Monday, February 23, 2015


This is a quilt we recently added to the Quilt Index. The owners think it was made by Margaret Wisher, possibly in Dubuque, Iowa.
Something about this quilt inspired me.  The red is still so vivid, although the triangles, stem, and leaves have faded from the original green to tan.  We see this fading often in quilts made in this time period.  The green synthetic dye is sadly unstable.  The quilt dates to around 1875.
It's really unusual to see this kind of block set on the straight, rather than on point.
When we documented it, we could not find an exact pattern match among the thousands of quilt patterns in our reference books.  It's similar to one called English Ivy (Brackman #1330), but it's not exactly the same.  It's a variation.
Variation is a useful term in documenting quilts.  Quilt makers are endlessly inventive.  Sometimes variations happen because we're trying to replicate something we saw somewhere, and it comes out differently than we expected.  Or we start out to copy a pattern, and then think, what if I changed this or that?  We add seams, and leave them out.  We change the colors, or reverse background and foreground.  We change the size or the set.
This is my variation of this variation.  One of the other names for the English Ivy pattern is Clover Blossom.  I'm calling my variation Red Clover.

One of the things that drew me to this quilt was the ease of drafting the pattern.  The original English Ivy pattern is much more difficult, with several sizes of triangles.  This version is just squares and half-square triangles, with a bit of machine applique.

I mostly left the colors the same, although I used print fabrics instead of solid colors.  I did change the small squares in the corners.
This is what the block would have looked like if I put the green squares on the corners, like the original, instead of background squares.  I just think it looks kind of clunky.
I also left out the leaves, just for simplicity's sake.
My version is a 12 in. square (finished) block.  The original blocks measured around 9 in. square, which I didn't know until I had drafted my version and made the first block.
I made 12 blocks, which will make a relatively small quilt.  Here's how I'm going to set it:
I'm using a three strip sashing of solid red, green print, and solid red.  The cornerstones are nine patch blocks.
This is an old, classic set.  I'm pretty happy with it, especially the vividness of the red.  I've been so drawn to red lately.  Wonder if it's because it's still so wintery outside, with white snow everywhere and bare branches on the trees?

Here are the directions, if you would like to make my version of this block.

Red Clover Quilt
12 in. block (finished)
To make one block:
You will need 2 half square triangles made from red print and background fabric, that measure 4 in. square finished.  I made these using the Easy Angle.  I placed a strip of background fabric face down on a strip of red print fabric, each 4.5 in. wide, and cut the triangles with the Easy Angle.
You will also need 13 half square triangles made from green print and background fabric, that measure 2 in. finished.  I made these by placing a strip of background fabric face down on a strip of green print fabric, each 2.5 in. wide, and cut the triangles with the Easy Angle.
You can make the triangle squares any way you like, as long as they end up measuring the same.
That takes care of the triangles!
You also need:
From background fabric, cut:
1 square 6.5 in. x 6.5 in.
2 squares 2.5 in. x 2.5 in.
From red print fabric, cut
1 square, 4.5 in. x 4.5 in.
From green print fabric, cut
1 rectangle, 2 in. wide x 10.5 in. long (this is the stem).
It looks like quite a pile, but it goes together easily.
First, sew all your triangles.  This is the most time consuming part of the block, and it really doesn't take that long.  Just chain them through, and press toward the dark.
Next, take the stem piece, fold it right sides together, and stitch.  Press the seam to the back of the stem, so it cannot be seen.  You can use applique bias bars, a thin piece of cardboard, or just moosh it.  I mooshed it.
Now pin the stem diagonally across the 6.5 in. background square, and top stitch on both sides, using green thread.  I'm using my chain stitcher here, so I don't have to keep changing thread on my treadle.  It also helps that I didn't have to wind a bobbin.  This is a good project for using two machines, one threaded with green and one with neutral for piecing.  ( I knew I collected all those machines for a reason!)

Now lay out the block.  A lot of it is already done.
I made this block in quarters.  The lower right quarter, with the stem, is already done.
Here I'm sewing the upper right quarter.  I sew the two triangle squares on the right together, then add them to the large triangle square.  I then sew the triangles on top to each other, and add the background square.  The last seam joins these sections.
The lower left quarter is sewn the same way.
Be careful!  These sections are not identical.  (This is why I lay the blocks out next to the machine.)
The upper left section is sewn in pretty much the same way.

Once you've got these sections sewn, you just join them together.
I used a variety of different reds and greens, to make it sort of scrappy. 
The sashing strips are cut 1.5 in. wide and 12.5 in. long.  The nine patch corner squares are made from 1.5 in. squares, and the nine patch finishes at 3 in. square.  I suppose you could strip piece them, but I find that it wastes fabric, so I just cut the squares.
I'm hoping to work on this quilt today, to get all the sashing and cornerstones made and decide on an outside border.  I finished the leaders and enders 4 patch blocks yesterday, so I guess today I'll work on a charity quilt as a leaders and enders project.  It's amazing what we can get done this way.

Keep warm, and keep sewing!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Just A Sampling

This is not my first quilt.  My first quilt is in a box in the basement.  I'm not sure what I'm keeping it for.  It's made from large scraps from clothes I sewed for myself in the 1970s.  The 100% cotton batting is horribly lumped.  And weirdly, I'm not sure if I can ever throw it out. 
This is my third quilt.  I made another scrap quilt on my own first (pretty bad, but no lumping since I used a blanket for batting) before I sought professional help and took a class at a quilt shop.

As you might be able to tell from the colors, this quilt came from the 1980s.  Peach and brown and green.  The style of the quilt is what we now call a sampler.
This is the book my teacher used--The Sampler Quilt, by Diana Leone, first published in 1980.  I took my class in 1985, but didn't finish the quilt until 1988.  Each week in class we learned a new technique, then we went home and made the block.  We used templates, which we made from plastic or cardboard.  We pieced and quilted by hand.
We did this quilt-as-you-go style, quilting each block separately.  You might be able to see the seam in the pale peach sashing above.  That was the boundary between the blocks.  Each block was surrounded by sashing, layered with a large backing square and poly batting, and quilted by hand.  I enjoyed making the quilt, but I really wanted to make "real" quilts.  You know, the kind where you only use one block pattern.  I decided this would be my last sampler.

And it was, for a while.  About 30 years.

Then I won 25 blocks made from 1930s fabrics at a quilt group meeting.  Well, what else was there to do with them?  I added some actual old blocks from my orphan block pile to make 30 total.
Can you pick out the old block in this photo?  (Hint--it's appliqued.)
I made this quilt with the quilt-as-you-go method, too, but this time I machine quilted the blocks.  It didn't take me 3 years to get it done, either.
Samplers are fun to make, and really are a good learning experience for new quilters.  In my volunteer work with the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts &Fiber Arts, I have seen many, many samplers made in the 1970s and 1980s.  This was the first quilt many people made, their first step into the amazing world of quilting.

In the past, quilts of many patterns were made, but were not necessarily called samplers.  The term sampler comes from embroideries, done to teach a young girl her stitches and sometimes her alphabet at the same time.
According to quilt historian Barbara Brackman's classic book, Clues in the Calico, when the block style became popular in the 1840s, quilts of multiple different blocks began to be made.  In the early years, they were often appliqued album quilts, either made by one person or by a group of friends.  The famous Baltimore Album quilts are of this type.  Later, when applique was less fashionable, friendship quilts were more often made of pieced blocks.  The ones we call samplers were made with many different block patterns by the same person, not by a group of friends.
Many quilt historians believe some quilters kept a collection of various different blocks as a way of remembering the patterns.  The quilter might see a block she liked at a friend's home or a quilt show, and make up a block herself.  She could then keep the block itself as a pattern.  As you can imagine, a person could end up with quite a lot of blocks.  Either the quilter herself, or her heirs after her death, might make these test blocks into a quilt.  This quilt could then be called a "pattern quilt".  Quilts of this type often have blocks of several different sizes.

I found one of these sets of blocks at a flea market several years ago.  

 Stuffed into this lid-less basket were quilt blocks of all types and sizes.

Many of the blocks had slips of paper pinned to them, with the name of the block on them.

This one says "3 Saw Tooth".  I have seen it called Saw Tooth Star before.  Wonder what the 3 is about.

She called this one Devil's Puzil (how's that for phonetic spelling?).
Some of the blocks had templates pinned to them.  This is the back of a square template, made from a 1907 calendar.

Here's the back of another template.  It appears to be a page from a high school commencement program.
This one is from the same source.  It says, "Wealth may seek us.  Wisdom must be sought."  Words to live by.
I don't know if I'll make my antique block collection into a quilt.  Some of the blocks are not in good shape, so couldn't be used.  Some of them are stained, probably from the basket they were stored in.  But it might be fun to put the good blocks together like a "puzil".

It's fun to look for sampler quilts (or any other kind of quilt!) on the Quilt Index.  Here are a couple of antique samplers.

This is Hattie's quilt, and is probably a friendship quilt, so not technically a sampler.  It was made in Nebraska in 1890.
This sampler top was made in the same time period, but in Massachusetts.
Want to see more?  Click on the link, and search for quilts.
Quilt Index

And finally, this is my all time favorite sampler:

Yeah, I've got a weakness for chocolates.  I do like having the map included, so I know which ones I'm getting.
I hope your week ahead is full of quilting fun.


Monday, February 9, 2015

Put A Label On It!

 I sewed this label on last night.  I bought a package of these labels a while back, and they really seem appropriate.  While I don't have a bun in my hair and don't fill up the chair quite as well as this lady, I do admit to the cat and the treadle.
I wish I had labeled more of my quilts.  Sometimes I just write my name and the date on the quilt in permanent ink, but often I don't even do that.  Mostly I can't remember when I made a certain quilt.  A label would really help.
Here's a huge label I made from an old sewing machine advertisement.  I even recorded which machine I used to make the quilt--a Singer model 27 dated 1892.

In my volunteer work with the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts & Fiber Arts, I always make sure to take a photograph of any labels we may be lucky enough to have on documented quilts.  We don't think we'll forget, but we do!  And the next generation will not have any idea.  So label your quilts already!

Okay, I'm down off the soapbox now.

Here's the Reproduction Chain quilt I was working on last week, all done.
The binding is stitched down, now I just have to wash it to get the chalk marks out.  Today I'm doing our regular laundry, so I might get to it tomorrow.

So on to the next project, right?  And the next one for me is my Jane Austen block of the week quilt.

Back in May, I posted about Barbara Brackman's Jane Austen Family Album quilt.  I was only 5 blocks in then.  I've got 30 done now, and I was setting them together this weekend.
Here I've got 4 of the 6 rows laid out on the floor, with sashing and cornerstones.  I had a completely different idea about how I was going to set them, but it didn't pass the audition.
These blocks are very very different.  I didn't use a controlled color palette.  In fact, I used all sorts of different scraps of fabrics I'd been saving for years.  And of course, like any sampler, the block patterns are wildly different.
You can see how different they are.  I had planned a light sashing, but it just couldn't contain the blocks.  By the way, the block in the center is Bright Star, the one Barbara intended to represent Jane Austen herself.
This is one of my favorite blocks.  It's called Friendship, and the center square is a toile with two women talking together.
There were 36 blocks in the series, but I had decided to make only 30 before it even started.  I've never liked square quilts, and 30 seems about the perfect number for 12 in. blocks.
I'm going to quilt it in 3 sections so I can move the quilt around easily while I work.  I think I'll probably want to quilt each block differently.
Making the Jane Austen sampler has been such a learning experience.  Every week Barbara shared interesting facts and visuals from Jane's time period and details about her family and friends.  It was like taking a free class.
Here's a link to my previous post, which has a link to the Jane Austen Family Album block of the week:
Sundays with Jane

I've also been watching all of the movies based on Jane Austen's work--well, most of them.  I'm not really interested in zombies.

This one is my absolute favorite:  The BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy.

Mr Darcy & Lizzie (Colin Firth & Jennifer Ehle)

It's an old one, from 1980 or so.  I like it not because I'm a huge fan of Colin Firth (but what's not to like?), but because it is so true to the book, and the character actors are so good.
We're still deep in winter here, but there is a hope of spring, and we know May will be here eventually.  Until then, we've just got to keep warm, and keep sewing.
Happy Quilting!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Quilting Like It's 1989

This is the book that changed my machine-quilting life:  Heirloom Machine Quilting, by Harriet Hargrave.

If you were quilting in the late 1970s to mid 1980s, you might remember how different things were then.  "Real quilting" was hand quilting.  Many quilt shows didn't even allow machine quilted quilts.  (Seriously.) 
Lots of people were doing utility quilting with their machines, but it was difficult.  And long arm quilting like we have today was virtually unknown.  Harriet showed us how to manage a large quilt for either quilting with a walking foot or free motion quilting.
I went back to this book when I got ready to quilt my Reproduction Chain quilt.
For years I have been basting my quilts with basting spray.  I have loved how easy it is to do, but I've been thinking lately of finding another method.  I don't like the fumes, plus I'm tired of always running out to get another can of it.  So I went back to the old way--pin basting.  Above is the quilt backing, laid out on the floor in the living room. 
My idea was to pin the top, batting and backing together in this larger space.  Of course, I had help.  Biddy the cat has to inspect everything I make.
This whole idea was new to Bella, since I usually spray baste in the basement and shut her out.  She was kind of worried about it.
She's still keeping her eye on what's happening here, lying on the part I've already got pinned.
After a while the novelty wore off.
It took the better part of an afternoon, but I got the pin basting done.
Not good lighting for this picture, but you can see I'm quilting on the electric Pfaff.  I have a card table set up next to the desk to support the weight of the quilt.
The built-in walking foot works great.  This is the first bigger quilt I've done on it, that wasn't done in sections.  I was worried about the throat space, which is not nearly as big as what I had on my Davis VF, but it was okay.
My biggest problem is wanting to go too fast.  Remember the commercial with the old ladies in the car, and one says to the driver, "Punch it, Martha!"?  I want to punch it.  Not the best way for staying on the lines.
Here's what it looks like on the table this morning, as I get ready to bind it.  I did ditch quilting in both directions first, and then quilted diagonals in one direction.
I had some trouble with the border quilting.  I've done lots of cables before, but this one had six strands instead of my usual four, and the markings kept disappearing.  I waited for a bright sunny day, ripped out the really bad places, remarked, and finished it.  It's not perfect.  I'm okay with that.
I'm binding it with strips cut from 4 different brown print fat quarters.  I really love finishing the binding by hand.  It's a pleasant task that I can work on while the laundry is getting done or supper is cooking.  I'm also trimming stray threads as I go.
This is the pattern I used, although I changed it a little.  It was produced by my favorite quilt shop in the world, J. J. Stitches in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.  If you'd like to check out their web site, click below.
J. J. Stitches Quilt Shop
I didn't see this pattern offered on their site.  I don't need the one I have anymore, so I'd be happy to pass it on to the first person who asks.  Comment below, and we'll exchange emails so I can get your address to send it. 
Here's what it looked like from my sewing room window yesterday afternoon:
We've had a nice big snowfall, maybe 6 inches, with lots of drifts.  It was a good day to stay indoors.
Stay warm this week!  Keep calm, and keep quilting.