It's about exploring and sharing my creative adventures (mostly sewing these days) ~
~those activities that sometimes obsess, usually inspire, occasionally frustrate
~and always provide a delightful maze to wander through.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Invention of Wings

Story Quilt sewn by Harriet Powers, 1837-1910
On Display at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts
This post is a little bit about sewing - specifically hand sewing and quilting, but it's more about a book review (the sewing story is in the book).

I let go of my formerly voracious appetite for books some years ago (too many non-fiction studies got in the way of reading for the sheer pleasure of it, I fear!).  One of the wonderful aspects of going through a drop in physical energy this past year has been a return of that appetite, and the plethora of excellent literary novels (my favorite genre) that's built up during my absence from fiction will hopefully sate me for some time to come!

I just finished the last page of "The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd, and I'm compelled to write about it here for a couple of reasons.  Fine hand sewing, millinery, and most of all quilt-making threads its way throughout the novel, and a couple of the quilts are actually major characters in the story.   All of them were sewn by slaves in the 1800's.

Which leads to the other reason I want to encourage the reading of this book.   It's an important book in that it tells the (thickly fictionalized) story of two of most famous American woman that you may have never heard of, Sarah and Angelina Grimké.  They were well known (either deeply respected or despised) throughout the States in the late 1830's as leading and vocal abolitionists and women's rights advocates.   Born into an upper class family of slave owners in Charleston,  the sisters managed to find enemies in many areas of society, religion, and even in the Northern states, with their beliefs that women and slaves were people too, who deserved equality with white men.  (Have we come a long way yet, baby?)

The story is based on numerous factual events, with Kidd creating her story by fleshing out the personal lives and thoughts of Sarah and the slave girl she was given by her parents when she turned 11.    There were only a few written known facts about Handful (the slave girl's) life, so her story is nearly all made up by Kidd, but the intertwining of the 2 girls' stories, along with Sarah's sister and other important people in their lives, makes this a book that anyone with even a remote interest in American history and some of the events and attitudes leading up to the Civil War would be well served by reading this book.

I appreciate the 'Author's Note' at the end, wherein Kidd differentiates the factual from what she made up.  But then, I'm the sort of person whose first action after seeing a biographical movie is to look up what really happened.

Kidd states that one of the quilts in her story was based on the "story quilts" of Harriet Powers.   There are 2 surviving quilts of Powers', the above pictured  quilt in Boston, and the following quilt, apparently not currently on display, but it lives at the National Museum of American History

Harriet Powers

The Sisters Grimké
Angelina on the left, Sarah on the right

If you've read the book, let me know what you think - if you haven't, what are you waiting for?  ;-)  By the way, for other readers (I know there are a lot of you in the sewing world!),  Beth of Sunnygal Studios wrote a post recently asking for book recommendations - if you're interested, check out the responses - lots of good suggestions!  One of the fun followups to this is that we both happened to be at a sewing group meeting at the Berkeley Library shortly after  her post, and after the sewing meeting, several of us hung out and talked, not more sewing...books!

For now, here are a few more modern, extraordinary quilts for your viewing pleasure:
Judith  Roderick
Midnight in the Garden of Iris and Cats

Timna Tar
Endless Chain

Ellen Mashburn Place
Billy's Bluebirds

Sharon V. Rotz
We See They See

Although I'm not a quilter, I have participated in a couple of group projects - a kayaking themed quilt with a group of fellow yakkers (back in the day....), and a beautiful square honoring a friend for the AIDS Quilt Project.   Both projects were fabulously memorable!

If anyone knows of a local display of beautiful quilts, please let me know - I'm definitely up for some ooohing and aaahing over them!

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Self-Drafted Simple Top......Did I say Simple?

Remember the teaser fabric from a post last month?

Here's the finished project:

Folded over, slice a neck line, rolled hem on the edges, & sew up the sides to make a butterfly-wing thingy sort of side seam.

Simple, right?


I was telling a sewing friend about the issues I encountered in the process, and we discussed the problems with self-drafting a piece.  For me it's not so much about fit, or even figuring out how to do a step (although those DO present issues) - it's more about the sequence of when to do step 1, step 2, etc....

In this case I cut a boat neck slit for the neck - I had made a muslin to figure out the size & shape of the cut - no problems there.   Then I got all wrapped up in how to do the binding and have it lay neatly at the corners where the neck line made a sharp V.   When I finally figured out exactly how I wanted to do it, and started sewing it up (by machine) I panicked when it started the dreaded binding know, those tiny little folds in a poorly made binding.... and realized I'd left out the Very Important Step of grading and clipping the curve.


If I'd been following a pattern - even one with minimal instructions that just said "bind the neckline" I would have clipped that seam, but because I was focused on something else...well...I ended up sticking my tailor points into the binding and clipping as I sewed.   I do not recommend this, but at least it worked, and I have a nice flat neckline :).

I did a rolled hem on the side edges with my trusty vintage Singer 101 and the rolled hem foot.   I'm fairly confident in my friendship with this foot by now,  and ended up with a pretty nice finish there.

For the side seams, I sewed a straight stitch from hemline to a point just high enough to hide any bra peek-a-booing, about 5" in from the rolled hem edges.   The bottom hemline was the selvedge, front and back, so I let it be.

I probably cut a total of 6 sq. inches (give or take) from the neckline; otherwise every bit of the fabric was used!

One of the most important parts of the process in the making of this top was enlisting the vision of sewing friends.  A group of us got together with a topic of bringing a problem fabric to share and get help on - something we just didn't know what to do with.   I knew I didn't want a scarf from this fabric (that would be too easy),  and the collective creative minds of my sewist friends came up with the idea of this simple tunic top with the butterfly sides.   They nailed it, don't you think?   Very thankful that I'm in a community with so many helpful, creative, and talented sewing friends!

I leave you with today's fortune cookie.   Because I like it.  :)

What are your issues and/or tips with self-drafting your own pieces?   Or if you are a pro at it, what sort of guidance would you give those of us who venture there occasionally?

Happy Labor Day, all, and I hope you all had a taste of what nature has to offer this weekend.  :)