Snare the Innocent.

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During the last Austin Area Quilt Guild show last year, I spent most of my time (and money) visiting the vendor booths in search of my usual vintage fabric, quilt tops, and blocks.  I did find a respectable amount to bring home with me, but I was able to keep my shopping frenzy to a controlled minimum.

I also happened to have one of my daughters with me, the youngest, then at age 8.  She isn’t as interested in quilting or sewing as I was at her age, but she does dabble, and I don’t push her into that direction at all, lest I lose her quilting curiosity completely.  She may not get the quilt bug at all, and that is fine. She may pick it up later in life, when she is grown and has a family of her own.  I won’t bank on it.  I will love to see whatever she decides to do with her free time. Right now, her interest lies in destroying a ‘Wreck This Journal’ book. I couldn’t be happier.

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Anyway, while we were wandering the booths, we came to one vender called Afternoon Quilts, who had all of these beautiful little quilt kits. Most of them were small or lap size, all were simple, quick designs, and they were all-inclusive. The binding, the minkee backing, the batting, the carefully labeled pieces for the top (front of the quilt), and excellent easy-to-read instructions were all there in each kit.  My daughter was begging to have one, and so, we snagged the one named ‘After the Rainbow’ after much deliberation and one eeny-meeny-miny-moe tie-breaker.  It was pleasant to work with Katie and Debbie, the owners of Afternoon Quilts, as their customer service was outstanding. The part that really made me want to throw my credit card down, was the special attention that they gave to my daughter.  They kept eye contact and conversation with her at all times, as she was the true customer. It was a refreshing change in a place were children are not understood to be the possible next generation of quilters. I am telling you, this event might have hooked her into the world of fabric hoarding and ripping seams for the next 80 years (or so).

She came home that day all excited to make that quilt; however, I am ashamed to admit that I promised her we would get to right after (insert whatever interruptions normally happen here).  Okay, my bad. I realize and own this mistake. It’s all on me. This kit came to surface again last month when I was cleaning and purging my sewing room, so I immediately set it at the top of the ‘MUST DO!!!’ list, and we got to work.

I set her up on her brother’s Brother, and she went to town sewing these blocks together into rows, then I helped her get the rows together into a top. This was truly the perfect pattern for kids to be introduced to quilting. There is zero cutting to do (other than trimming to prepare for the binding step, and that step you can use scissors for.) It went together so fast. With kids, they want instant gratification on a project or they get bored, so this is very important to keep them motivated to keep with it.

The only notes that I would add to anyone interested in one of these kits is that the minkee/fluffy backing is not beginner quilter friendly. I had no problem machine quilting with it on my domestic machine, but I have a dual feed presser foot, which helps prevent shifting during quilting. Otherwise, I would recommended either asking if they have a cotton backing option, or you could spray baste between the backing and the batting layers before quilting.  We used plenty of safety pins, which worked just fine for the simple straight line quilting that we chose.

Another thing that could be done to make this quilt kit easy for a beginner, is to omit the binding completely. Before quilting, sandwich the three layers envelope style (batting, Backing-face up, then top-face down) sew around the perimeter leaving an opening to turn it inside out. stitch the opening closed afterward. Sew around the perimeter again to encase the outer seam, then quilt or tie the center area as desired.

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Hilariously, I decided to sew the binding to the front of the quilt by machine and hand stitch down to the back (my typical method), which is all well and good unless you have this fluffy backing.  I knew better, I really did.  I knew that I should have machine sewn the binding to the back, then hand stitch to the front, but you know how I love a good laugh. Other than that single trip-up, this was actually a fun experience. She got a new favorite lap quilt, I got a UFO out of my sewing room, and we both finished it together without any tears. 5 out of 5 stars full bobbins.

DISCLOSURE: This is an honest customer review.  I do not have a bias, nor have I financially benefited from this company by making this review.  At the time of this writing, Afternoon Quilts is unaware of my writings, which are my opinions alone. Thank you in advance for any feedback from my post, as I always value your kind words.

Have a happy sewing weekend, Y’all.

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Quilt it Like You Own It

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More than once I have been lectured by Mrs. Buttinski as I seam ripped into a vintage quilt top. Someone, somewhere, was probably dying a slow death, or rolling in their grave as I dismantle their magnum opus, and Mrs. B is not shy about letting me know the true depth of my stupidity, or my apparent hatred and selfishness for all things historically textile.

While I appreciate that there are at least a few quilt police still patrolling the perimeters of our quilt world, I want them and everyone else to be comforted by the fact that I actually know what the heck I am doing.  I am not so young anymore that I am constantly being ‘educated’ by other quilters that seem to think me unseasoned; and yet I am not so old that I have become close minded to new ideas or understanding the positions of newer quilters.  I am pleasantly stuck in between the two like a happy Libra on a perfectly balanced scale.

I not only studied textiles while attending college, I continue to educate myself through research and reading books on anything textile and quilt related. I was a student of Kathleen McCrady’s, before she retired her classes on quilt and textile history and preservation. Much of the newer books regarding feed sacks could not have been as easily printed, had it not been for her extensive work in preserving the history of quilting and these textiles. I studied all of the quilt books that are the main foundation for our understanding of quilting today. Barbara Brackman, Elly Sienkiewicz, Carrie Hall, Kansas City Star, Maggie Malone, Jinny Beyer, Patricia Cox, Gerald Roy, Roderick Kiracofe, the Gee’s Bend Quilters, Sharon Newman, Doris Bowman, Patsy and Myron Orlofsky…these and many, many others I have studied. I don’t stop at simply reading about quilts; going to museums to see these antique quilts is another way to appreciate the art. So, really what I am trying to say here is that I fully comprehend and admire quilters and their work.

I don’t buy quilts. This is because I am not a quilt collector. I don’t want other people’s quilts to be eventually passed to my family, as they will mistakenly believe that I made them. I don’t hand quilt other people’s quilts or tops for similar reasons; that and hand-quilting is (usually) by far more laborious than making the quilt top in the first place. I reserve my hand-quilting for only my personal favorite quilt tops. Even my own quilts are sent to a long arm if they are not in the top 10 percent. I love buying vintage quilt tops, but I don’t like to buy quilt tops that are perfect and ready to be quilted, because if I have it quilted, I’m back to owning another person’s quilt or work. I like to buy quilts that need to be reworked in one fashion or another.  Once a top is taken apart, changed up some, certain fabrics changed out, the quilt is changed. It is now a different quilt. It is now veritably my quilt, and can now be passed to family with zero worries of passing another quilter’s work off as my own. (There is also the added benefit that it doesn’t need to go into a two person quilt category in a quilt show.)

Let me tell you about a typical vintage quilt top that I work with. The picture seen at the top of this post is of a pile of 16-patch quilt blocks that were previously sewn together into a quilt top. I seam ripped all of the blocks apart and this is why:

  • The parts that were hand stitched were done with a thick thread, like a button thread, which puckered the fabric. Also, the stitches were on the large side making them structurally unsound. there weren’t any occasional back tacking within the running stitches.
  • The parts that were machine pieced, were stitched with black thread and white thread at the same time. The black stitches show up very well on all of those lighter prints of fabric. The machine used to make these stitches had thread tension issues, and probably the presser foot as well, as the stitches were not consistent in length, most being tiny, tiny, loopy things on the back.
  • The seam allowance varied, but in most places, the width of the seam allowance was much less than the preferred scant quarter inch, making the seams fray and pop open in many parts of the top.
  • The seams flipped all over the place. They did not like to lay flat at all. Not one bit.
  • Seam intersections did not match up, so the top was stretched and misshapen. See for yourself:20190712_131048
  • There were many fabrics that needed to be omitted because of the fiber content (rayon, silk, flannel), degradation of the piece (fraying, bleeding, shattering, etc.), or the weave was not optimal, such as the brown and white striped plisse pictured here. When I omit fabric, I try to replace with a similar print of fabric that may or may not necessarily be vintage.
  • The overall view of the top was visually confusing to the eye. There were no resting areas. the pieces blended too much in some areas, and were hyper contrasting in other areas. Usually, I am open-minded about such things, but there are simple tweaks that can be used to calm the appearance of an otherwise jumbled quilt top.

This was not a quilt top destined for the Smithsonian. I did not rob future historians of a priceless artifact by taking the blocks apart. I promise that the world will continue to spin on its axis if I take this thing apart and sew it back together.

There is a second part of this that I would like to address as well, and that is the original quilter. When I acquire a top in this condition, I did so because I found it to be absolutely charming. I may have liked the quilter’s choice of fabrics, of colors, of pattern, or technique.  I would not put my money down on a quilt top that I didn’t love. That quilter is always with me when I work on that piece, and every quilt top shows a different personality.  I can tell which steps the maker disliked, and which ones he/she enjoyed. I can sometimes even tell if the pieces were scraps from making clothing. I might learn if the quilter is seasoned by their use of value, working with directionals, plaids, contrast, color, construction, etc.  I might learn that the quilter was a child, or at least a very new sewist. I might learn that the quilter had vision problems.  Maybe it was one of the last pieces this person made.  It can all be so very bittersweet.

but also let me tell you that some of these are given/sold to me by the actual people who started them, or they remember them being made. In the 30’s and 40’s, quilting was less of a hobby than it is today, so there were many quilts made, because they had to be utilized. They didn’t have rotary cutters or quarter inch presser foot. They used a wooden ruler, for dang sakes.  This was not as enjoyable for most quilters as it is for the current day quilters. Many of these tops were not as sentimentally created as you might have been led to believe.

“Here, my Aunt Ruby made these.  She cussed the whole time through, so go ahead and do your thing with ’em, sweetie.” ”My mother decided to start quilting in the 40’s, learned she hated it, and took up golf.” ”I inherited these from my mother in law…I disliked my mother in law.” ”You really want these? I was going to use them for drop cloths for painting.” ”This is not a finished quilt, so it is headed to the trash bin. Ain’t nobody got time for that.” “Please don’t tell anyone I made this.” These were all things that I really have heard when getting some of these tops. Those are my favorites, because they kind of make me giggle when I see them.

The quilt top is mine now.  It really does belong to me, every stitch and every scrap. Some divine power decided that this top was destined to land in my lap, even if the wallet helped with the process.  Therefore, I get to decide how I am going to work with it, if at all. I might add my own fabric, whether it is vintage pieces from my collection, cut up clothing cotton, or something new and trendy. I might change the block. I might change the setting. I get to do this because the critics tend to forget something important: I am a quilter too. My personality deserves to be a part of this, just as much as the quilter who first touched this project. I consider it to be a collaboration of great friends, unknown to each other. Some of these projects were made by people who may have dearly loved to see them finished, but got stuck, or life got busy, or health declined. For whatever reason, many simply were not finished. I know he or she would be tickled that I loved something about their work, and now it’s up to me to take my turn with it and make them proud. That is the kind of quilt that I want to pass down. That is the kind of quilt I want my kids to sleep under. I really do want them to know that I was a part of something bigger than just myself.