Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How I Came to do Penny Rug Art

One of my friends recently viewed my penny rug scrap bag pincushions and asked if the term penny rug originated with me.  I told her that it did not and that I promised to do a blog on the history of penny rugs and what I now have come to call penny rug art. Perhaps there are others that don’t know about penny rugs, their history and how they have now come to be little mats that decorate our tables, chests, or beds? I will divide this subject into two blogs: the first about how I came to do penny rug art, and the second about the history of penny rugs.

Years ago, I was spending lots of time sitting with my mother, keeping her company when she lived in an assisted care facility. Being a nurse, I took care of her until she needed more than I could provide. When she had to move out of her home, I felt it only fair to spend a great deal of time with her, as I in no way was “packing her off”.

 I have never been good at “just sitting” without some sort of needlework in my hands to keep me busy.  I was raised with my dad’s philosophy that "busy children, don’t have time to get into trouble".  I am not sure that his premise was true, but nonetheless, I did learn to keep very busy.  If there was time to sit, I needed to be productive doing something, for listening, thinking and "just being" were not enough. Unless I am reading, needle art or mending has become "a habit". I think my mother deserves some blame as well, for she is the one that instilled my love of needle work, and I later learned that if she sat as a child, it was mostly in front of a quilt on a frame and with a needle in her hand.

At the time that I was "sitting with my mother", I had seen an article on making penny rugs, and they looked fun to make as I love to embroider, and appliqué but hated having to turn the edges under as you do in traditional appliqué quilting.  Working with felted wool, this step could simply be eliminated.

While I didn't use a specific pattern for Spring Flowers, I did draw inspiration and compiled flower references from my mother's quilting book collection as well as graphic flower and plant motif sourcebooks.
My mother had many quilt applique and pattern books which I soon adapted to make into penny rugs and if I cut pieces out ahead of time and carried them with me, along with an assortment of pearl cotton, I could sit peaceably for hours, especially when my mother napped. This is how I started making my first penny rugs.

I pull my patterns from various sources. I was most inspired by Darcy Ashton and her publications. The bunnies and vegetables come from her Grandma's Bunnies Book.

The next question came from one of my mother’s nurses when she asked what I was going to do with them.  In truth I didn’t know as in my house there is hardly an empty table, dresser top or bed to simply decorate.  My love for stitching didn’t slow me down in making them however, and later she asked, “Why couldn’t you make them into a quilt?  This was the best solution to the dilemma as to what to do with them. This is how my first penny rug sampler quilt started, though at that time, I had yet to see a wool quilt in any quilt show.  Now I see at least one at every quilt show. I have since heard that in Australia there is a museum of wool quilts.

My second piece started after seeing a beautiful hand hooked wool rug that I couldn’t afford to buy.  Sulking all the way home about not being able to afford to buy it, I decided that I would adapt the rug pattern to make another penny rug styled small quilt. Need and want, I have found, often inspires my creativity.  I do think that sewers "are cut from the same cloth" and don't we all think, "I could make that"? I don't think this so much after going to The Vermont Quilt Festival, though it has definitely increased my enthusiasm for trying out new techniques.

My own health declined after my mother passed and I needed to quit my nursing job to begin a long term treatment and so once again I needed to "keep busy" while sitting. Though neither of these quilts were finished, I tried out a pincushion pattern that I had  wanted to sew for many years. A smaller project seemed more do-able at the time, and  I couldn't seem to  make just one. Soon I was adapting the pattern and making pincushion after pincushion using felted wool with penny rug styled primitive designs and each was different from the one before. I still don't understand how I undertook big projects when I had little time, and having more time I needed smaller projects, but that is how I came to do my penny rug styled functional  pincushions.  
My first pincushions were stuffed with polyester fill, but I soon changed to packing them tightly with crushed walnut shell  just like I did my tomato pincushions and sold them at our local craft shows. Ornaments and appliqued pictures came next and "took on" the same primitive penny rug style and I am still discovering applications of this style in making other items.

I now work on my penny rug wool lap throw at shows when I have time to "just sit" and I still plan to quilt my penny rug sampler. My habit of doing hand work has turned into live demonstrations for my customers and I have enticed others to want to try their hand at this old traditional art form and "get in on the fun". My patterns and kits have come about at the request of my customers.

Perhaps, like me, you will try your hand at this simple, fun, and traditional needle art and create your own heirlooms? If you do, I must warn you that your children will want to "get in on the fun" as well. Decorative thread boxes aren't unlike boxes of crayons of wonderful colors that fascinate  children of all ages! While I mostly use pearl cotton thread, the colors in my lap throw seemed to call for flatter, more muted colors that I found in Danish Flower threads.  I now order them on line through Nordic Needle. I have also purchased a few hand dyed pearl cotton threads at quilt shows and have even used Sashisko quilting thread,  as it is coarse and decorative. It can also be purchased on line. I haven't tried silk or metallic threads, but the possibilities are endless!

(My next blog will cover the actual history of penny rugs, how they got their name and how they evolved into the artwork that people see today. I will feature some of my own penny rug art.  Don't miss it!)

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Sample of Beautiful Quilting from The 2012 Vermont Quilt Festival

I am going to attempt to share a bit of this wonderful quilt show with my readers. Hopefully many of you were able to get there yourselves. It was such a big and busy event, so capturing it in photographs is mission impossible. I am, however grateful to my husband and daughter for their patience and perseverance for getting some photographs to share with you.

Though the quilts are no less than magnificent pieces of art and deserving of the best light possible to adequately showcase them, quilt shows are typically located in exposition halls or gymnasiums and both the lighting and our photos don’t do justice to many of their beautiful colors. Perhaps, like me, however, you will enjoy looking at a few quilts in the comfort of your home when time can be taken to appreciate their rich detail, even if the pictures may be less beautiful than the quilts themselves?

Selecting from the many beautiful and fun quilts is hard, but I have decided that this will not be the only time that I feature them in my blog.  The ones I have chosen today demonstrate some of the most richly detailed quilting I have ever seen.

Guilding the Arbor by Bethanne Nemesh of Allentown, Pa

Guilding the Arbor - Detail

Guilding the Arbor - Detail

Gilding the Arbor by Bethanne Nemesh of Allentown, Pa. is done using “whole cloth quilting, oriental silk tapestry and old botanical etchings”.  Her design is  original and the rich and closely quilted background makes her designs actually puff up almost like they were trapunto quilted.  She wrote that her “flora and fauna were free drawn on the quilt with chalk and refined with wash out marker using her own photography, gardening catalogues and copyright free floral designs”. This was done on a longarm quilting machine.
Pennsylvania Hearts and Hands by Kelly Cunningham, Stevensville, PA

Pennsylvania Hearts and Hands - Detail

Pennsylvania Hearts and Hands - Detail

Another that displayed beautiful longarm quilting was Pennsylvania Hearts and Hands by Kelly Cunningham, Stevensville, Pa.  She wrote that “this quilt is a reproduction made by Elsie Bott Loucks and others in her family.  The pattern used is from the McCall’s Quilting Vintage Series Hearts and Hands”. She has added rich long arm machine quilting to her borders, around her appliquéd designs and then added unique and different quilting designs in the spaces.between her appliquéd designs.
Sunflower Sutra by Helena Scheffer & Marion Perrault, Beaconsfield, Quebec

Sunflower Sutra - Detail

These pictures are of Sunflower Sutra by Helena Scheffer and Marion Perrault of Beaconsfield, Quebec, Canada.  They wrote, that it “was inspired by a real sunflower. The petals and leaves contain hundreds of pieces collaged onto a flannel foundation, while the center features fused ovals. The whole flower is applied to an artist dyed background”  It is quilted on a home machine by Helena Scheffer. Dimension and flow are so beautifully quilted into this piece to add to its rich design.

Indian Summer by Alexandra Nickerson, Colchester, VT

Indian Summer - Detail

 These are pictures of  Indian Summer by Alexandra Nickerson of Colchester, Vermont.  She wrote that her “sunflower petals were made from fabric hand dyed in a Phil Beaver workshop and machine appliquéd on a commercial batik background. The quilt was bonded to a backing to create a firm piece.  Placement, design and quilting are original”. It was quilted on a home machine.  Again this piece is wonderfully quilted adding depth and beautiful detail.
Duffer by Patty Williams, Plessis, NY
Duffer  was done by Patty Williams, Plessis, NY.  She writes, “this is a portrait of my daughter’s Goldendoodle started from an 8" x10” photo”.  She wrote that she “took a workshop called My Best Friend by Butler Miller.  She made a pattern from our photo; after enlarging this pattern, Duffer was created with fusible appliqué and lots of thread painting”.  It was quilted on a home machine.

I could go on and on, but will feature only a few quilts today. There are many more photos to share with you. I loved all the varieties of quilts: the miniatures, the artistic wall hangings, the traditional, the whimsical, the historical, those with bold designs, those that make a statement, the scrappy ones and crazy quilts with rich, gaudy needlework detail! Every year I see new techniques I have never seen before! I am amazed at the many artists that create in their own homes all over the world!

Besides the quilt show, the vendors are equally as spectacular! I was adamant before going that I wouldn't purchase a thing as I thought I had it all in my little studio. My declaration was false as was my resolve! Every year I find that what I own is but a smidgeon of what is available, and I will never tire of acquiring another piece of material, learning new techniques or getting another notion to add fun and creativity to my stitching!

The Vermont Quilt Festival is held every June in Essex, Vermont. It is the largest quilt show in New England and for those that have never been, or live far away, please be advised that there is affordable housing at a nearby college for all who want to travel and stay to take in the entire show and classes.  Bus service between the show and the college facilities is provided as well.  It is definitely an event worthy of planning a trip to see, and not far away is the infamous Shelburne Museum.  Check both out on line and plan a trip of a life time!  The Shelburne Museum also houses many beautiful quilts along with their spectacular collection of early American buildings, art, and wares, not to be missed!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

New Scrap Bag Pincushions!

Some of you are asking about when there will be more wares up on Etsy, and I must answer you truthfully. My intentions are to quickly learn all the computer skills I need to be able to do this independently, but after The Brycer left, and all was in order and organized, I wildly pulled out my materials and gave into what I call “the creative moment”. 

I designed pincushions with attached scrap bags made out of felted wool.  I had bought one at a quilt show and in my head I had re-designed it many times over.  The one that I had bought had become my most frequently used pincushion at my small table in front of the TV as having an attached scrap bag is ever so handy.  

Starting with a pattern similar to the one that I had purchased, I began to alter it starting with changing the materials from cotton to felted wool. That was just the beginning to my alterations. I then changed the pincushion as well as the bag's design to make a bright colored Black-eyed Susan and then onto another more stylized flower and then onto a sort of muted, multi-colored, traditional Penny-Rug-styled flower and then yet another with one of my felted tweed wool and plain wool button style pincushions, and then re-designed coordinated bags to go with each one.

Although my family gave my first scrap bag pincushions a thumbs up, my daughter less than enthusiastically added, “more pincushions?”  Just the way she said it, I knew it to be a question, not a statement. I hate to admit that it didn't seem to matter to me that her tone was less than raving.  I have such a good time creating them!  I don’t want to tell her but there are still more pincushion designs floating in my head and crying out to be created.

I responded out loud to her question, “Yes, BUT…” and before I could defend my latest creation, I realized that I have done it again.  I have followed my heart and like a Johnny-one-note, created still more pincushions. I am, after all, known as The Pincushion Lady.  Some of you have started collecting my pincushions, and I am so glad, as it is important to me that each of my pincushions are adopted by loving homes, for each is created with love and takes on a unique personality of its own.

As I finish my scrap bag pincushions, I realize that they would also make a great home for a TV remote controller.  Mine always seems to be hiding, mostly between sofa cushions. I have created these pincushions with a rubber mesh on the underside to help them grip to any surface and the pincushion heavy enough to counter balance both a remote controller and a cell phone.  There is also a small pocket suitable for small scissors, thimble, a package of needles, or some other small treasure!

To collectors of my pincushions, I excitedly proclaim, “These are not my final pincushions”, but to my daughter, I add, “Yes, Hannah, there are many other creations in my head besides pincushions”. To all following my blog, items are slowly being posted onto the etsy page, so do keep your eyes peeled, and yes, there are many items besides pincushions coming!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Fourth of July

It is hard to believe that July is here already, and while many of us prepare to celebrate our independence, there will NOT be fireworks in some places like my home state of Colorado!  There cannot even be barbecues over charcoal grills due to the risk of potentially starting yet another fire! Many are now without homes and still others are suffering without power to keep their refrigerators or air conditioning going during one of the biggest heat waves ever, never mind that their computers are down as well!

We are challenged with unemployment and economic issues and the politics of the upcoming election are heating up our nation as well, dividing us into camps according to our beliefs: What is and what is not constitutional; what should and shouldn't be considered our individual rights in this great land; and who should and shouldn't be assimilated as citizens.  Serious debates will continue with the upcoming election being only four months from now.

Still amid all these difficulties, challenges, and divisiveness, I am reminded by this holiday that I live in the land of "the free and the brave" and wish to pay honor to all those that have fought for our independence and liberties.  We are still the greatest nation on earth and I am proud to be an American!