Tuesday, September 20, 2022

An Antique Crazy Quilt for Catoctin Mountain National Park


(Above:  Detail of an antique crazy quilt which includes a campaign ribbon for President Harrison, dated 1892.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

It was the very week that I learned of my acceptance as this year's artist-in-residence for Catoctin Mountain National Park that I received a box of antique quilt blocks from a Facebook friend.  I've never met this wonderful lady but I am totally grateful for her generosity.  She sent me thing her mother collected decades ago because she was downsizing in order to move closer to her grandchildren.  I was absolutely floored when I saw four special crazy quilt blocks.  Basted together but without more than a few inches of decorative stitching on only one block, these pieces included dated ribbons.  Every date was in the 1890s.  In the quilting and needlework world, this has to be the longest waiting UFO ever.  (A UFO has nothing whatsoever to do with aliens!  It stands for UnFinished Object!)  Immediately, I knew that putting these blocks together, stitching them during public engagements during the art residency, and donating the finished piece to the National Park's permanent collection was what I was going to do!


(Above:  Presentation on quilting at the Thurmont Regional Library on Saturday.)  

The Catoctin Forest Alliance (a non-profit organization that promotes and fund-raises for special Park activities and projects) arranged for me to present quilting at the Thurmont Regional Library on both Saturday and Sunday.  I imagined that people visiting the library would drop by for a few moments to see the project, talk about quilting (traditional, crazy, and art quilting!), and learn about learn about the enormous amount of textile waste in landfills ... which really would have shocked late 19th and early 20th century quilters who repurposed fabrics instead of buying new!  That's not what happened!  Instead, the ladies who came pulled up chairs and stayed for two hours!  We talked about EVERYTHING from quilts to inspiration found in nature!  It was wonderful!  One lady even drove up from Baltimore!


(Above:  The crazy quilt blocks arranged on batting with scraps of lace and a few little doilies ... basted together with bridal tulle over the entire surface.)

So ... to back up a bit.  I took the four crazy quilt blocks and arranged them on a piece of traditional batting.  Scraps of lace and a few doilies and snippets of crochet were added to hid where seams would otherwise be stitched to transform four pieces into one.  I didn't dare attempt to machine stitch them together.  Several pieces of these rather exotic fabrics are very fragile, especially the silk.  To protect them, I placed a piece of sheer bridal tulle over the entire surface.  Underneath, I put an old damask tablecloth.  Then, I carefully basted the layers together ... every four to five inches, both vertically and horizontally. 

(Above:  The crazy quilt on a PVC quilting stand ... ready to go to Catoctin Mountain National Park.)

My plan was to staple the piece to a 44" stretcher bar in order to stitch it.  This plan was flawed though workable.  If done this way, I wouldn't be "self contained" for my presentations.  It really would have been a problem on the earlier Friday afternoon when I was on the Park's Visitor Center porch.  I needed a quilting stand.  Miraculously, the weekend before I left, a nice local lady dropped by to donate some of her deceased mother's fabric-related things.  One of them was this wonderful, never before used, PVC quilting stand!  My crazy quilt was READY TO GO!  That's how I took it to the library on Saturday.  To my amazement, the library's porch had two nice tables for my use.  So, for Sunday, I took the piece off the PVC stand and stapled it to the stretcher bar.


(Above:  The quilt presentation at the Thurmont Regional Library on Sunday.)

This was particularly nice because one of Saturday's guests returned on Sunday with a friend.  The entire surface of this antique piece is now visible.  It's also good for me!  I've been stitching on this piece every evening since my arrival.  The middle part is largely finished.  Stapled to the stretcher bar, the edges are close at hand.

(Above:  Inside my chestnut log cabin.)

I've arranged the picnic table inside my provided chestnut cabin to accommodate both my sewing machine and the crazy quilt.   I'm sticking to my plan!  Fiber vessels during the afternoon and hand embroidery on the crazy quilt in the evening.

(Above:  The antique crazy quilt in my cabin.  View from the picnic table bench.)

I absolutely love stitching on this piece.  With any luck, I'll finish the embellishments before I leave.  At home, I'll trim it to a proper square, add a false back, bind it, and add a hanging sleeve.  Then, it will be sent back to the Park.  It truly is my privilege to honor the intention of the late 19th century anonymous maker.  It brings the past into the present and the donation will take it into the future.  Below are detail shots.  I didn't put the pieces together but the embroidery is all me!

There are several hand-painted handkerchiefs and six dated ribbons.

1 comment:

Ann Scott said...

This entire post is fantastic. As you say when you are gifted certain items at times - Serendipitous!