Monday, July 21, 2014

Sew First, Sort Later

On a whim—which is how the best and worst of things usually start, right?—I began sewing 16-patches last weekend.

Before the whim, however, I had been cleaning the sewing space.  All that fabric folding and fondling led to pulling various things from the stash and musing Whatever shall I make with this?  And this?  Or this?

I like my stash, I really do.  It's eclectic, just like my musical taste and my taste in movies.  Part Frank Sinatra, part Band of Skulls; Pride and Prejudice and The Big Lebowski.

Don't you love that crazy vintage print underneath this stack of modern ones?  I mean, what is all that business going on?  Must make something with this lot, I don't know what yet.  The suggestion box is open. I only have a FQ of the pink and the blue-green rectangles, so something small.

Back to the 16-patches, I mashed up a few fabric pairs and this is what I have going so far.

I don't know if I'll end up throwing it all together in one crazy-busy quilt.  I'm just sewing first and figuring things out later.

I gave Kathy, the friend who is having me make the chevron quilts for her grandsons, these two mug rugs or minis, so she can remember her grandson's quilts by.

In other news, our 31-year-old washing machine broke last week.  The washer and dryer had been a wedding gift from my parents.

We'd had both fixed once or twice through the years, a belt here or a heating element there, but they otherwise ran like champs up until the bitter end.  This time the washer went out literally with a bang.  Lots of banging, in fact.  It sounded like a ginormous load unbalanced situation, but when Norm went down to see about it, he found a six-inch metal plate laying inside the washer, having sheared off from somewhere in the inner workings, and all the clothes spattered with some kind of rusty schmutz.  In other words, it wasn't pretty.

So we bought a Speed Queen set and take delivery of it this Wednesday.  I'm stoked!  Speed Queen, that standard of laundromats and college dorms.  It feels kind of old-fashioned, no digital controls, no front loading or steam jets. Just a regular ole agitator and plenty of swishing water action, but I needed another workhorse pair.  They still make Speed Queens with all-metal parts, something I like about my vintage Singer and newer Juki sewing machines as well.  And they're a "Sconnie" company, built right up the road about 40 miles.  Check out this vintage ad from the 1970s. 

(Image Source)
Silver metallic pants and go-go boots!  Groovy baby!

Monday, July 14, 2014


I peeked in on the duck nest yesterday and this is what I saw.

I hope I am looking at the remains of at least a couple of hatched eggs (versus some other kind of calamity), having happened a few days ago from the looks of it.  As of early last week, the hen was still sitting on the nest.

So it appears that Mama Mallard and her ducklings have r-u-n-n-o-f-t.

Image Source: National Geographic
And they didn't even leave a note!

Friday, July 11, 2014

More Old Things

Continuing with the other stuff at Aztalan last weekend, I'll try to focus on the "stitchy" things.  You can probably imagine the rest of the usual items seen in a museum.

Stitchy thing number one, treadle sewing machines.  Check out the generous harp space on the one on the left.  The thoughts I was having while looking at these ran along the lines of, "Someone really needs to clean and oil these; I bet they might still work," and then wondering if the general population knows that quite a few sewers and quilters still use a treadle today.  More novelty than necessity, true, unless you're Amish.

I am not a treadler myself.  I messed around on my grandma's when I was a kid, which she mostly used as a plant stand.  A couple years ago, I had an opportunity to get a treadle machine cheap or free, but passed on it.  For one thing, I can't get my extra-long legs under the machine to do what they need to do without my knees banging up against the underside of the cabinet. 

This interesting machine was used for sewing hats.  I'd never seen one of these before.

I wish I could have seen this signature quilt close up, a simple yet striking on-point setting with the signatures stitched in red on the diagonal in the white blocks.

There was a sign next to this display that indicated this dressmaker did the hand embroidery down the front of the bodice.  That is some intricate stitchery.

I'm not sure what the significance of the old cutlery was; I was more interested in the crazy quilt it was sitting on (no info on that, unfortunately).

This Native American buckskin bag featured some wonderful bead work.  It was purchased from a Chippewa elder born in 1784 who lived to be well over 100 years old. 

It was hard to get a good image with the reflection on the glass and the fact that it was displayed high on the wall.

There were a number of arrowhead and other types of ancient implements  to see, alongside a woolly mammoth tooth. The tooth is probably around 12,000 years old, dating to near the end of the Pleistocene.

In North America, the mammoth died out at the end of the last Ice Age, which in Wisconsin included the glaciation of approximately two-thirds of the state.  This mammoth tooth was found in what is known as the Driftless Area (unglaciated), where the tundra landscape would have provided the mammoth diet.  As the thick ice sheet receded, the tundra was replaced by predominantly pine forest, an ideal food source for the mastodon (relative of the mammoth). They too became extinct, around 10,500 years ago, probably due to hunting by the rapidly expanding population of Paleo-Indians, as well as continued climate change.

Outside there were various buildings from some of the first settlers of the area.

Can you imagine living with six children in this cabin?  We couldn't step down into it, but that's okay; I would not have been able to stand up in it.

I'm going apartment hunting with my daughter tomorrow and will bear this in mind when I look at those small studios, which will undoubtedly cost more per month than a couple hundred acres of land cost here in the mid-1800s.  But no trees to fell, and there's indoor plumbing, so that's a plus.

This building was representative of a general store (note the selection of fabric under the counter).  I had to laugh at the list of goods and their prices posted on the door, from an 1850 ledger (click to enlarge).  

A pint of whiskey cost less than a skein of thread—and a lot of other things!

We didn't spend much time in the tool shed, but I wouldn't have minded carrying tools in this beautifully painted box.

So there you have it, a little sampling of the other sites at Aztalan village.  So tell me, do you like to visit museums, or learn about history in any other kind of setting? 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

St. Paul and The Broken Bones

I heard this song on the radio in the car the other day and I thought it sounded familiar, like an oldie from back in the day that I should know, but I couldn't place it.  Was it Wilson Pickett?  No, maybe Al Green?  Otis Redding?

Then I forgot about it until I stumbled upon it randomly on YouTube this evening.

Not what I expected, but I like surprises.

Good song.  I listened to a few more from them and liked them all. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Antiques and Aztalan

We did a little thrift shopping on Saturday, and along the way visited Aztalan State Park.  

Funny that we've both lived our whole lives within less than an hour's drive of this place and yet had never been to see it.  Oddly enough, our interest was piqued this past winter when an episode of America Unearthed aired on the History Channel.  The show was interesting but ultimately disappointing in that no ancient pyramids were seen under the waters of a nearby lake, but the discussion of the ancient native culture of Aztalan had us wanting to see the area for ourselves.

I'll come back to that in a moment.  As it happened, however, there were a couple thrift stores along the way, where my own kind of not-so-ancient treasures were unearthed.  Such as this beauty, a vintage paint-by-number— for a buck! 

PBNs are becoming harder to find, popular as they are with collectors of these amateur works of art.  They're colorful and scenic and, for Boomers like me, hearken back to a time long before the internet or cable TV or even VHS, when a long winter afternoon might lend itself to dabbing paint from plastic pots onto a numbered board.  I can still smell the oils and see, in my mind's eye, the paint-clumped toothpicks, mini stirrers, strewn over a newspaper lined desk. 

I'm not sure that I ever finished any of my PBNs, and I certainly never attempted anything as large as this scene.  I seemed to run out of both paint and enthusiasm at about the halfway point.

At another thrift store, while I lingered in the dish section, Norm made a beeline to the fabrics and scooped up a few bundles he thought I might like.  Good eye, that guy.

We couldn't resist a couple of old 78 records for 35 cents apiece.  Thought these would be fun to display at Christmas: Winter Wonderland and White Christmas, as performed by Guy Lombardo and the Andrews Sisters.  

We still own a turntable, so we could, in theory, play these—or we could all just listen to them on YouTube, HERE and HERE

Back to our tour of Aztalan.  Wikipedia tells us:
  • Aztalan is the site of an ancient Mississippian culture settlement that flourished during the 10th to 13th centuries. The indigenous people constructed massive earthwork mounds for religious and political purposes. They were part of a widespread culture with important settlements throughout the Mississippi River valley and its tributaries. Their trading network extended from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast, and into the southeast of the present-day United States.
  • It was first settled around 900 by a Native American culture known as the Middle Mississippian Tradition. The chief center of a Middle Mississippian settlement is at Cahokia, in present-day Illinois, a city that at its peak had 20,000-30,000 people. This was not surpassed by Europeans in North America until after 1800. These settlements are characterized by the construction of mounds, stockades, and houses, by decorated Mississippian culture pottery and agricultural practices. There are also elements of the Woodland culture found here.
  • The residents had long-distance trading relationships with other settlements, linked by their use of the rivers for transportation. For example, items found at the settlement include copper from Michigan's Upper Peninsula, shells from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and stone such as Mill Creek chert from other areas of the Midwest.
  • Sometime between the years 1200 and 1300, the Aztalan settlement was abandoned. Archeologists and historians surmise they may have outgrown environmental resources, or encountered more warfare from other cultures, but do not know for sure. The Little Ice Age occurred soon after 1300 and may have contributed to farming difficulties, putting too much stress on the local chiefdoms.
It's a very interesting place.  The fertile fields and abundant wildlife and fish would have made this location ideal for long term habitation.  

This is the largest terraced mound.  We are standing about 100 yards away at this vantage point.

This smaller mound had originally been a burial site where a number of ancient remains were carefully lain and then ceremoniously burned.

The fact that this culture lived within a stockade is unique to the other native cultures of the area.  It is unknown whether the stockade was built to keep people safely in or keep others out (probably both).  The posts would have been interwoven with vines or pliable branches and then grass and mud applied in a wattle and daub manner to make a solid wall.

It is hard to do this site justice in a blog post with pictures that might just look like prairie fields with shaped mounds of dirt and a bunch of poles in the ground. As you walk the grounds and read the historical information along the way, you get a real sense of the importance of this place in history, theirs and ours.  

There is much to learn and appreciate about these ancient cultures, which preceded European settlement by thousands of years.

There was a museum up the road that contained more information and artifacts from both the native populations, as well as that of early immigrant settlers.  More on that in another post.

Thursday, July 3, 2014


Again I've found the scrap pile on my cutting table more compelling than what I should be doing.

What I should be doing is finishing the second chevron baby quilt.  I am working on it, or rather I was working on it, but I took a break.

For like a week.  In the sewing room, nothing but crickets.

Know how after you've been away from a task, you sort of have to ease yourself back into it?  No?  Okay, maybe you are a jumper-inner. That's cool. 

I had a boss at one time, a senior lawyer with a big case load who needed multiple legal assistants to do his work jump when he said frog support him.  In the days leading up to a big important trial, when you would think he would be nose to the grindstone in final preparations, what would he do?

He'd empty garbage cans.  Just go around collecting the office garbage from beneath everyone's desks.  

I used to think it was weird.  Okay, I still do.  But I kind of get it.

When I worked at another place and started to feel overwhelmed by deadlines and stuff to be done, sometimes I'd just stop everything, move all the file piles onto the floor, and clean my desk.  I'm talking Windex and paper towels, chasing dust bunnies  from behind the monitor, wiping schmutz off the telephone receiver, and swabbing the screen.  Somehow it helped.  A feeling of accomplishment, however small, can bolster you for the larger task at hand.

So I intended to tidy up my cutting table to ease back into the flow of things in the sewing room, but that (the tidying part) didn't happen.  I started fondling fabric bits piled next to the overflowing trimmings receptacle and pretty soon I was flat out playing in the trash.

And then I had a mini made.

And another in the works.

And soon enough, the machine was humming with pieces of the chevron baby quilt moving through it once again.

Does this sound familiar?  Do you ever do a loopy roundabout to get going where you need to go?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

My First Chalk Painted Table

Yesterday, hot and muggy as it was, I chalk painted the table found last month at an estate sale.  I'd never chalk painted anything before, but armed with a brainful of YouTube and blog tutorials, tips, and other supplies, I took the first step.

Step 1:  Enlist a buddy.  Anti-procrastination insurance!

Marie, who is an awesome friend, had never chalk painted anything before either, but she had a small table passed down from her mother-in-law that she was willing to try it on.  We went with a home-made chalk paint recipe I found online that uses satin latex paint (1 cup) with plaster of paris (~3 T.) mixed with a little water (~2 T.) added in.

I chose Glidden's Tropical Coral for my piece (not the color I'd gone to the store with the intention to buy, but that's another story).

Marie went with a Dutch Boy color called Crushed Seed.

Here are a couple of before pictures of my clover-shaped, very old table.  I'd given it a quick sanding.  Ha, ha, ha, quick!  Who am I kidding, it took as long as one would expect to hand sand a table with a lot of little knobby bits on the legs.

You're not supposed to have to sand something you chalk paint, but you have to use your discretion when it comes to that.  My table had obviously been sitting for a long time in a place inhabited by spiders and other creatures who did their business.  I think I sanded off equal parts dried poo and wood.

Marie didn't sand her table at all, just made sure it was clean.

Then we commenced to painting.  After one coat, I was loving Marie's table.  Mine, not so much.

When her first coat dried, we both decided we liked her table just as it was.  Some of the underlying finish showed through the paint, giving it just the right look.  A couple coats of wax, and she was done, lucky girl!

Since she had some of her chalk paint mixture left over, and mine was not the color I was looking for, we mixed the rest of my paint into hers, which yielded a sort of coral-y salmon color that looked just about right to me.  She helped me put the second coat on my table.  Much better!

In the evening, after it had dried a few hours, I lightly distressed the paint with some medium grit sandpaper.  It nicely revealed the underlying color, and some original wood, if I worked a little harder.  I didn't want it too distressed, though.

Then it was time to wax.  It was very warm yesterday, so my Johnson's paste wax was quite soft and could be brushed on with a large natural bristle paint brush.  Working in small sections at a time, I followed the clear wax immediately with another smaller paint brush loaded with dark wax, otherwise known as Kiwi shoe polish in black.  I then followed this a couple minutes later by swabbing over the waxed parts with a piece of cheesecloth containing more clear wax.  This works the dark wax in where you want it while removing the excess and smoothing it all out at the same time.  

Then I let the waxed table dry overnight.

I cleaned my brushes, took a shower, changed clothes, watched a movie and went to bed—and still had the smell of Johnson Wax in my head!  Not a bad thing, but definitely a little weird.  I asked Norm if he could smell it.  He said no, but said every time he waxes the car, he smells wax for the rest of the day. 

Today the wax was dry (and the phantom smell in my head was gone).  I buffed the table with an old t-shirt and a horsehair shoe brush, which worked wonders on those knobby legs!

Et voila!

The paint color was definitely deepened by the dark wax.  In the end, it's more of a rosy salmon.  I do like it.  Were I to do it again, though, I might have omitted the dark wax and just went with clear.  Overall, I'm very pleased with how it turned out, especially for a first attempt with this particular medium and technique.
 I think it will look nice in the corner of the bedroom with aqua/blue colored walls, below my paint-by-number collection!

Linking to: Can I Get a Whoop Whoop?