My sister's mother-in-law, Nolia, passed away years ago and she left many pieced tops with my sister (not a quilter) and her husband. I heard about these tops when my sister informed me they were on her 'burn pile' when she was in a frenzy of cleaning out the shed in her back yard in Texas.
You could have heard me gasp from my home in Maryland at this news....and my immediate response was "Stop in the name of the law and DO NOT BURN THEM! Send them to me if you do not want them!" Oy, the sacrilege. Right?
She then sent me four tops and decided to hang onto the others after I encouraged her NOT to burn them. She said they were bright and colorful and I was instantly interested although I had NO idea what kind of tops these would be.
These tops turned out to resemble Gee's Bend quilts in their improvisational style. For a few months I meditated about what I might do to give these tops of Nolia's a useful and purposeful life. This woman grew up very poor in the Cajun Louisiana bayous with no opportunity to even go to grade school and spoke mostly French. She had a sewing machine but could not figure out how to use it so she pieced all her tops by hand. And although she was not African American, I think she must have learned her style from her neighbors who were laboring in the sugarcane fields of the area.
This is the final result of the first top I worked with.....74" x 74"
And this is the pieced back.....
Nolia used ALL fabrics in her quilts regardless of weight or content....housecoat fleece, double knits, extremely thin polyester, slippery polyesters, satiny-feeling lining fabrics, denims, plain cottons, and more. Nothing was off-limits for this quilter! Here is the original top.....
I quickly realized that I would have to deconstruct the blocks to get rid of extra fabric in the uneven seams and weed out the fabrics that were too heavy, too thin, or too slippery. I also did not want to use the preprinted fabric blocks. (the only other quilt where I have seen a preprinted block used was in my Gee's Bend quilt book!) And I needed the end result to lie flat for quilting. Hello, seam ripper.
Notice the way Nolia 'made do' with what she had on hand.......
Extra fabric simply folded back to fit.
Front band of clothing used 'as is'
After deconstructing and repiecing enough blocks to form a quilt, I machine-quilted in into simple straight lines about 1 3/4 inch apart.
You will notice that Nolia used the Housetop block that is very popular with Gee's Bend quilters. I have grown to love this simple block! What still kind of puzzles me though, is how Nolia could get her pieced tops to look so good given the limited fabrics she had on hand....she instinctively knew how to add punch and of course, she used red as well. I actually added a bit more red of my own to this quilt in the name of Nolia!
I LOVED redoing and finishing this top and feel like I have had a hands-on lesson in improv piecing from a pro! I also relish this connection I have made with another woman in another time and place - our lives have intersected in our common interest in sewing bright scraps of fabric together into a pleasing pattern! I have named this quilt "Duet: Nolia and Me".
Lovely finish. Nolia would be very happy with this warm inviting quilt with punches of color. I'm looking forward to the next one.ReplyDelete
Thank you!! In our quilting world of wonderful fabrics ready for us to use, it is ever easy to overlook the creativity possible with just what we might have. The process you followed to create "Duet: Nolia and Me" honored Nolia. I love seeing the photos of Nolia's original -- this is truly a masterpiece that crosses boundaries!ReplyDelete
Congratulations on finishing this quilt; you did an amazing job! But what a task deconstructing and reconstructing!ReplyDelete
I know it sounds terribly tedious to totally deconstruct and remake a top but it truly was a pleasure for me. I did most of it while sitting at the kitchen table listening to interesting TV shows and documentaries my husband was watching in the den just a few feet away. Also provided me 'musing' time!Delete
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So lovely! The addition of more reds really gives it a beautiful spark too.:)ReplyDelete
My motto: when in doubt, try adding RED!Delete
This is SO WONDERFUL!!! I love inspecting Nolia's use of everything she had, along with her happy sense of color. The solid red pieces are a key that pulls it together. You picked up on that and added more, learning from her eye and making it your own. I love, love, love this quilt and your appreciation for Noila's work. Bravo!!!ReplyDelete
Wow what a great and vibrant quilt. Great preservation of the past in a fun new piece.ReplyDelete
Love those shots of red! woo hoo
RED often gives a needed shot of "happy"!Delete
Edith, Thank you for reaching out and sharing this quilt and its story! I loved seeing both the original and saved version of this quilt and Love the name. I am sure it was work to deconstruct but boy you gave that quilt such a justice! WOW!ReplyDelete
Sujata, Thank YOU for giving me this opportunity to share!Delete
I love rescue projects like this one -- I've saved several elderly tops and re-worked them into viable quilts. KUDOS to you for your excellent interpretation of this one!!!ReplyDelete
Thank you, everyone, for your appreciative replies! It is very affirming coming from veteran quilters like all of you who create beautiful quilts of your own!ReplyDelete
Superb quilt!! I can see that it was a true labour of love for yourself, and would also have been for Noila. Good on you for saving this beauty.ReplyDelete
Sweet story. I'm so glad you found the value in this quilt and it's maker.ReplyDelete