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.



  1. Love the blocks with handwritten tags.

  2. Blogging is the new poetry. I find it wonderful and amazing in many ways.


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