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  • From the Beginning

    I have wanted to revisit some thoughts on process about my recently finished quilt "Heaven and Earth". I showed some of my working process in an earlier post here.

    I haven't had time since then to write more about it as I was working up against a deadline to finish that particular quilt. I was also organizing the sewing machine donations that I wrote about in the previous post. All of that kept me quite occupied, but with the quilt complete and a succesful sewing machine collection behind me, I thought I would go back to the beginning and show you how "Heaven and Earth" got started.

    In college painting class we had an assignment one semester to do weekly color studies. We were to select a painting, any painting we wanted, and analyze and 'replicate' the colors in it. We could use papers of any kind, maybe even objects, but I think the only thing we couldn't use for the assignment was actual paint. I used a combination of Color-aid papers and magazine pages to find and match the colors.


    Raise your hand if you remember Color-aid paper from art school! I love these papers; to me, each box is like opening a treasure chest of jewels!

    Of course I've saved all these color studies, each consisting of a small board with an image of the painting glued to one side, and next to it my study in papers. Here is the one for the Camille Corot painting, "The Colosseum Seen From the Farnese Gardens" and with it a detail of my Color-aid selections.

    Corot_blog_detail_1 Corot_blog_detail_2


    Even with my strong love of color, I feel I still have a lot to learn on that subject. I decided to return to these little color exercises to examine them again and develop a better working knowledge and use of color. I'm taking it a step further, too, and doing my own analysis of the painting - color and value, imagery and mood, literal and implied, and using those thoughts as a jumping off point for my art. There is so much to be learned by studying the Masters.

    You can see on the board that I've jotted down my notes and thoughts about the painting. I also take the opportunity to study up on the artist again, and in this case to learn more about the location of the setting, which is obviously in Rome, Italy. You can read some of the history of the Farnese Gardens here.

    In my "Split Circles" series of quilts I have been using the imagery of the circle and the fractured circle as a symbol of my internal divided self. Life is full of dichotomy, both within the individual and in the outside world. My current art is a personal examination and expression of those dichotomies.

    The Corot painting struck me with lots of dual perceptions - two sides of things, opposites yet compatible. Some of the ideas that I tried to express in my quilt include the split imagery of .... hard / soft ..... decay / new life ..... smooth / textured ..... calm / tension ..... open, exposed / protected ..... orderly / chaotic ..... and finally the title of the piece "Heaven and Earth"

    "Heaven and Earth"      32.5" x 51"       ©2011 Martha C. Hall

    There was something about working on this quilt that felt right from beginning to end. I now leave it to the viewer to glean what they will.

    "Heaven and Earth" will be on exhibit from June 23 - October 16, 2011 at the Morris Museum in Morristown, NJ as part of the Fiber Revolution exhibit, "Thoughts Visualized".

    Until next time -


  • Collections and Collecting

    Last Saturday I held a collection of used sewing machines for a great organization called Pedals For Progress. Their primary endeavor is collecting used bicycles that are sent overseas to underdeveloped countries, providing a means of transportation to work or school. They also have a sewing machine program, placing the machines into the same communities. As P4P says, "A bicycle is a way to get to a job, a sewing machine is a job."

    I learned about P4P several years ago when I donated about 5 bikes out of our garage. When I learned about the sewing machine program I knew I wanted to get involved somehow. Finally, this year I organized a collection.

    As it turns out I had already unintentionally been collecting quite a few sewing machines over the years! There are the ones I currently use for my work, many that were once my primary machine, but have since been replaced by something newer and shinier, and several that seem to have landed at my house because "Martha sews, give it to her!"

    I started gathering all my sewing machines to decide which ones I would donate, so that someone else could benefit from them. What a collection! There were a total of nine machines here and each one has a story.......

    This is my Pfaff 2040 that I use all the time. It's my "new" machine - purchased 9 years ago. I love it! It's staying here with me.


    The next machine that gets plenty of use is my Gammill Classic longarm quilting machine - also not going anywhere soon. I purchased this used in 2007 so I could have a chance at actually finishing my quilts. My days of hand quilting are over and I just had too much trouble maneuvering large quilts under my Pfaff.


    Next up is a Consew industrial machine. I used to sew a lot of home dec and this is a great, fast machine. P4P doesn't take the heavy industrial machines; they really need portable machines or treadles. I still occasionally use this, but it's more of a glorified bobbin winder for my Gammill bobbins now!



    How adorable is this next one? I bought "Hello Kitty" because it's turquoise and it's cute. I taught my niece to sew on this one and it makes a great studio decoration - staying!!



    The next machine is the first sewing machine I had of my very own - a nifty little Kenmore from Sears. My parents gave it to me on my 16th birthday. I have loved to sew since I was 8 or 9 and getting this machine was a big deal. It has zig-zag stitches and makes buttonholes - fancy! Still made of metal back then, not plastic. I wish it had an odometer because I have put a lot of miles on it. It was my primary machine until I got my Pfaff. I had planned to donate the Kenmore, but Mark oiled it and got it purring along so nicely that all of a sudden I couldn't part with it - just sentiment really. Maybe next year I'll be ready to let it go. As it happens, the exact same machine was donated by someone else at my Saturday collection! I think that was the Universe telling me it's OK that I didn't give mine up yet.



    Next up are the classic Singers - beautiful metal machines that will work forever. This one is a Singer 201 that I have also used more miles than I can count. A workhorse that can sew over almost anything. I'm holding onto this one for now. It's in the cabinet that used to be my Mom's.



    Next up is the 'Spartan', also made by Singer. It belonged to my Nana and is a prime example of "Give it to Martha, she sews!" When we cleaned out Nana's house no one else would take it! It is a beauty, but I have never used it and from the looks of it I don't think Nana ever used it either. Runs like a charm and I donated it to P4P. There is someone out there who will be able to support a family with this machine.



    The next old Singer machine is one that I picked up many, many years ago at a Flea Market for $10.00. Yes, I seriously do remember that! It has a funky shuttle bobbin that I didn't know how to thread or use, therefore I never sewed with this machine either.

    Old_Singer_with_shuttle_blog Shuttle_bobbin_Old_Singer_blog

    But with the magic of the inter-webs I found out how it's done! How ironic that I learned how to thread this 1910 sewing machine and shuttle bobbin by watching YouTube videos on my wireless laptop. Here's a website that I found dedicated to treadle sewing machines. Donna Kohler, the Treadle Lady, collects them and posts very clear YouTube videos on how to use them.


    This is designed as a treadle machine, but I don't have the table or treadle mechanism. Someone mounted a small motor on the back, but the problem is there is no control and no foot pedal. Plug it in and it goes! Eeeeek - very scary! I had also planned to donate this one, but it's so unusual and cool, and now that I know how it works I might try to find a treadle table for it.


    This next treadle machine found its way to me via the county landfill. My son's friend rescued it and sent it to me. Lots of grime was hiding its beauty and again, no table and treadle to mount it in. Mark had fun taking the whole thing apart, cleaning it up and oiling it. Now it runs like butta! I forgot to take an 'after' picture though, and now it is with P4P to be put to good use. How many of these old beauties do you suppose are stored away in attics or basements, or God forbid, the landfill?


    The Singer website has a wealth of information about these old sewing machines. You can download manuals for many of the older machines. If you put in the serial number (located on a small metal plate on the bed of the machine) you can get information on when and where it was made. These old treadles were made in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

    It has been really fun digging out my old sewing machines and getting them running again. Mark loves fixing machines and I think I've recruited him to help fix some of them for Pedals For Progress! We collected 14 sewing machines this past Saturday, including my two. If you have an older, portable, working sewing machine in your house, won't you consider finding a worthy organization to donate to. In many places a working sewing machine means the difference between poverty and supporting a family.

    I hope you enjoyed all the stories!  What's the story behind your sewing machine?

    Until next time -


  • Organizing

    At one time I considered becoming a professional organizer. You might not guess that if you walked into my house unannounced, but actually I only have a few trouble spots. The kitchen counter for one. It collects all the mail, newspapers, keys, and whatever other detritus comes through the door. I clear it off and within two days it looks like it did before. If you set something on that counter it will be covered up and lost within 20 minutes, as if disappearing into a black hole.

    The next trouble spot is my office. Paper everywhere. Piles and piles of paper, all needing to be filed and organized. Come to think of it, most of it just needs to be shredded. This belies my true organized nature as I can lay my hands on anything on a moment's notice. Just don't move those piles 'cause then I really will be lost!



    My studio is another chaotic looking space, but this is one place where I don't mind the mess. In fact it inspires me. The pictures and snippets pinned up on the wall are visual stimulation. The piles of fabric on my work table let me audition and see what I have to work with. The fabric scraps and threads piling up on the floor show me that I'm getting work done. I love the chaotic, messy character of a working studio. Mid-project is my studio at its messiest. I do reorganize it periodically, usually at the end of a project or at the end of the week. It's good to clear the space, and my thoughts, to create room for the next quilt.


    As invigorating as the studio chaos is, the paper piles on my kitchen counter and desk can clutter my mind even when I'm not right there looking at them. Today I will tackle that clutter so I can re-enter my studio with a clear head for art - then let the chaos ensue!

    Until next time -


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