Thirty-two years ago this week, while visiting Maine (and still living in Maryland), I met and had my first date with my (future) husband, Tom. I met him at his family’s lobster wharf in Harpswell, Maine, pictured above. After a year of long-distance romance, I took a summer job in Harpswell and a small apartment in town to see if this Maine fellow was worth staying with. Kinda obvious what the verdict was.
It wasn’t all romantic sailboat dates (above left) with this fisherman’s son or hair-raising waitressing nightmares. In my spare time I kept busy with fabric art projects. This was the first time separated from my mom’s stash of fabrics, so my choice of materials was limited. Along with my portable Kenmore sewing machine and thread, I had some muslin, some denim, and a little wool on hand.
I’d done some “free-motion” quilting. I was creating simple stitched images onto muslin (see examples near the end of this post), which included yard-sale scraps of crazy quilts, teaching myself as I went. I’d heard free-motion quilting described, but I didn’t have a book about it. The internet was still a futuristic dream. Youtube instructional videos weren’t even an idea yet. I had the vague notion that I had to do something with the feed-dogs. But this is where the blissful ignorance of youth comes in handy. It sounded like just drawing with thread and I had recently completed four years of training in illustration, so I figured it couldn’t be that different. I jumped in.
The following portrait of Tom (based on the photo above right) is the first portrait of purely drawing with thread that I had done. The panel of denim is from a well-used pair of work pants, stains still clearly evident. The wool details are from an old blanket. The wavy horizontal lines were to represent the tidal mud flats along the shore at the wharf. I was happy with this first try at stitched portraiture.
My second attempt was a self-portrait, using a flea-market crazy quilt square for borders. I quickly saw the limitations to this technique if extra batting (trapunto-like) is added. The padding created wrinkles when combined with lots of stitching, as in the hair. It’s not particularly flattering as a portrait. Good thing it was just for me.
I do enjoy taking photos. I now have a 64 GB iPhone which is constantly crammed with images and videos. But even back in 1986 with good ‘ol canisters of film, I took many, many pictures, so when I returned home to Maryland that fall, I had tons of images to choose from. In the beach scene below, I combined two shots I took that summer, one of Tom standing in the distance on a beach and another of a sand dune. I added a linen-like fabric in the foreground as part of the image.
Around this same time, I also stitched the afore-mentioned wharf scene. That image is very similar to one I drew to be used as an engraving on Tom’s grandfather’s headstone. Tom’s dad’s boat can be seen tied up at the wharf in the original photo below. Years later I created a portrait of Tom’s dad, Dain, when I started to experiment with the technique of fabric collage.
But back in Maryland and recently finished college, I had been creating and selling my work at shows and small galleries. I combined the thread drawings with bits of salvaged quilts.
All these small quilts were finished off with a technique that my mom, Meta, taught me. It involved sewing a continuous edging to the quilt top that would then fit around a wooden stretcher frame and be stapled to the back. This gave a very neat and tidy “framed” effect and eliminated the bulk that would happen if the quilt itself was wrapped around the frame.
I demonstrate this finishing technique in my book, Serendipity Quilts (below). This book has been out-of-print, but is now available again as print on demand, meaning when it’s ordered it will take a little longer (two weeks) to ship as each book is printed individually. But it’s also available for quilt stores to order as multiple copies again as well.
Moral of the story? Jumping into things, like I did with thread drawing, doesn’t always work out, but it’s often worth giving it a try. I think it’s ok if there’s some gaps in your knowledge. Sometimes the fear of not knowing all the steps or “how to do it” keeps us from trying new things. And you never know where they’ll take you. For instance, I never even thought to be afraid of free-motion machine quilting, and I’ve been enjoying it and expanding my skills with it for more than three decades now.
And as for my young Maine guy? When we met at the doorway of that wharf, I didn’t know I was looking at 32 years (and counting) with him. I didn’t know where it might lead, so there was no pressure to make things perfect. I was just enjoying the moment. And I still am.