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Saturday, November 22, 2008


Once again, the recent postings about Chris have resurrected yet another memory - patchwork quilts.

Sometime around fourth grade, Chris and her sisters invited friends over to her grandmother's house in Ferndale after school for quilting "bees". We would learn to piece patchwork quilts, have an after school snack and a good time, and make new friends.

Actually, the most fun was hearing Chris' grandmother ream out one of the girls for cutting her material in mid-air instead of laying it down on the table. She cut crooked and wasted fabric. A big no-no in the thrift centered world of patchwork quilts.

Chris' grandmother would pick us up in her car (a sedan, not the requisite station wagon that everybody else drove) and drive us to her house. Down to the basement we went to learn to draw and cut out our four-inch-square cardboard template; how to trace it onto fabric (placing it just so to get the greatest benefit from the design of the material and making sure not to waste any); how to stitch the patches together to create our four patch design (Cathy was making a nine-patch - a more advanced pattern that we novices were not yet ready to tackle).

There was some kind of snack of the cookies-and-juice variety and probably some form of gossip, although in the 1960s fourth graders were a bit less worldly than they seem today and we probably did not have a whole lot to gossip about. What was happening at the next Girl Scout meeting, who had a new pair of shoes, who had seen Sister Mary Cool Nun at the dime store the previous Saturday. Still, it made for an enjoyable afternoon, and there was the excitement of the ride home and the beautiful scraps of fabric from somebody else's scrap bag to tide us over until next week.

I don't think many of us ever finished a quilt. I know Chris has made countless quilts and her sister Cathy did as well. At least, I'm sure she finished the nine-patch, I'm not sure about any further progress.

I have made exactly five quilts in my lifetime, including the four-patch I started that year. I first sewed the whole thing together, but later learned that if I pieced out my meager stash of quilt blocks with solid fabric blocks, I would not only have enough for a bed size coverlet, I would have a more interesting design as well. I think I took it apart and finally put it together when I was around 18 years old - a mere nine years after its genesis.

That original quilt lived on my bed for years and went with me to Chicago when I married. Eventually, the backing fell apart and the stuffing disintegrated. I did not replace it but instead cut down an old blanket for a new lining, and added a new backing of fabric that I had purchased for another purpose, then decided I did not like. When that second generation also went the way of all quilts, the remainder became a sort of slip cover for the couch, then for the front porch glider and eventually a sort of de facto picnic blanket. I think we last used it as a moving pad some 14 years ago.

If you want to make a similar quilt, cut a pattern of stiff card four inches square. Using this pattern, cut two patches from solid color fabric, and two more from a coordinating or contrasting print. Mix and match your fabrics for the most whimsical look.

Sew a solid and a print square together with a 1/4 inch seam by hand or by machine. Repeat with the other two patches. Now sew these two together, flipping them so that the two solid squares are next to the two two print squares, with all four corners meeting in the center. Your finished block will be about seven inches square.

Once you have a supply of these "blocks" you can lay them out on the floor with space in between. Twist and turn them and move them around until you like the arrangement. Now, buy some material to coordinate or contrast with your quilt blocks. Chris usually favored small gingham check, the one with the 1/4 inch square checks. This fabric comes in many primary and pastel colors and makes a good background for your quilt.

Cut squares from the gingham the same size as your finished quilt blocks. You will need at least as many as you have pieced blocks. Once again, lay them out alternating the plain and the pieced blocks. Begin sewing the blocks together in strips, then sew the strips together until you have one solid piece. This is your quilt top.

Measure the top and purchase sufficient material for the back. Most material comes 44 inches wide. Your quilt top will be wider. You can sew a seam down the center, but it will look better if you have one 44 inch wide piece down the center, and cut another length of fabric in half, sewing the narrower pieces to each side of the center strip to make your quilt backing. The backing and the top must be the same size.

You will also need a quilt batt. These are sold in standard sizes for single or double beds. You may have to fudge a bit to get your quilt top and your batting the same size. If you trim the batting, you can use leftovers to make pillows, mini quilts, or for other craft projects.

Lay the backing down on the floor, face down. Lay the batting on top of this, then lay the top over all, face up. Line up all the edges and safety pin the whole thing together, all over. There should be a pin every 4 or 6 inches or so. You will need a lot of pins.

Now, thread a heavy darning needle with a length of knitting yarn or embroidery floss. You will want to use this doubled. In the center of every pieced block, where the four points come together, you want to take a double stitch with the needle. The needle goes in one corner and comes out another, then goes in and out the other two corners. Keep your stitches close. Leave a tail of yarn and tie in a double knot. Snip the yarn, leaving tails about 1 - 1/2 inches long.

Repeat this in the center of every pieced block and in the center of every plain block. Repeat also at the corner of every plain block. Eventually, you will have knots all over the quilt about 3 - 1/2 inches apart. This holds the whole thing together.

To be fair, this type of quilt is often called a knotted coverlet to differentiate from a quilt which has been quilted all over with millions of tiny, tiny stitches. I have a quilt I have been working on for 31 years - a wedding gift to my husband, Bill. The pattern is called "Nelson's Victory" and resembles a series of naval flags. It is named for Lord Nelson's battleship, The Victory. It was originally knotted, then I decide to quilt it about 15 years ago. So far, I have not been victorious.

To bind the edges, you can buy quilt binding or make it from strips of leftover fabric. Or you can simply fold the back of the quilt up over the top of the quilt and hem this down, using stout thread and firm stitches. Be sure to leave your backing a few inches larger than the top to allow extra for the hems.

Your quilt is finished, ready to place on the bed or on the wall, or folded over one of those cute little quilt racks at the foot of the bed. Be sure to make a label to sew on the back of your quilt. Or just embroider your name, the date, and the name of the person the quilt was made for on the back. This is important - it gives your quilt "provenance" so that when it shows up on Antiques Roadshow in a few years, they will know it is incredibly valuable and will appraise it for thousands of dollars.

Quotable Quotes; in the category Couldn't I Just Have Some Lemonade?

“When life gives you scraps make quilts” Anonymous

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