Wednesday, December 24, 2014

New Fabric Storage System

My Christmas present to me... no more lifting heavy tubs of fabric in and out of the closet!

old frabric storage system: Fabrics stored in large tubs and various smaller containers

old frabric storage system: Fabrics stored in large tubs and various smaller containers
The way it was:
  • fabric stored in large tubs, each weighing over 30 pounds 
  • tubs stacked on the floor in a closet located in my office/computer/sewing-storage room 
  • when I needed something, I had to lift the tubs out of the closet, find the one(s) that might have the desired fabric in them (always on the bottom), and then carry the tub(s) to my studio, where I have table space and can sort through all the fabrics
  • back breaking, daunting, not fun at all
frabric storage system: Empty closet for storing fabrics

The side-to-side measurement of the closet opening is about 70 inches. There is a shelf and clothes-hanging rod, which I want to keep, in case the room needs to be reverted to bedroom status again (its original use). The shelf is 65 inches from the floor. The depth of the closet is 24 inches. This space, where all the tubs and totes were stored previously, is shown empty, ready for the new system.

After thinking about what to do for many moons, my idea was to buy some sort of shelving units, like bookcases, and place them two-deep in the closet. The rear units would be bolted to the back wall of the closet, side by side. The front units would be on castors, so they could be moved out of the closet for access to the fabrics in the rear units.

frabric storage system: 4-shelf bookcase manufactured by South Shore

An internet search followed, and turned up 4-shelf, composite-material bookcases, in white, by South Shore. Available from Target, they were exactly the right size, and the price ($56.99 each, with free shipping) was right too. I ordered them! I don't know how long this link will last, but here's where I got them.

I hired a good handy-man to help me get the shelving units ready for my fabric. The rear units are bolted to the back wall of the closet. We fortified the front units by attaching quarter-inch plywood to the back and adding wood blocks under the bottom shelf, to which we attached the castors. We also added handles to use when I am rolling the units.

frabric storage system: sorting, ironing, folding my fabrics
Now for the fun (and hard work) part. For four long days, tub-by-tub, I emptied my fabrics onto my studio tables, sorting and organizing them into stacks. I ironed each piece of fabric and folded it into a specific size, the size you get when you fold the 22 inch length of a fat quarter in half and in half again, and then fold that in half along the 18-20 inch width. The result is roughly 9.5" deep by 5.5" wide, perfect for shelves that are 11.5 inches deep.

frabric storage system: larger and smaller folded pieces on the shelves
I have a lot of half-yard and fat quarter pieces. This folding system works well for them. Fabrics of 1 yard or more, I folded into a larger bundle, stacked separately, as you can see in the above photo (right side of both shelves). Note that you can see the handles (for moving the shelving unit) at the top of the photo.

It works!!! I am delighted to be able to see my fabrics easily, without lifting, carrying or rooting through the tubs!

frabric storage system: rear shelf units bolted to back wall of closet
Here's how the rear shelves look. (I haven't finished putting things that go here on these shelves yet.)

frabric storage system: Front shelf units filled with cotton batiks and prints

Here's how the front shelves look when they are in front of the rear shelves. The fabrics I use most often, cotton batiks and prints, are here, easily available to flip through when I need something.

frabric storage system: Front storage units rolled out of closet
This is what it looks like when the front units are rolled out. They are pretty easy to roll. As you can see, I've tried to keep more weight toward the bottom. My handy-man is concerned about earthquakes, and wants to figure out a system to attach the front units to the rear units. I'm thinking a couple of simple door hooks on the sides would work.

frabric storage system: closet curtains close to protect fabrics from light damage and dust
The curtains close to prevent light damage to the fabrics and hopefully keep the dust off them (partially closed above). I've been thinking about using Velcro to attach clear plastic over the shelves of the front units, but maybe it's OK with just the curtains. Any thoughts about that?

Nearly finished now... just a few odds and ends to fit into the system, and plenty of space to do that. I thought I had a ton of fabrics, more than I'll ever use... and probably I do. But, for better or worse, there is now room for more. Yikes!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Why Are Rosaries Called Rosaries?

Last week, while in the Portland (Oregon) area, I spent a day driving east along the Columbia River Gorge. Icy, windy, and cold, yet fabulously beautiful, I enjoyed every minute, both in and out of my car. You can see more of my scenic photos of the day here.

Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge, winter ice
Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Nov. 2014
At the "Bridge of the Gods," I crossed the Columbia and headed east along the Washington shoreline toward Bingen, stopping to use the facilities at the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum. Seeing a sign on the admission desk about "the world's largest collection of Rosaries, over 4,000 of them," and remembering that rosaries = beads, I decided to take the time to view the collection.

virtual reality photo of rosary collection
Virtual Reality Photo by Jim Cole - Rosary Collection, Housed at the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum
You can hardly imagine 4,000 rosaries... so many different types of beads... simple seed pods to elegant gold-capped jet, and everything in between. From a bead lover's perspective, it was heaven (except, of course, I wanted to fondle them all). The "virtual reality" photo above, "borrowed" from the internet, gives a correct impression of the quantity. This rosary collection is the life-work of Don Brown, a founder of the regional historical society.

Here are a few of the photos I took of the collection:

rosaries from the Don Brown collection housed in the Columbia Gorge Museum

rosaries from the Don Brown collection housed in the Columbia Gorge Museum

rosaries from the Don Brown collection housed in the Columbia Gorge Museum

And now, finally, we get to the meat of this post! The word rosary... where did it come from? According to the online Etymology Dictionary, the word rosary dates to the mid 15th Century, and is derived from the Latin words rosarius, meaning "of roses" and rosarium, meaning "rose garden."

But wait, there's more to the story! In Medieval times, monasteries and castles had formal rose gardens, which provided baskets full of fresh rose petals from which to make beads for strands of prayer beads used by Monks and Noblemen. Of roses... the beads were made of roses, hence the term rosary, which over time was applied to most prayer strands (particularly those used by Catholics)  made from any type of beads.

A museum curator at a small natural history museum in Hungary, once showed me a 300-year-old rosary, the beads made from rose petals. "Cup it in your hands for a minute," she said, "and then smell it." WOW! After 300 years, it had the delicate fragrance of roses!

Rose-petal-beads don't look like much. They are matte black, imperfectly shaped, and a little bumpy or lumpy. Yet, in addition to their beautiful aroma, they have great character and charm.

The Don Brown collection includes several rose-petal-bead rosaries, most of which are toward the back of the display pegs. However, I'm willing to bet that the beads of the forward rosary on peg number 159 are made of rose petals.

rose petal beads, from the Don Brown collection housed in the Columbia Gorge Museum

How to Make Rose Petal Beads

YOU can make your own beads of rose petals! Collect a large basket full of fresh, dry (no mist or rain moisture) petals (early in the morning, when they are the most fresh). Mash the petals into a thick paste, using a mortar and pestle, or try grinding them in a meat grinder or food processor. The paste will be black. Allow excess moisture to evaporate for a few days if necessary, stirring several times a day. The natural rose fragrance may be enhanced with essential oil of rose.

Form the paste into bead-shaped balls. Side the newly formed balls onto a straight piece of stainless steel wire (piano wire, or similar). Place a row of balls on the wire, leaving a 1/4 inch space between each bead. Place the wire from side-to-side on the rim of a baking pan, and allow the beads to air-dry. The drying process can take weeks, depending on the humidity and room temperature. Turn the beads daily on the wire to prevent them from permanently adhering to it. Do not hasten drying by placing in an oven or direct sunlight, as they will dry on the outside and remain soft on the inside.

If there is absolutely no "give" when you squeeze them, the beads are ready to take off the wire and string. When properly dried, the beads are very hard and durable. Here is an on-line tutorial about making rose-petal-beads, a bit different than the way I've made them (described above), and very informative.

Other Exhibits at the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum

Although my intent was to view the rosary collection and then get on my way, I could not help but take some extra minutes to see the Native American Beadwork/baskets and Vintage Quilt exhibits.

Native American beadwork and weaving, Columbia Gorge Museum

Native American beadwork, Columbia Gorge Museum

Native American beadwork, Columbia Gorge Museum

Native American weaving, Columbia Gorge Museum

Native American woven baskets, Columbia Gorge Museum

vintage quilt, feathered star, Columbia Gorge Museum
Feathered Star, c.1869, hand pieced and quilted, triangles are about 1/2" high

vintage quilt, feathered star, Columbia Gorge Museum, detail
Feathered Star, detail

vintage quilt, embroidered wildflowers, Columbia Gorge Museum
Embroidered Quilt, c. 1880, over 400 squares (3" each), wildflower designs embroidered with wool thread

vintage quilt, embroidered wildflowers, Columbia Gorge Museum, detail
Embroidered Quilt, detail showing wool thread embroidery on 3" wool fabric blocks
If you're thinking you might want to visit the Columbia Gorge Museum while vacationing with your husband, he might want to know there are lots of very manly things to see there, including this fabulous 1921 Mack logging truck, which still runs!

1921 Mack log truck, Columbia Gorge Museum
1921 Mack AC Log Truck - It Still Runs!
As always, you can click on any of the pictures to see a larger version (more detail). If your system operates like mine, you'll get a click through slide show of the photos in this post, starting with the one you clicked on.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wool Applique Chicks with Emerging Personalities

Robin Atkins embroidered, wool applique chicks

When I saw an exhibition of Sue Spargo's embroidered, wool applique quilts at the La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum a half a year ago, I was beyond thrilled with her colors, folky designs, and flawless technique. Here are some photos.

Robin Atkins embroidered, wool applique chicks
Imagine my delight when a space became available in Sue's workshop during the La Conner Quilt Festival on Oct. 4th! We would make a sampler using one of three of Sue's motifs: leaves, circles, or chicks. You guessed it... chicks are my thing! To prepare for the class, we were instructed to cut out our chicks (36 of them!) and applique them to the background felted wool using matching wool thread.

Robin Atkins embroidered, wool applique chicks

Not having any wool thread, I stitched my little chicks using 60 weight cotton applique thread. It has a bit of a shine, which shows on the wool if you look closely. The wool thread is rather expensive, even if you just buy bobbins, but I'll probably invest in a set of bobbins if I keep doing this type of work.

Robin Atkins embroidered, wool applique chicks

I also made another deviation from the instructions, deciding that 16 chicks would be enough to practice the stitches and give me an idea if this is something I enjoy doing. Below is the layout for my sampler, ready for embroidered embellishments during the workshop.

Robin Atkins embroidered, wool applique chicks, layout

Of course we didn't get much done, although Sue was great at getting around to each of us, giving individually tailored instructions. Although I have learned various embroidery stitches in the past, there were quite a few that were new to me, my favorites being: rosette chain stitch, palestrina knot stitch, bullion loops, and buttonhole scallops.

Robin Atkins embroidered, wool applique chicks

The other fabulous thing about her class is that she brought LOTS of examples of her work, and allowed us to photograph them, which gave me a library of possibilities for using the different stitches. So far, I haven't needed her examples for inspiration, but I'm sure I'll run out of ideas and be grateful for the photos I took.

Robin Atkins embroidered, wool applique chick, in process
A little over a month has passed since the class, and I've finished half of my chicks!

It's really fun to see the personality of each chick emerge as the stitches and colors are added. I haven't named them yet, but I do recognize definite character traits in each of them. Most are girl chicks, ranging from shy and introverted types, to flamboyant, to high class. A couple are boys, filled with testosterone, chasing the girls.

Robin Atkins embroidered, wool applique chicks

Which two of my first 8 chicks do YOU think are the boys?

Robin Atkins embroidered, wool applique chick, in process

In case you're interested in my process... I stitch eyes, beaks, or feet when I'm at a loss about what to do next, giving myself time to get inspired. I don't always finish one chick before moving on to the next. If I'm stuck, I just work on another chick for a while, one that calls to me (usually because of color). The single chicks pictured in this post need a lot more embellishments.

Robin Atkins embroidered, wool applique chick, in process

After I finish the chicks, the next step is deciding how to finish the piece. I'll probably quilt it, making it into a small wall hanging. But I'm not sure if I'll hand or machine quilt. Look for a related post on threads and embellishing materials soon.

Beads? Oh yes, if you click on pictures of the finished chicks they will enlarge to full size, and you'll be able to see the beads as well as the detail of the stitches.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Quilt Slueths - Please Help!

Vintage wedding ring quilt, family heirloom of Robin Atkins
This double wedding ring quilt passed from my mother to my sister-in-law, Julie, who gave it to me today, as a birthday gift! The trouble is, we don't know much about it. Apparently Mom showed it to Julie about 12 years ago, and told her it was made by Mom's Aunt Dottie. Then some years later, Mom gave it to Julie, claiming again that it was made by her Aunt, who lived in southern California.

Vintage wedding ring quilt, family heirloom of Robin Atkins
Unfortunately, by that time, Mom was a tad confused, and frequently got her stories mixed up a bit. So we don't trust it as a hard fact, that Dottie made the quilt. I have a vague, possible memory of the quilt being placed on Mom's and Dad's bed in the house we lived in from 1951 through 1958. After that, Mom fancied a store-bought, chenille, bed spread. Maybe, as a tribute to it's hand stitched/quilted beauty, she was saving it for one of us. I don't recall ever hearing Mom talk about it.

Vintage wedding ring quilt, family heirloom of Robin Atkins
It's a wedding quilt, probably made by somebody as a wedding gift, right? My mom and biological father married in 1939. The fabric appears to me to be from the 30's which would suggest it was probably made then; that maybe what she said about it being made by her aunt is true.

Vintage wedding ring quilt, family heirloom of Robin Atkins
But on the back side of the quilt, in two corners (top and bottom), the initials "EC" are stamped with permanent ink. My step-dad's initials are EC. Who would have stamped them on the quilt, and why?

Vintage wedding ring quilt, family heirloom of Robin Atkins
My step-dad and Mom married in 1949, two years after my biological father died in an automobile accident. Why would they have used a wedding quilt made for my mom's previous marriage? Why would my step-dad's initials be on it?

Vintage wedding ring quilt, family heirloom of Robin Atkins
If anybody has any ideas about the stamped initials, or thoughts about the age of the quilt, please comment.  Thanks!

9-21-14 Update. There seems to be general agreement that the fabrics used in this quilt are of the 1930s. The general condition of the quilt suggests that it was used (well-used, but also carefully used); and that most likely it was made in the '30s. Still no definitive theory or answer about the initials.

Friday, September 12, 2014

I Spy..... A New Quilt!

Robin Atkins, I Spy quilt, front
Six whole days and evenings it took me to make this 50" square quilt... Yikes, I'm soooo slow. My neighbor raised her eyebrows in doubt when I told her how long it took, thinking she probably could have done it in 2 days.

Perfectionism is the square root of the time. Ha! Oh well, at least I'm satisfied with it.

Robin Atkins, I Spy quilt, front, center block
The backstory... This quilt, I Spy a Brown Dog, is for my Goddaughter's two children, primarily for her daughter, who is just a year old now, but also for her son, who is about 5, I think. They live in Copenhagen. The above block (photographed before I sewed the left and bottom borders on it), is at the center of the quilt because the whole family loves dogs. Had I been making it for myself (the child within) the center block would have been birds, flowers, kitties, or bunnies... all of which I adored, and all of which found their way into this quilt.

Robin Atkins, I Spy quilt, front detail
In case you don't know, an "I Spy" quilt allows adults to play a game with children, saying things like "I spy an orange elephant." Then the child finds and points to the orange elephant on the quilt. My Goddaughter's family is multilingual, so it can also be used to teach vocabulary in a second or third language to the kids when they are very young, in a fun way.

Besides selecting all the fabrics and fussy-cutting the blocks, the most difficult part was arranging the finished blocks. No matter what I did, the yellows seemed to be bunched up together.  Finally I took a photo of one of the arrangements, changed the mode to black & white, and printed it.

Robin Atkins, I Spy quilt, possible layout showing values in grey scale
This showed me that I had more lights than I thought, and gave me the idea to put the yellow bordered blocks in the corners and in a left to right diagonal. Once I did that, the rest fell easily into place! Here's the photo again, so you can see what I mean...

Robin Atkins, I Spy quilt, note layout of blocks, particularly yellow

The back also took extra time, because I didn't have any suitable fabric large enough to do the whole back. So, since it had to be pieced anyway, I figured it might as well have another dog block, and a mix of fabrics. Here it is.

Robin Atkins, I Spy quilt, back
I scanned two of the fabric prints to make a dedication label, and printed it on ink-jet-printable fabric. Here it is.

Robin Atkins, I Spy quilt, back, label

The last part was quilting it, something I've got very little experience doing by machine (and way too much experience doing by hand). You can see the quilting pattern, if you click on the picture of the back to enlarge it.

There y'go... kept me out of trouble for 6 whole days! Hope they like it.