Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Indigo Blue.

 Swe-Swe Fabric.

The fabric originally came to South Africa, from Germany in 1840.  Missionaries felt that the local tribal women needed to be covered up, as they walked around bare breasted.  So they imported the German print  "Blauwdruk" Indigo fabric to make dresses for the women.   The fabric was ultimately absorbed into the Xhosa culture.   These days, when a couple is getting married, the groom has a dress made for the bride out of the traditional fabric known as "sis" (being the Afrikaans for cotton fabric).  Which forms part of Lobola (Bride prize/Dowry).  The dress is called Isishewsshwe.  The bride will  wear the dress, as a married woman,  to show she honors her new family, but most importantly as a sign of respect for her husbands mother.

This fabric has a unique journey, with a history.  I will share what I know, with photos, as I go along.

A German factory developed a cheaper synthetic indigo dye in  the 1890's and the fabric was then manufactured in Czechoslovakia and Hungary.  This manufacturer then immigrated to England in 1930's and the fabric was  made under the THREE CATS trade name.
When the English factory closed down, a South African firm bought all the original roller plates, design blocks, formulas.  Da Gama Textiles continue the production of the indigo fabrics, in the Eastern Cape, under the THREE LEOPARDS, logo which is the African version of the THREE CATS.  There is also a Three Fish line. 

In recent years I have discovered this one as well.

When you first feel the fabric, one is amazed at how stiff it is and wonder what it can be used for.  It has a very distinctive smell from the starch, because the African people prefer it this way, as it makes sewing on a Singer hand crank sewing machine so much easier, in rural areas where electricity is not readily available.

As soon as you soak the fabric, it gets rid of the excess dye and stiffening.  Becoming soft and supple, ready to cut and sew.  (If you have any old jeans that need a new lease on life,  wash them with your indigo blue, the dye will make them like new).  The fabric will fray a bit around the edges, once washed.  It comes in three colours.   Blue, Red and Brown.

Da Gama Mills are now the last remaining manufacturer of indigo fabrics, who grow and weave their own cotton, process it, with the indigo dye and print it,  using the original copper rollers.  The pattern is printed on with a roller using oxalic acid-fast and it is then run through an indigo dye vat. 

In recent years we have seen it in green,  bright orange and pink.

Panels for a skirt is printed specially.  One normally need eight panels of the same print to make a skirt, it is one size fits all.  It can be made to fit, by adjusting the length.  Extra panels can be added to accomodate plus sizes.

In the African heat, cotton is a lifesaver and Shwe-Shwe is worn by all South African's today.  Adults wear skirts, men shirts and girls dresses, decorated with bright colours of rick rack sewn in bands just above the hemline, around the bodice or collar.   Quilters use it in patchwork, with blue and white, the most popular since 1840's.  It is used in the making of  the "Dear Jane" quilts, in recent years, as the variety of prints in this fabric is amazing.


It is durable fabric and can be used for a large range of items, including this bag, which a friend made for me.

Chwe-Chwe or Ujamani named by the Xhosa people of the Eastern Cape.

Today, I wonder what the missionaries would think, if they could see the impact they had on a country so far from home, not knowing how it would affect the future and culture of another nation.  It stood the test of time.  

Easter Gifts.

This is a time of year, which just puts a smile on my face.  People are happy all round.  Children can not wait for the Easter bunny to arrive.    Families get together in celebration of Easter.  Spring arrive for some of us, with all the fresh air and green grass outside.  The birdsong greet us and the sun lights up the day,  when we wake up.

I think these bunnies is super cute, this is a bunny panel I found a few years back, I will be turning it into something special in the future.  As for the Easter bunny?  well I trained a few of those, when I mentioned that this Easter bunny was retiring, I was told, no, we still believe in the Easter bunny. So chocolate is definitely still on the menu.

Besides hunting for Easter eggs, small gifts is also wrapped and given to children at Easter time.  It is a tradition we grew up with.  So this week I realized time has sneeked up on me, I had three to finish.

Here they are.

This one is for a young boy who enjoy Aeroplanes. 

This one is for a little guy who loves Fire Engines.  He has this supersized pillow which needed a special pillowcase.

This one is for a little girl who loves to dance, with all her heart.

Most of all, enjoy this special time and spend it with the ones you love.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Preparation is Key.

Where do I find the time to applique?

I have a simple rule.  I give myself twenty minutes a day or ten stitches.    This is my little box with all I have prepared, which I will use to achieve my goal for the day/week.  It may not seem like I'll ever get a project done, yet, after a while it is surprising how much gets done. 

It is all about priorities.  My family comes first, I would drop everything if they need me.  Spending time with my loved ones, is what I treasure the most.  We do stuff together, go fishing, yes women do fish, the funny thing is they can be very good at it.  Don't ask me why?   Play boardgames,  it brings out the competitive spirit in us all.  Ever played "Ticket to Ride"?... it was inspired by 80 days around the World.

As kids growing up, we never told Mom we were bored.  She simply gave us chores to do.  We had hobbies and activities in the community growing up.   Caring and looking after what we have, it lasts so much longer in the long run.

Time wise, I have limited time for crafts.  Our house needs painting,  it gets done one room at a time.  Over time everything gets done.  Then hopefully I will have some extra time, maybe not, once the snow melts, it means we get to spend time outdoors.

In the meantime, I prepare every block for my quilt, first with the background fabric, then the overlay, if I am using one.   This is an overlay, it helps to place each applique piece where it has to be stitched down. 

Next I trace all my templates for leaves, this pattern repeat the same shapes, plastic templates make it easy to trace the leaves on the fabric.

Is it a scrappy quilt?, shop your stash first.
Then I dig into my scraps and leftovers from old projects that are finished.  Amazing what one can find in this lot.  A large variety of different prints, colours awaits in this treasure trove.
For leaves I try to layer  a mixture of values, or light medium and medium dark. 

Next the bias stems.  Sometimes I trace the outlines on the background, with my blue pen.  It washes out.

Colors for the vases, baskets.

Lastly the berries.

Having everything prepared, I do not run the risk of not having enough fabric to complete a project, each block with all the bits is cut out and placed in a ziplock bag.

When I am ready, I pick up a bag, take it along where I am going.  Sometimes I do a little while waiting for the children, at the dentist. 

What happens to the overlays, at the end of the day?  To keep the carbon footprints to a minimum, we pass them on to fellow quilters who can use them,  (the ones for this quilt was given to me by Carol).   Keeps the clutter away, giving someone else the joy to make a quilt, as it saves on time.  They only need to buy the pattern.

This pattern crossed my path over a number of years, yet I never bought it, until I saw the quilt made with Spring colours at the Common Thread Quilt Guild,  Quilts in Bloom Show,  a few years ago.  It is amazing how it changes the feel of the quilt.

As to the maker of the quilt, it was displayed at the Dragonfly Fabrics booth.  Her colour choices and workmanship is beautiful.

Maybe someone who went to the show, remember who made this.  I would like to give credit where it is due.


Monday, 23 March 2015

The Fabrics that inspire us.

When we started to quilt, there was a fabric that inspired us to make a quilt.  A pattern or a combination of the two.  There is always a reason we make a quilt,  to hug someone with warmth and love.

To celebrate a special occasion,  for a babies birth, a wedding, a child going off to school, away from home.

Then there is the extra special quilts. We make them, never meeting the one who receive them. They go to people in need and comfort around the world.  Just knowing someone out there did not go to sleep without a blanket, make me treasure the blessings we have everyday.  The blocks for this one was given by a fellow quilter, thank you Mavis.  The generous spirit of quilters around the world, is priceless.  Each one doing their bit, it makes the world a better place to live in.

For our loved ones.  I made these two quilts, almost a novice, a newbie at applique.  It took me six years.  Many told me to give up before I started to make these quilts.  I could not see why I should not make them.  Years later I am still glad I followed my heart and made them.  They were given to my children on their tenth birthdays.  They have been treasured and loved over the years, reinforcing my believe, it was the right thing to do at the time.

 Grandma's Country Album I


Grandma's Country Album II

This one came back to be patched.  Luckily I had some scraps left.

All inspired by patterns and fabrics that crossed my path and compelled me to make them.

This one is made with leftover fabric from the first two.  All that was added was the red sashing fabric, a black and  tan fat quarter and some cream scraps for the backgrounds.  Album of Memories, all three patterns appeared in McCalls Quilting magazine, designed by Robert Callaham.

Jinny Beyer,  Lynette Jensen and Debbie Mumm come to mind.  My favourite fabric for a longtime was Thimbleberries from RJR Fashion Fabrics.  Many of my friends loved Jenny Beyer, who also designs for RJR.  Debbie Mumm, for South Sea Imports. These ladies have been at it for decades, Jinny Beyer is still going strong after 40 years.  Only one designer's patterns, caught my eye.  Robert Callaham.

Then a few years later, Kaari Meng arrived with French General Fabrics.  What makes them work so well?  One can use a print from this collection with one two years down the line.  Fabrics that compliment each other.  The colour palette is in Blues, Reds, Creams and Taupe's.  With a couple of richer colours added to the mix, chocolate brown.  Very calm and soothing fabrics.

Best part of it all, one can put a fat quarter bundle on your gift list.   

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Skinny Bias Stems.

Making skinny bais strips, using bias tape makers.

A selection of commercial bias tape makers.

Fabric strips cut on the bias ready to be used.  Instructions with
each bias tape maker give the recommended size to cut the bias
strips of fabric.

A bowl of starch ready to dip the strips into.

Fabric strip ready to be turned into a skinny stems.

Using a pin, guide the fabric strip to the tip of the bias maker.

Next pull the fabric tip out and start ironing the strip, pulling
the bias tape maker away from the hot iron. Do not rush this
step, take your time.

Use a pin to anchor one end, once you strip is long enough.
This makes it easier to control the tension on the fabric.

The front of the finished strip.

The back of the strip.  As you can see, it takes a bit of practice.
Once you get the hang of it, it become much easier. 

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Peeling back the layers.

Applique is all about the layers. There is a sequence of events, one has to follow.  Some parts has to be sewn down first.  This is the piece that is always closest to the background.  With some patterns every piece is labeled from A, B, C.  Some is the mirror image of a piece.  Very many times they are called reverse of piece A, B or C.

Other patterns, one is given the drawn outlines of a design only,  which one would use as a guide to do the layers of applique.  I use different ways to do each project.  In doing so,  one  practice and learn new techniques of doing the same thing.

It keeps me nimble and exercise muscles in many ways, preventing strain and overuse of others, especially in my hands.  No more than twenty minutes a day or ten stitches a day.  Does not sound like much?  Amazing, how by making a start and doing a little everyday, in a short while you have made progress,  without even realizing it.

How did they do the small dots?  Needleturn?
How did they do it in 1790?  Some old gold work is done over stiff paper, maybe they did use starch? 

How did they mark their backgrounds?  Pencils?
(The pencil was invented in 1564, when graphite was discovered in Borrowdale, Cumbria. England).

My progress so far.
The center with the dots, Compass, leaves and stems sewn down.

Trying out the triangles of the crown.  They will be stitched down after I finish stitching the stems.

Stitching down the stems.

Finding more green fabric to go with what I already used proved to be a challenge.