Chances are pretty great that you know someone who sews. Probably a greater chance that the person doesn’t do more than just the occasional button repair or quick hem of a pant leg. But then there are the lucky ones who know a sewist who creates functional art or pillowy adornments for your sofa or treasures to huddle beneath in the winter months. At some point in time, I went from the button-repairer category to the sewist trying to create functional art because she believes everyone should have some pillowy adornments on their sofa to lean against whilst huddled beneath a treasured quilt.
My journey was started by the same manner in which most sewists become introduced to the intoxicating allure of bright colored threads and the beguiling textures–by a previous generation family member. I was taught the general gist on how to make a quilt by my best friend’s grandmother when we lived with her for a summer in Falmouth, MA in 1993 during our college heyday. We had summer jobs at a local restaurant and in the spare time when we were being lazy lumps around the house, Gram put us to work, but in a stealthy way. One day her arthritis would make it difficult to use the rotary cutter, so would us girls help her for a bit? Sure, Gram. Another day it would be her knee giving her trouble with the angle of the seat at the sewing machine, so would us girls piece a few blocks and rows together for her? Sure, Gram. Another day it would be her back was too spastic to lean over the table to baste the quilt sandwich, so would us girls help if she handed us pre-threaded needles? Sure, Gram. By the end of our two and a half month stay, we had had our hands involved in at a least a dozen quilts and the majority of the steps to make a quilt.
Gram was a sly one, but she ran out of time before she could hoodwink us into helping to bind any quilts. I went many years not reusing my learned skills from that salty aired summer. Then one cold October day in Pelham, NY while shivering in my first apartment after college, and before the landlord was legally required to turn on the heat, I decided I was going to put my graduation present of a used Kenmore 10 Stitch sewing machine from the late ’80s to use. In 1996, that machine was just what I needed to make a few curtains to keep out the drafts from the old windows in my pre-war apartment building. It also was the perfect little workhorse for turning a collection of jean cutoff legs, a Dolman sleeved silk shirt and twirly skirt set, unfinished one piece jumper in a Mardi Gras colored paisley print and a few other odds and ends of fabrics I had collected without purpose, into a warm and cozy simple Nine Patch quilt with four inch squares. Of course, I had no idea that it was a Nine Patch pattern as I had no books or other resources at the time–I was just concerned with trying to wrestle the batting and corduroy backing into place so I could start hand quilting and keep warm. I should have been concerned with learning how to bind my new treasure I intended to huddle beneath.
A lot of things about the process of designing a quilt, and even the hand quilting itself, I simply puzzled out because it was the only option to progress. I eventually inherited a few of Gram’s traditional sewing books as reference fodder a few years after making my first quilt, but still preferred to design my own quilts based on the intended recipient. However, given the slow stitch method of hand quilting every one of my quilts until recently, I have few quilts to show off for my efforts. My preferred hand quilting method is the stab-stitch one where I can really control the stitch length and allow for lovely curves and precise stitch placement–something I found wasn’t possible for me with the rocking-stitch method. More recently though, I have moved onto machine quilting due to various reasons. After nearly 20 years of doing only hand quilting and being taught that was the proper way to quilt, it seems somewhat of a betrayal of the tenants I was taught by Gram that sly summer. I’m learning to embrace the modern way of making functional pieces of art and this blog will be the chronicling of my journey from traditional to modern. I hope you’ll journey with me.
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