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Detail of "Proclaim Liberty," 2020 by Dana Jones

When I began quilting, all the classes I took were machine techniques. I enjoyed them and didn't really think about hand stitching. Then I took a hand quilting class. I soon found myself practicing my hand quilting during work meetings. It made daylong meetings seem shorter.

Last year as I designed the quilt I would submit to Colorado Quilting Council's annual show, I knew I wanted to include some hand stitching. We were in the midst of the pandemic with no clarity around when vaccines would be available. I was learning of friends who were sick and some who had died. I found hand stitching a great way to relieve stress, and so I decided to embroider the words from the Liberty Bell onto the quilt I was making for the show, which had a theme of Red, White and/or Blue.

Detail of "Proclaim Liberty," 2020 by Dana Jones

As I stitched, I thought about what those words mean to all who seek a better life in our country: "...proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof..." The words come from the King James Version of Ephesians. I thought about what it means to extend radical hospitality. I found myself calmer, more focused, and as I neared the end of my stitching, I wished I had more embroidery to do.

This weekend as I finished reading Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle (Abrams Press, 2020) by Clare Hunter, I found affirmation for the value of hand stitching. A shout out to this author and her words that are challenging and inspiring. She weaves stories from around the world across centuries, even across millennia, that chart the importance of stitching, the relegation of stitching to insignificant women's work in a world dominated by men, and the enduring power of needle and thread despite all attempts to make it otherwise. She writes:

"Sewing is a visual language. It has a voice. It has been used by people to communicate something of themselves — their history, beliefs, prayers and protests....But it is not a monologue, it is part of a conversation, a dialogue, a correspondence only fully realised once it is seen and its messages are read....It has evolved, primarily, as the voice of women who, through the centuries with limited access to literacy, or little assurance that if they did write, their words would be preserved, chose needlework as a medium to assert their presence in the hope that it, at least, might persist and, in time, be heard."

I recently had the joy of teaching Introduction to English Paper Piecing (EPP) for the Stitchin' Den in Estes Park, Colorado. It was a delightful day as we fashioned hexagons, triangles and clamshells by hand, trying numerous ways to baste the pieces and multiple hand stitches for joining them.

If you haven't done any hand stitching lately, give it a try. Be it EPP, embroidery, hand quilting, knitting or crocheting, I think you'll find your heart lighter and your spirits lifted. Like meditation, the rhythm of pulling needle and thread will flow with your breathing and the beat of your heart.

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"In Gina's Footsteps," 24" x 30" by Dana Jones, 2018. Inspired by "Flood of Colors, 68" x 88" by Gina Abayan, Caohagan Island, 2000.

This week, my quilt, "In Gina's Footsteps," when on exhibition at the Texas Quilt Museum in LaGrange, Texas, as part of the American Quilt Study Group's (AQSG) 2018 quilt study exhibition, "Inspired by 200 Years of Solid-Color Quilts 1800-2000." What a thrill!

My inspiration quilt, "Flood of Colors" by Gina Abayan of Caohagan Island and made in 2000, came in just under the wire of quilts that could be selected as inspiration. Every other year, AQSG issues a challenge to members to promote quilt study by creating quilts along a theme and within a size range. Quilters can create an exact replica, a partial reproduction or a new work inspired by the vintage piece. I chose to replicate Gina's work but much smaller.

You can learn more about my quilt in the exhibition book, Years of Solid Color Quilts: A Quilt Study, (American Quilt Study Group, 2019). I was so honored when it was selected as one of five quilts pictured on the book's cover.

If you haven't read my book, Pagtinabangay: The Quilts and Quiltmakers of Caohagan Island, it's available on my website. You can enjoy a full-page photo of Gina's "Flood of Colors" plus more than 300 other full-color photos of these amazing quilts, their makers and their island.

I was hesitant to enter the AQSG study exhibition. My first concern was that my proposed quilt would not be accepted as only 50 entries. Passing that hurdle, I was concerned I wouldn't complete it by the deadline. As a journalist and magazine editor, I spent most of my adult life working to deadlines and meeting them. In retirement from that work, I've steered clear of imposing deadlines on my quilting. Entering meant committing to and meeting a deadline. I sew slowly so my fear was palpable.

I met the deadline but not without some angst. I had planned to hand quilt the piece as do the quiltmakers on Caohagan Island. When I began hand quilting, I quickly realized that would be impossible. Some of the strips are less than 1/4" wide so there are many seams close together. I couldn't stitch evenly. I had to quilt it by machine but I honored the Caohagan way of stitching horizontal lines of quilting about 1/4" apart, not drawn but eyeballed as you go. I was surprised how much I like the results, especially because it has the feel of Caohagan with a twist more in line with my tools.

I didn't worry about whether my quilt would be selected for the traveling exhibition which is limited to 25 quilts, and it never occurred to me that my quilt might be used on the exhibition book cover. When both those things happened, it was delicious icing on the cake.

2021 will again be a time for me to embrace quilting to an exhibition deadline. If you have not taken on such a challenge, I encourage you to do so. During 2018, I quilted to three deadlines: The AQSG deadline, a deadline for Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum and the deadline for Colorado Quilting Council's annual Quilt-a-Fair show. I met that last deadline again in 2020. Quilting to deadlines — not too many too often — and quilting to a theme, a size or other boundary has enhanced my quilting. I think it will do the same for you. Give it a try.

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My version of Elizabeth Hartman's "Patchwork City"

When I began planning my version of Elizabeth Hartman's "Patchwork City," I thought about the cities in which I've lived and worked: Chicago and Manhattan, NY. One image was dominant. Taxis. My quilt had to have taxis. But where to find taxi fabric. I didn't want yellow cabs, just black and white ones. I finally decided I had to make my fabric. The beauty of this was that I could make taxis of various sizes to fit each block. And I decided there must be at least one taxi in every block.

Clockwise from top left, "Patchwork City" blocks: Museum, Drawbridge, Rose Garden and Clock Tower

When I first saw Elizabeth Hartman's "Patchwork City" book (C&T Publishing, 2014), I had to have it. I fell in love with the energy of the blocks. Next came my fascination with her use of three sizes of blocks that can be organized in a variety of grids. (More on my love all things grid in a future blog post.)

Most exciting about this book is that it doesn't say make this quilt this way. It says, here's 25 patterns for each of three size blocks. Make as many of these 75 blocks as you want then put them together as you want.

Elizabeth Hartman offers six settings for these blocks. I made her "Metro Area" setting, which uses all 75 blocks. Since I will be teaching this quilt, I wanted to have made all the blocks so I can lead students in making any that they choose. Her other five settings use fewer blocks. Three use only blocks of one size. Rarely have a seen a book that is such an interesting mix of clear instructions for how to make blocks yet leaves so much room for personal choices to create quilts unique to each maker.

It was fun putting finishing touches on this quilt, which is loaded with memories of my 16 years working and living in Uptown Manhattan and six years working in the Chicago Loop, as snow was falling outside my Rocky Mountain home/quilt studio. We got at least three feet plus deeper drifts. After more than two days of continuous snow falling, I've been dug out by a neighbor who plows our driveway and a very snow-competent county road crew.

I will teach "Patchwork City" from 1-4 p.m. Saturdays, June 5, 12, 19 and 26, and July 10 for Holly's Quilt Cabin in Centennial, Colorado. It will be via Zoom so wherever you are, you can enroll. I'll post the shop sign-up link soon.

Snow at my home in rural Gilpin County,

Colorado, Sunday, March 15, 2021

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