Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year!

As I write this blog on New Year's Eve, I am reminiscing about my family of origin and its holiday traditions. One of those centered around the "New Year's Baby" who brought a pile of bright shiny new pennies and left them on the fireplace for the children to find on New Year's Day. The pennies would always have the new "year" inscribed on them. My Dad worked in a Credit Union and probably that accounts for his early accessibility to the latest issue of coins. The pennies were meant to bring good luck in the New Year!

My mother was a cake baker. Her favorite cake to make was a recipe called "Happy Day Cake" - just a plain white cake that could be decorated in any manner one saw fit depending on which holiday we were celebrating. She liked to purchase little decorations of various kinds to place on top of the frosted cake. No holiday would be complete without a cake baked by Mom.

New Year's Day did not mean the end of the holidays for us. We all knew that the Epiphany or "Little Christmas" was still to come on January 6, a day also known as the Feast of the Three Kings. It was not until recently that I realized the symbolism involved in the gifts to the Christ Child brought by the Three Kings:  frankincense, gold, and myrrh. Incense was used by the high priests; gold was a symbol that Christ was born a "king"; and myrrh is a fragrant gum resin used to prepare certain perfumes used in funerary ceremonies. In this case, it was meant to symbolize that Christ was born to die in order to fulfill a divine plan.

I hope that wherever you are and however you welcome in the New Year, you are safe, happy, and looking forward to positive experiences in 2016! We all have so much for which to be thankful, including the gift of life itself. Enjoy the celebrations!

Happy Trails to you in 2016!

Patricia Cummings

Saturday, December 26, 2015

On Quilting: An Essay

As far as I know, none of my ancestors were quilters. After spending many years engaged in other needlecrafts, mainly embroidery, I came to quilting around 1985 when a quilt shop opened in my city. It was love at first stitch! Now, 30 years later, I cannot imagine what my life would have been like had I not become an avid and active quilter. There would have been no trips to quilt shows, no sewing late into the night, no perusing quilt magazines to see the latest tools and quilts, nor would there have been any quilting companions. In no time at all, I gave up my "day job" to become a full-time quiltmaker, learning all the "tricks of the trade" and working steadily for 9 years to become certified as a "master craftsman in quiltmaking" through the E.G.A. program.

Two concurrent activities occurred. I began collecting every book I could find on the subject of quilts, not just pattern books, but books about state documentation projects and books about quilt history. Lo and behold, I bought an antique quilt top as a "study" piece. After reproducing it, I offered an article about it to a magazine and the editor loved it (and published my finished quilt along with directions for making it). I came to love antique quilts and began writing about them. For 15 years (until 2014), I had my own column in a magazine and wrote for other magazines as well, meanwhile writing a number of books.

Antique quilts are charming! They can be tattered, having been well-loved and well-used, but they retain a certain charm. Like children, we do not love them because they are perfect; only because they "are." In fact, imperfection is one of the expected and accepted qualities of anything aged. We accept the wrinkled face of our grandmother because we known that she has earned every line. We appreciate the nicks and scratches of old furniture, proof that a piece has had a former "life."

When we look at an old quilt, we sometimes want to imagine how it looked before it became faded or torn, before a mouse chewed a hole in it, or before the binding became so war-worn. Yet, we can look at that same quilt and simply marvel at the wonderful and tiny hand-quilted stitches or the fine appliqué, or exquisite Redwork embroidered motifs.

A favorite vintage quilt has a rather frayed binding 

Bed quilts, due to their utilitarian nature, are often not well-cared for. That trend seems to be changing due to the current emphasis by institutions such as the International Quilt Study Center to share quilt care information with the public, and books (such as my book, Straight Talk About Quilt Care). Ever since the 1960s when the first quilt exhibition happened where quilts were displayed vertically, and the subsequent 1971 pivotal exhibit of Amish quilts at the Whitney Museum in New York, quilts have been elevated to a new dimension of fabric art.

I am happy to be a quilter at this point in time when quilts are seen as the art objects they truly represent. Any time color and design come together, art is created, a fact somewhat taken for granted over the centuries, it seems, where quilts are concerned. Today, we live in a world of abundant color and design as new quilts are being made, sometimes inspired by quilts of the past and in other instances, brand new designs. It is a blessing to feel part of a greater community, the "quilt community." And, the Internet is greatly responsible for helping like-minded folks share their love of the art of quilting, as well as antique quilts. Quilting changed my life. I cannot imagine not being a quilter.

Happy Quilting!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Christmas Postcard - World War I

A cottage industry emerged in France during World War I. Skilled needleworkers used silk threads and silk ribbon to create amazing pillow covers but also postcards that military personnel could purchase and send home to a loved one. Some of the postcards were more colorful than others and many carried a heartfelt message.

"Joyeux Noel" World War I postcard shows holly and a beribboned basket

The postcard I am showing here today says "Joyeux Noel" ("Merry Christmas" in French). Many of these old items show some age stains, as does this one. When it was new, I am sure it was sent with much love and received with great gratitude. Note how the leaves are artistically "shaded." A lot of thought was put into this simple design!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Comfort in Piecing Traditional Designs

For my latest quilt, I chose a traditional quilt pattern known as "Puss in the Corner," a variation of "Nine Patch." The quilt is inspired by a class on that I participated in recently with Pepper Cory as the instructor. I had not taken a quilt class in years and thought the class about using scraps would be very fun. It was!

"Puss in the Corner" quilt by Patricia Cummings, finished on December 13, 2015

I chose yellow and orange fabrics as well as muslin-color polka dot fabrics and other fabrics, all of them with their own special visual texture. The machine quilting, done by Tracy Szanto of Dreamland Machine Quilting in Penacook, NH, also is closely-wrought, adding even more texture. The batting is Quilter's Dream poly batting. The photo somehow does not do the quilt justice because it does not show close-ups of the interesting fabrics that were chosen for the centers of each block.

The process of making this quilt was very fun. I loved choosing fabrics from my stash and pulling together unlikely candidates that otherwise would not seem suitable to "live" in the same quilt. The variety of fabrics include batiks, a hexagon print, some brightly-colored yellow fabric, and two pieces of "Victorian" looking fabric with faces. The quilt measures approximately 42" x 42". As with any quilt, the operative word is "done." Now I can dream about my next project!

Happy Quilting!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Christmas Stocking

The Christmas Stocking

by Patricia L. Cummings
Concord, NH, ©copyright 2005
reprinted here on December 5, 2015

The Christmas Stocking tradition is believed to have originated in France in the 12th century. By one account, three impoverished sisters hung their stockings on a mantel on Christmas Eve. St. Nicholas is said to have thrown a bag of gold coins down the chimney, some of which landed in a stocking.

This legendary tale may be responsible for the gold foil wrapped coins that were a part of our family tradition. The “coins” were actually chocolates and a number of them were contained in a little mesh bag. We would each be given a peppermint candy cane, too. Of course, Santa would place these treats right next to a brand new toothbrush as a gentle reminder to brush after eating sweet treats.

When I was a child in the 1950s, Christmas would not have been Christmas had it not been for the row of stockings hung on the fireplace on Christmas Eve. Luckily, we always lived in a home with a real fireplace, so wondering about how Santa would find an alternative way into the house was not a concern.

Each of the four children in the household had a red stocking with a white “cuff” at the top. I vaguely remember our names being placed on the white area, but not how they had been added. We looked forward to all of the delightful little stocking gifts. During the month of December we all tried to be on our best behavior so that Santa would leave goodies and not lumps of coal.

On Christmas morning we would eagerly retrieve the contents of the stocking. In the toe we would inevitably find an orange, a real treat for us northerners. This piece of citrus delight became part of our Christmas breakfast. For years this seemed to be a unique tradition in our family. Therefore, it was with great surprise that I recently found a quote in A Family Christmas, (Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, 1984) about Christmas oranges. Attributed to Roseanne Russell, the statement says, “The orange has its place you know, To fill each Christmas stocking toe.”

There were always little toys, too. My favorite were the square puzzles that one could hold in one’s hand. They consisted of movable pieces which when positioned correctly, would be depict a giraffe or other jungle animal. My brothers would acquire a new bag of marbles, small metal cars, wooden yo-yo’s or a new bright red bouncy ball (with which to drive my parents crazy since the snow outside did not permit outdoor play of this kind).

The contents of the stocking were not extravagant by today’s standards. There were no cell phones or $100. dollar bills tucked into the stocking. Nevertheless, we all anticipated with joy all the little surprises that awaited us.

Originally, Christmas stockings were of the everyday kind. However, today, some stockings are miniature works of art. They can be quilted, decorated with Crewel Embroidery, appliquéd, embellished, and bejeweled. Each one is the work of someone’s imagination and each one is sure to delight the recipient.

What better gift for a quilting friend that a stocking chocked full with fat quarters of fabric held together with a colorful holiday bow? Small, useful gadgets or tools, or a quilt pattern could be included. What quilter would not like a pieced wooden key ring that looks like a quilt block? Or how about buttons, pieces of antique lace, or skeins of silk ribbon, or specialty fibers for the “crazy quilter” in your life?

A deck of playing cards with quilt images might also please a quilter. If you are “crafty,” you might like to create your own “art quilts” made by altering an existing deck of cards, as is a current trend. Gift shops sell tiny books on various subjects including quilting that would fit into a stocking nicely.

Other ideas for stocking stuffers are gift certificates for a favorite restaurant or bookstore. How about purchasing a large, gold-foiled orange-shaped chocolate with wedges that come in various flavors? Tiny boxes of chocolates are another choice and will fit into stockings, great for those who might like a “taste,” but not a lot of extra holiday calories.

A ring box or other small jewelry box can be tucked into the stocking, as can hair ornaments and bows, make-up, or tickets to a concert. In fact, when you think of it, there are many items, some of which you can acquire all year long for the purpose of giving stocking gifts. Of course, the stocking will be and could be, a gift unto itself!

Christmas stocking designed by Patricia Cummings

The poinsettia is a much loved and highly sought flowering plant during the holiday season. To construct the flower you see here in this Christmas stocking photo, I used actual poinsettia leaves as a model. The flower itself is layered and is constructed with the help of a numbered sequence. Note that some leaves will slide under the edge of others, in which instance there has been a seam allowance added. A black netting overlay, and machine stitching in a technique called “Shadow Appliqué” are utilized. With the fusible fleece serving as a liner, this stocking worked up fast. 

Tradition is so much a part of Christmas! I am happy that Christmas stockings were part of a predictable event in my childhood during Christmas tide. Another favorite tradition continues in my household and that is mother’s “Stollen,” a delicious raised bread which contains candied fruit and is frosted with icing, and topped with sliced cherries. 

In my family of origin, we sang Christmas carols, attended Christmas services, and
gave each other gifts on this feast day. For at least this one day of the year, all seemed right with the world. 

Wishing you a very festive, happy and safe holiday season!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Celtic Knotwork Quilt

Quite a few years ago I made a Celtic Knotwork wall quilt for Christmas which utilizes gold metallic thread around each of the bias strips used to create the design. The embroidery is done with detached chain stitch.

Celtic Knotwork quilt made by Patricia Cummings

It was difficult working with the gold floss as it is stiff and breaks easily. I remember using only 11" pieces of thread at a time to complete the process. I echo-quilted the design with quilting stitches and added a vintage button in the middle of the knotwork. I remember this as having been a labor-intensive project but I liked the effect when it was finished.

Hope you are enjoying the holiday season!

Happy Quilting!