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.

In honour of Block 16 (which makes a nice 4×4 set), some progress shots.  I think it’s about time to update the WIP page, too.

I’m so over that idealistic plan to only post photos of my mini hexes when they’re sewn together.  I will post again when they’re done.  Glory!  Glory, I say!

I’ve cut the pieces for Block 15 again (third down, second along) as it’s not like the original and very wonky.  I also cut pieces for Papa’s Star, and I’m really looking forward to sewing it.  Any Dear Janers done this block in hand piecing?  I’d appreciate your advice.

Unrelated: I’ve decided to join NaNoWriMo and make a book as well as my crafty things.  Note, I did not say a good book.  It may be gibberish. But it will be a romance, it will be 50,000 words long, and I will write it between 1 and 30 November.  I’ve put a progress ticker on the sidebar so you that you all know where I’m up to, and so that the guilt of everybody knowing makes me actually finish.  If you’re planning on doing it, too, send me an email and we can be online writing buddies!

Also totally unrelated but exciting: we’re going to meet a litter of schnauzer puppies on Saturday.  They’re about seven weeks old, I think.  Sooooooooo excited!  I’ll take the camera so there can be many puppy photos on Saturday night!

I woke up this morning thinking ‘Marmalade! I can show everyone the lovely jars of marmalade I made!’. Not so lucky: the MQA had already discovered it for himself, and scarfed half a (large!) jar. So, if you want to see it all dolled up, make some! I don’t know any easier jam recipe, or any less likely to fail.

Super-easy super-chunky marmalade: Cut four oranges and two lemons in half. Slice very thinly. Remove pips, place in a saucepan, cover with 1.5 litres water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 45 mins. While that’s going on, put 1.5 kilos white sugar in an oven dish, and bake at 180C for 10 minutes or until it starts to smell *just* caramelly. Add, stir to dissolve, simmer for another 45 minutes or until a sample placed on a cold plate crinkles to the touch. Ladle into sterilised jars and hide from your boyfriend until you have a pretty picture for your blog.

In more blog-related news, I received a lovely comment from Linda, who is quite rightly wondering whether I’m still making sampler blocks:

“Anne, I have made a mini Dear Jane (50 blocks) AND have made some of the blocks for the Sundial Quilt. Please continue to post about these quilts!!”

First things first — Linda, I’d love to see pictures! Send them along so we can all see!

Second — Linda’s comment came at a good time. I haven’t posted a sampler block in aaaages, and a general clean-up of my sewing corner last weekend shows why. I have works in progress coming out my ears:

  • Finish closures on Very Hungry Dress
  • Finish apron from Very Hungry Fabric
  • Quilt and bind cot quilt
  • Quilt the blue sampler quilt
  • Finish the big hexagon quilt
  • Continue with mini hexes and sampler
  • Make Mum and Dad two vintage sheet quilts

And that’s not counting things like my box of strawberry-themed fabric that I’d like to use someday, the box of 1″ squares, the folder with miniature blocks in it, or the hat box full of favourite bits for a happy scrappy. Oh boy, and it really doesn’t count the ‘someday’ fabric.

I get incredibly excited about new projects before I’ve finished the old ones. Nothing much to worry about — we all need variety, especially in a hobby. ‘Having’ to finish things is for working hours. More fixably, too much of this was to be done by hand, and I’m loving the sewing machine much more right now. Not to mention that having a million hand projects is intimidating. It’s all very well having something to make slow gains on, but divide the time by five and I rarely see any convincing progress. So, I think I might start making some of the sampler blocks by machine, and quilt the blue sampler by machine. Guild friends will cry heresy, but I’ll have two more pretty quilts before I’m in a retirement home. For the next little while I’ll pick a project and work it through to completion. This week: cot quilt.

Time to celebrate with a progress shot, no?

They’re all wrapped up in plastic so that they don’t collect dust and who knows what else in our crazy house before I’m finished making their neighbours!

I made this to practice gentle curves. I like it. It’s wonky around the edges, which had me worried for a while. However, it seems to be the right size and I’m reasonably certain that the wonk will go away once there’s sashing around the edges. Thank heavens for that, and for quilting – that crease is annoying.

Patches in this block: 17

Patches so far: 288

Get the pattern as PDF

First of all, thanks to everybody who helped me out on the colour scheme.  I’ve put in a monster order at equilter of these lovely Kona packs (in greens, blues, and warm tones)… there seemed to be general agreement that dark blues and some light yellows were the go.

Second… here is the first circular pattern I’ve ever drafted all by myself in EQ6.  It’s a miniature intertpretation of a block in an old signature quilt made for and by a young American lady.  Helen Hayes did a full sized machine pieced/machine quilted reproduction which you can see here (full quilt) and here (detail).  She did change the position of some blocks, but it’s a pretty close repro.

This was the first seriously difficult bit of appliqué I’ve done.  It’s also the second bit of appliqué I’ve done, period.  If I’d stopped to plan, I would have realised that the tiny tiny points on each of the small appliquéd orange pieces were way above my beginner skill level, and I should have modified them or read a book about appliqué first.  On the other hand, I’d already drafted it and I wanted to finish it.  Soon.  Plus, as my helpful resident masculine quilt advisor pointed out, real flowers aren’t symmetrical anyway!

Here it is, at last: by the way, the creases won’t survive hand quilting, so they aren’t a worry.

One thing that did go remarkably well was the piecing.  The angles seemed a bit dodgy (as you can see in the photo below), but it all went together quite easily.  Curves are getting easier. I followed some advice picked up from Alice on the Indiana Puzzle block: not stretching the fabric and keeping stitches small and relaxed.  This has helped enormously.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the stages of Block Nine.

Thanks to Anina over at Dear Baby Jane for the freezer paper appliqué technique!

Patches in this block: 26

Patches so far: 224

I like this one. Not too taxing on the mind (I needed a break after that Indiana Puzzle block!) and not too long in the making. Plus it seems to dance somehow. Not sure why the photo sees a shadow on the right hand side, because there isn’t one.

The next block will be different, promise – not a Jane Stickle block. Maybe a cookie cutter or a Sarah Morrell Album Quilt block.

Patches in this block: 24

Patches so far: 198

Get pattern as PDF (please read the user info first)

New block to come soon, but here’s a photo in the mean time. I fixed the corn and beans block. It looks much better for the square set arrangement.

Get pattern as PDF (please read the user info first)

Ok, so I promised everybody the story of the one orange patch in my “Indiana puzzle” block. It’s a long one, so forgive me.

In the early 1800’s, the British were having a tough time dealing with overcrowding and an increase in crime. Too often, these crimes were just petty thievery, such as survival-line food theft. Government policy was to jail almost every convict, so the jails were full to the point that some prisoners were kept on disused ships moored at the mouth of the Thames. I’m sure you can imagine how horrible these places became.

After the British discovered Australia, their government decided that it would make a great place to send men and women convicts.

Over the years 1817-1843, Elizabeth Fry ran a scheme to supply each woman sent to Australia with “one Bible, two aprons, one small bag of tape, one ounce of pins, one hundred needles, nine balls of sewing cotton, twenty-four hanks of coloured thread, one small bodkin, one thimble, one pair of scissors and two pounds of patchwork pieces”. The idea was simple and in line with Quaker philosophy: the women would have something to occupy their minds and their hands on the long and terrible voyage, and then they would have something to sell or exchange when they arrived, so that they might not fall straight into destitution.

Most women sold their patchwork, of course, or used it until it was worn. I suspect that those who didn’t need to sell did so anyway in order to remove the terrible stigma of having been a convict. So we only have one left to us, and have no real idea what they tended to look like. We do have a record from a ship’s captain, who spoke warmly about the women’s solace in sewing.

This story has been in my mind since I started my sampler quilt. What does it mean to make a sampler quilt in Australia?

To me, it means having many ‘grandmothers’ to teach me differently, and through different channels (their quilts in museums, books, web pages, in person). Many grandmothers who have different ideas on what’s important or beautiful. Who use the art form for many different purposes – like wrapping gifts, showing respect to warriors, or just keeping their children warm. Or even showing off a little! Whilst American patchworkers have much to be proud of, indigenous patchwork and quilting traditions have evolved in Australia, India, Korea, Japan, and so many other places that the swapping of techniques is a web that unites us.

Some women chose patchwork, and others found unexpected solace in it during a journey over which their lives changed forever. Over difficult weeks, the women who came to Australia would watch the stars change into an alien landscape: heaven knows how they felt when they saw the colours of the land they would have to try and survive on. It would take many decades before Australian patchworkers would develop a palette and a style all their own.

This is the reason for the mariner’s compass I will make for the centre of my quilt. I intend to make it in the colours of the sun: deliberately, a little confusing (does it show the way, or is it a sun burst?). The sampler blocks will come from all over the world, and they’ll take on the colours of the sea and the sky. But they’ll reflect and refract the sunset/sunrise/compass in the middle. It will be a quilt about making networks – not least over the net – and about traveling through unknown seas. About learning and growing in the process itself. That’s what a sampler should be.

Colour-wise, it’s not so much a plan as an idea. I’m still not planning to map it out too much as I’d like to learn different methods before planning out blocks with them. But it satisfies me in some small way that while I sew, I can think about those who have stitched these blocks before me, pay tribute, and learn from them.

Update: oh, and some days, it’s just nice to sit in a comfy chair and sew something ;D

Success! I’m so pleased now. Thank you so much to everyone who’s kindly left a comment or sent me a Flickr message. In the end, I didn’t use any one person’s plan, but made a kind of mix of three or four good ideas. I made it with applique as it seemed that moving very small curves around was hard to do if I wanted to keep the fabric stable (that is, it’s necessary to stretch a seam to sew it, and the small ones don’t cope as well as big ones. You have to stretch the whole block at once, because of the size of human fingers.)

First, I made one full 16-patch block to use as a background, and four small 4-patch blocks for the circles:

Then, I cut the circle onto thin cardboard, and pushed a pin through its centre and the block’s centre, for precision:

Then I cut around with a 1/4″ seam allowance, basted, pulled the seam allowance in, and ironed it flat before removing the cardboard:

and appliqueing it to the background.

Again, push a pin through the centre of each piece so that it’s perfectly in place. When you’re done, very very carefully pare away the background fabric behind the circles. Leave a 1/4″ seam allowance. Do not do this before all the circles are in place, because having a whole piece behind the applique lends it all a degree of stability that was lacking in my first try at this!

I’ve never successfully appliqued before. I’m so chuffed. Thanks again, everybody!

By the way, there’s a good reason for the orange patch. But that’s a story for another night. I graduated from my MA program last night, and my partner and I have been moving house all week. Sleep time for me! Quilt history in the next few days… (mmm, tantalising).

Patches in this block: 36

Patches so far: 174