essay

“Of course! No problem! I’ll do it!”

I can’t begin to tell you how many times my enthusiasm for any new endeavor has become much, much more than I originally anticipated. My husband even calls me Whim Woman, a reflection on my willingness to follow whatever adventure appears in my path.

So when my friend Casey asked me to repair some of the quilts her Aunt Dot had stitched so many decades ago, I instantly agreed. I’m a Spastic Crafter who has dabbled in nearly every media available. The stacks of barely used Sculpey and dusty scrapbook paper vie for studio space with my other active obsessions. Hand quilting an heirloom? Sure I’ll try!

I am currently in the midst of a passionate love affair with fabric. I love to fondle it as I pass by in a fabric store. Or (much to my family’s horror) accost people who have bags or skirts with material that I fantasize … cutting. Yes, I stand before you to admit that I often imagine fabric in a form other than as it is presented to me. A skirt on a passerby at the local minor league baseball game transforms into the cutest pillow cases for my bedroom. A pair of vintage café curtains turn into a set of matching aprons. A sheet at the Goodwill outlet becomes a pair of pants for my daughter.

It’s no wonder, I guess, that quilting appeals to me. I just can’t resist the idea of taking scraps of previously used bits and renovating them into something New and Improved. The allure of depression-era quilts, then, is an undying fantasy for me. Imagine! A scrap of feedsack combined with Uncle Bub’s overalls becomes … a quilt!

I love the idea of using scraps to quilt. Making something from nothing, spending little to gain a lot. But really, I love the idea of a woman sitting down, needle-thread-fabric in hand, and creating. Pouring her heart into each stitch. I believe that each stitch of a handcrafted creation contains fragments of the creator. The stitches are imbued with the goings on of the creator’s life, with her thoughts and emotions, and, tangibly, with the scraps of her life.

So when Casey called and asked me to repair one of Aunt Dot’s quilts, I leapt at the chance to help preserve a tattered and extremely well loved piece of family history. As Casey said, Sunbonnet Sue had seen better days. Her bonnets were hanging by threads, her clothes worn thin. I sat down with this quilt of scraps (many of which Casey could identify as being clothing leftovers from various family members). As I held the quilt close and began to inspect my project, I realized that where the stitches had come loose I could still see Aunt Dot’s original needlework. As I re-created the quilt, I passed my stitches through the very same holes. As I worked, I became captivated. I wondered who had lain underneath this quilt. I wondered why Aunt Dot selected this pattern, why she chose these particular scraps.

As I worked, I became compelled to learn more. I checked out quilting books from the library. I trolled the Internet for vintage fabric care. Slowly, I learned about the patterns, the fabrics, the history of this quilt. I stumbled upon Jennifer Chiaverini’s series of books and devoured each one in sequence. I read historical pieces about women who sewed quilts by hand in addition to the fictional accounts of quilting.

As my obsession has grown, I have taken to haunting antique shops for hand-stitched creations. Upon encountering a quilt top, I immediately thrust it to my face and inspect the stitching to verify that it was done by hand. I then, for some oddly compulsive reason, flip the work over and look at the back. For some reason I am fascinated with the hidden, secret parts of a quilt. The knots that were never meant to be seen, the underside of the public stitches.

I then return home to continue work on my current quilting restoration project, filled with an eager intensity to work. My fingers are now callused from the hours spent stitching, while my hands so quickly recall the rocking motion of each quilting stitch.

About the author: Courtney Havenwood (redcanoe.etsy.com) is a multitasking maven. While homeschooling her kids and enjoying the wonders of Austin, she sets aside plenty of time to create. Her favorite thing this week is stitching anything that will hold still. She enjoys quilting, embroidering, knitting, crocheting. Check out her latest adventures at her blog woodland school.

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Lately I have been thinking about all of the ways that texture is at work in any given piece of knitting.

First, there is the weight of the yarn, and the way that the yarn is spun, then there is the texture of the fiber from which the yarn is made, and THEN there is the pattern in which you knit it, from garter stitch, to stockinette, to something a little bit fancier. All of these things add up to create a beautifully complex story in the texture of the knitting.

The swatches pictured here were knit in the last couple of weeks with an exploration of knitting textures in mind. Pictured at top is a Merino wool blend knit in the King Charles Brocade pattern found here. Second from the top is a wool blend knit in the Pavilion pattern from the same site – you can find the stitch pattern here.

So what’s with the funny little swatches? Why all the blah-blah-blah on texture? I find it helps me when planning new projects to think of just one aspect of a process or craft, in order to expand my idea of what it is capable of. Currently, I am brainstorming ways of using knitting in the home. Not as a sweater, or even a tea-cozy, but maybe in a way I haven’t seen before. For example, could knitting be used as a textured wainscoting, or wallpaper? Anybody else been using knitting in unusual ways to decorate their home?

About the writer: Zoe Hartley Carter is a Canadian artist and crafter who blogs about photography, crafts, design, and sweet treats at Morning Toast.

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