Monday, 31 August 2015

Hovering Hawks - Red Sky at Night

I've been buried in the most wonderful book about quilting in the 1930s this week! I had so many questions about why quilting took off again during the Great Depression and I just couldn't find the answers online. So finally I took the plunge and purchased Merikay Waldvogel's Soft Covers for Hard Times. 
I was curious to see if there was more to Depression Quilting than just making do. In Australia during the depression, we made quilt-like coverings called Waggas, made from old knitwear, blankets, hessian, basically anything that could be sewn together into a covering, and then stuffed with chaff or flour sacks. They were utilitarian and rough and charming in their own way. While some were made from leftover dress fabrics, there was less emphasis on beauty or design. They are a striking image of what I imagine the depression to have been like. But when we think of American quilting in the 1930s, we think of pretty colours, a huge variety of blocks, and, now that I've learned a little through this series, an explosion in publications, pattern sales, and quilting competitions.

In her book, Waldvogel explains that the spike in interest in the handmade arts didn't begin with the stock market crash in 1929, but with the bicentenary of George Washington's birth, and a revival in colonial homewares. It became fashionable to style one's home with Early American furnishings. People started dragging out their long forgotten quilts handed down through their families to put on display, or copy with modern prints. 'Traditional' became a word tied with patriotism, family and identity. It was fashion, and not frugality that sparked the quilting boom in the 1930s.
The depression, however, still shaped how the boom played out. When flour manufacturers discovered that women were using the calico cloth of flour sacks for their patchwork, they decided to use beautifully printed fabric instead of the plain, stamped cream cotton, to give them an edge on the market. According to Robert Cogswell (author of the book's introduction), it's actually one of the very first instances of industry emphasizing packaging over product! Depression quilters started to look out for the various prints to collect, not just the best quality flour, or the most reasonably priced. I'd take up baking too if flour came in pretty fabrics!
This nostalgic connection with the past, the chaos of the present, and the necessity to 'make do', created the perfect opportunity for fabric manufacturers, department stores, newspaper owners and entrepreneurs to make money from handcrafts in this incredibly challenging decade. Patterns, marking tools, pre-cut quilting kits, reproduction applique designs were all sold en masse despite the crippling financial conditions. And I'm certainly not judging, or complaining. I love the quilts of the thirties. And I think quilting is the perfect thing to do when everything around you is falling apart. It did make me think though, that 'Hovering Hawks,' a block first published in 1929 by Ruth Finley, was a good choice for today's block!


You will need:

Red: Four 4" squares cut in half diagonally to make half square triangles, four 3.5" squares.

White: Four 4" squares cut in half diagonally to make half square triangles, four 3.5" squares.

1. Sew your red triangles to white triangles. Press open and trim to 3.5"

2. Lay out as above. Red squares stepping diagonally down the centre, bordered by half square triangles, followed by white squares and the white triangle facing in in the corners. Because you have equal amounts of red and white, you can also arrange the colours in the opposite layout.

3. Sew each square to the one next to it, so that you end up with a collection of pairs, as above. Press. Arrange these back in the right spot.

4. Sew those pairs to the one below to make 6.5" squares. Press.

5. Sew those squares to the one next door. Press.

6. Sew these two halves together to finish the block. Press.

I really am enjoying learning more about quilt history. I love looking deeper beyond our assumptions and finding out what really drove these women to create such beautiful works. For some reason I feel a little relieved that it's not as straight forward as "times were tough so they made do, and did an incredible job of it." There are more layers than that. Fashion and advertising, wanting beautiful things, the desire to create, needing to live simply, paying for pre-cuts. It means they're more like me than I imagined. Not just a card-board cut out of American Sainthood, but a person affected by the things around her, shaped by her circumstances, sometimes cutting corners, juggling responsibility and creativity and desire. It makes me appreciate their art even more.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Fair Isla Quilt

I'm sure Winter was warmer making this quilt.

I drew a sketch of a Fair Isle design in my grid book last year and then put it aside. It was a simple design, in just orange and white (the orange marker probably the only one that worked at the time!), and I wanted to mull over it for a bit, think about how to bring colour to it, how to use print, or whether to stick with solids. When I saw a reveal of Anna Maria Horner's Loominous, and it's almost solid, woven lines, I knew immediately it was the perfect fit to help me create that knitted fair isle sock look. I would have movement without the distraction of prints. I would have texture rather than flat cotton. For the first time since I started quilting, I emailed people, asking if they'd consider sending me a bundle to make the quilt, and I was so honoured when Free Spirit agreed!

I decided to make the most of my new EQ7 purchase, and transfer the design to my laptop. I enjoyed this process, but I often wondered if it was taking much longer. I took less risks than I was used to. I didn't dive in. I made sure it worked on the screen first. I kept swapping rows around. I doubted for a long time if I was going to pull it off, and I put it aside to start on Nana McIntyre for a while, so I didn't rush through to finish and regret it. I'm sure it made a difference, knowing that I'd been given the fabric. I made more rows than I needed to, and didn't use all of them. And in the end, I swapped out more for plain rows, because it seemed to make it warmer, and give it breathing room.

I used Essex Linen for the brown row of stars. I intended to use it more, with log cabins and also some applique flowers, but in the end, the log cabins distracted from it, and applique was a whole different head space, and I had enough to finish the quilt.

I loved the variety of making this quilt. It's like a sampler quilt, but I got to spend a little longer with each design. And by far, my favourite part was the hand-quilting. I had only planned sparse quilting, but the more I did, the more I loved, and the more space I wanted to fill with the thick crinkly texture of perle cotton.

I'm so, so thankful I was trusted with these amazing prints. They were such a joy to work with. It's so satisfying when a spark of an idea is met with the perfect execution. And even more rewarding when all that time, and doubt, and making sure, and mulling over pays off with exactly what I hoped for.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Union Square - Red Sky at Night Quilt

In 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, the City of Chicago held the "Century of Progress" World Fair to celebrate the city's centenary and provide an alternative story to the weary newspaper headlines of the day. It was a feast of amazing architecture, scientific discoveries and celebrities. During the fair, Seers, Roebuck & Co, and American department store, sponsored a quilt competition, promising prizes totaling over $7000. (A teacher's salary in the 30s was around $80 a month!) An incredible 25,000 quilts were entered, delivered to local outlets where they were hung, judged, and a select few were sent on to the next level of competition. In the end only 20 were displayed at the fair, and a booklet, "Seers' Century of Progress in Quiltmaking" was published, with patterns of some of the finalists.

I found a copy of the booklet here at Q is for Quilting. About half way through down the page, you'll find today's block. It's been named "An Original Design", but a variation named "Union Square" where the 'bear paw' sections were all one colour so the whole block had less contrast, was published as early as the 1890s, so it would have been familiar to readers. I settled on this block and last week's Cross and Crown, after wrestling with the Bear Paw block, a long time favourite of mine. Bear Paw has a 25 (5x5) square base, making it perfect as a 10" block, and really fiddly as 12" block. But these are fun alternatives, and they do make me wonder if they came about the same way - looking for a way to make a 10" block work in a different size, or maybe they wanted to work more colours in, or less than blocks they'd worked with before?


You will need:

Red: One 4.5" square, two 5" squares cut in half diagonally, four 2.5" squares (not pictured. I remembered them after!) and eight 3" squares cut in half diagonally for half square triangles.

White: Two 3.75" squares cut in half diagonally, and eight 3" squares cut in half diagonally for half square triangles.

1. Sew the small red triangles to the small white triangles. Press and trim to 2.5" Put aside for later.

2. Sew two of the larger white triangles to each side of the 4.5" square. Press outward.

3. Sew the other two triangles to the other sides. Press outward.

3. Trim to 6 1/8".

4. Attach large red triangles. Trim to 8.5" This is your 'economy block'.

5. Each row of 2.5" HSTs will face the 'economy block' as above. Arrange the HSTs with the small red squares in the corners around the centre block and sew together in rows. I started by sewing those little red geese together in the middle. Then I added the outer squares. This helped me sew them all in the right direction.

6. Sew one row to the top and bottom of the block. Press seams open. Then, with the 2.5" red squares sewn to the ends of the other rows, attach these also. Press.

The 1933 Seers Quilt competition is still the biggest the world has seen. And it's easy to see why. The Depression created an explosion in quiltmaking - a beautiful, practical way of keeping old clothes and table cloths, when they could no longer afford store bought blankets. And the generous prize money in that context gave an incredible incentive to those 25,000 women to get their quilts in in just five months. Oh how I would have loved to be one of those store workers sorting those entries!

Monday, 17 August 2015

Cross and Crown - Red Sky at Night

When we were reading the Little House stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder the other night, we came to the part where Pa gave Laura's mother a new sewing machine. Both Laura and her Ma were excited and grateful for this generous gift.
Soon afterwards, when they needed to sew up some bed sheets, Laura came up with an idea:

"I'm not going to sew these long seams down the middle with over-and-over stitch by hand. If I lap the edges flat and sew with the machine down the center, I do believe they'll be smooth enough and even more serviceable."

"It may well be," said Ma, "Our grandmothers would turn in their graves, but afterall, these are modern times."

I laughed out loud when Tim read that, amused at the thought of the 1880s being modern times, at feeling a little ashamed at sewing your sheets by machine, and also at my ignorant assumption that most quilts up until the early 1900s would have been stitched by hand.

The sewing machine was introduced into homes in the 1850s, so the Ingalls, living way out on the prairie, were a little late getting theirs around 1885. They were widely accepted into homes, much like computers are today, because of how much time they saved. (Though I'm not convinced my computer saves me much time!) When you think that most women made the clothing, tablecloths and bedding for the family, and sometimes for their servants or slaves as well, and were expected, as a way of showing love and creativity, to make these things beautiful, you can see why the sewing machine was considered a modern miracle. Suddenly a simple dress, which used to take most of the day, took only an hour.

It also, as new technology usually does, evoked philosophical and political debate, sparking conversations about 'progressive women', 'women's rights' and freedom of 'slavery' to the needle and thread. Women's rights advocates hoped that the machine would make way for better education for women, and also more choice in employment, for so far, most of girls' schooling was taken up by needlework. But, as also seems to be the way, conservatives argued that the machine now allowed more time to be good housewives. In 1859, Mrs Pullen, a widely read expert on needlework wrote in England about the woman's imperative to continue making beautiful homewares. The machine rushed through the boring, practical sewing so that all women, not just the wealthy few, could now spend their spare time with fancy hand-stitching, which would, of course, continue to impress their husbands. Suddenly there was an explosion of elaborate quilts, both in their piecing and quilting, made all the more exciting by the concurrent evolutions in textile manufacturing which lead to cheap, colourful cotton. And by 1900, more than half of quilts were sewn by machine.

I chose the Cross and Crown today because it reminds me of the floral applique blocks in the same style, but instead is pieced. Oh the joy of machine piecing! I do love English Paper piecing, but this block includes some tricks, like cutting a square in two and sewing a stripe through it, that really only become quick and easy if you're using your rotary cutter and machine. And we'll do so without a shred of guilt, because our grandmothers probably would have done exactly the same!


You will need: (Sorry! For some reason I don't have a picture of the cut pieces!)

Red: Two 2" x 8" rectangles, eight 1.5" x 2.5" rectangles, four 2.5" squares, eight 2" squares cut in half diagonally to make half square triangles.

White: Four 4.5" squares, one 3.5" square, four 2.5" squares, eight 2" squares cut in half diagonally to make half square triangles.

(I realised after I sewed this up, that it would have saved time to use a 1.5" x 2.5" white rectangle, and two 1.5" squares to make little geese for the tips of the flowers. Feel free to use this method!)

1. Cut the 3.5" white square in half diagonally and sew them to either side of a large red rectangle. Press and trim the red to make a square.

2. Cut diagonally in the opposite direction and sew in the second red rectangle. Press.

3. Placing the 2 1/4" mark in the centre of the block, trim to 4.5"

4. Sew your tiny white triangles to your tiny red ones. Press and trim to 1.5"

5. Each blossom, or crown, in your block will be laid out as above. Start by sewing the half square triangles to each other. Press open.

6. Sew these new little geese to the little red rectangles. Press toward the rectangles.

7. Next sew each little crown spike to the plain square next to it. Press and sew those together into the corner of the block.

8. Lay out your block as below and sew together in rows. Press towards the white squares and sew the block together.

I found it interesting, (didn't you?) that Ma was concerned with the 'right' or old way of doing things, just like we can often often be. I've heard conversations about being true to our craft that usually assume pre-industrial sewing as the authority. I enjoyed the reminder this week as I was reading about the sewing machine, that often those voices in my head telling me I'm not doing it right because it's not the old way aren't even true! And that I can enjoy the time savers that allow me more time for the things I value, just as the modern women of the 19th century did.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Rocky Mountain Puzzle - Red Sky at Night Quilt

In 1930, Loretta Lietner, a secretary working at the Chicago Tribune, started a daily quilting column under the name Nancy Cabot. The column was small, tucked in among the crosswords and advertisements, and included a little illustration of a quilt block, a story about the history, or inspiration, and instructions for how to purchase the pattern. Send 5c or a stamp to the Paper, or drop in at the office to get your copy.
By the end of the Thirties, Nancy Cabot was known for her stylish taste in patchwork. She had published three booklets through the paper (which still didn't include patterns, you had to buy those seperately!) and over 1300 quilt blocks. The column was sold around the country to other newspapers and journals, sometimes even under different names.
Rocky Mountain Puzzle was published on June 22, 1933 with a little information about it's name. According to Barbara Brackman, these little tidbits of history weren't always accurate. What we have learned, however, from this year-long expedition into quilt making past, is that quilt block names did vary from state to state, and by the 1930s, when quilting exploded, names became canonized due to publications like this one.


You will need:

Red: One 4.5" square, five 4" squares cut in half diagonally to make half square triangles, two 3.5" squares.

White: five 4" squares cut in half diagonally to make half square triangles, two 1.5" x 4.5" rectangles, two 1.5" x 6.5" rectangles.

1. Sew the red triangles to the white triangles. Press seams open and trim to 3.5". (NOTE: the photo below is borrowed from another post, which used smaller HSTs!)

2. Next, take your large red square, and sew the 4.5" white strips to opposite sides. Press open.

3. Now sew the 6.5" strips to the other sides. Press.

4. Take 4 half square triangles and lay them out as below. Make sure the white triangles are touching the white strips, and are pointing down on the left, and up on the right.

5. Sew the half square triangles (HSTs) to one one next door.

6. Press and sew to each side of the centre square.

7. Now lay out the remaining HSTs so that they hug opposite corners of the centre square. Make sure all the triangles point towards the middle. Fill in the top right and bottom left gap with the 3.5" red squares.

8. Sew these together in rows. Press seams.

9. Sew these rows to each side of the block. Press.

My favourite form of this block in on point, so I'm especially excited to include it in my Red Sky at Night quilt, which I've decided to sew together on point. I just love how it becomes symmetrical!
I ordered a book last week about why quilting took off in the 1930s, during the depression. I can't wait to read it and share what I learn with you! Meanwhile, if you have any knowledge on the subject, feel free to share it here.

Have a great week!