Friday, April 30, 2010

A Civil War Doll

A few weeks ago I visited  some antique stores. There was a doll shop nearby. Like many women, I've always had a special place in my heart for dolls--particularly the dolls I played with as a child. This store had every doll you could imagine. 

It's overwhelming to see all the different dolls when you first walk in. Do you see one from your childhood?

My sister loved Kewpie dolls as a child.

As I was talking to the shop manager about quilts, she asked me if I'd like to see a Civil War quilt and doll. Have you ever heard of a Topsy-Turvy doll? When I saw a  reproduction of this type of doll designed by Gail Wilson  a few years ago, I fell in love with it. According to Gail's website, "it's a double-ended doll. There's a black doll and a white doll on either end as it is believed that early examples were originally created during Civil War times for the children of families who often played with their slave children counterparts and so both dolls were represented and probably sewn by black slave women."

[A side note: Gail designed some of the cloth dolls that appear in my first 2 books. I tried making one myself one day but it became apparent that I should stick to making quilts . . . .]

Aren't these lovely?

Here's the antique Topsy-Turvy doll that the shop acquired from an estate sale--it's behind glass and framed with a portion of a small-scale quilt behind it. Sorry, but the lighting was awful and the doll was hanging high on the wall behind glass so I really couldn't get a good photo. I had to stand on a wobbly child's chair to get this one and almost fell over before I was done. Not very smart for someone who's prone to breaking ankles . . .

According to a website on historical folk dolls, these are considered controversial dolls by some with the authentic Topsy-Turvy doll featuring a black doll with a headscarf on one end and a white doll with an antebellum-style dress on the other end. The black doll could represent a maid, slave or servant and the white doll could represent the master's child or the mistress of the house.

"The original Topsy-Turvy dolls were created before the Civil War in the Southern United States on plantations where slavery was prominent. Arguments arise as to whether the dolls were made for the slave children to play with or whether they were made for the white children who lived in the plantation house.

"With one identity on one side and an opposite identity when flipped, slave children could have played with their prohibited black doll and then flipped it to the white doll when the master was around. Others believe that the double-ended dolls were made for white children with the black doll used as a maid for their other dolls."

According to Stephanie V. Siek, this doll "was a mirror of the African-American woman's life. She took care of white children, but had children of her own -- the white child is present when the black child is invisible, the black child is present when the white child is invisible."

Kimberly Wallace-Sanders thinks that Topsy-Turvy dolls were made by the black mammies to represent the two categories of children they took care of: the white master's children verses their own. After the Civil War, the white side of the doll was identified as that of a child, while the black doll suggested the black mammy caretaker.

It's interesting to think about the connection between dolls and quilts from the past--there's so much we really don't know. I'll tell you all about MY favorite collectible doll in a week or two. It's from the more recent past, but there's been a lot of controversy surrounding this one too!

Monday, April 26, 2010


Yesterday I finished the quilting and put the binding on my challenge quilt. Yay! What a lot of fun. It's not my favorite little quilt but I still think it's cute. I needed to stretch myself a bit by working outside of my reproduction "box." I am looking forward to getting another challenge started soon and then it'll be back to 19th century repro fabrics I think!

I really like how the quilting turned out and oh those dots!!! 

I don't ever plan on winning any prizes in a show for my hand quilting--it is just fine for me and it's the best I can do without stressing out too much. I'm not afraid to admit that I try things I am not perfect at--if I waited until then I'd never make anything! A friend of mine said she thought all hand quilting was always done free hand (Lord no!) and so she was hesitant to try it because she was afraid she'd never get her lines straight. I take advantage of tools that make quilting easier and so even though there may be some purists who frown at this--I sometimes use a nifty thing called Tiger Tape, which really helps you learn to space your stitches evenly if you're just beginning. You line it up along the place you want to stitch and then follow the markings on the tape to keep your stitches in line. If it helps, why not use it?

Here's an important tip for those of you who may now become inspired to do some hand quilting for the first time. In the last post I recommended a washable fabric marking pen to mark your quilting lines. (I tried a chalk marker once but didn't like it very much--I get a finer line if I use a fine-point quilt marking pen.) I use a blue pen for lighter fabrics and a white one for marking my dark fabrics. Do not, DO NOT, press your quilt until you are sure that all of the markings have been washed out with COLD water. I have slightly ruined a quilt or two because I was in a hurry and didn't put my glasses on to look closely before I pressed. The pen markings will be set with HEAT and don't come out easily. Be careful and read this.  But it shouldn't keep you from trying this great tool for making your quilting easier.

For quilting stencils to mark your lines, try a stencil from The Stencil Company. They're great.


I'll have to switch the quilts when I get a chance and put my new one on this hanger.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Challenge Yourself

I have a secret I haven't told anyone because I wasn't sure I could keep to it myself. Earlier this year, in addition to my typical New Year's resolutions to lose weight, exercise more, read more, be a nicer person, mother, sister, friend, wife, I made a secret pact with myself to try to be more creative on a daily basis--a challenge. Long ago I noticed a definite link between feeling good and making things. When life is stressful, it's even more important to do things that make you feel good.

When I was working on the book it was easy keeping to this challenge. I was forced to be creative every single day--creativity under pressure I called it. After it was finished and I was completely drained, that became more of a challenge. So I started working on a Dear Jane quilt as another challenge for a little bit. Fun! But then somehow life got in the way and some of the things I neglected while I was so busy working needed to take center stage. Quilting took a little dive for a few weeks.

But I've still kept up with my personal challenge for more than a few weeks now. Some days I write something creative on the blog. Sometimes I'll try to get creative and take photos. Both of those count as creative efforts, believe me. Or maybe I'll make a bracelet from my vast bead collection, write a poem, or listen to my daughter and fix my hair a different way--that last one's a REAL creative challenge for me. Sometimes if I'm desperate I'll go out and just browse through a few stores and perhaps buy a small vase and fill it with flowers and plop it on the shelf. Or change the wreath on the door. All of these count as little creative efforts, I think. And they make you feel so good.

It's fun to connect your creativity to other quilters too. A little while ago I started a yahoo group for quilters interested in connecting with others who also love making doll quilts or small quilts--SmallQuiltTalk. We're a very friendly bunch and we love to talk about the quilts we're making and inspire each other. Every couple of months I design a pattern for a small block and introduce a Challenge for quilters to make a small quilt out of that block.

Pinwheels block--the current challenge

I keep the rules for the challenge simple--there's no need for anyone to create a masterpiece if they don't feel like it, we're not competing with each other. It's just a simple incentive to challenge quilters to make a quilt of their own design from a simple block. We play around with fabric, colors, block layout, borders, etc. to come up with quilts that are unique. Everyone who participates follows the same guidelines and uses the recommended fabric colors if given, but the choices of fabric and block setting will vary from individual to individual. Seeing what each one of us comes up with is the fun part! We'd love to have you join us.

One time last year we had a challenge for a little Scottie dog quilt inspired by this quilt. I'm still working on mine . . .

I think the fun thing about making these small quilts is that there's such an immediate satisfaction when you actually finish your project. There's not a lot of pressure, many in the group don't participate at all, while some participate every time. It's fun to see the creations of those who do make a little quilt and you have to give them all credit for sticking to a commitment to make a little something.

Since I've been feeling a little stressed lately with all sorts of typical family things (teenagers anyone?), I thought it would be fun to jump into the challenge myself. When I give the Challenge I'm often too busy to make it myself. I've made a couple of the challenge quilts but not all of them. Seeing what everyone else had made for this one--Pinwheels--really inspired me. So two mornings ago I cut some new fabric I bought recently, sat down and sewed the blocks. Not too hard. Thought about the layout for a little bit, tried out a few different prints for the borders, and made a little quilt! How easy was that?

I typically don't use brights or contemporay prints in my quilts--I'm more of a 19th-century girl--so this was another challenge for me--to use fabric I liked that wasn't my style. I like it! My daughter loves it and I see her looking at it slowly, taking in all the unusual prints and hope she's thinking "I could do that."

I decided to quilt it by hand because I love the look and the slowness of it all is very relaxing.

I know some think that hand quilting is difficult and say, Oh no, I can't do that! Try it. It really doesn't have to be perfect--you'll get better with practice. Or maybe, like me, you'll find that it won't matter if your stitches aren't perfect. Quirky, childlike stitches are just fine, thank you very much . . . .

A couple of new stencils I bought for little borders.

Use a water soluable marking pen to mark your lines. When you're finished quilting, wash out the lines with a damp cloth.

My all-time favorite quilting thread--YLI.

My favorite is the Light Brown--not too dark, not too light. Almost finished a spool already working on the book quilts so I bought another just in case.

Oh yeah, I needed some new "Springtime" scissors, LOL, so picked them up at the Quilt Fest last week.

I'm loving those polka dots!!

I'll decide on the binding tomorrow and then won't it be nice to have my little quilt finished? Oh my, it feels good already. It matches my kitchen colors too and I have the perfect place to hang it. Where I can look at it and feel good every day.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Quilt Festival Chicago - Part 2

For the past several years the Spring International Quilt Festival has been held in Chicago (Rosemont, actually) and I am lucky enough to live nearby. Very convenient for me and a great chance to see incredible quilts on display as well as vendors galore where you can buy just about anything quilting related and see what's new in fabric, patterns, books and tools. Next year the show will be held in Cincinnati, Ohio and I'm not sure if I'll be able to make the trip. So the fun was good while it lasted. Here are some more highlights:

It's hard NOT to get inspired by some of the wonderful booth displays.


I have to hand it to the shops--they do a great job enticing us with their samples.

I want this little sewing machine! Darn, just a display.

Lots of antique quilts for sale . . .

I should probably try to be more "sophisticated" about all of this, but I can't tell you how exciting it STILL is to see one of my books and the quilts made from it on display. I'm always amazed and sometimes have to pinch myself. Am I dreaming??

I remember attending my first Quilt Festival in 2004--I had just finished my first book for Martingale & Co. (That Patchwork Place) which would come out later that year and I was pretty much in a daze about it all, as you can imagine. Alex Anderson was there signing books and I stood in line for 20 minutes to get her autograph. (My first Quilting Celebrity! Shoot! I forgot my camera!) When it was finally my turn I handed her the book to sign and I think I blurted out something like  "I'm going to be an author too!" I'll never forget the sweet, quizzical look she gave me--I must have seemed like a 5-year-old telling her what I wanted to be when I grew up. Before I could explain--Oops! it was someone else's turn and I slinked away, embarrassed. I'm STILL excited to meet quilting celebrities but now I try to remember to bring my camera and shut my mouth.

Pat Sloan

Paula Barnes of Bonnie Blue Quilts had a great booth.

Kaffe Fassett signing books

Lori Smith

I bought waaaaaay too much fabric, but mostly charm packs, small bundles or fat quarters so it's one way of justifying buying some of each print I see that I like. I need a huge variety for my scrappy little quilts, right? So now I think I really have to get cracking and make something.

Oh, I posted more pictures of some of the antique quilts from the show here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Thrifting Expedition

I took some time for myself yesterday to just relax and browse through a few antique thrift shops. It's been a couple of months since I went over there and it's always fun to see what's new. I had nothing particular in mind I wanted to buy, but I always look for quilts, of course. One time my friend Julia got a really good deal on an antique quilt, so you never know.

I sort of loved this little blue doll cupboard. Didn't buy it. Wish I had more room to display it somewhere. It was kind of beat up and the last thing I need is another project to fix up. Also, too small to display quilts.

One store had a wall with quite a few samplers and I couldn't believe the dates on them until--duh--I realized they were reproductions. Cute, even if they weren't authentic. I made a few cross-stitch samplers myself before I got into quilting.

Dishes or cups? Nooooo thank you; my husband would kill me if I brought home any more, but they were so pretty I took a second look and had to take a picture at least.

I saw this doll quilt under an old doll in a buggy and the shop owner tried to convince me it was from the '20s but I know it was probably made much later--1940s? Just a guess--I'm NOT a quilt historian and I know very little about fabric dating. I walked away but for some reason kept coming back to it until I finally said OKAY quilt, you win. Wrap it up.

I hardly ever see antique doll quilts and usually can't afford the price if I do but this one was cheap and if I don't exactly love it--I do like it a lot. Especially the scrappy patches. The bright colors remind me of Spring. Looks good with my doll cradle even if it's not quite primitive enough.


I bought this old T quilt a couple of months ago (T for Tracy, yay!). Don't they almost remind you of little kimonos? Love it.



So now I have 2 antique doll quilts in my "meager" collection. Who knows what I'll find the next time?

*  *  *

Coming later this week: I'll be at the International Quilt Festival in Chicago (Rosemont) on Friday, skulking about with my camera, won't that be fun? They're moving to Cincinnati next year so this is the last time the Fest will be in my backyard, so to speak.