At Home and Down Under

Where to begin?

Let’s just say that the prospect of three quilting-free weeks has sent me into a patchwork frenzy- yes, even more so than usual. On Wednesday I leave for New Zealand and Australia and my only crafty companion will be my knitting, which is currently the Neutral Domino Scarf, already half complete:


Since sewing projects don’t travel quite so easily I’ve made a particular effort to make some serious progress on my tablecloth and Essay Quilt. In terms of the former, I finished making all 45 of the nine-patch blocks and now just need to sew them together:


As you can see, even when I try to infuse my typically improvisational work with a little bit of method, it manages to veer toward madness nonetheless. I’m fine with this. The navy blue squares don’t exactly hold it all together in the way I originally anticipated, but in the end I prefer this totally scattered, deeply patchworky look- at the very least, I’m resolved to the fact that my work is bound to be a bit more on the unstructured side of things! Even my adherence the red-blue-green-yellow palette turned out to be pretty loose.

As for the Essay Quilt, I managed to finish writing on all of the blocks and they too are now waiting to be joined together:


Trust me, you don’t really know a fabric until you’ve tried writing on it. Not all are equally conducive to this: some were smooth against the pen while others caught on it endlessly and had to be held taught. Furthermore, I included some fabrics which are a little darker or more patterny so the writing doesn’t pop out quite as clearly. I’ve decided that these harder-to-read areas are equally intriguing, like little secrets embedded within the quilt. I’m sure I’ll forget what they say at some point, but I’ll always know that I’m intrigued by every passage that’s been written onto this quilt. Some of the quotations I found are seemingly random or just quirky and odd, while others are quite moving. There are even some that I don’t entirely agree with but included because they at least managed to get me thinking. I added a few books along the way, including D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love and The Rainbow, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Daniel Mason’s The Piano Tuner, and Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice. Here are a few random examples:

“As it is, we must hold to other things, because Death is coming. I love Death- not morbidly, but because He explains. He shows me the emptiness of money. Death and Money are the eternal foes. Not Death and Life.” (EM Forester, Howard’s End)

“I’ve spent so much time these last years wondering what I’m supposed to be… I’m just a slippery antevism– betwixt and between- a student on the ever-shifting border near the wonderful, terrifying new.” (Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love)

“This experience convinced me that there was something that I could do that was really worth while, and it I was not doing it justice by coming around with cameras and recording equipment, as I had on this trip. The Pygmies were more than curiosities to be filmed, and there music was more than a quaint sound to be put on records. They were a people who had found in the forest something that made their life more than just worth living, something that made it, with all its hardships and problems and tragedies, a wonderful thing full of joy and happiness and free of care.” (Colin Turnbull, The Forest People)

“In the fleeting seconds of final memory the images that will become Burma are the sun and a woman’s parasol.” (Daniel Mason, The Piano Tuner)

“Who turned on the lights? You did, by waking up: you flipped the light switch, started up the wind machine, kicked on the flywheel that spins the year. Can you catch hold of a treetop or will you fly off the diving planet as she rolls?” (Annie Dillard, An American Childhood)

In the end, this is really more of a Story than Essay Quilt, though it does combine both fact and fiction. Either way, it’s meant to capture the power of words in their written form, whatever the subject may be. Making this quilt has also given me the rare and wonderful opportunity to search through books that I have loved in the past and rediscovered the ways in which they touched me.

Aside from these more ‘typical’ patchworking endeavors, I’ve expanded beyond my usual interactions with fabric to create baskets. While in an antique store in Concord Center, I came across a woven fabric basket and, naturally, fell in love on the spot. It always seems silly to buy something that one could conceivably make on one’s own, so I took a picture and emailed my grandmother, who is both a quilt-making and basket-weaving expert. She replied that I had stumbled upon ‘rag baskets’ and explained that they are made using strips of fabric, coiling card, and sometimes hot glue. Between this email and some quick web-browsing, I came up with these:



The first one is most truly a ‘rag’ basket since I only used strips of fabrics that I already had, but I bought some new fabrics for the second and third. I tried out different shapes and it’s hard to say which is my favorite, but I’m rather fond of the oval. Apparently rag baskets have been around for a long time and are a relatively well-known creation. I’d never seen them before, but I’m completely in love. They’re relatively easy, not too time-consuming, and wonderfully functional. It’s even sort of meditative work. My one struggle has been finding the coiling cord; I’ve been using rope from the hardware store instead which works just fine though it’s a little less malleable. Sadly, most of our local fabric stores are disappearing (I miss you Fabric Place!) so I may have to get this online.  

I strayed even farther from my typical craft endeavors this week with another little project. Part of the cleansing and cleaning of these past few weeks has been getting rid of the mounds of change that have accumulated in my room, primarily in a hollow ceramic pig. Before organizing my American coins into rolls, I separated out all the foreign/otherwise-interesting currency, only to discover that I had rupees, francs, Australian dollars and even a few coins from the Bahamas. (Since many of these coins are from places I’d never been, they must be hand-me-downs from my Dad’s business travels).  Anyway, I decided I should do something with these ‘special’ coins and as a sort of tester project, I came up with this:


Coins seems to lend themselves to a mosaic-like setting, so I used an old wooden frame and some crazy glue (which is scary stuff, by the way) and arranged the coins inside. I was considering using it as a trivet but, as my mother pointed out, the coins themselves would get very hot. In the end, I may hang it on the wall of my new apartment; not everything has to be functional after all! I have many more coins (and my Dad just added to the collection since his return from China) so I’d like to make one larger one. Sorting through my collection, I’ve been rather surprised at how beautiful currency can be, including everything from pictures of sailboats to dragons and multi-colored metals. Blending them all together into a single piece feels like a hopeful gesture that brings these different locations and cultures a little closer together.

It’s no coincidence, of course, that the Australian dollar coin is in the middle; my mind has been very much on my approaching travels. However, at the same time, my heart is still rooted to home, especially given the patriotic aura of the 4th of July holiday weekend. Naturally, this week’s nine-patch is in honor of this day:


I have also cheated a bit and made the next three weeks’ nine-patches ahead of time since, as much as I love quilting, I don’t want to lug my sewing and fabric supplies across the globe with me. One of these patches is a rather obvious tribute to the continent I will be visiting. The Australian flag is also red, white and blue so this patch might look a little familiar, but the central square is cut out of Australia from a fabric that shows a map of the world (the continent is actually labeled “New Holland” on this map; apparently that’s another name for Australia):


The other two patches are in honor of two very important men in my life who will be accompanying me on this journey; my brother, Gordon, and boyfriend, Kyle. Gordon’s patch is a sort of mini-version of his plaid quilt, while Kyle’s uses the kinds of classic blue and striped fabrics that he tends to wear (basically, he balances out my proclivity for a wardrobe that is full of as much color and pattern as possible):


My final patchworking project of the week is also in honor of both home and abroad, but above all else family. Encouraged by my last successful bread-making effort, I decided to try a recipe for Swedish Rye bread (­­­­also known as Limpa ) that has been in my family for many generations. I got the recipe from a book made for my mom by her mother, but it originally comes from her Swedish grandmother (Grandma Dahlberg) and therefore my great-great grandmother! My grandmother wrote the recipe out by hand in a beautiful recipe book so the whole bread-making process felt that much more intimate:


It’s a very interesting recipe that calls for beer (though my great-great grandmother apparently didn’t use this), molasses and orange rind, and results in this lushly rich, dark brown bread that’s moist and delicious:


One of the loaves is brushed with water and corn syrup for a softer crust which explains the color difference.  It’s an amazing feeling to carry on a tradition that has been passed down between the women in my family for so long. I can only hope that my own favorite recipes (not to mention my quilts) will one day wind up in the hands of my great-great granddaughter.

It is in this state, anchored to my home and family but excited to take in somewhere entirely new, that I leave for what is hopefully an amazing trip. Yet it goes without saying that my patchworking, in mind and in practice, is never far behind.


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Filed under cooking, history, knitting, quilting, Uncategorized

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