The cross fertilization of needlework patterns across all cultures has interested me since I lived overseas as a teen-ager. I began studying quilt history as a vehicle of community and family history in the 1980s after I inherited a family quilt. My blog reflects all these influences.
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ON A MUSICAL NOTE
GARY ALEXANDER on the clarinet here and scatting and singing here.
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If you click on the link above, you'll see the first article I wrote for my grandkids about my life before marriage. Only I called it "was there ever a life before quilting?" because they pretty much know me as a quilt collector and historian, not someone who lived overseas twice as a teenager.
Now speed forward to 1972. College behind me, married and three small children. I gotta get some breathing room so I decide to volunteer where there are some adults ...and kids.... around.
I'll take a shortcut and scan some pages from my "history of my creative efforts" album.
I found the perfect place across from the Santa Anita Race Track — the Los Angeles State/County Arboretum! One year I supervised their volunteer greenhouses; another year I lead school groups on nature tours of the Arboretum and taught a very basic botany class. In the photo below I am helping set up for the annual plant sale.
I also began to collect succulent plants myself. (My mother is in red.)
Quilting didn't come about until I moved from Pasadena to the Richmond, Virginia area. I began my first quilt in 1980—a Sampler quilt. Didn't every new quilter in the 80s begin with a Quilt-As-You-Go Sampler class? Can you imagine a future generation eagerly adding these to their collections as a representative of our era? Well, they are already showing up on eBay....and reflecting varying degrees of competence.
I for one didn't know much about color value or contrast yet.
Then, when I quilted it, unbeknownst to me, some of the blocks became smaller as I quilted. When I tried to add the sashing, I was in trouble. Things didn't come together too well. (See the open seam below next to the orange sashing on the bottom strip.) I have already added little tiny extra pieces in some areas in order to make things fit. I discovered I had overlooked one when I photographed the quilt recently. It also needs the final border. Plus all the sashing needs to be quilted.
After this quilt was started, I made a lot of small wall hangings. Many of my smaller items I sold or gave away in the 1980s. This is one of the ones I gave away to a dear friend. I think most of these fabrics are from the earliest line of Jinny Beyer fabrics.
I very quickly discovered that I really did enjoy handwork, i.e. hand applique and handquilting. Here is an example of my one piece of stuffed work or trapunto as some might call it. Only the bird is actually stuffed from behind.
I don't recall how I actually came by the dove pattern at the time. Two years ago, however, I discovered that Jinny Avery had included this same dove pattern in one of her early magazine articles from the late 1970s. Ruby McKim also featured it in her 101 Patchwork Patterns book, ca 1930.
My 2nd "real quilt" (not a wall hanging) was begun in 1982. It was needle turn applique based on the folded paper pattern method. I got the oak leaf pattern idea from a quilt I saw at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in Williamsburg. The rest of them I just folded, sketched on the 1/8 triangular folded paper and cut.
I quickly discovered I preferred applique to piecing. About this time we moved from Virginia to New Orleans and I went to work fulltime in convention planning. Actual quilt making then languished for several years although I did join a local guild and won the naming contest for their regional newsletter. And I continued to study quilt history, of course!
This 2nd quilt is still not quite done and I don't have a full photo of it either. However, I did bring it out on September 11, 2001 and began quilting furiously for several weeks trying to calm myself. There was so much chaos and confusion and anger in the D.C. area where we then lived following the terrorist attacks. And then only a year later (or was it two?), we had the mysterious sniper to contend with for several weeks - or was it several months before they caught him? It was one of the most unsettling periods of my life as an American citizen. I was living in East Africa when Kennedy was assassinated and shortly thereafter survived an attempted coup d'état in Dar-es-Salaam. On September 11, 2001, I thought, "Well, international terrorism has finally caught up with the US, too. It's not enough that we have our own occasional home-grown terrorist attacks."
This quilt, too, needs the sashing and final border quilted.
What is it with me and final borders!
My 1st finished "bed-useable" quilt was a baby quilt for a cousin's first child but I cannot find a photo of it. There was a deadline involved so I got it done! I mailed it off in 1986 or 1987.
My next "finished" quilt was also a baby quilt.
The only granddaughter to date got me stitching again in 2002!
My next "finished" quilt was for my only granddaughter, Marleigh Elizabeth, who was born in November 2002 and named Elizabeth after my mother and me and Gary's sister Marlee. Once again a firm deadline was my motivator.
Marleigh at 7 months old.
First came the quilt. We were spending 8 weeks here on the island that summer so I took that opportunity to take a quilting class at the Enchanted Needle here on Lopez. (See my story about this quilt shop on my other blog by clicking here.)
That summer I really focused on the completion of the quilt top in what was a short window of time for me. Then I had a longarm quilter here on the island quilt it before we returned to Virginia....the husband of one of my quilt friends. He bought the longarm for his wife but, after trying it, she decided she was too small to handle the machine. All this is documented on the back of the quilt.
The Birth Announcement
After Marleigh was born, I made her a small wall hanging birth-announcement, again while we were at the island house. I began with an already made block I found in my mother-in-law's sewing room.
Wini Alexander is the one who got me into needlework in the first place. When she died in 1999, I inherited all her quilts and everything in her sewing room. So I took Wini's block and added to it. In this way, this small quilt came from both of us.
I hand embroidered Marleigh's name on the quilt but used a Micron pen to add her birthdate etc. It is machine quilted...a first for me.
Marleigh on Her Finished Quilt
In June I finished my first quilt in 9 years -- a small Eagle quilt -- and I owe it all to Susan Wildemuth, a fellow member of the American Quilt Study Group. More on AQSG later. Meanwhile, my Eagle story will appear in another blog post ....soon? But I already began to write about my 1876 Centennial Quilt Project here. Now this quilt was the challenge of a lifetime!
Here is Barbara (above) celebrating with the gang in Houston in November 2018 !
A special cake was ordered to celebrate the 1876 Centennial Quilt Project Exhibit,
EMC being the initials on the original quilt.
A very special quiltmaker and personal friend here on Lopez Island passed very recently. Barbara Gonce (May 6, 1931- Dec 6, 2019) was a prolific quilter, a long-time member of Enchanted Quilters of Lopez Island and one of the 18 members of the pilot group for the 1876 Centennial Quilt Project that Anne Dawson began teaching in Sept 2015 here on Lopez. Eventually all 18 members of the initial pilot project saw their quilts hanging at the Houston International Quilt Festival in Nov 8-11, 2018, followed by the Chicago International Quilt Festival, March 28-30, 2019.
Meanwhile, Barbara Gonce continued to make more beautiful quilts! Barbara dearly loved the gorgeous fabrics of Kaffe Fasset and attended many of his workshops over the years, corresponding often with Liza Lucy of the Kaffe Collective. Click here to read an article Bob Ruggiero wrote about Barbara for the Quilts, Inc. newsletter, Quilts At Festival in spring of 2019.
Barbara was a woman of boundless energy and determination. Though she had battled pulmonary fibrosis for these last many years, I strongly suspect her passion for quilt-making kept her alive several extra years, especially once she had the 1876 project dangling in front of her like a carrot to lure her on. (She made four of these magnificent quilts in three years! Click here to read the local paper's 2017 story about the project.)
Barbara standing beside "California Sunshine" in Chicago March 28-30, 2019
Below are photos of Barbara's funeral and memorial service beginning with her pall draped casket. Barbara decided to plan and piece her own funeral pall about two years before she passed with some input and help from several people, including Liza Lucy. And, of course, she was still making quilts as well. Barbara also meticulously planned her own funeral and memorial service with the help of several members of the 1876 Centennial Quilt Project the last months of her life. Ah, that we should all be so blessed to pass in our sleep during a nap as she did! We were all so grateful she was able to pass at home in her own bed. And, guess what! She had spent the day before at her sewing machine piecing still another quilt!
But Barbara had talents in addition to her quilting talents. She was an incredible organizer and motivator and donated her time and talents to many different community organizations over her lifetime, not least of which was helping to found Hospice of Marin (CA) in 1975, the 2nd oldest Hospice in the United States. She was also deeply involved in the local Girl Scouts in Southern California where she organized many camping trips, fundraisers and service projects for the local troop and council before moving to Lopez Island. Here on Lopez Island just one of the many things she did was to help found The Friends of Woodman Hall, an organization that is dedicated to the restoration and upkeep and care of one of the oldest buildings on Lopez Island.
Click here to read Barb's obituary in our local paper. You can see some of her quilts in this video, as well, as seen hanging in Houston in November 2018.
In the above photo Heather Arps, another 1876 Centennial Quilt Project member and member of "The Ladies of Tuesday Night" from Lopez Island, presents her eulogy in honor of Barbara. Below is a written transcript.
Hello! My name is Heather Arps.
On behalf of Barbara's family, I’d like to thank you all for coming today.
I knew Barbara mainly as a quilter. We met many years ago at a quilt class that I attended here on Lopez with another friend, Laurie Teichroew. During that class, the three of us got to talking and Laurie invited Barbara to our "Ladies of Tuesday Night" group and the rest, as they say, is history.
Over the years as our friendship deepened...I learned more about Barbara and her amazing life. She was proud of her accomplishments: from co-founding Hospice by the Bay, to earning blue ribbons for her orchids, and finally for creating a quilt that was chosen as the cover girl quilt for the International Quilt Festival in Chicago last year. In her personal life family was very important and she took her role as matriarch seriously. Her three children and their families were often mentioned in conversation with fondness and admiration. Her gratitude and love for Jerry, her husband, were frequent topics.
In spite of recent difficulties, Barbara felt herself to be very lucky.
And I must say that in many ways she led a charmed life.
Her sense of color was marvelous, her boldness with fabric refreshing and her willingness to try a new pattern or technique representative of her strong character. Barbara was a collaborative quilter. She drew you into her project, asking for an opinion or for fabric suggestions. She moved in many circles in the textile world and was delighted to count so many fellow quilters as dear friends.
She was a strong willed person, determined in her course. Not shy to speak her mind. But she would also listen to those with a different point of view. You might not sway her, but she would consider your perspective and a civilized discussion would ensue.
Her strong will stood her in good stead when she was diagnosed with interstitial lung disease. At first we did not understand the extent of damage to her lungs. Her fighting spirit did not let her complain or slow down much, she continued to visit with family, go to quilt shows, attended quilt retreats and our ‘Ladies of the Tuesday Night’ craft nights here on Lopez. And insisted on hostessing our annual Christmas dinner together.
It was business as usual for quite a while. Her motto was to just solder on. But in the last several years when the risk of infection became a serious threat, Barbara stayed home more and turned increasingly to her fabric for relief, comfort and distraction.
In 2015, she joined a quilt class on Lopez offered by Anne Dawson to recreate a quilt originally built in 1876. Being Barbara, she made four such quilts. She said each quilt taught her so much. After 18 months of toil and stitching by the group of 18 students, 23 quilts were offered as a special exhibit to the 2018 International Quilt Festival in Houston TX.
In true fashion, Barbara never doubted that the exhibit would be accepted. And as a group, we were giddy to be invited to send the exhibit on to Chicago...where Barbara’s third interpretation: “Kaffe and Friends Meet Cirque Du Soleil” was selected as the signature quilt for the festival. Despite the difficulty of travel at that time, and due entirely to the tremendous support of Jerry and family, Barbara attended both shows. Those two trips were a culmination of years of work and an acknowledgement of her great skill with fabric and needle. It was a dream come true and the time spent with family and friends counted as some of the best times of her life.
Near the end of September, Barbara received an email from Becky Navarro, the Special Exhibits Manager for Quilts Inc., the organization that produces the two International Quilt Festivals in the US. Becky invited Barbara to submit an application for a one women show to be exhibited in Long Beach, CA. July of 2020. Along with finishing various quilts, this exhibit became her new driving force. This pall is part of that exhibit and considered by many to be Barbara finest work.
Sadly, she died not having heard back from Long Beach...but secretly, I think she just got tired of waiting and decided to go to the top and find out for herself!
In the last few months as we worked on quilts and discussed end of life plans...Barbara talked about her life. And what came through most clearly was her love of quilting and her deep love for her family.
I am thankful to have had the time with her near the end: to learn at the feet of a master quilter and to hear some stories of an amazing life.
Thank you Barbara.
Thank you Jerry.
Some of the members of Barb's beloved extended family.
The church pews were draped with Barbara's colorful quilts prior to the service by her quilt friends on Lopez Island.
After the service, Heather and Anne carefully removed and folded Barbara's beautiful pall and returned it to the family. Barbara called this quilt "Beyond the Beyond".
(See more story about it way below)
A reception was held in the church hall following the service.
“Kaffe and Friends Meet Cirque Du Soleil” hangs in the background.
A wonderful way to display photographs. Cut them and mount them on florist stems like flowers!
Barbara and her beloved Jerry. Oh, the stories that could be told about what this wonderful man did for his Barbara to see to it that she could continue to take on life as she desired these last many years. It was so obvious to see the love and respect they had for each other.
Thank you, Jerry, for caring for her so.
Kitty Sorgen, Penny and Karen Alexander
Here is the tribute that quilt historian /quilt appraiser Ann Nash, also a member of the "Ladies of Tuesday Night" composed as a tribute to Barbara.
Winter Day with
I am tucked away on my island,
Not My island really,
But in my hideaway on an island
Midst Puget Sound— that great water
Which provides fish, and clams, and mussels
And even empathy.
For on a sunny winter day, with blue skies and
Empathy comes unbidden.
It is easy to forget dark memories
On a day like this one.
Those I have loved that have left,
Those I still love that have stayed.
Someday soon I will sell my little piece of
Taxes are nearly unbearable,
Retirement means downsizing,
Although the need for solitude grows
As age tamps down our spirits, illness reduces
We falter along the road.
And yet, boats in the bay bob unwavering in
When a tight breeze comes up.
A seal swims by, otters frolic, searching out
food and a warm basement
In which to stay awhile, to digest, to expel.
Oh Barbara is gone, her quilts around her, her
She does not need oxygen now, not naturally
given by atmosphere on earth,
Or the artificial, from bottles chemists
created to prolong her breath.
How she loved bright colors—the orange,
yellow, fuchsia, purple.
Fondling them in fabric gave her joy as she
toiled her last days,
Aware that death was nearly at hand, but
without the knowledge when.
Her shroud prepared, to be placed on her
And buried with her as a visual marker of time
As if we could forget her.
Our memories burn with the vision of her exuberant
head of white hair, The easy laugh, her serious gaze, Love of beautiful orchids in greenhouses
Her voice-song rings in my ears still.
I sit with a cup of tea growing cool to the
Clouds gathering, rain on its way,
Peaceful, quietly remembering so much
Of my life played out on this beautiful
Goodbye and God speed, dear friend.
You will live in our hearts and memories forever.
"California Sunshine" hung just outside the main body of the church. (L-R) Ann Nash, Heather Arps, Sheila Bishop, Karen Alexander
"Beyond the Beyond" draped her coffin for the service. (L-R) Heather Arps, Anne Dawson, Sheila Bishop, Karen Alexander
Links to more on the 1876 Centennial Quilt Project that Barbara was so passionate about.
Barbara Menasian (left below), owner of the original antique 1876 Centennial quilt, visits with Barbara Gonce on Lopez Island in May 2016. Barbara M. had flown out from Connecticut ....hand-carrying the original..... to attend our first 1876 Centennial Quilt Project Retreat on Lopez Island. Here they are in BG's studio with Anne Dawson in door way with Avonelle Hamilton behind her.
(Below) Yes, it was indeed cold for Barbara at the Chicago show in March-April 2019!
(Below) Our 1876 Pilot Project class met at Two Thimbles in Bellingham, WA on the mainland at least once to take advantage of all the wonderful fabrics. Besides, the owner (Lee Glendening) is also an 1876 pilot project member as well. A photo of Lee's quilt hanging in Houston appeared in the issue #129, Jan/Feb 2019 of the magazine Quilt Mania.
Fourteen of the eighteen pilot project members of the 1876 Centennial Quilt Project
at Woodman Hall (Lopez Island)
May 2017 at our first public reveal of the project.
We are standing in front of the original 1876 antique quilt. Notice that Karen Alexander is holding AQSG's traveling
Below, “Kaffe and Friends Meet Cirque Du Soleil”,
one of Barbara's four 1876 Centennial quilts, lays spread out on
Karen Alexander's living floor during a meeting of the
"Ladies of Tuesday Night" in April 2017.
(Below) L-R: Edi Blomberg, Patty Ward, Barbara Gonce and Janet Yang.
Rumor has it that this Tuesday night group was once called "Ladies of the Night"
but then someone suggested they had better add the word "Tuesday"
or someone might mistake our profession. You know how rumors can get started!
(Below) Heather, Karen and Anne sew down the binding on one
of Barbara's quilts October 2017. Edi Blomberg, another member
of the "Ladies of Tuesday Night " is in the background.
Many have asked about Barbara's funeral pall, which is to be set aside for family use as they so wish, I was told. Barbara named it "To Beyond the Beyond". Below is what Barbara wrote on the label she made for the back as a thank you to all those who helped her through the process of designing and creating it.
I wish to thank the following wonderful people for the various parts that
they played in the creation of “To Beyond the Beyond”:
1. Phillip Dorman for creating the magnificent Indigo quilt displayed at Island Quilter on Vashon Island in the Fourth Man Quilt Display. His quilt became the inspiration for my quilt.
2. Anne Dawson for creating the grid paper and recommending the template.
3. Wendy Ward for assisting with the indigo phase of this quilt.
4. Liza Lucy for suggesting the fabrics for the “scaffolding”.
5. Heather Arps for pressing and being my fabric collector from my basement stash.
6. Sheila Bishop for organizing the sewing party to attach the front to the back.
7. Cheryl Clarke, Avonelle Hamilton, KC Laughlin, Debra Merte, Pat Solon and Sheila Bishop for attaching the back to the front in a manner that kept all the points fluttering.
8. Byron Bishop, Sheila’s husband, for assisting her with family matters in order to make it possible for her to stay with her sewing crew.
After I posted Barbara's funeral pall on the Kaffe Fassett Collective fb page today, Liza Lucy wrote the following and gave me permission to share here. I am so pleased to have more of the process story documented about the creation of “To Beyond the Beyond”. Thank you, Lucy:
When Barbara wrote to me to ask if I would help her design a cover for her casket I was taken aback. I knew she had been ailing for a number of years and I knew her to be frank and honest. I just wasn't prepared for this expression of her mortality or for this unusual request. After a moment, I realized this was a great honor and I said yes. For her to travel to Houston to meet me and to attend the show that year, took an extraordinary effort. She could not fly and she lived in the Pacific NW. She traveled by train and car the entire way and it was not altogether a pleasant ride. But Barbara was a persistent woman. She brought me a huge stash and the layout she had designed and together we chose colors for each section. I am glad she was able to complete the project. She was SOME WOMAN! I will miss her.