Monday, 28 September 2015
I wonder if was a sunny day, back in the 1920s, that Kansas girl, Carrie Hall woke up and decided to make a block in every single design she could find. Sunny days make everything seem possible, don't you think? It was supposed to be a sensible notion, as I'm sure all exciting ideas feel at the time. Afterall, she could never make whole quilts of all the wonderful patterns coming out in newspapers and catalogues. But if she just make one block, well that would be fun and worthwhile!
When I read about Carrie this afternoon, I felt like I'd found a kindred spirit. She came to quilting through a dressmaking business (as ready-made dresses in department stories became popular, her business declined), and a long love for history. Carrie grew up in a pioneering family, and throughout her life, used her energetic interest for knowledge, her creativity, and her entrepreneurial spirit in the pursuit of the story of quilts. She traveled and taught lectures around the country, sewed for the war effort, and collected a library of over 3000 books. She also, apparently, had a knack for biting off more than she could chew. Soon her sensible project to stitch all the sample blocks known to womankind, turned into a collection of 800! As someone who has now made 43, I'm just a little in awe. And also relieved I'm not the only one to dive into enticing projects without thought for whether they are actually possible. I wonder if she really felt she'd exhausted all the possibilities, or if she realized she never would? Oh, I wish I could ask her!
These are now in the Spencer Museum of Art, Kansas. I'm adding a visit to my bucket list! But if you're never able to make it, you can find the collection here. I encourage you to scroll through as many as you have the time for. It gives you a sense of just how enormous the number 800 is.
One of the blocks in that collection was named simply, "Wheel", but by the 1930s, it had been published under several names, the earliest by the Ladies Art Company before the 1900s. You may have seen it as Single Wedding Ring, Rolling Stone, or perhaps even Squirrel in a Cage.
BROKEN WHEEL 12" BLOCK TUTORIAL
You will need:
Red: One 4.5" square, four 3 3/8" squares, four 2.5" x 4.5" rectangles.
White: Eight 3 3/8" squares, four 2.5" x 4.5" rectangles.
1. Cut the white 3 3/8" squares in half diagonally. Sew them to opposite edges of the red 3 3/8" squares. Press them outward.
2. Sew the remaining triangles to the other sides. Press outward. Trim to 4.5".
3. Sew the red rectangles to the white rectangles. Press.
4. Lay out as below. Sew together in rows. Press seams open.
5. Sew rows together.
In 1935, Carrie's friends encouraged her to write a book about all the stories and quilt knowledge she'd collected. She decided to call it "The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt in America." While I would never call a book that, I do love that it reveals her love for the art. It's obvious that the stories and colours captured her imagination, enough to keep stitching on past 43 blocks!
Tuesday, 22 September 2015
This block has been teasing me. I found it in a book I have at home from the 1980s. I can't find it in Brackman's quilt block Encyclopedia, so it must have been first published in the 70s when another wave of enthusiasm for quilting swept the nation. It was one of those blocks that I found in my first search for two-colour blocks, sketched it in my grid book, later made it, took photos, and started to research ideas.
My first port of call was to look up the word Hoosier. I'd never heard it before. I was more than a little disappointed to discover that it was a derogatory term for country folk from Indiana. Was is derogatory like 'Nigger' is, or like Redneck? Does Redneck mean the same to me in Australia, as it does to you in the States? I remember sitting in the cafeteria in the international students section of the University of St Petersburg in Russia, chatting with other American students about our different slang for different kinds of people. We had 'occa' and 'yobbo' and 'bogan'. And we had Redneck. But try as we might, we never were quite sure we understood each other exactly. It was a pretty funny conversation... Should I just rename the block? Were the 1980s 'PC' enough that I could trust that if it was published in a quilting book, it mustn't be that bad? Can you enlighten me?
Then I found a lovely story in my new book about quilt-making in the 1930s about a woman named Viola Sanders Webb from Tennessee. She planted her own cotton to make her own batting, she used plain cream, and died, flour sacks to make the most beautiful two-colour quilts, and entered them in the Tennessee State Fair, which had a quilt category just for feedsack quilts. She lived a kind of 'Little House on the Prairie" life, which meant that things didn't feel all that different in 1930 than they did in 1920. It was just always tough. But she spoke about it with such pragmatism, and her sense of design was wonderful. After reading about quilting being fashionable, not just necessary, during the depression, it was uplifting to read her side of the story, recorded in an interview with the author of "Soft Covers for Hard Times."
But would it be offensive to talk about a lovely country Tennessee lady with a block called Hoosier? And where was Tennessee compared to Indiana anyway? Not that far. Except that one would be considered north, and the other south...which would probably make them quite different, is that right? Hmmm. I might have a thing or two I can teach about American Quilting history, but as soon as it becomes about culture and language, I'm going to have to rely on you to fill me in!
HOOSIER 12" BLOCK TUTORIAL
You will need:
Red: Two 4.5" squares, four 3 3/8" squares, eight 2.5" squares.
White: One 4.5" square, eight 3 3/8" squares, four 2.5" squares.
1. Cut the white 3 3/8" squares in half diagonally. Stitch them to opposite sides of the red 3 3/8" squares. Press outward and sew the other triangles on the remaining sides. Press outward and trim to 4.5".
2. Take the white 4.5" square and one red 4.5" square and sew around the outside edge. Cut diagonally into quarters. Press open, and trim your new half square triangles to 2.5"
3. Lay out your block as below.
4. Sew small pieces in each corner to the one next door, then sew those together to make 4.5" squares.
5. Sew your squares together in rows. Press open.
6. Sew the rows together. Press seams open.
You may have noticed I was a day late with today's tutorial. Each week I try to set aside time to get more than one done, so I can get a little ahead, but each week, I seem to fall a little bit further behind. Each month, Tim spends a week in Newcastle, trying to finish off his Post Graduate Degree, which is due at the end of the year. And every time he's away (which is now), I find it all the more difficult to hold everything in check. I have that feeling, like I used to at university, walking to the Librarian with arms full of too many books. And if I let go just slightly, before I got to her desk, they were all going to fall out at once.
This weekend, as you can see above, I finished my quilt top! It uses 41 blocks, set on point, and I have two that I didn't use, that I'll make into matching pillows. I really wanted to make the other 6 blocks to make up the promised 49 for those who wanted to set theirs square, but I'm going to have to finish after the 43rd. I can't tell you how sad I am about this, partly because some of the other blocks are lovely, and partly because it feels like quitting. But it also feels wise.
This is block number 36 (I think! Is that what you're up to?) I'll do seven more tutorials and stories and then I'll show you how I stitched mine together. If you sew them on point like mine, you'll have a 92" squared quilt. How amazing! Right at the end, I'll hold a link-up so you can show your progress, and we can see how wonderful and different they all look in the various colours people have chosen.
Thank you so much for your encouragement and enjoyment of this series! I've learned so much, and I can't wait to finish this quilt and show you!
Monday, 14 September 2015
Last week I talked about all I've learned (and can't learn) in this series about Quilt History. I've learned about how blocks came to be named, why patchwork exploded in the 1930s, about the place it had in families and society. But if I'm honest with you, and with myself, it's definitely not even half of what I've learned overall. I've learned that I tend to bite of more than I can chew, that I don't work out, or even begin to consider, the details of how I'll achieve something before I dive in. I have a grid book full of red and white blocks sketched without names or numbers. I've made blocks and taken photos, only to realise that I can't for the life of me remember where I saw the block, and that I can't find any interesting stories to accompany it. And lastly, and most regrettably, I've discovered I don't really like making quilts this way, stopping and starting to take photos, making it, not just to work, but in a way that's easily understood by others, feeling trapped inside a routine no matter what's happening around me, and no matter how much I ran out of motivation months ago. I often feel uncomfortable about the amount of Works in Progress I have in my big WIP box, but at least they're allowed to be there, not demanding my attention each week, but waiting patiently for my enthusiasm to spark anew.
So this weekend, when I dragged these blocks and my red and white yardage to a sewing retreat with my old sewing buddies from Newcastle, I was reluctant to force myself to plow through them. I brought a couple of other projects to do in breaks and planned to just make a few blocks each morning while the light was good for photos, and then reward myself with some fun sewing.
But, to my surprise and delight, after I finished one block, I felt like making another, and then another. And then when the light died in the evening, I cut the blocks for the next day, and sewed and trimmed half square triangles. I did like making this. I just loved making it when I could throw my whole attention at it. I had time to think while I was making, what kind of stories I could tell. I didn't mind working out the maths when I didn't have to make morning tea, change a nappy and answer the phone all at the same time. And then I remembered that this is how I had planned to make the quilt earlier in the year, before Flowers for Eleni had grown much bigger than all of us anticipated. I'd planned to write all the blog posts and just let them tick over each Monday morning. All the dread and foolishness I'd been feeling for most of the year started to dissipate. I wasn't completely ridiculous, it had just all turned out differently than I'd expected. Before I knew it, I'd sewn up and photographed each step of the blocks I needed for the front! Then the sashing and corners. And finally I brought it home in just a few pieces.
As I stood there in that big lounge room, the buzzing of machines and the smell of coffee all around me, looking at my laid out, almost finished Red Sky at Night quilt top, I was in awe. It was beautiful. And I mean beautiful. Full of detail and care and effort and history. I had felt a little like I was sacrificing my taste for my mum's (who will receive the finished quilt), a bit disheartened that after all that work, it won't feel like it was really my work, my way of playing with colour. But it did. And I was, am, very proud of it.
On the last day of the retreat, not quite ready to stop, but really needing to start my seven hour drive home, I reluctantly rolled up my pieced strips of patchwork. And suddenly, with horror, I realised. I hadn't expected to finish the quilt top. I had planned to bring the blocks home and photograph them around our property, like the others. But in a whirl of excitement, I'd started sewing them together before taking the finished block shots. Sigh. It appears this series would still be marked by my whims and lack of detail. Oh well!
I chose City of Angels today because it's one of those blocks. No details. I can't remember where I got the name from. I didn't take enough photos. But I like it. And because this quilt has become a kind of story of 'self discovery', it still has a place here.
CITY OF ANGELS 12" BLOCK TUTORIAL.
What you'll need:
Red: Five 4.5" squares, eight 3 3/8" squares cut in half diagonally.
White: Eight 2.5" squares, four 3 3/8" squares.
1. I've borrowed photos from Spanish Moss. But we're constructing our star differently today. Read colour instructions carefully!
2. Place the longer sides of the red half square triangles around the 3 3/8" white square (diamond). Sew one triangle, and then the opposite side. Press toward the red. Sew the next two corners. Press. Repeat with three more square-in-square blocks.
3. Place the 2.5" WHITE square in the corner of the 4.5" RED square and sew diagonally across the white square. Trim the corner off and press the remaining triangle over to complete the square.
4. Repeat with the three other corners of the block.
5. Arrange your block as below, and sew together in rows. Press seams open and sew rows together. Press.
See what I mean by forgetting the final photograph? But that just means that for most of the rest of the series, you'll get special progress shots along the way! Finished top, basted quilt, hand quilting (yes, I'm really going to quilt it by hand!), and then finished quilt. And while not what I planned, it will have it's own charm. I'm determined to enjoy the rest of this process!
Monday, 7 September 2015
I'm sitting at my messy dining room table wondering what to write about this week's block. I'm surrounded by plates of half eaten lunch, my children are in their beds for rest time, and I have to be somewhere in half an hour. Usually, I have an idea of what I'm going to write, and Monday's deadline provides the motivation to clear the space in my day to sit and put those thoughts into words. It's not ideal. The weekends here are busy, and Mondays are a rough-and-tumble competition of homeschool and leftover washing, planning and interruptions. When I think of a blog series on the history of quilting, or any series for that matter, I think of something a whole lot more polished, researched, written in advanced. But I am more of the 'jump in and see what happens' type person. And what has happened is that quilt history is much harder to come by than say, the history of the Civil War, or the Russian Revolution. Partly that's because quilt history is an obscure study with a limited audience, and partly because it's the history of women.
Women's history is often a tricky one. One of the first things I learned studying history at university, is that history is written by the victors. Men at war, in politics, in the arts, in scientific research and discovery, in colonizing far away lands. Of course there were prominent women too, but the history of women at home, women like me, the stories of what drove them, what scared them, what filled them with longing or gave them joy, what expectations crushed them, or kept them going, they are the histories locked silently inside old quilts. They fill me with curiosity, with more questions than answers.
Indiana Puzzle was first published in Ruby McKim's Parade of States Sampler Series. It got me wondering, why samplers? What happened in the 1850s in America that made quilters shift from those beautiful old medallion quilts, to block designs? Was it just because it was easier to work on a small square at a time? Was it because quilting groups were more common than in the UK, and blocks made the quilt easier to make by several women? Did it come from the same origin as girls' needlework samplers? Were they used as a kind of pattern booklet, but sewn into a quilt? Were they mostly a teaching tool? Or was it merely fashion or preference? Reading my quilt history books failed to answer my usual slew of questions. A quick google, and some articles made a guess at the kinds of questions I've asked here.
And so, I've sat here wondering at my own intentions and expectations for a quilt sampler series. One that told stories, both old old and new. And I realised, nibbling on an abandoned piece of apple, that this journey has not been, nor ever could have been, a professional, expert, academic history lesson. Instead it's been my story of learning how quilt history works. Where to find the stories, the people, the lies or assumptions, what the questions are, and which ones may never be answered. Even though I've often felt out of my depth, and Mondays are crazier than they need to be, it makes me glad I jumped in. We've got about a third of our blocks to go, and I don't know what stories are left to tell. But as long as I remember that this series is here for the learning, not the proving myself, or fulfilling some professional obligation, that's going to be just fine.
INDIANA PUZZLE 12" BLOCK TUTORIAL
What you'll need:
Red: Four 5" squares cut in half diagonally to make half square triangles. Two 3 3/8" squares cut in half diagonally to border to centre diamond.
White: Four 5" squares cut in half diagonally to make half square triangles. One 3 3/8" square.
I made this block a while ago, and obviously got distracted (or engrossed!) while sewing and didn't take many photos. Let me know if the steps aren't clear!
1. Sew your red half 5" triangles to the white triangles. Press open and trim to 4.5"
2. Sew the largest edge of your leftover red triangles to each side of the white centre diamond. Start with one side, then its opposite. Press outward and sew the next two to the remaining sides.
3. Lay out your block as above. Sew together in rows of three. Press seams open.
4. Sew your rows together to complete your block. Press seams open.
This block reminds me of shooting stars and twirling skirts. I love it's movement. It feels optimistic to me. And I wonder again. Were these women like me? Did they make what they felt? And what were they feeling when they made this sweet block?