Monday, November 3, 2014

almost finished "jonquils & crocus" quilt top, Gee's Bend, and Korean Pojagi

Some quilts flow out of and back to the heart with more joy than others. These twelve log cabin squares have been in process since daffodils and crocus broke in 2013. It is pieced with cherished fabrics from a favorite early 1980s skirt, curtains from our late 1980s kitchen in Istanbul, a favorite farm skirt that I tore, fabrics from my earliest stash and new ones I used in Olive's quilt. These were actually the first free form wonky squares I made getting back into quilting. Since the '80s I haven't wanted to make a traditional quilt again, but when I discovered the modern quilt movement, my passion for quilting was rekindled. (I think the free-cutting without templates reflects the personal freedom I've cultivated since those days.)

In this closeup you can see the 1980s skirt, which is the muted purple and sage on beige that frames the big square. You also see the bright red ethnic print that was my thrift store farm skirt, torn in some sort of farm work (not that I do much of that), also the center of the small square right bottom.

I've kept seeing the pile of these squares and asking my designing mind to choose a background fabric. Should it be plain muslin, or what?

A couple of months ago Don and I were in a local store that used to be a dime store, now refurbished with beautiful homey things, but retaining lots of original features like the old wood floor and candy counter. It's nostalgic fun buying Easter candy there. This shop has a corner with sewing merchandise and some of the most charming fabrics I've seen anywhere! This is just 10 minutes from our farm. Don watched with pleasure as I devoured the fabrics in that "oh-my-god look what I've discovered" frenzy. This brown Moda Glamping Miss Daisy Dark Chocolate caught my eye in the sale bin. When I got it home, I thought it might work for these squares. I had not pictured busy fabric, but it somehow works for me. 

Gee's Bend

I wanted the quilt to have the feel of one made decades ago by a farm woman, or maybe by a woman of Gee's Bend, Alabama. I love what Alivia Wardlaw said of Gee's Bend quilts: 

"The compositions of these quilts contrast dramatically with the ordered regularity associated with many styles of Euro-American quiltmaking. There's a brilliant, improvisational range of approaches to composition that is more often associated with the inventiveness and power of the leading 20th-century abstract painters than it is with textile-making," writes Alvia Wardlaw, curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Museum of Fine Arts [Houston]. (wiki)

See many of their quilts here. Below is one example. There are beautiful brief stories about some of those quilts there. I can't tell you how much these quilts and their stories move me. I ask myself, do I feel more connected with Afro-American aesthetics than Euro-American ones? Maybe the answer is not yes, but both and. There are several YouTube videos about the Gee's Bend quilters. A 10-minute one is here.

"Bars," ca. 1960 quilt by Gearldine Westbrook of Gee's Bend, born 1919. cotton, wool, printed terry cloth, 79 x 70 inches.
I think it is incredibly beautiful. Gee's Bend quilters used whatever they had, especially old clothes that weren't worn any more. One story is about a woman whose husband died, and she made a quilt from his clothes to keep her warm at night.

Yes. The "modern quilt movement" is not modern at all, or should I say it was not invented by Euro-American women in the 2000s! After all "modern art" started in the 1860s with the likes of Van Gogh and Cezanne. However, folk art has existed for as long as humans have, of course. I love that folk art from any century and continent seems modern, contemporary, timelessly appealing.

The upper left square has the white, yellow and gray floral mini-print from our Istanbul curtains. Oh that was quite an adventure, finding a huge shop full of imitation Laura Ashley fabrics in the old part of Istanbul. We had curtains made for all the bedrooms and kitchen with different "Laura Ashley" prints. So affordable and beautiful. In the rest of the Istanbul apartment, we used the Turkish style, notably in the salon where we welcomed Turkish friends. This meant that the curtains were embroidered sheers and satin drapes. I guess our apartment was both and.

As I said, one of the reasons I love this quilt is that it is my first compilation of improvisational squares. Back in the days of traditional quilting, I loved designing the square, but then to recreate it again and again to fill out a quilt was a monotony I did not enjoy. I could have done samplers, in fact I probably would have gone that route if I'd continued then.

And now for the "almost finished" part. When you quilt improvisationally, you never know how the edges will turn out. One of my questions is always, "Should I square it off, or leave it wobbly, like those old Gee's Bend quilts?" But in this case, as you can see below, the right bottom corner lost a good bit of its brown daisy edge when I began the "first draft" of squaring off. So I will add a strip of brown daisy to the right side and extend it. I may extend the whole border by a couple of inches. Since I have no more of this fabric (one yard finished all this piecing!), I found it online and ordered more. Hopefully it will arrive by next Saturday quilting day.

Korean Pojagi (or Bojagi)

These next pictures are of the quilt top turned around, facing the other direction and backed by this morning's rising sun.

You can see how the seams become part of the design, like stained glass.

I discovered the beautiful ancient craft of Pojagi on Pinterest recently and decided I need to make a Pojagi curtain for the front window, which faces the road. I don't mind the bay window uncovered.

Here's the studio.

I am stoked to have this room for a studio. The light is gorgeous, and before, we just walked through it to other rooms. We will move the furniture out, and soon, soon (I hope), Don will make a long wooden farm table, which will serve as both a workspace for me, and a dining table for larger groups than our kitchen table for four, maybe five, can accommodate. We have no dining room. When this room has storage in place, it will be lovely for dining, I think. I'll be sure to put the machine away. :)
We have cabinets with books and dishes that will become fabric storage for the studio. The whole house is shifting.

In the meantime, fabrics are piled on the floor. You can't see them all because of the table.

Back to the window. Here are examples of Pojagi, sewn and posted by Victoria Gertenbach at The Silly Boodilly (a true idol of mine). It is a single layer of usually hand-pieced fabric, no sandwiching of batting, no quilting. The seams are finished similarly to French seams. Held up to light it looks like stained glass. The first time I saw it, it knocked me out. These by Victoria Gertenbach were the first I saw, on Pinterest. She does not hand-stitch the way Korean Pojagi is done, and neither will I.

Pojagi panel by Victoria Gertenbach, and posted at her blog The Silly Boodilly here;
I hope she will not mind me using these images without permission

Pojagi panel sewn by Victoria Gertenbach, and blogged at The Silly Boodilly here

I would love to make a muslin one for that front window. If I made a colorful one, it would fade, as the sun shines in full on through that window in the afternoon until sunset.

But look at this one, also by Victoria. She posted about it here. She used shot cotton in peach and magenta, and what a stunning result. I only recently learned about shot. Constantly learning! Shot cotton is the result of two different color threads being used for the warp and weft. It gives a subtle sheen that is lovely.

Pojagi panel by Victoria Gertenbach at The Silly Boodilly

Isn't it extraordinary how much there is to be learned about the world? How many piecing and quilting crafts will I discover before my end? I absolutely love it all.

There is a nice video tutorial on Korean Pojagi here, and Victoria Gertenbach has a good tutorial blog post here.


  1. Your excitement and energy for this new art form (to me) blow my mind, Ruthie. Your new-found free-cutting without templates has sent uou into a direction I never would have expected 2-3 years ago. YOU? I love it and wonder what you'll be showing us a year or two from now. And one day, before too long, I hope to walk through that room again and absorb all it's new energy. :) I love you, Sister!

    1. No, I never expected it, Boots. It's been a lifetime coming, the time is right, and I can just let it flow. It feels so good to have the personal "authority" if you will, to turn a living room into a studio. :) Yes, I will love it when you visit, bringing your own artistic energy and love.

      I love you, too.

  2. Totally amazing post! I love the quilts -- they're so colorful, beautiful and fun! And I love the stories behind them. Your studio is great -- oh, I'd love to cozy up in there! The free form is so joyful -- tradition and not tradition!

    YOU were in Keans, weren't you! Of course you were -- Kean's makes even me want to sew!