Saturday, May 16, 2009

So, Sew Retro!

I was at the Scripps College reunion a couple weeks ago and, looking up from my lonely enjoyment of the excellent hors d'oeuvres at the president's reception, caught sight of a young woman from the class of 2004 who was wearing a beautifully retro dress with a tight fitting bodice and a full, gathered skirt.

"I love your dress -- it's so retro!" I don't find it very easy to talk to strangers, but now and then circumstances will move me to burst forth before I've a chance to think. In order to excuse my intrusion, I mentioned that lately I'd been looking at a lot of vintage patterns online. And as it turned out, we both sewed (though she hadn't made the dress she was wearing), quilted, and had been involved in homeschooling. (I'm a retired homeschooling mom; she grew up as a homeschooling student.) So it turned out to be one of the most interesting interactions I had during the whole weekend.

I've always thought that clothes from the past were more interesting than contemporary fasion, but until I started poking around the Internet, I had no idea there were so many people sewing vintage patterns. One of my favorite sites is Sew Retro, a blog to which many sewing bloggers contribute, often linking back to their own blogs for additional pictures and sewing details about a particular project. I love seeing how they've solved various sewing problems, and seeing how their fabric and color choices can totally change the "look and feel" of a vintage garment design. However, I sometimes feel a little odd when one of the bloggers is raving about having scored a fantastic vintage pattern from the 1970s on eBay. Vintage? Um, I think I have some of those in the bottom of my pattern bin. (And as far as I'm concerned they can stay there. The '70s were an ugly decade.)

Another site I've just begun exploring is the Vintage Sewing Patterns Wiki. Each entry features a picture of the pattern envelope and, if available, links to reviews of or blog posts about the pattern, and a gallery into which members can upload photos of the garments they've made from the pattern. Patterns are catagorized not only by brand name and number, but also by type of garment (i.e. dress, jacket, etc.) and even design features such as full skirt, scallops, or shawl collar. A few entries even have a bit of history, such as Butterick 6015 which was a run-away best seller in the '50s. (It's currently been re-issued as Butterick 4790.)

Well, if I can just stop hitting their "View Random Page" link, maybe I'll dig out some of those old patterns and upload them.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

This Spinning Star from Come Quilt With Me caught my eye during Jo-Ann's "50% off quilting supplies" sale. Normally, I'm a template-free, rotary cutting girl, but curved piecing is another story. I love curved piecing, especially since discovering that it's easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy when you do it by hand. But I hate making my own templates, so I thought I'd give this one a try.

Previously I've had very good experiences with Ardco templates. Their metal window-templates are the best ever if you don't mind tracing with a pencil and cutting out with sissors. (They say you can use their templates (which also come in non-window versions) for rotary cutting, but the mere thought gives me the willies.) Since the Come Quilt With Me templates are thick acrylic, I decided I'd try rotary cutting with it and -- gasp! -- machine piecing the block. The little slots should make it easy to mark and join the pieces accurately.

As for fabrics, I haven't decided yet whether to go for modern brights or '30s pastels.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Poetry Quilts

Winter Lights: A Season in Poems & Quilts by Anna Grossnickle Hines.

One of the the perks of my job as a library aide is discovering unusual picture books. This one caught my eye because the author-illustrator is a quilter.

Winter, and special lights and holidays which brighten the darkest days of the year, is the theme of this book of poems. The author's subjects range from Hanukkah to the Winter Solstice to the fireworks of the Chinese New Year to the farolitos which light the way for Mary and Joseph during Christmas celebrations in the Southwest.

I must admit that I preferred the illustrations to the text because my taste in poetry is rather hobbitish and traditional. But I love these quilts! They simply glow with light thanks to the author's judicious use dark fabrics, as in the Christmas tree quilt on the cover. (See above.)

And the piecing techniques which she has chosen for each quilt are also well suited to the subject of each poem. For example, the twisted log cabin blocks which Hines uses to illustrate "Fireplace" and "One Little Candle" bring unexpected movement to her representation of flickering, dancing flames. The aurora borealis is appropriately suggested by the bargello quilt illustrating "A Sight to See." And there is a happy marriage of both color and technique in the author's use of hand-dyes in her appliqued quilt, "Protest," which illustrates the glow of the setting sun in the winter sky and the soft snowy hills.

I would love to show you what I mean by by posting pictures of the quilts I've just referred to, but I am scrupulously respecting Hines's copyright. Fortunately, you can see what I mean by visiting her website, here. Click on the link, "For Quilters" and then scroll down and click on the third book, Winter Lights, to see how she designed and made each quilt. (Unfortunately, the design of the website prevents me from giving you a direct link to the quilts.) Now that I know that she has two other quilt-illustrated books, I plan to look them up at my library.

By the way, one poem in particular resonated in my book lover's soul. It dealt with a furtive pleasure with which I am sure all readers can sympathize.

Lights Out

I pull the covers
over my head
and let out a few snores
for good measure . . .
then snap on my flashlight
and open my book.
Now this is
reading for pleasure!

Be sure to look at the accompanying quilt on her website!