finished quilt... and what would I do with it then, after all?

Deciding it needed a good home, I put it on Ebay as an unfinished quilt top. It worked. It was bought by a woman in Salem who adores it, and who does intend to finish it. She has an interesting theory about its history. Like me, she thinks that its original construction dates to the 1930s. It seems possible that, after the person or people who made the blocks got them together, they suddenly looked way too much like a certain symbol being used by Nazi Germany. There's no way to prove this one way or the other, but it is an interesting and plausible theory.

Indigo Stars

The other treasure in the bottom of this unpromising box was the set of Indigo Stars I wrote about a few months ago.

Earlier this year, in a box of scrap fabric, I found a set of 20 hand-pieced blocks, a star pattern in indigo-on white. They are, in a sense, nothing special -- the craftsmanship is moderate at best, the fabric quality was poor to begin with and has not improved with age. Nor do I have any idea who made them; certainly no one with any connection to me or my family. And of course, I am completely smitten by them, and want to do something lovely with them.
The stars all look more or less like this:


It's a very handsome pattern, but the individual blocks vary by as much as two inches in height and width from each other, and many are in and of themselves noticably out of square. So, in order to incorporate them into a larger piece, I first needed to put a frame around each block, and then trim all of the new "block-in-frames" to a uniform size.

I am REALLY pleased with the way it is working out. The arrangement seems both to set off the uniformity of the original blocks to good effect, which is after all what you want in a traditional block quilt, but also, if you get up close and personal with them, to showcase each block's idiosyncracies.


Mrs.5000 and I have wondered a lot what my unknown collaborater, probably a woman of modest quilting skills (or someone whose most proficient quilter days were in the past or in the future) working in the 1930s, would think of what I have done here. I hope she would like it. She would probably be surprised to see me in my studio, listening to the football game and taking occasional breaks to catch up with my moves in online Scrabble games.


Game Plan

Having completed the face for Indigo Stars, I'll be putting it aside now for at least a few months. I've got a new set of short term goals, a little aggressive but I think doable. By the end of the next three weeks, I would like to have Two Complex Shapes and Ice and Fire ready to hang, the graduation quilt for Niece #1 basically pieced (excepting borders), and the quilting finished on Labyrinth.
Onward! I'll report back.

13 comments:

Su Bee said...

That COOL old quilt top very likely was put away for that very reason - I can't remember the name of the block but it was quite popular before AH ruined it.
The old star blocks look great! You did a great job making them square up.

Kim West said...

The Devil's Claw is very good and you made it square up nicely.

Rebel said...

Yeah, that's the first thing that I thought of looking at that quilt. Although it does look more 'little old ladies quilt circle' than it does 'anti-semetic banner of hatred'.

My mom has a quilt her mom made her back in the day, it's a modification of the flying geese / pinwheel pattern, but it does look somewhat less than PC.

Something you might want to think about as you develop your abstract symbol quilt!

gl. said...

these quilts have great stories!

atet said...

Love the Indigo Stars and what great finds for you. Some pretty ambitious goals, but totally doable. Now there's an idea for me ... set some goals, it's worked before...hmmnn...

Bridget Benton said...

I'm really drawn to the idea, the phrase, "collaborating with strangers." It's such a wonderful way to think of working on these found pieces . . . the indigo is lovely, by the way . . .

Pam said...

It is nice that the old quilt will have a new home with someone who will care for it and finish it.

You did a great job fixing up the indigo star blocks! For some reason your pictures are never clickable! I wonder why. It would be nice to see the old quilt a little larger.

loulee1 said...

The indigo stars are stunning. I think their original owner/maker would be amused but pleased to see you at work on them. The other top is quite intriguing, I'm glad it's found a happy home.

Michael5000 said...

@su bee: It seems like the best guess we can make at this point. Can you imagine how disappointing it would be to finish a project, and suddenly have its main motif become an international symbol of hate and malice? Sheesh....

@kim west: Oh, well done!!! I was hoping someone would ID the pattern for me.

@rebel: Or, there's the second one pictured in this NPR story from a couple of years ago. Completely innocent, but pretty hard to look at!

@pam: Yes! It seems like my pictures used to be clickable, but now they aren't. And I don't know why! Can anybody help me out with this?

...and, thanks everybody for your kind comments about the Indigo Stars project!

Exuberant Color said...

I found that if I moved a picture to a new location in the blog it was no longer clickable. I put my pictures in first and they type my "story" around them. Then they stay clickable.

Clare said...

If only it could talk what stories it could tell. Actually, to me it looks similar to the emblem of the Isle of Man, rather than a You Know What. We had a discussion about this on my Quilts 4 Leukaemia blog a few months ago. An Italian lady has sent me some blocks that are Definitely You Know What's. There are some interesting comments and links for that particular post if you want to pop over and have a look.

Sandy said...

Rex's Mom buys quilt tops and boxes of unfinished quilts whenever she can and sends them off to his Grandma to finish. Apparently there's quite a market for them and she's having a harder time finding them than she used to. But perhaps you know all this? We have lots of Grandma's quilts around the house, plus an awesome red and white one made by his great grandmother on the other side. I started a quilt once... oh, how do you ever have the patience?

Lazy Gal Tonya said...

what fabulous finds. I see little feet running round and round. I'm glad that quilt and those blocks found good homes.