Stove Eye Surrounded

Quilt Index Record: 1E-3D-2906


My given name is Emily Louise Litman Alef but have been called Mimi since I was a child, first because my younger sister pronounced Emily that way and second because there were 3 other Emilys in the family at the time. I grew up in Uniontown, PA and lived there until we moved to Michigan when I was 14. While we lived in Uniontown, my paternal grandmother lived with us. She is the one who taught me to "do hand-work" as she called it. I learned to darn socks, turn a collar and repair frayed buttonholes. She finally let me sew on her Singer treadle sewing machine and I loved it. By the time I went to junior high school, I was making some of my clothes and for Christmas, when I was in the 8th grade, I got a New Home, electric sewing machine. It was the most exciting and appreciated Christmas gift I have ever received. My grandmother was happy too, as she then had her sewing machine all to herself! I was entering 10th grade, when we moved to Detroit. By then I was making most of my clothes because I was 5' 9" tall and it was hard to find skirts and slacks long enough. I remember that at Christmas, my younger, sister would get a skirt and matching sweater and I would get a sweater and matching 1 yard of fabric for a skirt! In my senior year, we moved to Ypsilanti, where I graduated high school and went on to Michigan State Normal College (now EMU) . In my freshman year I met my husband and we were married 3 years later. I did not finish college and three children later, I was still sewing but now I was sewing more for the children and household. However, it never occurred to me that I could make a quilt out of all those fabric scraps I had. I had 3 old quilts that had been made by my great grandmother. Her daughter, the grandmother who taught me to sew, never quilted. Two of these quilts were heavily quilted white on white squares, about 80 X 80", which, when folded in quarters, fit the floor of the baby's play pen and provided a pad that could be folded eight times before they needed to be washed. I never thought of the value, sentimental or otherwise, of those quilts just the practicality. Eventually they were thrown away as they just deteriorated from the heavy use and laundering they got. After the children got into school, I began painting and for the next 10 years or so I enjoyed oil and acrylic painting, mostly on canvas. I never stopped sewing but it wasn't until my first grandchild was about to be born, in 1987, that it dawned on me that a quilt, using the mounds of fabric scraps I had, might be something to try. We lived in High Point, NC then. At that time there were not many books or magazines about quilting and feeling the confidence of a long time sewer, I jumped right in, thinking I could "just do it"! Well, the results of that first quilt were dreadful and granddaughter, Macy, didn't get that quilt. However, I did decide to take a class at a local community college and that's where my love of quilting began. I signed up for a class in hand piecing and lap quilting. I quickly finished a sampler. I signed up for the same class again but when I got to the class room, we were told that the person who taught the earlier class had retired and Brenda Holland would be teaching the class, which required a sewing machine. Well, I almost left the class in disappointment but I hung in, and stitched and pieced my first quilt in no time flat. Then it came to actually quilting it, I was reluctant to try machine quilt my quilt so I hand quilted it, using the skill I'd learned in the previous class. Brenda kept praising my work and I continued to feel like she was just patronizing me because I always saw the mistakes I'd made. She continued to encourage me and after the class ended she invited me and 4 other members of the class to come to her house for a little 'bee'. This 'bee' was the beginning of a most wonderful experience. Our numbers grew to 10 and we met every Tuesday at Brenda's home. We brought our lunch and stayed and learned from Brenda from 10 am - 2 pm. She taught us the finer points of machine quilting, the newest methods of machine applique and all the things she was teaching in her classes. In return she'd send us home with projects, with which we produced samples for her to use in her teaching. She humorously called us her 'quilt slaves' and dubbed us 'The Five Easy Piecers'. As time passed, she invited others to join us she and simply changed our name to accommodate the current number and we grew to 'Ten Easy Piecers' and stopped adding members. Eight of the 'Ten Easy Piecers' still remain in the area. They continued to meet twice monthly over all these years and I am happy to be back with them, enjoying our quilting. I'll always be grateful to Brenda for her encouragement and skill in teaching me. All 10 of the Easy Piecers were very active members of the Piedmont Quilters Guild of Greensboro, NC. We all did our part supporting the activities of a guild of about 200 members. Over the 12 years I was active in the guild, I held every office, except president, at least once. I enjoyed writing the newsletter, working on the bi-annual quilt shows and being workshop chairman the most. But the quilting event I enjoyed the most was the quilt challenge that happened every 2 years as part of the quilt show. I had never seen a quilt challenge display when Brenda encouraged me to participate in one during the first year that I was a guild member. I bought the kit, read the rules and produced a quilt that I thought was quite nice and a clever use of the mismatched fabrics required to be used in the quilt. Well, my jaw dropped when I saw the astounding quilts hanging in the show. I could hardly wait till the next challenge to see what I could do. For the next 4 quilt shows my challenge quilt won first place. I was hooked on challenges for sure! Then, in 2001, my husband retired and we moved to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. We had 2 sons and 5 grandchildren near there and we bought a home in a golfing community called Diamondhead. It wasn't long before I was feeling the itch to do a challenge. I flew to Houston that October to meet several of the 'Easy Piecers, for the International Quilt Association quilt show. And that is where the Stove Eye Quilt began. I was walking through the vendor section of the show when I spied the RJR Fabrics booth and an advertisement for the Great Lakes, Great Quilts Challenge. I read the rules, looked over the lovely reproduction fabric and the wheels started turning in my head. I bought the book and about $75 of fabric and I was all set. The next day, flying home, I began to look through the book to find a quilt I was inspired by. I recall thinking a lone star quilt would be spectacular with those fabrics but I thought that might be duplicated in some way by another contestant. Then I noticed the Stove Eye quilt. Those little red wedges pieced into a rectangle caught my eye. I took out a little notebook and started doodling. (I'll send the doodles as an attachment) I imagined some kind of decorative applique around the circle and I even named the quilt at that time. Stove Eye Surrounded had the familiar sound of Burgoyne Surrounded so maybe that's why it sounded good to me. I was even asked in an interview, what the connection between Burgoyne and Stove Eye was 'there was none'! When I got home I went right to work with my Electric Quilt program. I have used that program since I first saw it on TV with Penny McMorris and her 'Great American Quilt' program on PBS - early 1990. I now have version #7 of the program and understand that version #8 will be out soon. I'm including a final print-out of what I came up with, after playing with EQ. While it is not an accurate drawing it provided me the accurate size and the information I needed to purchase the additional fabric I needed to complete the quilt. So, now I had a plan and went right to work. I made a trial piece, trying different stitches and threads on a block and even quilting the pieced and appliqued block. I also auditioned the quilting design as to thread and the amount of batting put into the trapunto area. I had purchased the book "Stitched Raw Edge Applique" by Sue Nickels and wanted to use that technique so I planned this quilt so that I could do that. I enjoy trying new techniques and always try to incorporate something new in each project I complete. When the quilt was finished I sent in the photo and contest form, never, never thinking that I could be a winner. For me the fun of a challenge is to see your quilt hanging alongside other quilts that were created using the same rules, fabrics and guidelines. It's an amazing tool for creativity. When I got the call from Quilters' Newsletter, I was stunned. Don't really remember the conversation. I had told my 'Easy Piecers' that I was a finalist in the contest and that my quilt would be displayed at Houston. So, once again 5 of them decided to fly to Houston to meet me and see my quilt. It was all I could do not to tell them I had won but to let them just see the quilt with the ribbon on it. The excitement of seeing my quilt for the first time 'in Houston' with the blue ribbon - with the Easy Piecers - will always be my favorite quilting memory. Since Stove Eye Surrounded travelled around the country for the first year of it's life, by comparison it has lived a quiet life since then. It has never been entered in a quilt show, and is only displayed in our home during the Christmas holidays. In September of 2005 we were living in the center of the area that was hit by Katrina. When we evacuated, Stove Eye Surrounded went with us, along with several other special quilts. We were not allowed to return to our area for almost 4 weeks and spent that time with one of our sons living in North Mississippi. The other son still lives in New Orleans but lost everything in the flooding that occurred there during Katrina. We returned to find our house had been spared of the some of the devastation that hit other homes in our area and we were able to recover relatively quickly. We remained there, repairing our home and helping friends and neighbors but after a year, decided that we would leave and go North and live in the little town of New Albany, MS where our middle child, Mike and his family lived. We were there for 5 years when our daughter, living in Burlington, NC, introduced us to Twin the Lakes Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Center. We moved here in November 2011 and have been extremely happy here. We are in good health and enjoy all the health, educational and fun opportunities available to us. I have a quilting group here, my husband has his golf and we have the opportunity to be close to our daughter. What a wonderful life we've had.

Project Information

Michigan State University Museum
Michigan State University Museum Collection

Page 1

Stove Eye Surrounded
Through all these years my family has always supported my quilting activities and each member of my family owns many of my quilts, ranging from baby quilts to tee shirt quilts for the grandchildren and many birthday, college and anniversary quilts. About 10 of my quilts were lost when the flood occurred at my son's house during Katrina but I have replaced all of them. I am still quilting but age (77) is slowing me down a little. Arthritis bothers my hands when I machine quilt or do much hand work such as applique and hand quilting. But I am still at it with my two sewing machines and my hundreds of books and huge stash of fabric. I'm making smaller quilts but can't imagine life without my quilt making. Over the years I have entered my quilts in some quilt show but they are always local and I don't like to mail my quilts somewhere to be judged. I have only entered 2 other 'challenge' contests. The first one was a 'spur of the moment' entry. I had made a quilt in 1997 using an old, 32" wide, red toile fabric, left to me by a friend who had passed away. I named the quilt "Barbara's Cottage Garden" in her memory. I had barely finished making the quilt when American Patchwork Magazine advertised a "Home and Garden" quilt challenge. My newly finished quilt fit the requirements exactly and so I sent in a picture with my registration. I could not believe being notified that I was a finalist but then the call came when I won first place in the wall hanging division, I was dumbfounded! That surprise only comes in second to seeing Stove Eye Surrounded at Houston, with my Easy Piecers. The Home and Garden contest awarded me a Viking sewing machine and other goodies as well. This quilt was also featured in a 2001 TV broadcast of the Georgia Bonesteel Lap Quilting program as seen on PBS. Then, in 1999, I entered another challenge by American Patchwork Magazine, called Pieces of the Past. There were lots of requirements for this challenge, including using one of several blocks chosen by American patchwork to be included in the quilt and the use of RJR's Thimbleberries fabric. I was a finalist in that contest but did not win. However, Meridith Corporation bought that quilt for $1500, to hang in their corporate offices So I was a winner of sorts and that was the only quilt I have ever sold. I have had 5 quilts published in Oxmoor House Publications, Quick and Easy Scrap Quilts and Relax and Quilt. I have also had 2, one person quilt shows, one in the Bozart Art Gallery in Water Valley, MS and the other in the Union County Heritage Museum, New Albany, MS. I gave talks at each of those gatherings. I also have done many "show and tell" type programs for quilt guilds over the years. I did not know I could possibly have all this to say about my quilting experiences but now you have it and it's been fun for me to re-live it all as I write this.
Mimi Alef
Alef, Mimi
Alef, Mimi
Museum employee
Mississippi (MS)
United States

Page 2-Quiltmaker Information

Challenge or Contest entry
The quilt was entered into the "Great Lakes, Great Quilts Challenge" cosponsored by RJR Fashion Fabrics and C and T Publishing and Quilters Newsletter Magazine, a contest to make a quilt using the fabric line inspired by MSU Museum quilts. The quilt was inspired by the Stove Eye quilt in MSU Museum's collection. This quilt won Best of Show in the competition, and was later donated by the maker, Mimi Alef.
Museum collection
North Carolina (NC)
Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University)
The quiltmaker was married.
The Ten Easy Piecers; Piedmont Quilters Guild of Greensboro, NC

Page 3-Physical Description

Finished quilt
Block pattern
9 appliqued

Page 4-Physical Description continued

Machine Piecing
Machine Applique

Page 5-Binding and Quilting

Machine quilting

Page 6-Design and Fabric Sources

Original to maker
International Quilt Festival and Market, Houston, TX, October 28-November 1, 2002, Road to California Quilt Show, Ontario, CA, January 16, 19, 2003 Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival, Williamsburg, VA, February 27-March 2, 2003 Dallas Quilt Celebration, Dallas, TX, March 14-16, 2003 Seaway Trail Foundation, Inc. Quilt Show, Sackets Harbor, NY, March 22-23, 2003 American Quilters Society, Paducah, KY, April 23-26, 2003 Quilt Odyssey 2003, Gettysburg, PA, July 31-August 3, 2003 World Quilt and Textile Tour, Lansing, MI, August 9-11, 2003
Great Lakes, Great Quilts contest sponsored by RJR and Quilters Newsletter Magazine 2002.

Page 7-Owner Information

Michigan State University Museum
East Lansing
Michigan (MI)
United States
All rights reserved, Michigan State University Museum

Data Verification

Beth Donaldson

Image Information

Image - large display (550 or more pixels)
Contributing Institutions
MATRIX: Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online at Michigan State University; Michigan State University Museum
Quilt Index
Resource Type
Pearl Yee Wong
Michigan State University Museum

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