Archive for November, 2009


November 30, 2009

Something unexpected from Thanksgiving to be grateful for.  My sister-in-law gave me picks from a large stash of remnants given to her by a costume designer she works with.  I chose mostly silks and cottons.  Leftover fabrics are so inspiring.  And leftover free fabric is easier to use.


I’m especially taken with all these grey silks and the golden brocade.


surprise dots

November 22, 2009

While looking for something else altogether today, I came across a moment from last spring.  Irresistible satiny poppy petals, pressed, and now they are irresistible silky poppy petals, translucent and fragile, like drawings or watercolors. Black centers like ikat.

Story of the Mola Quilt

November 19, 2009

When I wrote about my long affection for stained linens the other day, I kept remembering my first real project using old stained fabric.  Below is the story of that quilt.

In 1992, I was trying to dream of the perfect wedding gift for my daughter and the man she was about to marry.  In wandering about the small towns along the coast of Lake Michigan, where I was staying at the time, I happened to see in a village variety store, buried deep in an old vitrine and nearly hidden by a clutter of odds and ends, a large stack of faded, stained molas.  When I asked the owner of the store about them, he said with a wave of his hand that they were his rag bag.  He meant that they were in such bad shape that no one was particularly interested in them.  The antique dealers had already picked through them for anything valuable.  I gathered as many as I could afford and left thinking I had been blessed by one of my daughter’s angels.

At home, I laid out the stack of old, worn molas on the bed, arranging and rearranging them, and finally began to piece them together for a wedding quilt.  I tried to clean them with various methods before starting to piece them because they were the rag bag after all, and they were musty and rough.  Speckled areas of mold had become permanent and part of the fabric.   Most of them had large stains, which simply would never release.  The truth is, not many people I showed the molas to were as enthusiastic about this idea for a wedding gift as I was.  Though clean now, the fabric was faded, torn, discolored, and several of the panels were very badly done to begin with, even antique dealers didn’t want them.  But I continued because the project was born of an angel.  There was something that moved me as I handled the multiple layers of the molas.  Stitching them together I kept imagining what the makers’ lives had been like.  I wondered when each mola had actually been made and worn.  I saw brown stains on some of them and thought either blood, or chocolate ice cream.  Did they have chocolate ice cream?  What were their lives like?   How did it feel to step out in the sun the first time a woman wore this particular piece?  Or this one, barely together with fat, wadded sections and long loose stitches, was it a child’s, just learning to sew?  And another, with stitches that pick up no more than two threads at a time, so perfectly even and straight in narrow labyrinthine lines of appliqué, did it belong to a matriarch who had spent long years perfecting her skill?

I thought about and imagined these stories as I sewed.  Then, I just had to make a mola myself.  When I did – a small one, only about a fourth the size of one of the Kuna pieces – it was not particularly fine work, but the next one was better, and the one after that a little better still.  I stitched these beginner’s pieces into the quilt top, adding new stories to old.  Next went in bits of fabric that had come from things belonging to my daughter, yet another story.  I embroidered words in the gaps which tried to connect the far times and places of all this different work.

For the quilting itself, I decided to use the ravines of the appliqué patterns as guides, with the idea that the back of the quilt would be a different version, or view, of the front, the quilting design a gathering of concentric geometries, a salmagundi of mazes, traced in red thread on blue fabric.  This was the first thing I ever quilted myself by hand.  I left in all the learning stitches at the center, the ones that stray nervously out of line, inelegant, but persistent.  I kept them for the story of my learning to rock a needle as fine as a hair and too short for my fingers.  They are graceless yet full of grace, these stitches, matching many that lumber eagerly across the Kuna molas on the front.

This quilt, made of so much awkwardness and lack of skill mixed right in with great experience, is now a beguiling thing to see.  And without question, it was not just me who made it so.  This was an unconsciously multicultural work.  I did not realize until well into it what was happening beneath my fingers.  The thing that really strikes me most about it now is how much character and strength are contributed by the worst-made molas in the array.  I have to admit that during the initial piecing together I considered leaving out a couple of these which, alone, are fairly sad and dreary things.  But something made me go ahead and include them.  In the end, together it all worked, and for me, the broad span of this quilt is a documentation of the differences and similarities among us all.  It’s together that we’re most impressive and beautiful.

mola quilt pieced and quilted entirely by hand over a period of 5 years

(The story of the mola quilt is excerpted from an essay I wrote titled “Fretwork: Reforming Me,” which was published in Readerly/Writerly Texts, 1996, and again in 1998 in the online journal PreText ElectraLite, now no longer available.)

India dyes

November 17, 2009

India Flint’s Eco Colour finally arrived today.  It’s fabulous.  I see now why so many people have exclaimed over this book.  Her writing style draws the reader in immediately with its generous intimacy.  The wealth of photography and illustrations is completely artful, inspiring…. and helpful!  What a pleasure.  On Amazon, both US and UK.  Also note her blog on the right here.

(Oh, and the detail!  There’s a little bookmark on a natural fiber ribbon bound into the book. )

accidental dye

November 14, 2009

For over fifteen years I’ve wanted to make a quilt from just the stains in old linens.  Haven’t gotten beyond a couple test pieces, but I’ve been collecting examples all along.  The stains are a kind of ‘natural dye’ that has story behind it.  Something spills while I’m paying more attention to what you’re saying across the table, or while that young man is flirting with the new visitor.  Or the old gentleman who insists on pouring the wine though he has trouble seeing whether the bottle is over the glass.  Also, I always wonder what goes though the mind of the host when the spill happens.  Dismay?  Who-cares,-we’re-having-fun? It’s so generous, isn’t it, to invite people to mess up your stuff?  But what if it’s not really messed up?

I love how the perfect circle is right over the flower in the damask weave.


a beautiful stain peeks through a hole in the cloth

Equally beautiful, and often found on the same cloth, are repairs like boro.



I like the juxtaposition of this repair next to a round element in the damask.


a long stain pointing at a half moon hem repair

hat dots

November 11, 2009

Beautiful hats like dots in the Asian section of the American Museum of Natural History in NYC, where we went Monday to see the amazing golden orb spider silk.


traditional central asian hats on display in the American Museum of Natural History

Light and dark

November 7, 2009

On a recent visit to the coast of Maine, I kept seeing quilts in the landscape.  Especially Mary Lee Bendolph’s work, who my daughter was so taken with.

Maine coast rocks, with finger

Quilt by Mary Lee Bendolph, Gee's Bend artist

Quilt by Mary Lee Bendolph, Gee's Bend artist

Mary Lee Bendolph2

Quilt by Mary Lee Bendolph, Gee's Bend artist

Time to begin

November 3, 2009

I’ve been spending the last months working on this blog, trying to figure out how to use the different features of wordpress, little by little building things here.  Am I ready to open it?  I don’t know.  I’m not sure yet I can commit to a blog given the pressures and demands of my life.  But I do believe in communities, and I’ve been enjoying the efforts of other textile artists and writers for a while now.  I don’t want to just take.  We’ll see how it goes.

paper textile

November 2, 2009

Today, an amazing post about shifu paper from Stephen Szczepanek on his Sri Threads blog.  As a former papermaker, I am stunned never to have heard of this before.  And Stephen offers such a detailed description and photos of the process.  Bravo!


tanmono cloth; see Sri Threads for more detail



November 1, 2009

In attempting a response to my daughter’s wish for a wallhanging piece, I’ve been trying to accept that I’ve probably been too rigid in the whole “quilts are not wall art” notion, plunged in, and started a couple small works.  The first thing I see is that working smaller, after so long refusing to, is a serious shift in scale.  Sort of like the first time I tried to cook a meal as a new young wife, oh so long ago.  Coming from a large family, I made my husband and I enough food to feed eight people. It took a few more tries to learn to bring it down to a dinner for two.

So this first try at a small-scale quilt wallhanging feels awkward, but I do now want to do some others because they feel so much like sketches.  I need to loosen up.


29"x32" - fabrics include old shirts, fassett shot cotton. Darkest color is deep wine.


Center medallion composed of cutoffs from a summer spread that was made with french seams using wide, pleat-like flaps.