Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Amish Quilts in Ste.Marie-Aux-Mines, France

Tucked away in the picturesque Val d'Argent in Alsace France, Ste. Marie-Aux-Mines hosts the annual European Patchwork Meeting. As the name suggests, Ste. Marie-Aux-Mines was established as a mining town, however, it also had a thriving textile industry that was famous worldwide.  And it was in this unpretentious little town, hidden away in the valley of the Vosges Massif, led by Jacob Amman, that the Amish movement was born in 1693. In view of this history, this is the perfect place for a quilt show, which celebrates artistry with fabrics, and in particular, for an exhibition of Amish Quilts.

Driving towards Ste. Marie-Aux-Mines in the foothills of the Vosges Massif.

A quiet little village church on the outskirts of town.

A profusion of  brightly coloured flowers burst out of window boxes, adding colour and charm to these medieval buildings.

Throughout the town, a variety of buildings had been transformed into galleries for the week. Walking into town, towards the main venue, the first exhibit that we came upon was the Amish exhibit. Here, a church acted as "gallery", which seemed a very fitting venue for Amish quilts.

To attract and welcome guests, an Amish clothesline had been hung in the yard of the church. Referring to themselves as "plain people", the Amish dress in simple, plain clothing and often, it would be these worn out clothes that were used to make the early quilts.


The church provided the perfect backdrop for the quilts.

"Diamond in the Square"
 An Amish wool wedding quilt made in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1920 by Rebecca Z. Huyard. It was described as "perfect simplicity".

"Broken Star"
The wedding quilt of Elsie Otto. Made of cotton in 1960 in Topeka, Indiana.

"Bars"
A wool wedding quilt made by Sarah Hayward King in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1943.

"Log Cabin - Barn Raising"
Made by Clara Bontrager in Indiana in 1998 using antique wool and crepe.

"Trip Around the World"
1880 - Pennsylvania.

Special events, like this horse and buggy ride, were available for visitors to explore the town.


My next blog will feature some of the other exhibits at the European Patchwork Meeting in Ste. Marie-aux-Mines, including the Canadian Exhibition, and artists such as Libby Lehman, Di Ford, Kathy Doughty, etc.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Amish Hand Quilting in France with Esther Miller

Esther Miller, was born into an Amish family in the U.S., and now lives in Germany where she has for many years taught the techniques and methods of Amish hand quilting to anyone interested in learning these skills. As a child, she would closely watch as the women of her community worked together on a quilt, and eventually she was rewarded with a needle of her own and encouraged to join the group. Through the years, she has mastered these skills and techniques and now generously shares them with anyone who has a genuine desire to learn.

Esther Miller in Ste. Marie-aux-Mines in Alsace France.

An example of her own work, Esther brings this intricately and perfectly hand stitched wall quilt to class as inspiration for her students. 

Last week, at the "European Meeting of Patchwork" in Ste. Marie-aux-Mines, in Alsace France, www.patchwork-europe.com, I had the privilege of taking a 2 day workshop with Esther. The Amish quilting method requires a free-standing simple wooden frame upon which the 3 layers of the quilt have been stretched. To accomodate the 18 women in the class, Esther set up 3 quilt frames, with 6 students at each frame. Because the quilt is on a large, unmoveable frame, the quilter sits perpendicular to it, and therefore, must learn to stitch in 4 directions. With the aid of several different thimbles, Esther shared her expertise with us and was very thorough and clear in conveying her methods of stitching in all directions.

I had the privilege of working together with and getting to know these lovely 5 women for the two days. Clockwise from left to right: Colette, Corinne, Caroline, Valerie and Edith.  As you can see from the expressions, we were having a great time.

Two of Esther's former students working on a quilt that she has set up in the vendor's mall near her booth. All students are welcome to join the "quilting bee". Patricia, on the right, was the French interpretor for our class.

Amish quilting is first and foremost intended to be practical, accurate and efficient. The unintentional benefit from Esther's techniques are small, regular stitches (with enough practice). To achieve these perfect stitches, Esther has her favourite tools, some of which she has had direct influence in developing.

From the top clockwise: Esther prefers the "Roxanne" thimble because of the natural curve and deeper grip. The "thumb thimble designed by Ted Storm" allows quilting away from the body. The final finger tool is a " porcelain needle slide". It is worn on the index finger on the left hand and used under the quilt to gently catch the needle and allow it to slide over its sharp edge, forming a perfect stitch. This porcelain  "under" thimble was manufactured to Esther's specifications. All of these tools are available on her website.

Tha master quilter at work in her booth at the vendors mall. The quilt directly behind Esther is a replication of an antique quilt that was given to her son and daughter-in-law as a wedding gift. She worked into the wee hours of the night to finish it for our class the next morning. What an incredible piece of artistry! All of the students in the class felt honoured to be the first to see this new work.

The whole group of women participating in the 2 day workshop.

My own mother was an avid quilter whose quilting methods were very similar to Esther's. To my regret, I did not become serious about quilting until after my mother passed away and therefore, did not avail myself of her skills and talents. Learning from Esther has been an honour and a privilege for me and has reminded me of the importance of cherishing heritage and tradition.

Esther will be teaching in Houston in a few weeks; a fabulous opportunity for anyone registered for her class. Check out her website at www.millersquilting.de or at www.kurse.millersquilting.de. Miller's quilting also has a blog "Sew me tender, Sew me sweet", which you can follow at www.blog.quiltbuch.de , as well as an on-line bookstore that sells quilting books in several different languages at www.textilbuchversand.de.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Backlit Boutis

This traditional floral motif, designed by Francine Born,  www.boutis-provence.fr, is the boutis piece that I started in Francine's classes this past summer. The boutis itself is completed and set into linen, for the table topper that it will become. Now it must still be sandwiched with batting, backed with the blue toile and quilted. Because of the extra suitcase space it will require, I will wait until I get back to Vancouver to do that part.

Boutis tabletopper, set into linen, with the blue toile that will be the backing,  in the background.
Detail of the boutis. To be considered as authentic boutis, the work must be hand stitched, and when held up against the light, the relief will show translucence and shadow. The seam allowance now still visible around the central design, will disappear once the batting and backing are attached.

An excellent book about the quilts of southern France, including much information about boutis, is "Quilts of Provence: The Art and Craft of French Quiltmaking", written by Kathryn Berenson and published by Henry Holt and Company, Inc. 1996. She has published another book, "Marseille, the Cradle of White Corded Quilting" published by International Quilt Study Centre and Museum, UNL, 2010.


Tomorrow, I am off to Ste.Marie-Aux-Mines in Alsace, for a week at the European Patchwork Exhibition, www.patchwork-europe.com. I have registered for a 2 day workshop "Handquilting in Amish Technique", with Esther Miller, and a series of lectures with Monique Alphand "Quilting and Stitching in 18th and 19th century Provence. It should be a very good week and I will report on it when I'm back.