I started work on a new quilt this week. Light colored and relatively small, it will be a departure from the other two quilts I've made in the past 24 months.
"The act of sewing is a process of emotional repair." - Lousie Bourgeois
I started quilting because it is an art form heavily reliant on process, patience and time. I don't keep track of how much time a particular project takes me to complete because the time put into a quilt doesn't matter. To me, I loose myself in that process, so wide reaching and so utterly consuming. Before starting a quilt, I daydream about grids, fabric, patterns. I disappear into those thoughts, work through my half-formed ideas and come out the other end with a nagging desire to make.
This quilt came out of this mess, as a wedding gift for a dear friend. I find inspiration for my quilts in different parts of the world. I am heavily inspired by minimalism, taken by it's emphasis on the beauty of materials. I take the centralized, simple, square piecing from 19th century Amish quilts of Lancaster County, PA. The stitching and it's motif is a technique called a sashiko, a decorative, reinforcement running stitch from Japan. The colors, indigo and white, are also traditional for sashiko.
This quilt is the first quilt I've made that was actually planned and thought about. It's been done and with it's owner for the better part of a year now. I have moved onto another quilt, one with less contrast, smaller stitches and less mistakes. That quilt is for A. and I, a gift to us to sleep under. Even though I'm still doing the tedious work, the hand stitching of a queen sized quilt, I'm day dreaming about fabrics and blocks already, looking forward to repeating the process.
It's been a over a year since my grandfather, William J. Engle, passed away on February 14, 2013. He was 89 years old. I got caught up in my life before I really had the chance to write anything about his passing. My heart still stung with grief when my mother told me on a phone call on a cold but clear February morning. Two deaths in 6 months was too much for me to handle, too much for me to live with. I wanted to be numb, unaffected and so, I was.
When I was 6, maybe 7, my parents and I went to Canada, where my grandparents owned a small cabin, pictured above. I was sitting in the kitchen, at the long dining table, eating breakfast. It was cold cereal with milk, probably something that turned the milk a pale pink or purple. I never finished the milk in the bowl after I ate my cereal; I disliked the little bits of cereal floating in the off-color milk. My grandfather gave me, a young child, a hard time about not finishing the milk. He was upset, repeating "She didn't finish her milk. She should finish her milk." I vaguely remember being ashamed and my parents being dismissive of his concerns. This interaction feels like a small but important detail that helped define my relationship to him.
I didn't really know my grandfather very well and I know only the generally understood details of his life. He was a dairyman and milked 40 cows, everyday, twice a day by hand until the early 1980s. He cared for his children, lost both of his wives in his long life. I can conjure up memories of a quiet man from my earliest years. He was quiet, reserved until the end. He didn't talk too much about his past but enjoyed his present while fishing, boating, hunting, building, fixing, tinkering. I didn't see him very much in my teenage and adult years, as I was out in the world, away from the town I grew up in. I distanced myself from him because I wasn't sure how to have a relationship with him. His life and my life felt very different from one another and I had no idea how to connect with him in any meaningful way.
I realize now, this far from his death and living a much different life than I was a year ago, that I could've actually connected with him had I understood how he spent his life. I know he valued hard work. In the last year of his life, he expressed approval at my interest in agriculture. I would've liked to talk with him about his farm, his cows, his work.
I also realize that the one defining interaction that I had with him, regarding unfinished milk, wasn't really about my personal habit. It was only until recently I understood why he was so bothered by that half a cup of milk poured down the drain that particular July morning. His life was defined by his work and so much of his work was milking cows. He didn't own a modern dairy and he milked his cows by hand for so long, that half of cup of milk represented to him several minutes of his work day. He was insulted that someone could throw away his time like that.
I understand, finally. Every time I have cold cereal now, I finish the milk in the bowl, without hesitation.
As I've previously mentioned, I moved west to Springfield, Missouri to start a dairy farm with my husband, his family and a family friend. While I'll be posting some of my favorite images here, I'll be talking about what we're up to over at MooJuiceCreamery.com. Head on over there to see who we are, what we're up to and what we have to say about that. I'll just leave y'all with these images of Norma (featured), Juli and Dobin and you can read all about the adventures of tearing apart a milking parlor.
I'll admit it: I fell in love with Instagram's immediacy and accessibility this year. It freed up what it meant to make "real" pictures and just allowed me to see and to record whenever I wanted to. I even put together a portfolio of the images that I made while working on a small farm this past summer.
Two months ago, I sold my beloved 2002 Volkswagen GTI. I had been kicking around the idea for nearly two years, hemming and hawing about money, resources, self-image and past decisions. In leaving the life I had for the life I want, I had to let go of so much. I had to let go the person I was, the person I thought I was and the image of my self that I created.
And I had to let go of my car. I had so much of my self-image tied up into the VW, feeling too deeply attached to an engine, to metal, plastic, leather. I made the decision to buy this car when I was but 21 years old because I wanted a cool car, not thinking about the upkeep, the inevitable downhill slide a car takes as it ages. And I couldn't keep up with it. It fell into disrepair. Pulling to the right, balding tires, worn suspension. It was too much; I felt anchored to this car. So, I sold it off to someone who could take better care of it, who could provide the time and money it deserved.
I gave up the ability to move about without asking permission. I gave up a small part of my sanctuary, where I hid and cried and screamed and felt safe. I gave up the long hours behind the wheel, seeking images and places and experiences I needed to have, so that I could feel connected to something other than media. I gave up irresponsible straight-aways at 90 miles an hour, tight mountain curves and the whisper of the interstate. I gave it up so I could, maybe, be present in my life. I gave it up to access something that's more concrete than running away.
A. and I moved west the first week of the new year, against some of the coldest weather I've ever experienced. Packed all of our things, packed the car with ourselves, the dog, a week's worth of clothes and headed away from lives well-established but half-lived. We moved back to his hometown of Springfield, Missouri, a place spread out and wider reaching then the east coast cities I have lived in. Enchanted with the promise of a richer, slower life lived closer to the land, days punctuated by fence mending, milkings, work.
I will not say we landed with grace, nor are things as uncomplicated as we had hoped. We have taken small steps towards the land, the life we want but it is complicated by other peoples' realities of jobs, lives lived, schedules. We are not doing this alone, which requires patience and compromise. It will, however, result in something larger than myself, larger than he and I.
Still, the core of the work that needs to be done is there. Nightly, I find myself in a converted horse barn, face level with cow udders, the hum of a vacuum pump and a pulsator for a bucket milker ever-present. I find comfort in the repetitive work, in the earthy smell of the cows' skin and hair, the classic rock radio station that plays to calm the cows. There, I unclench my jaw, leave behind all the things I cannot control, forget about all things I must do to make a rural life my own. I do the work because it must be done. It is there I find quiet and connection to a history and a world larger than myself.
At the end of March, I had the enormous pleasure of spending time at the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center going through their enormous collection of artifacts from the Perkioman region of Pennsylvania. Candace Perry, the collections' curator, spoke at a local quilt guild's meeting on the quilts in their collection that I was lucky to attend. Seeing the quilts and listening to her speak about them was really inspiring, both as a photographer and as a new-ish quilter. The texture, personal vision and fine craft of the quilts was incredible to see in person and I was really curious to see how they would work as photographs.
Ms. Perry was generous with her time and incredibly knowledgeable about the Center's vast and varied collection. She was very passionate about it and spent quite a bit of time with me picking out artifacts from the collection.
While editing the images, I was drawn to the pictures that used the quilts as two dimensional compositions over the ones with the other objects in them. I really was thinking about the hands of the maker and how to convey details that, to me, fascinate me so much in older quilts. The quilting stitches, the piecing, the minor mistakes and the design of each of the quilts are what I look for when I see older quilts. It causes me to wonder about who that person was, what their life was like and what that work meant to them. I felt including the artifacts was creating a false history that I was uncomfortable with.
That said, I am really pleased with the way the images turned out. I wanted to visually examine the quilts and was trying to find smaller compositions within them. It was important to me to convey the intelligence of their design, the details of the makers' hands and the way the quilts have worn over the past century.
I've only really included the three best images from the 6 quilts that I photographed. I've created a separate gallery on flickr that contains more images that I highly recommend you take a gander at.
I have had much luck with rented houses' landscaping and previous owners' taste in flowers. At the other house A. and I lived in, we had two roses bushes that produced fat, fragrant blooms in a light, warm yellow and a deep, rich red. These picturesque daffodils came out of our current backyard, all cheery and bright.
I recently (finally) got around to putting together The Stash, which I am pretentiously calling A Curated Collection of Vintage Housewares, Accessories and Miscellany. Check it out, tell your friends and let me know what you think.
Over the past few months, I've been really considering the stuff that populates my life. For a long time, I spent my spare time buying things because buying stuff feels really good in a consumer culture like ours. I could make comparisons between hunting, something stalking it's prey or whatever but I'll spare you that. I had (have) a thing for old stuff, beautiful stuff. As a result I have ended up with a glut of old things, sitting around, taking up space. I have been learning to let these things and how to sort them into valuable and not valuable. It has freed up physical, emotional and psychological space in my life and I feel like I am moving forward.
The Stash is way for me to turn around all the stuff I've purchased into a small income in order to dig myself out of my debt from credit cards and school loans. It's not much but it's better than nothing. I've made one sale and was featured in a really lovely treasury, which is pretty encouraging, considering I haven't had much of chance to promote the shop.
It was also really fun to spend time photographing all these items to really show off what it was about them that I really loved. I think they turned out wonderfully.
I recently was given the opportunity to publish images of Virgin Mary shrines in Strongbox Magazine, a fabulous, free online photography magazine. It was rewarding to revisit these images, as I hadn't really looked at them as a collected whole in a long time and I am pleased with the edit I came up with.Go check it out. Tell all your friends!(Life moves on here, day by day. I am immersed in other projects outside of photography right now. When the weather clears up and I am working again, there will be more regular updates.)
While I have made quilts in the past, I've always just sort of winged it. Sewing together whatever was there, haphazardly, to make larger pieces of fabric for a specific use. I recently found myself enamored of this particular medium, because I like the emphasis of the grid, the use of color to create composition on a 2 dimensional plane. The grid for quilting is very much like the one used in photography; broken up and rearranged, it becomes a space for subtle self-expression and play.
October has come and gone this year and as always, there were pierogies rolled, stuffed and pinched. We have already eaten through the stash I brought home, eaten them pan fried with butter and onions (or leeks), tossed with seasonal greens, with a side of local sausage.
I want to talk about how incredibly important pierogie weekend was this year, to write eloquently about how even though my grandmother is gone, she is still there with the family when we get together. How she holds us together, even in her absence. I want to explain to you, dear reader, how strange and bizarre it was to go through her sewing room's contents, her jewelry. To be in her house, without her there and to think about how we live our lives and the things we carry with us through it.
But I am not up for the emotionally draining task of opening myself up like that to a blinking cursor and an audience. I miss her terribly, in such small ways. Largely, I don't think about it but when I do, it is sudden and the memories are an assault to my calm, causing me to crumple into a ball of sadness and tears.
And I can't do it today. I have mending to do, laundry to fold, projects to work on. I can't give myself over to the process of my grief today.