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Work in progress by Dana Jones

After dropping off four quilts to long-arm quilter Rita Meyerhoff (see glimpses of her work on my version of Elizabeth Hartman's "Patchwork City" below), I wanted to relax by doing some quick and easy piecing. I'm part of a quilt group that is focused on log cabin quilts this year — Log Cabin Fever to be specific. I began thinking about a great workshop I did with Sarah Nishiura — — last year in which she had us work with half square triangles warping them to create an illusion of circles. My brain has been thinking about warping grids ever since.

As a career photojournalist who has spent significant time laying out magazine and newspaper pages, my life has long been focused on grids. When I began quilting, I saw the surface of quilts as grids but then began to wander from that idea only to realize I'd left behind something I love. That realization came during a 2014 class at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago when our instructor, Liz Ensz — — had us read Chapter 1, "Brick," from Hannah B. Higgins' The Grid Book (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2009).

I was drawn to Elizabeth Hartman's Patchwork City (C&T Publishing, 2014) because her use of an interlocking grid for up to 75 blocks made in three sizes is genius. This isn't a quilt you make overnight. Every block is unique. Every block offers possibilities for fussy cutting. Every block provides a piecing challenge and joy.

I will teach this quilt for Holly's Quilt Cabin in a series of Zoom sessions in June. More on that soon. In the meantime, enjoy a few photos of Rita's quilting. She finished it yesterday, and I will pick it up tomorrow.

Patchwork City, design by Elizabeth Hartman, made by Dana Jones, quilting by Rita Meyerhoff

Patchwork City, design by Elizabeth Hartman, made by Dana Jones, quilting by Rita Meyerhoff

I'd love to hear how you are quilting on or off the grid.

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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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