Saturday, March 6, 2010

BARKCLOTH: Don't You Just LOVE ....

BARKCLOTH ??   Don't you just love it?  I think I am addicted :))

If you didn't grow up in the 40s-50s, maybe you haven't had the chance to love it!  YET.  There is just something about the rich heavy cottony textures,  intense colors,  bold designs,  amazing palettes.   Yup, just like any good vintage, it's being imitated today as reproduction cloth..  But it absolutely isn't the same fabric.  Original vintage barkcloth is simply Un-Duplicatable.

If the term "barkcloth" doesn't ring a bell, let me try to describe this scrumptious fabric.  It is a heavy, coarse textured cotton, with the texture said to resemble bark.  (I don't see it, but that's what they say...) Well, most often it was long staple cotton, which gives a cushy soft feel; sometimes rayon was added for sheen.  The fabrics were robust,  and put to every conceivable use in the home.  If you remember tropical fronds in sherbet colors in your grandmother's living room, bright roosters or coffee pots in the kitchen, cowboys on broncos in your grandfather's den, or '50s geometric shapes in odd overlapping layers in your great aunt's dining room, that was probably barkcloth!  It has a heavy, soft drape, and the textured weave gives the design a unique sense of depth.  This pretty denim-blue tropical floral shows a bit of the texture.

I've recently begun collecting this rare fabric, which once was very affordable and found everywhere.  I get a big, warm, happy feeling with each discovery of a new (to me!) old print.  How can this rich farm scene not make anybody smile??

The most fun (and the rarest) are the "atomics"! Yep, that's what they're called.  Layered abstract shapes evoked the very "modern" era of the 50s, defined by fascination with the edges of technology and outer space.  This fascination influenced every aspect of design, and naturally, barkcloth atomic fabrics were very modern and popular!

Once you learn to recognize these marvelous vintage fabrics, you might spot them anywhere.  Especially if you frequent flea markets, junk shops, yard sales, antique malls -- like me! Be warned though -- you may fall in love!!  Even though they are  likely to be the faded and worn remnants of an old curtain or sofa cover emerging from somebody's attic oblivion, and maybe stained and smelly, you'll find them irresistible anyway!

You'll also recognize the happy, innocent feeling they evoke.  In the 40s and 50s personal computers and instant connection to the global community with all its pressures and distractions was barely imagined.  Instead, new technologies on the horizon suggested peace and perfection just might be within reach.  Don't we all long for that hope, that possibility?  These invaluable textiles, these rescued pieces of barkcloth, remain full of PASSION and LIVELINESS and ADVENTURE and HOPE.  I can't wait to begin creating with them, and bring them back to life and purpose.  Come along and visit in my studio, and enjoy these unique fabrics reborn!

                  In stitches,

Friday, December 4, 2009


Who isn't thinking, these days, about Christmas gifts ??

Shoppers and browsers came by in a steady wave last weekend, for the Woodstock Inn Holiday Gift Show.  I had a marvelous time selling pillows and talking with all the wonderful, curious folks who stopped by to take a closer look, ooh, aah, and gingerly touch the vintage needlework.  I had to encourage many to pick up and hug a pillow:  that's what its made for :)

Now, not surprisingly, many confided that they, too, have grandma's vintage linens in their closets.  "I have stuff just like this! What a great idea!", seeing familiar pieces moved out of  the attic and made accessible as everyday pillows.  So, I'm thinking, I could add a bit of encouragement.  Let's get those lovely pieces of handwork out into the light, and stop being afraid of them! Your heirloom linen would make a perfect present for a loved one.  Here's the way I go about making the simplest of pillows, and you can do it too!!

The first step is to clean your piece.  A good soak in gentle detergent is always important, using warm water, and rinse, rinse, rinse.  (If the piece has storage stains, there are special soaks made specifically for vintage linens). I usually splash a bit of white vinegar in the final rinse to neutralize the alkalinity, and if it is a sunny day, hanging to dry in the sunshine is the best bleach.  Never, never wash in the machine, use chlorine bleach, or put antique or vintage pieces in the dryer :)

Press carefully while the fabric is still damp, and then enjoy deciding what fabrics and notions you will want to coordinate with your favorite piece of family history.  You can never go wrong with plain linen, which is my favorite, though there are many wonderful colors and textures available.  You might even have the perfect match with an old tablecloth or vintage tea towel!
As you lay out your fabrics, your pillow will begin to take shape before your eyes.  You will see what design, size and shape your pillow should be, and you can get a pillow insert form from your local craft or fabric shop. Not all inserts are the same, so shop carefully, and squeeze to make sure :)  If you want a feather insert, which makes a denser and floppier pillow,  you may have to contact an upholstery or design shop, and expect to pay nearly three times as much as a polyester fiberfill insert. Of course, you can always shop online, but I like to handle before I buy.

The next step is measuring and cutting.  Yikes!  You're committed now.  For a simple 14" square pillow, I would cut two pieces 15" square.  This gives a half inch for seams all around.  Of course, you want to pay attention to which way the lines of the fabric are going, make your cuts straight along the grain, and if there is a design on your fabric, you want to make sure it is balanced within the square of fabric you will be using.

So, how do you keep from getting those pointy dog-ear corners when your pillow is done?  You trim the corners a bit before you sew.  I use a nifty template, but you can carefully mark and cut your corners by making your own template with a 3x5 card.  The corners are each cut at a very gentle angle - the photograph should help.  If this seems too tricky to you, never mind. Nobody really notices the pointy corners afterward anyway!

I appreciate being able to remove the insert for cleaning, and I DO NOT like zippers in vintage pillows, so I try to create an envelope opening.  Usually this means incorporating the vintage piece as part of the envelope design.  To do this, the precious linen needs to be stabilized, so here I am backing it with the same fabric as the pillow case itself.  I have turned under the edges of the fabric, and will hand-stitch it to the embroidered linen around the edges.

With the vintage embroidered linen neatly sewn to its backing fabric, I have decided where I want it to be centered on the pillow, and have marked it for cutting.  This is the scary part!  It may feel like desecration of a hallowed object, but remember, this is your piece, and you are in fact setting it free from its dark, never-to-be-used confinement!

Before we sew the front and back together, we need to attach the vintage piece to the back to create the envelope flap.  I like to tailor all my seams with a finished french seam.  A serger will do just as well to keep the edges from raveling, or you can simply leave the edges and ignore them, your choice.  A tailored seam is a bit more work, but the result is very nice and tidy, and you will enjoy the confidence it adds in your finished pillow.

Now is the time to pin the two faces of your pillow together, right sides together if you're sewing a regular seam; and right sides out if you're sewing the first step of a french seam.  Carefully mark where your vintage piece is attached, and begin and end your sewing around the pillow on these marks, so that you don't sew the opening closed.  Turn, making sure the corners are fully turned, and press.  Turn under and hem the front edge of the opening.

Now is the fun part of adding buttons, if you've decided to secure the vintage envelope piece with some favorite old buttons.  I find its a good idea to get an idea of how the cover fits the pillow before I mark for the buttons.  Then, it's spacing and measuring according to what looks pleasing to you, and to the design of the pillow.

If you've never tried crochet, it  is easier than it looks. You can even make crochet thread button loops with your fingers, using quadrupled sewing thread!  I simply find some crochet cotton from my stash that matches the elements of the vintage piece, thread it through the fabric to make a loop, and keep pulling loops through with a crochet hook until it creates a long enough chain to fit the button, and then secure it back from where I started with a slip knot, and granny knot. Pull the loose ends of the thread with hook or needle back into the fabric until they disappear from sight.  AND, your pillow is finished!

Well, almost finished.  It doesn't really come to life until it's stuffed!  Go ahead, put that pillow form into it and watch the transformation.  Now, you have a beautiful, new pillow filled with memories of childhood to toss onto your sofa, chair or bed; or, maybe better yet, to present to someone who cherishes the old linens as much as you do.  ENJOY!

I am always delighted to create special orders for you from your own treasures.
Please email me if you would like to learn more.
I also have a few pillows available in my studio
made especially for Christmas.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

what color is orange ??

Think autumn. What color comes to mind? Orange of course!
Pumpkins, squash, turning leaves, sunsets…

As I was going through my cupboards, assembling linens and textiles for autumn projects, there is an array of gold, oranges, and browns. All lovely. Which made me wonder, of course, just what color is orange. And thinking about it, I realized that there is really no such thing!

It was Sir Isaac Newton, I think, bored one winter, who discovered the color spectrum. And to blow your mind, he observed that the colors we know don’t actually exist in the objects we see. They are the perceptions our brains make, based on the reflection of light. We interpret different wavelengths of light as different colors. So, my orange dahlia really has no color of its own?   At night, in the dark, it is truly colorless?   I try to let it sink in: colors don’t really exist…


Apparently, these different colors, that don’t really exist, can influence the body as well. Stimulating the senses, and raising blood pressure. Or calming and quieting our mood. Powerful stuff. So, what about orange? Contemporary artist Wolf Kahn calls orange “blatant and vulgar”. If you want to peek at how some others have reacted, check out more about orange.  What about you? I’d love to know what emotions the color ORANGE stirs in you. I know I’m feeling its energy and liveliness as I begin sewing!!

As the breeze cools the maples on the hill behind the house, and our first frost could be any time now, something stirs in me.  I'm ready to get back to the studio and finish my new autumn pillows...
                                           In Stitches,

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

everything that there is...

I've really been enjoying these old fabrics! The ones I brought out from my cupboard this summer. But, you know, as I started working with them I realized something - almost all the designs come from the garden.
Check this out:

These are collages of my fabrics with flowers from my garden. Neat, no? But it got me thinking about the source for design. We look around. Everything around us. Some of the things we observe seem to calm and quiet us. some stir us. some annoy us. some inspire us. So I wonder... What is it about gardens that inspire so much art?

I love working in my garden when I'm not sewing :> I keep a journal, too, of all the life that goes on in a garden. Once upon a time, I found this and scribbled it in the front of my little garden journal:
"Indeed, almost any garden, if you see it at just the right moment, can be confused with paradise." -from Henry Mitchell The Essential Earthman

I think it describes the unspeakable longing that is deep within us all.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

avocado green...?

Do you remember avocado green??
Those very modern kitchen appliances? Did you love it?

While sorting through my closet of vintage
and designer fabrics, looking for something to make into school bags for a project in Haiti, I uncovered these very vintage cottons... WOW! It took me back...

There's just something about the look, touch and feel of older fabrics. Something welcome. Something homey. And it seems to me the cotton was softer then, too.

Here are some other fabrics I found in my stash...
Distinctively modern in the 1960's.

And check out this print from the 1950s. Can't you just imagine every little girl wanting this in her bedroom? If that was you, please let me know!!

I find it interesting the way styles come and go... And who decides, anyway? What is popular, in time, goes out of style, and we may even laugh about it. Remember shag carpet?? But then it comes around again. What do you think, could avocado become the new lime?....

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fearfully and Wonderfully ? Truly ?

Can you see the stitches in this embroidered dresser scarf? A friend recently gifted me with this, embroidered by her mother Zelda eons ago. Not many of us sit and work quietly with our hands anymore... Do you suppose our souls are missing something in that ?...

Anyway, it surprised me - how moved I felt as I noticed the stitches. Each one was so tiny, and perfect; carefully and intentionally placed. Can you see them? I imagined my own patience erupting, at some point, frustrated at my own clumsiness, and I might never even have finished. But Zelda persevered - providing the world with this small work of art.

I do love to sew, and I try to work with patience and care. And I like to think I'm fairly skillful. I enjoy watching something come alive out of what wasn't there before; there's a thrill when creating with my own hand and imagination. But, I mean, look closely at these perfect, tiny stitches!

It brought to mind Psalm 139 --" You [stitched] me in my mother's womb." Wow!
Each stitch? Really?? Each stitch? You knew what you had in mind? You deliberately created ME with the same care that Zelda took in her stitching??

Most of my life feels like the back side: knots, tangles, overlaps, messy threads. I can't quite get to the real picture. The good part. The finished part.

I turn Zelda's handiwork over and look at the back. It is as neat as the front. It really is!

Is it possible that our Creator God takes the same thoughtful, careful attention to creating? That what feels like a jumbled mess, from my underneath side, is just as intentional as the side God sees?? If one woman, sewing for her family, with cotton and patience, can do this, surely the Lord Creator can too?

I long to join the Psalmist and proclaim with confidence and joy: I am Fearfully and Wonderfully made! May I yield myself to his patient, tender creating, trusting that he is deliberate and intentional, and skillful, and good -- and smile when I feel the pricks of the needle...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Can You Feel It? It's in the air...

I just had to try to capture the sparkle ~ don't know if I succeeded or not....

The drifts, the diamonds,
the crisp clarity...

Can you smell it? Like icicles, when your nose hairs freeze!