Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pin Out!

Pin out!

This phrase was called out quite often last night as I sat working with Dr. Gaither and a few of her family members on the latest addition to the My American Series. Currently Dr. Gaither is working on the National Black Theater Festival quilt which is set to debut at the festival in Winston Salem, NC this August. The quilt follows in the same over sized tradition of the others in the series -- huge! To illustrate, when we finished sewing last night, Dr. Gaither measured the quilt which came out to be 11 feet long and over 9 feet wide. That is without the final border. Once that is in place, the quilt will measure out to be around 12 ft x 10 feet. That is two of me standing one on top of the other to make up the height. We have great pictures of the quilt laying out on a king size bed draping onto the floor and making the king bed look like a double if not a twin. I can't post any of those pictures yet as they reveal the overall design of the quilt which I am keeping a secret for now. There are some new components/techniques on the quilt which are very interesting and I don't want to give away the surprise. Lets just say the phrase 3-D comes into play....

The quilt is currently held together with many safety pins. As people are working on the quilt, they focus on a specific area and work it through. As they go, they are able to take the safety pins out, signifying that the part they are working on is getting closer to completion. Needless to say, Dr. Gaither was yelling "pin out" almost every 2 minutes as she worked along the border of the quilt adding on content boxes similar to the information boxes placed on the railroad fabric in the border of many of the other quilts. As for my quilting, I wasn't yelling "pin out." My contribution to the project last night was going through strings of letter beads she had loosely sewn to the quilt and securing them on. No pins involved, although I did somehow manage to end up being the technical advisor and assistant to her young niece Rockelle, helping her to problem solve. How the least sewing-experienced person in the room ended up with that role, I will never know.

The National Black Theater Festival quilt is really starting to shape up with many of the design elements in place. Right now we are working to get many of the design pieces sewn down before putting the backing fabric on. The reason for holding off on putting backing fabric on until the design elements are on is to minimize the number of stitches on the back of the quilt. This will make for a more sylistic design and uniformity of stitching on the back. Right now the quilt consists of the top layers of fabric which have all the fancy pieces of fabric and the design on them. Underneath that is batting, a cottony fill in sheet form that makes the quilt puffy and soft. Finally there are strips of fabric, mainly old (and thoroughly cleaned) bed linens on the bottom to create a smooth surface to sew through on the back.

When the backing fabric is added, it will be one type of fabric which will create a clean back. Adding the backing fabric is no small feat. It isn't as simple as pinning it to the back and running the edges through the sewing machine. When this fabric is added, it will actually take multiple people sewing, lifting, and stretching the fabric to make sure it completely fits the quilt and that there aren't any gaps or problems with anything being attached crooked. It is probably the most demanding part of putting one of Dr. Gaither's quilts together.

Once the backing is attached, Dr. Gaither and her quilters will work to secure the backing to the entire quilt by working in horizontal and vertical rows stitching lines across the quilt. They will also go in among the fabric and decorations of the quilt stitching around the edges of the designs. This will allow for some of the individual components of the quilt fabric to really stand out as well as better secure the fabrics. When working on the Black Watermen of the Chesapeake quilt, I was given the task of sewing around the gold faces on the blue border fabric. Just to give you an idea of how tough that was, each of those face was only about 1.5 inches wide and were lined up one right next to the other. Each face had to be secured with tiny stitches around the edges making for several long working days.

Needless to say, there is much work to be done and little time to get it finished. Dr. Gaither has set a completion date of early to mid-March with the bulk of the work being completed by the end of February. There won't be any formal public quilting sessions for this quilt given the amount of work that needs to be done, but if you are interested in participating and helping to get this quilt completed, send us an email at We will be working furiously over the next few weeks and will be looking for quite a bit of assistance.

Pin out!

Oh, a few publicity and advertising notes:

1.  Dr. Gaither and the Black Watermen of the Chesapeake quilt were featured with several photographs and an article spanning five pages in the February edition of What's Up Annapolis magazine. I haven't been able to locate the article online, but if anyone else does, please send me the link.
2. Dr. Gaither's Respecting Humanity exhibition at the Maryland State Arts Council has been extended to March 18, 2011. If you haven't had a chance to see the show, I encourage you to go. Dr. Gaither and I went to the Arts Council on Friday and shot some great footage of her talking about each of the quilts and their meanings. The videos will start appearing on here very soon.
3. Dr. Gaither is nominated for the Baker Artist Awards here in Baltimore. You can check out her nomination on their website by clicking here. The nomination includes all of the My American Series as well as her Family Quilt, and Distractions and Diversions.

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