Tag Archives: Ohio and Erie Canal

My Latest Obsession

When I began my map quilt of the Ohio and Erie Canal I had no idea how deep I would get into the subject. Last Sunday I dragged my husband to a lock operation demo at the NPS Canal Exploration Center, and then surveyed the exhibits inside the center. First, here’s a photo of an actual quilt being worked on by one of the volunteers. (She was taking a break at the time.) You can tie just about any subject to quilting, somehow.

Opening and closing a canal lock isn’t exactly high tech. You get a few people to push or pull the horizontal beams attached to the gates. Those suckers weigh a few tons. When the lower gate is closed the lock fills up with water and raises the boat to a higher level for the next stretch of canal. If the boat is going the other way, the process is reversed.

I learned that each lock is 15 feet wide and 90 feet long. Canal boats were 14 feet wide and 80 feet long, which made for tight clearance. After the mules or horses were unhitched, the crew poled the boats into the locks and used the poles to keep the boats away from the lock sides.

Before 1850 some canal boats took paying passengers from Cleveland to Portsmouth, Ohio. A trip took about 80 hours, and to call the quarters cramped is an understatement. After 1850 railroads were the preferable transportation choice.

Many canal boats were family operations and the boats also served as the family’s home.

During the disastrous flood of 1913 the locks in Akron were dynamited to release the water backed up by the locks. There were 15 locks in a one mile stretch in Akron.

I think it’s time for me to step away from the lock, and concentrate more on the art part of my quilt. I did hear, though, that Canal Fulton operates horse pulled canal boat rides in season. . . .

 

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A Map Quest

Here and there I’ve alluded to my long term project that involves research and planning. It’s the opposite of improv. I think it’s far enough along now I can share it, or at least what I’ve done so far.

An art quilt group I belong to set a map quilt as this year’s challenge, inspired by Valerie Goodwin’s book, “Art Quilt Maps.” I reviewed her book a few years ago. Our quilts are to be no larger than 20 by 20 inches, and no smaller than 12 by 12 inches. I’ve already broken that guideline as my piece is shaping up to be about 20 by 28 inches.

My subject is the Ohio and Erie Canal through Summit County, Ohio. Why? Because the current Towpath Trail that I walk on every week follows the canal’s towpath. Here’s a subway map type rendering of the trail.

The canal was constructed in 1827. Canal building fever struck New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and other states in the early 1800s as a way to open up the region for trade. The Ohio and Erie Canal was part of a system of connected canals to link the Ohio River with Lake Erie ports. A disastrous flood in 1913 finished off the canal. It had long before been superseded by railroads, but was still used for transporting coal.

I began my project with a map of the towpath and Cuyahoga River, mottled green fabrics and a piece of crinoline. I sewed the green fabrics together for my base on the crinoline, and traced the towpath and river onto separate light green fabric. I dabbed green paint onto that fabric to make it look more like a topographic map. My plan is to embroider over the lines and possibly do some embroidery on the edges to integrate this large piece with the base.

Next, I searched out historic photos of the canal. Luckily the Summit Memory Project and the wonders of Google Images provided some.  As with many historic photos, some have damaged areas, and some were digitized at a very small size – about 1.5 by 3 inches. The photographic skill levels were casual, at best. I persevered and came up with some that showed the canal in operation, stores and businesses along the canal, and the 1913 flood. I also took photos of display maps at the Mustill Store in Akron, and explored the Cascade Locks.

Once I ran the photos through PhotoShop Elements to adjust size and clarity, I had to print them on fabric. I decided to go with black and white as almost all were that way to begin with. The hard part was choosing how to print them. I ended up buying silk organza sheets and inkjet transfer paper.  The organza printed well and will allow me to get a soft translucent quality. The transfer paper, which I chose because I didn’t want a white fabric background, printed well, but I had problems with the heat setting. The paper backing didn’t peel off smoothly and I had to reprint some transfers. Also, the finish is very plastic-y and will be ruined if you put an iron near it. Your iron won’t be in good shape, either. But, I got the natural linen background I wanted.

I played with layout possibilities for months, beginning with paper copies of my photos. I want to show the canal’s history, but don’t want a school poster board effect. The layout has changed since this mockup that combines fabric and paper photos.

I will work with overlapping fabrics, transparent effects, and embroidery to make it more arty. I plan to have the quilting be the current road network in the map area, and am considering outlining parts of the photos with stitching. After looking at Valerie Goodwin’s latest art quilt maps, I yearn for the ability to laser cut fabric.

 

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