Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Step Into My Way-Back Machine....

My Irish Chain quilt, the first "real" quilt I made, is also a cautionary tale (which I'll get to in a bit).

Way back in the early 80's, I took a quilting class in Adult Education, after my first attempt at making a quilt taught me that I had no idea what I was doing. The teacher had me hooked the first day as she showed us her collection of antique quilts! I drooled over those quilts, and wanted to have them. I knew I wouldn't be able to afford to purchase antique quilts, so I decided that I would make my own!

Towards the end of the class, after making blocks by hand and by machine, and learning all about 4-patches and 9-patches, etc., etc., I figured out pretty fast that my sewing machine was going to be my new best friend. Then we got to make a quilt!

I decided on the Irish Chain pattern and proceeded to cut strips. Now, this was looong before rotary cutters, accurate rulers and all the other wonderful tools we have today. I made these strips with templates cut from poster board, marked with markers and laboriously cut the strips with my scissors. I don't think they were too accurate, but it looked good to me!

When it was all together, I basted with thread (not pins) and proceeded to try the actual quilting stitch. I wasn't too good at it, so I did "stitch in the ditch". At this time, we lived in Southern California and it was summer, meaning HOT! So I put the quilt on the dining room table, aimed the air conditioner under the table to blow on me, and quilted! I didn't have a hoop and the middle part of the quilt is a little lumpy. I figured it out eventually and got better at the tension. I never did get good at using a hoop and always preferred to just hold the quilt.

Now the cautionary part of this tale is all about color fastness. This quilt was navy blue fabric, medium blue with a white print and a white with blue print. I hung this quilt on the wall over our bed for many years, but never in direct sunlight. It looks terrible now due to the fading. The navy blue looks very dusty and pretty icky. You can see in the above picture the difference between the binding on the wrong side and the navy squares on the front. They don't look like the same fabric at all! This is the worst I've seen a fabric fade. You can even see that at the lower edge, the back of the binding faded from the light bleed-through around the edges of the quilt when it was hanging on the wall. Now, I try to not leave one quilt up too long and to rotate my displays. The sun in Washington isn't nearly as intense as the light in California, and my quilts will probably fade a lot slower here. At least I hope so!

This is my Purple Paws quilt. It was started many years ago, approximately the late 80's. My quilt bee was having a block exchange, and I picked this pattern because it is one of my favorites. Some of these blocks were made by friends that have since passed on, and that makes it even more special.
I learned another lesson with this quilt. In fact, I think I learn a lesson with every quilt I make! Anyway, this one was a lesson in how fabric styles/colors will cycle. After we had the block exchange, I was intimidated about finishing this quilt. I had never completed a quilt so big, because I had only done doll quilts and wall hangings up until this point. And, being a block exchange, the blocks weren't all quite the same size, and I didn't know how to deal with that. So, the finished blocks went in a bag and I stalled. And then I forgot about them.
After a few (read: "many") years, I decided it was time to finish this quilt. Well, there were no purples available that "went" with these blocks. There was nothing that even came close! These blocks were mostly done in the muted, country colors of the late 80's and those colors were not the popular colors again for many years. Finally, I found some purples that worked! It took almost 15 years to be able to find a dusty purple fabric.
So, I've learned that I need to at least buy the fabric for the borders at the time I get the rest of the fabrics. Or make scrap quilts! If the quilt is all scraps, the border color isn't as critical. I hope I can remember this lesson for the next time. And, as far as all the blocks not being the same size, the ones that were the largest and the smallest went on the back of the quilt!
Here's a few of my favorite blocks in this quilt:

This block is not perfect. However, it was made by a dear friend who hand-pieces. I decided to leave it just the way it was, and it's one of my favorites! And, it's not the only "humility" block on the quilt! The background isn't really that yellow - it's more of a cream, but I couldn't get it to show well, despite multiple shots.

These pictures don't quite do justice to the quilt. Even in daylight, purple is very tough to photograph and have it come out a true color! (I tried to "fix" the color with the photo editing, and that made it worse! I didn't use those pictures.)
I found something fun on the internet the other day, and I thought I would share it with you. Hallmark (yes, THAT Hallmark!) is having a contest, and we get to vote! The cards are submitted by regular people with photos and captions.
The first one is "Your Funny-ness" and you can vote every day from April 14 through August 31. (That would be one vote on each day.)
The second one is "Your Pets" and you can vote every day from March 3 through September 14. (again, one vote on each day) (ed.: this link is fixed now!)
I think these cards are pretty darn clever and pretty funny too!
Now, the gratuitous cat picture, also from the Way-Back Machine. This was Shade, at least 2 years ago. No, that quilt isn't finished yet. It's still in blocks, and even the blocks aren't all done yet. Someday....


  1. I love your "how I started quilting" story. Mine is almost exactly the same! Only my first quilt was a 9 patch in blue & brown made from some loose weave cheap stuff purchased at TG&Y. I still have some of that old fabric. It frays when you breathe on it.

  2. templates? argh. I did use those, but only when hand-piecing. When I started quilting ('84 or '85) I had a rotary cutter and ruler - woohoo. that fading is terrible. yeesh. I think the answer is "go scrappy! Pretty Shade.

  3. I love the purple bear's paw. Did you have that on your bed at retreat one time? I seem to remember seeing it before. I want to see the quilt that Shade is sitting on finished. I like those turquoise/aqua colors. Great first quilt story. My first quilt was a baby quilt for one of our kids' teachers. I had taken no quilting classes, but had sewn since I was 12. How hard can it be to make a quilt anyway? Thank goodness the teacher wasn't a quilter. She loved the quilt, even with all the mistakes.

  4. I started out with the posterboard templates and scissors too. I even made several log cabins, tediously cutting the strips. Hooray in 1982 the rotary cutter was introduced in my area.
    The blues from that era were the worst to fade. A few other colors faded too but none as bad as the blue. They didn't have to be in direct sunlight either. They are fabrics printed in the US and they weren't allowed to use any of the chemicals that prevented bleeding. The Japanese printed fabrics from the same era are still bright.

  5. I have some quilts from that time period that have also faded badly. The good news is that fabric manufacturing has really improved. Today's fabrics don't fade nearly as much as those from the 80's. Still not a good idea to have them in direct sun for long. Have you thought about trying to overdye that quilt? Might be the perfect solution.

  6. I know the blue quilt might look bad to you but in the picture here it looks dusty blue and perfect - isn't it wonderful what viewing from a distance can do! :) I can't hand quilt big quilts any more because of arthritis but I love to do hand quilting on wallhangings and I can't use a hoop either - I do it in my lap. It's not perfect but neither am I so it's ok. Blessings, marlene


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