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This page is dedicated to the patchwork subject of making a quilt.  A quilt is composed of three layers, the top layer, which is created using patchwork, applique or a wholecloth piece.  The next layer is a layer of thick batting, such as cotton, wool or polyester fibers, and the bottom layer is called the backing, usually a coordinating sold piece of fabric but can also be patchwork or applique.  Applique is explained on that page of this website. 

 

There are many different kinds of quilts but most require some cutting, sewing and pressing accurate patchwork skills.  Patchwork simply means fabric is cut into shapes with enough space around each shape to sew the patches together – much like putting a puzzle together.  The shapes can be squares, triangles, curves, strips, diamonds, pentagons, star points, hexagons, etc. etc.  Each of these shapes must be cut very accurately and sewn together very accurately for the quilt top to look right and hang or lay straight. Here are some examples of different kinds of patchwork:

As you can  see these are all very different patterns but they are sewn together in ways that are common to patchwork.  Some easier methods have been used to create more accuracy with difficult designs, such as Paper -Piecing, but the rules of sewing patchwork (or piecing) can be learned and used for many different styles.

Patchwork often is arranged in repeating blocks of equal size, such as 10” or 12” blocks with strips of fabric separating them called “sashing.” Here are  examples of quilts with sashing strips in between the repeating blocks:

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Each part of creating a quilt is an entire subject in itself.  For example, there is patchwork, with thousands of patterns; applique, also thousands of patterns; the quilting line (the process of sewing together the 3 layers of a quilt using lines – decorative or plain).  Because there are thousands of patchwork patterns that have been handed down to us throughout history, these patterns can be divided into categories that are sewn together the same way or order but look very different.  I will be working with those categories in future blogs so that even the most challenging patterns can be broken down into manageable tasks that can be understood and created.

Quilt making is truly a uniquely American craft dating from the colonial period in our nation’s history.  Although there are quilted garments and religious items from earlier times, the traditional “patchwork” is a part of our folklore and tradition.

Here is a PowerPoint presentation in PDF form with  more photos showing the evolution of the modern-day quilts as we know them.  Just click on the quilt below to open the presentation.

Historical Presentation of Quilting Arts

Please allow a few moments to fully load.  Once it is loaded the first time, it will be much quicker to open the next time.

Baltimore Album.jpg

You can see from the presentation that many of the quilts styles and patterns we take for granted today had an origin and purpose when they were invented.  Even though today's modern quilts can look quite different, their designs are rooted in history. 

Quilt making originated as a method of recycling clothing, bedding and household linens in the harsh and often primitive lives of the early settlers.  Fabric was expensive and rarely could an average American family afford yardage in the large amounts required for bed covering.  Several old quilts have been found to contain worn wool blankets, cut and re-pieced civil war uniforms, and even older threadbare quilts within the layers.  Because patchwork was considered a winter past time for the poor, elderly, or very young, many of the surviving antiques are shrouded in mystery as to their time and place of origin.  In many homes, patchwork was used as a means of teaching young girls their home-making skills in preparation for marriage

Why has quilt making survived its humble roots when other traditional crafts of the same period have all but disappeared?  Like any artistic medium, it involves the mastery of techniques and craftsmanship that create an interesting divergence from the “instant” world in which we live.  Its popularity has risen and fallen over the last century for various reasons but it is now enjoying a revival unsurpassed by even the colonial days. 

 

The latest resurgence of interest in quilt making began in the 1970’s as we were preparing for our Bicentennial Celebrations in 1976.  All folk-art enjoyed a re-introduction to our lives as the “country” or “primitive” look invaded our home-decoration, clothing and other styles.  We seemed to need to move away from our culture’s trend toward a glass and steel-manufactured world into a softer, more homey, simpler look.  Country quilts in country colors were produced in large enough members that several companies began to produce fabrics and tools aimed especially at this growing market.  Many of the quilts made during the 1970’s and early 80’s were reminiscent of quilts past but suddenly things began to change.  Artists and other “visually” trained people – men and women alike began to re-invent the meaning of the word “quilt”.  The traditional look of the modern quilt began to give way to a more painterly, graphic, and sometime just plain funky approach.  Quilts became visual statements to be hung on walls rather than cozy bedcoverings.  New techniques in fabric manipulation and color combinations gave rise to new inventions in quilt assembly, equipment, and gadgetry. 

Swimmer by Tim Harding

 

Since 1985, quilt making has become an upwardly mobile phenomenon with more fabric and equipment choices than ever imaginable.  With hundreds of books on quilt making on the market and many people finding full-time careers in specialty areas such as fabric design, cruise ship seminars, technique and equipment invention and marketing, as well as Quilt show organization, the lowly quilt has outgrown it’s homey, bed covering roots.  It has surpassed the $3.7 billion dollar figure as an industry; with 7 - 10 million quilt makers in the USA alone affecting over 6 – 8  million households at last count (2017).

 

The sky is the limit.  Professional quilters create and ship their quilts around country and around the world to the many exhibitions, shows and tours, criss - crossing the globe year-round.  The prize monies awarded at these shows have stimulated the creation of more quilts for competition, more unique quilts, more perfectly crafted quilts, and have raise the standards for production on all levels to a high art form.  A beautiful prize-winning quilt can be as simple as a two-color Traditional, or as complex as a Color-wash or Landscape.  Each quilter has the opportunity to express his or herself through the multitude of affordable choices available at any local quilt shop.

The 1990s seemed to explode with new ideas for quilts that just hadn't been thought of or explored before.  Below are some examples of new ideas and methods that came out of the 80s, 90s and beyond.

Paula Nadelstern
Kells Magnum Opus Zena Thorpe
Miriam Nathan Roberts
Caryl Breyer Fallert
Jane Sassaman
Paula Nadelstern
Miriam Nathan Roberts
Katy Pasquini
Barbara Olson
Show More

This short video says it best concerning what has happened with Quilting Arts in the past, present and future.  I highly recommend purchasing this video .....250 minutes worth of information that isn't found anywhere else.  Especially those who are new to quilting and don't realize the historical and cultural significance.  For more information about owning this video, visit the website by clicking here Why Quilts Matter 

For today's quilter, there are many different methods and tools for each part of the quilt making process.  I will be showing what I think is the best for patchwork for beginners who have never made a quilt before. 

 

For a simple patchwork quilt, you will need the following supplies:

 

  • Rotary cutter – 45 mm.

  • Rotary cutting mat – at least 24” on one side.  Buy the largest mat you can afford.  You’ll outgrow it soon enough.

  • Rotary cutting ruler – 6” by 24” for cutting long strips, and another smaller one – maybe 6” x 12” for cutting patches

  • Fabric scissors

  • Long ball-headed quilting pins

  • Regular sewing thread – 40 weight for sewing patches together.

  • Seam ripper

  • Seam guide – to keep you accurately stitching the patches at exactly ¼” wide

  • Extra sewing machine needles – Universal 12.

  • Reynolds freezer paper - Blue box available in grocery stores.  Why?  You will iron your patches onto the shiny side of the freezer paper to keep them in order when sewing and  from getting lost

  • Ironing board and iron – small irons work well for patchwork – you will be ironing a lot

Patchwork Tools.jpg

The amount of fabric to be purchased depends on the size of the quilt.  Quilt shops are the best place to buy quality fabrics that can be cut up and sewn back together to create a masterpiece.  This information will be included in any book or pattern directions you purchase. 

The simplest way for a beginner to choose fabric is the following:

  • Choose your “main” fabric.  Choose a medium print with 1” to 3” motifs that you absolutely fall in love with.  This will help establish the choices of your other fabrics.  Determine the “personality” of your main fabric to better guide you in choosing the rest.  If you choose a dinosaur print for your main fabric, you might want to steer clear of rose prints or John Deere tractor prints – the personalities don’t go together.  Use only name-brand fabrics of first-quality, 100% cotton – not blends (yet).  When you become a professional quilter, you can choose fabrics with different fiber content.  For now, cotton is challenging enough.

  • Then choose a neutral (can be white, cream, or black) to be used as the background for all of the blocks.  What this does is surround the block pattern without attracting attention to itself.  It doesn’t have to be solid, just “quiet” so the block pattern can emerge.  See the block below:

      The creamy print does not distract from the Churn Dash pattern, it frames it.

 

  • Choose about six ½ yd. pieces that coordinate with the Main Fabric. Choose light, medium, and dark prints as well as a variety of textures.  Avoid solids, stripes or one-way designs.    Colors of these fabrics are chosen based on the “main” fabric.  These can be mixed and matched when cutting the blocks and they will all work together in the final design because they are based on the “main” fabric. 

  • Now choose a “funky” fabric that “goes” but barely.  This one can be used to add “spice” to the overall effect.  It can be extra “loud”, bright, or just a little offbeat.  It keeps your quilt interesting.

  • Choose a print fabric for sashing (strips of fabric between the blocks)  to pull together all of the blocks.  This decision can’t be made until all your blocks are put together.

  • One ½ yard coordinating fabric for binding.  A dark, small print should be used.  Avoid solids.

  • Fabric for the back of the quilt.  It can be a print or solid as long as it coordinates with the top of the quilt.

  • Low loft quilt batting – there are many kinds – lower is better for quilting.  Use a good quality, name brand batting, such as Hobbs, Fairfield, Warm and Natural, Quilters Dream

Fabric Selection Tips

  • Stand 30 feet away from your combination of fabrics and look.  What do you see?  Does everything blend?

  • Cut a 2” hole in a piece of plain white paper and place it on the main fabric as a viewing window to check the effect of cutting it in pieces.  Do the same for all the other fabrics to see how they will appear when cut up.

  • Wash, dry and iron all fabrics before starting to avoid shrinkage and distortion of your quilt.  Use a gentle cycle for both wash and dry.  Iron the fabric using spray starch before cutting patches.

What to Avoid

  • Too much contrast in a print such as, light and dark that is too pronounced (polka dots).

  • Too many colors in the six coordinating fabrics.  Although most people don’t have enough color.

  • Too dominate a motif.  Fabric that when cut up into pieces will lose its design effect.

  • Too directional a design.  Directional designs cannot be cut up and rearranged at will because of the design, such as plaids, stripes, one-direction prints.                       

Below are examples of the main fabric in the foreground with the coordinating fabrics lined up so all can be seen how they will work together.  You can also see in these photos that I have a printout of the entire quilt as it will look when all the patches are sewn together.  I use the Electric Quilt software to design, edit, create patterns for all my quilts.  Then I can print out my ideas to see if they will look the way I want, alter the fabrics, if needed and help me know which patches and what colors need to be sewn together.   The thread colors are what I used in the embroidery blocks in these quilts.

Cora's Fabrics
Genevieve's Fabrics.jpg

I like to use templates for patchwork, which is considered “old school” but I think it is the best, most accurate method regardless of how many newfangled gadgets are invented to replace them.  A template is the basic shape you want to accurately cut around – in this case a square and a triangle.  You can make your own from a pattern in a book or you can purchase templates already cut for you and you just use them to cut out the shapes.  In the picture below, I have an acrylic set of templates that I used for this patchwork quilt and I cut around each one.  The seam allowance (the part that gets sewed together) is already included in the size.  I like to layer the fabric I am cutting into 4 to 8 layers so I can cut that many shapes at once accurately.   If I cut around these shapes accurately, I can see at a glance that all the shapes are identical.  If not, I can trim accordingly.  That is why I like templates.  

 

Sam's Quilt.jpg

For our purposes, we will zero in on the mastery of a few basic quilt block types or categories in the blog section of this website.  This means that if you learn the fundamental principles of assembling one block type, you are able to assemble any other block in that category, no matter how difficult or intricate it may be.  In this website, we will be laying a foundation and then building upon it, learning the skills of good craftsmanship toward the creation of a beautiful heirloom quilt of your choice  – hand made entirely by you!!

© Updated 2019 by Linda Hall

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Miriam Nathan Roberts