Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Martha Washington sewing cabinet

When my parents visited our new home last this fall, they brought with them my Christmas present--an absolutely beautiful Martha Washington sewing cabinet. I didn't know anything about this type of cabinet, so I started doing some research.


Martha Washington sewing cabinets were popular during the first half of the 20th century. I've read that they spiked in popularity during the depression when furniture makers were looking for smaller, less expensive pieces to sell.

They were modeled after popular federal-period sewing cabinets dating around 1800-1815. It is possible that Martha Washington owned one--but I couldn't confirm that.

A phot of a Federal sewing cabinet from The Antiques Directory.


I found the 20th-century versions in the Sears Catalog. The 1928-29 catalog advertises one for $6.35, but it must have been popular. By 1931, Sears was offering a bargain version for $7.55 and luxury versions in solid walnut ($17.75) or mahogany ($17.65) that cost about $267 in 2014 dollars!

An ad from the 1928-29 Sears Catalog.


These tables generally have three drawers in the center front, with rounded pockets on each side that flip open, revealing deep storage for yarn and fabric. My cabinet differs in that the pockets rotate out to reveal a deep pocket capped by a short one. This leaves the table top a solid piece and a perfect place for my great great grandfather's lamp!


Because my cabinet is unusual, i wanted to know who made it. A manufacturer's sticker on the bottom reads "made by SHEETS MFG. CO. Wapakoneta Ohio." The manufacturer's number is written in crayon on the bottom: #234. While I was looking online for information, I found that the owner of cabinet number 235 is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.


There is very little information about the Sheets Manufacturing Company. In desperation, I called the Wapakoneta library, but even they couldn't find much. I did find a reference that states that the company was started in Botkins, Ohio, a few miles from Wapakoneta, in 1903 and specialized in furniture for export. I have not been able to verify this information, but the company name does show up in lists of furniture distributers.


There are a lot of photos online of furniture that people have acquired with the Sheets Manufacturing Company label. People like it, and interestingly enough, the rotating pockets show up on other pieces--such as desks. It must have been a signature feature.


I wish I could have found out more, but that is not going to stop my loving this piece of furniture. It is the perfect size for storing the projects and needles, threads and patterns that I work with during evenings in front of the television. Thank you Mom & Dad!


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The craziness of stitching (and living) in two places

Living in two places, like I do, means an awful lot of planning has to go into my needlework—more than just making sure that my project is done on time. I have to make sure that it is done AND in the best location at the right time. So this weekend, even though I was packing, sorting things for donation and trying to make hard decisions about what would stay in Denver (and likely never move), what would go back to Rhode Island this spring, and what would go back when I move home permanently, I found myself scrambling to finish some projects that need to be back in Rhode Island in May, even though I won't be there then.


First, I sewed up the three elephants I mentioned earlier this month (two for a friend and one for Roger’s grandchild). I don’t have a sewing machine in Rhode Island and my sewing machine will be one of the few things that I will move home when I move permanently. That means, the elephants had to be done before I fly to Rhode Island with the cats next week. BUT, how would I fit them in my suitcase with all the cat dishes, beds, etc. that I was bringing in my checked luggage? The solution—don’t stuff them. I’ll buy stuffing in Rhode Island and stuff them when I get home. It is exhausting dealing with all the permutations my mind goes through to figure out the best solution to these puzzles!


I also framed the two portraits that I embroidered earlier in the year and will take them home with me. One is a present that will be given early in June and because I am doing the dual move (moving things to Rhode Island and to a new smaller apartment in Denver) at the end of May, I am not 100% sure if I will be home for the birthday or not. At least the present will be there! The other is a Christmas gift, but it will be more convenient (and cheaper) to mail it from New England than Denver. Similarly, I finished a shower gift earlier this month (I'll show it after the shower). I don't know when the shower will be, but it will be back east and I might as well take it in the checked luggage now rather than mail it later.

Two framed portraits and three baggy elephant skins are coming with me on the plane, along with two cats and their accoutrements!


What craziness! I can't wait until this big double move is over. At least the cats will be home in Rhode Island by the end of this month. That is definitely a blessing. I just have to make sure that they are quiet on the plane so that we don't get kicked off!


Sunday, March 23, 2014

A happy little bluebird from across the ocean

Look what arrived in the mail on Wednesday, all the way from South Africa! It is Trish Burr's newest needle painting kit. She featured it on her blog earlier this month as a replacement to her online lessons. I have some of her gorgeous books, but I have been intimidated by the thought of actually trying to embroider one her designs. Her blog description was irresistible though--and even with shipping, it was still a good price. I decided that it was worth the shipping costs (rather than just downloading the instructions) to get the printed fabric on my first needle painting attempt. That is one less thing to worry about and I get to feel the fabric she uses. Choosing the right fabric for embroidery is not my forte. It came quickly too.


The instruction booklet is fantastic. Just look at the detail! It sure does make me feel confident in my ability to follow the instructions. I even downloaded the free needle case pattern she included on her blog, so this will be a real little treat for me when I finish.


Unfortunately, I won't be starting this for quite awhile. In fact, even my blogging will be sporadic over the next few months. I am packing up my apartment and moving the cats and most of my things back to Rhode Island and downsizing to a smaller place here in Denver. Now that I have permission to work from home in Rhode Island every other month, my focus is going to be more there then here. This happy little bluebird can eventually fly with me!


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Fabric shopping--enough is enough!

Yesterday was an exhausting shopping day. I left the house at 9:30 with a list of fabrics and notions that I needed for several projects I have in mind. Little did I realize that I wouldn't be home again until 3:30!


First, I grabbed my coupons and went off to JoAnn Fabrics. There I bought some fleece for stuffed elephants for a friend's children and my step grandson. I had promised to make two toys for my friend if she picked out body fabric that she liked. She gave me her fabric last week and all I had to do was find some coordinating fleece for ears and feet. I'm so glad she reminded me! An elephant will be a perfect gift for our grandson's birthday and three elephants will hardly take more time than two.


After that, I looked fabric for the pillows that I embroidered for my brother-in-law. I finally found something I liked, even though it's not perfect.


Next I looked for a blouse pattern that Starr White featured on her blog, Winter Wonderland. It is exactly the pattern that I have been looking for to make an embroidered blouse for myself. Sadly though, JoAnn's didn't have it, so I was in the car and off to Hancock Fabrics. Luckily JoAnn's is less than a mile from my apartment and Hancock's can't be more than two miles away!


I found my pattern at Hancock's and I also found fabric for the blouse! I will make blouse C. The solid is for the cuffs and yoke, which I will embroider. I may have skimped a bit on the patterned fabric. If so, I may have a band of the solid at the base of the blouse as well. We'll see. I likely won't get to this until May.

I then started searching for fabric for a table runner for my step son and soon-to-be daughter-in-law. I had bought a kit, complete with fabric, to make a runner for the other step son and daughter-in-law, and thought that with different fabric, it would work for the other set as well. This, however, is where the problems came in.


I had previously asked Kyle what Kristen's favorite color was. Unfortunately, he didn't know. I have only met her a few times and she seems to have a classic modern style. She wears color, but somehow it all reads as neutral, as does their condo. The pattern calls for five fat quarters for bands of color and five neutrals, which can be substituted for a single neutral.


I started with the colors. First I went with light teals, but I couldn't find enough. Then I went with yellows and browns, but they didn't seem like the right colors for the couple. I didn't want blue, since the kit was all blue. After an hour of sifting thought different color combinations I gave up and went to lunch. Then it occurred to me that Kristen has decorated with some of those trendy greens and oranges. So, back I went back to JoAnn's.


There I experimented with bold oranges, yellows and greens, but couldn't find a coordinating fabric, and really, it looked much too bright. Then I found a fabric with browns, oranges, blues and greens and tried to match the colors in the fabric. That was a fun experiment and I thought I could use brown as the neutral, but again, too bright. Finally, I picked a ground fabric that I liked, a light teal blue and began finding neutrals to go with it. After an hour more of searching, I finally went with four patterned greys and a pink. There is enough color for it not to be too drab, but it will read as neutral when sewn up. I hope it works! Now I can cut out both runners at the same time. Even though they don't have to be done until Christmas, it is always good to get a head start!


But, shopping exhausted me. I didn't get much more done other than washing the fabric and cutting out the elephants. Stitching will have to be left for another day.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Exhibits at Winterthur: Whose Your Daddy and Costumes of Downton Abby

I am blessed to live in two major metropolitan areas where I can easily visit some spectacular museum exhibits, but if you are like me, there are always more exhibits that you wish you could have seen, but couldn't get to, or didn't know about.


Recently, while browsing the Winterthur Museum website I saw that they have online exhibits providing additional resources on their special exhibitions. Winterthur, in Delaware, is the premier museum of American decorative arts. Founded by Henry Francis du Pont, it holds over 90,000 objects made or used in the United States between 1640 and 1860. The collection is housed in the du Pont family home and has tons of online resources for researchers.


"Who's Your Daddy" was an exhibit that ran from October 4, 2008 through May 17, 2009 and explores family relationships in needlework. The exhibit includes samplers, gorgeous knit purses and even scraps of fabric from Martha Washington's dresses. The online exhibit includes a short video providing information about select pieces in the Winterthur collection and an exhibit catalog. I wish the catalog was a little better quality--maybe it is if you print it out, but I couldn't enlarge the photos to see the details. Even so, the text was fascinating--and I enjoyed the video. I'd be grateful for any links people may have to other online exhibits around the world. It is a great way to get to know a collection, even if you can't visit right away.


Also, exciting news for all the Downton Abby fans! March 1, 2013 through January 24, 2015 Winterthur is showcasing an exhibit of 40 Downton Abbey dresses. If you are like me and watch primarily to see what Lady Mary and Edith will wear next (I literally was hyperventilating at some of the hats from the first season), it is not to be missed. Let's hope they have a corresponding online exhibit in the future. My husband wants us to take a holiday this year. I wonder if I can persuade him that Delaware is the place he wants to be?!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Start of a design

Last week I talked a little about my desire to design my own embroidery and how the piece I was finishing was inspiring me. But, if you look back at my stitching resolutions for the year, you will find two more design projects I wanted to complete this year. One was for a competition for Piecework Magazine soliciting needlework inspired by literature. A photo of the worked piece was due this month, but you haven't seen anything related to my design yet, have you? Sigh.


I have been so busy working on Christmas and birthday presents, that my design piece has lagged behind and won't be anywhere near done this month. Additionally, although I got a giggle from the thought of a wedding ring pillow inspired by the Pride and Prejudice quote "a truth universally acknowledged", I started thinking that others might not get the joke--especially not modern, independent brides. I definitely cannot see my step son's fiancé wanting such a thing anywhere near her wedding!


But this sad story has a silver lining. The more I thought about it, the more I thought that my idea, minus the quote, would make a perfectly wonderful wedding or anniversary sampler. So, with renewed energy, I have begun, very slowly, working on some ideas.


I am starting with a blown up version of a monogram wreath I found on Mary Corbet's website. You can find the original pattern here, but I think when I am done, only the barest outlines will remain of that design.


Here are my scribbles in thread so far. You can ignore the colors. The blue will undoubtably be in the finished version, but there will be other colors as well. I am looking forward to getting back to this after I finish the project I am working on now (half done already), but since I intend to move most of my furniture back to Rhode Island in April and downsize in Denver, I may not get too far. We'll see!