I recently had some scrap silk left over from having bias ribbon made for my silk shibori ribbon. It was enough that I wanted to see what could be done with it so I had the converter do some flat bias tube (unfilled cording). I always want to use as much as possible without throwing any away of course. I found out that the previous company I was using to do the biasing was throwing out the end cuts! Once I found that out I started having them save them for me for odd projects but they were very irregular. These days, I am a little smarter. I work with the converter to minimize any waste so we can plan ahead to make something with the end cuts. Below, I am playing around with some ideas for the trims I will start having made- which I will be dyeing. I started out with an autumn colorway.
So far I have just finished the one piece. It’s in the shop as a made up brooch /necklace combo. When I get more of this made in different colorways, I’m thinking I’ll do some kits and workshops with it. It’s always fun to experiment with new things!
At the same time, I’m working on the September moons for the circle. This month I’m focusing on plant dyed moons. Using the feathery cassia seed pods and the fermentation vat on some vintage silk taffeta and cotton lawn, two very different moons are the result using the exact same dyes.
Also on the dye table are the materials for the kits for the upcoming Mermaid Adornment workshop. If you didn’t get a chance to check that out see here.
And my new daily visitor keeps me company in the studio…another squirelley girl but younger and smaller than my original friend!
Seems like it’s been a few weeks since I started to work on getting this workshop up online. We have a saying around here- I’m sure you are familiar with it. Everything takes a lot of time! But anyway… it’s done.
I re-posted a photo of this piece on my FB feed from a memory suggestion there and got a lot of responses and requests for a kit or an online workshop. I had made these quite a few years back and sold a few at my Houston show when I was doing that . So I thought I would accommodate but first had to recreate it.
In order to set up something for a workshop there is a lot of “behind the scenes” work. It’s one thing to make something to sell individually and another quite different thing to make and create a workshop for something. Online or in person, I need to be very familiar with the making of it. So making a new sample, calculating time and materials, adding options (beads or no beads), gathering the kit supplies, picking color choices (so many possibilities!), getting everything loaded up online etc etc….
This time I decided to try Squarespace’s email marketing option since I have a lot of people who have subscribed to me over time. Usually, I would go to my Constant Contact account and do it from there but after posting the shop item, there it was… just a click and $14 a month away. It was simple and we’ll see how it does. So just warning you, some of you here may be getting that in your email.
I posted 6 different color possibilities- hopefully one that suits everyone. If you have a special request, let me know and I’ll see if I can accommodate. You can see all the details in the listing here- Silk Shibori Mermaid Adornment. These are fun to make and not super time consuming. Of course beading adds some time and effort but not difficult- just straight stringing.
We are still in the midst of the heatwave here-upper 90’s and low 100’s near the coast with minimal night cooling until last night so that was a bit of relief. Still getting power alerts on electricity use but guess WHAT?? It’s supposed to rain on Saturday! I’m glad of course but….it’s the day of the shibori ribbon studio workshop! We will forge ahead- better wet than too hot I say…. I hope it pours!
And since I began writing this post, we get word of the passing of Queen Elizabeth at 96 years of age. At times here on the blog we remark on the passage of time. But 70 years a monarch in this modern era is really pretty amazing. No matter your thoughts on monarchies in general, or this one specifically, Queen Elizabeth has been there as Queen of England our entire lives. I wasn’t ever a passionate royalty follower or fan, but you couldn’t avoid news of her over the decades. From this great distance she seemed to be strong, steadily graceful and willingly responsible. Beloved by many, willing to accept her role and also to accept change as needed. She sacrificed much to live so richly as well as publicly. May peace be her eternal resting place.
I’m spending my time this week organizing for the upcoming workshops and pulling together teaching samples. There are many and I’m displaying them around the work space.
Also, finishing up a couple of things as inspiration for what one can do with the pieces that will be worked on during the dye and stitch sessions. Here is a bag I just finished with one of them. The exterior is all vintage and the interior lining is recycled. It’s really fun to give cloth a new life and make it into something “new” and useful. Another in the series of “Carry the Moon” bags I have made over time.
I’ve got a few things to clear off the decks today (Saturday) -like a couple shibori ribbon scrap bag orders, the last stragglers of the July moon circle cards, and some computer email communications. If you are reading this and are in any of the August in-studio workshops, you would have received the last details on attending the workshops and have been asked to reply and confirm. About half of you have-THANK YOU! The others have been emailed twice so far with no reply. I will do so once more and cross my fingers! Other than that, I will take time and try to search you out via social media and send you messages there. This all takes time that I really do need for other things… help a girl out and reply to your email confirmations! Thx…
“Other things” include tracking down a FedEx return from France that has been “on the way” for 30 days now! This order seems to have a curse on it. If you recall, I had sadly and mistakenly sent the wrong colors to a customer in France. We resolved the issue by my remaking the correct order and reshipping it while at the same time issuing a return label to have the wrong order returned to me. Package never returned after being picked up by FedEx at the customers location (and this only after several calls to fedex to go get the package). Fedex is now looking for it after weeks of me calling to check on it. Fedex shipping internationally is no joke either ($$$) so not only am I out the ribbon, I have spent hundreds in shipping to get it back. Yikes! It is going to take more time to resolve this and likely not in my favor. I will persist! Never before had a problem like this with FedEx. We shall see…
BUT- in today’s mail, I received these two beautiful embroidered silk moths from an artist in the Ukraine. So delicate and beautiful! I’m working on a piece that involves silk in all its permutations and these will be a lovely addition to it. I came across them through one of my Japanese sericulture contacts on Twitter.
Plus, I will be back to the Japanese American National Museum in early November with a workshop. stay tuned for details!
Today I’m preparing the fabrics for July moons. I’m kinda excited again about the cloth for this month’s moons. I enjoy deciding how to delight the moon circle each month. This time I went through my bins and chose a roll of something I’ve been saving and drooling over for YEARS! It’s silk tsumugi. But not just ANY old (and i mean old) silk tsumugi. This is the most lovely, drapey, thin, folk style cloth I’ve ever had the privilege of caretaking. It is completely hand spun and hand woven, undyed or treated in any way. In my mind I see a woman hand twisting the silk thread on her lap inside her small wooden home. It is uneven in places. Maybe she is new to the process or perhaps she knows the character which she imbues into the cloth from the wisdom of her past. But it is just wonderful. The silk floss might be what was left from her first rate cocoons- which were sold off to the local cooperative and sent off to be reeled at the filature mill. Who knows how long ago…I am just imagining here.
The cloth has texture, character, an uneven natural color in places. The warp is very, very fine reeled silk. Dressing a loom with this fine a silk must be an art in itself. There are slubs and tiny spots of darker threads in the weft which seem to me to be from discoloration of the cocoon by the silkworm. I hesitated to cut some of it for moons but I just can’t keep it all to myself. It must be shared. I happily imagine all the things it may be used for by those in the moon circle.
Some time back I did a meter or so of indigo shibori with some of this cloth for a garment. The shibori on the top right of the blog header above is some of that. It took the indigo like a dream!
The other moon this month is a departure of sorts. It’s also on old silk but on the scraps of a great and colorful silk meisen cloth that was one of the kimono pieces I remade with participants of the last Kimono Refashioning workshop. I’m enjoying putting these small bits of cloth in your hands for inspection and wondering.
Here I chose a straight forward circle for the meisen silk moon and a partial rough ombre moon for the tsumugi cloth.
I’m also preparing fabrics for the upcoming in studio August workshops. The shibori workshop is sold out with a waiting list. The Thursday August 4th workshop has one opening and the Sunday August 7th has 2 openings. Here is the link if you want to check it out. I spent the better part of today prepping all the vintage fabrics for these projects. I am dyeing the base pieces in the natural vat which is loving the warmer weather these days. I love sorting through all these fabrics and wondering about their past lives as well as imagining their future. I’m setting up the “alumni reunion” for those that were in either session of the Refashioning Kimono workshops. Look for the date in your email inbox.
I have had several requests for new dates for both the Refashioning Kimono workshop as well as the Komebukuro Treasure Bag workshop. These new sessions will begin in late August and September. Look for dates in the next blog post.
In addition to the moons for the moon circle, I was inspired to do a bunch of these moons. I recently saw some new images of the planet Venus from NASA. Pretty amazing!
That reminded me of some hand dyed fabric I had bought several years ago in Houston. I used some of it to repair the couch cushions but I had some left over that I used for Venus inspired moons. There wasn’t enough fabric for the monthly moon circles so I just put them into the shop here.
I’ll end this post with a referral once again to the blog Old Photos of Japan and Kjeld’s recent post titled 1930’s Off to War. Another well researched and interesting post about being conscripted and sent off to war in Japan and how it was “celebrated” by the families and the public. It was the first of two times this past month where I came across the term senninbari or thousand person stitches. I had not known about this and it’s another way to honor the cloth and the stitch. He has a wonderful ukiyoe he came across depicting a scene of a kimono clad woman collecting the stitched knots in public at a temple. The images depicting this practice have dots marking the position where the knots are to be stitched much like the kanoko shibori dots that are marked with aobana. A really great post. I hope you go visit his site and support his fantastic work! He includes this clip of a film with a “song for senninbari as well, Aikoku Senninbari (愛国千人針, Patriotic Thousand Person Stitches), released in 1937 during the Second Sino-Japanese War. In this clip of women collecting stitches on the street, you can hear part of the song as sung by Junko Mikado (三門順子, 1915–1954).“
Most days in the studio I look for meaning in the process, not in the end result. It might not seem that way to many as the thing most people see and react to is the end result of what I do, in the form of something they might purchase from me or enjoy looking at online.
But the reality of it all is, that much of the meaning is experienced in the process. This is where all the wondering begins, questions are asked, and solutions discovered. I appreciate simple process and basic beginning points. I really enjoy creating and practicing a process. Always have. This past week, I had the first wholesale order of shibori ribbon in a while. I have adjusted my process a bit to fit the scale of what I am doing these days. Also, jumping around in the studio from one process to another isn’t exactly the model of efficiency. (shibori silk dyeing, indigo dyeing, moon making, teaching zoom workshops, card making, putting together fabric packs, flower making and more-phew!) That always bugs me. I feel like I am spread too thinly. Some things are like riding a bicycle, you remember how even if you are a bit wobbly and slow at first. But you can improve the more you do it (the practice thing). I can make shibori ribbon with ease, in general. In the past I had enough orders to facilitate the making on a bigger and more efficient scale. What do I mean by this? For example, the base dyeing. Generally, I would base dye a minimum of 60 yards of a color. If an order was for 200 yards of 12-15 different colors, I would probably be base dyeing 600-900 yards of ribbon. The extra would be consumed by the future orders and only the colors I was short of would be put into the mix for the next order. Now, I do one order at a time. An order for 12 rolls of 12 different colors are produced one 10 yard roll at a time. Overall, this takes more time, wastes more dye, uses more water. When it comes to the overdyeing part, it takes me almost the same time to dye one colorway as it would to dye two of the same colorway. In all of this, I am spending more time to make less product and less income. I’m getting older, working harder, making less income. (Quite a familiar scenario for many these days!) These are the things I have to consider in the process. Yes, I could raise my price. I suspect I will have to the next time I have to order silk- we all understand rising prices for materials and transportation. I’ve been also considering another option. Ending wholesale orders and switching to retail only. Seems like the practical choice. I have some reservations about doing this. I like my wholesale customers and have created good relationships and even friendships with many of them over the more than a decade of making and selling the ribbon wholesale. I liked the fact that several of them are (and were… no longer in business) small businesses like myself and we formed interdependent relationships that benefited us both. So that feels like a loss to me. But over the past two years, wholesale orders have slowed to a near stop. The pandemic is responsible for a large portion of this but not all of it. Much like the sun and moon both rise and set, a product also has a trajectory that has a beginning, a middle, and sometimes an ending. But generally things do have a season of popularity. I have seen these product arcs last ten years or so with products I have created in the past. The shibori ribbon has seen even more time than that (since 2006/07 ish) so I am grateful! I still love it, its beauty, the process, and all the customers that use it in their creative works. It’s really such an honor to see what you all do with it and all the beautiful things that have been made with it. Yes, there have been quite a number of people who started to make shibori ribbon to compete with me. None that I am familiar with did so on a wholesale level. That’s harder. They were more interested in getting the higher retail price selling only direct to customers. I took it to a different place. So right now, I have one more wholesale order to complete. And from then on, I’m going to go retail only for a while. I think. Of course I can always change my mind.
I will also say that when I started making the ribbon, very few were even aware of what shibori was, let alone this new fangled thing called shibori ribbon. It was a unique creation that inspired lots of wonderful making over the years.
I thought it might be fun to do a visual look-back on shibori ribbon over time. I have a number of slide show vids and photos I’ll post below. At least I will record them again here in one place and one post. For now. It will take me a while to get set up and post product for retail only on the ribbon, but in the meantime, I’m cutting up all current stock for shibori ribbon scrap bags just to make a clean sweep. Like a wildflower mix. Seed your imagination. Water with wonder and creativity!
As those of you who have come along on the Silk Study Tour to Japan, you have had the opportunity to visit the Ichiku Kubota Museum. There is not a single person that has visited here on the various tours that left this exhibit unmoved or unchanged. Many have shed tears while experiencing this place, or while contemplating what we had just seen, while enjoying the tea room upstairs overlooking the garden waterfall. Even if you know nothing about Kubota when you enter, when you leave you long for more. There is a spiritual connection to beauty in the work, the surroundings and gardens, the architecture, and a deep respect for passion and perseverance he brought forth. Even though much of the experts in the various videos talk about the painting and imagery in his works, I am in awe of his deep understanding of and connection to the materials he used, and especially of the silk fabrics he utilized to get the results he saw in his very keen mind’s eye. The way he used stitch to bind and to texture the silk was a marvel. Even thinking about it now can transport me to that place.
Back in 2009 I blogged about my first visit there I was on the first Silk Study Tour to Japan with Maggie Backman and took a day away from the tour by bus to check out this museum. Beginning in 2011, all the tours have included a stop at this wonderful place!
You can enjoy this many part documentary covering various aspects of Kubota’s work here.
and this website-
Way back in 2008 I made a little silk baby quilt after looking at some of Kubota’s work. It was a meek attempt but I enjoyed trying out some ideas. I called it the “journey quilt”, the moon to guide the way, waves to sooth, and mountains to climb. “The baby” just turned 13! Simply made so it could actually be finished, he still has it.
One weekend at the Japanese American National Museum we studied and attempted some small tsujigahana ourselves. We came to understand its complexity. I have never really gone back to studying or practicing this technique but if you are so inclined, the marvelous John Marshall is giving an online workshop all about tsujigahana! Here he gives a brief description of the process. Here is a link to John’s workshop hosted by Botanical Colors. I’m sure it will be wonderful!
That’s all today. I have had the links to the Kubota Collection in a draft post since December and thought it would be a good time to get it out there since John is doing a tsujigahana workshop next month.
Now that the holidays are over, and the sun is back out after some very much needed rain, I’m back to finish off the mystery of the silk fabric from the obi I was deconstructing here. As you may or may not recall, there was a question as to whether the sateen silk backing of this obi was a cloth woven of silk and paper which would have been very rare. I sent a bit to my friend Velma who makes shifu and she pointed out that she could not detect any “seeds” in the weft threads as she unwove them. The seeds would be where “the strips are joined in one continuous thread by tearing a small tab of paper from the connecting strip above two threads. This tab is rolled in the same direction you intend to spin the thread creating the “seed”. This seed is one of the most notable characteristics of paper thread, and forms a unique pattern in the final woven cloth.” See here for attribution of this explanation and more about shifu.
I too had unwoven a bit more of the weft and looked at it more closely seeing that the fiber did actually look more like a cotton or hemp than paper. I did another burn test on the warp just to make sure and it really did smell like cellulose and not protein fiber-confirmed!
I also received back a reply from the Kyoto Shibori Museum who sent me the following interesting reply: “It looks like an obi made a long time ago.The Japanese embroidery is very beautiful, and I think it’s hard to see anything like this now. The red stamp part is usually stamped with the weight of the fabric, the name of the manufacturer, the place of origin, etc., but it cannot be identified here. The kanji woven into the silk can be read as KAMI GO. It could be the name of the manufacturer/weaver or the title given to this particular obi. KAMI means God and GO is the name of an ancient Chinese country. Japanese kimono is also called GOHUKU, but it means the kimono that GO people came to when the shape of the kimono came from China to Japan.“ The best guess at a date would be late Meiji- early Showa. So around 100 years old.
I have been wondering what fabric I would use for the January Moon of the Month Circle. To begin the year and the Moon of the Month Circle, I will be sending both moons using this beautiful obi silk lining. Can’t wait to get to the vat and make them!
A couple more projects claimed the workspace in December. first, a not so auspicious t-shirt quilt I have been threatening/promising to make for my son trevor going on ten years now! When he went off to college and cleaned out his dresser, there were a lot of favorite t-shirts going back even to co-op preschool days. There were memories from music camps, summer camps, marching bands, favorite pokemon,surf and skate brands, and even their own rock band from when they were kids. I had cut out the graphics and backed them with a lightweight fusible and there they sat, stacked and ready to go. Over time he added a few more from college music groups, shinkendo, and Japan. As I cleared out some of the workspace I decided that THIS was the year I would finish it. I spent two days stitching them together, backing, quilting (by machine), and self binding it. Done! It’s a fun ride from preschool through college in addition to being a utilitarian quilt made with recycled fabrics. The first photo he sent me of its use had a big fluffy cat sitting on it- success!
The other project is still ongoing but I think I solved a dilemma that had been plaguing me for a while. I made this piece -a bit of an ode to fabric scraps and stitches and wasn’t sure if or how I wanted to back it. I always like the back of a stitched work-maybe just out of my own curiosity. But this has sat there feeling a bit unfinished and finally it ended up sitting next to some lovely old red lining silk. The jacquard pattern woven into the very very fine red silk are beautiful cranes with florals and vines. This auspicious pattern was probably for a wedding kimono lining or some other important kimono lining. It’s a full bolt but disassembled and stitched back into a continuous length. I decided I didn’t want to cut it to fit the width of my piece- it would ruin the full pattern. So I decided to stitch it into a tube at the proper width to stitch the lining to the back of my piece. This way, should someone ever want to reuse this beautiful silk, all you would have to do would be to unstitch it. Kind of like a kimono. Something from the Amuse Boro Museum rings in my head at times like this.
The sun has come out here and is drying the outdoor workspace after all the rain. The snow has covered our local mountains and the new year begins with this wonderful view and hope for a year of drought recovery. About a million poppy seeds and bachelor buttons have sprouted in every nook and cranny in the backyard!
Here I have to tell a little of the back story to this old obi. Previously I had blogged about taking Ann Wasserman’s online workshop on quilt repair and restoration (see her blog here). I had found her online while doing some research on the crazy quilt I named Ida Belle. (while I was editing this post, Ann put up a new blog post about her latest repair/conservation quilt-a wool crazy quilt. You can see a video of her talking about it here.) In getting to know Ann a bit via email, we discovered we were quite harmonious when it came to cloth and textiles. Even Jude’s name came up as we were both early enthusiasts of Spirit Cloth (currently in wordlessly watching mode until after the New Year). In our conversations, she mentioned that she had some Japanese silk fabric that had been gifted to her many years ago and that she had no idea what to do with it or even what it was. She sent some images and asked me to look at it.
From the images she sent me, my guess was that it was an obi. It had a couple of areas of highly embroidered florals over some shibori along with large lengths of blank undecorated areas. There was what appeared to be a fold line down the center and the length of the piece indicated that it was an obi. At this point, Ann asked me if I would “adopt” it and do what I thought was best with the piece. I agreed, thinking that it would serve as a nice sample of shibori with beautiful embroidery for future in person workshops (hoping I get back to that eventually!). As you can probably guess, someone like Ann is often given and asked to “adopt” a fair amount of textiles but this one was outside of her particular realm.
When it arrived here, I looked it over and took a few of my own photos. I noticed a couple of things right away. First off, the shibori work is really very sophisticated. It impresses me that way where the the use of dyes fades into the background to give the very subtle feeling of distance. The silk used here is chirimen. Shibori techniques used are kanoko (fawn spot), boshi (capped resist), and makiage (stitched motif). I had a couple of questions so I also sent an email to the director of the Kyoto Shibori Museum. (Their latest youtube video is wonderful!) It’s obvious that the shibori was done with the final embroidery in mind. The embroidery! Wow… very beautiful nihon shishu. I noticed that this shishu has a fairly high “loft”. I asked another friend, Mary Alice in Houston, who teaches this form of Japanese embroidery (you can find her online here) and she said that sometimes the older versions of this were padded underneath. What I ultimately discovered was that there are two layers of silk stitching (one perpendicular to the other) that provide this padding.
What I conclusively decided was that I would disassemble this obi. I decided this for a couple of reasons. The folding and storage were doing it no favors. Storage to me is “out of sight, out of mind”. I like things to be enjoyed and used. So I began to unstitch this beautifully hand stitched obi…and discover its secrets.
If you attended last week’s Komebukuro Treasure bag workshop “check in /hang out” session, after the questions and progress sharing was over, I shared my obi disassembling project. At the time I was about 3/4 through the unstitching. At that time I shared both the front and the back of the amazing embroidery. The back is also amazing and shows the wonderful and tiny stitches used to couch down the gold leafed silk threads. Goldwork embroidery is done using a core thread (usually silk or cotton) that is wrapped with a fine layer of gold leaf. Couching is the main way this thread is used as (I’m guessing) you wouldn’t want to pass this delicate gold thread through the cloth over and over. Couching is done in any number of colored silk threads for contrast and results depending on the embroiderer’s desired artistic outcome.
SInce that session, I have finished taking this piece apart and and discovered something very wonderful. The back side of the obi seemed a little odd to me. The front side of the fabric was very much a sateen-shiny with lots of long silk floats in the weave. However, the back was very matte and had an odd texture. Looking at it with a jewelers loop it was obvious that the warp and the weft were very different fibers. Unweaving a section of an end was in order! The warp was composed of very many fine silk threads. I carefully removed several rows of the much thicker and dull weft threads and did a burn test. Cellulose for sure. Then there was the issue of the feel of this textile. So papery… so I started searching online. I was slipping down another rabbit hole!
I started by searching for shifu, which is a textile woven of paper threads. My friend Velma sent me search for Susan Byrd who wrote the book A Song of Praise for Shifu – Shifu Sanka as well as made a wonderful video on preparing the thread for weaving. I’ve followed Velma for many years and have been amazed at her work and her blog, Wake Robin. I have sent her a piece to look at and give me her thoughts. After doing some reading it seems that it is likely kinujifu (kinu meaning silk and jifu, the word for shifu-paper cloth- when attached to the word kinu) if the weft thread is in fact paper. I did do a sample moon dyeing and when the fabric was wetting out, it curled up like crazy into a tight curl. I haven’t seen that before…
Even if it doesn’t turn out to be kinujifu, I have learned SO MUCH!
The center of the obi is a stiff cloth called obi shin. In many old obi the center layer is made of old cloth patched together. In fancier old obi, a special thick woven cotton cloth is used. Now days, manufactured obi shin is widely available and I’m not sure what they are made of. Perhaps cotton, perhaps poly. But over the course of time, I have collected and used a variety of old obi shine. I have made many of the moon bags from them as they have a great texture and character as well as being very sturdy. They were also often discarded and I was finding them at flea markets in Japan so someone was saving them. Part of the problem with storing these old obi with thick obi shin is that in the humidity of Japan, they tend to become damp and don’t dry easily if improperly stored. This collected moisture can easily mildew and stain (sometimes called foxing) the exterior obi fabrics. Such is the case here and there with this obi. I also moon dyed a piece of the obi shin. it dyed beautifully…
As I look at the fabric from this obi (now temporarily rolled onto three large kimono rolls), I think the best thing for the embroidery portions will be to conserve them flat in museum grade glass with UV protection. My thought is to frame the embroidery with a border of the silk/cellulose fabric. It would be great to frame it so the back side of the embroidery is visible. The main embroidery would go to Ann of course and the lesser one I would keep for a workshop sample. It just makes sense to preserve them this way unless anyone here has another idea-I’d love to hear it.
After all this, I am reminded that I have so many talented and knowledgeable friends that share the love and interest in textiles, preservation, and craft. It is truly a bounty of riches created over time! Now if you have the time and interest- go grab a cuppa and come back to enjoy some of the links and videos noted within. There is a lot to take in!
Don’t forget, there is a new workshop forming for the 2022 Komebukuro Treasure Bags – details here.
I took a little detour to pleat and dye that wired silk organza from the video I mentioned last post. I fashioned a fairly large flower from it so those following along could see the wired edge. I still have to think about what stamens I want to put into- i do think it needs them.
Wiring the edge adds lots of possibilities and can make the pleating come alive. You can get the wire in many colors but here I just used the first thing I could put my hands on which was a copper colored wire.
Then, while looking for some silk embroidery threads I came across another treasure I had almost forgotten about! It’s an old silk crazy quilt with lots of shattered silks which I bought one year at the Houston show. As you may know, shattered silks from the late 1800’s into the early 1900’s abound in many old silk quilts. The reason being is threefold- silk was often mordanted with metallic solutions to hold or brighten the colors, soaked in metallic salts & allowed to dry, rendering them heavier as silk was sold by weight, and also (I just learned)…to increase the rustle of the bustle (well, actually the skirt) as was the fashion in those times. Bustles-imagine! (Thank goodness we no longer dress like that!) Unfortunately, this resulted in the breakdown of the silk over time-hardening the fabric to the point of cracking and breaking or “shattering” as we say. For you long time and textilian readers here, this is not news. I only repeat this which has been mentioned here before since there seems to be a new group of readers now whose understanding of such things is unknown to me (welcome new readers- irrashaimasu!). I made a little video to show you the current condition of the quilt.
Ida Belle. Isn’t that a great name? Of course I got curious and spent WAY too much time going down rabbit holes trying to see if I could discover who Ida Bella was. I did find one very good possibility… Meet Ida Belle Sievwright. 1865-1955 She lived in Melrose MA and was associated with this charity fundraising quilt dated to 1897-1898.
After a bit of poking around online, I came across the blog of Ann Wasserman-quilter, quilt restorationist and repairer. She was the person into whose hands the Melrose Quilt fell and who documented the fascinating process of researching and restoring the Melrose Quilt for a special event exhibition in the city of Melrose. Beyond that, she wrote a book, “Preserving Our Quilt Legacy: Giving Antique Quilts the Special Care They Deserve“. She also has an upcoming online workshop on quilt restoration that looks amazing. She wrote about the process of restoring the Melrose Quilt on her blog in six parts. I’m sure in quilt preservation circles she is very well known but not being in those circles I was not familiar with her expertise. After reading all six posts, I started reading her many other entries about other quilt repair and restoration projects. It gave me some ideas about what I might do with this quilt I now call Ida Belle.
Now this Ida Belle may or may not be MY Ida Belle, but I like to think she might be. There are reasons to think it is a distinct possibility. The timing is right. I would date my Ida Belle somewhere between 1910 – 1935. Why you ask? There are some tobacco silks in there that can specifically be dated to 1910, so it can’t be before that. Ida Belle Sievwright would have been in her late 40’s to early 50’s in 1915 and she would have been 70 in 1935. Her two daughters were born in 1891 & 1898. Her husband was a travelling dry goods salesman. She would have had access to basic fabrics but would not have been considered a wealthy woman by any means. My Ida Belle is unfinished. The back and binding were never completed. The sewing is very competent, the decorative stitching simple but very consistent. All the decorative stitching is done with bright colored wool yarn. No fancy silk embroidery threads for Ida! The pieced backing cloth is completely made of simple recycled cottons and linens- mostly clothing or linings. A simple and frugal gal was Ida! Even though her family and daughter’s name appear on the Melrose Quilt, she could very well have been one of the quilters who worked on it. The Melrose Quilt was tied with wool yarn, not hand quilted. Apparently that was typical of many more utilitarian quilts of that time. The fancier silk crazy quilts had lots of embroidery, used more luxurious silk threads and often included silk velvets. This quilt is not that.
In any case, I had a great time exploring Ann Wasserman’s site, Ida Belle’s history, and imagining what I might do with this fixer-upper of a quilt. As most of you who know me, you know I would ideally want to get it into a condition that allows it to be used. It’s no use folded up into a drawer somewhere. At the same time, I want to make it so it doesn’t deteriorate any faster that it needs to. I also don’t like the idea of covering the back of it. I find the back as interesting as the front! I wondered about putting a simple binding on it and perhaps a 4-5 momme silk organza backing. That way, you can still see through it. Then maybe tying it all with wool yarn. That’s after doing the repairs on the shattered silk blocks.