Helene is the only woman who has actually gotten to see her biography quilt. Her son was selling some of her things at his garage sale, including a big cardboard box of her knitting samples and wooden knitting needles. When I asked, he explained that during World War 2, his mom worked at RCA helping to develop cathode ray tubes. Later, she knit one-of-a-kind sweaters for exclusive shops. Each of the samples in the box had a card with instructions.
I sewed the samples together, using some netting as a backing (you can see the netting at the bottom, where I used the paler samples and spread them farther apart). After this sample-front was finished, I sewed the instruction cards together to make an additional backing, over the netting. The wooden hanger is reinforced by heavy wiring to get the elbows out.
In a nod to her work at RCA, I printed some images on cloth and sewed them on. Then I wrote to her son, and asked if his mother (in her 90's) would like to see it. She would. I brought it to her house, and laid it carefully on the floor. She studied it silently for a long time. I mentioned that I would have liked to include some actual cathode tubes in the piece, but hadn't been able to find any. "Oh, I have some" said Helene, and she gave me some very small ones that I sewed right in. She seemed pleased.
The RCA logo is based on a painting, His Master's Voice, showing a dog listening to a gramophone recording. Here are 3 different versions of the logo: a black-and-white image, the same image used a motif in a mola, and barely visible on a record label. The 2 tubes that Helene gave me are stitched right onto the quilt.
I din't get a great deal of textile material at this sale, but I got a whole life history. The man running the sale was kind enough to send me a letter, telling me all about Minnie.
Minnie Harrison was born in West Virginia in 1879 and lived to be 93. She left the family farm and worked as a cook before returning and getting married. They moved to Detroit, then New York City. She had four children. One boy, Paul, died on a train while they were taking him to a doctor. The conductor asked them not to tell anyone, and they just carried him off the train. Minnie had a dream and envisioned a church. In New York, she saw the church of her dream. It was a Catholic church, and she and her children converted (the family in West Virginia was Baptist). Minnie was one of the first women to work for the Brooklyn Dodgers. In about 1960, Minnie came to live with her daughter in Nutley, NJ and stayed until her death.
The tools in this quilt belonged to Minnie, and she made the crochet. I sewed salvaged fabric into a background that has the same 'flavor' as a quilt made by Minnie (which I saw at the sale but was unable to buy).
In this (admittedly pitiful) photo, you can just barely see 2 photos of Minnie: one of her sitting and sewing a quilt, the other with her on her knees, on the floor with her quilt. I found a baseball at another garage sale, and cut it open to include it in this quilt.
I found most of these pieces at a garage sale where all I could learn was that they had been made by Janice's mother. So this bio is light on facts and heavy on interpretation. She's a shaman in the same way that I consider myself a crone: an older woman who knows enough skills to be helpful. In my purse, I carry bandages, aspirin, a small sewing kit, tissues, tea bags and chocolate, which takes care of most minor emergencies. Janice's mother has scissors, tape measures, needles, etc...and with her extra set of hands she holds potholders showing a stew pot and a tea pot!
My Neighbor Marie
I never met Marie. She lived in a shabby dark green house around the corner, and I never paid any attention until the ESTATE SALE sign went up. Well....the outside might be rundown, but inside? Every gleaming surface was covered in beautiful china and glassware. Upstairs, the beds sagged under a weight of wonderful linens. There were beautiful white damasks, and pieces heavily embroidered with angels and flowers. It was the type of stitching that looks perfect front and back (HOW? how do people DO that?).
I dyed much of the white damask with the same dark color as her house, and sewed them into the form of a hanging garment, the type I imagined Marie wearing. And when you lift open the flaps of the jacket, you can see the amazing colors inside.
At the estate sale, all the pieces were out and at hand, which helped achieve that beautiful contrast with the outside. I did something similar here. I took bits from various pieces - a fat red rose from one embroidered piece, a couple of cherubs from another, and consolidated them to get a really lush, full scene. And the back is a complete mess of threads.
A poor photo, but I thought you might like to see (hey, if I wait until I get perfect photos of everything, this blog will not happen). On the left side, you can see the label (from the back of the quilt), made from one of Marie's embroideries. This is how most of them looked, before I smashed all the flowers and cherubs together. On the right side is a bit of embroidery that I did on the dress-jacket lapel, saying 'really, none of our business'. I wondered about that a lot, about how I didn't know anything about Marie until after her death.
Another piece that's light on information. I found an apron, a pink hat, scissors, a dishtowel with embroidered peacocks, a few hair clips, and was told the place had belonged to 2 sisters. When I found the scissors, I asked if either worked in a salon? No, but they "did each other's hair". So, with my still-poor understanding of fabric dyes, I colored the apron and dishtowel to match the hat, embroidered the lettering, and then I made sure those 2 peacocks looked their very best. Their feathers are set with some clips, and other clips are wound up in colorful threads.