Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pins and Needles, Needles and Pins

One of the side effects of having your avocation become your vocation is that you have to find another avocation. I love knitting as much as I ever did–more, if possible–but most of my projects now come with contracts and deadlines attached to them. This will, on occasion, tend to harsh one's mellow.

My alternative mellow for quite some time has been working out. It clears my head, it calms me down. If I don't get to do it for an entire day, I turn crabby and starting hitting people. Since it also makes my jeans fit better, it's productive fidgeting–which happens also to be my friend Joe's incredibly apt description of knitting.

Unfortunately, the weight room at the gym can't be kept in a pretty basket on an end table or stuffed into hand luggage. It cannot be employed to pass the time while waiting for a flight, or casually picked up when the after-dinner conversation lulls.

But a guy has to have something to do in those restless moments when after six hours of knitting I really, truly cannot stand to look at yarn one single minute more. I was at a loss until, while sorting through files, I found my notes from a PieceWork article about my grandmother's childhood...and her quilts.

Then there was a hazy patch, and a flurry of e-mails with a friend who plays with fabric for a living, and a surprise from another friend across the sea who sent me this.

Victoria and Albert Thimble

Then another hazy patch, and last night I came to while standing at the ironing board. It seems I was pressing my first quilt block.

My First Block

It's made from men's shirts I picked up for a buck apiece at the thrift store down the block. There will be six fabrics in the finished piece, and when I looked at my pattern after laying it out, I realized I've moved progressively through all the colors in the same way I'd put together a swatch of Fair Isle.

Once a knitter, always a knitter.

Gimme Gimme Gimme

I'm piecing the quilt top by hand–it's incredibly soothing–using needles I bought at Stitches Midwest. They were imported by Bag Smith from a French needlework company called Sajou.

I had never heard of Sajou before I walked up to the Bag Smith booth. They were founded in the nineteenth century; and though the company folded in the mid-twentieth century, it has now been revived by the descendants and is producing all the old lines in their original styles.

I opened the Sajou catalogue and wanted to climb inside and stay there.

I didn't know you could still buy things like this. Embroidered cotton labels for marking household linen, or adding little tags to your work that say ATELIER or FAIT MAIN in dignified red letters. A positive fleet of albums (including the gorgeous old DMC books) stuffed with elegant, playful alphabets, borders, friezes and motifs to embroider–none of which include Sunbonnet Sue or Kountry Kitchen geese in bandannas. I want them all. Wooden mercery drawers and pin boxes, porcelain bridal thimbles, and the scissors...oh, the scissors.

Even the packaging is glorious. This is the packet of needles I bought.

Needles from Sajou

I spent fifteen minutes dithering, because there were half-a-dozen designs in the booth and they were all glorious. You should see the three or four that include spinning wheels. When the needles are used up, I'm putting it into a frame.

Now, honestly–isn't that easier on the eyes than this?

Modern Needle Packaging

Who the hell thought that was a good idea? When was it decided that the utilitarian need not be a pleasure to look at?

On a practical note, the needles are so well made they leap through fabric like dolphins playing in gentle surf.

Personal to the people in my family who always want my wish list at Christmastime: here it is. The whole site. Just pick something.

63 comments:

Sahar said...

After reading your post, I remarked to Jon, "Damn it. Now I need to finish that quilt I started six years ago. I can't let Frank do EVERYTHING creative before me!" But mostly I'm kidding. It would be nice to finish that quilt, though...

Cookwannabe said...

Welcome to the world of quilting. Another benefit is that you can now start building a new stash. :-o

Jamie said...

We are polar opposite twins! I started sewing when I was a wee one and slowly worked my way up until suddenly sewing is my full time job. At some point in college while I was finishing my sewing homework I realized I had some free time, but I sure as heck was NOT going to go sew something. So now what? I bought the idiot's guide to knitting and got started. When I was eight, my aunt had taught me how to knit. It was amazing to feel the muscle memory kick in. So now I knit for fun and sew for money. I LOVE you shirt squares. So cool! Congratulations!

Kim said...

The quilt is going to be fabulous! I've started amassing thrift store shirts myself for a quilt! Love the colors you've chose and Sajou...oh Sajou....*SIGH*

Anonymous said...

Now you've done it-- I'll have to take up hand-sewing just so I can use those wonderful Sajou products. You're not just an enabler, you're a pusher. . .
Gretchen

chellebelle said...

my mother is a quilter.. with a machine, machine sew drives me nuts.. I love to hand sew, but the thought of tackling an entire quilt by hand is well, scary. However, with the kids,work,the house,knitting.. and I just took up learning the violin.. well. But you really make me want to start damn it!

Laura said...

That was an evil thing you did - putting the link to the Sanjou site. I don't sew and I don't embroider but I am addicted to small wooden boxes ... hmmmm.
Your quilt will look fabulous.

Anonymous said...

I have enough stuff belonging to my knitting, I have enough, I have enough - darn, I did look at the Sajou site.
Please dear sir, do go to the gym the next time and do not lead us into these kinds of temptations. You must know how easily we fall for shiny things.
Best, Anne

Sharon P said...

I love the old fashioned wonders of the Sanjou Site! I best not look too hard cause I will be trying to find ways to find money to buy the goodies there! :D Your squares look great!

Renee said...

...quilting is as addictive as knitting!
The shirt quilt is going to look terrific. :)

Nasheikah said...

you go boy ! happy-ness !!

Alwen said...

(I hate when Blogger eats my comment.)

I was thinking the same thing at the antique steam engine & tractor show - gorgeous steam traction engines, with shiny black and red paint, all picked out in gold. So much shinier than a dull Amtrak diesel!

Angela said...

Oh, this made me nostalgic for my great-granmother's treadle sewing machine. (Shhh...don't tell my husband or my mother that I brought it up--they're sick of hearing about it. Suffice it to say that it is no longer in the family and I. Am. Bitter.) In one of the drawers, there was a collection of old sewing notions, including a needle card with delightful graphics. Since I can't get it back (BITTER!), perhaps a spree at Sajou will help.

Jody said...

Oh goody, welcome to the world of quilting! I hope that you decide to stay. Your plaids will be amazing -and the Sajou products are a big bonus - thank you! Come by and visit me sometime - I am the quilter/knitter to your knitter/quilter! HA!
thedailyfiber@blogspot.com

Barb said...

That's great that you've started to learn about quilting. There is a Quilters Knitting group on Ravelry.

Eileen said...

I keep stashing bits of old clothes and scraps of 30s fabric found in my perpetual thrifting and tell myself I will start with a baby quilt. (Considering that I hand sew my curtains even though I own a sewing machine, it might happen. Right? Right??)

And that catalog...ohhhhh, my...

Thanks for the inspiration...maybe I'll jump in next.

p.s. the word verification is pingal. Pin gal? Yep, I'll be quilting soon, pins everywhere.

luneray said...

Franklin, you are evil, Evil, EVIL to post that link to the Sajou site. I was clicking around, just seeing what they offered, but my jaw literally dropped open when I saw the wooden items they offer. Now I MUST have a wooden case to hold my measuring tape. I don't sew but I'm sure I can use those bobbin boxes for something...

Laura Ogilvie said...

1) My grandmother just passed and passed to me her ancient Singer sewing machine. I had forgotten that in the way dark past we had created a skirt and vest, and I now feel the deep red shame of being phobic simply because I do not remember how. It's brown and heavy metal and pedaled--impossible to kill and up to my beginner's abuse-- and your post has inspired me to hop back on the pony and ride again!

2) As I read, my mind ran straight to just picking well-dressed, handsome men off the street to stand in my living room while I quilt from their shirts. Yum.

Amanda Haugland said...

Oh, Franklin. I so sympathize with you on your "I want everything!" on the Sajou site.

I also agree with your statement that tools should be beautiful. This is why I love Victorian sewing boxes. Someday, I shall own one.

Have a wonderful time with your quilt! I'm just going back to my new love affair with toe-up socks...

Abbeysmum said...

So sorry to hear your knitting has become a "must do"

Oh Dear! What have you done ???
Addiction, Thy name is Quilting.

Lynn in Tucson said...

Ah, quilting. It happens to the best of them (you know who you are). I came to knitting from quilting (it was portable, didn't take over the dining room table for weeks at a time...and as these things tend to come full circle, I'm trying to clear off some table space as we speak.

Isn't Sajou beautiful? When you're next in Tucson, we actually have a needlework shop that carries some of the line.

Lynn in Tucson said...

Ah, quilting. It happens to the best of them (you know who you are). I came to knitting from quilting (it was portable, didn't take over the dining room table for weeks at a time...and as these things tend to come full circle, I'm trying to clear off some table space as we speak.

Isn't Sajou beautiful? When you're next in Tucson, we actually have a needlework shop that carries some of the line.

Abbeysmum said...

Just had a quick look at the Sajou site, they don't have hand quilting needles. Any good quality needles are fine for piecing the blocks, BUT when you are doing the hand Quilting the needles need to be strong, as the quilting, rocking motion tends to break normal sewing needles or poor quality quilting needles.
Please check that the bias sides of a piece are joined to a stable side or your block will be out of shape and size will vary (learned the hard way). Quilting is such a joy, hope you have fun.

Kathy said...

I'm not sure I should feed your new addiction, but you might want to take a look at Roberta Horton's book, Plaids & Stripes. It's old (published in 1990) but a very good discussion of the use of directional fabrics in quilts. One topic includes the idea of creating "mood" - antique vs. a contemporary look. As a long-time reader, I know you like books and this might be useful. I'm a quilter and I was sucked into making several plaid quilts through it. Enjoy!
Kathy
eclecticreader on Ravelry

Jeri said...

oh Franklin, what fun! I learned to knit after being a quilter for 30+ years.... its a tactile thing with textiles. I've done the same as you - thrift store shirts are perfect for quilts like gramma made.... what a lovely site Sajou is also. Enjoy your new passion!

The Country Mouse said...

Oh, Franklin. You know when packaging became utilitarian. It was the same time we decided price mattered more than anything else (even quality) and the Great Blue Beast ate America. Or at least all of her neighborhood stores.

Jeanne said...

It was late. I was tired. I was just going to read your post and go off to bed at a decent hour. Next thing I know its hours later and I'm still looking at fabulous French scissors and sewing boxes and thread cards..... And if anyone wants to know, 1 euro = $1.27 US. Good Night!

Anonymous said...

have you thought of trying smocking? you would rule it!

Gail said...

I still have some Dritz needles in packaged in a similar manner as the Sajou -- the drawings look as tho they beloged to Sterling Cooper Draper Price (yes, I just watched Mad Men).

I, too drooled over the the Sajou scissors until I saw the price ...

but why can't our everyday objects be pleasing to the eye??? sigh.

JK_in_KC said...

Oh no! I took up knitting because my mother-in-law was a quilt designer. Can't ever compete on that scale (not that it's a competition, but you know). She can't knit, and I haven't tried quilting...but you're about the 5th knit blogger I've read who has answered the siren call of the steam iron and the little pieces. Get away, get away!

Patti said...

oh my those scissors.. oh my the prices of those scissors!

Seanna Lea said...

I've been thinking about quilting, but I need another hobby like I need another hole in the head.

J. Kwiatkowski said...

I like sewing by hand, too. I can't wait to see the finished quilt.

India said...

Congratulations on the new avocation! You might be interested in this site: http://mmuellerquilts.blogspot.com/ belonging to my friend Mark Mueller, one of the quilters featured in a new book called "Men and the Art of Quiltmaking" by Joe Cunningham.

creatingmisericordia said...

Oh dear... I may never be able to afford to eat again (but who cares if there are packets of pretty needles)!

Anonymous said...

I stopped by the Sajou booth at Stitches. Unfortunately, I had already spent far too much money. Like you I'm putting a request in with family for some of their luscious scissors! Loved the Eiffel Tower ones!

cheryl said...

The Sajou catalog is available
at frenchneedlework.com. Only $13.

Miss Sandra said...

Oh dear, your heading down the same path from knitting to quilting...beware... wire jewelry snagged me after those two. There's chainmaille everywhere! Pliers and hammers. Files. Earwires. Cabochons.

Sandy said...

Welcome to the Dark Side. Quilting because just as obsessive as knitting -- and you need a whole 'nother stash for it. I would suggest searching for and investing in a nice antique armoir right now. You will need the space.

Oraxia said...

If you don't already have a cute pincushion for all those pins and needles, perhaps you should make one--Heather Bailey has some really cute patterns (I just bought the "Fresh Picked" ones and intend to make a lovely pear pincushion soon) :)

Also, that is such a fantastic thimble! I have been on the hunt for the perfect thimble (and pair of embroidery scissors) for quite some time, but I'm not sure if you've done a good or bad thing linking Sajou... Loopy Ewe also carries some of them ^^;;

Bonnita said...

O - M - G!
Fabric, the other stash!

Janet said...

Franklin - I can't believe it - you are practically coming to my house - it's only a few blocks away from The Fiber Gallery.

Marji said...

Sajou is beyond glorious. I began sewing at 9 and didn't pick up knitting until the ripe old age of 12. As a result, I knew all about Sajou. They have returned much-needed elegance to the utilitarian. I say, "merci bien!"

Anonymous, too said...

Franklin, I'm getting worried about you. We all know you love all things quaint, Victorian, and bijou, but....you may be in over your head. You may need to enter a 12-step program. Don't be afraid to admit you have a problem before Harry puts himself up for adoption -- or Dolores thinks it's time she can get away with selling your yarn stash.

ccarter756 said...

The Sajou Eiffel Tower scissors are absolutely amazing. Not only do they make me smile every time I see them, but they are wicked sharp.

Jean said...

I am worried by this development. Are you going to follow Kaffe into quilting and be lost to us?
Love

Lynn said...

Would you like a hefty chunk of my quilting stash? I haven't touched it in 15 or 20 years (knitting, spinning, weaving, in that order, since then), so it's practically vintage.

And I'm serious.

Ann-Marie said...

Oh my dear, you have done it now. This is a slippery, slidy slope, and it leads to . . . well, it leads to a really big, really well-lit room with comfy chairs and big layout tables and display boards and a huge collective stash. There are lots of us here already, so -- speaking as a cross-stitcher, knitter, crocheter and quilter -- welcome to the Dark Side, we have cookies!

Bluefrog said...

Yippeeeeee! Finally! As much as I love looking at the pictures and reading about your life and your fantastic knitting, quilting is something I DO. Welcome aboard!

Glenn Dragone said...

Be careful..... quilting is addictive like knitting.

I like your block.

As for the Sajou, check out the scissors. OMG

pamade said...

mmm hmm. I was a sewer before I turned to knitting. I sewed clothing and quilted and slipcovers, you name it, I sewed it. I had to give up my sewing room when my girls got too big to share a room. I walked around in a daze until I started to knit. I realized you don't need whole room full of stuff to knit. It saved my sanity. Creativity all comes from the same place.

It really shaped the way I see knitting. I was so used to measuring rather than counting stitches. I couldn't figure out why you couldn't just knit until it measured what you wanted.

Anonymous said...

Here's some more instant gratification: My favorite needlework book from the early 1900s is also available free from Project Gutenberg in electronic format.

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/20776

AncestorDetector said...

Well there goes my budget!!!! Wonder if the husband will mind eating mac & cheese for the rest of September???

Meg said...

LOL .... and I see that you have also managed to stay within your personally prescribed colour range. Well done.

BlueLoom said...

Thanks for the link to Sajou. What a wonderful experience leafing through their beautiful catalog: not only great eye candy, but a fun shot to the brain for an old French major. Who knew that a thimble is a "de" (accent ague over the e). I certainly didn't.

debsnm said...

When I grow up, I want nice things like these, too.

bricolo-chic said...

welcome in the beautiful world of needles, you will soon discover pincushions, pinkeep, scissors fob, berlingot e pendibulle!!!

p.piche said...

Well franklin, welcome the the men of the cloth club. It is a creative outlet for me and like knitting, practical too. Good luck and keep going.
-p

Ironwoodtree said...

After your lace class I bought the mother of pearl scissors at the booth. I love them even more than my Gingher crane scissors.

I think my quilting next door neighbor is getting a great present for Christmas.

Christine said...

I, too, followed your link to Sajou, and ordered their catalogue. It arrived Thursday (apparently free shipping!) While I found the use of Euros rather than dollars a bit disconcerting, the treasures they offer are amazing. I started looking through it, and when I looked up, it had been hours, and it was midnight! (Way past my bedtime, since I teach and get up at 4:30.) I avoided it last night, but am getting ready to re-enter the magical world of Sajou today.

Liz said...

I so absolutely did *not* need to know about that site. Haberdashery. And haberdashery in French, to boot... two irresistible forces in a single site...

Pickyknitter said...

That quilt square sent me running to the closet. When my grandfather passed away, my dad (*spit*) took all his shirts and made a full size pieced quilt. a couple years later we all got "lap quilts" to match. I love thinking about my grandpa and remembering his crazy shirts. Congrats on continuing the tradition.

Anonymous said...

The best present I ever got from my other half was contained in 3 increasingly smaller hand made leather bags and was 36 real Tudor pins collected from the side of the Thames just by where old London Bridge just to be (on which bridge were all the pin factories). They vary from about 2 inches long to less than one inch and the smaller ones are at least as fine as most pins today. I get very possessive of those pins....... (sempstress)