Thursday, May 24, 2007

hairbrushes and magnetic paperclip caddies

Some tape measures (right) and bicycle bells (left) that i saw in a shop window on Kurfürsten Damm in Berlin.
A Day in Berlin

Tuesday I spent the day traipsing all over Berlin, mainly seeing a few museums. I especially enjoyed seeing the German Impressionists at the Gemälde (Painting) Galerie on Museum Island. Fun to see how the work of these Prussians changed after they'd spent time in France and were influenced by the Fr. Impressionists. Their themes shifted from work to play and there was suddenly more light in their paintings.

After a few hours, I found myself actually feeling homesick for Hamburg. I missed the fresh sea air, cleanliness and overall visual appeal of Hamburg, not to mention the better public transport system. Berliners are a bit more relaxed and friendly than Hamburgers; they also dress more casually and with a bit more daring. Hamburgers are more reserved in clothing and behavior, but also more polite. All this time, I'd been thinking of Hamburgers as slightly rude but since this visit to Berlin, they almost seem like proper English gentlemen and -women, by comparison, proving once again that it's all relative! On the plus side, I got quite a few smiles from strangers and even a few whistles.
A Coffee Garden by Max Liebermann. Except for the clothes, this could very easily be modern Germany.

above, A Beer Garden, by a German Impressionist (Max Liebermann?)
The ceiling at the Gemälde Galerie (Painting Gallery) on Museum Island in Berlin

Another example of German Impressionism

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Another Note about Grandmerner

Merner had a brother, Ray, and a sister, Della. She and Della were not only sisters but best friends as well. I remember noticing in the old photo albums that there were no pictures of Della as anything but a child or a young woman, which, considering how everyone else was documented well into old age, seemed a little strange. She was a beauty, with light brown hair worn loosely up, a full mouth and large, luminous eyes set in an oval face. It wasn't until I was in my 20s that I found out Della had taken her own life when she was about 40. She'd moved to California as a young woman and was working as a nurse there. She loved to paint, a talent which my father and uncle inherited (they studied Art/Engineering and Architecture, respectively). They called her Tantie. Daddy said he tried avocado for the first time on a visit to Aunt Della in California.

Sometimes I wonder if Merner turned to things like quilting as a creative outlet because she had the same creative impulses as her sister, but could never have brought herself to engage in anything so frivolous as painting. I got the feeling she almost overcompensated for her sister's sensitive/artistic bent by being extremely pragmatic and no-nonsense. From stories she told, their mother (after whom i was named) was extremely impractical and the daughters often paid the price. For example, the girls got into the habit of listening at the drawing room door to see how many guests their mother was inviting to Sunday dinner, so they could slip out the kitchen door to go and buy more food.

I suppose, apart from her family circumstances, it would fit with the general history of women engaging in useful handicrafts rather than the fine arts, which have tended to be dominated by men (perhaps men have historically been more willing to take themselves seriously as creative artists?).

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

P.S. Despite appearances, there has been a bit of quilty action around here as well. I just haven't gotten round to taking pics yet.
Sunday in the Country

First long walk in the country since my knee surgery. This is a village near Hamburg where motor vehicles are forbidden. It's also a wildlife preserve, so you hear lots of birds of all kinds singing. Horsedrawn carriages clomp along on cobblestone roads carrying tourists. One of the farms was the first open-air museum in Germany, established in something like 1909. The whole village is a bit like a museum. It's in the middle of the Lüneburger Heide (Heather). I didn't manage to get any pictures of Heidschnucken, the funny sheep who live here. They're the kind with chocolate faces and feet-- their colouring is a bit like siamese cats.
Here's a picture I found
Die Grafik "" kann nicht angezeigt werden, weil sie Fehler enthält.

Monday, May 14, 2007


A quote from my sister Lisa
(i've corrected my post below accordingly):

"Your blog seems accurate except that the quilting bee
met every Thursday in the basement of the church where
they could keep a big quilting frame set up.

Everyone would bring a dish and they'd stay all day
with a break for lunch. It was a real insight into the
world of the 70+ year olds. They'd forget I was there
after awhile and the talk was pretty uninhibited.
Also, they were impressed I could sew such a fine
stitch in spite of the dreadful handicap of being
left-handed. :-)"

Sunday, May 13, 2007

About my Quilting Grandmother
(the one quoted in the header)

Both of my grandmothers sewed but my father's mother was the quilter. We called her Grandmerner, Merner for short. She was born in 1891, grew up in a small town in North Texas and moved to Oklahoma after she was married. I think she said once that she'd lived through two depressions, as there was one in the 1890s as well. In any case, she was raising her young family during the Great Depression and she must have inherited a bit of that pioneer spirit as she seemed to have a gift for making the most of what little was available. She lived to be 97 and her husband, our Granddaddy lived to be 102. In their familes, this was not unusual. I remember pouring over the old leather bound family albums with photos from the 19th century and noticing in the family tree that even back then, many of our ancestors lived to be near 100.

Some of my fondest memories are of Christmas spent at my grandparents' in a small town in Oklahoma in the 1960s. There was nothing like sleeping under all those layers of blankets and quilts. It was colder than in Austin, where we lived, and the trees were barer (no live oaks) so it felt more like real winter. Sometimes there was even a blanket of snow and we would go sledding. Then there was the food. My favorite thing was her cornbread dressing. Merner spent most of the days when we were there creating these feasts, including homemade bread and pies. As soon as breakfast was cleared, she'd lean against the kitchen counter, focussed as a general plotting her next battle and then dive right into preparing lunch.

We were eight kids in our family, the only grandchildren. On Christmas morning, there was always a mountain of presents under the tree, often just small, practical items like shampoo or a notebook from Uncle Vince, who generally did his Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve and was still madly wrapping his presents in the funny papers on Christmas morning, but every year for each of us girls there was always a new flannel nightgown that Merner had made as well. During the school year, she'd make us dresses. We would go to the fabric store and look through pattern books and send her the numbers of patterns we liked and she'd make dresses from them. How spoiled we were!

When she made quilts for us, she incorporated fabrics from the dresses she'd made us, so we could revisit favorite dresses that way. She made probably hundreds of quilts, mainly for charity. She belonged to a quilt guild connected with her church (I think they just called it a quilting bee in those days) and they would make quilts to raffle off to raise money. They would gather every Thursday in the basement of the church where they were able to keep a big quilting frame set up and everyone would handquilt one of the members' quilt tops. I'll have to ask my sister more about how that all worked, how much they collaborated on quilts.

Most of my grandmother's quilts were scrap quilts, but she also made a few with just one fabric plus the muslin background, no doubt a piece she'd found on sale. One of my favorites of her quilts, which I would like to replicate someday, was a Drunkard's Path in pink with a cream background. When I was in college, she showed me a double wedding ring quilt that she said she would give me when I married. Later, after I'd married, I was too shy to ask her for it and apparently she'd forgotten. No one knows what happened to that quilt. Many others were apparently lost or destroyed over the years due to neglect.

My sister Lisa learned to quilt at Merner's quilting bee. She told me there was one very old member who was losing her vision and every time the group met, one of the members would stay behind afterward to carefully take out all the stitching she'd done.

Lisa and i sometimes talk about how different our quilting is from our grandmother's. Merner would probably roll over in her grave if she knew what we spend on fabric (most of her quilts were made with finds from the sale bin--something like 10 cents a yard), but then as I tell Lisa, "She's in heaven now, so she probably doesn't care about things like the price of fabric!"

Probably like a lot of quilters, I think we've salvaged a bit of the old pioneer spirit which seems to run in our family. Actually, living in Germany, where there is so little affordable fabric available, i sometimes think i can imagine how those pioneers felt out on the prairie, eagerly awaiting packages from Back East. I don't know what i'd do without my sister and cousin who send me fabric care packages from the States.

I suppose in some respects, blogging has come to replace the old quilting bees. It would be nice to belong to a "real" F2F group here in Hamburg, but i haven't had much luck finding one yet. The advantage of the internet is that people with similar tastes and interests can find each other, regardless of geography and you can chat about quilting without getting out of your pajamas. Difficult to weigh what modern quilters have lost and gained.

(Soon, I will post something about my other grandmother)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Disappearing Nine-Patch

a tutorial from Helen in the UK

This looks like a great design for crib quilts.

(I don't know how to post links properly)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Happy Mother's Day!

A cool quilt I ran across.

Monday, May 07, 2007

P.S. this same friend has really liked other quilts i've made, so i didn't take it that personally. At least when a German says they like something, you can generally be sure they mean it :-)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Bad Reviews...

I showed this latest quilt to a German friend today who didn't like it. I've had this sort of reaction from other German friends as well. From American friends, the response has been only positive so far. I wonder if it's mainly that Germans are more honest /candid in their feedback or if it's really a matter of different tastes. Americans probably have positive associations with this kind of quilt--with so many different colors and patterns going on. I notice German friends tend to like the quilts i've made with more subdued / coordinated color-schemes. Maybe objectively speaking these quilts are more pleasing and it's just that these crazy, scrappy ones feel nostalgic, since they remind us--or at least me--of quilts from an earlier era.