Nest Building Mood

I noticed this birdhouse in my neighbors’ crabapple tree last fall and thought, “How beautiful a mood it sets as it sits almost hidden in the limbs and leaves.” I wasn’t carrying a camera and didn’t go back that day, or all winter long even though I didn’t forget the beautiful little home where each spring birds build a nest and raise a family.

I’ve been in a nest building mood lately especially as we have been given the go-ahead to start our part of our condo rebuild after Hurricane Ian caused a storm serge that flooded our ground floor condo. The past seven months have been frustrating as our HOA board contracted with a company to clean out the furniture, muck out, remove all building materials that had been touched by flood waters, deep clean and dry the interior to stop mold from forming and migrating to the upper units. Then our HOA board contracted with another company to replace wiring and drywall. We have found that rebuilding happens so very slowly in a disaster area and there wasn’t anything I could do to help it move except hire a plumber to replace all pipes while the studs were exposed. I am now working with our contractor making decisions about painting, kitchen cabinets, bathroom showers & vanities, etc. And I’m eagerly looking forward to going down in a month to start our move-in and to creating our “nest” in Florida for when we do winter migrations. I’m in the mood for nest building.

Even though I have groused a bit, our winter in Michigan wasn’t really spent in a foul mood. I have had the joy and privilege to make quilts for a project that a church group that I belong to in Florida. This group made the commitment to give a throw quilt to every family that moves into the new housing being built for the farm workers who live and work in Immokalee. Living conditions have been deplorable for farm workers in this community and the Fair Housing Alliance is building 124 new units for families. I have smiled all winter as I’ve been thinking of the joy and comfort my quilts will bring as people move into their new “nests.”

My goal was to sew into each quilt a mood of caring and comfort and love. As I was working on them during the cold winter months I sure enjoyed being in the giving “mood.” I will take them down in June but have some other quilt tops started so maybe I will have a couple more finished when we go down in October.

My inspiration for this post is Sophia’s Lens-Artist Challenge: Mood. Thanks Sophia.

A Still Life – A Story Being Written

Patti gave us the wonderful challenge of “Still Life” for this week’s Lens-Artist Challenge. I know what a still life is, a picture of an apple and a pear and a vase with some dried flowers and maybe a book or two. I’ve seen lots of still life paintings in museums and even tried my hand at one or two with my camera. And of course I’ve moved an inanimate object or two to make a better composition.

Since Patti’s post I’ve been thinking about still life, still living, stilled lives and of course, my life. I’ve been thinking about our Florida rebuild project that feels like a “still life” from where I am sitting 2,000 miles north. And Spring in Michigan that is anything but “still” this April, having had about 6 different kinds of snow in three days. I’ve also been thinking about the quilt that my neighbor Chrissy showed me when I was at her house showing her how to thread her new sewing machine.

She gently unfolded it. It smelled, the batting had wadded and was falling out through holes and tears in the top layer, it was frayed and faded and looked very, very fragile. But it had a story. Chrissy’s grandmother and great-grandmother had made it. Chrissy’s father had grown up using it on his bed and gave it to her after they found it while cleaning out her grandfather’s home after he passed away. I was hooked. I told her I thought I could stabilize it and make it whole again so she could use it in her home. Daughter Bri has already said that she would like it someday.

Truth admission – I’ve never done this before, even though I’ve made many, many quilts. I follow blogger Rhonda Dort who loves to save old quilts she rescues from antique shops and other places so I’ve learned a thing or two from her; I feel confident I can do it. As we were talking I told her about how Ronda covers torn places with lace and asked if she had any old lace from her mom. She said no… but ran upstairs and returned with a bag containing pieces of her mother’s wedding dress and round lace flowers that had adorned it. I told her that they would be perfect if she wanted to integrate this important piece of her mother’s (and father’s) lives with her father’s treasured quilt. Both of us had tears in our eyes at this point, and we were also getting very excited.

It was a tied quilt so I showed Chrissy how to cut the ties off and take out stitching along the edges, take the backing off (it wasn’t bound) so we could save that and told her to clean out all the old stuffing (nasty job). I explained that I would stabilize it so she and her adult daughter could hand sew the lace flowers on and then we would tie it back on it’s backing with new batting.

It didn’t take Chrissy long to complete her work. When she brought it to my home we talked about how fragile it felt. The white muslin squares and some of the print strips were so thin from use and age that we were cautious when we moved it. It is literally falling apart.

The quilt lay on our living room carpet for many days as I thought about it. I knew I needed to stabilize the top and mulled over several options. My first thought was to stabilize it with the iron-on stabilizer used with machine embroidery but that would be horribly time consuming and from experience inconsistent in its adhesion. Besides I was afraid it would effect the softness and drape of the quilt. I also thought about using lawn because it is so light and thin but I don’t think it comes in wide widths so there would be a seam that would show through the very thin quilt top. I finally decided on unbleached muslin with a high thread count and in quilt backing width.

I’m currently hand basting the layers together as I am stabilizing some long seams for delicate machine stitching and securing the edges of holes and tears to the muslin. This has become an act of love as I am becoming acquainted with the quilt’s history. It is no longer a “still life,” but a living breathing entity telling its story, the history of its connections with the people it has shared a life with – also now including me. I have been listening to it and it is telling me what it needs.

Chrissy and I strongly agree that I should maintain the integrity of the quilt except when I need to add something to strengthen and preserve it. There are fabrics that faded to varying degrees and they will stay.

There are two strips that Chrissy and I thought might be plain muslin and wondered why they weren’t colored like the rest. When I explored the seam on the back I discovered they had been blue but faded into cream. There is even a little hole in the top fabric over the seam that allows a little of the original color to show through.

I also notice black dots and wondered what that story was about. They look like splattered ink so I would guess that Chrissy’s father was practicing penmanship or working on the final draft of an essay while sitting on his bed. Chrissy thinks this story fits as she remembers him telling her that his widowed father pushed the kids hard to do well in school.

Those blemishes will all stay as they are, they will not be hidden or taken out because that would silence the story the quilt is telling. This story is also about the people who cared about this quilt and the boy that it kept warm. I can see evidence that it was mended multiple times with different techniques. In some places the colored/printed strips are narrowed a bit and the fabric is drawn up just a little telling me that someone very carefully and neatly mended the seam that had torn along the stitch line. I will be doing the same but because the fabric has thinned so much and has unraveled I will be using a delicate decorative machine stitch that will catch and secure some fabric on each side of the seam and secure it to the unbleached muslin that I am using to stabilize it. These steps using modern techniques will now become a part of this quilt’s history/story.

Most of the quilt is made from grain or flour sacks with very low thread count. This bright floral print, however, is seersucker so maybe a sister had a beautiful summer dress of this fabric and there was a strip left for the quilt. I wonder if any of the other pieces were from clothing fabric.

As I am gently touching this quilt to press, mend and repair, as I am smoothing and shaping it to fit the new muslin, it is also touching me. I am relishing how it is sharing it’s secrets and triggering thoughts of my own grandmother and great-grandmother who made quilts that I now have.

I am thinking of the quilts I have made grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Sometimes family members say they want to put my quilts away to keep forever and I urge them to use the quilts. I hope that some of my quilts will be “loved to pieces” as this quilt has been. I hope that someday someone will mend one of my quilts so that it can continue to give the love that I sewed into it as I chose the perfect fabrics, pieced and quilted it. No quilt should be a “still life.”

Where the Wild Flowers Are

I am fully engaged in my Michigan environment as I’m watching spring unfold. How perfect that Tina has given us the Lens-Artist Challenge of Environment. The daffodils and naturalized grape hyacinths in my garden have me eager to get out in a couple of weeks to find and photograph some nice specimens of wild flowers. My favorite spots to photograph are in the spring-time woods where gentle light is filtered through newly emerging leaves.

These photos are from my files, taken at Hidden Lake Garden in the Irish Hills of southern Michigan on visits in May of previous years. I think maybe a couple were taken in other wooded areas that are so plentiful in my Michigan environment. We have some warm sunny days predicted for next week so my agenda includes a trip to Hidden Lake Garden and then on to Tecumseh where there is a fabulous quilt fabric store.

The part of my environment that is really exciting my soul is the green haze of the undergrowth in wooded areas along roads that we frequent. This morning on our way to breakfast and exercising we talked about how much the leaves have opened in the tall branches of the many hardwoods – just in the past two days. And I smiled when I looked out my kitchen window and saw dandelions blooming under our neighbor’s burning bush.

If you would like to share a piece of the environment you live in or those you have visiting you can click here to join in.

In the Glow of the Early Morning Sun

I’ve been getting up just as the sun is lighting the Eastern sky each morning – what an exciting time of year. Spring is finally coming to southern Michigan, our second Spring of the year, having experienced our first Spring in North Carolina during our stay in February. We endured a very dreary and nasty March in Michigan that has made our spring even more exciting. I did a lot of moaning and gripping throughout March that didn’t make the weather any better and weren’t my most “glowing moments.” I did feel a glow as I spent my indoor time making hats to share with the less fortunate next fall (using up yarn so I can buy more) and finishing up three more throw quilts for the project my Florida church friends have taken on of providing house-warming gift quilts to every family that moves into the new housing that is being built in Immokalee, the community where the farm workers live.

I dusted off my cameras this past week to capture the Spring that was erupting in my garden as the morning sun was providing the first of its gentle light. I was drawn out of my winter doldrums by the memories of previous Springs and the joy of watching nature come alive again. I felt the glow of anticipation that primed my senses to what was happening throughout my garden.

I said a welcome to these iris plants that are old friends in the garden, poking their pointed leaf-tips through the mulch (and sometimes a dusting of snow.) It appears that they would appreciate dividing later in the summer.

Old friends in the garden are great but I felt a special glow as I found the clumps of new irises that are starting their second year in the garden. We are just getting to know each other and they appear to be happy in their new environment. They are multiplying. I just barely remember their colors and I’ll have to look up their names as they bloom in a month or two.

The spring air was cool and I basked in the warmth of the morning sun, feeling my own internal glow grow. This was the time to find joy in each plant that was sprouting new growth after the winter hibernation. This was the time to take note of what needs to be pruned and what needs to be moved or divided. I also did some thinking about planting a slow-growing evergreen to fulfill my commitment to slowly transform my garden to a lower maintenance space. I’m a year older than I was last spring and it seems like there are changes that need to be made if I am going to continue to enjoy the glow of satisfied living.

Yes, I need to maintain a workstyle that allows me the luxury of sitting on my purple porch swing with a cup of hot coffee, listening to the birdsongs, and feeling the gentle sway of the swing as I warm myself in the glow of the morning sun. What a glorious right of passage into a new year of growth – for both myself and my garden.

This post was created in response to the Lens-Artist Challenge: Glowing Moments.

A Bumpy Road to Spring

It has been a rocky road to spring since we returned to Michigan from a month in North Carolina. We expected some cold while in North Carolina in February and I think it got down to the high 30s some nights – but we hardly noticed except for putting an extra blanket on our bed. After all, it was colder in Michigan. As the month progressed the daffodils started blooming, flowering trees exploded with color, and I had a pot of pansies by our entrance.

A grounds keeper in Old Salem was cleaning out leaves from around growing plants.

And flowers were beginning to bloom in Old Salem and the Salem College campus.

We visited the Reynolda Gardens of Wake Forest University where beds were being prepared for summer plantings, seeded beds were labeled, and spring flowers were blooming. It made me eager to return to my garden in Michigan to start my spring “cleaning.”

The road that I (and my camera) take are not always well planned out and when I do plan, I don’t always end up with the images I had imagined. For the 78th year in a row, the road to spring in Michigan took me by surprise. Even though I suffered through another change to daylight savings time and the Vernal Equinox is just three days away, March is still acting more like winter than spring.

The Lens-Artist Photo Challenge this week is “The Road Most Often Taken,” in other words John is asking us about our favorite subject to photograph. I have a hard time resisting flowers, and I have suffered mightily during my winter of exile in Michigan (is that a bit over-dramatic?) so until the flowers are blooming here in the north, my camera is taking a loooooong-winter’s nap on the shelf.