Thursday, February 4, 2010

Promise Quilting 2

The teacher who taught Jo, my friend, about Promise Quilting is here for the opening of Jo's shop. So, recently, she came to our In Stitches meeting and taught us more about this quilting tradition. Her name is Suze and she is Jo's aunt. Suze learned Promise Quilting from Linda Lee Peterson, a Cherokee woman from western Montana.

Like many things, what seemed so simple and easy to do is much more complex than I originally thought. Promise Quilting is the technique of the sewing and it is also a whole tradition of quilt patterns and even has its own language. Names we have learned in other traditions do not apply in this context.

For instance, the right side of the fabric is called the "pretty side", the other side is the "plain side." And setting on point is called "on diamond." So, already I'm learning about the right way to learn about this. First, you can't just assume that because it looks the same it is the same. Second, you must learn things from the beginning.

Suze brought a trunkful of quilts and tops, most of them made by Linda. They are very precious because all of the patterns are being learned and written down as Linda makes them. She is 70 and she learned this when she was a child. The quilts and their patterns are beautiful, but one of the special elements of this type of quilting is the ornaments that are applied. A three-dimensional embroidery technique is used to make ladybugs and caterpillars and other figures from nature. Applique flowers that look lifelike are also applied to some of the blocks.

Every thing in Cherokee tradition is either female or male. The needle is male, the thread is female. When the needle is threaded, the thread tail is pierced three times which keeps the thread from pulling out of the needle. This is called marrying the thread. A quilt is female and a pillow (as I described in my last post) is male. Each quilt is signed with embroidery in the signing stitch on the front because it is female. A pillow is male and is signed on the back.

In the tradition, a learner does a pillow as her first project. The techniques you learn in doing the pillow give you everything you need to know to make the quilts. Then you do 3 quilts in basic patterns (which my teacher has not yet told me about) before you move to the more advanced ornaments and patterns. The teacher decides when the student is ready for the next step. This is where the patience comes in. I'm still working on my pillow. Jo has been busy and we haven't had another class yet. I think we'll do it this next week. Meantime, I'm working on some flannel-pieced string blocks because they're fun and easy and soon I'll have enough for a small top, maybe even lap sized.

This is the lore of Promise Quilting. All of this is carried from generation to generation through a largely oral tradition. Some of the Montana quilters are writing down some of this important history. I've been told that Promise Quilters have Gatherings at different times where they share their quilts and quilting.

Yesterday, I found Linda's website that has lots of pictures of the quilts and ornaments I was talking about. Jo's shop, Quilts 'N Ladybugs, has a fan site on facebook. I'll let you know when I learn something new.

Sorry I don't have any pictures to show today. I'll work on that!

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