Tuesday, September 05, 2023

A Little Sketching, A Little Heartbreak

To be honest, I didn't feel very good last week, and I kept making excuses for my tired achy body (like the change in the weather and a couple of vigorous yoga sessions) and a sudden runny nose (probably pollen), but there was no explaining away the sore throat that set in. I think I caught a cold! With all the Covid protocols and my general carefulness because of my auto-immune syndrome, it's been years since I've had a cold, but as I started feeling much better over the weekend, I decided that's just what I had. So not a lot done, but I did feel like going ahead with this simple 7 day sketch challenge. I have a habit of jotting things down that I see on the internet on small pieces of paper which quickly get buried, then magically reappear. That's what happened with this challenge which I decided I wanted to do because I had the perfect key and lock for the first drawing assignment. I had a good time with this one, some things drawn from actual items like the keys, some drawn from memory like the vases and veggies. Just something to do while recooperating in front of the TV. No sewing at all, or bookmaking either, in the studio.

All that's left of a beautiful antique quilt

Now for the heartbreak. This is really difficult for me to write about because of my love and reverence for antique quilts and how disturbed I get when I see them cut up to be made into clothing. A part of me understands that some quilts are indeed so heavily damaged and of little historical significance that finding a use for the undamaged parts can give them new life. But it still pains me when, as recently happened, I see a well known and respected member of the quilting community, someone I myself like and appreciate for her skills in creating traditional handquilted quilts as well as beautifully crafted machine quilted art quilts, getting excited about the prospects of cutting up an old quilt and making it into a jacket. The quilt, or what was left of it, was given to her by someone who did not know who had made it, but because of its poor condition (stained and torn and supposedly chewed on by a dog) decided to pass it along saying, "Do what you want with it."

Teardrops are quilted into the wide sashing. Hearts form buds.

As you might imagine, this quilter's many followers on Facebook gleefully backed her thoughts to repurpose the good parts as a jacket (I could envision them high fiveing in their enthusiasm), while I commented, "You are breaking my heart. Please don't do this." Well, that brought down the wrath of her followers, all but one who said she would do what I had said when challenged with if not that, then what: study it, gently mend what could be mended, and store it to lovingly preserve it. There were multiple cries of "her quilt, her decision!", and "the quiltmaker would be so pleased to see her quilt be "saved" this way". Well, maybe, but I think she also might be horrified to see what had become of her quilt she had so carefully made, probably for a special occasion or gift. And I feared that this current owner of the quilt was becoming a terrible role model, setting off a new round of antique quilts being cut up. Sure enough, when the finished jacket was posted, several people commented that wow, they were going to get those old quilts out of the closet, or ask for grandma's quilts back so they could turn them into clothes. I shuddered.

Quilting from the back

This particular quilter is very gracious though, and instead of piling on me like her fans, she offered to send me what was left of the quilt so I could study it and perhaps figure out a way of preserving the remnants and I gratefully accepted. Then in a lengthy e-mail, she explained her reasoning which included "This quilt was so heavily damaged – and not particularly well made or well designed, or of historical value, in my opinion – that I didn’t have too many qualms. . . To me, repurposing old quilts as coats or pillows is not disrespect. When I wear this jacket, it will be to honor the maker, to bring attention to the beauty of old quilts (even the tattered ones), and to give the quilt new life. . ." She also noted that she is the caretaker of many family quilts dating back to her great grandmother. With only seeing the small portion of the quilt she shared in a photo on her posting, I could only take her word for it about it, and decided that she had a point about this not being a family heirloom and pretty much discarded but for her interest in it. I'd know more when I received the part she did not use.

And when it arrived, I was stunned that she would call this not particularly well made. The applique is well-done to my eye, and while the quilting is not dense with tiny stitches, it is well-thought-out to fill the spaces around the applique (I believe there is quite a bit of clam shell used) with even, if not close, stitches. Even the binding looks perfectly applied. Granted, the design itself lacks the sophistication of many of this kind of quilt with the heaviness of the sash or vine border, but the coxcomb flowers and leaves with the distinctive split down the center are beautifully done. I believe this is a quilt from 1850-1860 when this design was popular, and the use of green fabric achieved by overdyeing yellow with blue, or vise versa was common. Some of the new aniline dyes produced a more colorfast product and the overdyeing process often resulted in some greens fading to blue overtime, as may be the case on this quilt. But newer theories and research have posited that there may have been a fad of using blue for stems and leaves instead of green. (I have such a quilt in my collection.) I'll have to take a closer look at the applique to see if I can spot any green lurking where the fabric is turned under. I can't get a good sense of the layout of the whole quilt from this small section, nor how large it originally was, and while the green and blue fabric appear to have held up quite well, the red floral is very worn and faded everywhere. To turn this into a wearable seemed a bad idea to me from the outset and even more so now that I had the quilt in hand. Too old for it to hold up under the abuse a jacket would give it.

But it was out of my hands, the jacket made and proudly shown off, again to the rave reviews and delight of her followers. I'd decided to reserve my feelings about the outcome until I saw how she had used the quilt, thinking that with her knowledge and expertise, she might indeed make a beautiful showpiece of the good parts of the quilt. Instead, I was appalled at the result. I realize that it is tricky to place pattern pieces to best advantage, but in my opinion, this is awful and ugly, no homage to the original maker.

I think it would have been much better had she figured out how to get the coxcombs on the front and the sashing/vine on the back. Oh my heart is thoroughly broken over this. I just have to feel lucky that I now have a piece of this quilt, which I will study and notate and add to my collection of antiques. Every old quilt adds a little bit to our knowledge of the history of quilting. Every single one, whether amateurish or masterful deserves our inquisitive respect. In my opinion, this quilt did not receive the respect it deserved. Perhaps you have a different opinion. I'd be happy to hear it.


Anonymous said...

I'm definitely in favor of preserving antique quilts for their historical value, not to mention sentimental. I'll leave it at that. Hoping you feel better soon...I guess you might have what used to be known as a 'summer cold'? Jan in WY

Pat said...

Last year I had written this:
I repaired a quilt today. I’m not a traditional quilter, so there are a lot of things I don’t know very well, like the age of fabrics based on design elements. That’s probably the big thing, but I did know these were old fabrics. Grandmotherly kinds of fabrics. And, unfortunately, the fabrics were thinning, showing their age. The hand quilted stitches were relatively large and irregular, leading me to believe it was one of somebody’s first attempts at making a quilt. I was impressed that whoever made it had the patience to make the entire thing! It must have taken a long time.

When the quilt was handed to me, she didn’t know if it could be saved, or if it was time to just be done with it. What I remember, though, and guided my attempts to save it, was she told me her son liked to wrap himself in it.

I spread the quilt out onto my work table, and as I worked, it became more than a quilt. I could practically feel the spirit of the person who had made this quilt. This old quilt became a metaphor of an old woman, maybe even myself. She wasn’t dead yet. She still had life in her old body, and wanted to hug the son who loved it, as I still want to hug the people I love. And so I stitched, starting by hand stitching until I realized that hand stitching would take a very long time. If I repaired it on my machine, I could do it comparatively quickly, and the final result would be stronger than hand stitching. Do I dare repair by machine? It wasn’t originally made by machine…

But the spirit of the quilt reminded me…it is loved because it keeps somebody warm and comfortable. I can imagine the original quilt maker saying she’d have used a machine if she had one.
The quilt is repaired, folded and waiting to be returned to its home. I wonder if the person who made that quilt is still alive, and could know how meaningful it is to somebody today. Someday it will indeed die, but I think I’ve given it a few more years of hugging and loving. When it finally falls apart, I hope whoever owns it will give it a respectful send off. That’s what i hope for my own elder body, already periodically cut and spliced and soothed with the magical potions doctors prescribe.

The Idaho Beauty said...

Thanks for your input, Jan and Pat. Thanks especially for sharing your blog post Pat, so poetically written. So wonderful that the owner of the quilt wanted it repaired, especially for that reason, and that you could rally your skills to figure out a way to do it.

Summer cold, eh Jan? I'd forgotten about those. Hardly anyone is wearing masks anymore, even me, and I have so little contact with people that I think I would have had to have picked it up at the grocery store. Ah well, apparently it's not a bad thing to get sick now and then and build up your immunity. We'll soon enough be sequestered inside for the winter where we are easy prey for germs and viruses. Time for some flu shots and Covid boosters!

Christine Staver said...

I absolutely hate that kind of quilted jacket. I have some quilted vests and jackets from Talbots, but I don’t like what she did. Pieced quilted jackets look so homemade and not in a good way. And you are right that it won’t hold up as a jacket. How is she going to wash it? What a shame. I’m in your camp on this one. And who lets a dog chew up a quilt. That in itself is a shame.

Glad you’re feeling better. Don’t forget the rsv shot. We get that one today.