A Love Affair with Fabric

IMG_20170125_145914_hdrIsn’t this gorgeous? I bought it not long ago from Hancock’s of Paducah, one of my current favorite sources of fabric. I haven’t decided what to do with it, but I suspect I won’t be able to make myself cut into it, so it’ll probably become the backing on a table runner. That way I can see it on my kitchen table every day.

My love affair with fabric began when I was a girl. I took a park district sewing class where I made myself a corduroy jumper, and then Home Economics in junior high, both of which required my mother to take me to a fabric store. It was love at first sight! All those rows of fabric bolts made me swoon.

After seeing my interest in sewing, my grandmother took me on the bus to Marshall Field’s downtown, where she bought me my first pattern, for making doll clothes, which I still have:

IMG_20170125_155556_hdrDuring one of my regular visits to Anna, Illinois, where my other grandmother lived, I discovered a small fabric store in town where bags of fabric remnants cost a quarter. I’d save up my allowance (a dime a week) so that I could buy some bags to take home. I used the remnants to make doll clothes for my sisters and me. I discovered that once you get good at making doll clothes, making people clothes becomes easier, because they’re so much larger.

Meanwhile, my Chicago grandmother, who lived in a brick bungalow on the South side of Chicago, decided to move to the suburbs, so she no longer needed the gorgeous pink cabbage rose curtains that had graced the windows of her bedroom in the old house. Guess who got them? I made my sisters and I maxi skirts out of them. We’d wear them around the house after school and think we were really cool :)

All through high school, I sewed for the fun of it. I took my sewing machine with me to college; when I became stressed from studying, I’d take a sewing break. Bliss!

I got married while I was in college; after we graduated, we moved back to the suburbs and bought a house. Now my love of fabric kicked into overdrive. We needed towels, sheets and curtains. I’d stop by TJ Maxx or Marshall’s on my way home from work and come out loaded down with gorgeous bed and bath linens. I also made window treatments for most of our windows. It was so much fun, and back then, it seemed like there were endless gorgeous designs.

These days most towels, sheets and decorator fabric bore me:

Curtains

There is little charm or originality in today’s designs. Much of it looks the same wherever I go. But when I shop in quilt stores or on quilt fabric websites, I find gorgeous fabric with all kinds of designs. There are even reproductions from different eras.

I’ve also found that estate sales are a good source of vintage fabric. When I find a lovely piece of fabric, sturdy Made-in-the-USA stuff from the mid-20th century, it’s like finding a treasure. I’ve made things for my grandchildren out of vintage fabric; it’s a joy to work with, and wears like iron. I just made my newest grandchild a crib sheet out of a lovely vintage sheet. So pretty!

Each spring, the Salvation Army in my town holds a fabric sale. Picture a large vacant storefront filled with donated fabric and craft supplies (all proceeds go to the Salvation Army). On the first day of the sale, there’s a very long line of women waiting to get in. Hundreds of women attend this sale every year, and I’m one of them. It’s so much fun, and I always come home with bags and bags of treasures to play with.

If it weren’t for vintage and quilt fabric, I might have fallen out of love with fabric (heaven forbid!) Instead, the love affair continues.

Churn Dash/Disappearing Pinwheel Quilt

IMG_20170106_144431_hdr I made this quilt in order to try the technique Jenny Doan of the Missouri Quilt Co. demonstrates in this video:

Making this block is every bit as much fun as it looks! The only downside to this project was that I used a pack of 10″ squares from a line called Sweetgrass Prairie that I bought some time ago from Connecting Threads, and the fabric is so stiff that it was no fun to work with or to press. In fact, it was like ironing paper! Since I splurged and used silk batting on this quilt in hopes it would be comfy, I’ll have to see what it’s like after I wash it.

I used free-motion quilting on this quilt:

IMG_20170106_144555_hdrI backed it with two large pieces of calico from my fabric stash, and put the one 10″ square I didn’t use on the front on the back instead:

IMG_20170106_144539_hdr

Safe Rotary Cutting for Quilters

For over 20 years, I’ve used rotary cutters to cut fabric for my quilts, and I’ve never had an accident. That’s just luck, because plenty of accomplished, careful quilters have cut themselves badly at least once while using this very sharp tool.

Now that I’m on blood thinners, and the least little scratch makes me bleed quite a bit, I’m thinking that I’ve got to do more than just hope my luck doesn’t run out: I need protection! So I decided to buy a ruler guard, a large gripper for big templates and rulers, a small gripper for smaller templates and rulers, and some cut-resistant gloves.

But they added up to over $60, and while that’s way less than the cost of an emergency room visit, it’s still a lot of money. So I thought about it for a few days, and did some research. That’s how I found this blog post about finding sewing supplies at hardware stores. Turns out I could have all the safety equipment I wanted for less than the cost of just the gloves!

So after researching what I needed at their website, I went to the nearest Harbor Freight store and bought the following items:

Here’s my new large gripper, which cost only $6.99 (I don’t know why the photo makes it look pink with green, as it’s actually white with blue):

img_20160924_1349521_rewindI also bought a small gripper for $3.99:

img_20160924_1345374_rewindAnd an even smaller gripper for $2.99:

img_20160924_1346412_rewindAdd in a pair of cut-resistant gloves for only $5.99, and you can see I got quite a lot of protection for barely $20:

img_20160924_1342475_rewindI also bought the ruler guard, though not at Harbor Freight; by calling around, I found it at a local quilt shop so I bought it from them instead of online. I’ve already begun cutting out a complex project, and while it took a little while to get used to wearing gloves, I’m pleased with everything I bought, and find that cutting with grippers actually speeds up the process.

I’ve also begun wearing shoes when I use the rotary cutter. Why? Because I saw a comment on a sewing forum where someone said they accidentally dropped their rotary cutter on their bare foot, severing some veins and muscles, leading to a lot of pain and two surgeries. I don’t normally wear shoes in the house, but I do now when I’m cutting fabric for a quilt!

 

 

A Birthday Quilt

Recently my eldest daughter celebrated her birthday. I thought the day should be marked with a quilt, specifically one using fabric by her favorite designer, Lotta Jansdotter.

I bought a jelly roll of Jansdotter’s fabric line, Follie, with the intention of making a Jelly Roll Race quilt (they’re so much fun). But then I found another pattern online that I liked better. The quilt top went together quickly because jelly rolls are so easy to work with.

IMG_20151016_142555Free-motion quilting the quilt was a little daunting. I couldn’t think of how to quilt it, and I didn’t want it to look like my usual quilts with lots of curves and flowers. After taking some time to think about it, I realized that merely echoing the designs in the fabric would make the back echo the front. I enjoyed just following the lines instead of having to think about the designs I was quilting.

IMG_20151016_142627IMG_20151016_142841I’m happy that my daughter seemed pleased with her quilt. I really enjoyed making it for her!

Blast from the Past: Using Quilts in Homeschooling

An Amish Pieced & Quilted Cotton Coverlet, Indiana or Ohio, Circa 1910
An Amish Pieced & Quilted Cotton Coverlet, Indiana or Ohio, Circa 1910

When I was in college, I bought an old sofa for my dorm room for $10. It was so ugly, it needed a covering, so I took fabric scraps left over from clothes I’d made and pieced a quilt to throw over it. After that, I was hooked on quilting.

At that time, quilting was mostly something you did with scraps. But it soon blossomed into a huge industry, with fabrics designed specifically for quilters and an explosion of shops to promote those fabrics. Since then, most quilts begin when the quilter purposely buys fabric to make a quilt. You can easily spend a few hundred dollars doing so.

But that’s the pricey way to make a quilt. Making a quilt from scraps is still an inexpensive way to have fun while making something useful. This is what our foremothers did during the Great Depression, when money was tight and re-using things was the wisest thing you could do.

For homeschoolers, learning about quilting is a way to study both history and math. The math part is best learned by doing: calculating the size of the blocks of your quilt and the most efficient way to cut each piece of fabric can challenge the math skills of adults, much less kids. Even if you use a pattern, there will be some calculations involved.

And who knew there were quilt math books for kids? Wish they’d been around when my kids were younger!

Studying the historical aspects of quilting can be a lot of fun. Quilting is an integral part of American history. The different patterns and fabrics used help researchers determine the age of an antique quilt, and quilt historians are almost like detectives as they research the background of a given quilt.

The patterns used to make quilts are a major clue to their histories. Long before there were quilt magazines, patterns were passed between quilters of a given time period. Here’s a link to many patterns popular in recent American history.

The fabrics used over time have very distinctive looks. Today, textile companies reproduce such fabrics for quilters who want to make new quilts that look historically accurate for a given time period. Looking at such fabrics give you an idea of what kind of fabrics people used for clothing in that time period. Here’s one site with a group of links for fabrics of different time periods.

The 1930s were particularly good years for quilts because the financial difficulties of the times forced people to be very creative with the materials on hand. As a result, many quilters created incredible quilts. The World’s Fair of 1933 included a quilt contest sponsored by Sears. It received thousands of entries. See some of the best of these quilts here (scroll to the very bottom of the page and click on thumbnails.

There was a resurgence of quilting in the mid-1970s as the U.S. Bicentennial approached. Bicentennial quilts became all the rage. Since then, quilting has remained quite popular.

One of the best ways to learn about history through quilts is to visit a museum that displays them. Many history museums do show a few quilts along with other artifacts, but to see a wide variety of them, you need to go to a quilt museum. Perhaps the best-known in the country is the Museum of the American Quilter’s Society in Paducah, Kentucky.

You can also “tour” quilt museums while online. Here’s a page of links to such museums. While there’s nothing like seeing a quilt in person, this is the next best thing to being there.

Ready to make a quilt with your kids as a homeschooling project? If you already know how to sew, you’ll find it to be quite easy. Quilts can be hand-sewn, machine-sewn, or made with a mix of both techniques.

There are great how-to-quilt books at your local library. You can also find a friend who can teach you or take a class at a local quilt shop. You can also learn from online tutorials. You’ll find many web pages with basic quilting information like this one. Also, here’s the first of a thirteen-part series by expertvillage on how to make a baby quilt as a first quilting project.

It’s fun to quilt with your children, and who knows? It could become a lifelong hobby for you and for them.

(Originally posted 2/9/09.)