Monday, December 7, 2015

Beauty in Necessity by Karen Andreola

Beauty in Necessity

Marcus fabrics

The Lady-of-the-House has been picking up fabric fourths, hither and thither. Fabric shops dot Lancaster County run by Amish and Mennonite families. One of her favorite shops is in an old barn. When she decided to do some serious quilting - which for her meant doll quilts and pillows, she thought: "When in Rome do as the Romans do."

Christmas rubber stamp

Reproduction fabrics interest the Lady-of-the-House. They can be pricey but 5 minutes from her house, fabric remnants - discontinued from previous year's prints - are sold in a variety store. She scouts around for "Marcus" prints now and again because the store re-stocks regularly and other scavengers are also on the look-out.

Recently, the Lady-of-the-House was in this variety store looking over the Christian Christmas cards, then made her familiar bee-line to the fabric isle. She carried two different prints to the cutting table, silently oo-ing and ahh-ing over her finds, "A quarter yard of each, please," she said - a phrase she had been known to say before.

With rotary cutter poised the fabric cutter smiled at her and said, "You're the Queen of Fourths."

"Well, this comes from following the scrappy look," replied the Lady-of-the-House apologetically. The fabric cutter meant no offense. She meant to be harmlessly amusing. But, perhaps she second-guessed her name-calling, for she softened the conversation by asking about the customer's Thanksgiving, who relaxed a bit and replied that she was happy to have her family together around her long table.

A Myriad of Tasks - A Blessing

A gift sent to the Lady-of-the-House this Christmastime was a deluxe seam ripper. This gift will be put to good use because she is a recurrent-seam-ripper. If she has been cross-stitching in the parlor or at the sewing machine, for half-an-hour, and runs into a snag, she will often call it quits and  set the mistake aside. She can tackle ripping and re-stitching in a better frame of mind the following day when it is greeted as a first step.

Homeward Bound by Tasha Tudor
I mark the middle of the figures as a counting reference.

You see, she's found another use for Charlotte Mason's "short lessons" and "sequence of lessons." She has carried these principles over to the tasks of homemaking. It may seem like an interruption when "on a roll" but going off to do something else for a while uses a different part of the brain while the previous part was spent and in need of rest.

To do "the next thing" is something home teachers and homemakers are very familiar with as their tasks can be immensely varied - from correcting math pages to mopping floors. This myriad of tasks is actually a facet of homemaking to be thankful for. The Lady-of-the-House didn't recognize it as a blessing early on. Perhaps because her to-do list was once to blame for her occasionally feeling frazzled or run-off-her-feet. Applying Miss Mason principle of concise-precise sessions (and "sequence of lessons") however, enabled her to see her myriad of chores as indeed a blessing. Why?

Tasha Tudor cross stitch
Do you recognize this Tasha Tudor illustration?
Ask any physical therapist and he or she will give the advice to "transition" the body throughout the day. Sitting too long or standing too long, for instance, should be replaced with shorter sessions of either when possible. The same can be said about the brain (and disposition).The part of the brain that has been at work, is at rest and being refreshed by a change of occupation  - especially if the "next thing" is something quite different. Afterward the homemaker can return to the first task (or one similar to it) with fresh vigor.

Short sessions of stitching is one restorative in the life of the Lady-of-the-House - a refreshing change of occupation.

William Morris fabric
Quilting a pillow cover. Gold fabric found in four different shops.
Beauty within Necessity

The following statement pulled on her heartstrings when she heard it in a museum lecture.

A pioneer woman, living in a sod house, was asked why she quilts - when her day demands she tackle so many other chores before sunset - she replied:

"I make my quilts as fast as I can to keep my children from freezing and as beautiful as I can to keep my heart from breaking.

How do you turn a one-room sod house into a home, even if it's a temporary home on the American prairie? You make beautiful scrappy quilts. Homemakers long to create beauty within necessity. If at least one of their chores enables them to create something beautiful for their home (be it a garden, a meal, or an attractive piece of clothing) they can persevere.

Prairie Children and Their Quilts

Kathleen Tracy's Prairie Children and Their Quilts is one of the Lady-of-the-House's new favorite quilt books. When her girls were young, she would have gravitated to it - if the book had been written then and she had spied it at a book fair. She likes history and  traditional crafts. It was, in the American girlhood of yesteryear, that small quilts like the doll quilts in this book, were made.

Doll quitls
Mrs. Tracy carefully wraps 19th century first-hand sources around her quilt instructions. The old photographs, the letters and diaries in this book, written by prairie girls in the 19th century, are telling. They reveal some of the hardships of going west in a wagon train. They took me back to the days of Laura Ingalls Wilder - although Laura is understandably discreet  - as the Little House Series is read aloud to so young an audience.

Prairie Children and Their Quilts is a history resource as much as a quilt book. After reading it as well as American  Doll Quilts, and doing some of the projects, it occurred to the Lady-of-the-House that they would make enjoyable mother-daughter projects (for middle-school-though high school). But mostly Kathleen Tracy's books are purchased by grown-ups like the Lady-of-the-House who like the antique-look, who hadn't had any quilting in their girlhood, and who wish to backtrack some - just for fun.

A Little Quilt for Christmastime

When an antique doll quilt caught her eye, the Lady-of-the-House went bananas (but inwardly bananas so her menfolk wouldn't think her daft.)  The red-n-white double nine-patch on-line looked to be so simple and sweet it called out to be replicated, leaving the solid squares empty of a quilt design as the original is, to retain its soft, oft-used, appearance. Pieced and hand-quilted in just two weeks, it is being used as a cheerful Christmas decoration. One day this cute doll-quilt will be handed down to her granddaughter.

red and white doll quilt
A doll quilt made festive for Christmastime.

In Closing
When the Lady-of-the-House returned from the variety store she had to smile. The phrase, "Queen of Fourths", she decided, was a compliment. It reminded her of what is recorded on her Mother Culture CD  - that a homemaker is queen of her household. For love and duty, in all the myriad of tasks she fulfills, she is queen of a great many things.

Quilted with off-white thread.
End Notes:

My article is up on Israel Wayne's Homeschool Pioneer website. Here you can read a host of stories.

Tasha Tudor Cross-stitch
Did you know that some of Tasha Tudor's illustrations have been made into cross-stitch? I bought one this year - well ahead of Christmas - made as a gift for a mother who has boys and corgis. She's unwrapped it and it's hanging on her wall this Christmastime. (The kit includes 18-ct Aida. I stitched on 28-ct linen bought separately.) Amazon has a few other Tasha Tudor designs.

Quaker Hand-of-Friendship, mostly known as Bear Paw.
Tasha Tudor Cross-stitch Homeward Bound.

 Prairie Children and Their Quilts.  My Pennsylvania Quaker Hand-of-Friendship doll quilt is one of the small quilts in this book. (You can see it on the cover.)
Quilted with black thread with stitches of comfortable length.  
 Fons and Porter Ergonomic Seam Ripper An indispensable tool for this quilter. 

Frosty mornings but no snow yet. 

A Very Merry Christmas to you,

Karen Andreola


  1. Love your little quilt, waiting for your granddaughter to use it for her dollies!

    That interview/story of how you got started homeschooling and discovered what Charlotte Mason had been teaching teachers for years was so good. You and Dean really do have a legacy in the homeschooling community. I'm one who was amazingly helped because a Christian Bookstore was carrying Gentle Art, in their homeschool section. I was desperate for help and there you were! It changed our schooling at home forever. We've shared it with many others, and your influence grows!


    1. Thank you my friend. I love to hear that Miss Mason's ideas have changed lives. And thank you for passing along the good news to other families. Karen A.

  2. The quote about freezing to death strikes poignantly home with me today. My husband is sick with bronchitis this week. I often think of women in other places and times who were/are filled with dread at the sound of coughs. I am thankful that we are warm, dry, and have access to antibiotics and general relief of respiratory miseries. Thankfully, he is healing nicely.

    Things of beauty are an encouragement to us.

    A Very Merry Christmas to You and Yours!

  3. Beauty has been a saving grace in my life. It goes hand-in-hand with truth and the sum of them is goodness. And God is good. Without these things... Well, I don't know where I'd be.

    Thank you for your heartwarming post.

    P.S. When I first saw the "in-progress" cross stitch I thought it looked just like a TT illustration. :-) Her artwork has its own personality.

  4. Dear Karen,
    We feasted over your pictures this daughter and I. I was happy to see a post from you this morning. My daughter, who is eleven, loves sewing and knitting and we often find inspiration here. We live in the Prairies in Canada, so I think the Prairie Quilting book would be a perfect addition to our book collection!

    A little while back you posted a picture of Eloise Wilkin's book, We Help Mommy. I have three girls and all three have enjoyed reading the copy that was mine when I was a girl. I was excited to see the collection of Eloise WIlkin's favourite stories on one of your posts. I bought it for my two year old and it is our new favourite. She calls it the "baby" book and requests to read it often.

    No snow here either. We have had some but it has come and gone.

    Merry Christmas to you too.

  5. Wow. This is such a beautiful post. *sigh* :) I love that pioneer quote and I wondered about the cross-stitch when I saw the corgi! We've been enjoying some Tudor titles from the library recently. Those Christmas cards are so "you". :) The gold fabric is beautiful and I too, adore scrappy quilts...a lot of the modern quilts are amazing works of art, but I prefer the beauty and simplicity of quilts you can use and love on without worrying about "ruining" them. Their wear and tear is part of the beauty of them. Someday I hope to quilt more! Good reminder about balance in our lives...I have some out of balance areas that need work.

    Merry Christmas to you too! :)

  6. Beautiful Christmas Card, did you make it?

  7. Loved this post! As a busy HS mom of a large family always 'on call', I needed to hear this today! Would you be able to suggest activities for both sides of the brain - to take as a break during the day? So if I am in an intense learning session with a child, take a quick outdoor breather, or sit and read in my own space, or play piano? I would so appreciate it!
    Thanks again for the slow-down at this hectic time of year!

    1. Oh, Julia. You've rounded out my post very nicely. Firstly, when getting into an intense learning session with a child (such as helping with "long division") it is good to focus and complete the train-of-thought. I do not believe, however, that "20" practice problems need not follow (as some math books lay out - and insist upon in their Forward). Six might do.
      Secondly, yes. To keep the student's brain bright do some math practice and then move on to language, coloring in a map or a face for the history timeline, etc. These do use different parts of the brain.
      You the teacher, are needing to move on, too. And this is a good point. The benefits of change of occupation come to both student and teacher. Eating an apple on the back steps watching the wind blow through the trees is a nice outdoor breather, playing a song on the piano (perhaps with the children singing along) or leaving your Bible open on the dinning room buffet so you can refresh your memory of something - in passing - something you've read earlier, perhaps. These (stemming from your own ideas in your comment) are very good ones - and might involve no more than ten-minute transition - but they are a refreshment. More ideas will suggest themselves as you carry the awareness of alternating-lessons and change-of-occupation with you throughout the day and weeks to come. Any change in schedule, remember, may require a period of adjustment. In the homeschool, the weeks seem so different from one another - although we strive toward some consistency. It is just the way with homeschool- a style that is far more flexible than the classroom.

      Thank you for writing, Ladies.

      No, I did not make this card - but I do have a shoebox of rubber stamps that I use now and again, to make cards.

      Speaking of scrappy quilts I remember, now, the wedding gift that my mother-in-law gave us (nearly 37 years ago). It was a scrappy quilt made on her sewing machine. It was just the kind you mention, Amy. It wasn't an artistic wall-hanging, but something soft with a wide range of colors and hues that spoke "warm." I don't know what happened to it. It probably eventually became a car-quilt (we in the north keep for winter emergencies), to a picnic-quilt, to becoming worn-out - just like a blue one I made in 1984.

      Good to hear from you all, Karen A.

  8. This is a wonderful post (as all of yours are)!! I can imagine you nosing through fabric stores looking for just the right bits...and you certainly do live in the right spot for that. I love your red and white nine-patch! It is so beautifully simple. I'd be tempted to leave it up all year.

    Thank you for the reminder to apply the principle of "short lessons" to our homemaking tasks. That is sage advice and some that I need right now. Indeed, much can be accomplished in bits and pieces.

    I could say much more, as your posts are chock full of "mind food," but I am off to some of my bits and pieces...pondering as I go...

  9. Karen, I love your winter header. I am so glad you are fond of red, too. One of those silly internet quizzes claims an attraction to the color red suggests an idealist. :-) I am andectotal proof of that, I admit. God's blessings.

    1. Funny you should say this, Kristyn. If I could quiz the readers of this blog and of "A Charlotte Mason Companion" - I am guessing I would find a good size group of idealists. This is because Miss Charlotte Mason was one - who then set to work toward reaching them.

      On the subject of red. Today I was reminded of the Anglican folk legend surrounding the Christmas robin and how it got its red breast.

      Thank-you. Nigel put the header up for me yesterday. He's such a help. Today we are continuing to design a new cover for "Simply Grammar". (There's red in it). It's about time we replaced the old one. (The inside will remain the same.)

      Blessings to one and all.

  10. Karen,

    I appreciate how you find beauty in the details of life. And thank you for posting all the lovely photos!


  11. Dear Karen,
    Another lovely post! I love the red and white doll quilt that you have hanging up.
    I love the one that you are working on too!
    I hope that you have a very merry Christmas!

  12. Karen,
    Merry Christmas! I hope you and your family have a most wonderful holiday as we celebrate our Savior's birth.

  13. I look at your pictures and want to run and put a needle in my hand to sew! Your words are full of sagacity and practical knowledge that helps mothers of all ages.
    Merry Christmas Karen!