Somethings Wonderful This Way Came

Somethings Wonderful This Way Came
1970's Vintage Caftan in At Play

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Making New Friends

I had the great honor and distinct pleasure of meeting a wonderful woman this week.  Her name is Carolyn O'Bagy Davis and she is the author of Hopi Summer, chosen this year by ONEBOOKAZ as its winning selection.  Carolyn is also the author of 10 other books including Hopi Quilt, a must read for any quilter interested in historic expressions by Native American women.  Carolyn is a quilter and quilt historian.  It must be said that she is also charming, interesting and a great supporter of all things quilting.  She came to me courtesy of Anna Mary Childs, one of the people who offered up a collection of Steiger textiles to be photographed in Tubac.  Anna Mary told her of my book project and Carolyn contacted me to arrange a brief visit  She's in the middle of a promotional tour for her new book and she stopped in on her way home to Tucson. 

After being gleefully and lovingly mauled by my dog, Tina, Carolyn and I shared some iced tea.  I gave her the 4 minute history of how I became a Harwood Steiger addict and how I progressed from totally uninformed to hopelessly addicted.  It didn't take long to getting around to viewing my collection of Steiger textiles.  As I unfurled example after example, we discussed the history, technology and personal background of Harwood and Sophie Steiger.  Carolyn was full of questions and very good advice.  She asked all the right questions and suggested all kinds of new avenues to explore in developing the book and in finding the right publisher.  It pleased me to no end that she kept oooooing and ahhhing as one Steiger design after another was revealed.  I love nothing more than to share my beautiful textiles with someone who truly appreciates them, and Carolyn honestly did. 

Carolyn is well connected in the Arizona quilting world.  She told me of her involvement in the Arizona Quilt Project and reminded me that our Centennial celebration is next year.  She suggested that I prepare a presentation on Harwood Steiger textiles for historic, quilt and art audiences.  Good idea, and I do have a presentation in development for Marshall Shore's Vanishing Phoenix talks.  Her visit was all too brief and we didn't even get through viewing the entirety of the collection.  But, in that short time, she inspired me in a number of ways:  book development, presentation, and a Harwood Steiger quilt.

I have always intended on making Arizona Sketchbook into a quilt.  But, now there is a level of urgency about it.  Because I only do hand quilting, it takes quite a while to produce a quilt.  Usually, only one quilt per year.  So, if I want to have a quilt ready for the centennial, I need to get started now.  Responding to the urgency, yesterday I photocopied the fabrics I plan on using, and began to experiment with possible block lay outs.  Two guiding thoughts influenced my experiments.  First, it had to be a simple block.  I want the Steiger sketches to not get lost in the block design.  Second, I had to outline each sketch in brown because the boxes on the fabric weren't any where near predictable.  I chose fabrics in colors that Steiger used.  They are mostly solids or read as solids.  I played around with my little strips of paper for hours and came up with some interesting possibilities.  I welcome your opinion about which best showcases the Harwood Steiger sketches. Maybe you have a block that would work even better.  Let me know.  Please send me some comments.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Finding the Courage to Cut

Every time a new Steiger textile arrives, my husband asks, What are you going to use that for?  He doesn't grasp the concept of a collection for a collection's sake.  Usually, I'll pet the fabric for a while and then carefully fold it printed side in and place it in my special glass fronted cabinet.  The fabric respository is in a darkened room so that sunlight will not fade it, but the collection is easily glimpsed as I work in and around the room.  It's very comforting to me to see them all so neatly folded and stacked.  And, just knowing the Steiger fabrics are safe is enough for me. 

I do have plans for one of the Steiger designs.  It's called Arizona Sketchbook and looks like an assortment of post cards depicting all kinds of interesting things in Arizona:  recreation, towns, wildlife, etc.  I plan to make a quilt out of it in a log cabin Courthouse Steps configuration.  The fabric is brown ink printed on an ivory background and I've already acquired the complementary fabrics in brown, gold, purple and red.  And, just as soon as I finish my Shweshwe Maple Leaf quilt (about half finished hand quilting it) and the Japanese geisha and  bamboo applique top for my friend, Marie (probably the first and last applique quilt I'll ever do), I'll start on Arizona Sketchbook.  But, for the rest of the Steiger fabrics I have no plans.  At least, I didn't have any plans until recently. 

In truth, I've been very reluctant to cut up my Steiger treasures.  I know, I know.  They were made to be used.  My fear is that once I commit to a projecct, that fabric will be gone and I may never see it again on the open market.  The fabrics are becoming scarcer and scarcer and more and more expensive.  But, when I visited Joan (Steiger's niece), she gave me a skirt already cut out in Tumbleweeds.  It's beautiful--- rust background with navy blue ink.  What Joan gave me was a lined wrap around skirt, typical of the 1960's.  It sat in my collection cupboard for a couple of weeks before I took it out to assess what I could do with it.  I ended up reducing the length and turning it into a gathered skirt.  I had enough left over to make a rounded yoke for a corresponding blouse in navy.  I suppose it really is a two piece dress.  It turned out well. 

In years past, I used to make nearly all of my clothes.  My first ambition in life was to be a fashion designer and I tested all kinds of fabrics in all kinds of garments from formal dresses to suits.  i developed considerable skills, but never translated that into a profession or business.  As real life took over, I had less and less time to sew, and like so many, gave into the convenience of ready-made clothing.  My success with Joan's already cut out skirt gave me the courage to move forward with other garments made in Steiger fabrics.  Over the last year, I've found some really lovely garments made by others, on-line and during my survey documentation in Tubac.  People like me lucked into a Steiger fabric and put their sewing skills to use.  So, I decided to do the same, finally, according to my husband.

My first effort was a fabric given to me by Joan.  It's called Weeds and is an overall design of black ink on a beautiful rich turquoise blue. If the truth be known, I generally wear shorts and t-shirts most of the time.  But, a nice loose fitting dress is a welcomed addition to the Arizona wardrobe.  So, I selected a vintage dress pattern with a square yoke that I found at a thrift shop.  It only took a couple of days to make start to finsih and turned out great. 

Encouraged by these two successes, I next tackled a border print (non Steiger).  This dress is a little more form fitting and I had to create my own pattern.  But, I love the way the Yeis look and it very similar to a Steiger fabric called Yeis.  This example however, is a multi colored print on natural colored cotton is nothing less than striking.  I've been saving this one for a long time and I took many deep breaths before cutting.  I really like it and will now risk using an actual Steiger fabric on another dresss.

The most recent dress is made from one of those beautiful dress panels.  The Steigers panels are two yards of fabric with the silk screened design printed on the width instead of the length of the fabric.  And, the Steigers were right.  It takes two yards to make a simple shift.  This casual dress is just perfect for the climate:  loose and roomy.  I have several of these panels in different colors, fabrics and designs.  This particular design was one of the most popular of the Steiger dress panels with prominent saguaro cactus, roadrunners and other desert plants.  I see a lot of this design.  They usually are less expensive to buy than overall designs because of limitations of a central pattern.  So, be on the look out for this kind of bargain.

So now, thanks to Joan, I have the beginnings of a whole new wardrobe for the summer.  I'll probably next tackle a jacket and skirt for business occasions.  I have a large piece of Papago, thanks to a generous gift from Robert Black, vintage clothier extraordinaire.  But, that's enough new clothes for me for a while.  I hope you enjoy them and some of the other great garments that have turned up.  I'll add a couple more examples from my collection soon.  I just have to photograph them.