Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fabric Fun: Pillow Covers

Last week I finally figured out how to sew pillow covers, something I'd been wanting to do for quite a while.  It's been a pillow-cover making frenzy ever since!
This is the first batch I stitched up.  I used a variety of fabrics, both new and vintage.  The three with the big pink flowers that you see here are from a vintage tablecloth that I've had for a long time but rarely ever used.  We're just not a pretty tablecloth type of household.  I hesitated before making the first cut, but after I finished the first cover, I was totally happy I decided to do it.  I love how this fabric works as a pillow cover; I think it showcases the beauty of this vintage piece so well. 

My design process for these might best be described as completely and totally random.  I had purchased a Robert Kaufman charm pack last week at Stitch here in Des Moines, and decided to see what I could come up with from it.  The colors weren't my usual palette so it was a good little challenge:

And since I'd opened that charm pack, I grabbed a few more pieces from it and paired them up with a vintage pillow case that I happened to have, because I'd bought a stack of them at a garage sale a few years ago:
I really, really like this one.  I love how the modern fabrics work with the vintage.  Like they were all part of the same collection. 

Yesterday I tried one more idea I'd been toying with, which will come as no surprise to those of you who know me:
I just couldn't resist.  The red floral print is from a bundle of yardage I got at an estate sale last summer.  I had no particular project in mind when I bought it, but it was too good of a deal to pass up. 

So that's what's been happening around here.  Now back to my sewing machine! 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Precious Patchwork: My grandparents' wedding quilt

It was just over 82 years ago that my grandparents eloped.  They were married on December 16, 1931 in Freeport, IL.  My grandpa had just turned 21 and my grandma just 18.  They got married, went back home (Hardin County, Iowa) and kept it a secret for four months.  Why?  Well, my grandpa told me that they didn't have a place of their own yet, so they both just continued to live with their mothers until they could afford a place of their own. 

I almost never found this out--it was very near the end of my grandpa's life when we were talking about it and he told me this.  My mother had not known this story about her own parents.  I'm the nosy one who likes to ask questions.  And I'm glad of that. 

Looking through our quilt collection last week, my mother informed me that this quilt was the one that my great-grandma, Hannah Price, made for her son and his new bride.  Just exactly when, we don't know, but I like to imagine that she started to make it about the time they announced their marriage. 

It's not a double wedding ring, but I think it is very beautiful:

Here's what the back looks like:
You might notice the binding looks a bit out of place--and also that it is the same fabric on the vintage quilt I blogged about last week; apparently my grandma had several quilts re-bound with this same fabric.  I love the fabric used for the back of this quilt.  Several of our quilts just have plain white backs or are backed with a blanket; perhaps since this quilt was for a special occasion, Hannah purchased fabric especially for the quilt back.  That likely would have been a splurge back in 1932; my grandpa told me of how they had very little money to spend during the Depression years and so I think it's safe to assume the same would have been true for his mother.  Note the beautiful quilting--the tiny stitches and the beautiful quilting pattern.  I suspect my great-grandmother did the quilting by hand, but that's just a hunch.  Maybe after some investigation I will be able to learn more about these quilts, and hopefully more about my great-grandmother as well. 
Looking at our vintage quilts has gotten me interested in learning more about traditional quilt blocks so I can identify these quilts.  Any help or feedback you may have is totally welcome and appreciated! 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Buried Treasure.

This is why I help my mom clean her closets.  Because you just never know what we might find. 

I have loved digging through boxes of stuff hidden away in closets ever since I was a kid.  I did quite a bit of it in my grandparents' house as a kid.  Back in the days before Smartphones and hundreds of cable channels, I had to entertain myself, and so sifting through old photographs and other items in my grandparents' house was my idea of fun.  I'd find photos and other stuff and then ask Grandpa or Grandma questions about them.  I learned a lot about their history that way.  I remember asking my Grandma about her life as a young woman which led to a conversation about the dress she got married in, which led me on a search through the closets and eventually down to the basement where I found the dress.  I was thrilled to have located such a treasure. 

I was just as excited Friday afternoon when I opened a plastic tote from one of my mother's closets and found this quilt.  I have never seen this quilt and my mom had completely forgotten about it. 

We know absolutely nothing about it.  My mother can't remember who made it and I, of course, am much too young to know! I interested in antique quilts because they make me feel young?

This quilt is totally different from all the other ones in our family's collection; no floral prints, no pastels.  The fabrics are mostly not cotton; I would guess there are pieces of men's shirts in here, which would explain the darker colors.  I suspect some of these fabrics might have been cut from old curtains.

The quilt is backed with a wool blanket of pale gray (sorry I didn't snap a photo) in excellent condition.  There are a few spots/stains and a few small holes on the top, but overall, the top is in good condition.  As you can tell from the photos, it's tied rather than quilted and there is not any batting between the quilt top and back; batting wouldn't be necessary anyway, since the fabrics which comprise the quilt top are heavier than cottons and the back is wool.  This quilt is heavy and no doubt warm. 

Now if only we knew who made it.  Our first guess is my grandfather's mother.  If she made it, that means it was made before 1952.   But we don't know for sure.  If only my mother had been nosier as a child and asked more questions.   

So, don't ever overlook those boxes in your (or your parents' or grandparents'!) closets or basements or attics.  You just never know what treasures might be hidden there. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Patchwork, Then & Now.

You may have noticed that I've gotten pretty interested in quilts recently.  I have always loved them and wanted to make them for such a long time.  I am so glad I decided to try.  I am having a wonderful time practicing and improving my skills with each project.  Because as all Pride & Prejudice fans know, the only way to become truly proficient at something is to practice!  (Which character said that?  If you know, leave a comment!)

My interest in quilts stems from the quilts in my family that I have seen and used over the years.  My mom has said more than once that I must get my crafty "talent" from my father since she does not craft in any way, shape, or form, and has never been interested in learning how to do crafty stuff.  I was thinking about this and realized that while I am like my dad in many ways and have certainly inherited several things from him, the urge to make stuff comes from other members of my family. 

Both of my great-grandmothers could and did sew and make quilts.  Of course, this was very common for women long ago--they made quilts out of necessity and to make good use of clothing that had been outgrown or served its purpose as a garment.  Rather than waste the fabric, they cut it up and make quilts.  They made quilts out of feed sacks.  Waste not, want not. 

Last year, when I decided that I was going to learn how to make quilts despite my fear of the sewing machine, my initial intention was to repurpose old clothes and make quilts.  I thought I could make quilts without spending much money. 

Ha. Ha. Ha. 

I have a pretty good hunch that my great-grandmothers would turn over in their graves if they knew how much money I've spent on fabric in the last six months, or how much a yard of "designer" fabric costs these days.  Keep in mind, of course, that both of my great-grandmothers were born before 1900.  I knew only one of these ladies, and she died when I was four so I don't remember much about her.  I would have loved the opportunity to know these women.  Through their quilts, though, I feel like I do know them a little. 

I'm lucky to have quilts made so long ago by women in my family.  My grandma was an only child so in addition to her mother's things, we also have several quilts that we know or think her two sisters made.  While I don't remember my great-grandmother, I did have a chance to spend some time with her sisters.  I loved visiting their farm with my grandparents when I was a kid.  They had a big cast-iron stove and I loved to add corn cobs to the fire.  Everything in their house was as neat as a pin.  Everything in their house was also old-fashioned.  Just old, really--but it all looked nice and new because they had taken very good care of it and were excellent housekeepers, just as my grandmother was.  I did not inherit that gene!

So, I thought it would be fun to show a quilt that I just finished up alongside a vintage one made by one of my relatives, either my great-grandmother or her sisters.  My mom isn't for sure as to who made this one and anyone else who might know is, of course, deceased. 

Here's my quilt:
 The back of it is nice and bright.  I might actually like the back even better. 
 The blocks in this quilt were based on a pattern in the book Modern Blocks: 99 Quilt Blocks from your Favorite Designers.    (Unfortunately I forgot to jot down the name of this block's designer, but you'll find it in the book!)  I modified (simplified) the block just a bit.   I wanted a few bold blocks "floating" in lots of solid color.  After working with all that plain gray fabric, I was ready for something colorful again, so that's why the quilt back is the way it is. 

Now, here's a long-ago quilt, much more traditional in design than mine:

 Obviously this is a Nine-Patch.  Notice that the binding looks a bit out-of-place; that's because it was added at a later date; my mom says that my grandmother, who did not sew, hired someone to replace the binding when it got worn.  The back of the quilt looks like this:
My mom says that my grandparents used this quilt a lot.  It is in good shape but definitely shows some wear.  And it is so, so soft!  I would love to snuggle up with it but I don't for fear of tearing it.  Or something getting spilled on it, which is a frequent occurrence in our home.  But I do have it displayed on my quilt rack so I can look at it. 

I don't know the exact age of this quilt, but I'd guess it was made in the 40s or 50s.  If my mom can remember it from her childhood, it is at least that old.  It might even be a bit older.  I would love to know what pieces of clothing were cut up to make this quilt.  Work shirts?  Feed sacks?  Probably both, and much more.  There's history here, I just wish I knew more about it! 

I have more quilts to share in the coming weeks, so check back!  It's been fun to get them out and ask my mom what she knows about them.  We even discovered a "mystery quilt" that I will share in hopes of learning a little more about the pattern. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Around here in the new year.

Around here, the New Year arrived rather harshly with sub-zero temperatures and a sickness that hit our house pretty hard for a few days.  I think we have recovered and hopefully the deep-cleaning I gave our house got rid  of any lingering sick germs.

January is a time to relax a bit and enjoy trying out some new ideas without the deadline of any craft shows--although I confess I do feel just a little bit lost without any shows on my schedule at present. Here are a few things I've been working on lately:

I couldn't resist buying this sewing-theme fabric.  Bought it without a clear plan of just how I'd use it, knowing that eventually inspiration would strike.  Love how it looks as a background for this collage piece.  Fabric isn't just for quilting!  I found a whole bunch of those yellow letter tiles while digging through piles of books and other random junk a few weeks ago....I'd totally forgotten about them!  That happens a lot, actually.  Because I do have rather a lot of stuff in my studio. 

Most of the vintage patterns in my stash are from the 60s & 70s; those seem to be the most abundant.  However, a year or so ago I did find several from the 30s & 40s.  I think they are absolutely beautiful and a piece of art just on their own.  I used most of them for journal covers, but this one was pretty tattered so I held on to it.  I used it in this collage protected by a clear transparency (I just happen to have a box of overhead projector sheets) to protect it.  You can't really tell in this photo, but the burlap that serves as the background in this collage has images of vintage sewing machines and notions printed on it, and is pretty darn awesome. 

And, last but not least: I had to make another Nancy Drew quilt.  Just had to.  It's not finished yet, but the top is complete.  And I might just have enough Nancy fabric to make another one.  For Christmas, I bought myself some fabric.  I scoured the internet for Nancy Drew charm packs and more of this:
The typewriter fabric is from Melody Miller's Ruby Star collection from 2012 and is getting a little harder to locate.  This photo above is a wall quilt I made in the fall and sold last month at What a Load of Craft! in Iowa City.  I was happy to part with it because I know the gal who bought it truly loved it as I do--she told me she is a writer, and loves typewriters, and in fact, she actually had a typewriter in the trunk of her car that very day!  But I knew that when this quilt was gone, I would miss it and so when I got home that evening I got online and ordered more of this fabric.  And then maybe just a little more a couple days later.  Because obviously, one can never be too rich or too thin or have too much fabric.  I have a good idea of what I will do with my precious stash of typewriter fabric, and will. 
Lots of making to look forward to in 2014.  I'm looking forward to trying new things, learning new skills, and playing with new materials. 
And also to cleaning up my very messy studio and finding more stuff that I've forgotten about! 
Happy New Year!