…looked down, and saw this. Haha. (My closet is a dark dungeon in the mornings.) Happy Friday, all!
My friend Ross recently made a quip about how my latest blog posts haven’t been “tight.” I guess she means I haven’t had the time to sit down and really write about cooking or crafting. And when I say really write, I mean to craft a story as much as the story is about crafting. I know Ross is just teasing me, because she knows I’ve been busy and knows how serious I can get about blogging. Here, hopefully, is something that will shut her up. (Hi, Ross!)
What you see above are squares from a quilted throw-pillow case sewn by my Lola (Grandma) Acay many seasons ago. It starts off the long and varied story of the quilt that I’m currently working on, which I’d written about briefly, here.
The story of my quilt doesn’t begin with why I decided to start the project or when, or perhaps what kind, or print or type of fabric inspired it. It started long before I knew about quilting, before I was even born. My quilt’s story really begins with my Lola Acay, the day she learned to quilt, maybe in the 1920’s as a young, unmarried woman herself in Tampi, Negros Oriental.
I once asked my mom how her mother-in-law learned to quilt and why. I remember asking this in sixth grade, when I was in home ec. I’d been learning the gamut of “womanly life skills:” cooking, sewing, crochet and embroidery in school under the watchful eyes of Salesian sisters. We made aprons (mine were lopsided), skirts (mine could only fit a hobbit), but we were never taught the history and basics of patchwork and quilting.
The craft interested me because every summer, when we visited Lola Acay in Dumaguete, the whirring of her manual sewing machine was part of the soundtrack of those hot afternoons in the house on Silliman Avenue, with the smell of the sea blowing in through the windows. She was ALWAYS quilting, pieced fabric seemingly blooming from her fingertips. She was meticulous, precise, creative. And magical, especially to a young girl who couldn’t thread a needle without sticking it in her mouth twenty times, until it was too wet and dirty to use! I wanted to BE like Lola, to make something so well, something that everyone loved.
Mama said that quilting isn’t historically Filipino. Our collective craft consciousness is filled with needlework of all types, but quilting was uncommon. In fact, it wasn’t one of things taught to us in school. Maybe it had to do with the craft’s primary function: warmth. The three layers of material (top fabric, middle batting and back fabric) sewn together were useful for winters abroad, especially in America and the UK, where quilting thrived both as an art and as necessity. In the Philippines, you probably only got 20 nights out of the year that you’d need a blanket for, and even then, not a very thick one.
Lola Acay was a rare bird, probably having learned the skill from American missionaries who went to the island in the 1900s. She modified traditional quilt construction by doing away with the middle batting and simply sewing through two pieces of material. This made it more practical in the tropical climate and for the balmy breezes carried through the warm waters that kissed the town’s edge.
Among Lola’s favorite quilt patterns were the Rail Fence…
…and her signature design was this variation on the Dresden Plate.
Off all these wondrous designs that Lola pieced together, I’m most fascinated by her postage-stamp ones, like the one you saw at the beginning of this post. Named after the size of squares that one works with to put the quilt together, this requires a good eye for color, a lot of planning and patience.
Mama recounted how she used to give her old white nurse’s uniforms to Lola, who would then dye them to suit a palette she was working with. I never really knew this growing up, except that I always had a memory of small cartons of Rit dye in Lola’s bathroom. I think about her creativity now, and I’m in awe of her resourcefulness.
Why am I writing about my grandma’s quilts? Because I’m hoping to finish my own. And each time I work on it, I feel as close to her as if she were just beside me. I never got to sit down with her to learn how to quilt from her. But the memory in a room of my mind of her at her sewing machine is as clear as when she was still alive. As I see my quilt come together, I feel the weight of my last name, the one I share with her, stitched in fabric. And I remember and understand and love the fact that crafting is an important part of my family history, that when I feed cloth into my sewing machine, tug and pull at stitches, smooth my fingers over puckered edges and seams, my hands carry out the same dance that Lola’s quilter’s hands performed many years ago.
She lived to 102 years old, was the mother of 12 children, grandmother to 36 grandchildren (I’m number 36!) and great grandma to 42 great grandchildren (and counting). I had the chance to sleep under one of her quilts at an aunt’s house over the holidays, and I looked at her pieces and thought about how her quilts held us all together. No matter how different we all are, we were all squares (and triangles, and circles!) in Lola’s crafting.
My brother recently wanted to paint me for one of his art-school projects. He decided it would be one of me at my sewing machine. I didn’t know what to expect, and I was self-conscious about posing because I was wearing a robe and I had “work hair” on: I usually pull it back and wear a headband to keep the curls out of my face. I wanted it to be glamorous and pretty, I wanted to be made up in it and in one of my dresses or wearing one of my crazy shoes. But when I saw this, I didn’t think I could love a painting more. And it wasn’t just because it was of me (haha). It’s because it not only shows me as a quilter, but reminds me of how Lola used to sit at her machine, and how at the very heart of me, I’m the grandchild of a square-piecing, fabric-dyeing, creatively-spirited crafter.
Thank you to W. for allowing me to post his painting. (Manong, I know I don’t say this much, but you are a great, curly inspiration to me with all that you do!)
I hope that wherever you are in your lives, you appreciate the patchwork history that led you there. May all the pieces in your quilted days be as crazy, and colorful and bright as my own grandma’s were.
Just in case you needed a spot of woolly randomness in your day, have you heard of yarnbombing?
Here, from a Telegraph story on the web, is a description of this utterly hilarious crafty phenomenon.
Hundreds of knitters around the world have begun wrapping their huge woolly creations around public property like trees, street signs and lampposts.
They then take photos of their colourful “art” and post them on internet sites for fellow knitters to view and comment on.
One of the most ambitious pieces of work saw a woman spend an entire week covering a disused single decker bus in colourful swatches.
The phenomenon, called Yarnbombing, is thought to have originated in the US but knitters are now beginning to cover British streets in woollen ‘tags’.
Quite often dozens of balls of coloured wool are used to make huge sleeves or cosies which are then stitched onto a fixed object, sometimes done under the cover of darkness.
I just about died laughing when I read about this. I especially like the “under the cover of darkness” part. I have an image of these covert knitting operations in cities across the world. The weapons of choice? Yarn and knitting needles!
Yarnbombing is apparently a thriving art uprising all over the world. They range from the simple…
…to the accessorized…
…to the whimsical…
…and the very random. (These, for instance, are called “guerilla pompoms!”)
All these images, by the way, are courtesy of the awesomely cool Yarnbombing blog, HERE.
I was thinking about doing this in Los Angeles, but it has to be a landmark for it to be truly funny. I thought about the “Hollywood” sign, but that would make my fingers bleed in agony. Maybe, someday, in the thick dark molasses of night, I’ll spirit away with my needles clutched to my chest and my yarn flapping in the wind and dress up a random city post or two.
Happy weekend, all. More posts to come!
Thanks, E, for this knitty tip!
One of my oldest friends at work, Bona, is home this week preparing for mommyhood. I wish her well as she rests up, and I’m sending her curly, happy thoughts as we wait with breath that is bated for her big day!
Simeen and I worked on a top-secret, covert operation called “Bona’s Baby Bump Surprise” at work just before the holidays. We had to be sneaky because she works right next to Simeen, and through the cloud of night and coded e-mails, we somehow cobbled together the idea to surprise her and other co-worker friends with cupcakes and favors.
We set the kitchen up by having friends distract her and with some materials from the grocery store next door, we were able to create a spread like this! We used what limited equipment we had in the office kitchen, using bowls to elevate some trays and with Simeen ingeniously using some floral leaves and buds to cover them. We even used the colored art paper we have lying around, as you’ll see, just to add a festive punch to the whole affair.
You’ll see that I had the idea to use green apples as mini balloon stands; I simply snipped the balloon sticks at an angle and stuck them into the fruit. Our cupcakes were the vanilla ones from my Magnolia bakery cookbook, made with different-tinted frosting and sprinkles of all shapes and kinds. The favors were little pots of honey from Cudge (awesome site for favors) that we made labels for. They read: “A Little Honey Is Coming Our Way” and the baby’s name. We loved the fact that they had blue plaid tops on them.
We were all sweaty and kept running into each other as we set this whole thing up, but the look on Bona’s face was priceless when she finally got to see them.
You might pick up an idea or two from our little celebration in case you’re planning one!
Bona, if you’re reading this, I’m sending you lots of curly hugs! God bless and all the luck!
Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef
By the Institute For Figuring And Companions
January 10 – February 21, 2009
Track 16 Gallery
Bergamot Station, C1
2525 Michigan Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90404
Photo by Alyssa Gorelick
Holy crochet needles!
What you’re seeing is a crocheted rendering of a coral reef, part of an on ongoing eco/craft/art exhibit at Track 16 gallery in Santa Monica, CA. Thanks to a brother who has art news beamed directly into his brain, I found out about this and will go see it before it closes next month.
I’m excited to see it not just for the technical handiwork (I want to see if I can pick out picot stitches in the anemone!), but also because it showcases the creative and expressive force that crafting is. It’s geek art/nerd crafting at its most colorful and interesting.
More from the gallery’s website:
One of the acknowledged wonders of the natural world, the Great Barrier Reef stretches along the coast of Queensland Australia, in a riotous profusion of color and form unparalleled on our planet. But global warming and pollutants so threaten this fragile marvel that it may well be gone by the end of the century. In homage to the Great One, Christine and Margaret Wertheim of the Institute For Figuring have instigated a project to crochet a handmade reef, a woolly testimony that now engages thousands of women the world over.
Vast in scale, collective in construction, exquisitely detailed, the Crochet Reef is an unprecedented, hybridic, handicraft invocation of a natural wonder that has become, in itself, a new kind of wonder spawned from tens of thousands of hours of labor. After major exhibitions in Chicago, New York, and most recently a smash success at The Hayward in London, Track 16 is proud to present the first West Coast showing of this giant, ongoing, evolutionary, fancywork experiment.
I hope to take my camera with me, and be able to share more fascinating snapshots of the exhibit like these.
For more information, visit the Track 16 gallery website, HERE.
I have a three-day weekend coming up that I’m supposed to devote to quilting, sewing and baking, but now my mind’s wandering to that dark corner under my bed where I stuck my crochet needle and a ball of pink thread a couple months ago in frustration at failing at a scarf. After this exhibit, I just may find myself crawling into the belly of the beast to retrieve those and start crocheting again!
A new year tends to bring all sort of philosophical musings, even in the kitchen. As 2008 drew to a close, I found myself asking the all-important question: What’s one thing I’ve always wanted to make, but never had the time or courage to pursue? And the answer was the same as it’s been over the last seven years since I’ve migrated to the US–to work with phyllo dough, to really see what it’s like, to study its papyrus-like delicateness and to transform it into something magical. We never had phyllo in the Philippines, or maybe I just didn’t know where to buy it, but I’ve always been fascinated, scared even, of what the stuff was.
Phyllo, also called fillo or filo, is the backbone of Turkish, Greek and Middle Eastern pastries. It’s paper-thin sheets of dough made from flour, water and oil, usually layered on top of each other with a brushing of melted butter in between. Once baked, the sheets puff up and form the characteristic crispy shell of many a mouthwatering treat, like the spinach- and cheese-filled savory pies called spanakopitas in Greece or the syrup-soaked, nutty confection called baklava in Turkey.
I had the chance to finally try my hand at phyllo when, some time in December, I found myself with some leftover chicken and the now-familiar itch in my hands to just MAKE something in the kitchen. I’d had a package of phyllo in the freezer for the longest time, but was always too intimidated to work with it, imagining the papery sheets disintegrating in my clumsy hands. I had all the ingredients for a Chicken Pot Pie, but wasn’t in the mood to turn out a crust from flour. After turning up some Sigur Ros on my iPod, I decided to set to work, hoping that my plan to use the phyllo as a crust for the Pot Pie would work.
And to up the philosophical ante on this first real post for 2009–I want to say, here’s the thing about scary things: Your imagination (well, mostly mine!) often transforms them into almost mythical monsters. The phyllo wasn’t the easiest thing to work with, but it certainly wasn’t a beast! I found that I had some trouble in the sections that had folded over in packaging (and tore easily), but the dough was actually quite forgiving.
I decided to try two versions of the Phyllo Chicken Pot Pie, a simpler, rustic one with about 10 sheets on top of each other and the ends tucked into the dish, and a fancier one with the buttered sheets cut into strips and scrunched on top of a base of about two initial sheets of phyllo.
Which one do you like best?
Mine’s the plain one because it seemed to go well with the comfortableness of everything that went into the dish: roasted chicken, potatoes, cream of mushroom soup, beans, corn, carrots and baby bella mushrooms. It’s the first one I dove into. Yum!
And with this post, I say a curly, “Hello, folks! I’m back.” I’m not lost in the sands of Tatooine somewhere, nor have I been sucked into a wormhole. I’ve just been around and busy and remembering something I read in a cookbook once: “Life happens when you’re not baking.” I sat down to write tonight to disprove that. I’d like to think that life happens especially because you’re in the kitchen, on adventures like tackling phyllo and making food that feeds the senses, and sitting down to write all about them.
I have so much to blog about! Happy new year to all, and here I go now, making my way over to your neck of the world wide woods. I may be slow in getting there, but I will! I can’t wait to see what everyone’s been up to!
I’m in New York celebrating the new year with friends new and old. That’s a lot of NEW’s crammed in one sentence! I can’t wait to tell you about my many adventures in this city and in others I’ve visited these past few crazy weeks when I get back.
Hope everyone’s year is starting off just curly! I’ll be back blogging in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.