Category Archives: quilt history

Eye on Elegance

Hello all, Mary Ellen here.

I come from a family of folks who spend their days immersed in math and science. Except for one. I have a niece who loves history, in all of its forms. She is currently living in the Washington D.C. area, discovered this exhibit at the DAR museum, and sent me the link.

Eye on Elegance is an exhibit of quilts from the Maryland and Virginia area. This “show” online is wonderful for those of us who will not be in Washington soon. There are video clips from the curator, and many photos of the quilts which you can explore. You are able to zoom in and look at the details of the quilts. If you are interested in the history of our art form, I think you’ll find this very interesting. So much to learn about the beginnings of quilting here in the US, and lovely things from an artistic standpoint as well. I am always amazed at what quilters with little mathematical education, and the most basic of tools were able to come up with geometrically. The star blocks are challenging for us now with all sorts of tools, including computers, to help us draft the blocks. I can’t imagine how they were able to plan the piecing the “old way”.

Enjoy. You’ll want a cup of tea, and some time to linger over this exhibit. Click here.

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Filed under antique quilts, applique, English paper piecing, eye candy, quilt history, what is art?

back again

Hello all, Mary Ellen here.

The demo night at guild last month was a success as always. My only wish is that there would be a way for those who are demonstrating could visit the other tables and see what other fun things are being shared. As Roxie announced, I will be sharing more Christmas ideas here on the blog to continue with the Christmas in July theme. Can you believe that on some of the radio stations they are already doing a countdown of the shopping days left?!! No wonder the holiday has become so commercialized.  This first link I’m sharing is one of my go-to’s for free Christmas patterns of all kinds. There are ideas for quilting, sewing, crocheting, knitting, cooking…  If you like the idea, you can sign up to get e-mail notifications from them, but that is not a requirement at all. Try them out here.

Today I’m going to be working on a basket from the ladies at Aunties Two Patterns. Previously I  made a beach tote of theirs, and a similar smaller scale purse. Both were fun to make, and garnered compliments when I’ve used them. The basket will be for a series of Christmas demos at a local shop, but it will come home to my house when the demos are finished. I can confidently recommend the patterns from Aunties Two. I find them to be well written, with plenty of photos accompanying the directions. Not all pattern companies do a good job with the technical writing. Don’t you hate it when there are omissions or errors in the directions that you have to sort out?

(Pausing here for real life … several days go by …. humming Jeopardy theme to self)

Now here is a goldmine of patterns from Ruby McKim. Ruby was designing stitchery and pieced quilt patterns actively in the 20’s and 30’s. Those of you who are fans of redwork quilts are probably familiar with some of her designs, even if you did not know the designer’s name. Many of the antique redwork or penny square quilts still around are stitched from Ruby’s designs. I found this link at a member’s (Karen G.) Facebook page. In addition to all the patterns there is a section at the end of the “book” of patterns that were for sale with their prices. It’s fun to see what those cost back in the day. Amazing actually. click here

Spent the day at Fantasy Island with the kids yesterday. Back to the sewing machine today. Continuing on the basket I mentioned earlier in the post. The weaving will begin today!


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Filed under antique quilts, free patterns, quilt history, Uncategorized

Maybe one of these…

Hello all, Mary Ellen here.

In my last post I wrote about a quilt I’d never make. In this one I’ll share some I might make. If you are a reader of the Fons and Porter magazine Love of Quilting you are familiar with the Pilgrim/Roy collection of quilts. There is an article each month about a quilt or two from that collection. If you’ll be in Boston this summer, you might want to make a stop at the exhibition described in the post at the link I’m including. It might even be worth a trip to Boston specifically to see these. click here

If you know of places that quilters would enjoy visiting while vacationing this summer, please share! A road trip is always fun.

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Filed under antique quilts, applique, eye candy, quilt history

checking your work

Hello all, Mary Ellen here.

That heading really sounds like a math teacher wrote it.  (a retired one!) I’m working on a sample of a block for a demo I’ll be doing in a month or so. The book has great ideas but was not edited carefully at all. I wonder who it was who fell down on the job…the designer, the copy editor, the technical writer…   This is very irritating to me every time it happens. And it happens much more often than it should. (In a perfect world it would never happen!) I’m sure many a quilter has come upon errors in a pattern and blamed them on herself. Actually I find that many times the errors belong to some one else. Why don’t they check their work more carefully?

That said, our own inaccuracy in a 1/4″ seam cause us problems often. The block I am testing has 20 spokes (it’s a dresden plate variation) coming together in the center of the block. An ever so slight, one or two thread inaccuracy, multiplied by 20 becomes a problem. So in addition to finding ways to make the seams very accurate, I am also finding ways to compensate for the inevitable center issue in this block. I’ll want my students to be able to finish it, without too much frustration. This is not a block for those who think that 1/4″ inch seams aren’t as important as consistent seam widths.  That philosophy really limits the kinds of blocks and projects that a quilter can complete without a lot of angst. There is only so much a “fudge factor” can do for you.

This blog post  (click here) from Quilters’ Newsletter magazine talks about the process the magazine goes through to insure that what they publish is correct. I wish all publications were edited so carefully!! If while you are there, you back up to one post earlier, there is an interesting post comparing different hand quilting needles. Within that post she talks about Lady Edith’s developing fashion sense on Downton Abbey. If you are or were a garment sewer, or have an interest in historical costuming, I think you’ll enjoy the link she gives to notes about Lady Edith’s garments. I also was amazed at a photo of the actress who plays Lady Edith-what a different appearance she has in her “real” persona. (What did you think of the final episode?!)


Filed under garment sewing, hand quilting, quilt history

The Olympic patchwork

Hello all, Mary Ellen here.

Many of the Olympic games have had associations with quilts and textiles of all sorts. The upcoming games in Sochi are no different. Here is a link to a site showing the patchwork designed for this year’s games.   When you get to the page, click on “look of the games”. It will take you to pages with explanations of many of the Russian textile traditions featured in the patchwork. If you click on “collection”, or “catalogue” in the upper right hand corner, you’ll see some of the clothing using this patchwork design. So very interesting.  (Click here.)

Here’s another link to the Kansas City Star quilting website from a 2011 posting with lots of information about this patchwork branding for the Olympics. Within the article is a link to another with photos of many ways the patchwork will be used in publicizing the games. I think you’ll enjoy it. I hadn’t yet noticed this patchwork in the publicity for the games I’ve seen recently, but I am not an avid sports fan. I’ll be paying more attention now, hoping to spy the “quilts”. (Click here.)

On a completely different topic, does anyone know of groups doing projects for charity (other than our own guild) who could use donations of fabrics? Not just quilting cottons-any sorts of fabrics. In a conversation with some quilting friends we talked about trying to reduce our stashes down to manageable sizes. It would feel so much better to see the fabrics we give away going to groups who would actually use them, rather than just putting them in a donation bin where they may end up being sold as rags. If you send me the name(s) of any organizations or groups in our area that you know of, either via a comment at this blog or through my guild contact information, I will organize and pass them on. Thank you.


Filed under quilt history, stash reduction, Uncategorized

How far we’ve come…

Hello all, Mary Ellen again.

At last month’s guild meeting I picked up one of the freebie magazines that are always donated. It’s a copy of an early Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine from Feb. of 1982. Two things of note: There were profuse congratulations and excitement over the first Jinny Beyer line of fabric to be produced by V.I.P. fabrics. In the photo accompanying the article Jinny is wearing one of those quilted vests that all quilters wore back in the day. Hers features Mariner’s Compass quarters on the front. Remember those vests, girls? Come on now, fess up. You know you had one, if you’ve been at this long enough.

Secondly a four page article raved about a new technique taking quilting by storm. Let me quote the introduction to you and see if you can guess what technique they are lauding. Remember now, February of 1982.

” … is an intriguing study in contrasts and contradictions. It is old but new–traditional but contemporary. It is simple but complex, easy but hard, quick but time-consuming. It is structured and planned, but also free nd creative. With this technique one can make either abstract or representational designs. No contradictions here though: it has tremendously exciting possibilities for patchwork design, is fun to do, and is the “hottest” technique being used for quilts today.”

Got your guess ready? The title of the article this quote introduced is “Strip Piecing”. Not once in this article is a rotary cutter mentioned. In fact in the quilt pattern which accompanies the article, all the hand drawn illustrations (no computer used here!) of the procedure show scissors cutting all the 2″ strips. Wow! By the way how many strips were to be cut–with scissors–for this quilt? You got it, a total of 42 strips. Here’s a quote from the directions: “Measure and mark 2″ strips across the width of the fabric. Cut strips on the markings through all layers at once. Very sharp scissors, like Ginghers, should cut through eight layers at once, but you may find it easier to stack the fabrics in …” Can you imagine? I’m surprised that some of us stuck with this hobby. Maybe because we didn’t know how much easier it could be once we purchased the new-fangled tool called the rotary cutter!

Here’s a challenge–make your next project without a rotary cutter! Anybody up for it? Not me that’s for sure!

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What’s Up with You?

Hello all, Mary Ellen here.

What’s going on in your sewing and crafting space these days? I just finished a bunch of mason jar transformations, all using fabric, for a demo at the shop where I work. They all were fun, but I think I enjoyed working with the wool the best. It has been a while since I’ve done that. Some of you may remember our guild garage sales that we have had a few times. At the last one we had, I scored a bunch of wool from Betty L. who was moving south. Some was already felted, and the rest I did myself. There was enough fill 2 Rubbermaid storage bins. I’ve made many a project using the wool and have barely made a dent. I’ll include a photo of the jar cuffs I made with the wool. This project got me thinking that I should do more with wool, that I’d better get going on gifts for the holidays, and that we ought to have another guild garage sale sometime. (There’s an idea for our new 2nd vice presidents if you’re looking for a program.)

flower jarleaf jarholly jar

My next demo project for the shop involves folded fabric stars. They are showing up in lots of “quilty” catalogs these days. I’m seeing Christmas ornaments (balls and pine cones in particular) on lots of Pinterest boards too. My first folded star, from a pattern of long ago, was a round star mounted in a quilting hoop that hung on the wall in my kitchen. And yes it was in dusty rose and a chalky blue. (There weren’t many other choices in quilting cottons back then!)

I was chatting with one of our guild members, Irene J, today about the first time we made this sort of star. MY pattern from yesteryear is dated 1980. It is obviously typed on a typewriter and photocopies. We both remembered NOT HAVING A ROTARY CUTTER to use–gasp! We had to cut all of the squares with cardboard templates, using scissors.

from Wikipedia “The first rotary cutter was introduced by the Olfa company in 1979 for garment making, however, it was quickly adopted by quilters. Prior to the invention of the rotary cutter, quilters traced handmade templates of the necessary shapes onto the wrong side of fabric and added 1/4-inch seam allowances all around. Templates were often handmade of (cereal box type) cardboard and the pencil wore down the edges with repeated tracings, rendering them inaccurate; new templates would be made several times until all the patchwork pieces were cut. Pieces were usually cut one at a time with dressmaking scissors, which were often heavy and had long blades that were designed for cutting large pieces for garments but were cumbersome to use for cutting small pieces for patchwork.”

Doesn’t that sound like fun?! Irene and I got laughing about those first days of our quilting bug and wondered why we stayed with it?! Certainly we spent much more time in the prep process than we do now. And with much less accuracy as well. You girls who have always had a rotary cutter in your quilting tools don’t know how much fun you missed (chortle!)

Here’s a pattern link for a quick pin caddy. I like the idea of repurposing bits of tattered or stained embroideries. I picked up a bag of such at the end of the day at a garage sale to save them from the trash bin. This would be a good way to give them new lives; perhaps at our quilt show boutique they could find new homes. This too would be a nice small giftie for sewing buddies at the holidays. Can’t hurt to have a few yourself in your various project bags. Click here.

Do you remember the pre-rotary cutter days of quilting? Did you ever make one of those stars?


Filed under free patterns, gift ideas, guild activities, quilt history, stitchery, Uncategorized

Amy and some new friends

Hello all, Mary Ellen back.

A few days ago I posted about Amy Butler’s Quilt Market video. Thought I might make a skirt for myself. Well it’s done. I dug around through my archives (doesn’t that sound better than overstuffed storage bins?) to find a skirt pattern. Found one that I had used to make skirts for my nieces and pulled it out. I remembered how easy it was and that was just the ticket! The pattern is from Favorite Things, and is called Cute Skirts. Three styles in a wide size range, sizes 4 – 24. Of course those numbers do not match up with size numbers found in the stores. That would just make too much sense. If you have made garments in the past, you know that this has been an issue for years. Just measure yourself and choose the size you need from the measurement chart. They might as well give the sizes animal names for all the good the size numbers do! Anyway I’ve made two of the three views so far. Loving this skirt. It’s an 8 gore skirt, with elastic across the back waist, and a flat waist band in the front. I used a new floral fabric from Basic Gray for one, and an “archived” piece of Amy Butler yardage for the second one. Both fabrics are quilting weight cottons.  I think I’ll be making more of this style, it’s so easy to construct and the skirt is very comfortable to wear. (I did have to search around for a slip for under them. Not for modesty reasons as much as helping the skirt fabric drape better. I don’t think I’d worn a slip since I retired!) It would be a good pattern for a beginner garment maker to try, or for a veteran seamstress to whip up in an afternoon. The basic view, which was the 8 gores with the waist band, and no flounce or godets, went from folded fabric off the shelf to completion in about 3 hours. That even included the time rethreading the serger after a couple of years away. Had to actually get out the manual to remember how to do it!! (I thought since these summer skirts would be going in and out of the washer often, that I should clean finish the exposed seam edges. Pinking them or zigzagging the edges would work fine too.  I enjoyed making those skirts, and may get back into some simple garment making for old-time sake.  Simple I said, not those tailored wool suits and coats I used to do, mind you–I haven’t completely lost my mind!

Did you read the comments on the quilt history post? Both of those ladies are from the UK. I got a lovely e-mail from each one. Isn’t it just so cool that we have things in common to talk about with quilters “across the pond”?

Did you notice the article recently in the Buffalo News about flying a kite for charity in Gratwick Park? I’m sure that at least one or two of the fabulous kites, that the reporter referred to, were made by our recent guest speaker, Dennis Foster. I’m going to make a point this summer to go to the park on one of the kite flying days to see those spectacular kites up in the sky. I can only imagine how gorgeous they will be.

What’s on your sewing machine table these days? Tell us about your latest fabric adventures.

Off to give a demo on adding ruffles to the edges of your quilts, and later to teach a paper piecing patriotic project. (enough alliteration for ya?)  TTFN!

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a bit of quilt history

Hello all, Mary Ellen here.

I received an e-mail this morning from a member ( our former president, Mary D.) returning from a vacation to Utah and some National Parks. She included some photos and a link to the story of the Panguitch Quilt Walk. I had heard this story before but had forgotten it. I also enjoyed seeing her photos of the hanging in the visitor center, near Bryce Canyon National Park,  with its stitchery and miniature quilts included.  I did a little internet search and am also including a link to “Utah’s Patchwork Parkway”. Cool concept. Enjoy. You can click on any of the photos for a larger view (which will not have the right hand edge cut off!).





Filed under antique quilts, quilt history, stitchery, Uncategorized

the charm of traditional blocks

Hello all, It’s Mary Ellen back again. Between the garden, and the sewing machine I haven’t had much time at the blog lately. So I’ll try to catch up a little bit today. I taught a class today on designing your own “drunkard’s path” layout. Part of the class was also learning how to stitch that curve in the block without any puckers. I must say all the students were successful at that. YAY! Accurate cutting and very few pins are the keys in my book. I used Anita Murphy’s drunkard’s path book as a resource (thanks again, Helen). We also went a bit high-tech and used Google images to see SO many gorgeous variations on it. I had brought color photos, but one of the students had her iPad with her so we went on the internet. The students were floored by the versatility of the “module”. I think that’s what determines if a design idea will become a classic-how much can you infuse your own creativity into it to make quilts that are completely your own. No one else has your quilt.

Another quilt pattern that has stood the test of time is the Dresden Plate. Again so much versatility-change the number of degrees in the “wedge”, round tips or pointed tips, set it in to a circle or applique it on, include a trim into the curve of the block, make the wedges from strip sets… And on, and on. I absolutely love this Dresden plate block.dresden wheel This variation ( visit her site for more of her versions!) looks so modern, doesn’t it? I think I’ll be trying this soon-I already own the ruler she uses in her tutorial. And another cool thing about this one is that you get two blocks for the price of own, since you are flipping the ruler back and forth along a strip set. Love when that happens!

I know this is probably quilters’ blasphemy, but if you know a few of these classics you would never need to buy another pattern, just investing in fabric instead! You could keep making quilts forever working from the tried and true “traditional” blocks, without making the same old, same old quilt.

Do you have a block that is your favorite traditional, classic block? One that has staying power because there is so much you can do with it? Share please!

What project’s at your sewing machine these days? I’ve got a stack of 30’s repro fabrics cut for a scrappy drunkard’s path block that I’ll be using for leaders and enders for a while, but that’s not the main project. I’ll be finishing my samples for my seminar class in a day or two so the photos can get posted at our “seminar central”! (If you’re wondering about photos of all the local teachers’ projects, their deadline to get the photos to us is June 1. They will be posted as I get them, and our web guru checks them out. Supply lists are due to us by the beginning of July for web posting, and will be snail mailed to all registrants close to Aug. 1) I’m then going to have to choose a cheery summer time project. I think I’m going to go patriotic so I’ll have something to bring out on all our national holidays. I have a few mats and table runners, but I think I’d like a good ole red, white and blue quilt for the back of the couch.

TTFN. More coming before long, I promise!

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Filed under "modern" quilting, antique quilts, free patterns, quilt history, seminar, Uncategorized