Karen writes about life as a Quiltmaker in Austin, Texas; surviving in an empty nest, marriage, cooking, gardening and (did I say?) Quilting...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

That FIRST Quilt

Anyone who's ever quilted has a FIRST quilt. And, as a quilter, it has great importance.

If you ARE a quilter today, then that first quilt set you on the path you find yourself today - whether still a beginner, working on that NEXT quilt, or an experienced quiltmaker with dozens under your belt! That Quilting Journey begins with a first quilt...

Perhaps a sewing machine was involved - but perhaps not. Hand quilting is a time-honored tradition, and the method isn't really important is it?! The fact that is got DONE is what's important!

Lately, my mom has been doing some serious "downsizing", which prompted some musings on the beginnings of my sewing, and quilting journey. This all started with the "return" of some most unlikely, and somewhat forgotten items from my quilting past.
The year must have been 1968, or more likely 69... when I was a Freshman in High School. The item, a patchwork, drawstring pair of bell bottom pants! The patches are about 3 inches square to boot - nothing shy about these babies! Paired with a muslin and red bandana patterned peasant top - they are a sight to see. I had COMPLETELY forgotten about this endearing piece of Karen's sewing and teen years history. Yes, this get up would be right at home at any "Flower Power" costume ball... all I'd need is the floppy canvas hat (with matching red bandanna print band), to make the outfit complete. The hat is long gone, but mom kept the costume for some bizarre reason - wisely deducing that it might some day provide humorous reminiscense, as well as proof of some difficult and rebellious years (to mom mostly...).

I'm grateful she saved them, as I only have a vague memory of making and wearing this get up...! At this point, I can't cheat you out of a picture...

How about the close up of the patchwork in the pants... check those intersections! No doubt this was made AFTER my first quilt... where I got practice piecing those squares - more about that later.
Not at all bad eh? The drawstring was also handmade with an "Inkle" loom. My last project before leaving Girl Scouts... The inkle loom was "found" recently, but alas, it was no longer useable...not to mention the fact that instructions on how to use it were long gone...

However, my inexperience in fashion/sewing technique shows... note the bottom of those pants! I was obviously working my way down from the waist, and just wacked off the bottom to make the right length, leaving that untidy remnant.

I just CAN'T imagine that I wore this, but mom says she has PICTURES (aaaargh!?!)... and that she'll give them to me when she finds them - if she's smart, she'll hold them for some appropriate ransom!
But back to that first quilt... I had to share the outfit just to give you some background for the times... Along with "Flower Power" came an interest in getting "back to nature", and, along with that, a renewed interest in handcrafts. Building your own furniture, weaving, and, of course sewing, though sewing your own clothing was not really all that cool...

The inspiration for making a quilt came with the times, but also with some exposure to the quilts of my grandmother, who at the time was in her early 60's, was very active, and still sewing on her 1940's Singer model 66. Never electrified, it was a foot powered treadle - she preferredi it to electric to the end - sewing on that machine all her adult life, until well into her 80's - despite the constant efforts of her 8 children to provide her with a "modern" machine. She still made most of her own clothing, and made quilts for the grandchildren, and others with scraps from her sewing bag. All would be called utility quilts today, nothing at all fancy, usually tied, or occassionally machine quilted in the ditch. She lived about 8 hours away by car, in Alexandria Louisiana, so we were able to visit her several times a year. I have many early memories of enjoying "helping" her sew at that treadle.
Oddly, my mother was never interested in making a quilt. At the time, I think purchased bed covers (and the ability to AFFORD to purchase them) was much preferred by her. She grew up the 7th of 8 children, in extreme poverty, a child of the Great Depression. To HAVE to make quilts - well, she has left all that behind. (Though making children's clothes to save a few dollars was acceptable, and no doubt provided a creative outlet!).
So the choice of my first quilt design was very much influenced by Grandma's work...
The Trip Around the World was pieced from scraps from mom (and my) scrap basket, I remember some of the clothing represented in it's squares even today! Mom always saved her sewing scraps for our doll clothes, and so I had plenty of fabric for the top.
It is large enough to cover a twin bed with a nice drop, or a full bed just so. The squares were cut the old fashioned way (this was long before rotary cutters!), with templates made from the cardboard from a cereal box, and all cut by hand with scissors.
The quilt was pieced by machine - the squares into long strips (rows) that were then sewn together. I do remember the batting being Mountain Mist Blue Ribbon Cotton (on Grandma's orders), and the backing was a "not-quite-new" sheet sacrificed for the job. No binding, the backing was just cut big enough to fold over to the top (though mitered!), leaving a nice red border round the quilt. I did sew a nice feather stitch round the edge of the border - simply for decoration!
The quilting was strictly "in the ditch", no marking. And yes, quilted with that old Featherweight...something I DON'T recommend. I remember it was rather like wrestling a bear to get it through that little machine...
After that quilt, I didn't make another quilt until my son was born, in the summer of 1987. My interest in quilting was renewed, and many quilts came on the heels, of that baby quilt, along with a deep interest in improving my skills, learning ALL the techniques, and a returning interest in old sewing machines!
Today, I find myself wanting to share and teach these skills to others - so they can know the joy of creating something with your own hands... for yourself, and for others.

Karen's "Trip Around the World" ca. 1968

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