Quilting History


I’ve always wanted to try a Dresden Plate block, and this is my first attempt.  Not too shabby for a first effort, but, uh, room for improvement with that centre circle placement!  Ah well — trying new things and improving is what this quilt is all about.

There are a few different types of Dresden Plate block: the most intriguingly different from this are blocks with no centre (ooo hard, no room for fudging!) and those with round petals rather than blades.  They’re going on the list.

Patches in this block: 18

Patches so far: 977

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Still on a bit of a tradition bender.  Lacking the comfort of hot showers, and worried about cash, I am craving that sense of surety and connection.  I don’t want to learn anything new: I want to cement old skills and stitch something knowing it will work out. 

This is a block with many names, a well-travelled block that’s almost as old as patchwork.  Strangely enough, Dan declared it ‘very modern-looking’.

The plumber comes at lunch time to install a new hot water heater.  Bliss!

Patches in this block: 45

Patches so far: 959  — oooo, it’s getting close!

A traditional block, pieced by hand.

It’s winter in Melbourne and I have had one of those weeks that comes out of nowhere: $2000 in different bills and insurance dues have come all at once, and my beloved van is in emergency care and will certainly cost thousands to fix, if it can be fixed.  I hurt my back and haven’t been able to teach (stress?) …

… and today is by far the years’ coldest, so naturally the hot water heater is dead.  Did I mention it’s a long weekend?  Do you know a hot water installer who works long weekends?  Neither do we!

We shall be walking to the public pool for our showers.

So I needed comfort food and comfort sewing: a chocolate pudding with cream followed by a very old, very loved block known as Basket of Lilies.  Done by hand, because.  I’ve seen it done on-point in so many delicious and covetable Depression era quilts and have always wanted to give it a go.  Well worth it.  Wouldn’t it just be the perfect block to show off those perfect, but too tiny scraps you’ve been saving?

Patches in this block: 36

Patches so far: 914

(which needs an iron!  That’s the problem with cameras these days — they show you things you miss in real life!)

I can’t believe it’s been so long since I made a block for my sampler quilt.  Seriously — the last one was in April last year.  0_O !!

So then it’s appropriate that this be something special, something I’ve been saving.  Like a tribute to the ‘Sundial Coverlet’, a patchwork and applique extravaganza held by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London:

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O14716/patchwork-quilt/

It’s around three metres squared — an enormous quilt worthy of the largest of king size beds, and then some.  I seem to remember reading somewhere that beds used to be a lot larger in the 18th century.  Any historians out there who could back that up with some actual facts?  There are ducks and stars and pinwheels and all manner of geometric motifs, all dancing around a sundial and a date from long ago.  I’m just going to go out on a limb and imagine that 1797 is the date it was finished, but that would be because it’s the date a modern quilter would use, and I may be wrong.

In any case, I’ve been in love with this quilt since I saw it reproduced in Kaffe Fassett’s V&A book oh, around ten years ago, before I had made any quilt more complicated than a puff patch.  Kaffe and his team didn’t reproduce any of the applique, instead choosing to recreate the impression of the patchwork in their version — they were working with time constraints, of course, and the quilter who took this on would never see the light of day again!

I chose two particularly appealing applique blocks to reproduce, one with scissors and thimble, the other with a clamp and heart.  A clamp was a sewing tool back in the day — one might clamp the end of the seam to a table, then stitch towards it.  Makes sense for a straight and even line of stitching.

I took a photo of the quilt from Kaffe’s book with a macro-enabled camera, cut the photo down into the pieces I wanted, blew it up in Photoshop until I got around about the right size, and then used the Trace tool in EQ to create applique shapes.

Could I have drawn it freehand and saved the bother?  Probably,  but this way makes me feel a lot more connected to the mysterious quilter who made all these wonderful, magical blocks.  It must have taken so many years.

Patches in this block: 5

Patches so far: 878

Unexpected ‘incidents’ with inset seams aside, it’s been far too long since I tried doing a historical reproduction block or learned a new skill.  But I should have been smart enough not to try both in one go!

This picture, sticky and yellowed at the edges from a combination of time and cheap glue, has been sitting in my old visual diaries and nagging at me (‘Show me! Make me!).  It’s part of an old photocopy I made while visiting America in 2002.  I had two days to myself and spent them, nerd that I am, taking ridiculous numbers of photocopies at the New York Public Library: quilt books and out-of-print Richard Brautigan poetry.   Ahh.  Here is the full original: the block is at A6 (6th across, top row).

Way back then in the library, I fell in love with this sampler quilt.  It’s long ago been separated from the notes I took of the maker(s) and even the title of the book it was in. I feel sure the block I chose to copy was done in Turkey red.  It represents a hand (possibly, probably, traced from a real hand), wearing an abstract thimble and decorated with a heart. 

These complex applique samplers were almost always done as gifts from a group of friends to a new bride or a departing friend, hence the heart.  I think it’s a touching and imaginative design, one that I’ve not seen before nor since.  I decided I’d like to copy it.

To make a block design, I took the photo above (a photo of a photocopy: classy) and blew it up by about 1000% on the PC.  Then I traced the design on to fabric and proceeded to reverse applique the design.  Nooooo… tried to reverse applique the design. 

This method worked surprisingly well; it would be much more problematic for detailed picture blocks like Baltimores.  

Somewhere along the line, I forgot that in the original block, the hand is skewed to face the corner.  No problem, because the white fabric points where the fingers meet the hand is so knobbly and frayed that the block is unusable.  You can see in the photo that the lines get wobbly there.  The fabric is also bubbled and knobbly.  One look at a quilting frame or a wash tub and this baby’s just lint.

I vastly underestimated this block’s degree of difficulty, and/or my decidedly average skill in applique.  Plus, black thread was not a good choice.  After I made the heart I switched to white, but the damage was done.

I’ve decided to go on a little self-guided applique course, starting with reading this book.

Despite trials and tribulations, I still think that this is a neat way of copying basic designs and I hope to use it in the future.  I’m especially pleased with the results since the only image I have of the quilt is a terrible and tiny photocopy.  But I want this block in my quilt — badly, I now realise — and I’m only waiting on applique skills before I can also make this composite block with figures from the Victoria and Albert Sundial Coverlet.

I’ll let you know how it goes…  if you have mad applique skillz, please tell me how you learned them!  A book I can read?  A site I can look at?  Don’t say ‘grandma taught me’ unless she lives in Brunswick and can be bribed to teach me.  I have chocolate, jelly babies, and a decent stash of novelty egg cups.

Here we go for the first non-Western block!

This is a method of reverse applique developed by the H mong (‘mung’) people who are dispersed through parts of Vietnam, Thailand and Laos (and more recently, of course, places like Australia and America). It’s one of two basic methods of cloth decoration they favour: the other is a very colourful figurative embroidery, and there are many examples on the web. This is an expert-level flower cloth with an ‘elephants’ foot’ design:

The ‘flower cloth’, as this is called, is formed by folding a square of coloured cloth, making tiny cuts in the edges, and unfolding it again, then cutting and sewing along the lines formed. For this step, I suppose you might think of making cut-out snow flakes in primary school. Here’s my very first try at a basic pa ndau star, folded three times and basted, with chalk where I measured the places to cut:

There’s an extra cut on the long side, for reasons that will become clear.

Then unfold, and you’ll find you have concentric circles of notches. These will guide your reverse applique.

Place the coloured cloth on another piece of cloth (the base). Baste. The H mong will often add a third, but I’m going to quilt mine and need it to be thin.

This photo unfortunately doesn’t show the notches up very well (the cloth is too dark) but you can see where I’ve marked a star shape by joining them up. When that’s done, you simply reverse applique along the lines of the star, making sure that you don’t get too far ahead with the cutting and you don’t let one side get too far ahead of another (stability is the key). You can see here that I’ve started turning and sewing.

Keep going with the centre star, then the second and subsequent stars. There are three in this beginner’s style block.

When the stars are done, there will be an extra cut on what used to be the diagonal lines. These are, usefully enough, the inside points of the stars. They are for decorative little accents, viz:

I’m not that good at applique, but at least though it’s wonky, this is firm.

This block was originally cut a bit bigger, because I had a feeling (justified!) that I’d be marking and cutting a little wonkily on my first go. It’s easy enough to trim back.

I’m not sure that this is really a good guide to get started. I’ll think about explaining it better when I do another one: I want to try an elephant’s foot, now!

Here’s how an expert would make this block:

Patches in this block: a measly 2!!!

Patches so far: 290

There is no PDF for this as it’s not really meaningful. See for examples, photos, and links to more information: http://www.lib.uci.edu/libraries/collections/sea/hmong.html

Dear Heavens. Look what I found on the web this morning. I’m in love.

These Depression era babies are just four inches tall, and the maker embroidered the names of each block in the sashing underneath. What’s more, the quilt’s owner Gayle has been making a set of patterns. You can also click on the quilt on her page to see it large-scale in Flickr.

http://sentimentalstitches.net/free-stuff/midget-blocks/

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