Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Home again, home again

I just returned from a ten-day trip to Madrid and Valencia, Spain and I'm still floating in jet-lag land. I know, no sympathy for someone who gets to take such a fun trip! But still, I'm not all here yet. I just wanted to say a couple of things about my Etsy Storque post on pearls, which went up while I was away.

I was stunned by how many people commented and how many people love pearls. I especially enjoyed the comments about thinking that pearls were stodgy. Steve (Bloom--author of Tears of Mermaids: The Secret Life of Pearls, who I interviewed for the story) made the point that while Barbara Bush wore pearls, so did Audrey Hepburn.

They're classic, but not stuffy, in other words. There is a lot of talk in his book about the way pearls represent virtue, innocence, and tradition, but also sophistication, drama, and haute couture. My favorite quote is from Manolo Blahnik, who Steve quotes as saying "Pearls give a gloss, a certain refinement, even if you're just a trashy girl."

While I was in Spain I was especially attuned to looking at art with pearls in mind. Steve told me that pearl obsession was part of what drove Queen Isabella of Spain to push Columbus to explore the New World, and that areas of the Caribbean were essentially stripped of their pearls by early explorers who could take them back to Europe and make a pile 'o dough selling them. Indeed, when I looked at paintings in the Prado, I noted pearls woven in women's hair and stitched to their gowns.

(These photos are courtesy of Steve Bloom and top-to-bottom depict: a rare Australian pearl plucked from its shell; Chinese freshwater pearl technicians insertinginto mussels a bead around which a pearl will form. The painting is Circle of Sofonisba Anguissola (Cremona 1527-1626 Palermo), and is not actually in the Prado, but does show her wearing a number of pearls.)

More on Spain next...soon...really, I mean it!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Playing catch up

Playing, because when I finally sat down to sew again after along hiatus, I was reminded how much fun it is. Catch up, because I finally caught up on a quilt that I started more than a year ago.

I did the quilting over Memorial Day weekend. I agonized over adding something more elaborate, perhaps some free motion flowers where the lines of quilting intersect, but then opted to call it a day at the large diagonal squares—it had taken so long to get this close to finishing that I didn't want to push my luck. I do like the look of quilting that's a bit denser than this, however.

I did choose to put some time into sewing strips together to make the variegated binding, which I'm quite happy with. Sewing on binding is such a pleasant task in winter, with the warm quilt covering your lap and the not much to do outside so that watching TV while you sew seems appropriate. I find sitting and watching television this time of year difficult, because I'd always prefer to be in the garden when the weather's nice. And it's been anything but cool, of late, so that I've been sewing on binding with the ceiling fan going full steam.

The quilt back leans toward Modern Quilting, perhaps, but was actually done out of necessity—I didn't have enough of any one fabric to make a complete back.

I'll be away from my computer for about ten days, so Pearl the Squirrel won't be updated for awhile. There may be an Etsy post while I'm away...keep your eyes peeled!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Button up

For about a month now I've been working on a post for Etsy about the Pearl Button Museum in Muscatine, Iowa. The post finally went up today, and I am amazed (and thrilled) at all the comments...guess I didn't realize that lots of folks had a mother-of-pearl button obsession, just like I do! (Check out the Etsy post here.)

I've always loved pearl buttons, but was amazed to learn that so many of them came from the small town just 40 miles from my home. I keep spouting this statistic to everyone, (whether they're interested or not): in 1905, 37 percent of the world's buttons (and that'd be 1.5 billion) came from Muscatine.

The museum is small, but the exhibits are nicely done and I learned a tremendous amount from them. Plus, they have some nice interactive displays: you can plunge your hands in buckets of side-by-side pearl and plastic buttons to feel and hear the difference; you can read memories of people whose relatives worked in button factories, you can try your hand at sorting a gross of buttons with a specially made paddle.

There's also a wonderful collection of buttons and mother-of-pearl artifacts and an entire display case of buttons sewn on those wonderful vintage cards. I'm sure anyone who knows me is tired of hearing about it, but I love learning about things like this and thinking about an unusual industry that supported an entire community. Today there are still three button factories in Muscatine, but the buttons they make are plastic.

While the story is wonderful and quirky, there is definitely a dark side: children worked in many button factories, the working conditions were unpleasant at best and often downright dangerous, and dust from shells created breathing problems for many workers. A strike by button workers turned violent and one man was killed. But despite this grim side, the city of Muscatine is proud of its heritage and enjoys its moniker "Pearl City." If you're button-obsessed (or just interested in history) it's definitely worth a visit if you're in the neighborhood...and even worth a detour if you're not.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Putzing about

Not a lot of piecing has gone on this past week, but on Memorial Day I did have a chance to sit at my machine and quilt a top I made long ago. I'm having a little fight with myself over whether to stick with the simple outline quilting I've already done or to add some free motion quilting. I'll share it when I've got it completed.

This weekend is Arts Fest in Iowa City. Sadly, we're in for rain today, but last night the weather held and we were treated to a concert featuring Sarah Jarosz and Darrell Scott. Sarah's a mere 19, but a terrific musician, singer, and songwriter—Darrell's guitar playing made people shake their heads in awe. He's also a powerful lyricist with a fabulous voice. The highlight was when they played together at the end of each of their sets.

Finally, I had to share a few photos of my garden. Yes, I really do live in a house with a picket fence (it's a bit of a fake, just runs along the front, but then peters out on the sides and doesn't really enclose anything completely). My William Baffin rose and our peonies often bloom on Memorial Day weekend and it always makes me feel as though I live in some kind of fantasyland...the rose (depending on your definition) is totally out of control, or creates a charming bower that people walking by have the pleasure of passing beneath.