Sunbonnet Sue rows her gondola to Italy!

The lovely Sunbonnet Sue takes on the role of gondoliere today, and she certainly has the costume for it.  She’s looking quite sharp in sparkly woolen beribboned hat with its gay ribbons and a sharp red-and-white stripe shirt.   Her skirt is made from a small piece of embroidered fabric that I purchased in the souk in Damascus in the late 90′s.  (It makes me happy when I find an odd scrap of fabric and an old memory to go along with it!)   She definitely looks like she’s enjoying her tasty strawberry gelato cone, after all that hard work rowing!  You might note that I went back to Sarah’s Hand Embroidery Tutorials (see blogroll), where I found the Holbein stitch (a variation of the running stitch) to make Sue’s hair a little more interesting.  All in all, she’s a good-looking boatswain, and Sue’s taking her rowing as seriously as Giorgia Boscolo, who. in August 2010, became the first female gondoliere in Venice.  Sunny Sue is such a feminist!

Gondolas, which once served as a real means of transportation in Venice, at one time numbering around 10,000 in the Venice Lagoon.   But these days, with just under 500 gondolas licensed in Venice, they are mostly used to provide tourist rides over the Grand Canal although modern-day gondolieri have exchanged the long poles for more practical oars.  I’ve heard that the gondolas used to have little cabins or awnings on them, presumably to protect the passengers and their goods from the weather, but you know me! I prefer to believe that the cabins allowed privacy for lovers on their way to their private assignations.   I’m sure there’s a little bit of truth in both.

But while Venice is certainly a lovely city with sense of romance, I personally much prefer Rome.  What I especially love about Rome is that every time you walk around a corner, there’s something interesting, historic, or just plain fabulous to look at, to examine, and to learn about.   You can find gazillions of resources for visiting Rome, so I’m going to talk about what always interests me — quilting and quilt shops in Italy!   If you just love fabric and textiles in all of their shapes and forms, then check out Bassetti Tessuti on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II.   Bassetti Tessuti is the perhaps the largest fabric store in Rome (could even be Italy, it’s that big!), and fabric lovers will think they’ve died and gone to fabric heaven.  Imagine all those luscious piles of fabric….Of course, it’s to be expected since Rome is almost as much of a fashion hub as Paris or New York.   You might be able to find some forms of cotton at Bassetti Tessuti that you can use for quilting, but I pretty sure you won’t want to cut into one inch of it….

But are there quilt shops?   Well, there is an Italian Assocation of Quilting and Patchwork — if you read Italian, you can check out (http://www.quiltitalia.it).     I know of one, Il Mondo di Pezza (http://www.patchwork.it) on the Via Tommaso Arcidiacono, but I’ve never visited it.   For the dedicated quilter, it’s probably worth a visit just to find some cool Italian fabric for your quilts.  Il Mondo di Pezza is the likeliest place to find quilting cottons and notions as well as the likeliest place to find out what’s happening on the Italian quilting scene and meet some Italian quilters.   Hey, Italy’s not only about the food!   Okay, we really like the food too, but you know what I mean….

So, I miei amici (my friends in Italian), I hope you grab a cappuccino, a gelato or some other Italian treat, and find some inspiration in this blog to quilt, to embroider, to applique, or just to row your own boat the way you want to — with or without passengers.   To help you get inspired, I’m going to leave you with this beautiful lavender bougainvillea spreading its fabulously wonderful color along a fence.  Have a good one!


Sunbonnet Sue crosses the border to Mexico

Today, I introduce you to Sunbonnet Sue in Mexico.   She looks lovely in her striped serape (or is it a rebozo?) and wide sombrero, but I’m not too sure about carrying a cactus!  Ouch!  This week I was looking for ways to vary my embroidery stitches and add interest to the applique.  Well, I didn’t get too far off my standard stitches, but you’ll note the fringe of the serape is done in the long-tailed daisy stitch combined with French knots (I think the fringe looks way cool, by the way!).   If you’re looking for great tutorials on a wide variety of embroidery stitches, consider checking out Sarah’s Hand Embroidery Tutorials (check my blogroll).  The tutorials are well demonstrated and clearly explained.

I love Mexico.  And I love Mexico City.    Well, Mexico City has all the worst a city can offer — horrible traffic, terrible crime, smog, pollution, and more.   But it also has the very best a large city can offer — for instance, the Basilica de Guadalupe is fabulously beautiful, and in numbers of visitors, it is second only to the Basilica in Vatican City.    The city is overflowing with cultural pleasures — from the Catedral Metropolitano, an unbelievable architectural masterpiece built from 1573 to 1813 to concerts, museums, sidewalk entertainment, luscious restaurants, and more.   If you’re a lover of museums (as I am), Mexico City offers a plethora for your enjoyment, from the Palacio Nacional with its spectacular Diego Rivera murals chronicling the history of Mexico, to the Palacio de Bellas Artes with its cultural events, art nouveau and art deco architecture, the world-class Museo Nacional de Antropologia, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, and the Museo Nacional de Historia.   It will take several trips to see it all.    In all of these places, the displays take you from pre-Hispanic Mexico all the way up to present-day Mexico.   There’s plenty more to see and do in Mexico City, and if you have a chance, get out of Mexico City to all the wonderful regions of Mexico itself.

But you know what I’m all about here.  Textiles, arts and crafts, especially of the indigenous variety, are what interest me.   The artisans of Oaxaca and Chiapas provide the broadest variety of beautiful crafts and textiles, crafted with rich imagination and incredible skill.  In the pre-Hispanic era, the Aztecs and other indigenous civilizations produced fibers from yucca, palm, maguey, and cotton which they wove into serapes and other useful items.   After the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, silk and wool as well as European-style looms made their way to Mexico, where a cottage industry in weaving  soon thrived.   Many of these woven fabrics are dyed with natural dyes and, in today’s version, many of these handicrafts are still made within indigenous communities.

Mexico City has loads of fabric shops, but it is generally pretty difficult to find quilting cottons in most of them.  Although, there are occasionally some surprises, especially on the discount tables, but even there you need to purchase with care.  A cautionary tale:  I once bought a beautiful floral fabric in one of these stores, carried it around for a few years, and then made it up into a quilt.  When I washed it the first time, I ended up with patches of smeary white — the dye hadn’t been set or something, and I essentially ended up with plain white cotton.  It was pretty disappointing.  However, I do know that Mexico City has a thriving quilting community — while I know there are other quilting guilds, the Mexico City Quilting Guild is a good place to meet people and find out about other quilters, and I’ve heard that you can find a good quilt shop in just about every region of the city.  I don’t know but isn’t the hunt for a great quilt shop part of the fun?

I’m leaving you with a flower growing in the cactus patch in my garden.  Do you see the little butterfly sitting so still on the flower center?   I hope that I’ve inspired you to quilt, to applique, to embroider, to create, and to take a look around your own neighborhood and see what quilting treasures you find there!  Adios, amigos!

I

Sunbonnet Sue finds her (snow)flakey way to Finland!

Sunbonnet Sue is looking quite lovely in her brightly colored outfit!  It certainly lends a bit of color to the dreary, long winters that she finds in Finland!  She’s holding a glittery snowflake that represents Finland’s cold climate, where it snows from December to April.   And when I think of snow and Finland, Santa Claus and his reindeer also come to mind.  In fact, reindeer are natural inhabitants of Finland,  surviving on lichens and tundra in winter.   Of course if there are reindeer, Santa must not be far behind….

When I think of Finland, I think of Marimekko.   Established in 1951, Marimekko is a Finnish textile and clothing design company renowned for its original prints and colors manufactured into fabulous clothing, home decorating fabrics, bags, and more.    Marimekko’s fabrics are boldly colored with striking, large graphics with a bit of retro feel.   My favorites are the large flower prints – they look wonderfully interesting in quilts and the cotton fabric is great quality (although the fabrics are pricey!).  But if you’re interested, check out http://usstore.marimekko.com for an online store selling Marimekko fabrics.   I have seen some fabrics at IKEA that are reminiscent of Marimekko designs, but at a much lower price tag.

I have great memories of Helsinki itself.   It’s a lovely, clean city, quite safe, and filled with lots to see, especially if you like the art nouveau style of architecture.  Helsinki considers itself the Design Capital of the World, and after you’ve seen some of the architecture, furniture, and home decorating designs (not to mention the textiles), you’ll agree that Helsinki might own the title.   For me, most Finnish designs are marked by their clean look and simplicity, which ends up looking serenely sophisticated.   Helsinki boasts a Design District, which includes design shops, galleries, workshops, museums, restaurants, hotels, and more.   And of course, you should also take time to visit one of Helsinki’s most important department stores, Stockmann’s.  When I lived in Moscow in the early 1990′s, I frequently ordered household goods (and even groceries) from Stockmann’s on a weekly basis — Stockmann’s was a lifesaver.   Helsinki was the first time that I paid more than $100 for a meal — it’s an expensive city.  But the food was delicious — the Finnish cuisine relies heavily on fish, but also mushrooms and all kinds of berries.

Well, I hope I’ve inspired you to embroider, to quilt, to applique, and to think about design in the Finnish way!  I’m leaving you with a picture of a strawberry plant and several kinds of strawberry preserves — fresh wild strawberries were part of that $100 meal that I mentioned above.   I never knew strawberries could be so flavorful and so delicious.  Have a great week ahead!

Sunbonnet Sue windmills her way to Holland

Sunbonnet Sue is looking very cheery as a Dutch meisje (girl) tending her tulip fields.   Her brightly colored dress vies with the tulips for the most beautiful.  Tulips are my favorite flower — I love them closed, I love them when they’ve opened to their fullest.  I love plain, solid colored, frilly petaled, brightly colored — all colors and all kinds.  Tulips are symbols of perfect love and fame.   Red tulips, just like red roses, mean “true love”.  Pink tulips mean affection and caring (the killer “let’s just be friends”).   Orange tulips mean desire and passion (the often misunderstood “let’s just get it on”).  To me, though, tulips symbolize happiness and springtime.

Tulips are also a symbol of Holland (or the Netherlands).  Tulips are not native to Holland; tulip bulbs were brought to Europe from the Ottoman Empire in mid-1500s.  Tulip farming started up in late 1500s when the Flemish botanist, Charles de l’Ecluse, became a professor at the University of Leiden.   There, he planted his collection of tulip bulbs which had been sent to him by Turkish royal donors.  Tulip mania soon took over, and tulips soon became a status symbol/luxury item.   Tulip merchants were highly competitive, and soon many varieties of tulips in vivid colors were available to attract customers.  Tulip growers were even able to grow tulips that had lines and “flames” on the petals by infecting them with a tulip-specific virus.

When my husband and I visited Amsterdam for the first time, we only had a day to explore.  On the top of my husband’s list to see was, of course, the Red Light District.   He was most interested in seeing the prostitutes advertising themselves in the windows of small houses.   We asked directions and took a long walk through the District.  Unfortunately for my husband, either the ladies of the night were all busy or were all napping or something.  Disappointed, we strolled around the canal areas, which are lovely, and enjoyed the street scene.   We had an opportunity to spend a little more time in Amsterdam a few years later, and, yes, of course, we did the Red Light District crawl again.   This time we got lucky and we saw female entertainers galore.   We learned a few things (no, not what you’re thinking!):  1) We learned it is not okay to take pictures of the ladies.  2)  We learned that there many other people, young, old, male, female, just as curious as we were, and 3) that if you stop to appreciate the architecture of this area, you will quite enjoy the quaint elegance and quirkiness of the 14th century cobble-stoned streets and architecture.

So I hope I’ve inspired you to applique, to embroider, to quilt, and to explore the things that catch your imagination too.  I’m attaching a photo of tiger lilies growing at my sister’s house a few years ago.   Just like tulips, tiger lilies are beautiful and special.  So are you.

P.S.  This is International Sunbonnet Sue number 11 already!   I hope I can keep up this pace!   Eleven down and XXX to go….



Sunbonnet Sue walks like an Egyptian

Sunbonnet Sue is doing a great portrayal of Cleopatra with her asp and I think it’s quite the good-looking, sexy outfit she’s got going on.   But here’s the thing:   Even though we all think of her as epitomizing the Egyptian woman, Cleopatra wasn’t really an Egyptian.  She was a Ptolemy, from a family of Greek origin.   But here’s what I like about Cleopatra — she thought of herself as the reincarnation of the Egyptian goddess, Isis.  So who was Isis, you ask?  Much like Cleopatra, Isis, the Egyptian goddess of rebirth, was the image of empowered and complete femininity.   Isis spent her time working among the people who worshiped her, teaching them how to be resourceful, how to use the bounty of the earth, and how to manage the men in their lives…something we might all aspire to learn.

But back to Cleopatra, a truly fascinating woman.   She originally ruled Egypt alongside her father, and then her two brothers (whom she married, a pharaonic tradition, but had no children from these marriages).   Eventually she was pharaoh on her own, and had a torrid affair with Julius Caesar, joining forces with the Roman to protect her throne.  She bore Julius Caesar a son.   After Julius Caesar was assassinated, she joined with Mark Antony against Octavian, Caesar’s heir, in a battle for control of the Roman Empire.  With Mark Antony, she had three children, twins (boy and girl) and another son.   After losing a major battle against Otavian, Antony committed suicide.  And soon she also took her own life, too, but with an asp of all things, and so ends the saga of Cleopatra.

Cleopatra is still quite well known in today’s world — in art, film, plays, opera, and perhaps best known, in the 1963 film, Cleopatra, in which Elizabeth Taylor starred.   And in true Cleopatra fashion, Elizabeth Taylor met and began a torrid affair with Richard Burton, who portrayed Mark Antony, during the making of this movie.   To this day, Cleopatra is the epitome of fabulous beauty and great sex appeal, so profound her beauty and sensuality that she conquered the world’s most powerful men.

So when you get to Egypt, you’ll want to search out Cleopatra’s ghost proudly stalking the streets of one of most fascinating souqs in the world, Khan El-Khalili.  Built in 1382, the souq is a colorful ode to one-stop shopping, especially for buying souvenirs, spices, papyrus, gold,sumptuous fabrics, and many other wonderful things.  For you quilters and appliquists, make sure you hunt down the Tent Makers of Cairo on Kheiymiya Street (which you can find if you walk from the Khan El-Khalili towards the Citadel).   A dying art, these men used to prepare the traditional decorative appliqued hangings for the tents of nomads.   Today, these skills are turned toward making brightly colored quilts, pillow tops, and other household decorative items; the complex motifs appliqued on them are Islamic, pharaonic and uniquely Egyptian.   When you need a break, stop at a cafe for a puff of apple-scented tobacco from the sheisha pipe and sip hot minty tea while planning your next stop.

So I hope that I’ve inspired you to quilt, to applique, to embroider, to walk like an Egyptian, or represent for Cleopatra, Isis, and all the other goddesses of the world!  You go, Goddess!   I leave you with this lovely exotic flower from my front yard….


Sunbonnet Sue paints her way to France…

Sunbonnet Sue takes off for France, paint palette and brushes in hand.   This time she’s wearing a lovely painter’s smock made from a vintage blue/green/brown striped fabric with her batik beret to match.   I took special care with her hair, and I think it looks just lovely.   Sunny Sue’s ready to join up with some of the most famous French painters, including Manet, Degas, Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Gaugin, Toulouse-Latrec, Matisse and more.   I’m sure she’s already rented her cold atelier in the 17th arrondissimente, and spends her evenings with the other Bohemians at a sidewalk cafe, swilling cheap red (but French!) wine and sopping up her bean soup with a thick crust of brown peasant bread.  

If you’re in the mood for a little quilting while in Paris, I suggest you visit the quilt shop near Notre Dame cathedral, Le Rouvray, owned by an American and filled with interesting fabrics from the U.S., France, Britain, and Japan.   The French fabrics are beautiful, and the staff was very helpful, even if we did have the occasional communication issue.   Still we all spoke the same language when it came to fabrics and quilting (or patchwork as it’s called there!).   Paris also boasts a second quilt shop, Best of Quilting, in Marcoussis.   This shop is also lovely and jam-packed with quilting goodies and a great staff very knowledgeable about “le patchwork”. 

If you’re still on the hunt for tissues (fabrics) after these two shops, check out Marche St Pierre near Sacre Coeur.  In this area, you can also find several smaller fabric, notions, and embroidery shops, but you’ll have to wander around a bit to find them.   Try to squeeze in a visit to the Museum of Fashion and Textiles, if you can — very fun and interesting for fabric hounds!    Sentier is the big wholesale textile district, but it can be a little dangerous and unless you’re looking for wholesale purchases, maybe not worth the visit.   If you like to get down and scrounge around a bit, think about the Parisian flea markets.   Check out Porte de Vanves flea market for new and vintage textile items (and more!) and Les Puces (The Fleas) at Porte de Clignancourt is perhaps the best known of the flea markets.   Paris is a city made for walking, so wear good shoes and watch your wallet in the markets, but be prepared to have a great adventure looking for goodies!

So I hope I leave you inspired to quilt, to embroider, to paint like the Impressionists or Fauvists or Cubists, to visit a flea market, or to travel to France, especially Paris….  I leave you with this inspirational pink flower from my backyard to brighten your day.  Au revoir, mis amis!

Sunbonnet Sue goes cuckoo for Germany!

Isn’t Sunbonnet Sue lovely?  She’s positively blooming as a German lass, her costume bright and cheerful and exactly what you might see at any Oktoberfest!   I can just see her plunking a handful of beer mugs on a table and filling them to the brim with lovely (warm!) German draft beer.   I can  taste the sausages and mustard washed down with that lovely brew, and see her dancing to the German Schottisches and polkas as accordions dance in the background!

I love it that she’s holding that icon of German culture — the cuckoo clock.   One of my older brothers served in the military and was stationed in Germany.   Of course, without a doubt, he brought home a cuckoo clock for the parental unit.  It took pride of place in our living room, but I don’t think it ever really kept good time.  It had to be wound by hand, and, well, I think only my Dad ever remembered to wind it.   And that was only on Sundays.   Our cuckoo clock made a little sound just before the bird came out, always giving someone an opportunity to say, “You are…” “Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuckoo!”  It never failed as an instrument of torture!   Which reminds me of King Ludwig the II of Bavaria — also known as the “Swan King” or the “Fairytale King” or, let’s cut to the chase, “Mad King Ludwig”.   Since the cuckoo clock is a product of the Black Forest of Bavaria, perhaps it’s called the cuckoo! clock in honor of the Mad King.   I have no facts to support this idea, but I do leave you with one of the Swan King’s most famous sayings, “I wish to remain as an eternal enigma to myself and to others.”   Ponder that, and then discuss, discuss, discuss amongst yourselves!

I’m leaving you with a lovely red petunia to match Sunny Sue’s dress.   Aren’t petunias the happiest of flowers and such vibrant, rich colors!   I love to see a whole mess of them flowing out of their containers in my front yard.  I hope you are inspired to embroider, to applique, to quilt, and maybe to go a little cuckoo yourself.   Enjoy, no matter what you do.

Sunbonnet Sue dances flamenco in sunny Spain!

With the clicking of her castanets, Sunbonnet Sue is dancing the flamenco while she visits the sun-washed Andalusian plains of Spain.   She’s outfitted in colorful clothing and has put on her bright green dancing shoes just for the occasion.   With a flower and mantilla in her hair, she’s ready to stomp her feet to the soulful sounds of flamenco.  This Sunbonnet Sue brings all the passion, romance, and color of flamenco to life…is she dancing to urge the  matador to use his cape and sword to vanquish the bull with the same fire and skill that she uses to vanquish the dance?  Or perhaps she’s dancing to celebrate his successful bullfight, drawing his amorous attention with her flashing eyes, coquettishly hidden behind her hand-painted fan, and swirling her colorful skirts to give him flashes of her well-toned legs?   Well, we’ll never know because this Sunbonnet Sue is certainly not talking, but it is fun to think about…

If you visit Madrid, you’ll find ample opportunities to see a flamenco tablao.  Flamenco is the baile (the dance), the cante (the song), and the toque (the acoustic guitar music) of Andalusia.   The women wear brightly colored, full-skirted dresses that swirl and flash around their feet as they stomp out the flamenco rhythms.   Behind them, a guitarist plays  to the accompaniment of rhythmic stomping feet, finger clicking and clapping, while a craggy faced cantador sings soulfully and colorfully.   Flamenco is sometimes called the “gypsy blues” or the “European blues” in comparison with American blues, and it has its roots in the musical influences of the Romany gypsies, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Eygptians, and Moors.  When you listen to it, you can hear the voices of these ancestors calling to you.   If you’d like to hear some wonderful Spanish flamenco guitar music, I suggest that you check out Paco Peña — lovely lovely music.   And of course, always follow your flamenco evening with tasty churros dunked in sweet hot chocolate.  Yummm.

So I hope I’ve left you inspired to listen to flamenco music, to get up and dance, or to embroider or applique your own flamenco dancer.   Here’s a photo of pink hydrangeas from my front yard.  So pretty….

Sunbonnet Sue visits the Great Wall of China!

Sunbonnet Sue is having a real adventure in the Far East (pattern from International Sunbonnet Sue), but luckily she’s taken along her red Chinese lantern to light her way!   This is the first time that I’ve tried to use filament thread, and what a bother it is — but the results are way cool!    It really fancied up a Sunbonnet Sue that might have been a little plain and boring otherwise.   This Sunbonnet Sue’s outfit might have come from the Mao Tse-Tung era (the mid- to late 1930′s), just as Mao was consolidating the power of the Communist Party of China.   But China’s history involves a long list of dynasties, including the Han, Ming, and Tang Dynasties, and that’s only the tip of China’s cultural and historical depth. 

Here’s a picture of the Great Wall taken on my trip to China a few years ago.   Not the best photo of course, but I think it depicts well the aura of moody mystery that surrounds the Great Wall.   The gondola ride was a little scary, the Great Wall is a long (long, long!) hike, and the views are unbelievable.  It’s one of the Great Wonders of the world, and when you see it, you’ll have no doubt why!   It was terrific visit — for quilters, there are silks and other luscious fabrics galore.  Beijing is a fabulous city — I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the area where we stayed was sleek and modern, but with unexpected twists — like Snack Street, where we watched tourists chomp on scorpions, snakes, crickets, grasshoppers, and other tasty “snacks” that I can’t name.  We joined in, of course, but with the tamer snack of roasted corn on a stick!  One of our most memorable meals was Peking Duck, served with great pomp and circumstance, in a restaurant filled with Peking ducks and Peking duck eaters.  Perhaps cliched, but absolutely delicious!

I’m going to leave you with this wonderful photo I took in China of some kind of flowers (I never know WHAT kind exactly).   They are just gorgeous — they look like little bits of floral velvet to me.   I hope today’s post inspires you to quilt, to applique, to take a trip to China or anywhere, or maybe to climb over that Great Wall in your life and see what’s on the other side!  Get inspired!


Sunbonnet Sue goes north to Canada!

Here’s Sunbonnet Sue dressed as a Canadian Mountie (pattern from International Sunbonnet Sue).  She’s looking chic in this red, black, and gold outfit and holding a pretty maple leaf.  You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Canadian Mountie.  Do they really wear these red uniforms?   I grew up about 50-75 miles from the Canadian border, so I’m familiar with the friendly Midwestern Canadians and their rounded “ohs” — or maybe that’s just the high plains accent, I’m not sure.  In any case, I always enjoyed running into my Canadian neighbors in bars, restaurants, and other places.  They were always out for a rip-roaring good time, and seemed to universally have a great sense of humor.  I’ve wandered along the very edges of Canada — Manitoba and Saskatchewan — not getting too far into the interior and, of course, I’ve enjoyed the Peace Gardens, which are devoted to world peace, symbolized by the world’s longest unfortified border.

The Peace Gardens were built in 1932, as a symbol of friendship between the U.S. and Canada.  Among the ever-changing floral displays, there are two that remain the same every year — floral displays representing the American and Canadian flags.  There are also seven Peace Poles, presented by the Japanese government, which say “May Peace Prevail” in 28 different languages.  It’s a beautiful area with lots of wildlife and birds as the park is set into the lush Turtle Mountains.  Ah, I’m feeling a little homesick!  But then I start thinking about the cold winters and that goes away quickly!

In any case, I hope I’ve inspired you to think about friendship, world peace, and maybe even to think about visiting the Peace Gardens.   I’m not sure what flowers are being planted at the Peace Gardens these days, but I leave you with this photo of cheery yellow flowers and my wishes for a peaceful day of quilting and applique!