Monday, 23 February 2015

Red Sky at Night - Day and Night

There are some days when Google can't help you. Google can help you make a meal plan, resolve conflict and self diagnose strange skin irritations, but put the words 'day and night quilt block history' into a search engine, and you'll come up with nothing useful. Enter the words "Peace and Plenty" and you'll get a list of pubs and hotels. Enter "Maple Leaf History" and you'll find all you need to know about a Toronto Ice Hockey team. Really? Is it really that hard to find out why and how Canada got their flag, or if the term "Peace and Plenty" originated with Shakespeare? I think it's time to graduate from Google, and find some real books.
In the mean time, I've been brushing up on my broad American History, learning how all those wars came about and how they affected American culture and ideals. Australia is so different. We came from convicts, not idealists or businessmen. We fought faithfully for Britain rather than against her. And we would never, ever make quilts from our flag. But maybe because it doesn't have that funky sense of symmetry like the Union Jack. Or because we didn't win it at huge cost like America.
Anyway, I digress. I digress because instead of finding old quilts made by interesting people, or learning about where quirky block names came from, I'm finding a plethora of information about where I can get a good $10 steak. What have we let the internet become?? I sent a text message to my quilty friend Lucy last night, after I couldn't find anything I was after, and said, "I think it's time we visit America. Want to come?"
I thought this project would be a fun, simple exercise in sewing and story telling. After all, I'd completed a Modern History degree with distinction, while pregnant and with a two year old! Surely I could do this while drinking my morning coffee! But even when Google is my friend, I have more questions. I want clarification. I want to sit in a room with quilt historian Barbara Brackman and pick her brain over a cup of tea. I'm comforting myself with the idea that this is usually how really great things begin. With a small spark, a realisation that it's not so simple, some great frustration, and a huge drive to know more.


With that completely useless introduction, today we're making the Day and Night Block. I found it in one of my old quilt block books, but can't find it online to know what else it might be called and whether that might give us more insight. I'd love to hear from you in the comments if you can enlighten us. But despite not knowing anything about it, I still liked it enough to keep it in. I think it's interesting, don't you?

You will need:

Red: Four 2.5" x 4.5" rectangles, four 2.5" squares, and six 3" squares cut in half to make half square triangles.

White: Four 2.5" x 4.5" rectangles, four 2.5" squares, and six 3" squares cut in half to make half square triangles.

1. Sew the triangles together, press and trim to 2.5" square like we did last week.

2. Arrange the first quarter of the block like this:

 3. Sew together in rows. (this is the same block, just upside down! :))

4. Sew the rows together.

5. Make three more!

6. Sew them together by joining them in two rows, then sewing the rows together.

It's easy for me to get caught up in the things that aren't turning out the way I hoped. Making this Day & Night block this week, amidst homeschooling, and starting new jobs, and visitors, babysitting my brothers kids and dreaming of the freedom to travel, I've been reading this poem called Evensong by C.S. Lewis. It's a prayer I go back to often when I need reminding that the days are for work and play, and the nights are for sleep, and that as a mere human, if I can't accomplish everything I had in mind, it's not up to me to keep the world turning. I'll share the first verse here and you can look up the rest if you like it. (Google is good for that!)

Now that night is creeping
O’er our travailed senses,
To Thy care unsleeping
We commit our sleep.
Nature for a season
Conquers our defences,
But th’eternal Reason
Watch and ward will keep.

Stitch and sleep well, my friends!

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Sew the Library - Country Quilts

I'm always surprised at how often my old quilt books draw me back. These are the ones with the classic blocks, simple shapes, which keep reminding how much I love those tried and true designs. The pictures make the quilts look like they are used and loved everyday, that they are full of stories and memories. I'm not sure I would ever fashion my house like this one, but gee, I'd like to know someone who did, so I could go around there for cups of tea and history.

This book, Country Quilts by Linda Seward, doesn't even belong to me, but I have a generous friend who lets me borrow it regularly. It's so full of old treasures, I feel like every time I read it, I find one I didn't notice before. And I get a little bit more confident that one day I'm going to start that Whigs Defeat Quilt.

One of my favourite, simple quilts, however, is that Ohio Star quilt that you can only just see in the background. I love the simple design, the understated colours, the wide mustard sashing. So when I decided this year that I wanted to make a quilt for my 97 year old Gran, I chose that one. And as is usual for me for gifted quilts, I've gone with a colour scheme I think she will like, but I feel completely out of my depth.

I bought these reproduction fabrics from Hawthorne Threads and immediately began arranging and cutting. But since making that first star, I've slowed.right.down. I'm not sure if I should have only used each colour with white, or if once I have a whole bunch of stars, I'll feel more comfortable, or I'll never feel comfortable because these are not my usual prints, and that's ok. I need to remind myself often that my Gran, with her failing mind and eyesight, will love this. And sometimes you don't get to have that confident, winning feeling when you make for others, but it doesn't make the gift any less precious. In fact, if you're making for someone else's taste, it's even more so.

I'm linking up to Sew the Library, hosted this month by Martha from Weekend Doings. Won't you join us? I'd love to see what books inspire you! And I'm the host next month, 20th March, which just happens to fall on my baby girl's first birthday. Maybe I'll aim to have this finished and a little something sewn for her. What would you make for a one year old?

Thursday, 19 February 2015

I Got Sunshine.

I've had this quilt sitting out waiting for a photo for about a week now. But it's been one of those weeks where the spare moments are spent...well, actually I can't remember many spare moments. But all the unspare moments have been spent doing good things that make me glad to be here. 
Yesterday, for just a second, the clouds came across the sun, and I ran the quilt out with the baby to try and get some shots, but quick as a flash, out came that hot, hot sun again, and all my photos, except for the sweet ones of my girl, had dark, leaf shaped shadows over them.
She was so lovely, playing with that sand like she was discovering it for the first time, it wasn't a complete waste!

So today needed a plan. First, this morning, seeing that there were more clouds than yesterday, I put the quilt out ready under our tree house. As soon as the covered sun coincided with free hands, and nothing cooking on the stove, I came out with my camera and snapped a few photos. When they weren't really working the way I imagined, I went back to the old clothes line, hung the quilt out there and waited back inside for the sun to hide again.

This is my first do.Good Stitches quilt finish for the year. I asked the CARE Circle to make yellow cross and churn dash blocks. One of the reasons I picked yellow, apart from it being deliciously sunshiney, is that I thought it would read easiest as one colour. But I also didn't want to be too fussy, so that people could make from stash, and told people to use the more greeny end of the yellow spectrum if they wanted. When I put them all up on my design board, I was two blocks short of a complete quilt. And I just wasn't sure how I felt about it.

Where do you go when you're not sure about a charity bee quilt? Do you just push through? Change tact? I didn't like how the greeny yellows looked with the orange ones. Should I add a random blue cross as a feature? I couldn't find a single print I liked with these. Should I have the colours gradually shift across the quilt, or keep it random? In the end, my favourite layout was without the green tinge altogether. So I bit the bullet and made an all yellow quilt. I have eight blocks sitting patiently, waiting to see how they might fit in with the scrappy improvised blocks I've asked for this month.

So I think I learned a few good lessons from this happy quilt.
Firstly, I think I'll stay away from single coloured quilts blocks for future bee quilts. I really enjoy working with everybody's different tastes and fabric collections much more when the aim is to be colourful. Don't get me wrong, I think the quilt, and it's blocks are beautiful, and would have likely been great with the others also. I just have more fun with more colour.
Also, yellow. You can get yellows that look like pure yellow on their own, that become lemon or chartreuse or orange next to another yellow. Are all colours like this? I mean of course they are, but it still, for some reason, yellow surprised me.
Finally, I was encouraged today, even with a full house of kids, and a husband working long hours, and things to be at, and that hot, hot sunshine, I can find ways to be prepared and make the creative things happen that are important to me. I'm going to remember this each time life gets crowded. In fact, right now, I'm going to set up my clams at the ironing board, so that every little moment I get tomorrow, I can stand by my ironing window and glue clams to my quilt, ready to stitch down. It feels good to be able to do that now that this one is crossed off my list!

And oh! Do you like the back? I really wanted something bright, fun and unisex, so when I found this flannel on special at Craft Depot, a quilt shop near my mum's house, I bought up big so I could have it on hand for backing. It's so soft and sweet!

Monday, 16 February 2015

Oregon Trail - Red Sky at Night Quilt

Just before Christmas, Tim and I moved our family 6 hours west. It was our first move in six years, our first move since being students, since having three kids. So I'm sure you can imagine the stuff we had accumulated in in that time! Packing up our house into the truck, while looking after two young children and a baby was one of the most stressful things I have experienced.
So it was with great appreciation and sombre feeling, that I made this quilt block, while thinking about the history of the Oregon Trail.

Between 1840 and 1870, many thousands of farmers, miners, businessmen, and their families moved west over the Oregon Trail, which began in America's East in Missouri, to take up offers of free land. It was a perilous, six month journey in a wagon, across fields and rivers, largely unprotected from the weather and the wildlife. In preparation for leaving, women were encouraged to make two to three quilts per person, and they would also make while travelling. Many of these would have been quick and practical designs, many would have been made by family and friends as gifts, but many also were made on purpose, filled with memories of home, prayers for the journey (ever wondered about all those biblical references in quilt blocks?), and influences of their outdoor living. These quilts reminded them of the beauty on the road, loved ones lost, times of survival, protection and rescue.

I love the idea of making a quilt to mark occassions, don't you? Many of the quilts in my home have been made to cover beds, to play with colour, to use up scraps. But I also have those made by dear friends as thank yous or congratulations. One made while recovering from miscarriage. One sewn with rare fabric given to me by a generous friend. But those most precious to me, are the ones I made for my baby girls while pregnant. (I took up quilting after Tully was born.) In fact, one of the main reasons I found out what gender I was having, was so that I could make those quilts with deliberation. I wanted to choose the colours and design just for them. It was a wonderful way to prepare for a newborn, and then enjoy them in our home. And Evie loves to cuddle her quilt, and hear that I made it when she was still growing in my belly.

While I never, ever want to be on the road for six months, like those women were, moving my family so far away, I do connect with the desire to make quilts that remind me of celebrations, grief, change. Or to mark great challenges with very beautiful stitches. Don't you?


To make your own Oregon Trail block, you will need:

Red: One 4.5" square, eight 2.5" squares, four 3" squares.
White: Four 2.5" x 4.5" rectangles, eight 2.5" squares, four 3" squares.

1. Cut the 3" squares into half-square triangles.

2. Sew each of the white triangles to each of the red. Press seams open.

3. Using the 45 degree line, and the 2.5" points on your ruler, trim your squares to 2.5".

4. Lay out your block like this:

5. You're going to make the little pieces into 9 patches to make up the block. Start by sewing your half-square triangles together and pressing them open.

6. Sew the white rectangles under each red triangle.

7. Next, sew the 2.5" red squares to the white ones, and press toward the red side.

8. Now sew those new rectangles to each other to make mini checkerboards. Use the seam fold to match the seams together before you sew.
Press open.

9. Sew together in rows of three. Press seams open. Sew the three rows together.

You can now add your Oregon Trail to your collection! Don't forget to share it on Instagram with the #redskyatnightQAL tag. So many of our blocks were designed around the time of migration in the States. It does make me wonder, how can I design quilts inspired by my own story and surroundings?

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Sweet, Sweet.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I've made peace with my WIP box. This week, I've had this overwhelming need to finish things. I'm not sure if it's just a mood, or if I've actually reached project overwhelm. Or if it's just the natural result of having a few (seven!) long term quilting projects on the go, and I'm not ticking any boxes with any of them.

Whenever I feel like this, I head for my WIP Box and try and find something that I can finish quickly, something that's been hanging over my head and I want crossed off the list. I dabbled in a bit of quilting, I made half a drawstring quilt. I even got my Clambake quilt ready to go. But none of it was scratching my itch.
Then I found these dress scraps that I'd put through my Accuquilt with my Value Die (4.5" squares, 2.5" squares, 2.5" triangles). Dress scraps are still my most prolific scrap, and my most hard to use. Funny shapes, and several in the one print. One day last year in an effort to control them, I'd grabbed all my 'pretty' leftovers, cut them, and then moved on, because, while I like all these prints, putting them all together like this is not my area of comfort.

But for some reason, yesterday, in every spare little moment, I kept coming back to these. Kept piecing, pressing, piecing, pressing, not at all caring that these weren't my usual colours, nor that it was on my WIP list at all! And finally, at about midnight last night, I had a little quilt top.
It makes me wonder if in all the block making, and tutorial writing, and pattern planning, and photo taking that's happening here at the moment, that I just needed to make something. Just because.

Linking up to Fabric Tuesday and WIP Wednesday

Monday, 9 February 2015

Red Sky at Night - Checkerboard

Ever since I read Little House in the Big Woods to my kids last year, I've wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder's mother. Don't you? As we sat together in the evenings reading about Pa bringing in the straw after harvesting the oats, so Mama could make the summer hats, Pa coming home from town with new calico so Mama could make dresses, Mama milking and making cheese and curing meat while Pa hunted wild bear and played his fiddle in the evening... Oh, I can't tell you how much it all filled me with longing! I know Ingalls Wilder is writing the book about when she was seven, so she probably wasn't privy to the strains and challenges her parents experienced. And I know I've been able to have an education and enjoy a washing machine and the internet and modern health care, but there's something about her skill and simplicity that draws me.
The thing is, I know I will never quit the life I have for hers, because while I could learn how to make cheese and hats online, I'm not really prepared to give my precious time to learning all those new skills in this season of my life. You see, what I really covet from Laura's mother, is that she grew up learning all these skills as a girl. She wasn't searching the internet and figuring it out as she went, she had it all inside her. All that knowledge and skill. The demands of each day and season, came naturally, and with grace (or at least that's how Laura remembers it.)
In our last two posts, we talked about how quilt designs were not purely functional. They were creative, and they were inspired by the life and circumstances around them. Today, we're talking about function. In the 1800s, girls as young as 3 or 4 were taught to sew squares together to make little quilts for their dolls. By the age of seven, they were expected to stitch regularly without need for close supervision. Squares are a wonderful place to start because they don't have the challenges of stretch, like triangles with a bias angle, and you can cut many in a row, from an old dress or tablecloth, with minimal waste. And, of course, they are an easy shape for those sweet little hands to keep track of.
If you look at old quilts stitched by children, you'll notice they look like they were stitched by children. There was obviously an emphasis on process, on learning, on trying. And they are beautiful. There's one here and here. Aren't they beautiful?
These quilts inspire me to let my children learn, and to let us all enjoy learning, to give them a wealth of skill, like the old glory-box, for when they leave home, skills that feel like second nature, because they learned them when they were young.


Today's block is super simple! So simple that I didn't appear to take as many photos as I would have liked. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!

You will need:
RED: Three 2.5" x 16" strips
WHITE: Three 2.5" x 16" strips.

(just an idea: Keep your scraps together! If you're using the same colours like me, there'll be plenty of other blocks that need the same width shapes!)

1. Start by sewing your strips together side by side, alternating colours. Press after you've sewn them together, all in the same direction.

2. You now have a stripey rectangle. Now, cut 2.5" strips across those stripes, so you have new strips of red and white squares.

3. Lay them out as the picture above, so you have your checkerboard pattern.

4. Sew strips together. I like to press these seams open because I think it sits flatter.

I love seeing all your blocks on Istagram! Thank you for sharing them! We actually have two mothers sewing this quilt with their daughters. I can't tell you how chuffed that makes me feel.
Tully didn't sew this block, but he did enjoy modelling it for me! If you'd like to see the quilt we did make together last year, I wrote about it here. He is still so proud of it!