Sunday, November 29, 2015

'Tis the Season

One can never be too careful in public but that goes double for the holiday season. Crime only wants an opportunity. I cringe when I am in the grocery store and a woman leaves a large purse unattended and open while she loads groceries onto the conveyor belt or chooses her purchases. If you carry a handbag, it is important to know just where it is at any given time. Don't carry a lot of cash, and only carry the credit card(s) you plan to use. It is also a great idea to photocopy every credit card you own, front and back, as well as your driver's license and keep that information in a safe place at home or in a safe deposit box. Then, if your cards are stolen, they will be easier to report.

Woven, quilted, cross-body bag helps to keep track of its contents

One way I keep track of my purse is to either wear a leather pouch that buckles around my waist or else to wear a cross-body bag that has a long strap that goes over the shoulder and across the body. I keep one hand on the edge of the purse and it has a strong magnetic fastener that takes a little bit of oomph to open.

Usually, criminals look for an easy target:  someone who is unaware or distracted. In fact, they sometimes work in teams. Be aware of who is around you or getting too close for personal comfort. The goods will always be there. Move out of the area quickly if you become suspicious of any activity.

There is a good reason why Internet sales are up and retail sales are down. People enjoy shopping from their homes and are often able to comparison shop easily, ordering exactly what they want at prices they can afford. When shopping in retail stores, it always helps to have a list and know exactly what products are sought. Clerks and shelf-stockers can often direct you readily to the spot needed.

May you enjoy the holiday season without incident and with joy in your heart for each gift you select. A good time to shop is early in the day when the stores first open and there are less customers. I hope these tips are helpful. Enjoy the month of December!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Day of Thanks

Tomorrow, the 4th Thursday of November, is a day that Americans count their blessings and give thanks. We have so much to be grateful for!

I will be thinking about Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, the "Mother of the American Thanksgiving," who conducted a letter writing campaign for decades, in the 19th century, until President Lincoln finally proclaimed the national holiday that we know today.

Sarah Josepha Hale monument in Newport, NH. photo by James Cummings

I wish for you love, happiness and peace. I wish you a life of abundance and freedom from want. I wish you plenty of resources to meet debts and to live a fulfilling life. I wish you time to enjoy all that life has to offer. I wish that you will share with others, whenever possible, and will feel "blessed" in doing so. For quilters, I wish you plenty of supplies and gadgets and fabric to your heart's content and the space to enjoy making quilts of all kinds, colors, and meaning.

We are so lucky to be living in America, "land of the free and home of the brave." On this occasion, I am thankful for those who serve in the military and in other professional capacities to keep us safe. These brave men and women often put their own lives at risk to protect us from harm. Whatever name you call the Author of the Universe, whether that is G-d, Jehovah, God, Allah or another name, on Thanksgiving all Americans come together for a universal day of thanks to a Supreme Being, for each other and for all of our blessings.

For more information about Sarah Josepha Hale, please visit our website:

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Quilter's Muse Publications Site Expanding

Whether one may want to know more about Japanese design, the former Willimantic Mills, or Hmong textiles, all of that and more can be found in articles on my website. Every day lately, I have been adding more files to Quilter's Muse Publications, adding back and expanding on information that was previously offered before the site was compromised in 2011. We plan to offer additional informative articles, patterns, and special features but the site is already growing and is quite huge again!

"Gulliver and the Lilliputians" Victorian trade card by J.& P. Coats Best Spool Cotton
Read more about this card at in the Willimantic file

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Invention of Santa Claus

American children assume that Santa Claus is timeless and was always present in his current form, bringing gifts to those youngsters who are "good" on Christmas Eve. They do not realize that Santa Claus and all of the details about his life evolved in the 19th century during the Victorian era, the same time period that saw trees being brought into the house and decorated with candles for the first time due to Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert.

"Santa Claus and Birdhouse" quilt made by Patricia Cummings in 1995
from a pattern by Jan Kornfeind

Cartoonist Thomas Nast is credited with providing a popular depiction of Santa in Harper's Weekly on January 3, 1863, during the Civil War. He was the first to show Santa in a red outfit, not the beige one previously popular. The idea that Santa lives at the North Pole can be directly attributed to a poem by George P. Webster titled "Santa Claus and His Works." A mid-19th century poem by Katharine Lee Bates adds a Mrs. Claus in her work "Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride."
("Goody" comes from "Good Wife," a common early term).

The idea of St. Nicholas bringing toys in his sleigh can be linked to a poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," better known as "The Night Before Christmas," published on December 23, 1823 in the Sentinel newspaper in Troy, NY.

The history of St. Nick, Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, or Sinterklass is deeply entrenched in European traditions. One can read more at:

Friday, November 13, 2015

Women "Voted" with Their Needles

Not until the November election of 1920 were American women allowed to vote in a federal election. The story of the Suffragettes is well-known. They gave their time and efforts so that all women could experience the same freedom as men by casting their ballots, thereby letting their voices be heard. During the previous centuries, women often relied on their needles to silently express their political preferences. I decided to re-enact that process.

"It Takes a Village" quilt made by Patricia L. Cummings, August 2015
photo by James Cummings

Like those women, I am casting my vote silently by creating a quilt that shows my candidate of preference for the 2016 presidential election. The large field of Republican candidates is slowly being whittled down. The Democratic side now offers but three candidates, one of them an avowed Socialist and one a "lesser known" politician. It is exciting to watch debates from both sides of the fence. The one candidate that I can believe in to move this country forward is the woman portrayed on my quilt:  Hillary Clinton. She has the foreign affairs experience needed and also the wisdom of an older woman, a grandmother!

The quilt is machine-pieced, hand-quilted, and features an artist's rendering (by an anonymous source) provided by the last Hillary Clinton campaign.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

War is Personal

War affects all of us, many of us in a personal way. Friends or family have served. Today is Veteran's Day, a day we set aside to honor all living U.S. veterans. Many veterans have seen combat and have suffered the loss of limbs or other horrific injuries, not to mention the loss of their own comrades. We wish them healing in mind and body and we thank them for their great service to our country.

Martin A. Fischer and Betty Fischer Grace, 1940s. Family photo

One of the earliest memories I have is that of meeting an uncle, Martin A. Fischer, who served in World War II in the European Theater and was shot with shrapnel at the Battle of the Bulge. He carried his battle scars with him through life. Not one to tell of the horrors of war, he preferred to entertain his 11 children, and nieces, nephews and grandchildren with stories of all the pretty girls he met in Germany. I'm sure he could have provided a more startling, realistic account of day to day combat situations. Instead, he took those secrets to the grave.

He is no longer here to thank for his service. I hope I sufficiently thanked him during his lifetime. His patriotism and love of country was ongoing, having answered the call of Uncle Sam at the tender age of 17 years old. May he and all of our veterans who can no longer celebrate the day with us today, rest in peace.

Monday, November 9, 2015

"Dahomey Revisited": An African-Inspired Quilt

 A Tribute to Harriet Powers

  by Patricia L. Cummings

African-inspired quilt by Patricia L. Cummings features Benin/Dahomey area images

The quilt shown above was put together in a relatively short time, having been started on January 30, 2004 and finished on February 2, 2004. The backing is a piece of fabric from Senegal, and the layers are secured together with ties of black embroidery floss. The edges are brought from back to front, and sewn down.

The background fabric is black wool, washed it in cold water, and dried it in a hot dryer in order to "felt" it. The pieces of colored wool were purchased as a packet of felted wool which came in handy for creating the design motifs.

The outline shapes of the animals are available in a book: Quilting the World Over by Willow Ann Soltow, (Chilton Book Company, 1991). If you enjoy international textiles, this book is a must-have for your library and worth trying to find a copy even though it is now out of print. The author has added a lot of good history information about the Dahomey area. Additional information about Dahomey can be found online here:

I have used the recommended traditional colors of red, blue, green, and magenta, but have added other colors as well. I have chosen how to stitch each motif as I worked, so each design is sewn on, in whatever way suited me at the moment. Mostly, they are applied with running stitch, or buttonhole stitch appliqué.

I added the cross, in remembrance of Harriet Powers' love of the Bible, and in honor of all of our Black sisters and brothers who have had some cross to bear in their own lives. It is with joy that personal burdens are overcome so that one can  become free from the chains of the past. 

In re-creating some of the traditional Dahomey designs, as set forth by Soltow, I realize that I do not fully comprehend the hidden meanings the images may hold. I have "borrowed" these motifs from another culture, and in that transition, they have become "Americanized," if you will. The images on the quilt originate in the Benin/Dahomey area.

In Always There: The African-American Presence in American Quilts by Cuesta Benberry (The Kentucky Quilt Project, Inc., 1992), the author states that these kind of motifs are "symbolic in nature"... and "represented battles and heraldic devices, illustrated proverbs and transmitted subtle message."

The quilt seen here is a quilt made to honor the work of the late Harriet Powers (1837-1910), a former slave. Much has been written about her. The two known Bible quilts that she made now reside in the Smithsonian Institution and in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. She may have made a third quilt, "The Lord's Supper," which may or may not exist today in a collection. She described that quilt in a letter which she wrote according to the following wikipedia file:


Saturday, November 7, 2015

More about Hexagons

Working with hexagons is a simple and fun process. All that is needed are scraps of fabrics and pre-cut paper templates cut in the shape of a hexagon. Today, we are very lucky to have a company that makes white paper hexagons so that folks do not have to cut out the shapes, one at a time, which is very time-consuming. The company makes these hexagons in various sizes, and although I am not affiliated with them, I like their product so much, so I will tell you the company name:  "Paper Pieces." They sell their products online and in quilt shops.

Portion of a 1930s quilts shows "Nile Green" color "paths" for the Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt
photo by James Cummings

Paper Baste or Glue Baste?

I like the plastic templates sold by Nancy's Notions. They include the 1/4 inch seam allowance needed around the hexagon shape. Paper pieces can be cut out individually or pre-cut papers can be used. The fabric is placed right sides down and edges are turned under, one at a time, and glue basted with a water soluble glue stick. Alternately, some folks like to baste with a needle and thread. After joining the hexagon units and assembling the finished project, remove the papers. If glue was used, spritz the glued areas with water using a spray bottle. Then, carefully remove the softened papers with tweezers.

Where To Begin 

Of course, we start with first preparing the 7 hexagons, one for the center, and six hexagons to add to the center, working clockwise, or counter-clockwise, if you are left-handed.

Sew by Whipstitching

Use a long, thin needle and silk thread or a fine cotton sewing thread to piece the units together. To begin, put two prepared hexagons, right sides together, and whipstitch one edge. Knot twice and cut thread.

Place another hexagon, right sides together, on top of the center hexagon and again whipstitch along one edge and then down the middle of the two added hexagons. Tie off. Continue working in this manner until a “rosette” is formed. The next “row” will have 12 hexagons and can be a solid color to form “paths” between rosette units. The next "row" will be incrementally larger. 

Book Inspires Projects

Janet Elwin of Maine was one of the first to write about hexagons in the late 20th century. They inspired her to make all sorts of projects. This book, Hexagon Magic (EPM Publications, MacLean, VA, 1986) was required reading for the E.G.A. Master Craftsman in Quilting Program.

Information from Sally Ward in the UK

"In the book, North Country Quilts, Legend and Living Tradition (Durham, England: The Bowes Museum and the Friends of The Bowes Museum, 2000) page 12, Dorothy Osler shows a pieced and appliquéd, framed centre, medallion coverlet, in which one of the frames is a Grandmother's Flower Garden setting of pieced hexagons, made by Martha Jackson, circa 1790-1795."

"The earliest hex quilt shown in
Through The Needle's Eye: Quilts of the York Castle Museum Collection, is placed at 1800-1820, although the hexes are in rows, not GFG style, but there are several more in that book that are GFGs, from 1820-1900, and then a pair of GFG cushions dated 1950-60."

Thanks to Sally for sharing these resources.

I have always thought that the term, "Grandmother's Flower Garden" was more of a 20th century description of the 1930s/1940s pastel prints and alternate Nile green "paths" through the “garden.” I can see now that more study is required. Previously, hexagon configurations were called "Mosaic," “Honeycomb,” and other names. We also have the phenomena of elongated hexagons, called "Coffin hexagons," in the UK.

Today, hexagons are enjoying a renaissance. Online resources include a number of Facebook group pages dedicated to making hexagon projects of all sorts. For examples of old hexagon quilts, check the Quilt Index and the Illinois State Museum pages.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Fun with Hexagons!

Hexagons are six-sided geometric shapes that can be sewn together to make patterns such as Grandmother's Flower Garden (popular quilts of the 1930s/1940s). Recently, I bought some fabrics with forest animals. Using a special template tool sold by Nancy's Notions, I was able to easily isolate designs, mark them, and cut them out to apply over (smaller) pre-cut hexagon papers sold by Paper Pieces.

Hexagons in progress in my studio

So far, I have constructed a number of units and am currently "playing," in making more. I have no idea how they will be used, ultimately. Right now, I am just enjoying piecing hexagons together that I have constructed. I am thinking that finished rosette units could be appliquéd to a table runner that is then lined. Or, I could add "paths" between them and create a mini quilt. Those paths would be a cream color or off-white, I believe, not Nile green such as were used mid-20th century.

I have made other projects before using hexagons. "Hexies" are fun! My most ambitious project to date has been the miniature quilt with 1,039 different hexagon pieces, all different except two of them, as was true of the original 1880s quilt I was attempting to reproduce in spirit! It was a "charm" quilt of sorts, or maybe just intended to be a charm quilt but the quilter goofed and added two fabrics that were exactly alike. The challenge lay in collecting that many different pieces of cloth!

We shall see what the current hexies will look like when used to create a finished piece of some kind. Meanwhile, I am just having fun working with 1930s reproduction fabrics and some 1930s authentic fabrics, used as alternate pieces of cloth to the "Forest Frolics" fabrics designed by Heidi Boyd for Red Rooster Fabrics.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

All Soul's Day - November 1

The day seemed a little bit chillier around the edges today even though the thermometer outside reads more than 60 degrees. The weather in New England is changing for sure and on this particular day I am thinking about all who have gone before. Of course, in that category is family, closely followed by friends. The older one becomes, the more often friends pass away, and on this day, "All Soul's Day," I recall them all.

Being a writer, I have been fortunate in the past to have been in contact with folks who have now passed on. Chance brought us together and they were valuable meetings at that. Often, men and women are walking encyclopedias especially those who have lived through hard times and wars and remember the details. I was lucky enough to meet a World War II veteran who was curating an exhibit of Sweetheart and Mother Pillows from the years of the C.C.C. that became not only part of an article I wrote, but part of a chapter in my book, Sweetheart & Mother Pillows: 1917-1945. He is now deceased. I am happy that he wrote his own booklet for his grandchildren about what he did during the war.

Each of us has only an allotted amount of time to live on this earth. It is wonderful when we can share our life experiences with others. It is said that whenever a man dies, he takes a book with him. Some of us who are lucky enough to be writers are able to share at least a small portion of our life story, even if it is just a blurb in the biography section of a book.

I am happy to have written many books from Redwork Embroidery to Quilt Care, from the life of my own father, to the life of an extraordinary quilt historian, Ellen E. Webster. It is a comfort to know that at least some of my books and magazine writings will survive in various library collections and in the homes of individuals, most of whom I shall never meet in person. From time to time, I am still contacted by readers of The Quilter, even though the magazine has been bankrupt and out of print since August 2014.

We never know how (or even if) we will be remembered. That is not for us to understand in our own lifetimes. We can only do our best to contribute to society while we can.

For today, we honor those who have passed before us, recalling good times and trying times, all a part of life. For those gone before, the struggles are over. We are left to make the most of each day that is given us, not taking even one minute for granted. I hope you will take a moment today to think of all the special people in your life and to honor the memory of those no longer here.

November 1 has become the beginning of holiday madness with sales galore, stores competing for your dollars. Take a moment to consider that people themselves are always more important than material goods. Let the holiday season begin, a time of good will toward men and thankfulness for our many blessings.

Happy All Soul's Day!