Monday, 16 April 2007

How I started Quilting

Better late than never I hope, but the Stashbuster topic for last week was "How did you come to start quilting? Was it passed down in the family? What was your first project and is it finished? Where does it live now?".

I actually started twice - once in about about 1985, and again in about 1992.

In 1985 I lived in Canada on the next block to a public library, where I spent a lot of time as I have always been a reader. One day I found a book in the Craft section on making quilts. Ah Ha, thought I, smug in the knowledge of my innate craftiness, and being the proud possessor of my mother's Singer sewing machine (sadly no longer with me). It looked very easy, all that you had to do was to tear up your old clothes into 2 1/2 inch strips, then sew them into strip sets, cut across with scissors, and sew again and Voila! a single Irish Chain queen size quilt. Well, out came my Laura Ashley charity shop buys, and some old skirts, and lots of tearing up later I realised I had nowhere near enough fabric. So I went to the fabric store, and not having much money I purchased some sale fabric, and a big white bedsheet to tear into strips for the background. Lots of tearing later and I started to sew them together into strip sets, in blissful ignorance of consistent seam allowances, but cursing all the tangled threads hanging off of the strips and suddenly realising how difficult it is to sew strips of all different lengths that came off of blouses, skirts etc. When it came time to cut up the strip sets, I realised I had no tool with which to measure these easily, so I spent a little more of my money on a plastic quilting ruler but found it did not work well at all when cutting with scissors (I had never heard of a rotary cutter and they didn't use one in the library book). I think I ended up drawing lines in pencil then cutting with scissors. And of course when I tried to reassemble, that's when the reality of inconsistent seam allowances hit home and I realised there was no way this mess was ever going to look like the picture. So I put it in a bag, and it stayed there for many years. Every time I moved apartments, and then when my stuff went into storage, and came out of storage, and then when I moved to the UK, I would find this bag and look in it and think "Oh, that quilt" but I never quite reached the point where I could give up on it.

In about 1992, when my new husband and I were on a visit from the UK back to Canada, I was once again browsing the Craft section but this time in a magazine store, when I found a copy of the much lamented Miniature Quilts Magazine. Suddenly something clicked, and it all fell into place. Here was a manageable way to start, and it tied into my other longstanding hobby of Dollshouse Miniatures. I immediately dragged my husband to a quilting store and bought a rotary cutter (wonder of wonders), a small ruler, a small cutting mat, and about 5 fabrics in tiny prints. I started cutting out that night at my sister-in-law's, and promptly cut my hand with the rotary cutter (I was terrified that I had nearly severed my finger, and when my s-i-l finally prised my deathgrip off of the wound to reveal a fairly shallow cut, the look of contempt on her face for my cowardice has stayed with me for 15 years. Luckily I hadn't bled on the fabric). Following the directions in the magazine, I started assembling my 'miniature' quilt. Of course, I hadn't read the instructions through (I almost never do) to realise that 'miniature' in the quilt world is often something about 15" square or larger and not the 6 inch square quilt that I needed. Luckily I realised halfway through the Trip Round the World and was able to truncate the edges and stop at the halfway point. And this first completed quilt has lived in my dollshouse ever since (with the abrupt finish carefully concealed underneath a crocheted afghan).

And what happened to the 1985 Single Irish Chain? Well, it arrived in the UK still in its bag, and lived in the corner of my sewing room for some years until about 1997. By then I had an overlocker (serger) and had already used it to make a Trip Round the World quilt following some instructions from Eleanor Burn's book. I had several quilts under my belt and felt much more confident, so I pulled that crumpled mess of fabric out of the bag (for a wonder it hadn't mildewed or anything) and sorted it out. The overlocker/serger cut off all those terrible threads, and by then I knew about easing fabric and bodging seam allowances (see, all those mistakes do pay off in the end...) and I FINISHED THE QUILT (top). Still very new to machine quilting (and with an inadequate machine) I sent the top out for utility quilting, and I still own it to this day and am very proud of it. Would never make one out of old clothes again though. This is a photo of it in our last house - the quilt on the bed. My bedroom did not normally look like this, I was amusing myself styling my quilt collection a la Laura Ashley on that day. Add back in about 50% clutter and you will form a more normal picture - and anyway we've moved since then.

As to whether quilting was passed down in the family - my mother always made a big deal out of how she couldn't even thread a sewing machine, and I never saw her sew anything, but apparently her grandmother was a major quilter. Sadly my only proof of this is a tattered scrap of my old cot quilt which she pieced for me, my mother doesn't know what happened to all the quilts her grandmother made.


swooze said...

Great story! I just learned from my dad that his mother used to embroider. I never knew that! I had never seen her do this or heard her speak of it. I wonder who received her lovely work.

swooze said...

I have to add that I really am impressed that you finished your first start. Many would have tossed it!

ShinyNewThing said...

Have now scanned in and added a pic of that first quilt.
Best wishes,

Kathy Wagner said...

I really enjoyed reading about your beginning quilter days!
Amazing how you went back and fixed up your first quilt!
Great little doll room with the
mini "trip" on the bed.

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