Thursday January 23, 2014 | 06:43 AM

Hand pieced blocks for a Farmer's Wife quilt. Image by Shelby Faux, courtesy of Alewives Fabrics.

In recent years people have become fascinated with rural life. An increase in farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture has helped fuel this interest, by offering opportunities for customers to engage with the very person who grew the tomatoes and raised the chickens that laid the eggs they will serve to their family for breakfast. With more people taking an interest in how their food is grown, the idea of self-sufficiency has also begun to take hold. People want to learn how to make cheese, raise a small flock of backyard chickens, pickle and preserve fruits and vegetables, and other skills more often associated with a 19th-century farmer than a 21st-century urban dweller.

Helping to propel one’s dream of being a “hobby farmer” is the digital world and sites like Flickr and Pinterest, where thousands of beautiful and inspiring images are shared daily.

It is in this vein that Martha Bracy of Alewives Fabrics in Nobleboro came up with the idea to host a sewalong based on Laurie Aaron Hird’s book The Farmer’s Wife Sampler Quilt.  Wildly popular on Flickr, Pinterest, and sewing/fiber blogs, the book even prompted the creation of a large Yahoo group called “farmer’s wife sampler” that has thousands of members sewing together. People who are motivated by the joy of making something by hand.

The Farmer's Wife was a popular monthly magazine with how to's, simple recipes and tips for daily rural living published between the late-1890s and 1939. The subscribers were farm women. In 1922, the magazine held a contest asking the question: ‘If you had a daughter of marriageable age, would you, in the light of your own experience, want her to marry a farmer?’

Of the over 7,000 entries they received, the editors chose 68 they reprinted in a booklet called “Do you Want Your Daughter to Marry a Farmer?” These essays, which talk about the simple pleasures in life – sitting by the hearth in the evening with the family, birds singing in the morning… are the inspiration for Laurie Aaron Hird’s book The Farmer’s Wife Sampler Quilt. Hird selected 42 of the letters and created a tribute quilt made of 111 traditional 6" blocks.

Hird pieced her quilt by hand. According to Bracy, a lot of people had sewing machines by the 1920s, and could have done the piecing (putting little pieces of fabric together to make a block and then sewing the blocks together) by machine. However, she said the finishing (sewing the quilt top, the backing, and the batting in the middle together) would probably have been done by hand. Hird, who has a self-described lifelong interest in hand sewing simply chose to do hers entirely by hand, because she enjoys it.

The Alewives Fabrics Farmer’s Wife sewalong will run for four months, taking place on the third Saturday of every month from February to May at 10 Main Street in Nobleboro. “A great way to create a sense of community among sewers is to offer some inspiration," said Bracy. "Hand sewing is a very slow process and it’s really easy to kind of get a little lost with it and put it down for a while. It’s not an immediate gratification, you can’t be very end product-oriented to do a hand sewing project like this.”

The first meeting of the group will be more like a traditional lesson walking participants through the process of cutting out the pieces, drawing the shapes, how to get your thread knotted, and how to pin the pieces together. The three subsequent meetings will be more of just a gathering and people can show what they have done in the previous month. Beginners and advanced sewers are thus welcome.

“We’re hoping we’ll have enough people with different tastes that you can see the same block will be sewn in really more muted traditional colors and prints and maybe somebody else will have a more modern aesthetic,” Bracy said. “Hopefully people will feel inspired by what everybody else is doing and motivated to keep going.”

For more information contact Alewives Fabrics at (207) 563-5002 or email the store at alewives@alewivesfabrics.com.

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About the Author

Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.

When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.

In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.

Sharon can be contacted at kitchens.sharon@gmail.com or on Twitter @deliciousmusing.

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