Indigo

The indigo plant (indigofera tinctoria), which is native to the tropics, produces one of the best known natural dyes.  The name comes from the Greek word, indikon, or ‘India dye’.  It was well known in the ancient world–a Mesopotamian cuneiform tablet has a recipe for creating the dye.  Although the plant could not grow in Europe, other plants were grown, i.e. woad, to produce a similar, but lower quality dye.  In the United States early settlers were able to grow the indigo plant throughout the south.  In fact, Ben Franklin took 35 barrels of indigo to France to ask for their support of the American Revolutionary War in 1776.  Indigo was sometimes known as “blue gold”.

Indigo dye comes from the leaves of the plant which are fermented (to convert the glycoside indican to the indigo dye) and then mixed with lye and formed into cakes or powders.  It produces a blue/blue violet color which is beautiful in clothing, decorating and painting.  Quilts with indigo dyed fabrics continue to be among the ‘best sellers’ in the antique quilt market.  Here are some examples from online auctions:

Shirtings

A “shirting” is simply a fabric which can be used to construct a shirt.  The Sears Catalog no. 124 from 1912 offered several different fabrics called ‘shirtings’:  flannel, cotton calicos, corded, small prints, madras plaids etc.shirting 1Shirting calico(I can’t even imagine $.05/yard!!)

Shirting Sears Catalogue 120 Most quilters have come to know ‘shirtings’ as a cotton fabric with small abstract, geometric, or figure prints.  Most commonly the ground is white with the figures printed in one color.

A friend recently found a 5 yard chunk of shirting fabric from the 1890’s at a garage sale. 20170630_133749

Frequently prints like these with black or brown designs show signs of disintegration because the aniline dyes over time oxidize (burn) the cotton fibers.  In quilts we see prints with small holes the shape and size of the original design; or we see discoloration around the print.  Did you know aniline was also used as a rocket fuel as well as a dye?

Many scrap quilts from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries contain shirting prints and stripes.  I imagine that many a household kept the scraps after making shirts for the family.  Here are some examples I found on Ebay:

Shirtings were used to make men’s shirts and women’s shirtwaists (a women’s blouse which had similar details to a men’s shirt).  Although many households sewed their own men’s shirts and women’s shirtwaists in the home, the garment industry employed many in the manufacture of these garments.  In 1911 the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire killed 145 workers, mostly teenage girls as they attempted to evacuate the building through narrow staircases only to find that at least one of the doors was locked from the outside.  As a result of the fire, laws were changed to protect workers and to make factories safer.

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References:

http://barbarabrackman.blogspot.com/search?q=shirting

Sears Catalog no. 124:  https://archive.org/details/catalogno12400sear

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aniline

http://www.straw.com/sig/dyehist.html

http://www.history.com/topics/triangle-shirtwaist-fire

 

 

 

 

Appraisals–Continuing Education

Appraising art quilts can be very challenging because the techniques and the materials used in them are constantly changing and evolving.  One of the ways that I keep current is to take classes from successful art quilters.  I was privileged to take a class from Norma Riehm on fabric layering techniques.  She provided us with kits in several different color ways which included everything but our sewing machines.  Each quilt was beautiful and despite having the same things in each kit, each of the quilts made during the class looked different.

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This was the first time I worked with Angelina fibers, roving, yarn, silk flowers, beads, and crystals–all together in one piece.    Norma discussed the sources for her materials and impressed me with her bargain hunting ability!  I am sure that I will be checking out garage sales for art supplies once the weather gets warmer.

We started with a typical quilt sandwich and then layered fibers and flowers onto it, finishing with a layer of tulle.  The next step was to quilt it.  In future works I might try using some wool batting because it has the ability showcase quilting well.  I loved adding crystals to the piece with the hot fix crystals and the aid of a pin.  Norma then taught us how to bead so that the beads would be shown off to the best advantage and so that they would be securely attached.

The biggest takeaway from the class for me was her attention both to the craftsmanship and to the artistry of each piece.

Thank you Norma!!

 

On the Longarm today…Continuing Education

I love going to classes because I am always inspired by teachers to stretch myself creatively or technically.  At the AQS Des Moines show I was thrilled to be able to take a class with Judy Woodworth on Backfills, the designs which we put around the main quilting motifs.  I was amazed to see her work also up in a special exhibit with the show.  It is rare to be able to see, in person, how a quilter has grown in their art over many years.  Judy is an innovator in so many different techniques–her works include piecing, applique, whole cloth, paint, crystals, embroidery to name just a few.  In fact, I was the lucky winner of the above small quilt which was made by Judy for a class sample.  Thank you Judy!!

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In the class we learned how to form various backfill designs and how to stitch them out.  (I won the class sample too, it was my lucky day!)   One thing I took away from the class was to not limit myself to the typical backfill–such as pebbles, McTavishing, or stippling. The sky is truly the limit.   Judy uses all kinds of designs as backfill–feathers, spiral roses, etc.  She also taught us to make a spiral feather flower (for lack of a more succinct name) which I am practicing so it may appear in a quilt soon!! (One of those is mine, can you tell which one?)

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Falling for Orange Quilts

The fall leaves’ color has peaked here in Wisconsin.  Our puppy has decided that they are a threat and gives a warning bark whenever the wind blows them around.  It would be annoying if she wasn’t so cute.  Today I thought I would show some pictures of quilts which reminded me of fall.  Orange dye was readily available in the 19th century–chrome orange (a.k.a. cheddar) is a very rich saturated color.  Here are some quilts which showcase cheddar:

In the 20th century aniline dies made a softer more pastel orange possible and moved the orange more towards a red-orange, as these quilts from the Quilt Index  and online auctions demonstrate:

I can’t leave out some stunning quilts which were probably made from kits:

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Do you have any orange quilts?

Crazy for Crazy Quilts!!!

In 1876 the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition showed Japanese ‘crazed’ pottery (cracked glaze) and asymmetrical design to the United States.  In addition, it demonstrated fine English Embroidery.  Soon the Godey’s Lady’s Book and other periodicals were encouraging their readers to make crazy quilts.  Most crazy quilts consist of irregular patches sewn onto a foundation (there is usually no batting, so, technically speaking, they are not a ‘quilt’).  The crazy quilts from the Victorian era (late 1800s) were made from silk, velvet, satin and ribbons.  They were embellished with paint, embroidery, beads and buttons.  Many included ‘cigar silks’ ribbons included as a premium with cigars and souvenir ribbons (perhaps from the fair, or cities).

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The above example has ribbons, embroidery motifs and a lacy edge.  Most crazy quilts were never intended to  be used on a bed, rather they were used as a decorative element in the living room.  The presence of a crazy quilt showed off the household’s wealth–the maker did not have to do housework so she had time to do ‘fancy’ work and she had scraps of expensive materials, e.g. silks, velvet’s, and ribbons.

s-l500-3Most crazy quilt embroidery is on the seams utilizing combinations of stitches, such as herringbone and fly stitch.  Motifs embroidered in the patches include flowers, birds, spider webs, and animals.  Many crazy quilts have fan blocks or spider web blocks.

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By the end of the 19th century, lady’s magazines were actively discouraging crazy quilts, decrying the waste of time involved in making them.

However, quilters continued making crazy quilts (albeit in smaller numbers).  Many crazy quilts made around the turn of the century were made from wool and cotton.

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Stitching became more utilitarian and the use of souvenir ribbons decreased.  Generally speaking the individual pieces were larger (although there are exceptions, such as the quilt above, ca. 1910).

Crazy quilts from the 1930’s and 1940’s show off the pastel color palette of the new aniline dyes although the embroidery continued to simplify.  s-l500

They were either constructed in blocks as above or sewn utilizing a sheet as the foundation.  It is not unusual to see a crazy quilt with fabrics from a large range of time periods because most of them were made with scraps.s-l500-6

I have even seen crazy quilts made with polyester double knit fabrics from the 1960’s and 1970’s, such as this example:il_fullxfull-1110677381_sa3o

Preserving crazy quilts from the 19th century can be difficult because many of the silks ‘shatter’ (disintegrate) over time due to the mordants (dye fixatives) used.  Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done to stop the process.  Treat your crazy quilts gently, and shelter them from dust and light.

On my longarm today…5 reasons to go quilt shows

It’s fall here in the Upper Midwest, the trees are all turning magnificent colors and the weather is beginning to cool.  It is also quilt show season, before winter driving becomes an issue.  Here are my top five reasons to go to quilt shows:

  1. To see amazing quilts, such as this stunning Best of Show, AQS Des Moines 2016 (plus many additional ribbons) quilt by Bethanne Nemesh.  It is a whole cloth quilt with an Art Deco inspired peacock design as it’s central motif and beautiful feathers.  The quality of the machine quilting was excellent.  I particularly noticed that despite the heavy quilting the motifs stood out from the back fill.  In addition she used ‘advanced’ edging techniques such as covered beaded piping and tiny scalloped edging.20161005_110535
  2. To discover new gadgets, such as how my Gammill Dealer attaches a tablet to her longarm.20161005_113636
  3. To get inspiration and ideas for my own quilting projects–how to fill up negative space.  I liked how Judy Mercer Tescher used block design along with back fills to complete the stars in her quilt Stars and Sparks.  20161005_112750
  4. To take classes–I took a class with Judy Woodworth, an amazing quilter, about back fills.  I can hardly wait to try some ideas and practice in my studio.  I won the class demo with Judy’s stitching.  I love those little feather blooms.20161018_165018
  5. To meet old friends and new friends.  I always have fun going through a show with friends because they see things I don’t notice.  It’s also fun to meet new friends–sit at a table with someone or on a chair next to someone and ask about their quilts.

I hope you enjoy some quilt shows this fall!!