My columns are arranged with the newest at the top. If a story consists of more than one column, they are grouped together, again with newest at the top. So, scroll down until you find a column you have not read and work your way upwards to the top of the page

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                      SHOPPING-THE ALL-AMERICAN SPORT

 

I just returned from a large quilt show, where I bought ‘way too much fabric. I thought I was only good at one sport and that was bowling. However, I am an Ace shopper- if you consider that to be a sport-and I do. Think of the similarities. You have your training regimen, when you are making your lists of what you are looking for, clipping your coupons, doing your research-who is having specials and sales. Then, there is the prep, when you psyche yourself up, decide the best thing to wear, do a little running in place. Should you dress like you just stepped out of Vogue, so the clerks in the high-end shops won’t ignore you? Or are you going flea-marketing so you need comfy shoes and clothes, looking a little scruffy, so you can make a deal? Eat a light lunch and use the restroom-and you’re ready! Don’t forget your tote bags, in case the stores are charging for them.

 

Or, maybe you make a detailed list and never veer away from it. What fun are you? How will you ever know about all the new fads and fascinating things you could impulse buy and take home to clutter up your space? You will never have a closet full of those lovely velvet-covered hangers that you can color-match to the clothes you put on them. Poor you. And you will come home with your bread, milk and butter, not knowing there was an amazing sale on lobster tails.

 

My mother always did her shopping on Tuesday. She planned her week’s menus, checked to see if someone needed underwear or notebook paper and off she would go. Our little town of 746 people didn’t have many shopping opportunities, so she headed across the Susquehanna River to Endicott, where there was a whole 4 block long street of shops and department stores. Sometimes she went up to the big city of Binghamton, but then she gussied up in a hat, high heels and gloves.

 

What a contrast to the way we shop now, especially since the pandemic. We shop 24 hours a day in our pajamas. Three-o-clock in the morning and I’m on the computer, ordering a case of V-8 Mango Splash juice and a blue sweater that I saw on “Making the Cut”. I once ordered three very large galvanized stock watering tanks from Amazon. They came all trussed up in plastic wrap and the UPS guy didn’t even blink as he toted them up the driveway.

 

My husband is one of those list-makers and doesn’t waste time looking at stuff. Parks his car, goes into the store, gets everything on his list, swipes his card, takes the number for drive-up and out he goes. Once he went with me to IKEA. We went on a Sunday. “Well that was just crazy”, I hear you saying. Yes, you are correct, because Tom had his first and last-ever panic attack. I had to lead him by the hand through the maze, away from the crowded aisles and drive him outta there! Didn’t even stop for the Swedish meatballs! Proof positive he is not a shopper. His dad, however, was a champion! I once opened the closet door in the guest room in Tom’s parent’s house to find it stuffed floor to ceiling, with paper towels. Stuffed! My husband took one look and said “Yeah, my dad’s been out shopping, again.

 

One shopper to another, don’t you just love hardware stores? I can spend a whole day there, pushing my cart around filling it with things I’ve never seen before. Lookit here! An attachment you stick on your electric drill to make holes in the ground to plant your bulbs! (Just before the squirrels dig them up and stash them away for the Winter). Who knew that there were so many types of hammers, angle irons and door knobs? Where else could you still find a Hokey carpet sweeper or wooden clothespins in this day and age? And a wooden folding drying rack, for Goodness Sake! My husband always has to take a book when we go there.

 

So many ways to shop. Most everybody is on the “twenty-five catalogues a month” list. Everything from fruit to furniture. You browse through those at your leisure and send your order via snail mail or call them up on the telephone. You can go to one of the “home parties” where you buy jewelry, pots and pans, monogrammed dishtowels, beauty products and wall décor. You answer your front door, and you can buy popcorn in big tubs and Samoa cookies from the neighborhood scouts and hockey players. Band members will sell you turkeys. Since the quarantine, we now have traveling food trucks selling anything you’d care to eat, like a mobile mall food court. You can graze up and down the street, munching here, sipping there, trying things you’d never cook.

 

So many ways to pay. In the 1920s, my husband’s grandfather, a country doctor, accepted a rifle and some chickens for setting a man’s broken leg. Now, we have checks, credit cards and even apps on our phones that will pay the bill. No more dragging out the family cow when you need to make a big purchase.

 

Shopping just gets easier and easier. 

 

Next time- Hardcover, paperback, Audio or Kindle, what’s your reading preference?

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           LIFE IN THE OLD QUEEN ANNE-Claudia Myers

 On October 1st, 1969, we piled the kids and the dog into the car and preceded the moving van to our new home, from Minneapolis to Duluth. The kids were excited and a little apprehensive. I was over the moon to be moving to a big old house, even if it did need a lot of work. Tom was probably wondering how this all happened and the dog, who was a rescue from the Minneapolis pound, was making sure he was going where we were going. We drove up the driveway, everybody jumped out of the car and scattered to get their first look at the “half-a-castle” as our oldest described it and lay claim to their new bedrooms. That first house was a three story plus bluestone basement Queen Anne style Victorian, built in 1895. The MLS listing said that it encompassed 4,450 square feet. In the 21 years we lived there, we got to know every square inch and it finally went from being the Wheeler/Espenson house to The Myers House.

We had been in the house for about three months, when a very official letter came from Himself, the City Engineer of the City of Duluth. It informed us, in no uncertain terms, that the City was very displeased with us. They said they had told us, a year ago, that we absolutely HAD to get hooked up to the city sewer system and get off the septic tank that was draining into Tischer Creek. WHAT!!! We were on a septic system? Tischer Creek?! How can that be? Our house information never said that. Our realtor never said that. But remember, this was 1969, the days before “Disclosure” became the law in property transactions. So, instead of the new furniture for the living room and the new dining room table, we spent our money on a system that would have made Rube Goldberg proud. Because the house and the creek were on solid granite, you couldn’t go underground to the closest sewer terminal, as that was on the other side of the creek. We had to install a holding tank with an electric pump that sent the contents up the hill to the next block, where there was actual dirt and another terminal. Our tank had an alarm and a flashing blue light to let everyone know that the Myers sewer system was malfunctioning again, which usually happened on Thanksgiving morning or Christmas Eve. After we had moved to a different house, we had a plumber out who said he had installed that tank and he never drove by that corner without automatically glancing at the light to see if it was flashing.

We’d seen pictures of the house taken back in the early 1900s. It was a dark color with dark trim and ivy hanging all over it. When Tom interned in Duluth in 1962, we used to drive by it on our way out to the lakes. It was white, then. When we bought it, the nails that held on the shingles and shakes were rusting away and they were sloughing off like needles on a two week old Christmas tree. It was before “This Old House”. The “Renovation Frenzy” hadn’t hit yet. Boxcars of cedar shakes were not to be had. So, yes, we went with the aluminum siding. No choice. The fellow that came to give us an estimate obviously had been watching too many late night TV commercials. In stead of the ubiquitous “$19.95”, everything was $5000. Windows? $5000. Roof? $5000. Siding? $5000. He must not have paid his crew $5000, though, because he asked us not to tell “the guys” how much we were paying for the job. Oookey. If you say so.

    I’ve talked about stripping the salmon pink paint off the quarter-sawn oak woodwork throughout the downstairs, but I haven’t mentioned the walls that we took down to the calcemine paint, replacing the coverings with wild and 1970s-appropriate wallpaper. The library got the foil paper with the flocked trellis design, one of the kid’s bedrooms got one wall of huge ferocious tigers and the round foyer with the grand staircase got the almost life-size people dressed in orange, brown and gold Renaissance clothing. I loved wallpapering. Instant gratification, I called it! But when it came to the grand staircase and the 16 foot high walls, I knew when to call in the experts. The man that came to the rescue took one look at the Oriental fountain mural on the salmon pink background that he was there to replace, turned to me and said “Huh! Y’know, I hung that paper there in 1947.”

As teenagers, the boys would go out the attic windows on safety harnesses and rappel up and down the side of the house, forgetting to close the windows when they were done, to the delight of the neighborhood bats. Often, I woke up in the middle of the night, wondering if the windows were open and if I could get up the nerve to go up there in the dark, with the bats. “Pssst, Hey, Tom…are you awake?” Now, whenever I drive by our old house, I always check out the attic windows and the blue light. I have noticed the windows open once or twice, and thought about knocking on the door, but I’ve never seen anyone climbing up or down the outside walls. Not yet, anyway. But I’ll keep an eye out.

Next time- Shopping! The Great American Sport.

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           FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD”

 

We have a dog-a pretty big dog, maybe 80 pounds. My husband said recently, “I think Jordie is getting fat”. I looked at the dog and he looked at me. He had that “I won’t tell if you don’t” look. In our house the rule is: “the dog gets the last bite”. But lately, Jordie’s under – the – table begging has been doing a land office business and he’s been getting more than just a bite. I think I have become bored with food. So, the dog is getting fat.

 

I’m not bored with cooking. Everybody in my family knows I always cook like I’m feeding an army that’s been on the road for a week. Never a meal that doesn’t wind up with leftovers. Our kids know when they come for dinner, they’ll be taking home many little packages and plastic containers.

 

I grew up eating pretty plain fare. My family background is Welsh. Welsh people generally have beautiful voices and can sing their hearts out, but they are not known for their haute cuisine. Teacakes made with lard, baked on the griddle. Cheese. Lots of cheese. Liver balls. Eeeuwww. However, if you set foot inside a Welsh home, you will immediately be offered food. That’s the rule

 

In spite of being Welsh, my mother’s mother, known as “Toots”, was a pretty good cook, but she also had a reputation of creating a disaster scene in her kitchen, using every pan in the whole place. My mother, being a “tidy” soul, only cooked “tidy” things that didn’t require a lot of cleaning up. Except, that is, on special occasions when she made home-made ravioli from a recipe my dad had brought home from work. Then the place was festooned with flour.

There were lots of Italian families in the area where I grew up and lots of tasty Italian food. Some of the first pizza offered in the U. S. was on Oak Hill Avenue in Endicott, N. Y. My dad kept bringing home the recipes and my mom learned to make the best spaghetti and meatballs, pasta Fazool, speidini and lasagna. One of the first things I learned to cook was spaghetti sauce. So, you could have knocked me over with a bag of zitti, when my husband casually mentioned never having “spaghetti from scratch”. He was convinced that spaghetti only came out of a red can marked “Franco American”. So, I made him “spaghetti from scratch”.  And he gradually became a big fan, so that when we were about to have our very first dinner guests, he suggested I make one of my pasta dishes.

 

Our guests were a husband and wife that Tom had known forever. They had fed him on a regular basis when he was a poor medical student, so I wanted to make sure they had an enjoyable dinner. Problem was, I’d been cooking for two people.  Us. Two small people. These guests were large people, tall, hefty. I knew how much spaghetti to make for two small people, but my mind boggled at how much for people twice our size. So, just to be sure, I cooked 3 boxes of spaghetti, which I heaped up on our huge turkey platter and presented to our two guests. Their eyes got even bigger when I brought out the gigantic family-size ironstone soup tureen filled with sauce and meatballs. One peek into the kitchen showed that I was, indeed, Toots’s girl. Yup, every pan I owned was dirty.

Our children grew up eating fish sticks, Spaghettios with cut up hot dogs, hamburger gravy and chicken made with cream of mushroom soup, because in the 1960s and 70s, almost everything we made had at least one can of mushroom soup in it. Tuna Macaroni salad and Barbecued beans were staples, along with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and bologna. You know – “Kidfood”. In more recent years, when babysitting our three grandsons, we would take them to the Chinese Buffet, because, ”Gramma, we LOVE Chinese food”. They would enthusiastically gobble up the fried chicken nuggets with NO sweet and sour sauce, the green jello and the fried mini dough balls – That was their “Chinese food”.

When Tom interned in Duluth in 1962, there was the famous Joe Huie’s-open – all – day – all – night cafe. Pretty good Chinese food and great egg rolls. But I didn’t know anybody who cooked Chinese food at home. Hadn’t a clue where to even start. Then I noticed these strange tall cans in the grocery store. They were actually two cans taped together-vegetables and sauce in the bottom can, bean sprouts and water chestnuts in the top. Tiny bits of chicken hiding in the sauce. I found that if you added a can of chicken, heated it all up and poured it over those crunchy noodles, you had an okey imitation chicken chow mein. Thank you to Chun King and Jeno Paulucci, I was now an International cook. Then came the Old El Paso tacos – Mexican! Plus, the Japanese wife of a fellow medical resident at Mayo’s taught me to make fried rice and another from Quebec introduced me to Boeuf Bourguignon. All of a sudden, food was new and exciting.

I want that to happen again. I know the “new food” is plant-based pork chops and sauteed bugs, but don’t even think about it. I’m not eating bugs. No way, no how. I’d rather eat liver balls. Eeeuwww.

Next time -Hanging Around the Old Queen Anne

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And Many More

Do you look forward to your birthday? Or do you get grumpy that you are getting older?  Do you have trouble keeping track of how old you’re going to be? “Let’s see, my mother had me before they built the new hospital and that had to be after they tore down the old roller rink, so I must be—ummm, wait! Where is that calculator?”

My birthday falls on the last day in June, so for all my childhood, it was celebrated with a family get-together on the 4th of July. It took years before I realized that everybody gathering for picnics and fireworks were NOT celebrating my birthday. And, I always got the same thing, every year. A new bathing suit, because, of course it was the beginning of Summer and we would be swimming most every day for three months. By the end of the season, that year’s suit was trashed. When I was very little, my mom would make the suits from flowery cotton fabrics that would stick to you when you came out of the water. I didn’t care, I was a little kid. But I remember the first “store-bought” one. It was a lavender two-piece with Spandex, from Janzen. I loved that suit and was sure I looked very glamorous, if you can look very glamorous at age 12 when your mom had just cut your hair in the annual Summer Dutch Boy bowl-on-your-head cut and you were still skinning your knees roller skating on the driveway. The girl across the street had one of the “Hollywood-type” bathing caps with the rubber flowers all over it. I was so jealous. I only ever got the old boring white kind with the chin strap, as if, once you got it on, with all your hair tucked in, it would budge off the top of your head without the chin strap to hold it on.

My Dad’s birthday was on December 23rd and those of you with birthdays close to the Holidays know what that means. Everyone forgets your birthday or it’s shunted into the background of the “Big” holiday. Your “cake” is a pile of Christmas cookies with a fat red candle stuck in the middle and your gifts are wrapped in red and green Santas.  I recall my mother sneaking gifts out from under the tree for my dad. When our second son was born on December 12th, I was determined to not let that happen to him. “I know! How about if we celebrate his birthday on a different day? When nobody else in the family has a birthday! It would be special!” So, for years, we celebrated his birthday on September 1st. We were well-meaning, but probably all it did was confuse the heck out of the poor kid.

 

Children’s birthday parties in the present day are monumental events, with bouncy houses, twenty - five of their closest friends at a four-star restaurant, clowns, magicians and ponies, but “back in the day”, a birthday party with all your friends invited was a rare occasion. As pre-teens, the big deal was a “slumber party” for your birthday. Mostly we stayed up all night, no slumbering allowed, until you didn’t have a giggle left in you. We braided and curled each other’s’ hair, painted everybody’s toenails and if we got very brave, called A Boy on the phone to tell him that one of us really liked him, then quickly hung up. If it happened to be a very special birthday, like your sixteenth, there was a remote possibility that your friends would band together and throw you a “surprise” party, where you could use the big-eyed OHHH surprised expression you’d been practicing in the mirror, because, of course you knew about it all along.

My 21st birthday was the date Tom and I chose for our wedding. My thinking was – if our anniversary and my birthday are on the same day, how could he forget? Right? The same relatives that used to celebrate my birthday at the 4th of July get-togethers made the trip from the East Coast to the Midwest, just for my birthday. And wedding. And they weren’t disappointed. Our wedding day turned out to be the hottest day on record for that date in Rochester, Minnesota, with tornados storming through, later on, a first for the visiting East Coasters. At one point during the wedding ceremony I looked over to watch in distress as our tall best man wavered back and forth, looking as if he was going to crash from heat stroke. That evening, after a long, eventful day, we were starving!  Tom drove off down the road, headed for the Kentucky Fried Chicken a couple of miles from our hotel. Twenty minutes later, the tornado sirens went off, the skies opened up and the highway was awash. The little Opel car got its’ engine flooded and had to be left on the side of the road. Two hours later, I’m still waiting in the Honeymoon suite, nose pressed to the window, tears streaming, positive that he’d left me already. But no! Cue the Lone Ranger music-and down the road comes Tom in his soaking wet tux, shoes slung around his neck by their laces and toting a soggy box of fried chicken. He did come back after all. And he brought me food! He wasn’t having second thoughts about this marriage thing after all. Happy Birthday to me. And many more!!

Next time-Food Glorious Food

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QUILTING-1,2 AND 3

1. 

            How Did This Happen?

In 1991, I was thinking about retiring from my career in costume designing. The idea of getting out of the wild and stressful world of dress rehearsals and singers who couldn't find their pants but were supposed to be out on stage, RIGHT NOW! seemed very appealing. My husband Tom and I had just built our dream log house on 20 acres of woods, north of Duluth and we had plans to hunker down by the fire and read for the rest of our lives. However, my friend, Jan had other ideas. She was convinced that I should become a quilter. Whaaaat? Was she crazy? I wasn't interested in those calico log cabins. I had drapes to make, and trails to cut and a garden to plan.

My friend knows how to get around me. She invited me to a quilt show to meet her visiting cousin from Oregon and I really didn’t feel I could say “no”. I didn’t know anything about quilts except I had heard some women talking about having made quilts as teenagers and entering them into the State Fair. A couple said their grandmothers taught them hand piecing when they were five. I had none of that. As far as I knew, none of my ancestors had touched patchwork, confining their sewing activities to clothing and yes, drapes. So, when I walked into the show and saw my first actual "show" quilt, I was surprised. I was stunned. This wasn't what I expected. This was an amazing piece of artwork. Nobody told me quilts could be like that. I left the show with my basic rotary rulers in one hand and a book of Art Quilts in the other. I had no idea how to merge the two, but I've never looked back. And I've never been sorry. I went home and made my first quilt. It was really awful. Truly. Beyond “unfortunate”.

In talking to other quilters, I have found that most of us started sewing when we were 6 to 8 years old, and we started with clothes for our dolls. Those little bits of clothing had teeny weeny seams, but we also had teeny weeny fingers. Most of us moved on to making real clothes, which required great poise and bravery to wear out in public - "why yes, I made this mis-matched plaid skirt that keeps riding up around my butt--why do you ask?"  

After clothing our entire families in mis-matched plaid, some of us (me in particular) veered off to making costumes--first for our children, then for local theater productions and then for professional Costume Houses, who would rent your pieces out until they were rags! Obviously, people of different height, weight, girth, bust size, neck size and inseam length would be wearing these costumes that you had just made, so they had to be adjustable and made with LARGE seams, so they could be let out - or taken in - or put up or taken down. When I say LARGE, I'm talking a 2 1/2 to 3 inch seam allowance, instead of the normal 5/8”.

So, what does this have to do with my first quilt, you say? Well, when I scurried home after the Quilt show, determined to start my first quilt the next day--I hadn’t a clue about 1/4 inch seams, which are one of the Quilt Police Rules in quiltmaking. Mine were four times that wide. I wasn’t making a quilt, I was making a shelter for the homeless, here.

I knew what colors I wanted to use, and I didn't have any of those. So, off I went shopping at Minnesota Fabrics, where I always shopped for costume fabric. I was thinking burgundy, navy and off-white. I found a navy cotton with a white polka dot--that was a good start. The burgundy was more difficult. I could only find the shade I wanted in rayon--but, hey! the color was perfect! The off-white was even harder, but there was a really nice upholstery fabric (on the sale table!) that worked pretty well--and had some texture to it. Plus, I knew that at home, I had an ivory silk Japanese kimono with a small burgundy and navy print on it that I'd bought for a costume. I could take that apart. Did someone tell me quilts had to be 100% cotton? How boring is that? Did I wash any of it? Was I supposed to? My Art Quilt book didn't say so. Boy! the rayon wiggled a lot when I was trying to cut it into strips and the upholstery fabric sort of shredded--but I forged ahead--because I was going to become a QUILTER!

After a bit of time--okey, a large bit of time--I finished the top and folded it carefully and laid it out in the bay window in our bedroom--where it slowly faded from burgundy and navy to Pepto Bismal pink and mud. It was truly awful. Poor thing. I couldn't finish it--I didn't know how to do the quilting. To make matters worse, when we were moving back to town, this quilt disappeared. Packed up, misplaced, was kidnapped, I don’t know. Personally, I think it ran away from home. And I don’t blame it one little bit. Poor poor thing.

Next time-To Show or Not to Show

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2-

TO SHOW OR NOT TO SHOW-Claudia Myers

 

         You’ve probably heard that quilters are nice people. Kind, helpful, considerate and will share their last quarter yard of hand-dyed fabric with you. This is true, unless there is a quilt contest involved and they are one of the “involvees”. Then they become Mama Bear, protecting and defending their quilted offspring.
 

         I am a quilter---a competition quilter. I make my quilts to be entered into the many contests around the country, where they are juried into the finalists - or not, judged and given prize money and ribbons - or not. How did I get to be competitive? Who knows? I have no brothers or sisters. Never had to fight for the seat by the window and I always knew who my mom loved best. Me of course!

 

         When I first started quilting, a non-sewing friend asked me, "What are you going to do with all those quilts?" I answered, "Well, so far, it hasn’t been a problem, I've only ever made three". But the fourth one was different. I made it at a quilt retreat. Other "retreaters" kept nonchalantly walking past my table and I could see them whispering to each other. What were they saying? Was there something the matter with my quilt?  Oh noooo. WHAT was wrong with my quilt? Finally, one of them said, "You should really enter that in a show". What? Oh Riiiight! Well huh! You think? And with that, the Competition Monster raised its’ ugly head and looked me right in the eye!

        

         The first show I entered was actually more of an exhibit...and surprise! my quilt was juried and accepted! It was held in the Goldstein Gallery at the Textile Department, U of Minnesota, in St Paul. My "Fire in the Rain Barrel" was “going to the show”!

         At that time, at least in MY mind, there was "quilting royalty". That is, those people who were instrumental in the surge of innovative work in the 1970s and 80s. They made and still make quilts that grab you by the throat, shake you up and yell “LOOK AT ME, dang it!”  It just so happened that this exhibit was hosting two of these immortals, And MY quilt was in the same show. Not only that, but, when I got to the gallery, I found that if I crammed myself up against the inside door frame and peered over my right shoulder, I could just get my quilt and one of the “Biggie Quilts” into the same photograph. Wowzer!

 

         After that first show experience, I was all pumped up to enter my new purple and red Bargello quilt into the local guild show. Here I come to turn in my artsy-fartsy abstract design wall hanging with the appliqued black tubes dripping silver beads, wild multi-colored backing and imaginatively named “Heart Throb”. “Oh yes, thank you for asking, I WAS the one who had "my work" at the Goldstein Gallery, last month. Yass. That was me.” I was pretty obnoxious I’m sure.

 

         The next day, the show opened and I was right there to see My Quilt. Probably the star of the show, I thought. Uh oh, I couldn’t find “Heart Throb”! Maybe they hated it and decided not to hang it. It was kind of weird. Maybe it broke some Quilt Police rule and was disqualified. How embarrassing! Finally, I spotted some familiar fabric and there it was! Hanging backside out! The hanging crew didn't realize the abstract Bargello front was the quilt. They thought the multi-colored fabric back was pieced. Well! You could practically hear my head deflate. Big lesson learned in competition--if you can't be modest, for goodness sake, be quiet about it!

 

         I’d like to point out that it doesn’t matter if you are competing in the Olympics or the hot dog-eating contest at the local tavern, you’re going to have fans who think everything you do is great and you’re going to have folks who actively dislike what you’re doing—and will tell you so in their loud “outside” Voices.

 

        

It was 1998. I designed and made a quilt I called "Passionflower", a Diamond/Pineapple with many shades of green, turquoise, coral and gold. I used a couple of Wow! black and white animal skin prints for Punch. A lot of colors for then. It won the "Best Use of Color" Award at the prestigious Pacific International Quilt Festival that year and even better, a friend and I were actually going to that show! Oh Boy! Was I excited! My first big award! It was a great show--lots of wonderful quilts, vendors and exhibits. So, there I was, gazing at my “Passionflower” quilt, admiring the ribbon and the big award sign, when an older couple came along. The woman looked at my quilt, studied the sign, checked out the ribbon and let out a snort.  She turned to her husband and said in a loud trumpeting voice, "Best Use of Color? WHAT were they thinking?! Should be “TOO MUCH Use of Color!" and they chuffed away. Another lesson learned—DO NOT “lurk” around your entries at a show. You will always hear something you'd rather not know about.

 

         Next time- Blue Ribbon Baby

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  3.    

                  Blue Ribbon Baby         

          

         It’s been said that you should never make a competition quilt whose primary reason for existence is to go into competition. You are supposed to make them to please yourself and not to worry about what the Judges like or don’t like. Oh puleeeeze! Isn't that the silliest thing you ever heard? That's like your kid wandering into the gymnastics competition at the Olympics and expecting to win a medal because she's a cutie! For one thing, why on earth would I ever bother to hand-sew those little binding corners shut, if some Judge wasn’t going to get out their magnifying glass and give me a “needs improvement” if I didn’t? So, no, I disagree. If you are competing, every little thing that could put your quilt over the top is important. Let’s face it, when you are competing at the top level and your quilt is just one in a roomful of quilts that were juried and chosen, they’re all good quilts. There are no “dogs” in the room. So, there have to be some “great levelers” as I call them. Does the quilt have visual impact? Does it hang straight and flat, not wavy around the edges? Is the quilting evenly distributed throughout? Chosen techniques well done? Quilt Show Judges try very hard to remain unbiased and non-influenced, but it’s difficult, because they are quilters themselves and know what they prefer in their own quilts. There are scribes taking down every word they say and “Yuk” or “Good Grief” are not appropriate comments. Many Judges have specific things they look for to bring to the quilter’s attention. They like to say “straight lines should be straight”, and they say it with all sincerity and seriousness. Well, I say “Yes! I agree! Absolutely! Uh, what straight lines *are* you talking about?”

 

                I know that Judging is a terrible, rotten job even though I’ve never done it and never intend to. Their comments are meant to contribute to your personal growth as a quilter. They don’t “have it in for you”. Unless your name happens to be glued onto that little cloth doll hanging in the judging room. You know, the one with the pins in it?  Then you can worry.

 

 My friend, Shirley, was asked to judge a guild show in another state. It was one of those guilds where the same people have always won all the big awards, and so they expected that they always WOULD win all the big awards. They forgot to tell Shirley about this and Shirley did what they had invited her there to do - she judged the show. Boom! You would have thought she had declared that quilting was forever outlawed in that state, so much fuss was kicked up about the winners and the losers. As a consequence, Shirley, fearing for her very safety, quietly left her hostess’s house in the middle of the night and drove seven hours in the dark, getting safely home, before the show ever opened! She never judged again, but then, they never asked her again, either.

 

 

So now I’ve got the answer for the question my friend asked when I first started quilting. "What are you going to do with all these quilts?” Here’s what I do: I enter them into every single judged show they can go to. They travel the world in their little cardboard boxes, working their way, earning their keep and sometimes bringing back cash money and fancy ribbon rosettes. At the end of their quilt show life span, when they have been hung, taken down, peered at, judged, written about, photographed, copied, packed and unpacked a few bazillion times, they will be allowed to retire gracefully into the quilt cupboard in my studio. Out to pasture, making room for the up and comers. Quiltus Emeritus.

 

My quilts go to many more shows than I do, but if and when I do attend, there is nothing more gratifying and heart clenching than coming around a corner at the exhibit and seeing your piece hanging there, with or without a ribbon. If it’s a winner, you dress up in your best “goes with my quilt colors” outfit and stand there, answering the excited questions from other quilters and letting them take pictures. What do they want to know? “How long did it take you?”  Then, when you tell them, they almost always say “Oh, I’d never have the patience!” As if they had been planning on rushing home to make this quilt themselves, but now, because it would take so long, they just won’t be doing it. Darn!

 

When it doesn't win, you learn to suck up a big breath and paste that big fakey smile on your face. You say "Oh y’know it’s just something I made for our bed " Because the next Judge may think it’s the best thing to come ‘round the bend in the last decade and give it Best of Show. You just never know. As long as your straight lines are straight.

        

        

         Up next—Working for the Opera

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Hazardous Duty at the Lyric Opera House

            For those of you not familiar with dress rehearsals, they are The Pits. Usually, you have been up all the night before, fixing the problems that showed up in fittings that day, or completely re-building something the director decided wasn’t working. Getting everyone into their costumes, all at the same time, was like trying to put a whole herd of octopus (octopusses?) into three-piece suits…with ties. Usually, dress rehearsals culminated in big piles of alterations, “things” that had to be rushed out and found and laundry, always laundry. Fortunately, in Baltimore, where the opera performances I worked on took place, there was a whole platoon of people whose job it was to help get the production through dress rehearsal.

             As I said last column, my job was to fly out to Baltimore, do the final fittings of the pieces I had made and sent, run the costumes through the dress rehearsals and then get all gussied up and attend opening night.. My friend, John Lehmeyer, the Director, would spend the entire Opening Night pacing back and forth the length of the Lobby, getting his clues about how the performance was going by listening to the noises the audience was making. Then we’d go and squash down our anxiety with food until the reviews came in.

            But, working in Baltimore was not all champagne and Bertha’s mussels. Any construction or alterations were done at Jones’s costume house, on Howard (pronounced Haird) Street, where the people were wonderfully friendly, but the conditions were 18th century. The walls of the three-story ancient warehouse were single-layer brick. Winters were finger-numbing and Summers were covered in sweat. The industrial sewing machines we used were ‘way older than me and only sewed forward. But, picture the magic of being surrounded by Traviata ballgowns and Orioles mascots bird heads. Over there were authentic suits of armor, complete with mace, flail and longsword. Madam Butterfly silk kimonos, Renaissance uniforms and every Halloween costume of every character you ever wanted to be. Not one square inch that wasn’t occupied by a costume that could change your persona into someone else. Yes, Magic!

            The performances took place in the very old (1894) Lyric Opera House, which had started life as a music Hall, featuring the Victorian songbird, Nellie Melba. The first few years I worked there, the old main level “private boxes”, with their heavy, fringed draperies, were still there. It took awhile before someone finally told me about the night watchman who had been “done in” in one of the boxes and still appeared there, now and then. They said you could smell his cigar as he took his break in “his” box.

            The theater dressing rooms were not exactly star quality and were down a level from the stage. There were matching, curved staircases, one on either side of the wings, leading to them, and I spent rehearsals racing up and down the stairs from one level to another. Until I was stopped short by a small, wizzled-up man with a huge air of authority bellowing at me-“Hey! Hey, you, girly!” He stomped over to me, as I wondered what I had done, now, and very gently removed the scissors that I always wore on a ribbon around my neck, handed them to me and said “Slow down, Huun”.

            My main job, while I was working the rehearsals, was to stand next to the director, and take notes about anything having to do with costumes, that he was unhappy about. That trip, the Baltimore Opera was doing “Kismet” and the costumes were truly over-the-top. The main set piece was a 20 foot tall, rotating Pike’s Peak of a mountain with stairways leading up and down, surrounded by a circular scrim fabric that could be lit so that the mountain appeared and disappeared. The 30 person chorus was arranged on the stairs, wearing the long robes and the very odd headpieces I had made from John’s sketches. They were hard skull caps supporting large, upstanding flashlights that shown off the tops of their heads, lighting the scrim from the inside. John, the Director, turned to me and said, “I HATE those headpieces. Take them off.” I said “Okey” and wrote in my notebook. Silence. “No, take them off now!” “What! Now!?”, I squeaked. “Go!”, he said. So, up on the stage I went, wrestled with the scrim and started climbing the stairways. The chorus was singing to lung capacity, as I snatched each person’s headpiece off and tossed them down. Some of the singers objected and tried to hang onto their headlamps with both hands. Others were angry about this deranged woman climbing all over their set and were hissing at me-“Get outta here!”. I got back to my seat and John turned to me with a big-eyed look and said “Now what are WE going to put on their heads?” Huh! I for sure knew who “We” was going to be.

            Another trip, John was doing costumes and directing “Martha” for New York City Opera and we took the train from Baltimore to the Garment District in New York City to “shop the show”. After being on the train for that long, I needed to use a restroom, so, as we were hurrying through Grand Central Station, I started to veer off to the right, where it said “ladies”, only to find myself jerked up short with an “Oh no you don’t! “But, but?” “Uh uh, people have gotten kidnapped from that bathroom and I’m not losing you, now! “But, but”. “You’ll just have to hold it!” Talk about hazardous duty!

Next time-

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    Working for the Opera           

 

In the 1970s, The Duluth Symphony was supporting a once-a-year, pull-out-all-the-stops Grand Opera Performance, complete with rented sets and costumes, the orchestra, opera chorus, soloists and up-and-comers from the New York City Opera Company plus a professional director to put the whole thing together. The year they did “Fledermaus”, the organization was missing their “wardrobe manager”. She had burnt out, after many years of unpacking and organizing the costumes, doing the fittings and the alterations, getting everyone into their rightful costumes and out on stage. They looked around and saw me doing much the same things for the Duluth Civic Ballet company and asked if I would jump in and help them out. And so I did.

            The man who was directing the production had a reputation of using his immense imagination and lavish costume designs to accomplish his “over-the-top” versions of the old classic Opera stories. I had not met him, yet.  The gorgeous costumes had arrived from A.T. Jones, a Baltimore Costume rental house and I was working away in the DECC wardrobe room, altering someone’s pants, when I felt a large presence fill up the doorway. There stood John Lehmeyer, guest director from the Baltimore Opera Company, scowling at me. He came in, poked around, checking how I had the costumes organized and examined some hair ornaments I had whipped up for the chorus, looked me over and made up his mind right then, that I was the one he’d been looking for, to build his hats, millinery and bring his wild costume sketches to life. And so I did.

            My first set of hats for John was tame. They would be for “La Boheme”, performed by the Baltimore Opera Company and then owned by A.T. Jones,  who would then rent them out until they fell apart.  Now, I had watched my mom make her own hats in the 1950s. with the ready-made hat frames in funny, little shapes. However, Opera hats and headpiece frames have to be “made from scratch”, because the singers usually wear costumes that make them look “larger than life”. So they usually wear wigs—very large wigs—and their hats have to fit over the enlarged heads.  Because I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, I made the frames from Ace Hardware wire screening, edged with folded masking tape to keep the pokey wires from jabbing me. I was sure the opera folks would think I was a real “Bumpkin” for using the wire screening, but no, they were impressed, because those hats were virtually indestructible.  John was happy.

            But, here I was, in Duluth, Minnesota, with a husband and children. We were not moving to Baltimore. So we worked it out like this: John would come to Duluth twice a year, at Christmas and in August and take up residence in one of our spare rooms, and relax. I’m sure we became a deduction on his income tax. For two months a year, he became “Uncle John”. He would shut himself away to do his costume sketches  and study his librettos for the coming season. When he was ready, we would make a day trip to S.R. Harris Company, in Minneapolis, to gather the fabrics, trims and hardware needed for that years’ costumes.  He would leave me with fabric swatches and costume sketches. And I would make the hats and headpieces, body armor, belts, Elizabethan ruffs, whatever went with the costumes. I would ship everything to Baltimore and then fly out to do the final fittings,  work the dress rehearsals and go to opening night. I couldn’t work the actual performances because I was not union—I was just “John’s friend from Minnesota”. This cycle went on for about 22 years, two or three operas a year. I loved it. Yes, I did.

            One memorable fitting was on a man singing the role of the villain, Dr. Faustus, who sells the magic eyes to the puppeteer smitten with his  own doll creation . This six-foot-six bass/baritone was an imposing man, wearing a long cape and tall stovepipe hat that I had made. Someone took a picture of me standing up on a stepstool, doing his fitting. just before he unfurled the “Magic Cape” and showing the inside. It was covered with 3-dimensional eyeballs of every size and configuration. He strutted around, swishing the cape and you could tell-he loved it.

            Another one was for a very famous soprano who would be costumed for “Kismet” in a sequined and painted body suit and a turban I had concocted, which sported a high cloud  of wired ostrich feathers. She was late, but here she came. She rushed into the sewing studio, where we were all waiting, stripped off every stitch of her clothing, struck a pose and sang out “I’m here! Do me!”

            And the Italian Diva singing “Aida” who loved my Cleopatra headpiece, made with a gilded rubber snake coiled on the front. She refused to take it off, even to wear the other two headpieces that went with her costume changes. She wore it to the “after the show” party. She may have worn it on the plane, back to Italy.

            How could John know that I was going to love interpreting his outrageous designs? But he was right and so I did.

Next time- Hazardous duty at the Lyric Opera House

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