Sunday, December 30, 2012

The world is changing...

While I am often miffed at how quickly the world seems to be changing and my inability to keep up with the speed of change, I remind myself that this is likely to be a universal conundrum.  I think about when electricity was introduced to the home and suddenly those gas lamps that were quite functional were being replaced.  I think of how quickly the technology changes with cell phones today making the cell phone from a year ago seem obsolete.

I have a quilt top that reminds me of change, and how it is possible that change doesn't always work out for the best.

It was described on the estate sale tag as a "silk coverlet".   It is neither silk, nor a coverlet.  It is a machine pieced quilt top with nylon fabric.

Nylon was first introduced at the World's Fair in New York in 1939.  It was the part of the innovation of synthetic fabrics - nylon to replace silk - and promoted at the fair for replacing silk for the production of ladies stockings.  The production of nylon went to the war effort in the 40's and it was used for parachutes for the troops; functional and more economical than silk.

At first glance, this quilt top looks like an Amish framed square pattern, except in a pink and blue colorway popular during the 40's.

The nylon strips measure 1 3/4" wide.  Forgive the wrinkles, I'm not brave enough to press this top.

The top is on a full size bed.  The top measures approximately 87" square.
Take a peek at the reverse side.  The nylon is starting to fray at points where it was cut at the end of the strips.

What a nightmare this top must have been to piece.  How did this individual cut the nylon with such accuracy?  Did she rip her strips?  How did she possibly iron the fabrics without getting her iron overheated and melting her fabric?  Did the sewer use strips of nylon binding rather than nylon fabric?

I keep thinking about the top and I am often glad it was never made into the "coverlet" or quilt or anything covering one sleeping.  Think about the 1940's when smoking in bed was commonplace.  Nylon melts when it is heated.  Not only does it melt, but it adheres to the surface of the object making contact and this disastrous scenario would end with the individual caused more severe burns than an organic/natural produced fiber bedding (which would burn and turn to ash).

But back to assembling this top.  I am amazed.  I had sewn with nylon in my youth and vowed never again.  Pressing was a nightmare.  I never selected the proper size needle so holes wouldn't appear, and keeping the slippery surfaces from shifting was just too much for a young, inexperienced seamstress to handle.  A few dresses ended up wadded up in bags thrown in my closet which meant I had wasted my allowance money without anything to show for it.  So for this top to be quite straight and uniform means an experienced or very patient seamstress loving assembled the new fabric of the future.

I never really considered making a quilt of synthetic fabrics.  Synthetic fabrics don't appeal to me mainly because they aren't comfortable.  I get hot and sticky in hot weather because they don't breathe like natural fibers.  In the winter, I feel cold because they don't retain body heat.

Double knits?  Oh, that's another synthetic nightmare of the 60's and 70's  right along with a fashion malady called "Hot Pants".  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Another Antique Wild Goose Chase

My last post featured a wonderful two color antique Wild Goose Chase quilt made in the early 19th century.  Here is the same pattern in a quilt with fabrics dating mid to late 19th century.  The entire top is hand pieced.  The consistency in the quality workmanship points to the work of one individual.  The blocks are 11" square.  The top measures 44" x 77".  While the pieced blocks feature different fabrics, a single brown print was used consistently in the alternating blocks.

I purchased the top at an antique show this past summer.  Not only was the size a bit of a mystery to me, but there are two tops of the same wonderful quality and size.  It was two tops for the price of one!

My first inclination was to theorize if the quilt was a top for the Sanitary Commission since there was a call for quilts 4 feet by 7 feet.  Certainly this top would fall within the perimeters of what they were requesting for soldiers cots during the Civil War.

Were the two tops originally made to be one large quilt and then split down the middle for donation, but then put away and forgotten?  I'm not sure except to say this secret has been lost with the maker.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Wild Goose Chase

A wonderful two color vintage Wild Goose Chase Quilt.

The maker of this quilt, Elizabeth, inscribed her name on the back in ink.  Elizabeth was a resident of Skaneateles, New York in the mid 19th century.  A family descendent did not know what the "No. 19" meant below Elizabeth's signature.  I thought possibly it could be the 19th quilt in her dowry?   Or the No. 19 in the laundry rotation?

The quilting design had me wondering whether it was quilted at a later date.  Can you see the hearts in the muslin sashing? A heart motif is not one I've seen frequently on vintage quilts.  The quality of the quilting stitch was definitely from a skilled quilter using fine stitches.  Maybe the hearts do lend towards the theory of the quilt being part of a dowry.
I was fortunate enough to have this quilt this past summer to clean for a family descendant of Elizabeth.  The quilt was found in a storage area and had some red staining, possibly from a blanket or another quilt with unstable red dye. 

A contemporary reproduction of the yellow print in the antique quilt would be this print from

Is this colorway making a comeback?  The February 2013 issue of American Patchwork & Quilting has a two color quilt in a Churn Dash variation.  While Butter Churn has a contemporary feel, the antique quilt is from the early 20th century.  Since this colorway has been sporadic in popularity over time, it is nice to see some attention devoted to this happy colorway.

Personally, I'm a fan of chrome orange.  But then again, you're talking to someone with an orange front door, a living room painted in Pumpkin Spice (like living inside a pumpkin) and whose alma mater is the Orange.  

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Quilting Designs

I am often asked how I come up with quilting designs.  I remember when I first started quilting it was something I found the most difficult; just letting go and doing whatever I wanted rather than using conventional all-over designs.

Eventually, I learned to treat my needle as a pencil, my fabric as a piece of paper and imagine I was doodling.  This process set me free (so to speak).

When I am really perplexed, I use the following technique:

I take a piece of vinyl (from the bags used for packaging bedding), and place it over my block.  Then, I take a dry erase pen and practice with doodling a design.  If I don't like the pattern, I take a soft cloth, wipe the vinyl clean and start over.  When I get a design I like, I keep practicing the pattern.  I tried to emulate the iconic Mary Engelbreit flower in this doodle.

Once I have the design down, I go to my sewing machine and quilt the pattern.

A cotton batting will give your quilt an "antiqued" look once it is washed after it is quilted.  PREWASH any red fabrics.  Believe me, many dependable fabric makers still have red dyes that bleed!  I've learned the hard way; you don't need to learn this lesson.  The quilt in this photo was designed by Mary Engelbreit for her Moda fabric, Basket of Flowers.  The quilt pattern was free from the Moda website.

Hope this method let's your imagination take off.