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Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom by Tiya Miles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first time I read this book (before my Goodreads record keeping), I focused on the Shoe Boots/Doll story and skimmed everything else. Thus I missed a lot of important detail and perhaps the whole point. This time I focused on “everything else” and read the Shoe Boots/Doll story as the glue that holds it together. The Shoe Boots/Doll family is a perfect vehicle because of the many variations in relationship between Black and Cherokee they experience. Is Doll slave or wife or both? Three children are explicitly given freedom and tribal membership, but Doll isn’t–on paper though she seems to have lived as a member. Nor are the twins, born after Shoe Boots’ official request for his first three, explicitly given tribal membership. Thus is illustrated a difference between the official position defined by the white-Cherokee, northeastern educated men who set out to define the Cherokee Nation and the kinship-relationship mores that had existed before and continued to exist after the writing of the constitution. Add to the mix the state of Georgia illegally declaring sovereignty over the Cherokee Nation and annulling all decisions it had made, a move which put wife and children back into the slave category. And the complexity continued after removal and termination. One sees the encroaching ideas of European categories affecting much Cherokee thinking.

I suppose I was more prepared for complexity and nuance on second reading so didn’t get lost in the detail. Miles documents her sources, explains their limitations, explains her attempts to get beyond gaps. There is an important appendix on her historical method and the difficulties of telling histories of Blacks and women when the sources are mostly European and white men. Scholars will appreciate the original sources also shown in the appendices.

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Quilt Retreat Time

It’s been a while since I’ve been to an in-person guild retreat, but the time was right. I had a project in mind, all the fabric, and plenty of time. I cut at home, as is my custom, and assembled the top there. I had a couple back up projects as always, but only spent a little time on one.

The project is a quilt for my grandson who likes soccer, basketball, and plays the recorder. He’ll be 10.

76″ x 104″

I started with twin size in mind, but added inches to fit the design. I have forgotten how to make a picture so that you can click and see it larger. The light print is basketball themed, the second from the top left that looks like ghosts on my screen is actually flaming soccer balls, and the middle top fabric is music staffs and clefs. He has other interests, but these were the dominant ones when I designed the quilt. Colors were chosen to go with his bedroom’s orange walls. Perhaps it’s a lazy approach to let the fabric prints do most of the work, but it was fun.

Of course even though I bought wide backing fabric, I didn’t get enough. I thought two yards would be plenty. Silly me. So I’ll be piecing the back. I have till January. Should be plenty of time.


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A Black Feminist Approach to History

All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake by Tiya Miles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ashley’s sack frames the telling of a history. This book is the antidote for the white upper class worldview presented in books like Gone With the Wind. This is the view from the perspective of the enslaved. An important note: the view isn’t of only the hardships but also of the triumphs, the ways a people treated as things managed to remember and assert their humanity. That was most vivid to me when Miles contrasted the stark businesslike records of selling people with the warm record of the contents of the sack.

Where there are records, Miles combs through them. It seems like drudgery to me to sift through all the bills of sale, wills, and census records till she found a Rose and an Ashley who spent time under the same owner, though on different pieces of property. But the reward came when the pair were found. Other research seems more interesting to do: the social meaning of hair to Victorian English society and to some African societies, the clothing codes for separating the elite from the enslaved–and the transgressions of that code.

Miles keeps readers aware of the degrees of certainty/uncertainty as she fills in gaps. (And gaps there are, for records are sparse.) Sometimes parallel stories convey what might have been Ruth’s, Ashley’s, or Rose’s experiences. Sometimes data is more probable. As an English major trained in the days of close reading, I really appreciated the analysis of the wording of the inscription on the sack by Ruth. And in the spirit of that method, whether or not Ruth meant to achieve any of the effects observed doesn’t matter, so long as the effects are in the text.

It is refreshing to read a history that is not a tale of military heroes and their conquests, but of people and their daily lives, trials and triumphs. All unified by a gift from mother to daughter, Ashley’s sack.

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Mexico in the Early 20th Century

Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire, and Revolution in the Borderlands by Kelly Lytle Hernández

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am on a mission to learn more non-USA history of the Americas, and a review nudged me toward this book. All that was already familiar to me in the book was the landownership of the US wealthy in Mexico and how that pushed our government to cooperate with Mexico’s government, at least for a time. This book fleshed that out along with the displacement of indigenous and other exploitation and the unrest that capitalism promoted.

This book was a good entrance into a small portion of Mexican history. It covered a ten-year period, focused on a few people, but did give about 50 years of background. It was clearly organized and at first whole sections were devoted to one person or event. When people were reintroduced after much text, there were short phrases reminding of their role. Toward the end it got more populated and more complex between more people joining the struggle and the struggles within the group. And battles won and lost, mostly lost. The introduction had indicated a winning, so I kept reading and hoping. Women had a role too, and while there wasn’t a lot of detail about them, they were not overlooked.

A word about the title. “Bad Mexicans” is what the rebels were called by the government they resisted. And one reason for rebelion was that President Diaz , who had campaigned on following the constitution and not allowing reelection, found ways to extend his reign.

Perhaps the review that prompted me to read the book was this one on Democracy Now! It might interest you too:

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Still Reading–This Time a Nobel Prize Winner

As Covid-19 restrictions are lightened, I’m getting out and about more. But I still have time to read. I’m halfway through my goal of 75 for this year, a fitting place to be in June. Here’s the most recent.

Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Postcolonial” is not quite the right category; it is written by a postcolonial writer but its setting is colonization time. If I were keeping up my “Around the World” list, this would be my first book about Tanzania/Zanzibar. It is the first of Gurnah’s books I’ve read since hearing of his Nobel prize in literature, the first African writer since Wole Soyinka, (Toni Morrison, the African American winner coming between). This is one of three listed as his better novels, and it lives up being excellent. Since I have yet to read the others, I cannot yet corroborate the comparative claim.

The plot starts out episodically as Yosuf goes with his “Uncle” in payment for a debt of his father, works in his shop, then accompanies him on a trade expedition. Through all this are hints of upcomng doom, personal and at the hands of the German colonists. Then the plot tightens into conflict and resolution in the latter portion. The pacing is handled adroitly, and bits of personal history and German occupation gradually emerge.

The harshness of the setting is palpable in the description. Allusions to the story of Joseph in the Koran (and also in the Hebrew Scriptures, though Koran is relevant to the Muslim culture of many of the characters) are cleverly woven in–it might have taken me longer to notice them had they not been remarked in a blurb on the cover, but at some point I would have. There are cultural references that I am sure would be richer to someone in the know. That layer will have to wait till I have done more reading.

The characters were likeable, though for me that is not an essential so long as they are well developed. It was easy to identify with Yosuf and his dreams and quandries; Kahlil, though seeming unfriendly at first becomes more sympathetic as we learn more about his background. The same can be said of other characters who have overseer positions. The “uncle,” though pompous, has some redeeming features as well.

I look forward to reading more of Gurnah’s work. I’ll be waiting a long time for By the Sea since I started as the number 157 hold request on one copy–let’s hope the library purchases more. It was listed as another of the three best.

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50% Scrap Happy

You’ve seen this top before with its mix of scraps and yardage–though the yardage is from my stash and old enough to be considered scrap. 🙂 What is new is that I’ve finally started to quilt it.

What prompted the quilting finally was an online class by Christina Cameli, Finding Your Flow. We were supposed to have samples pinned to practice on. I didn’t. But this quilt sandwich was pinned, and I’d been puzzling for a long time on how to quilt it. And while I don’t skimp on materials for donation quilts, I also don’t figure that recipients will care if a quilting design isn’t perfect–especially children.

Thus this seemed a good candidate for something free flowing, apart from my wanting to accent the Ts. By sketching, I first figured how to get the pebble-T into 8 T-blocks with continuous stitching, and the rest is a beginning at combining like Christina does. It seems to me that the technique would be wasted on quilting made up of many prints, but I rather like it on these solids and near solids.

The class and a book, Free Motion Combinations, derived from Covid-19 activities. Every morning at 8 am Christina did an Instagram video of a different motif, sometimes combining them. Once I’d learned about it, I watched almost every morning. I thought I would remember the motifs, but I ended up with a repertoire of about a dozen at most, so bought the book. For people who like meandering, this covers space equally easily.

For people interested in scrappy, the solids here are scraps; the batiks ancient yardage from my stash. It you are further interested in what people do with scraps, check out Kate’s blog where on the 15th of each month she showcases her scrappy ideas and links to other Scrap Happy folk. You might also enjoy Cynthia’s Oh Scrap! blog and link party, here.

Here is a photo of the top for those new to the blog who want to see the whole top.


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A Quilt Restored

You might remember the summer of protests in Portland OR during 2020. And though the protests were overall peaceful (in contrast to national news reporting), there was some damage. In the case of the Oregon Historical Society, not only was the front wall of windows broken, but a quilt of significance to African American history was stolen. The identity of the quilt should be a clue that the vandalism and the Black Lives Matter protests were separate groups of people, at least in some instances.

At any rate, the quilt was found, returned, and restored, and here is the Oregon Historical Society’s blog about the restoration.


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Chinese New Year

I have a membership to Lan Su Chinese Garden again after a couple years’ break. What better way to initiate it than the New Year celebration with the Dragon Dance at night? My daughter got the best close up video, but alas I am too cheap to upgrade to Premium so as to include videos here. So if you really want to see a video leave a comment and I’ll reply by email with an attachment.

I started out with a daytime visit. Remember how I used to just miss seeing the plum blossom tree in full bloom? This year I made it. Even though the lanterns overtake the blossoms, I’m including this photo as proof. 🙂

This photo also shows the tile design called ‘Plum Blossom on Cracked Ice’ because the tree blooms so early in the year that the ice is not always gone. This year, however, was pretty mild.

And here is a close up–not very high as I wasn’t daring enough to climb onto a bench.

The floats were already out, so I got a preview as well as a look at other flowers in bloom. (Many more look just ready to pop.)

Not only do I have the dragon float, but also in the background is the willow tree I always try to photograph for seasonal continuity. The dragon looked a lot fiercer at night.

And I did get a still of the dragon dance, though the video is much more impressive.


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The Black Jacobins by CLR James

Now that I have my computer working again and have explored the new editor a little, I have found out how to share my Goodreads reviews like I used to. That might prompt me to write better reviews. 🙂

The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo RevolutionThe Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution by C.L.R. James
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A very readable history, clearly organized. Even the final chapter which narrates the final struggle for independence battle by battle and intrigue by intrigue is clear and interesting. The inclusion of reports back to France enhance that section. Though there are many actors, there are not too many to follow—even as some switch sides.

Toussaint is the main character for much of the book. At first it seemed almost a hagiography, it was so positive. And yet footnotes show this is a correction to some earlier texts. And there is considerable critique in the final section.

Even the Appendix, which explores literary and political West Indian figures from the date of the original (1938) to that of this edition(1960s) is interesting and gave me books to add to my to-read list.

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“Do the Work” Really Finished

And I can do real celebration now, as the final details are finished. I always forget how long it takes to stitch down the facing, sew the hanging sleeve, and add the labels. And my labels are quite simple and as small as I can make them. One of my friends makes counted-cross-stitch labels on special quilts. I should consider that. The light on today’s photo is only a tad bit better than last night’s.

The shine is closer to the actual look, but the colors are still too light. You can almost see the red big stitch in the lower left. The next photo shows the value and shine closer to the in person look.

I guess when the camera focuses on the light, the dark comes out right. If I knew how to do the manual settings, I could probably have outsmarted the automatic settings–actually I think I can view the settings on a photo and then I could duplicate them. . . . But the quilt is boxed up so it is too late to try that approach. The 8 x 8 block needed some quilting, but I didn’t want much and I didn’t want to distract from the print. This mix of fabrics will never be laundered, so minimal quilting was enough.

And here is a view of all three rows of big stitch.

As I said before, my daughter sent me the vintage kimono fabric when she lived in Japan. I made two small quilts from it right after she sent it. They are dated 2007–didn’t seem that long ago.

Japan I: Torii; Japan II” Mt Fuji

These are 10″ x 10″. Someday I’ll make something big enough that I can give a better sense of the whole fabric design. When I first got the fabric, I thought, ‘Silk=crazy quilt’ and started to gather fabrics. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the embroidery of a crazy quilt would detract from the print. So it sat waiting for another idea. I’m still thinking toward the big one.


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