Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Quilts in Cameron

This past weekend, I went to the antiques festival in Cameron, NC. It's a strange little town in the middle of nowhere, built on both sides of a road that runs up a north-facing gully. The houses are beautiful; many are from the 1880s, and have quaint fences and flower gardens. The entire place has an odd Southern Gothic feel. There are quite a few antique shops there year-round, but every spring and fall there's a festival. Real antiques, "vintage" items, flea market stuff, trendy things, and pure junk.

It was difficult to take pictures because it was dark in most of the shops and there wasn't room to unfold things, and outdoors it was dusty; it was also a sticky day, inside and out, and I didn't want to handle the quilts. There were two I had seen at a previous festival that I wish I had pictures of-- a Cathedral Windows with olive green as the background color, and a Wrench with tiny, delicate blocks of blue on white. I thoroughly enjoyed looking at these, though, and I hope you will, too.

I don't recognize this block. The entire thing is quilted in "fans."

Feathered Star

I liked the peachy-brown alternating neutral in this one-- it really ties together the mismatched fabrics.

The quilt on the lower rung looks like a Broken Dishes variation or Ohio Star.
The one on top was plain patchwork, but all the fabrics were velvety.

The color scheme on this one was very pleasing. It seems to have been made of old shirts.

I didn't see what pattern this one had, but the quilting was intricate and beautiful.
A dizzying Virginia Reel. This one was covered in hundreds of names. A church group or ladies' club, perhaps?

Grandmother's Flower Garden. Look at how the border was fitted to create a straight edge! All done by hand.

Lily Corners, a Carolina Lily variation

Another Virginia Reel; a little easier to see the pattern on this one than the previous.

I couldn't get any closer to this masterpiece. Someone had mad applique skills.

Carolina Lily, a pattern I wasn't familiar with until recently
This one I'm not so sure about-- it's some combination of four-patch and nine-patch. The one
in the background was my favorite quilt at the entire festival. Here are two more pictures--
Single Irish Chain, on point. Some of the fabrics were in pretty bad shape.

I really liked how dainty it was, despite its condition-- the colored squares were only about an inch and a half. The
border was my favorite part, almost unnoticeable unless looked-for: an elegant top-stitched cording. Utter
simplicity and complete attention to detail.

Log Cabin. The blacks were meant to be solid black; the flash on my camera picked up age discrepancies in the fabric.
Bold, but a good bold.

Single Irish Chain. A cheerful quilt.

This pattern looks striking and unmistakable, yet I don't recognize it.

Double Irish Chain, quilted prettily on the diagonal

A newer patriotic patchwork. It was hastily machine-quilted in straight lines. I was actually more interested in the
painstakingly-pieced-together backing than in the top. I wonder if the back was part of an older quilt or quilted blanket.

Tumbling Blocks, with a heart motif quilted into the border. Look at how each
parallelogram and triangle is individually quilted! This one must have taken a while.
I do occasionally visit antique malls and will make a habit in future of taking a camera with me. Which of these did you like best? Do you have a favorite quilt block?

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Piecing Broken Dishes

A few years ago, I picked up this pretty calico remnant at a thrift store. It's cream-colored cotton with a cheerful brown floral print, and it was either $2 or less-- I don't remember. Since there are two yards of it, I'd held onto it with no definite project ideas; I already had a good apron and didn't want curtains. When downsizing my fabric stash and keeping only the projects I really wanted to finish, I decided to make it into a quilt. The brown is rich and strong and warm, and I was able to match it perfectly with this quilting cotton which I found on sale for $1.99/yard. Both responded well to pre-shrinking, with no color bleed. This picture at the top shows the colors most accurately-- my indoor lighting tends to make them look darker.
Broken Dishes is a fun design with half-square triangles. When made with several different colors, it has a scrappy but harmonious appearance. Since mine is in two colors, it can be seen as either an hourglass pattern or pinwheels-- a bit of an illusion, slightly dizzying. This quilt will be small, not quite large enough to be completely twin-sized as a bedspread. I don't particularly care for most bedspread quilts, so the irregular size is fine with me.
A 6" half-square triangle square, combined to make the broken dishes block.
I made myself a template from a square of poster-framing plastic, traced it on the fabric with tailor's chalk, and cut out the quilt squares with scissors. This is the method I used for creating the half-square triangles, which were afterwards squared off to ensure accurate alignment. Basically, one puts a light square and a dark square directly on top of each other, sews parallel lines on the diagonal, cuts between the lines, and irons out the two resultant half-square-triangle blocks. These can then be combined to form the Broken Dishes quilt block. There is no cutting out of actual triangles or piecing on a bias involved.
The quilt top before trimming threads and ironing. I will definitely clip threads as I go, next time.
For batting I used an old non-functioning electric blanket, after cutting out what felt like a cable length of wires. It's light brown and therefore neither too dark for the cream patches nor too light for the brown ones. I threw it in the wash for good measure but it seems to have shrunk years ago. It was too scratchy to use and I generally kept it in the trunk of the car to use as cushioning for the transportation of breakables. It's actually the perfect weight for filling a quilt and I'll definitely look for similar used blankets in the future.

I found an entire bolt of the same brown fabric at a yard sale for $8.00. It's a different dye lot and more of a medium brown, but it's perfect for quilt backing. There's more than enough on the bolt for at least one, probably two more quilts.
clipped, pressed, and pinned to batting and backing
My main goal for this quilt was to get acquainted with triangles, aiming for precise piecing. I also wanted to make a quilt as inexpensively as possible. With $8 for the quilt top, nothing for the batting, $4 (if I count using less than half the bolt) for the backing, and something like $3 for quilting thread, this was a satisfying experiment. Furthermore, the fabrics used were all 100% cotton and should wear well.

I am still quilting the Double Nine-Patch, but it's been slow going since it necessitates going block by block. Last week, I began quilting Broken Dishes; since I'm just doing straight-line quilting along each seam, it's going much more quickly (along with the entire quilt being smaller).

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Quilting the Double Ninepatch

After I finished the quilt top, it sat in my sewing basket for about a month while I thought about what stitch patterns to use on it. Since it has so much blank space, I toyed with the idea of trying out some fancier patterns, but in the end settled on something simple.

Here's a shot of the quilt top before I pin-basted it to the batting and backing. Even now I'm not sure of its exact dimensions, but I had to piece together both batting and backing to make them long enough. There's a bit of extra material around all the edges, but I'll trim it down once I'm done quilting it. 
The resident feline makes it difficult to lay out projects.
In preparation for the next step, I examined old quilts at antique shops and fairs. Most of them had been quilted with a running stitch, without scrupulous care as to stitch size or count. They seemed to have held up fine under a century of use, so my imitation would be durable as well as authentic. The quilts I was most drawn to would have won no prizes-- they were meant to be everyday quilts, not showoff pieces. Easy patchwork patterns like mine were favored by beginners; I seem to remember in the Little House books that the Ingalls girls worked on ninepatches at a young age. Someday I will make a fancier one, impeccably pieced, which would be worth the time that more intricate stitching would demand.
Like dimples in cream.
I have not been using a hoop since I'm not aiming for any specific precision in my quilting stitches. So far I have enjoyed the process immensely and find it almost as addictive as embroidery. I love the texture of a hand-quilted item-- it's so rumply and organic, and all the little blemishes and not-quite-corners get blended together. Machine quilting has a completely different aesthetic and seems to preserve more of the crispness and precision of the patchwork.

 Right now I'm taking my time with this project; I work on it in the evenings to relax. Perhaps it will be finished by Christmas.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Piecing a Quilt

I have wanted to make a quilt for a long time. Old-fashioned patterns are my favorites, especially ones with simple color schemes. Quilts are restful things, and busy geometric patterns that set my mind in a whirl are not as appealing to me; likewise, many modern patterns are stunning, but seem to me more of a general textile art than traditional patchwork.

I would love to make an Oak-and-Reel quilt, since it's so pretty and such a good show-off piece for applique work, as well as having so many interesting 19th-century examples extant. Popular patterns from the 1920s and 30s are also fun, especially Dresden Plate and Cathedral Windows. After waffling about various patterns and almost deciding on Robbing Peter to Pay Paul, I fell back on a simple one which I have admired since girlhood: Single Irish Chain.

This webpage shows examples of the many variations of the Irish Chain. Mine is down towards the bottom, the double ninepatch set on point. A double ninepatch means that instead of alternating ninepatch blocks with blank blocks for the entire length of the quilt, the ninepatch blocks are formed into larger ninepatch blocks which are then alternated with very large blank blocks. Setting them on point means that instead of squares the entire way up and down, the quilt blocks are set as diamonds and finished at the borders with triangles. The diagrams on the website should be self-explanatory.

I strip-pieced this quilt in about a week and a half, against other distractions. Strip-piecing is a quick way of finishing a quilt top. Instead of making ninepatches out of nine actual little squares, with all the cutting that method would require, long strips are sewn together and then cut into rows. Once this is done, it takes only two seams to assemble a ninepatch instead of eight.
Long strips are sewn together and then cut into "rows." Shown is red-white-red. I also made white-red-white.
There are numerous sites that describe how to cut the strips, including seam allowances, for whatever size completed block is desired. I used the directions on this page for mine, since I wanted a 6" finished block.
two finished ninepatch blocks
My quilting fabrics are cut-up sheets from Wal-Mart, the basic poly-cotton ones in dark red and off-white. This saved me money, especially with this being a highly-experimental first quilt. Additionally, these sheets are color-fast and don't tend to shrink; I washed them together to pre-shrink just to see if there would be adverse results, and they came out fine. If I ever made a fancier quilt I would invest in fancier fabric, but for now I adhere to the historically-consistent idea that a good quilt can be made from whatever is at hand. From what I understand, I would not be able to machine-quilt this because of the thread-count, but since I plan to hand-quilt it, that won't affect this project.
a completed double ninepatch block, to be alternated with a white block of the same size
The finished quilt top will contain 75 single ninepatch blocks and fit a twin bed.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Cold Cherry Soup ~ Cseresznyeleves

2½ lbs fresh cherries
cold water
lemon slice
2 Tb. sugar
1 Tb. flour
3 Tb. sour cream
heavy cream 

Remove stones from cherries and put them in a pot with just enough water to cover them. Sprinkle with sugar and add lemon. Simmer for ten minutes or until fruit is softened.

Combine sour cream and flour. Remove cherries from heat and dissolve sour cream mixture into the broth. Serve chilled, with sweetened whipped cream for garnish.


This refreshing cold fruit soup is my favorite summer recipe. I have adapted it over the years from The Paprikás Weiss Hungarian Cookbook, which three generations of my family keep for reference. Since I tend to make this by proportion instead of set measurements, I've tried to approximate the quantities here.

Traditionally, this soup is made with meggy, or sour cherries, which are not available in my region. The stones are often left in the cherries. This supposedly leaves the cherries themselves with more flavor, though I have found that this is not always the case. I prefer not to have to spit the stones out inelegantly as I eat it, and besides, whole cherries would not give the soup such a lovely color (or the broth such a juicy flavor).

The soup must be served cold. It is not meant to be sweet of itself, and most people enjoy it with whipped cream swirled on top. Hungarian cold fruit soups are not necessarily meant to be desserts and can be served as a first course.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Spinet Desk Restoration, Part II

Now that it's been a year to the day since I introduced this desk on this blog, it seems like time for an update. After working at it heavily for a couple months, I managed to get most of the large surfaces clear minus some touch-up areas.

[click here for Part I]

The body would have been a faster process if it could have been taken apart, but it wasn't meant to be disassembled. I could see how it went together, but prying it apart might have cracked the old wood. This means it was not possible to sand down the interior of the pigeonholes to the original wood. On most spinet desks I have seen, the middle two holes are usually drawers and the outer two are pigeonholes. I'm pretty sure this one was like that, but there's no sign that it ever had any drawers. Some models have four drawers, and this will become one of them.
The hinged part of the lid was removed for the process.
The lid and desktop are veneered in mahogany. It is slightly chatoyant, which keeps making me think I haven't sanded it enough until I look again and realize that the glimmer is inside the wood. It has a lovely color and silky texture which I hope will only be enhanced by a wood stain.
Reminds me of banana bread.
The other parts are a light wood with a grayish tinge. Not pine, but too soft for maple; it reminds me a little of aspen. My goal is to find a stain that blends the two types inconspicuously. I'm going dark enough with it that some of the nicks and blemishes will be hidden or at least minimized.
Here's the original pull in the desktop-- brass, to match the hinges. I was able to find an exact match for the one hinge that was missing. This will look beautiful against dark wood. Little details on plain furniture are delightful.
When I was nearly finished stripping the main surfaces, it suddenly occurred to me that a heat gun could be used on the legs. This would not have been a safe choice for the veneer, since it could warp and come unglued. The legs are each one solid piece of turned wood and I had not been looking forward to sanding them down individually. I thoroughly enjoyed using the heat stripper. Watching the paint bubble and peel was immensely satisfying, and it fell to the floor in hardened curls which could be swept up and thrown away-- no sticky mess, no residue, no rags. It even took the varnish off from beneath the paint so my sandpaper didn't gum up afterwards. Here's an in-progress shot of the transformation.
You can see the color difference between the legs and the veneer, at the bottom.
My current plan is to use a walnut-colored stain as the base and stain the mahogany surfaces first. I'll mix other stains with the walnut to approximate the color on the rest of the desk. I think dark brown is a sound choice as far as restoration goes, since I don't believe the desk was originally as black as the finish I uncovered: there would have been no point in veneering a desk if it were meant to look like black lacquer. For a topcoat I'll probably use semi-gloss polyurethane. I like darker woods and this will be pleasant and clean.

I do intend to finish this before July 12th of next year.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Mostly Red & Green

My garden has gone sorely neglected. This is the second year in a row when I have been excessively occupied during the planting season, and with the climate here being what it is, there's no time to catch up once that window closes. There's still plenty to enjoy. If there aren't many flowers, there's at least a good promise of some for next year. That's the nice thing about growing perennials.

I bought a rose bush last week and was a little surprised with myself. Red roses are my least favorite kind-- there's something gruesome about them, especially the darkest ones. This one was just cute. The blossoms are a little less than 1" across and grow in clusters. They look like little buttons, bright red, with a hint of white at the center-- cheerful red. There is no fragrance. I have no idea what kind it is. The man at the shop I bought it from called it a "miniature rose" and said I'd need to put it on a trellis. The leaves and blossoms are miniature even if the canes aren't; it looks as if it will reach a healthy size. At first I thought it might be a polyantha, but now I'm not so sure. The petals are very tight and angular, dainty in a stiff way, with none of the blowsy softness that I'm used to in polyanthas.
Healthy green things are nice to see. Many of my plants are just as beautiful with their foliage as they are with their flowers. I occasionally trade through Dave's Garden with gardeners around the country, and a couple years ago I arranged to trade some elderberry bushes, which grow like weeds here, to a Texan gentleman for some beautyberry, which grows like weeds there. I had sent mine in the mail, but his weren't arriving. A week or so later he messaged me to say that he'd just been to the post office and would have gone sooner, but one of his fences had broken and the cattle got out, and as soon as he fixed it one of the cows learned how to jump over the fence and had to be auctioned. I think of this every time I walk by the place. Having plants from other people, and plants with stories behind them, makes a garden more special.
Callicarpa americana
My woodland garden is quietly thriving this year. I have no wooded areas large enough to naturalize, but one of my large willow oaks has picturesque roots and I have underplanted its deep shade with little native things that remind me of the mountains. This is a fine specimen of ebony spleenwort. The entire plant is no bigger than my hand. Nearby, but not in the frame, are little brown jug, cranefly orchids, green dragon, Christmas ferns, and celandine poppy.
Asplenium platyneuron
The most recent garden work I have done is to pot up nearly all my rose bushes. My flowerbed is too shady for them and they did not care for the soil. Additionally, I was given a 'Petite Lisette' from my grandparents' garden-- my first old garden rose-- and I am determined that it should thrive. Right now I have four large pots: one for 'Constanze Mozart,' two for 'Therese Bugnet,' and one for 'Petite Lisette.' Mrs. Mozart (known in the US as 'First Crush') is wanting to be dramatic over the change. Therese is as stoic as ever, and Lisette has a sweet little new leaf just coming.
Rosa 'Petite Lisette'
Outdoors the cicadas are droning endlessly now, but there are still birds busy in the early hours of the day. I heard the warbling vireos and the wrens this afternoon. Yesterday I found a little blue eggshell near the house. I'm not sure which bird precisely it belongs to, because robin eggs and catbird eggs look nearly the same and there is a nesting pair of both somewhere nearby. My understanding is that catbird eggs are glossier than robin eggs, which inclines me toward the latter in this case, but many eggs begin to lose their color and sheen after hatching. Catbirds are much more secretive of their nests than robins; I have walked by a robin's nest and watched the incubating parent without causing alarm, but I once made eye contact with a catbird which I knew had a nest hidden somewhere nearby and the creature remained motionless until I had gone back indoors.
Some summer toadstools are popping up here and there in the yard. Photographing all the different kinds is fun. This picturesque one popped up in my woodland garden right beside a bleeding-heart. I believe this one is an agaric of some sort. Mushroom-hunting has always sounded fun to me and I do wonder how wild mushrooms taste. I can identify morels and caesar's mushroom beyond a shadow of a doubt, but every time I see any they're simply too beautiful to pick. Any other type of mushroom is too much of a risk for me.
Amanita. It's always safe to guess they're amanitas.
Perhaps my fall-blooming plants will give a good show. In the meantime, there's still plenty of marvelous little things to find and admire if I can keep away the mosquitoes and stop my camera lens from fogging.