Thursday, December 22, 2016

Scrapbooks and Ephemera, Part Two

Ephemera n.  1. Anything short-lived or transitory.  2. Such things collectively: a writer of ephemera.  3. Items, as pamphlets, notices and tickets, originally intended to be of use for only a short time, especially when preserved as collectibles.  (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary,  1991)

I want to bring to light a little about Theodore Langstroth in regards to scrapbooks.  Langstroth assembled his scrapbooks in 1975-1978, after retiring from a career as a dye chemist, spending the bulk of his adult life in Cincinnati, Ohio.  He must have collected material for his scrapbooks long before his retirement, and also must have had great connections in order to secure the paper and images in his stash.  Read more about him here, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County has most of his scrapbooks.  Some images from his scrapbooks may be seen here.

A few of Langstroth’s scrapbooks reside elsewhere, I had the good fortune to catalog a few of his scrapbooks for a former employer.  While researching his life back then, I discovered the insightful observation that Langstroth saved whatever needed saving.  He latched onto subjects that no one else thought were significant.  Now, these collections are treasure troves of information.  He collected not only subjects such as color lithography, art on stamps, Price and Bonnelli's Greater New York Minstrels Showboat, the Boss Washing Machine Company and the use of flags on envelopes in the Civil War; he also collected items on individual people: Hiram Powers (sculptor), Blondin, the hero of Niagara Falls, artist Fannie Manser and Joseph Boggs Beale.  Not exactly household names anymore…

Information on Langstroth from John Fleischman, “The Labyrinthine World of the Scrapbook King,” Smithsonian Magazine, Feb. 1992.

Next time, I’ll introduce you to Joseph Cornell before I tie all of this together.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Hollyhocks in December

An extra post this week, as I am excited about my hollyhock dyed silk!  I was expecting some deep red-violet colors, instead I got this:

Interesting gray-green shades; color I thought was not possible without an iron modifier (something I have not tried yet).  I used flowers from a "black" hollyhock that I started from seed.

Maybe the red-violet color that was indicated in the book could be achieved with flowers from true red hollyhocks.  I will plant both red and black hollyhocks in 2017.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Marigolds in December

On this bitter cold and snowy day, I'm cooking up some fabric!  I saved some marigold flowers at the end of the gardening season, and I am just now getting around to dyeing with them.  

I am pleased, a nice variety of shades just by using different silks (dupioni, noil, organza, habotai, etc.).  There is a pot of dried hollyhock flowers on the woodburner right now, I'm hoping for some deep purple-red shades.

Speaking of cooking, I've wanted to rant a bit about a book I recently read on being a creative artist.  I'm not going to reveal the author, I'll keep this anonymous.  The author devoted an entire page in this book on why she hated to cook.  Her complaint was that it took away from her painting time, and that painting was all she wanted to sustain her.  I get it that is sometimes troublesome to stop progress on an creative project to take care of chores and yes, even basic needs.  But, we have to take care of ourselves, not just in satisfying our creative impulses.  I wrote a related post on this quandary on August 25, long before I read the book I just described.  Creativity should filter through to all aspects of our lives, that is one reason why art matters.  What ways can you foster more creativity in your everyday routine?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Scrapbooks, Part One

If you’ve been a frequent reader here, you’ve likely noticed my fascination with bits and pieces – scraps.  Not just scraps of fabric, but scraps gleaned from research projects, bits from the lives of others (my auction addiction) and so on.                        
I have a great appreciation for antique scrapbooks from the late 1800s and early 1900s, having had the opportunity to view some stellar examples in a couple of libraries where I used to work.  I have not really jumped into the contemporary scrapbooking trend, though I do have a couple of sketchbooks in which I keep clippings from assorted sources for creative inspiration.  Assembling a scrapbook of this nature is a great way to have a steady source of ideas in one place.  The creative-type scrapbook is also a way to condense piles of magazines.  Pull out the articles you want, (making sure to note the title and date), get rid of the rest.  Don’t be afraid to add anything else that inspires you: advertising graphics, literary or music quotes, names of artists to study, whatever strikes your fancy!

Earlier this year, I acquired a box lot of paper ephemera that was definitely the remains of a disassembled late 1800s scrapbook.  At that time, “chromolithography, die cutting and embossing unleashed a flood of cheap, brightly colored scrap [commercially printed paper],” made specifically for the scrapbooking hobby then.  (John Fleischman, “The Labyrinthine World of the Scrapbook King,” Smithsonian Magazine, Feb. 1992.)

Personally, I think that the 1800s printed scrap papers are much better in quality and innovation than the scrapbook papers churned out today.  That said, most of the 1800s scrapbooks that I have come across at the antiques shops and markets are just page after page of litho pictures, nothing else.  Rare is the one that has a clear theme and/or includes text of any sort. 

I picked up these small volumes at an outdoor market this year. 

They consist entirely of newspaper and magazine articles on a single subject.  The dealer had a large boxful of them.  I selected volumes titled Color, Wool, Textiles, Vegetables and Fruit.  Sadly, most of the articles lack a source and date, but from the few dates that I found in them, the books were assembled between 1920 and 1957.  They are a fascinating insight into the midcentury decades, and I love the idea of keeping personal groups of related articles.

These little scrapbooks raise many unanswerable questions though.  Did the individual who made them intend for them to say something about that person after they passed on, or were they solely intended for their maker’s lifetime?

Later on, I will profile two tremendous collectors of ephemera: Joseph Cornell and Theodore Langstroth.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Pillowcase binding

Not a very exciting topic, but I've had several requests to post instructions for pillowcase binding.  I'm not a fan of the traditional bias strip edge bindings for quilts.  The pillowcase technique suits my style now.  Here's what you do:

1. Cut batting and backing fabric same size as quilt top.  Partially quilt the top and batting together, just enough to hold the two layers together.
2. Place backing fabric onto the top/batting layer, right sides together.  Sew 1/4" around the edges, leaving 1/3 of one side open.
3. Trim corners and excess batting from edges.  Turn right side out, iron.
4. Stitch or fuse the opening, quilt as desired.

There, that is the quick version!  For this collage, I am creating a three layer quilt base that the actual collage will be attached to at some point.  Here is the base in progress, with the collage to the right of the sewing machine, showing that it is clearly not being included yet in the construction.
I have to quilt the base layer again, and then decide if I want to attach the collage now, or do some more work on it.  I need to think about this for a bit.

Yes, that is a vintage Singer 201.  I LOVE that machine, a sturdy workhorse!  I am one of those people who names their sewing machines, this is Grace.  I found her at an estate auction, and I can prove that I am the second owner of this machine.  Grace was the first name of the machine's first owner.  I never knew Grace, but she took great care of her sewing machine, and I am honored to be the next owner of her treasured Singer.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


Progress on the collage has not been made yet, I do not have backing fabric yet!  I have found the lost quilt that I mentioned last time.  The search for that one has taken much of my time that was supposed to be spent sewing.  Now I can move forward.

I'm still debating how to put together the purple collage.  I continue to be somewhat mystified at quilt shows by the multitudes of viewers who have to see the backs of many of the quilts.  Yes, I get it that even stitches and so forth are an important part of good craftsmanship.  However, for an art quilt that is hung on a wall, should the back matter so much?  No one, no one, at an art gallery or museum asks to see the back of a watercolor or oil painting.  If anyone did, they'd be escorted out of the place.

It is important for my hand stitching not to come undone - I always end up with lots of knots on the backs of my quilts.  

I don't want the embellishing to fall off!  There is only so much I can add before I have to quilt, and some of my embellishing cannot not sewn over.  I have to add things after quilting.  
This (above) is the back of a small quilt collage that was completely embellished before I pillowcase bound it and quilted it with just four lines of decorative machine stitching (horizontal and vertical axis), and added a scant few decorative stitch flowers here and there.  The thread ends are hidden,  it is still technically a quilt, but not likely to be acceptable in quilt show judging.  The machine didn't like having to deco stitch over some of my embellishing, more points off for uneven stitches!
On this one, I did all my stitching through all three layers.  Since there is so much happening, the awkward knots and undersides of the hand stitching do not seem all that bad... the batik print helps to distract from the ends as well.  However, would this pass muster in a quilt show?  I wonder how much the back matters to the average non-quilter (potential) buyer of my work.

I am leaning towards options of finishing my collages that would disqualify them as quilts, but would result in a better looking back.  I'm not much for entering quilt shows anyway. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Getting Sidetracked

Despite what it appears, I have added a few pieces to the collage.  I had intentions to add more in time for this post, but I realized that I have to quilt this thing at some point.  Right now, it is only a top layer, with no batting or backing.
image copyright RPS, please do not repost

The stitching of the three layers to make my collages (technically) into quilts is a struggle for me.  I don't want the quilting to dominate the design and I tend to neglect this crucial step until I have embellished to the point were there is very little chance of me stuffing the mess under the presser foot of the sewing machine.  Not to mention at that point, adding quilting would flatten the fabrics, ribbons, etc. that I attach to come up off of the collage surface.  This piece will be be an experiment in minimal quilting in the currently open areas of purple base fabric, then back to the embellishing.

So, my next plan for this post was to dive into instructions for pillowcase binding, as requested from several customers of mine.  I have not found a piece of backing fabric to suit me, despite tearing through the fabric storage room not only in search of backing, but also on a quest to locate another half finished collage quilt that I want to finish soon.  It has been one of those weeks.  Time for a trip to the local quilt shop...