Friday, May 27, 2011

Textiles, Italian style

There's been a lull on Pearl the Squirrel, and I confess it's because I've been away. Yup, I just left home for 12 days...the longest stretch in many a year. I was fortunate enough to accompany my husband to a meeting in Italy, and then we stayed on for another week and met up with my daughter and her husband and had an absolutely fantastic time. Aside from getting lost on the autostrade a few times, all went well (we even got bumped up to business class on our flight over and those luxurious seats make it possible to actually sleep—what a fantastic treat!).

In addition to all the glorious scenery, churches, food, etc., I found myself drawn to the way Italians hang their laundry on clotheslines they string ingeniously from window frames, shutters, etc.

I have a real thing for my own clothesline, hanging clothes when using the dryer would be much more efficient. Although I thoroughly enjoy the fact that I'm not spending money or energy when I use my clothesline, there's something about all aspects of hanging out laundry—the way the colors of wet clothes are deep and saturated, seeing fabrics fluttering in the wind, and getting to fold them up and pop them in my wicker clothes basket, often no longer in need of ironing—that warms my textile-lovin' heart.

So I give you my Italian laundry series...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Feed Sacks, Continued

Thought those of you who read the Etsy feed sack post might enjoy a few more photos: The exhibit was sensational and Mike Zahs knows so much...I kept encouraging him to write it down, because it will be a shame if his extensive knowledge is lost. He's obsessive, in the best possible way, and one thing I really loved was that he so admires the women who used every last bit to make sure their families were clothed and comfortable. He's even got a doily crocheted from the strings used to hold feed sacks closed.

Enjoy, and plan a visit to Ainsworth the last weekend of 2012!

This piece contains 561 squares of 134 different sacks.

Feed sack from the 1950s with sailor doll. Sew, stuff, and enjoy.

The Corn of Tomorrow, Today
Border prints above. Some of Zah's 31 new feed sacks below.

One crate full from Zah's collection. He has nearly 50 crates.
Three colorways of a single feed sack pattern
A book of feed sack sewing ideas
A fantastic spider web quilt made with solid and striped sacks
Ainsworth Opera House: tables set for lunch and dinner meal served as a fundraiser

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Case of the Blues

I've always had a thing for blue. When I was young it was hands-down my favorite color. While I'd no longer say that was true (because I can no longer imagine narrowing myself to ONE color), I still find myself drawn to it again and again. So when I got an opportunity to write about indigo, I was pleased, both visually and as a writer.

The article appears in the most recent issue of Stitch. I tell you, I get started researching these things and become so fascinated...indigo has an ancient history as a treasured dye, and like so many textile-related things, affected national economies and policy worldwide. In addition to learning about indigo, I had the opportunity to finally write about shweshwe, a fabric that I've had a real obsession with for quite a few years.

I first encountered shweshwe in one of my favorite quilt shops—Eagle Creek in Shakopee, Minnesota. At first glance it reminded me of an old-fashioned calico. But the minute I picked up the bolt I realized it's another beast entirely. First, the fabric is only 36" wide. The second striking thing is that it's as stiff as a board (it washes up to a lovely softness). Intrigued, I bought a few fat quarters and used them in a quilt I made for my aunt. (The shweshwe is mixed in with many other blue fabrics above. The pattern is from a several-year-old Quilt Sampler. If you're interested, leave me a message and email address and I'll let you know which issue it's in.)

I could find little out about the fabric until I found the folks from Marula Imports at Quilt Market. There I learned that shweshwe comes not only in blue, but red and brown (blue is still my favorite). It was first created by the Dutch and shipped to South Africa for sale, where it was snapped up by locals. In 1980 production moved to South Africa. The Da Gama company, which produces the 3 Cats line (check the back of the fabric for the distinctive logo), is environmentally and socially conscious, providing jobs for many skilled and unskilled workers (it's 40 percent worker-owned) and uses cotton from an emerging South African market. So not only is it lovely, but you can feel good about using it.

The only problem I've had with it is that the dye will run for a long time if not properly laundered. Marula has great washing tips on their web site, along with all sorts of background and other info on shweshwe.

A few years back a friend of my husband's casually mentioned he was going to South Africa and did I need anything. I mentioned my love of this fabric and as it turned out, this non-sewing, pediatric intensive disease specialist ended up visiting quilt shops and learning all about shweshwe. And he brought me back the lovely yardage above. Not sure that he's a converted quilter, but in the end he didn't seem to mind tracking it down for me. What a pal!