Sunday, July 29, 2007

Virginia Tech Memorial Project

As you may already know, we've received a tremendous response to the Virginia Tech Memorial Block project. We've literally received hundreds of blocks for this project, an outpouring of love and concern for the everyone who has been touched by the tragedy of the Virginia Tech shootings. The project has moved solidly into its next phase, so now is perhaps a good opportunity to provide an update of its ongoing progress.

The first step of the project, the creation and submission of the blocks, has already been completed. As you have already seen in our previous posts, we have displayed many of these beautiful quilt blocks in the classroom area of Grandma's Attic to inspire others to participate and to generally give heart to all of those who have seen it. These individual blocks are already a moving testament to the power of quilts and the fiber arts to help people heal after a national tragedy.

The second stage of the project is in full-swing: the documenting and photographing of every block we have received. We feel that it is appropriate to honor and acknowledge each block submission by preserving both the names of the block creators and the images of the blocks they have created. As we are in fully in the midst of this second stage, we are perhaps better able offer some detail about its progress.

For example, we have compiled a large database containing both the name of the block and the person who created it. Furthermore, each block has been assigned a number so that it can be easily referenced in the database when necessary. In addition to this compilation of information, we have collected a large binder filled with the completed block submission forms and any other accompanying correspondence we may have received.

But, perhaps even more intensive than compiling the database in this second phase is photographing each individual block. This is the part of the project we are in now. The blocks are first pinned to a flat background as carefully as possible and any stray threads that have happened to have covered the block are carefully removed with a lint roller. The lighting and the camera settings are adjusted just so for each block and the picture is taken. As these are digital pictures, each block image must then be reviewed at a later point on the computer to see if it is a good image or needs be retaken.

We have already begun the initial part of the third stage of the project: the assemblage of the blocks into separate quilts. We're still planning how to organize this third stage, but we are already lining up the quilters who will be performing this important and emotional task.

As you can see, there is a lot of work that is still ahead of us. Above all, throughout all these first stages, throughout the project as a whole, our ultimate goal is to give the proper and appropriate respect that each block deserves on it's way to its final inclusion in quilts to be presented to Virginia Tech.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Beautiful Batiks and their History!

Batik prints are among the most popular fabrics in the United States today--indeed, throughout the world. And it's easy to see why. Batiks come in an astonishing array of lovely colors and pleasing motifs: from beautiful plants and flowers awash in a warm sea of reds and purples to graceful butterflies, birds, and fish slipping through the cooler shades of greens and blues. The desire to capture these beautiful colors and designs in our own projects can be practically irresistible. In the act of admiring a brightly colored batik print, we often found ourselves wondering how these lovely types of fabric came into being. Here is the Batik Story.

Batik prints (pronounced BAH-teek), as they are known today, are generally acknowledged as being developed centuries ago in Java, now part of modern-day Indonesia. In the past, batiks had been worn as sarongs and head-coverings as public markers of identity that could sometimes tell the story of a person's social rank, economic class or even ethnicity. The word "batik" derives from two other Javanese words, "amba" and "titik," words which signify "drawing" and "writing" respectively.

Perhaps one can see the relationship between drawing and writing since, in order to make a batik by hand, one must draw or write on a piece of fabric with hot wax pen in a process called "canting." Next, paint is applied over and between the wax design. And finally, the fabric is re-waxed, dyed, and boiled. Since the wax resists the variously applied paints and dyes, when it is removed the intended design is seen in the final overall piece.

Although traditional methods for making Batiks by hand are still used today, most modern Batiks are made in the factory using roughly the same process. In 1850, the first method for making Batiks in a factory was developed to meet the then burgeoning European fashion market. In this first factory method, a metal stamp (called a "cap") was heated and dipped in hot wax, and the design was literally stamped into the fabric. The fabric was then laid out and hand painted, and ultimately re-waxed with black to prevent the background colors from penetrating the new pattern. The cloth was then dyed to produce the brilliant colors and boiled to remove the excess wax.

In the late 19th century, Europeans were fascinated by Batik prints and some even had individual pieces framed as works of Art. Batiks were commonly seen as interesting pieces most suitable for home decor. The hand-made craft element of Batiks also appealed to the Europeans because they resisted the mass-produced home decorations then available and, in this sense, partially allayed their anxieties about the increasing pressures of the relatively new Industrial Revolution.

Today, Batiks play an invaluable role in our various quilting and fabric projects. You can see batiks in everything from beautiful batik butterflies in decorative wall-hangings, to colorful blocks in a large bedroom quilt or even to a fun summer tote-bag. If you're inspired, be sure to check out our lovely selection of batiks in their stunning array of colors and designs. Batiks can make a special project even that much more special!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Peanuts and Peanut Butter Cookies

We love peanut butter cookies. They’re pretty yummy, don’t you think? My grandmother loved to bake peanut butter cookies and I loved to eat them. So we got to thinking about the history of the peanut itself. When I think of peanuts, I think of George Washington Carver, baseball games, and peanut butter cookies. If you’ve ever wondered about peanuts, here’s a short history.

Peanuts originated in South America, probably in Brazil or Peru. At the time when the Spanish were exploring the New World, peanuts were being grown as far north as Mexico. It was the Spanish who introduced peanuts to Europe in the 15th Century, and the versatility and uses of the peanut were quickly realized. Portuguese slave ships began carrying peanuts as an essential food. Still later, traders further carried the peanut to Africa, Asia and many other parts of the world.

The Africans themselves regarded the peanut as one of several plants possessing a soul. It is interesting to note that the word “goober” comes from the Congo name for peanuts—nguba. When the Africans were brought to North America as slaves, peanuts came with them and were planted throughout the southern United States.

Considered an excellent food for pigs, peanuts were initially called groundnuts in the 1700s. When peanuts began to be grown commercially in the United States in the 1800s, early American records show that, in places like South Carolina, peanuts were used for oil, food, and as a cocoa substitute. During the Civil War, soldiers on both sides ate peanuts as food. Yet, they were not grown extensively because they were slow and difficult to harvest. At the time, they also had the distinction as being food for “the poor.”

Around 1900, equipment for planting, cultivating, harvesting, and picking peanuts from the plants, and for shelling and cleaning the kernels were developed. Mechanization made it more economical to sell roasted and salted nuts, peanut butter and candy. During the last half of the 19th Century, peanuts were sold fresh roasted by street vendors and as a popular snack at baseball games and circuses.

In 1903, George Washington Carver (1864-1943) began researching the peanut at Tuskegee Institute. He developed more than 300 uses for peanuts including shoe polish and shaving cream! He improved peanut horticulture so much that he is considered to be the “father of the peanut industry.” As a botanist, he recognized the value of peanuts as a cash crop and proposed that they be planted as a rotation crop with cotton in areas where the boll weevil threatened the agricultural base. His rotation method made the soil healthier and kept the boll weevil at bay. Today, peanuts contribute more than four billion dollars to the United States economy each year. Americans eat more than 600 million pounds of peanuts and nearly 700 million pounds of peanut butter each year.
Check out our great Peanut Butter Cookie recipe!

Grandma Ann's Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 cup peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 and 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350F degrees and place rack in center of the oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Mix together the butter and sugars with an electric mixer under they are light and fluffy (about 2-3 minutes). Add in the egg and vanilla extract and beat to combine. Mix in the peanut butter. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add to the peanut butter mixture and beat to combine. Roll the dough into 1 inch balls. Roll them in white sugar and place on the prepared baking sheet about 3 inches apart. With a fork, press down the tops of the cookies, marking them with a criss-cross pattern.

Bake for approximately 9-11 minutes or until the cookies just start to brown along the edges. Cool on a wire rack.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Betsy Ross

When I think of the American Flag, I think back to Betsy Ross and wonder: Did she really make the first American flag? Most contemporary historians doubt the popular legend of Betsy Ross sewing the original stars and stripes. However, it is so compelling that when President Woodrow Wilson was asked his opinion of the story, he replied, “Would that it were true!”

Here’s what we do know about Betsy Ross and the American flag. Betsy was born Elizabeth Griscom in 1752. She married John Ross, a Philadelphia upholsterer, and worked as a seamstress. When John Ross was killed in a munitions explosion in 1776, Betsy kept the upholstery shop going. She claimed that George Washington was one of her customers.

Nearly one hundred years later, in 1870, William J. Canby, one of Betsy’s grandsons, told of the supposed making of the first American flag at a meeting of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. He said that, when he was eleven-years-old, Betsy Ross herself told it to him shortly before she died. According to Canby:

George Washington was a frequent visitor to the home of Mrs. Ross before receiving command of the army. She embroidered his shirt ruffles and did other things for him. Therefore, Washington knew her skill with a needle. As the General of the Continental Army, George Washington appeared on her doorstep around the first of June, 1776 with two representatives of Congress, George Ross and Robert Morris. They asked her to make a flag according to a rough drawing that they carried with them.

General Washington suggested 13 stars and 13 stripes. His version of the stars had six points. Betsy showed him how to make a beautiful five pointed star by folding a piece of paper and taking only one snip. Washington was very impressed, so the design was changed to five pointed stars instead of six. Betsy placed her stars in a circle and the stars and stripes design was adopted by Congress on June 14, 1777.

The painting below of Betsy Ross sewing the first flag was done by Charles H. Weisgerber. First displayed at the Columbian Exposition in 1893, it depicts the meeting of the fabled flag committee with Betsy Ross. Entitled “Birth of Our Nations Flag,” it is actually a composite portrait made up from pictures of Betsy’s granddaughters and other descendants. This painting was included in a book written by Canby’s brother, George Canby and nephew Lloyd Balderson in 1909 to bolster the claims made by Betsy’s grandson that she had made the first American flag. It was also reproduced in school history textbooks and used to make money in order to purchase the Betsy Ross house in Philadelphia.

Birth of Our Nations Flag

Historians have continually searched government records in order to prove Canby's account is true but so far they have been unable to find irrefutable evidence to support the popular legend. However, interestingly enough, they have been able to find some evidence that indicates Betsy Ross did make flags for the Pennsylvania State ships. In the minutes of the State Navy Board of Pennsylvania, there is an entry for May 29, 1777 that reads as following: “An order on William Webb to Elizabeth Ross for fourteen pounds twelve shillings, and two pence, for making ship’s colors, &c, put into Richards store.” Nevertheless, despite this apparent lack of historical evidence, descendants of Betsy Ross state that she was a truthful woman and had no reason to make up fanciful stories.

Another interesting tale related to this flag making legend is that after the Continental Congress Committee’s had visited Betsy Ross’s shop, a fellow church member saw the star that Betsy had cut out for them and asked to keep it. In 1925, the family safe of this church member was opened and inside was a five pointed star! It is now on exhibit at the Free Quaker Meeting House in Philadelphia.

A fair portion of historians believe that it was Francis Hopkinson, not Betsy Ross, who designed the official “first flag” of the United Sates. Hopkinson was a member of the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. But, regardless of the truth of the Betsy Ross Legend, the story told by her grandson is quite enchanting.

If you would like to learn how to make a five-pointed star with just one snip of the scissors, follow this link HERE. If you're inspired to make your own patriotic project for the summer, click HERE.