As anyone who follows my blog knows, I’m currently sewing a series of small patchwork mini blocks which I hope to make into a quilt I’m calling “dear ethel”. (You can see them all here)
I’ve been quilting for more years than I realised (um just over 15) and in that time family members and various friends have received quilts as presents, often when they have a baby…..but I’ve never really made a quilt for me (seriously even the cat has two quilts)
I’m very much a hand quilter….in fact I’m a hand patchworker too. It’s not that I don’t have a sewing machine, I’ve got three, a Bernina 1008, a pretty basic Singer from the early seventies and a beautiful antique one (which must be due a telegram from the Queen anyday now) and on a shelf there is even a dusty overlocker, but I really prefer to quilt by hand. I can sew patchwork on a machine , but I love to feel the fabric in my hands, and I’m happier sewing without the aid of a machine. So basically it takes me a fair old time to make a quilt, and yes, I could do them all on a machine, and if you like making them that way then that is great, (I’m really not knocking machine made quilts, I know they can be made much much quicker, and I’ve seen so many really stunning machine quilts which would have taken a month of Sundays if they’d been sewn by hand) but it’s not for me.
For me, the pleasure of patchwork and quilting comes in the constant touching,holding and handling of the fabric, and the slowness and time in piecing the blocks together. The time spent is important, each stage takes time (such a precious commodity nowadays…. it’s a very guilty pleasure spending this much time on myself…..at this point I want to shake out my hair, turn and say in my best Catherine Deneuve voice “but I’m worth it”), and each fabric choice is carefully considered…. even colours and fabrics which clash do so by purpose.
Some years ago I bought a book about a quilt made by Jane A. Stickle and quite simply, I fell head over heels in love. The quilt was made during the time of the American Civil war and is made up of over 200 blocks. It’s a book I look at regularly and had been telling myself…one day I am going to make a “dear jane quilt” of my own. One day last year for no particular reason, I sat down and started drawing out the little blocks the quilt is made up of, I’d noticed that the blocks in the original quilt varied in size and I really wanted to do the same, however after drawing out about a dozen very small blocks I began to think about why exactly was I making this quit….. I’ve never been keen to make someone else’s designs, I’m interested in how people put different colours together, but I like designing my own quilts, working with what fabric is available to me. So I stopped what I was doing and thought it was time for a good re-think (I’d not cut out any fabric or anything, so it wasn’t a complete “aggghhhh” moment or anything).
I’d seen an amazing reference book of quilt blocks (well if you want to get all picky, they are actually patchwork blocks) at our local library and I kept thinking about that book, and the ever growing pile of vintage reproduction fabrics I had, and the “dear jane” quilt…..and suddenly it all became clear. I wasn’t going to make a copy of the “dear jane” quilt, that was hers, I was going to make “my quilt”.
I love how the main part of the “dear jane” is made up of small blocks, so I thought I’d use that idea, but chose my own blocks from the reference book. So I went through that, noting down which blocks I really like, then I had to cross some of those out because I’d decided my blocks would be 6 inches square and anything that was smaller than an inch would make me go blind trying to piece together. (some of the triangles I’ve sewn are one inch wide on the sides, and there are more than a few one inch squares, but I know my limit. After all, this is supposed to be enjoyable)
Regarding fabric, my favourite ones seem to be reproduction ones of nineteen thirties feed sack fabrics, I’d also been given some vintage fabric from my friend Sylvia, really pretty fabric from other friends and sisters and car booty finds and I had some small treasured pieces from my Nanny… I’d also got some favourite fabrics that weren’t much bigger than the size of a postcard so it just seemed like the most natural thing in the world to work with them.
I’ve bought a few fabrics recently to add a little more variety, these are also reproduction ones, and I’ve made a block in the same colour choices from a block in a quilt I made for a friends baby. But I mostly wanted to use fabrics that I loved, or are precious for various reasons of sentimentality not cost…..
This quilt is probably the nicest thing I feel I’ve made (and yes, I know I said that about my grannies paperweight blanket, maybe it is it’s twin in the happiness I feel from making it)….some of the fabrics are so precious, tied up with such deep and happy memories, it’s a bit like looking at a photo album.
As I mentioned at the start, I’m a hand sewer, and sewing these mini blocks at times is fiddly but it’s also very relaxing. I read this post yesterday by Sophie at The Woven Nest, and I think I know what she means, there are times when so much seems to be flying around in my mind, but when I sit and sew everything quiets down and seems calm. Maybe my little blocks are my version of her field of clover…..
There is a show on tv called Parks and Recreation, and in it there is a wonderful old lady called Ethel Beavers (she’s my favourite character), she is exactly the sort of old lady I’d like to be when I grow up… so as homage to her, and the original Jane A.Stickle quilt, I’ve started referring to my quilt as “dear ethel”.
I’m not sure how long this quilt will take, I started it last Summer and I’ve now made just over 70 blocks. At the moment I think I need about 122 (though that number seems to change…) plus sashing and a border…. but all that is a long ways off….. it’s not a race, it’s just sewing.