Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Flea Market Finds

I grew up in Royal Oak, MI in the Detroit suburbs. For over 40 years my family has been going to the Sunday flea market in downtown Royal Oak. Over the years we have discovered some real jewels there. A few years back we got five Mid-Century Modern bar stools for $50! Sometimes I get vintage hankies, or a great book. Some Barbie doll clothes found there became part of my Barbie quilt.

This week I found a pile of quilts from the Eastside of Detroit. The seller was clearing out a house for someone. He found an attic trunk full of quilts! He also had sewing patterns, dress forms, and various other items from the house.

Detroit is the poster child of Rust Belt decay. One writer called the Eastside an urbane prairie. All over Detroit you find empty houses, vast blocks denuded of houses, and areas of high crime and low hopes. You see the photos of these lovely bungalows from the early 20th century, abandoned and falling apart, and it breaks your heart. The Eastside has the highest crime rate in Detroit. Looking at these quilts I saw a woman's hope and dreams, joy in creativity and beauty, who made something out of scraps and loved them enough to keep them safe in a trunk.

I had already purchased a quilt indoors before I discovered this wondrous stash and was broke. He was selling the quilts for $25 to $40. So I ran to the bank and got some cash and ran back to the market.

I bought two quilts. One is a trip around the world and the other a scrappy Lemoyne Star variation. The quilts were all primitive in workmanship and the quilting consisted of large stitches in a fan shape.

Both had blocks that were hand stitched  There were many areas where the stitches were loose or broken. But there was no fading to the fabrics. I loved that they shared several fabrics in common: a red and white gingham, a pastel print with stripes and a wavy dark line, and a floral print with pink and white background and a purple flower.

I sewed up the loose seams and gave them a much needed washing.

The Lemoyne Star was different from what I have seen, as each arm of the star consisted of two fabrics. The blocks are riotous and discordant. Sometimes the fabrics make up a star, and sometimes they do not. Some fabrics were from dresses, others are pants or suiting weight. I adored the big strawberry print on gingham.

The first quilt I found and purchased was adorable, a Triple Sunflower with a prairie point edge and yellow sunflowers with blue sashing.

Some times the green stems met the flowers. Some times they did not!

All the quilts had muslin backing and cotton batting.

My previous trip to the flea market I found a $10 quilt top, a simple nine patch. The setting blocks have a small check with yellow centers.

The seller was going back to the house to find more treasures and will be back at the flea market next Sunday. I will be there! There is another quilt or two I hope I can get to first.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sending my Heart to Lancaster, PA

This week I shipped my quilt "I Will Lift My Voice Like A Trumpet" to Paducah, KY. They will then take it to Lancaster, PA to appear in the American Quilt Society quilt show there next month.

I Will Lift My Voice Like A Trumpet when it appeared in a quilt show in Muskegon, MI

I had only entered one juried show before--the World Quilt and Textile Show which travels to different venues. My Barbie Quilt appeared in their Lansing, MI show. I have some quilt pics on My Quilt Place (http://myquiltplace.com/profile/NancyBekofske), which is part of the AQS website, and received an email from AQS inviting me to submit quilts for consideration. I knew that this quilt needed to be seen, and submitted my entry.

It was exciting to find an acceptance letter in the mail. Then my stomach flipped over and I decided I was not sure my quilt was 'up to' coming out in public. Especially I hated the binding job I had done, which was too thick and awkward.

I had recently found a great binding tutorial online, and it motivated me to rebind my quilt. (quilt.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2hWQ5-ZccE&feature=share)  I spent a day removing the original binding. Then another day preparing the new binding, another to sew the binding on, and two more to hand sew down the back side of the binding. The new narrower binding made the quilt look SO MUCH BETTER!

And yet taking my quilt to the post office, I felt nervous. Would it get lost out there? Would people see all the technical flaws in workmanship? Hopefully, the message of the quilt, honoring the sometimes forgotten women who risked everything to make their voices heard for freedom, is what viewers will remember.

After learning Redwork embroidery by making Michael Buckingham's pattern for The Presidents quilt, I had designed a quilt of the First Ladies. At that time I was disturbed to realize that, at that time, only European Caucasians were represented on these quilts, and I wanted to do something that celebrated America's broader and more inclusive heritage. I considered various themes before emailing a local college professor of African American history. She told me about a book, Freedom's Daughters, which she used in her course.

 The President's Quilt, on which I learned Redwork. I added a border of new and traditional blocks.

Detail of my Remember The Ladies, my original quilt of the First Ladies and my second Redwork Quilt

I had been reading Life Up Thy Voice by Mark Perry, about Sarah and Angelina Grimke', and had already read about Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglas, and Harriet Tubman. Lynne Olson's book, Freedom's Daughters, The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970 was just what I needed to read. The stories of these women, many of whom I had never heard of, were inspiring. I was too young to understand the battles that had occurred in the early Sixties. I did not read newspapers, or watch tv news, or hear about current events in the classroom when I was ten years old. It was not until the Detroit riots the summer I turned sixteen that I became aware of Civil Rights and the fight for equality in America.

So this quilt was a part of my self-education as I read about these women and designed the quilt.

Now it is out of my hands, and open to the world.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Les Miserables

When I was growing up, I would go shopping with Mom. She would buy me Golden Books, and when I was older, gave me a quarter to buy comic books. I could get two comics, or one Classics Illustrated. The Classics soon became my favorites to buy,. And of all the tales, my favorites were The Count of Monte Christo, Lord Jim, and Les Miserables.

I was in sixth grade when I encountered a dusty old volume of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables on the shelves of the school library. I took it home and trudged through it, quite overwhelmed. Each year after that I tackled it again, and each time understood a little more.

After viewing the new movie version of Les Miz, I was inspired to revisit the novel. I had not read it since I was fourteen. I obtained a free version for my Kindle. The book was still quite formidable, with all the French history and untranslated French. This reading, I endeavored to follow Hugo's diversions into history, which includes the Revolutions of '93, the Battle of Waterloo, the revolution of 1830, the rise of the convents, and the construction and reconstruction of the sewers of Paris.

Reading the novel as an adult, and as a more sophisticated reader willing to follow more than the plot line, was very rewarding. I was moved to tears by Hugo's retelling of the Battle of Waterloo, seeing the Calvary charge and tumble into the hidden ravine which became their graves, forever changing the landscape. The horrors of the prison system, the harsh realities of the convent, and the poverty that made girls old before their time were all presented in chilling detail. 

My favorite chapter is not one in the musical, or the movies, or the condensed retelling of the novel. The chapter is not essential to the plot line, and would be considered 'bad writing' by today's ideals of story telling. It tells of two tangential characters, the small brothers of Eponine (the Threnardier's daughter who loves Marius and dies at the battlement) and Gavroche (the gamin who gathers cartridges at the battlement and is shot, brother to Eponine). Unwanted by their mother, they are 'rented out' to an unmarried woman whose sons have died, so she may continue receiving support from the father of the deceased boys. The boys have returned home to find their 'mother' missing, as she has been arrested. They are given a paper with an address, but they cannot read and it becomes lost, leaving the boys wandering the streets. 

Gavorche, unaware they are his brothers, takes them to his home in the massive and decrepit Elephant of the Bastille for the night. He has bedding surrounded by wire mesh, and at night the boys hear the rats endeavoring to gnaw their way to them. The next day, Gavroche returns the boys to the street with instructions to met him at the elephant at night.

A good history of the monument can be found at http://bytesdaily.blogspot.com/2012/04/les-mis-update-and-elephant.html

But the funeral of a hero of the Revolution sets off the simmering rebellion and Gavroche and the boys become separated. The children find themselves in the Luxembourg Gardens. Hugo's glorious language describes the beauty of the park after the rain, a place of sunlight and glory.

On the 6th of June, 1832, about 11 o'clock in the morning, the Luxembourg, solitary and depopulated, was charming. . . .The statues under the trees, white and nude, had robes of shadow pierced with light, these goddesses were all tattered with sunlight, rays hung from them on all sides . . . in this marvelous expenditure of rays, in this infinite outpouring of liquid gold, one felt the prodigality of the inexhaustible, and, behind this splendor as behind a curtain of flame, one caught a glimpse of God, that millionaire of stars."

Such glorious language! Such sumptuous glory! What a setting for what comes next.

"In the garden of the Luxembourg...two children were holding each other by the hand. One might have been seven years old, the other five. The rain having soaked them, they were walking along the paths on the sunny side...they were pale and ragged; they had the air of wild birds. The smaller of them said: " I am very hungry."

Into the park comes a bourgeois with his son, who is holding a brioche.The boy is sated. The father has been instructing the boy on life.  He sees the lost children, and ignores them.They have no place in this garden, they are ugly realities he chooses to ignore. He tells his son to throw the bread to the swans, as it is good to be kind to animals. After the father and son leave, the older boy reaches into the pond, vying with the approaching swan for the bread. He dredges up the sopping mess, and giving the larger part to his smaller brother, instructs, "Ram that into your gullet," having already learned the lingo of the streets from their time with Gavroche. We never hear of these children again.

This gem of a story reveals all of human frailty. How circumstances throw us into a fate we did not deserve. It tells of our turning away from the evils we see, perpetuating and condoning even the starvation of a child. If we cannot feel kinship and pity for Jean Valjean, or Fantine, or Cosette, or Eponine and Gavroche, we must feel for these two tots lost and starving in the midst of the Garden.

Hugo writes this of his novel:
The book which the reader has before him...in its entirety and details [is a] progress from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from falsehood to truth, from night to day, from appetite to conscience, from corruption to life, from bestiality to duty, from hell to heaven, from nothingness to God.

Throughout this novel, love and pity change lives. The Bishop is the first person ever to show compassion to Jean Valjean, saving his life when he gives him the candlesticks and tells the police that the galley slave and convict did not steal the silver. Jean as M. Madeline reclaims his life for good. He shows pity for Fantine, and thereby finds love in the shape of the child Cosette, changing Jean's life again with new purpose. Jean having turned to love and God and the right, even spares the life of the policeman Javert. And finally, his love for Cosette brings him to save Marius, her beloved, which is a great sacrifice as he knows it means he will lose Cosette. She will no longer be his, and his alone. And in the end, Jean separates himself from Cosette by telling Marius the truth about himself, knowing his discovery as a convict is inevitable and would destroy Cosette's happiness. His death clutching the crucifix is an interesting metaphor, for Jean Valjean has sacrificed himself continually throughout the book.

I believe I will read this novel once more, in book form with a good translation and great footnotes. Reading it over 50 years, seeing the many movie versions, I realize I have barely begun to understand Hugo's full vision and message. Many years ago the question was discussed of what five books would you take with you to a desert island. Perhaps Les Miserables would be one of mine.