Tag Archives: France

An Amazing Quilter

An Amazing Quilter

An Amazing Amish Quilter

I first visited Smicksburg, Pennsylvania on the last day of summer 2016. Smicksburg is a small rural town where a small arts and crafts community coexists with the Amish and other rural folks. The shops are fun to visit: pottery, antiques, dried flowers, yarn and wool, country gifts and a small Heritage museum. Other shops flourish on the periphery of Smicksburg and include an Amish furniture shop, antiques, a country restaurant, a chocolate shop (with more than just chocolate).

I wrote about that first trip (and the second trip) but I didn’t mention the Amish farm that my friend and I passed. We saw the sign by the side of the road: “Quilt repairs.”

I thought about the handmade basket pattern quilt I bought at the annual antiques show in a mall 18 to 20 years ago (Monroeville Mall, Monroeville, PA). Some of the material had frayed so I put it away hoping to repair it one day.

I knew it would be expensive to fix and finding someone who repairs quilts is like looking for a needle in a haystack. I tried. The closest quilt “repairer” that I had found was a five-hour drive away from Pittsburgh.

On the second rip to Smicksburg, I brought it along thinking I would get an estimate. The fabric had deteriorated even more; in fact, so had the cotton batting between the quilt top and the backing. We stopped at the quilt shop which displayed some of the most beautiful quilts I have ever seen in many different colors and patterns including crazy, log cabin, postage stamp (my favorite) and more.

She has her share of customers, too.

Effie greeted us and explained how long it would take and how much and that cotton doesn’t last. The Amish have switched to cotton blends. So I decided right there and then that I would leave the quilt for Effie to repair. That was in October. She had two other quilts ahead of mine to work on so it would take as until the Christmas holidays or even early January before she could finish it. I plucked down a deposit and wrote my name and address in her guest book.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, Effie wrote to me that she had finished the quilt.  I picked it up this Saturday, December 10th (again spending the day in Smicksburg browsing and shopping).

Effie is an amazing artist;  the quilt is like new. Not only are the baskets replaced in their original colors (with fresh fabric) but the quilted background was redone like the original.  Effie’s mother told us that Effie used fabric that belonged to her grandmother to repair the baskets that had deteriorated (some of the baskets were in good condition).

We chatted with Effie and her mother for a while. I had never really communicated with the Amish before but it’s no different from speaking to anyone else.  (I once spoke to an Amish buggy driver in Lancaster.) Her mother told us that Effie was named after a beloved aunt.

Effie works by hand, without the benefit of electricity (or running water), a computer to store her patterns and database of customers, or a cell phone to text that the quilt is ready or that she’s running a special for the holidays. We communicated by letter or face-to-face.Their way of life reminds me of the seven months I spent in my father’s village in Cyprus: no running water, electricity, etc.

And the Amish are hardy. In October, Effie and her mother greeted us walking barefoot on the hard ground. Neither wore a coat yesterday and it was not a warm day.

Yesterday, I felt like I was going through a spiritual experience fixing my heirloom quilt!

A Brief History of Quilting

Quilting was first developed in Europe during the Crusades when European soldiers discovered that Turks wore several layers of fabric quilted together under their armor.

In other parts of the world, (China, North Africa, the Middle East, and northern Europe), clothing sometimes featured patchwork stitching. In ancient China, silk was so expensive that when an article of clothing wore out, the silk was cut into pieces and sewn into patchwork clothing. Today, quilting is primarily used on bedspreads, wall hangings, place mats and the like.

A quilt is composed of a top which is made of pieces of fabric cut and sewn into a pattern. Cotton (or polyester or wool) batting is layered between the quilted top and the backing. The three layers are pinned together, the quilted design marked on the top piece and quilted by hand or by machine. The outer edges of the quilt are turned under and sewn with binding.

By the time the early colonists arrived in the New World, quilting was a common way of sewing bedding and clothing. However, only the wealthy owned them. Fabrics were imported from France and England and expensive for the average colonial family.

By the early 19th century, American manufacturing cheaply produced cotton fabrics in various colors and patterns and designs evolved over time: the medallion, crazy pattern, mosaic, and Baltimore Album or Friendship design among others.

In 1972, the Whitney Museum of American art celebrated the history of American quilts with the exhibit, “Abstract Design in American Quilts.” The Bicentennial Celebrations and the growing feminist movement influenced the theme of the exhibit which featured vintage Amish quilts. The exhibit was a success with the public.

Quilts not only became popular to make and/or own, but vintage quilts became quite collectible.


Teague, Ken. Growing Up in Ancient China.  Troll Associates, Eagle Books, 1994.

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Marie Curie, Reluctant Feminist?

Marie Curie, Reluctant Feminist?
Marie Curie

Marie Curie in her lab

When the World’s Fair opened in 1899, the Eiffel Tower stood at its entrance announcing peace and prosperity for France. This was the Belle Époque Era when the visual arts, music, theatre, dance, literature, and filmmaking prospered.

Marya Sklodowska arrived from Poland during this period of creativity and scientific and technological innovation.

She was born in Warsaw in 1867 during the Russian occupation of Poland. She was the youngest in a family that included four sisters and one brother. Her parents were Polish patriots and teachers who encouraged their children’s academic studies. When Marya was 11, her oldest sister of died of typhus and a shortly after, her mother died of tuberculosis.

Marya became depressed after her mother’s death but managed to attend the Floating University, a secret school unknown to the Russian government. The Floating University allowed women to study unlike many European universities like Warsaw University. When she was 17, Marya left home to work as a governess, supporting her sister financially through medical school. But after a failed romance with the oldest son of the household, she left Poland for Paris.

Marya was one of 23 female students in a student body of 1800 studying at the Faculty of Sciences at the Sorbonne. She lived during a time in history when few women attended high school let alone college. Marya lived in a garret that was very cold in the winter and studied so hard that she sometimes fainted because she forgot or couldn’t afford to eat.

In spite of the fact that she was poor, she grew to love Paris and all it had to offer. She changed her name to Marie.

She met Pierre Curie when she asked for space in his laboratory so she could study the magnetic properties of steel. They fell in love and married, forming a scientific partnership.

Marie continued her research influenced by Henri Becquerel who developed the x-ray and Wilhelm Roentgen who discovered that the x-ray could travel through the human body and be used to take pictures of human bones. Marie used their ideas as the basis of her doctorate.

Marie Curie  achieved many “firsts” in fields dominated by men. For starters, she became the first woman in France to earn a doctorate. (Later, she became the first woman whose daughter also became a Nobel Prize recipient.)

France became her adopted country but many Frenchmen disliked foreigners and Marie Curie was often the object of their hatred. Many fellow scientists resented the fact that Marie was a prominent scientist and she often had to defend herself against their attacks. Hers was like the life of the modern woman we know today yet Marie Curie didn’t see herself as a role model for other women. She was not a suffragette or a pioneer for women’s rights although she once signed a petition protesting the arrest of certain leaders of the movement.

Perhaps she was not consciously a feminist but much of what she accomplished indicated otherwise. She never sought to “succeed in a male-dominated arena” according to her granddaughter. Rather “she simply loved science above everything else.” (Emling, pp. xi, Marie Curie and Her Daughters)

Although her research consumed her time and despite poor health, Marie gave birth to two daughters, Eve and Irene. She juggled motherhood and her career. “I have been frequently questioned especially by women, how I could reconcile family life with a scientific career. Well, it has not been easy,” she once said. (Redneiss, pp. 76, Radioactive)

In 1903, she was the first woman awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics which she shared with Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel. She was not invited to speak at the acceptance ceremony because she was a woman.

Science was her passion. Marie discovered that radiation came from the interior of an atom. She called her discovery radioactivity. Radioactivity occurs when some types of matter give off rays of energy. She also discovered two new elements, polonium (named after the country of her birth) and radium.

One Thursday in 1906, Pierre Curie, limping in pain, was hit by a carriage while crossing the Pont Neuf and died. Years later, there was speculation that the limp was result of exposure to radiation.

After his death, the Sorbonne asked Marie to assume Pierre’s place as professor. She became the first woman to teach there, a position she accepted because she needed a paycheck to raise her daughters. Marie continued Pierre’s research on radiation and gravity and radiation’s effects on various substances. She also established a lab in honor of Pierre’s memory at the university.

Four years after Pierre’s death, she began an affair with Paul Langevin, a family friend and former student of Pierre’s. Unhappily married, Langevin’s wife made the affair public on Nov.4, 1910, while Marie and Langevin attended the International Solway Conference in Belgium. Three days after the conference, the Nobel committee announced that she won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for discovering new elements and separating a sample of radium. She was the first woman to win a second Nobel Prize in a second field.

The  press in France scorned and criticized Marie once the affair with Langevin became public knowledge. They more interested in her private life than in her accomplishments. The French were not alone in their hostility. Before the acceptance ceremony, several Nobel committee members asked Marie to avoid attending the ceremony and embarrassing the Royal family of Sweden and the Nobel Committee.

On Dec. 5th, Marie wrote to the Nobel committee: “The steps that you advise seem to me a grave error…There is no connection between my scientific work and the facts of a private life.” (Pp.134. Redniss) Marie accepted in person anyway. The affair with Langevin was over by then.

Many believed that the press and others criticized Marie because she was a woman. Her friend Marguerite Borel noted that “none of this would have happened if Marie were a man.” (Pp.9 Emiling, Marie Curie and her Daughters.)

When Marie returned to Paris from Sweden, she entered the Family of Saint Marie convent where doctors operated to remove lesions from her kidneys. She lost weight and wrote her will. Lingering rumors and the need to recuperate, compelled her to leave Paris for the countryside and later, the south of England.

World War I broke out in 1914. She returned to France and established military field radiological (x-ray) centers for wounded French soldiers. She converted her savings into war bonds and managed to take her radium supply to Bordeaux where the French government had established itself in exile.

After the war, she worked for the Radium Institute studying the uses of radioactivity in medicine. Pierre Curie had guessed that radium could be used to treat cancer but after his death, scientists found out that too much radioactivity could cause cancer, too.

On a visit to America, the reluctant feminist became aware of her influence when she met young women who aspired to study math and science. She also achieved her goal for coming to the United States: she was given a gram of radium bought by donations from Americans from all walks of life. She also raised funds to set up research and treatment centers at the Radium Institutes of Paris and Warsaw. In 1922, she was the first woman elected to the Academy of Medicine.

For most of her life, her love of science made her oblivious to the effects of radiation on her health. Doctors and others began to realize that radiation could do bad as well as good to the human body but Marie Curie refused to accept the facts. She never stopped working until the end when she felt so ill that she finally agreed to enter a clinic.

Marie Curie died there on July 4, 1934 of “aplastic pernicious anemia.”

ADDITIONAL FACTS: Pierre and Marie Curie were laid in the Pantheon in Paris. The Pantheon is a mausoleum which also houses the remains of Voltaire, Zola, Rousseau, Hugo and Langevin. Marie is the only woman interred in the Pantheon based on her own merits. The Bibliotheque Nationale continues to store the Curie’s laboratory notebooks where they are still radioactive 100 years later. Stamps and coins the world over feature their profiles and countless schools, streets, subway stops and even holidays bear the Curie name. There is even a Marie Curie crater on Mars and the Asteroid 7000 Curie orbits inside the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MARIE CURIE: Emiling, Shelley. Marie Curie and Her Daughters. NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Lin, Yoming S. The Curies and Radioactivity. NY: PowerKids Press, 2012 Meltzer, Brad. Heroes for My Daughter. NY: Forty-Four Steps, 2012 Redniss, Lauren. Radioactive. NY: It Books, 2012 ART PROJECT:


Paper Cut-out: Heart

Wycinanki or Paper Cut-out: Heart

Wycinanki is a craft popular in Poland. The complex designs, cut out of thin paper, included plants, animals and people. When completed, the cut-outs looked like delicate lace. Traditionally, women and children made the paper cut-outs in the spring when the walls of homes were freshly white-washed. They would then glue the wycinanki high on the wall where it met the ceiling.

Pattern: Heart for Paper Cut-out

Wycinanki are still popular today and made for the tourist trade and collectors.

Materials: Pattern for the heart cut-out

Colored paper – light-weight is best

Soft pencil like a No. 2 or an HB pencil

Paper clips

Embroidery scissors

Masking tape

Tracing paper

Spray adhesive or glue stick

  1. Anchor the pattern on a flat surface with masking tape.
  2. Place tracing paper over the pattern; tape the corners of the paper down and trace the design carefully.
  3. Measure the design. Double the size. Measure and cut the colored paper to that size and fold the paper in half.
  4. Flip the tracing paper and blacken the back of it with the pencil. Wash your hands of pencil smears.
  5. Flip the tracing paper again so that the original tracing is on top. Place it on the colored paper. Align the fold of the colored paper and the left side of the design. (See diagram above.) Tape all four sides of the tracing and colored paper on the board. Or clip everything together with paper clips. Maintain margins of about ½” on the other three sides.
  6. Trace again and press hard so that the lines of the design show on the colored paper.
  7. Remove tracing paper. Clip or tape the sides of the folded paper and cut. Look at the design carefully when cutting.
  8. Carefully unfold the wycinanki and press it as flat as possible. Using spray adhesive or glue sticks, mount the cut out on a piece of contrasting colored paper. Frame it and hang it in your room.

Below is a Wycinanki for advanced cut-out artists with pattern:

Traditional Wycinanki

Traditional Wycinanki – for advanced paper cut-out artists

Paper Cut-out Pattern

Wycinanki Pattern


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The Life and Death of Joan of Arc

The Life and Death of Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc grew up during a difficult time in French history. The Hundred Year’s War with England, which began in 1337 as a dispute over the French throne, destroyed the country’s economy. England occupied much of France and the part it didn’t occupy was frequently at war.

Joan was born in Domremy, France in 1412. She was one of five children. Her parents, Jacques D’Arc and Isabelle Romee, were peasants who owned a 50-acre farm. Her father was also a minor official who collected taxes and headed the local watch.

Life for Joan followed the same pattern as that of her parents and grandparents. The center of that life revolved around hard work, family and the Roman Catholic church.  Society expected young women to marry but Joan had resisted her parents’ attempts to arrange a marriage for her when she was sixteen.

Joan was about twelve-years old when she started to hear voices. These voices instructed her to defeat the English army and crown Charles VII king. After the death of his father and four brothers, Charles, known as the Dauphin, became the uncrowned king of France. By this time Joan was sixteen. French tradition dictated that the King of France be crowned at the Cathedral of Reims but the English occupied Reims. Charles and his court, instead, lived in Chinon, located 226 miles away.

Joan asked her cousin, Durand Lassois, to escort her to nearby Vaucouleurs so she could ask the garrison commander, Count Robert de Baudricourt, for permission to visit the French court at Chinon. Single young women like Joan were not allowed to travel alone. The count said no. The next January, she had a second interview with Baudricourt where she made a remarkable prediction about a military victory in Orléans.

When news from the front confirmed her prediction, Baudricourt provided her with an escort to visit Chinon. She traveled through hostile territory in male disguise. When she arrived at the royal court she impressed Charles VII during a private meeting revealing something to him that no one else could know.

Charles granted Joan permission to travel with the army and wear the armor and carry the equipment that knights carried.

Her habits as a soldier were eccentric. Once she became a French soldier, Joan no longer wore dresses. She decided she was too young to marry and would stay a virgin, calling herself The Maid or Jehanne la Pucelle. On the battlefield, Joan ate very little food and her periods stopped.

Joan didn’t care that no one understood her because she had a single vision: to crown the Dauphin king of France.

Joan led the army at Orléans riding a white horse and carrying her personal banner decorated with the fleur-de-lis*. Joan never used her sword which she found at the shrine of St. Catherine, and didn’t wear a helmet. She hated killing and instead preferred to encourage the soldiers to fight hard.

The English army surrounded Orléans. The only way into the city was across the Loire River and through a gate in the wall of the fortress. Joan sustained a wound in Orléans but she stayed on the battle field. This act inspired the French army and after an all-out attack, Orléans was finally in French hands.

Joan tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Dauphin to go to Reims for his coronation as King of France. Hoping to influence him, Joan fought a series of battles around Reims which she won and he was finally persuaded. Charles wore gold robes to his coronation at the beautiful Cathedral as the crowds outside cheered. Joan stood next to him wearing her armor and carrying her banner.

But Joan’s work was not finished.

Joan asked the king permission to capture Paris next but King Charles preferred to negotiate a compromise with the English. Disheartened, Joan stopped listening to her voices. She lost one battle after the other even breaking the sword of St. Catherine.

The King again declared that he wanted to make a truce with England and disbanded the army. According to her voices, Joan only had a year to save France.

In the spring of 1430, Joan defiantly moved the fighting north. Joan marched on to Compeigne but the battle there did not go well. Her soldiers fled and enemy soldiers captured Joan.

The French people begged the King to pay for her ransom but Charles refused.

Her English captors charged Joan with the crimes of witchcraft and heresy, punishable by burning at the stake. The English moved Joan to a prison in Rouen, the center of English power in France. They shackled her and guarded her day and night.

Joan’s trial was held at the Great Justice Hall at Rouen. One of the 200 judges facing her questioned why she wore men’s clothing. Joan responded that it was for her safety, and that it was better if the soldiers didn’t think of her as a woman.

“Besides,” she added, “my voices commanded it.”

Another judge asked why saints would speak to an illiterate peasant girl. These voices must surely come from the devil. Joan insisted that they were heavenly because they brought her comfort and courage. The judges were furious at her stubbornness and threatened her with torture and death.

Joan eventually broke down under the pressure and confessed that her voices were from the devil. She expected her captors to free her if she signed the confession but was disheartened when she found out that her punishment would be life imprisonment. The soldiers shaved off her hair and forced her to wear a dress.

Her voices told her how wrong she had been to confess a lie. So Joan tore off her dress and put on the boys’ clothes that had been left in her cell. This action guaranteed that Joan would be burned at the stake. The head judge visited her in prison when he learned about what she had done. Joan admitted that she had signed the confession out of fear and that her voices really had been from God.

On May 30, 1431, ten thousand people watched in silence as the soldiers tied Joan to the stake. A kind English soldier gave her a crude cross made of two sticks which Joan stuck inside her dress. Then the fire was lit, quickly engulfing her. Joan called out, “Jesus! Jesus!” Nineteen-year-old Joan of Arc was dead within minutes.

After Joan’s death, the English began to lose ground on the battlefield and eventually, lost all their French possessions. Later, a guilt-ridden Charles sent for a copy of Joan’s trial. When he saw how one-sided it had been, he ordered a re-trial. The church cleared Joan of witchcraft and heresy.

In 1920, the Pope decreed Joan of Arc a saint of the Catholic Church.

* The fleur-de-lis or “flower of the lily” is a symbol used in heraldry.

* Don’t forget to do the art project below!

To learn more about Joan of Arc:

___________ Medieval World, Vol. 5 House and Home, Joan of Arc. Danbury, CT: Grolier, 2000

Bull, Angela, Joan of Arc. NY: Dorling Kindersley Publishing, Inc. 2000.

Fraioli, Deborah. A. Joan of Arc and the Hundred Years War. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005.

Spoto, Donald. Joan: the Mysterious Life of the Heretic who became a Saint. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007

Tompert, Ann. Joan of Arc: Heroine of France. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press, 2003.




Fleur de lis

“I loved my banner forty times better than my sword.” Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc’s banner depicted a fleur-de-lis pattern. The standard was made of white boucassin which is a material similar to bucrum, and fringed in silk. The words “Jesus Maria” were written on it. Banners come in three shapes: banner, standard and pennon. Joan of Arc’s banner was a standard banner. Refer to the photographs below.

Banner with fleur de lis design

Banner with fleur de lis design


Paper such as sketch paper, bond paper, watercolor paper (any size)


Water/container for water/soft bristle brushes

Colored pencils



Dowel rod


1) Joan of Arc’s banner symbolized the fight of the French people for their country’s independence from British rule. Make your own banner design for your team, school, scout troop or club.

2) Utilize designs that symbolize your team, troop, etc. Go to  a search engine like Google or Yahoo and research banner shapes. Decide if the banner will be a pennon, banner or standard and draw an outline first.

3) Draw the designs on the banner and color it  using any combination of materials.


For more information on fleur-de-lis designs:






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