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.


  1. A really fascinating post!!!! I remember in one of the early little house books either Laura or Mary hand piecing a 9 patch quilt, and remember Ma and Laura sewing on the machine to make the clothes for Laura's wedding, so if they sewed her wedding outfit on a machine they must surely have made quilts and other things that way too. It is amazing to think what machines have done for the lives of women isn't it. Beautiful block as always! xx

  2. Beautiful!
    Even faster, those little geese can be made FOUR at a time using Alex Anderson's simple "Secret Star" method: It's so simple she taught it to kids.
    Keep on quiltin'.

  3. I love these history lessons! Thank you for sharing and always having a gorgeous block to go with the story!

  4. The Little House books are some of my all time faves, and I so enjoy your take on them, in addition to the beautiful squares you create. Many valuable truths can easily be gleaned from those stories, then just as magically applied to our lives today; thank you so for these posts, as well as the quilt blocks. :)


I so love your comments! I read all of them and reply when I can. If you don't hear back, I'm lost under a mound of scraps or outside jumping on the trampoline with the kids. Jodi. xx