Teaching Modern Quilting: Quilts As Art

Last night, I met with seven precious ladies in my first Modern Quilting Class at Wilson Community College. I’m humbled and blessed to be their guide to the world of stitching. Six are beginners and one is a quilter ready to make her quilts into works of art. So, I’m back to journaling my journey and blogging with a purpose.  Continue reading “Teaching Modern Quilting: Quilts As Art”

Quilting Memories

(Anne Carson “Uncle Harry” Inspired Writing) 

First of all, life in Wilson County, North Carolina when I was born was defined by segregation, social injustice, economic starvation and institutional discrimination enforced by “Jim Crow” laws. The brutality and harsh reality of life was white washed and veiled behind lace curtains of poison ivy drenched in decades of Southern comfort.

Our first meeting in 1950 was when she gently pushed and coaxed me out of my mother’s swollen belly and exhausted labor early one Sunday morning in September. I knew her before I knew myself from gazing into her moon shaped peanut butter brown eyes perched in my nest of protection in her lap. Her rhythmic melodious speech was a mixture of French, Edisto, West African and Anglo dialects melted together into a creamy buttery smoothness of creole delight. Reminiscent of your favorite summer memories, the rose water and oil she distilled made her fragrance in my life unforgettable.

Standing five feet five inches tall, Yat was stacked like a short glass Coca-Cola bottle, big bust, big hips and a small waist. Men would describe her as a “big leg Geechee gal ” as they flashed a devilish grin, licked their lips and stared with glazed over eyes. Her magnificent looks and divinely creative hands never faded even as she aged. Yat’s smile radiated compassion, as she slightly tilted her head when talking with you.

She had a way of inspiring little hands to see imaginary lines on a framed quilt and guiding undisciplined fingers to hold and stab a needle through three layers of fabric while concentrating on making even stitches. As I slow stitch-running lines today, I cherish thoughts of sitting atop my throne of Sears Roebuck’s catalogs quilting with her. Many days other women would wander in and out taking turns quilting, drinking coffee and eating warm sweet bread.

More than anything, it was the creative silence broken intermittently with spontaneous monophonic singing, “Ev’ry time I feel de spirit, movin’ in my heart, I will pray; Jordan river chilly cold, chilla de body but not de soul.” It felt like lines of stitching ran from my heart to hers pulsating creative energy connected by heaven-spun twine.

The miracle of our God inspired connection is that Yat wasn’t my grandmother she was my grandmother’s best friend since the two of them met in 1929. Yat became my primary caretaker because she worked as a nurse at the Tuberculosis Center on the three to eleven weekday shift. My momma was a home economics teacher and my grandmother was the cafeteria manager at a local school, so Yat whose real name was Mat Randolph became my mentor into the world of slow stitching quilted memories.

Witnessing the ebbing transition of soft wisps of golden color wash across a dark blue shroud signaled the beginning of a new day’s adventure for Yat and me. Smells of strong Luzianne coffee brewing merged with tender cured country ham swimming in red eye gravy and sticky lumps of white rice brought us all to the breakfast table with freshly washed hands.

After breakfast Yat worked tirelessly snipping and pruning her expertly cultivated roses wearing a handmade brightly colored smock. “We’ve go to wear color so we can see God’s beauty from the inside out, “ she joyously acclaimed. Yat made everything by hand and all her smocks were cut without a pattern in the brightest, wildest cotton print fabric she could find over dyed indigo blue. She loved bright happiness and having to wear white as a nurse caused her to explode using color at home.

Silver and black hair flowed in two braids that wrapped under her full round buttocks like a rope in stark contrast to the floppy raffia hat dyed bright Marigold yellow adorning her head like a halo. Yat and I were a powerful duo, as I proudly wore my matching outfit while following and mimicking her every creative hands adventure. From late morning until midday naptime, we swam in an ocean of dyed and over-dyed scraps of fabric, merrily stitching quilts with tobacco twine.

I was living a protected privileged life of creative innocence contrasted to the harsh reality surrounding me. Snippets of cruelty pushed their way inside through mouse holes and spider cracks, when playmates were drowned by “never to be found” klansmen. Stitching quilted memories keep me safely cloistered in a four- room house and fenced walls of overgrown shrubby with fragrant flowers.

“Be quite, still and observant like a deer,” I was taught from an early age.  Stern warnings were issued to, “walk in the woods so the pine needles don’t crunch, bushes don’t snap and always be ready to hide out in plain sight,” Yat would demand. The stillness and concentration of quilting were meant to teach lessons of survival. Yat shared wisdom and provided me with strategies to cope with the disappointments, sorrows and brokenness we all experience in life. Slow stitching quilts also expresses the joy of each new day, the euphoria of falling in love and the bonds of friendship with other women.

I find myself wrapped in a shimmering blanket of memories humming and singing her favorite spiritual in the slow rhythm guiding my walking foot across a quilt. So much of Yat is inside of me, her words, her songs, her stories and her creative hands experiences as I continue quilting memories.


Momma & Me: Indigo Blues & Slow Stitching

Sunday was my birthday and I had a writing assignment in my Loft Literary Center class to write a 26 sentence story.  I had never heard of such a thing but the idea is to begin each sentence with the letters in the alphabet, i.e. A, B, C etc.  The hardest for me was “X”, and I spend several days reading the dictionary for a descriptive word associated with my story beginning with the letter “X”.  I used artistic license to make it work.  This story is my birthday present from my Momma in heaven, whose guidance and inspiration remains with me everyday.

As the warm yellow light streaked across the dark cold blue colored sky at daybreak, Momma and I were already outside gathering our garden shears to harvest indigo plants.

Before the late morning sun of the Autumn Equinox could capture the moisture from the indigo, we needed to immerse the tender plants into a simmering pot of water.

Contentnea Creek clay had been pulled from the riverbanks like thick nasal snot to make pots for indigo dyeing in Eastern North Carolina since my great-grandmother learned natural dyeing from her grandmother.

Dawn was bursting forth like Sheman’s March to the Sea, when Momma prompted me to stop sky gazing and move faster to gather the indigo she was cutting.

Each velvety bushy plant was cut about six or eight inches from the black sandy soil made famous from growing tobacco.

Flowering plants wore crowns of dark pink petals that were left to seed for next years crop.

Green indigo plants have a pungent earthy smell that reminds me of damp earth after a summer afternoon rain.

Hot water was simmering up wisps of steam when we returned from the dye garden with my red wagon full of freshly cut complementary colored green plants.

Indigo is the only natural source of blue dye and one of the oldest dyestuffs in the world.

Judiciously, Momma quickly placed the limp plants in the simmering water, while gently pushing the indigo cuttings under with a tobacco stick.

Kindling needed to be added to the smoldering fire under the round bottom pot to keep the temperature constant.

Lovingly, Momma instructed me on how to place the dry brittle Dogwood tree twigs around the fire pot.

Momma stated to sing “You Don’t Know What Love Is Until You Know The Meaning Of The Blues” in a soft painfully sweet but sultry voice that dripped of molasses on a hot Southern day.

Now it was her turn to pass the accumulated knowledge that comes from growing up and living the Chitlin’ Circuit Blues from our grandmothers and great-grandmothers to me.

“Oh!” Momma abruptly shouted in the middle of her singing. “That’s enough heat.” “Now we let the pot slowly simmer until it sings blue gray bursts of bubbles.”

People always ask why I love indigo dyeing, and I never know how to answer.

“Quilting!” is the true response but cutting up and stitching pieces of blue cloth into a quilt when your life is in pieces doesn’t make sense to most people.

Remote rural living more than anything helped the women in my family hold fast to the tradition of indigo dyeing cloth to make quilts.

Several generations of my great-grandmothers, washed and ironed laundry and were paid in trade cloth instead of money.

The story goes that Rainy Summer needed cash money, so she dyed strips of cloth using indigo, made a loom from two smooth tree limbs, warped it with peanut twine and wove the strips into rag rugs to trade and sell.

Unexpectedly, the indigo dyed strips of cloth were available to be stitched into blankets of multiple layers and quilted with tobacco twine during the Great Blizzard of 1899 as the hawkish wind roared through my family’s tin roof wooden Shot Gun house so loud it sounded like a group of children screaming.

Vivid indigo blues became part of the story of my family that expressed our sorrow, love, joy, heartbreak and daily struggles.

Winter nights became warm and cozy with baskets overflowing with strips and pieces of indigo dyed and over dyed cloth collected and recycled from every available scrap.

Xenic acid is what makes the fermentation process possible when the wet yellow-green indigo dyed cloth comes out of the dye pot, oxides and turns blue while you gasp in amazement.

Yesterday was my second birthday celebration since my sweet Momma died, and remembering the times we shared dyeing cloth, stitching, singing and sharing stories brought the twisted knot of grief to my broken heart and happy tears to my eyes.

Zealously, I cherish my memories as I continue my journey creating indigo blues and slow stitching while singing the Blues.







Round Midnight Stitching Adventures

DIY Tips: Cutting & Attaching Flat Fringe

  • For cutting the fringe I used a piece of illustration board but any heavy duty cardboard will do.  I marked mine as a cutting guide.  I used a pair of sharp scissors. 
  • Suggested Materials for attaching flat fringe are a rotary hole punch and a tapestry needle.
  • NOTE:  I’m creating a Google Presentation explaining my process.

The last couple of late night experiences has in deed been an adventure. I hear my Momma’s voice in my head saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!” I approached the task of attaching flat fringe with two awls, which were really pottery pin tools that I use in making quilted journals. After two hours I had attached four strands of flat fringe. This process works with chainette fringe but not with flat fringe. My solution was to pull out my rotary hole punch. My thinking, “If it works on leather, it will work on fabric!” Using the smallest die punch, I was able to punch and attach flat fringe along the right side of the shawl in three hours. Take away lessons: I will dye limited amounts of multiple colored cloth so that others can have a hand dyed shawl. The process of double dying cloth is time consuming and requires an investment in supplies. I don’t believe people are willing to pay several hundred dollars for a Native American Dance Shawl even if it is hand dyed. Attaching flat fringe is another time consuming investment. My creative energy needs to be spent dyeing cloth and making quilts.

DIY Tech Tip

Last evening I attended a Small Business workshop at Wilson Community College.  The presenter was Martin Brossman who is a “Social Media Guru.”  During the class Martin and others expressed interest in using Instagram on a desktop computer.  I started using Instagram after a previous workshop with Martin.  Being the Teckie that I’m am, I installed it on my MAC not knowing that the process was suppose to be difficult.  I don’t remember exactly how I did it but I do remember that the process was effortless.  I’m running Instagram on an iMac using Chrome browser.  You don’t have all the features available on the App for a phone or tablet but it works especially for editing and tweeking posts.  Personally, I use it to upload images from my digital camera.  You stay logged in, so I don’t advice using Instagram on a computer that isn’t secure or behind a firewall. The small business workshops are free and can help grow your customer base. They are available at small business centers across the North Carolina.  CNET Article: How to post to Instagram from any computer

Round Midnight Stitching

IMG_1431I stitched the sides of my shawl early this morning. Many have asked about the fabric. It’s unbleached cotton percale fabric. I dyed it red using fiber reactive red dyes and then over dyed fabric in an indigo vat. The indigo dye process subtracted the red dye in places and allowed the natural color of the fabric to show. This process gave beautiful color breaks and color values which wouldn’t be possible if I had over dyed solid red printed cloth in indigo. I’ll dye more cloth in the coming weeks, and blog the process step by step. I’ve gotten many requests to purchase this fabric, so I’ll make some to sell on Etsy along with a few finished fringe shawls. I ordered the unbleached cotton percale fabric online and it costs $15 per yard.  This process makes beautiful fabric but the process isn’t cheap.  In addition to the fabric, you have the costs of the fiber reactive dyes, the indigo dye, dyeing supplies and chemicals plus your creative time.  However, for me the stunning result is well worth the effort.  My Momma created and taught me this technique and I do it in her honor.  Momma loved fringe!Continue reading “Round Midnight Stitching”

Indigo Dyed Native American Shawl

This twice hand dyed fabric is finally becoming a dance shawl with flat fringe. Cotton sateen fabric was first dyed red using fiber reactive dyes.  Red represents the blood of Ancestors who’s shoulders I’m standing on to be in this moment and creating handmade.Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 9.31.00 AM I manipulated the fabric in a random puffy cloud technique and secured it with rubber bands. Mixing five different Pro Chemical powder dyes in an immersion bath overnight created the red. After washing the fabric in blue Dawn, I hung it on a clothesline to dry. Next the fabric was manipulated using a concentric circle technique off the centerfold of the fabric and secured with tobacco twine. I used a natural indigo vat and dipped the fabric seven times. The indigo process removed some of the red fiber reactive dye so I got values of beige. I prefer the results from using this process instead of dyeing red fabric in indigo. My process takes more time, but the result is stunning. Today the fabric has been pressed and I’m organizing materials to begin cutting the flat fringe. Stay tuned! I’ll post the process with pictures.  

Cloth As Memoir

I’m organizing my living environment into a creative hands working studio. My Momma had a lot of nice things that she collected in my childhood home. Stories and her creative hands are attached to many of these items. But, the bottom line is that I’ve got too much stuff. It’s overwhelming! Momma saved everything. I’ve inherited the fabric stash from five women from four generations. Recently, I was gifted with fabric from West Africa and India that came to me through at least three different women’s hands. As I’m preparing to teach quilting, the stories attached to all this cloth make me curious about the lives of all these women.Continue reading “Cloth As Memoir”

The Creative Process

While unpacking boxes, as I settle into my childhood home, I came across my research from teaching Contemporary Art & Design at Chowan University a few years ago. The timing was perfect for me to be my own learner. “Teaching is for learners,” echoing in my ears in my Momma’s voice. The creative process of learning is revoluntary. My life is a witness to the insights gained from handmade craftsmanship. The process of making something out of nothing is healing especially when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances. Life is about taking the bitter with the sweet and learning how to walk out our fears. I’m living in Indigo Blues, seeking contentment with the circumstances of my life. I forgive my self and others. My goal is to stay focused on living in the moment and to learn to trust and obey God’s plan for my life.

Readings and unit lessons from teaching Contemporary Art & Design:

Show Your Work! By Austin Kleon

  1. You don’t have to be a genius.
  2. Think process, not product.
  3. Share something small every day.
  4. Open up your cabinet of curiosities.
  5. Tell good stories.
  6. Teach what you know.
  7. Don’t turn into human spam.
  8. Learn too take a punch.
  9. Sell out.
  10. Stick around.

My Indigo Blues Journey

I’m a Teaching Artist from a family of teachers and women who loved sewing, quilting, dyeing fabric, weaving rugs, embroidery and crochet.  I grew up in a multi-generational home where handmade was a way of life.  I earned a BFA at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Studio Art with concentrations in Ceramic Sculpture and Painting.  I have additional educational experiences at East Carolina University in Ceramics, Painting, Art Education and Textiles and graduate work at Western Carolina University and Penland School of Crafts.  My teaching experience includes K-12, community college and university.Continue reading “My Indigo Blues Journey”