It’s important to look at the whole quilt. This lovely pink and green appliqué quilt looks like it has some fabric toning and perhaps some wear. However, if we turn it over we can see considerable water damage and stains:
These stains are difficult, if not impossible, to remove and will affect the quilt’s value. Frequently, condition issues, such as staining, holes, or wear, are easier to see on the back of a quilt.
It is also easier to see the quilting on the back of the quilt–like the concentric circles and echo lines. We can also see the quality of the quilting stitch, especially when the backing is a solid.
I love to look at the front of a quilt closely–the small stitches, the seams that match, the workmanship and artistry which go into the small things. However, if a quilt is only looked at closely the visual impact of the quilt is not truly seen.
The pictures above are close-ups of a blue and white quilt. The block above is called Fly Foot. It looks fairly simple to construct–a half square triangle pinwheel and some bars. Blue and white is one of the most popular color combinations in quilts. From the closeup photos of this quilt it could be difficult to date–indigo solids have been produced for centuries. Now look below at the whole quilt:
Wow! No longer is it just another blue and white quilt. The movement and pattern of the blue lines give the quilt energy and make the eye move around the quilt. So many blue and white quilts are tranquil and serene–not this one!!
The rail fence block design is one of the first blocks many quilters learn to sew. It is easy to cut (all of the pieces are the same), easy to sew (no matching corners or tricky bias edges) and it looks great! I love the way that the quilter has arranged the blocks to look like a basket weave. I love to help quilters finish their quilts. I chose an allover (edge to edged) design with leaves and swirls which echoed the fabric design and gave the impression of vines growing on the fence.
John Hewson was one of the early calico printers in America. He learned the craft of wood block printing while working at Bromley Hall near London. Benjamin Franklin, while in London acting as an agent for the colonies, met John Hewson and was asked by Hewson’s family to take him to the new world. According to his daughter, Sarah Alcock, John Hewson had did not believe in the divine right of kings, which could have made life difficult for him in England. In 1773, he immigrated to Philadelphia with his family and some smuggled printing equipment. At the time it was illegal to take printing equipment out of England. He set up a calico printing factory in 1774 and began printing high quality and well sought after textiles.
He is well known for his wood block printed vases. This style of printing uses a carved wood block to apply dye or mordant to a fabric. Then the fabric is dyed, typically with madder or indigo. Additional detail is added to the fabric by hand brushing (a technique known as ‘penciling’) dyes (or mordants). The resulting textile is beautifully detailed and was prized by colonials. Among his customers were George and Martha Washington.
John Hewson joined the 1st Republican Grenadiers in 1775 and when the group disbanded, organized his own militia. When the British captured Philadelphia in 1777, Hewson was forced to flee with his household, and some of his printing equipment. The British ransacked and destroyed much of his factory. Hewson was captured by the British in New Jersey and spent some time in jail until he escaped to rejoin the cause. After the war he rebuilt his factory and it remained in business until about 1820.
The printed calicoes or ‘chintz’ were often reclaimed after being used in dresses and petticoats. The dress below is a 1780 fashion with an Indian chintz from the Coromandel coast.
A quilt’s center medallion was made from a whole design or motifs from the chintz were placed using appliqué onto a background, a technique known as ‘broderie perse.’ In many of these quilts from the late 18th and early 19th century motifs from the chintz which forms the center medallion are repeated in the outer borders.
Summertime is a great time to think ahead and finish those Christmas quilts. I loved this darling Grinch client quilt made with panels. The minkee which she used to back the quilt will make it warm and cuddly for the special little person in her life. Minkee really makes my quilting look good.
I had a wonderful yo yo growing up and loved doing tricks with it. Did you know that there are pictures of yo yo’s on a Greek vase from 500 b.c.e.? In 1928 the Yo Yo Manufacturing company was founded by a Filipino immigrant to the United States. He made several key improvements to the toy which made performing tricks like “walking the dog” possible.
The origin of the yo yo comforter is found in the rosettes men and women of fashion wore to decorate clothing in the 17th and 19th centuries. At some point during that time period they were also renamed Suffolk Puffs, apparently because the frugal people of Suffolk, England would reuse scraps of fabric to make them, sometimes stuffing the gathered fabric circles with wool. Yo yo quilts became very popular during the 1930s, I’m assuming that the name changed in the U.S. due to the popularity of the circular toy. A quick search of the Quilt Index found that nearly three quarters of the yo yo comforter’s documented were dated around 1930.
A yo yo spread/comforter is not a true quilt. It is made of circular pieces of fabric gathered to make a rosette or yo yo (or Suffolk puff, in England). The yo yo’s are tacked together and can also be tacked to a backing fabric. It does not have a quilt ‘sandwich’ (fabric-batting-fabric). Yo yo’s are also used in dimensional applique. Here are some examples from online auctions and the Quilt Index:
Yo yo’s make a great portable project, they are easy to make (especially with the plastic yo yo makers now available) and they are fun. Although I’m not sure that I’m up to making 10,000 tiny yo yo’s for 1 comforter!!
The quilting group at my church received a donation of a gigantic box filled with plaid flannel triangles–all shapes, colors and designs. We were overwhelmed. However we started to sew the triangles into squares, trimmed them to several different uniform sizes and then sewed them together. For some of us it was a challenge to work without a pattern, but I believe the quilts we produced will provide warmth to those who need it in during the winter months.
Here are some tips for dealing with flannel:
Clean out your machine regularly–flannel produces a lot of lint which can clog up the bobbin area. Every time you change your bobbin, make sure to take a brush to clean out the bobbin case according to your machine’s owner’s manual.
If possible, pre-wash flannel. Doing so will help make it less stretch-y, it will reduce lint, and there will be less fraying (because the fibers have shrunk).
Flannel frays badly. You might want to use a slightly larger seam allowance or finish the fabric edges with a stay stitch. Before sending the quilt to your long arm quilter, stay stitch around the outer edge.
Choose a design which is easy to sew–squares and rectangles are easiest. Bias edges on pieces like the triangles are more challenging because they stretch. Trimming to a uniform size after sewing ensures that blocks can be sewn together accurately.
Blocks with lots of seam intersections should be avoided. Flannel is thicker than quilting cotton, so it is more difficult to avoid bulky seam intersections. Consider pressing seams open. Quilting through bulky seam intersections threw the timing of my long arm off and resulted in several days of frustration as I readjusted it. I am now well versed in the art of adjusting my needle bar height.
Because flannel frays and stretches, allow extra border width so that the quilt can be trimmed square after quilting.
Although flannel can be challenging to work with, don’t despair. Nothing feels better than a flannel quilt and a cup of hot chocolate on a day when the high temperature is -40°. It’s hard to imagine in July, but we know that ‘winter is coming.’
The indigo plant (indigofera tinctoria), which is native to the tropics, produces one of the best known natural dyes. The name comes from the Greek word, indikon, or ‘India dye’. It was well known in the ancient world–a Mesopotamian cuneiform tablet has a recipe for creating the dye. Although the plant could not grow in Europe, other plants were grown, i.e. woad, to produce a similar, but lower quality dye. In the United States early settlers were able to grow the indigo plant throughout the south. In fact, Ben Franklin took 35 barrels of indigo to France to ask for their support of the American Revolutionary War in 1776. Indigo was sometimes known as “blue gold”.
Indigo dye comes from the leaves of the plant which are fermented (to convert the glycoside indican to the indigo dye) and then mixed with lye and formed into cakes or powders. It produces a blue/blue violet color which is beautiful in clothing, decorating and painting. Quilts with indigo dyed fabrics continue to be among the ‘best sellers’ in the antique quilt market. Here are some examples from online auctions:
A “shirting” is simply a fabric which can be used to construct a shirt. The Sears Catalog no. 124 from 1912 offered several different fabrics called ‘shirtings’: flannel, cotton calicos, corded, small prints, madras plaids etc.(I can’t even imagine $.05/yard!!)
Most quilters have come to know ‘shirtings’ as a cotton fabric with small abstract, geometric, or figure prints. Most commonly the ground is white with the figures printed in one color.
A friend recently found a 5 yard chunk of shirting fabric from the 1890’s at a garage sale.
Frequently prints like these with black or brown designs show signs of disintegration because the aniline dyes over time oxidize (burn) the cotton fibers. In quilts we see prints with small holes the shape and size of the original design; or we see discoloration around the print. Did you know aniline was also used as a rocket fuel as well as a dye?
Many scrap quilts from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries contain shirting prints and stripes. I imagine that many a household kept the scraps after making shirts for the family. Here are some examples I found on Ebay:
Shirtings were used to make men’s shirts and women’s shirtwaists (a women’s blouse which had similar details to a men’s shirt). Although many households sewed their own men’s shirts and women’s shirtwaists in the home, the garment industry employed many in the manufacture of these garments. In 1911 the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire killed 145 workers, mostly teenage girls as they attempted to evacuate the building through narrow staircases only to find that at least one of the doors was locked from the outside. As a result of the fire, laws were changed to protect workers and to make factories safer.
Appraising art quilts can be very challenging because the techniques and the materials used in them are constantly changing and evolving. One of the ways that I keep current is to take classes from successful art quilters. I was privileged to take a class from Norma Riehm on fabric layering techniques. She provided us with kits in several different color ways which included everything but our sewing machines. Each quilt was beautiful and despite having the same things in each kit, each of the quilts made during the class looked different.
This was the first time I worked with Angelina fibers, roving, yarn, silk flowers, beads, and crystals–all together in one piece. Norma discussed the sources for her materials and impressed me with her bargain hunting ability! I am sure that I will be checking out garage sales for art supplies once the weather gets warmer.
We started with a typical quilt sandwich and then layered fibers and flowers onto it, finishing with a layer of tulle. The next step was to quilt it. In future works I might try using some wool batting because it has the ability showcase quilting well. I loved adding crystals to the piece with the hot fix crystals and the aid of a pin. Norma then taught us how to bead so that the beads would be shown off to the best advantage and so that they would be securely attached.
The biggest takeaway from the class for me was her attention both to the craftsmanship and to the artistry of each piece.