Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Tale of Two Patchwork Quilters

The reason I'm so passionate about quilts is this lady:

This happening gal is my great-grandmother, Alice. The quilts she created had such an impact on me that I didn't pause to think how weird it was to be working on a queen-sized quilt in my dorm room freshman year of college. Clearly my coolness is innate.

My mom said Alice's quilts often used scraps from garment making, but there were a few places where yardage was bought. The combination of scraps and purchased yardage resulted in some great patchwork quilts.

From a distance, you get the feel of the piece as a whole. It's lively, and it's bed-sized (hence the use of a ladder and my failure to fully stretch it out). While it might not be the most beautiful patchwork quilt you've ever seen, it's not the least attractive. 

I can't say as much for some of the fabrics. 

As a child I was fascinated by all of the different colors and textures of the fabrics.

The magic of patchwork is the different fabrics read as a whole when you step away. Somehow they become something beautiful. 

Two pieces of fabric were joined to make a wide enough back for this quilt. That's as close to piecing a back as Alice ever came. No one pieced quilt backs then, and it was complete news to me when I started quilting again last year. If people were piecing backs in 2001, I didn't know about it. 

What's especially fascinating to me is the way Alice bound the quilt.

It's really as if the backing was just wrapped around the front and folded under before being hand sewn to the top.

If anyone binds their quilts this way, I'd love to hear about it. 

I knew it was time to share photos of some of Alice's quilts after seeing Clare's beautiful patchwork quilts on her blog, selfsewn.

from this post

Kapow! Now those are some beautiful patchwork quilts. All of Clare's tiny squares recalled my great-grandmother's patchwork to me. Clare has a great blog, and I'm so happy to have discovered it last month. I've since pored over it and found her making the same observations about patchwork.

I love it! 

Clare kindly answered my questions about her quilting process. Her stash and her quilts both seem to come together in an organic way. She'll buy fabric anywhere. "I like the unusual fabrics and the more colourful the better!" It's a rarity for her to buy fabrics at full price. She's been known to barter at French flea markets and walk away the victor with old French overalls.

from this post

I love Clare's position on piecing quilt backs: she doesn't do it.

Clare points out that no one is interested in the back unless you're entering a piece into a competition, which is not the point of her quilting. When you've put so much work into the front of the quilt, who wants to piece the back? She says she would never get anything finished if she had to piece quilt backs as well, and she would prefer to invest that fabric in the quilt top. Plus, Clare says when the back of the quilt is a whole piece you can really show off the quilting. So true.

Clare's quilt tops come together from her stash. She keeps a lot of scraps, some of which are quite small, and she rarely buys fabric especially for a project. I think it's interesting that she calls herself an "independent quilter." She doesn't limit herself to the fabric fashions and the latest designers. "I do not like quilts made with one collection, I find them too matchy matchy," she says. Good point.

from this post

It's not at all surprising to hear that from a person who makes such beautiful patchwork. However, it is interesting that she feels this puts her on the outside in some way. She says "I really don't consider myself to be a 'proper' quilter, I don't really follow any rules."

from this post

For me, it's concerning when someone making beautiful patchwork and quilting very much in the style of my great-grandmother feels that her approach is against the mainstream. I worry that too many rules are being applied to the craftiness of quilting if you can be mainstream or independent. Clare talks about the simple squares being a nice break from her intricate paper piecing. While she admits "matching all the seams perfectly was a little tedious!!" Alice did not go to as much trouble. Her patchwork squares don't always match up perfectly, and I find it a relief.

from this post

I know Clare's beautiful projects would have been a hit with Alice, who would have loved that fussy cut hummingbird. I'll share more of Alice's quilts in the future. In the meantime, quilt without rules and go check out selfsewn. You're in for a treat! Clare's writing is hysterical and her patchwork is the prettiest I've ever seen.

I'm linking up with Schwin & Schwin and Creative Itch.

Creative Itch


  1. I love your grandmothers quilt. I imagine its mainly polyester knits which quilters today would never consider using.
    You are right about too many rules. I think it turns people off quilting because they are afraid they will get it wrong.
    Often 'breaking the rules' can lead to something really unique
    happy sewing
    x cinti

  2. Ooh blushing!
    You make me sound so eloquent,
    but you have totally captured my feelings on quilting.
    Can you be my p.a. and write my blog please? LOL
    Thanks for sharing your G.Grandmothers quilt it's awesome, just up my street!!
    Clare xx

  3. OMG forgot to add that I have bound a quilt the same way too!! Check out my hand piecing tute, the quilt is backed with a striped fabric which I turned over just like your G.Gs!!!

    Ps. I've stolen your heading to add to my 'featured on' bit.

  4. When I started quilting in 2000, I was mostly self taught and befuddled as to how to bind quilts. I have a few that just use the backing folded up over them. Especially for a great big quilt, it's waaaayyy easier and faster than making binding for it, and I honestly wonder if it makes much difference.

    I also like breaking rules and love scraps. However, after a few times where certain vintage fabrics totally disintegrate in a quilt (granted after many years), I have gradually become a bit more snobby about fabrics!

  5. Love your grandmas quilts. You can just hear the stories in an old quilt. So many old quilts were made to be used not just to show off the talents of the quilter. Clare is all around wonderful!!! Her style and her quilts are fantastic - in fact all her makes are fantastic! She is ridiculously talented! And then to top it off she is as sweet as can be :)

  6. I've just come over from clare's and am now following you :)
    I love the scrappy quilt, it's beautiful!

  7. I bound my first few projects that way, my mother showed me how to miter the corners. Once I discovered blogland I realized this wasn't the "proper" way but didn't really care because it seemed perfectly good enough to me! However, a veteran quilter explained that with just one layer of fabric, it doesn't hold up as well as traditional quilt binding, which she then showed me how to do and I absolutely loved hand sewing the binding on. BUT, obviously if I'm in a hurry and it's a gift or something that isn't going to get used and abused and washed, etc, I just wrap the backing around to the front and call it good, lol. I pieced a stripe into the back of my kaleidoscope quilt, which is twin sized, but at the time it was because I used a bed sheet for the back and needed to make it longer in length so it could work in a long arm machine for quilting. I love it though, because it actually makes it super easy for me to find the top end of the quilt whenever I'm wanting to orient it a certain way.

  8. What a lovely post - I really enjoy your writing. I have a 1980s quilt from the island of Reunion which breaks all the 'rules', many times over, and is wonderful! In some ways it reminds me of your great-grandmother's fantastic quilt, with unusual (and frankly not too tasteful) combinations of fabric. The scraps tell the story of a family's life, and what could be better than that?