Thursday, December 29, 2005

Save a Little Bit for the Coroner

I was cleaning off my desk the other day (to make room for quilting project overflow) when I found the application form for "Membership in the New West Virginia Mushroom Club." A friend gave it to me about 18 months ago, but something has kept me from writing a check and sending it in. Perhaps this quote from the "Disclaimer" section will explain my reluctance. It occupies at least a quarter of the printed matter on the application form.

...There is always the possibility that you can get sick or die after eating a mushroom, even if you have safely consumed the exact same genus, species and variety before. No matter what the cause, if you do get sick or die after eating a mushroom or after eating a prepared dish made available at a mushroom foray, it's not the fault of the attendees at the foray, the club, or the club's members or officers. The club has no control over the identification of mushrooms or other foods prepared by foray attendees and it's possible that a dish can be labeled as containing one or more mushrooms that were misidentified by the chef. Also, be aware that, after our foray mycologists identify a specimen and place it on a plate on the foray exhibition tables, that does not necessarily mean that the mushroom you see on the plate is the same mushroom labeled on the identification tag. We have seen instances where foray attendees pick up and study a specimen and then inadvertently return it to the wrong dish on the table. So a specimen placed on a dish labeled as a species that is edible may not necessarily be the same mushroom the mycologist initially identified and placed on that plate. Also, some specimens may not have been identified by the foray mycologists, but by enthusiastic, but mistaken, amateurs hoping to help out. For these reasons, you should always identify mushrooms to your own satisfaction before cooking or eating them. Finally, please use sensible precautions before eating any mushroom, even if you feel certain about its identity: eat only a small amount and save a specimen for analysis by personnel in the emergency room, hospital laboratory or coroner's office.

I confess we eat wild mushrooms whenever we find them, and never save a specimen for analysis by personnel in the coroner's office.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Stitching in the Snow

You might assume my long absence from my weblog reflects holiday activities, but such is not the case. I've been here, at home, with electricity despite the early winter weather. For the last two weeks, I have been making quilts for my windows. It has been a strangely non-verbal activity. Instead of words, I've been absorbed with shape, color, texture and dimension. I've gone at these quilts with the same single-mindedness that I inevitably give to computer programming and jigsaw puzzles. I don't seem to be able to work on projects like these and think about anything else. This is one reason I've avoided work as a computer professional. After a few weeks of a project hijacking my mind, it becomes quite uncomfortable.

I've finished the quilts for one set of windows. They are quite satisfactory and delightfully different from what I had planned. I have one more set of windows to go, and I have been forced to come up for air because I need more sashing fabric to finish assembling my blocks.

Bookcover: The Milkweed Ladies

The main news from Pocahontas County, to the extent I've noticed anything beyond my sewing table, seems to be the early snows and their persistence here at the higher elevations. We've had two heavy rains, but here on Droop there's still plenty of deep snow on the ground. I'm inclined to quote Louise McNeill's wonderful recollections of Pocahontas County snows from The Milkweed Ladies (1988, University of Pittsburgh Press).

In winter I sometimes went out early and walked the fields of our farm alone. I liked to go on mornings of fresh snowfall, when all the meadows were trackless and hushed with white. I would walk up through Captain Jim's old orchard and when I got near the moss-gray trees along the rail fence, I would begin to see the little animal tracks and would follow them up and down along the edge of the woods.

There were the triangular prints of the rabbits, or the little field mice tracks like delicate lace woven across the snow. Sometimes there might be fox tracks, on track in front of the other in a straight line. After a warm night, there might be skunk tracks, like little human footprints but with a soft white dab where the tail had brushed the snow; and up in the bushes the bird tracks made dark little stitches mending the hill. There were also the round cat tracks, no claws showing, retracted feline tread; and one morning I saw blood on the snow.

Sometimes I could feel the others close around me, down in their little burrows in the earth: the gray, sleeping wood mice; the little striped ground squirrels; and the soft curled-up rabbits, the snoring old groundhogs, and the ring-tailed raccoons. Then the silence would come down, as though it fell on our meadows from the high whiteness of Pinnacle Rock. (pp 63-64)

Monday, December 12, 2005

Annie Proulx--Some Choice Quotes

Book Cover: Heart Songs

I'm not unique in enjoying the works of Annie Proulx. She's been very successful, especially with The Shipping News. I think her accounts of rural life are vivid and true. My favorite Annie Proulx book is her 1988 short story collection: Heart Songs and Other Stories. She has captured perfectly the tension between the "from here" and "come here" people of rural New England. We see the same sorts of interactions here in Pocahontas County, and probably everywhere the rich city folks are building their vacation homes.

p. 191. "Negatives." Year after year rich people moved into the mountains and built glass houses at high elevations; at sunset when the valleys were smothered in leathery shadow, the heliodor mansions flashed like an armada signaling for attack. The newest of these aeries belonged to Buck B., a forcibly retired television personality attracted to scenery. "Negatives," p 191.

Proulx describes the ways rural people lose control of their homes and way of life, and documents the disconnect between city people's expectations for country life and the realities they find.

"Properties break apart," says Aunt....We know how quarreling sons sell sections of the place to Boston schoolteachers, those believers that country life makes you good. When they find it does not, they spitefully sell the land again, to Venezuelan millionaires, Raytheon engineers, cocaine dealers and cold-handed developers.

Reba mumbles, "The more you expect from something, the more you turn on it when it disappoints you." Electric Arrows, p. 157

My favorite story in the collection is "Heart Songs" because it covers territory familiar to me. Friends here grew up playing traditional Appalachian stringband music, and I am fascinated to watch the city people come to music festivals and play at being Old-Time musicians. In "Heart Songs," Proulx has charted the course of a misunderstanding between a suburban guitarist and some local musicians. First, she shows us the city expats searching for a new life.

"Snipe drove along through a ravine of mournful hemlocks, gravel snapping against the underside of the Peugeot.....[H]e had the fine idea to play his guitar in rural night spots, cinder-block buildings on the outskirts of town filled with Saturday night beer drunks and bad music. He wanted to hook his heel on the chrome rung of a barstool, hear the rough talk, and leave with the stragglers in the morning's small hours. He recognized in himself a secret wish to step off into some abyss of bad taste and moral sloth, and Chipping County seemed as good a place as any to find it...."

He wondered how much longer Catherine would last. She was spoiled by her rotten-rich mother and father....offering her trips to South America to study native weaving techniques, offering a year's rental of a little shop in Old Greenbrier where she could sell the heavy mud-colored cloaks and leggings she made....She'd leave him sometime. He thought about the Twilights on their mountain farm at the end of a bad road, turning the earth, sowing seed, and in the evening singing simple songs from their hearts in the shabby kitchen, poor enough so no one cared what they did....

As Snipe, the suburban guitarist, spends more time with the Twilights, he thinks he is getting to know them and their music.

There really could be an album, he thought, and maybe he could really guide them through the sharky waters of country-music promotion. They would wear black costumes, completely black except for a few sequins on the sleeves, black to set off the simplicity of their faces. The album cover would show a photograph of them standing in front of their ratty house, sepia-toned and slightly out of focus, rural and plain, the way he had told Catherine their own lives would be when they came to the country. Simple times in an old farmhouse, Shaker chairs by the fire, dew-wet herbs from a little garden, and an isolation and privacy so profound he could get drunk and fall down in the road and no one would see."

Eventually, he finds that he has completely misread the Twilights, their music, and their relationships. He retreats with the same salute many musical tourists hurl at our traditional Appalachian musicians:

Snipe ran, stumbling on the bloody shirt, skidding on the stone doorstep, breaking his fingernails on the car door handle....cursing and shaking as the vehicle crashed down the rocky track. "Goddamn hillbillies," he said to the rearview mirror.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Obsessive Quilting Behavior

I've been trying in vain to write a non-quilt-related post. I can't seem to write and make quilts at the same time. I'm hoping that if I just indulge my obsessive interest in this project, I will be able to move on.

The object of my obsession is meant to be a set of curtains for the floor-to-ceiling windows at the east end of my house. Now that it's winter again, the cold air coming off the windows really chills the living room. There's a spectacular temperature gradient from the wood stove at one end of the house to the sofa at the other end. It would be nice to have curtains to close, at least at night, to hold in a little heat.

I've taken my laundry baskets full of "Fabric Scraps Unsuitable for Quilts," and I've been sewing them in random patterns to 11-inch muslin squares. Most of the scraps are rayons and polyesters. The colors are vivid, the prints are huge, and the textures are varied. Crinkle rayon, satin, jacquard, and pseudo-suede are fun to juxtapose with my huge collection of rayon challis prints. It's a great deal of fun. More images will be posted in the next few days. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Denim Quilts and Project Multiplication

I've been on a tear this week, trying to tie up some loose ends on a variety of projects. I've been revising my Web pages, updating content and switching to a more sophisticated CSS design; I've been finishing sewing projects, and I've been sorting through my fabric scraps, with an eye toward making a wall-hanging or curtain to cut down cold drafts this winter. As a result, I've made no progress on any of my half-dozen half-written weblog entries.

You know how it is. A push to finish old projects always spawns new and unanticipated projects. When all the old clothes were cut up and sorted, I realized I had enough fabric to make a denim quilt from old blue jeans. That's why today I'm presenting another list of links, this time for blue jeans quilts.

  • Working with Denim in a Quilt. Really good tips on denim patchwork projects.
  • Blue Jeans Quilts from the "Straw Into Gold/Crystal Palace Yarns" people.
  • Blue Jeans Quilt Gallery. Inspiring photos, along with some how-to's.
  • Denim Quilt (2000). An inspiring denim quilt by Sandra J. Loosemore, who says "Sewing with a fabric as heavy as denim presents some interesting challenges to the quilter. The main problem is that typical block-based quilt designs would result in seams that are too bulky at the points where the blocks meet. If you look closely at this design, you'll see that there is no block. The square pieces are connected with the longer strips in a continuous basket-weave pattern. From a topological point of view, there are points where three pieces meet, but no points at which four or more pieces meet."

Friday, December 02, 2005

Scrap Fabric Reclamation Project

Report from the Scrap Fabric Reclamation Project (aka Let's Clean Out These !@#$%^ Shelves!): I've been looking around for ways to use scraps of Fabrics Not Suitable for Quilting, and my recent garment construction projects have moved this project from Highly Desirable to A Critical Need. (I can't explain this sudden urge to capitalize for emphasis. When Anne of Creating Text(iles) does it, it's quite clever and effective. When I do it, it is more like a Bad Habit.)

Here are some useful and interesting Web sites on scrap quilts, crazy quilts, and string quilts. It seems strange to me: Quilting has been a wildly popular hobby for some time, although it may have passed its zenith. Books, supplies, clubs, conferences and lessons are available all over. Yet quilting's Web "presence" seems heavily skewed toward static commercial sites offering quilting products. There are some personal quilting pages, but most that I visited were put up years ago and forgotten, their links moribund. The avid quilters must be too busy quilting to bother with computers. Of course there are good Internet quilting resources, but I had to wade through many unhelpful, slow loading ones to find these goodies.

  • Real Women Quilt."An online quilting magazine filled with humor, encouragement, tips, and stories about Real Women, their Quilts, and their creative journey. We also have an online store filled with great books, fabrics, gifts, and fun stuff for quilters." This site is informative and entertaining, and it seems to be quite active. I found what I was looking for here--ideas for using up scraps in string quilts and crazy quilts. Here's a sample, from the Tips page.
    I save all my scraps...from large pieces to the little tiny pieces...thinking that I can use them for SOMETHING! When I don't know what to sew.....I cut a 9 inch sq. of muslin...and sew my scraps diagonally across the square...covering the whole square. I think they are called String Quilts. Then I just keep saving the finished blocks...and someday I will have enough for a quilt....Claudia Voorhees
  • Victoriana Quilters. This site describes itself as "a large resource and community for quilters, including: Free Original quilt patterns (with membership); Free Block of the Month; Free Printable Quilt Labels; Free Charity Quilt patterns; Free Beginner's Quilting Online Class and Free Crazy Quilt Online Workshop (with membership); Free printable quilting technique instructions; Free quilting designs and other information in the Library;....Message Board; Quilt Gallery; Used Quilt Books listing; and more!" So, there's paid membership associated with it, but everything I wanted to look at was freely available, and I found the information valuable, well-presented, and attractive. I found this string pieced block--exactly what I was looking for--in the "Charity Quilt" section.
  • My "crazy quilt" search string turned up Sharon Boggon's excellent Web site, Sharon Boggon describes herself as "a textile artist interested in the connection between textiles and technology." Her weblog is outstanding, and features links to photography, philosophy, language, history, and any interesting topic you can name, as well as all sorts of textile arts. She also offers Sharon b's Dictionary of Stitches for Hand Embroidery and Needlework. This wonderful Web site (featuring crazy quilts) isn't a new find for me; more of a rediscovery. A couple of years ago I was following a number of textile arts blogs, including this one. Most of the blogs featured more shopping for fiber and fabric than knitting/weaving/spinning/sewing....and a significant portion of them had that whiny tone that personal journals often take. (Don't ever look at my pen and ink journal--that's where I whine, in the hope that I won't whine online, or in the presence of flesh and blood humans.) I eventually gave up the whole lot of them, and this is a delightful baby I threw out with the tepid bath water. I look forward to catching up with sharon b.
  • Crazy Quilt Central.This site calls itself "Your one-stop location for information about the art of crazy quilting." The information on the site itself is still good, and the photos are inspiring, but the site appears to be "abandoned." It was last updated in 1999 and many off site links are dead. I hope the owner will come back to it again someday.