Sunday, November 30, 2008

Charity quilts: November 2008

For those of us who have been given so much--food to eat, a home, work that pays the bills--it is important that we give back to those less fortunate.

I am fortunate enough to be a part of a sewing guild known as Sewin’ Sisters Sowing. We gather once monthly to sew, and for those who are able, we gather a second time monthly to cut fabric in preparation for the sewing session. Our members range from my ten year old daughter on up to a member in her eighties. We are from all races and ages; we are from differing situations (some of us are married, some are single, some are widowed or divorced or separated, some of us have children at home, some of us are caring for elderly parents, etc.); we work full-time, part-time, or are retired, or are homemakers. It is truly a reflection of the Body of Christ.

Sewin’ Sisters Sowing is dedicated to meeting the needs of our community; we are most interested in being of assistance to those who live within a 20 mile radius. We have sewn for crisis pregnancy centers, homeless shelters, local church ministries to the indigent and transient, and mainly for Salvation Army (SA). Right now, we are in the midst of sewing lap blankets for SA for their elderly lap blanket drive. They need 3000. (!) While we know we will not be able to supply them with 3,000, we are trying to get as many done as possible, because SA, predictably, is having a very hard year financially, and will need all the help they can get to supply the elderly with warm lap quilts and blankets this winter, who may go with little or no heat in this depressed economy.

My encouragement to you is to seek out your local sewing guilds–or perhaps you are already a member of a local quilting guild–to find one that has at least one charity project annually. It may be virtually impossible to find a sewing circle which, like ours, is dedicated solely to charitable projects. But I know you should definitely be able to find an organization with which you can complete at least one annual charity quilt. If you can’t, we would love to have you join with us! Go to for more information.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Quick Quilts to Make in a Weekend: A book review

Sometimes, the difference between a person who quilts and a person who only dreams of becoming a quilter is the accessibility of the craft. If simple, clear directions could be given for a quilt project from start to finish, someone hesitant to make the entry into the quilting world might be much more willing to become involved. Quick Quilts to Make in a Weekend gives novice quilters an entry into the craft. From the opening pages, which give an introduction to quilting, through the quilt projects displayed in the book, Quick Quilts is a feast for the eyes, and full of wonderful project ideas.

The book opens with basic quilting techniques. This introductory section leaves nothing unclear, so even the uninitiated will be able to enter a local quilt shop or fabric store with confidence. The technique chapter includes everything from quilt sizes, fabric selection and preparation, rotary cutting tips, measurements, piecing, quilting or tying, binding, labelling and even adding a sleeve for hanging. Not only is there a great deal of written explanation, but there are illustrations and photographs to clarify each of the steps in the process.

The 26 quilt projects in the book are grouped into five categories, each category written by a different author. Each of the projects has well illustrated, step-by-step directions on how to complete the quilt. Each project also contains a beautiful color photograph of the finished quilt. A very striking and incredibly simple quilt, the Indigo and White Country Quilt, is on page 28 of the book. But don’t be misled; every quilt is beautiful and easily executed.

Even for more experienced quilters, Quick Quilts is full of great quilting ideas and well-selected colorways. The very straightforward directions can be easily altered to accommodate different sizes and details. Every quilter will want to be able to have a ready reference of quilt projects that can be created quickly, especially for those last-minute gifts. This book will fulfill that purpose.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Yellow Brick Road quilt: ME Cherries

Oh; did I mention? I pieced another quilt! This time, I made a quilt using the Yellow Brick Road quilt pattern.

Like the Take 5 quilt that I made earlier this month, the Yellow Brick Road quilt was made from a pattern that is available at your local quilt shop. It is fairly popular; I’d seen a number of these online, and I really liked the pattern. That is what made me interested in making one for myself.

Unlike the Take 5 quilt, I didn’t go out shopping for fabric for this one. In fact, you might recall that when I went in search of a pattern for fabric I already had–THIS fabric, which you see above–I ended up buying new fabric AND a pattern–hence, the birth of the Take 5 quilt. So, I used the fabric that I already had, and used it for the Yellow Brick Road quilt. Did that make sense?

This quilt may have a lot of pieces, but it has some quick piecing techniques, namely lots of strip piecing, and I used the whack and stack method, as well. So, it went rather quickly. All I need to do is sew on the borders; I am merely trying them out in the photo above. But I like them. This pattern does not technically call for an inner and outer border, but I will use them both. I think the red really makes the colors in this quilt pop, and a border outside of the red is necessary. Don’t you think?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Phenomenal Fat Quarter Quilts by M'Liss Rae Hawley: A book review

If you are a quilter, then there is one thing that I know about you instantly. You have a thing for fabric. And you probably really have a thing for fat quarters. Now, the problem is, what to do with all of those wonderful fat quarters, that can be done quickly? The logical thing to do is to look for quilting books which specialize in the use of fat quarters. Phenomenal Fat Quarter Quilts: New Projects and Tips to Inspire and Enhance Your Quiltmaking by M’Liss Rae Hawley is one such book.

Quilting books which are not written for fat quarter collections are problematic for those who want to use their fat quarter collections. Since the unique dimensions of a fat quarter–usually 18 inches by 22 inches–are not taken into account, the cuts of fabric which are required may take an inordinate amount of piecing to complete the quilt top, let alone the borders. Quilting books dedicated to fat quarter quilts solve this dilemma, and Phenomenal Fat Quarter Quilts does an exceptional job.

M’Liss Rae Hawley lends her quilting expertise once again in this publication. Hawley has authored several books on this topic already, so she is certainly not a newbie in this field. This is, of course, a major advantage for you, because she is able to steer you successfully through the fat quarter quilting waters. If you are a beginner quilter, you will appreciate the extraordinary detail she gives in the opening chapters of this and all of her books. Hawley advises you on everything from what presser foot to use on your sewing machine, how to make good color and fabric selections, and how to square up your fabric in preparation for cutting.

Yet this is an equally valuable book for those who are intermediate and advanced quilters, as well. Something that will be greatly appreciated is the ability to see actual finished quilts in each of the projects in the book, and to see several variations on each project. Thus, if one color/fabric variation of a quilt does not appeal to you, then perhaps one of the others in the same pattern, but different colors and fabrics might make the quilt come alive for you. The instructions are clearly written, with precise measurements and accompanying illustrations for each step of the project. One of my favorites is the Quilt Interrupted pattern on page 32.

Phenomenal Fat Quarter Quilts is a book that you may consider adding to your collection of quilting books. I think you will find yourself referring to it again, whether as a reference in brushing up on basic quilting techniques, or following a specific pattern, or using suggestions for color/fabric combinations. Who knows–maybe it will be an answer to your ever-growing fat quarter stash!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Spirits of the Cloth: A book review

There is a vast collection of books on quilting in existence today. Spirits of the Cloth: Contemporary African American Quilts stands out among them. In this book, Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi gives African American quilters, an emerging group within quilting, a voice to be heard and an opportunity to be recognized for their outstanding contribution to the field of both art and quilting. Not only does this book outline in detail the beginnings of African American quilting and how it has progressed through the years, it also provides stunningly beautiful photographs of quilts in this genre.

With a preface written by Faith Ringgold and a foreword written by Cuesta Benberry, also quilters, writers and researchers within their own right, Spirits of the Cloth can be considered to be an academic work within the field of African American quilting. As a quilter, researcher, writer, historian, curator and lecturer regarded as an authority on the subject, Dr. Mazloomi’s scholarly work provides the uninitiated with a wealth of information on a topic virtually unknown before the latter quarter of the 20th century. The text highlights 150 quilts, referred to by the author as the “stories” of the artists who created them.

Mazloomi discusses how, initially, the work of African American quilters was largely ignored by the traditional quilting community, as it did not conform to traditional, commonly-held practices and beliefs surrounding quilting. Quilts created by African American quilters had, naturally, been influenced by the African culture from which the quilters and their ancestors had come. Even in the quilts of today, the use of bold, strong, vibrant color can be seen in the quilts of their black creators.

It was not until the 1970s that this unique category of quilts came to be recognized and regarded as “official” by the larger quilting community. However, these so-called experts, while taking a step in the right direction, inadvertently caused more harm initially. They stated that African American quilts, in order to be categorized as such, had to fall within certain narrowly defined parameters, and made by black women who resided in a particular geographical region of the United States. This, then, meant that the vast majority of African American quilters were still left virtually unrecognized and unwelcomed into the quilting community, as their work fell neither in the category of traditional quilting or within the newly defined category of African American quilting.

Fortunately, the definition of African American quilting became broader in the 1980s, ironically enough because of the pioneering work of such women as Dr. Mazloomi herself, along with a number of her contemporaries. The first African American quilting guild was formed as a result of an advertisement placed by Mazloomi in a magazine; nine women responded. Today, the Women of Color Quilter’s Network has approximately 1700 members, some of whom are accomplished artists, speakers, and authors themselves. Similar guilds have since been formed.

This is a book with rich content and beautifully photographed quilts that cannot be passed up. It is truly a “coffee table” quality book. If you are still not convinced, borrow it from the library. You won’t want to give it back.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

African American quilts past and present

I never ever thought that I’d like history–something I’ve always disliked–in a million years. (No pun intended.) But for reasons that I may cover in another blog entry, I find it absolutely fascinating to know how things came to be, how civilizations rose and fell, and how we have doomed ourselves to repeat our past mistakes, simply because we refuse to learn anything from them. But don’t worry; I’m not about to hold a deep discussion about history, and some of the past mistakes that we have made.

One aspect of history that I have studied is that of quilting. One of the specific areas which I have found fascinating is that of African American quilting. Quilting itself is believed to have been practiced as long ago as Ancient Egypt. Also somewhere in our past, quilted armor-type garments were worn by soldiers as they went to war. The form of quilting with which we are most familiar appeared perhaps sometime in the 15th century. It is quite possibly because of the need to keep warm in pre-electric, pre-gas homes that people began to take two layers of fabric, sandwiched with some type of filler, and stitch all three layers together. Over the next few centuries, the art of evolved, as did the uses for quilted items. Quilts came to be used for other reasons that bedcoverings, and quilts were raised to an art form.

African-American quilts are no exception. In their pre-quilt form, African textiles created in Africa were noted for using very bold, striking colors arranged in very graphic patterns. As Africans were captured, enslaved, and transported to America, they naturally brought several cultural elements with them, textile arts notwithstanding. As they became assimilated into the Eurocentric American culture, they turned their textile-making skills into quiltmaking, incorporating design elements they brought with them to this new art form. It is important to note that these enslaved Africans did not have a wealth of time or resources at their disposal to practice their art form. When they were able to make quilts, it was often for the white mistress of the plantation, who gave materials to the particular slave who had been pressed into sewing and quiltmaking. A number of these quilts needed to conform to the mistress’ requirements, as they were intended to grace the palatial home of the manor; very few were created as per the design and desire of, and for the use by, the slave.

Some quilts, however, were able to be designed by the slaves. With pilfered or leftover scraps and materials from their owners, slaves would use stolen moments late at night, once they were allowed to retire for the night, and create quilts. Slaves would especially have been in need of warm bedcoverings, living in the ramshackle or improvised dwellings that their owners provided for them almost as an afterthought. While the design of the quilts had much to do with the materials available, slaves were still able to incorporate elements of their own African culture, although for most, this culture was fast becoming a distant, dim memory.

This emerging African-American art form of quilting went largely unnoticed, especially by the quilting world, which chose not to acknowledge what it considered to be sub-standard work unworthy of qualifying as true quilting in the classic sense. Yet African Americans continued to quilt on into the post-slavery period of Reconstruction, and into the 20th century. It wasn’t until the 1970s that so-called experts finally began to recognize and acknowledge the work of African American quilters. However, only those quilts which fit within very narrowly defined parameters, or were created by quilters of a specific geographic region, were acknowledged as quilting or as art, so the majority of African American quilters were still largely ignored.

During the 1980s, African American quilters as a whole finally began to come into their own. No longer narrowly defined by a particular style, or as natives of a particular region, African American quilts, at long last, were being recognized as true quilts and true art. African American quilt guilds were formed. Exhibits featuring African American quilts were now being shown at various galleries and museums across the country. The beginnings of the art form, once arrogantly ignored, were now being researched with zeal and at great length. The African American quilt, after centuries, finally came into its own.

As I am a researcher and writer myself, I cannot close this blog entry without acknowledging the trailblazing work of, amongst others, three incredible women, who are both quilters AND researchers and writers. Many thanks to:

Cuesta Benberry, Carolyn Mazloomi and Faith Ringgold.

Their contributions to the field of African American quilting are more valuable than mere words can express. A heartfelt thank you.

Photograph source:

Friday, November 7, 2008

Take 5 quilt blocks are done!

I did it! I finished the twenty blocks for my Take 5/6 quilt!

I completed the blocks at some unimaginable hour last night--or, this morning. I probably took about two hours to do the actual sewing, but I think it was because I was trying to be very careful and sew exact 1/4 inch seams. I now need to go grab my instructions and see how to lay them out. I may just do that tonight and try to get the blocks assembled into a top. Can I even get the borders on?

More to come...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Take 5 quilt

Today I went to my LQS (local quilt shop) with the intent of taking a look-see at this month’s trunk show, and to find the quilt pattern Take 5. I’d been browsing online photos of Take 5 quilts which various quilters had made. It looked like the kind of pattern I was in search of; I have a set of fabrics which need a pattern which allows at least one fabric to have large squares. The impact of this print is lost if it is cut into pieces too small. Also, the Take 5 pattern appealed to me, because while it needed fabrics which coordinate reasonably well together, it does not require that some be light, or dark, or medium. Further, the pattern seemed to be able to yield quilts of varying sizes. So, I went to find it.

Well, you know the rest of the story. Almost two hours later, I came out with, amongst other goodies, not only the Take 5 pattern, but with enough fabric to do a quilt in that pattern. Yes, I DID mention earlier in this blog entry that I already had a nice collection of fabrics for this quilt! But I saw the most FABULOUS fabric that I could simply not pass up.

It all started with a gorgeous Alexander Henry fabric in the 2008 Sew Now! Sew Wow! collection–the beauty on the left (below). It had a somewhat retro flavor to me, so I chose similar complimentary fabrics. The yellow, red, and green prints are Wee Play by American Jane Patterns, Sandy Klop for Moda. The black fabric is Mod by Metro for P&B Textiles. The turquoise fabric, which will be for the inner border, is Splish Splash Scales by Moda.

Herein lies the dilemma–hence the title for this blog entry. If this is going to be a true, authentic Take 5 quilt, then I should only be using 5 fabrics. The quilt shop ladies and I inadvertently chose a sixth fabric. Oops. While I want to remain true to the pattern, I love the way the aqua (turquoise?) sets off the fabrics. Oh well. Take 6 it is. Besides, I don’t have enough of any of the other fabrics to use them for an inner border, anyway. The luscious Alexander Henry fabric? THAT will be the outer border, thank you very much.

Ah, yes. About those other goodies. I also picked up some back copies of what is becoming my favorite quilting magazine, as well as the Turning Twenty and Yellow Brick Road quilt patterns. And if that weren’t bad enough, I found out that there will be a Yellow Brick Road class in a couple of weeks! Oh, to have the time off to do that! By the way, the trunk show was great. This month’s show was given by one of the ladies who works at the shop. My, but she’s been a busy beaver; she showed some absolutely lovely things, including a Bloomin’ Nine Patch. Whew; it made my tired just looking at all of the work that she’d put into it.

So, not long after I arrived home, I started cutting the fabrics into squares using the Stack and Whack method. This method is exactly as it sounds; I carefully stacked the five fabrics that I will be using for the squares, and cut them into the required pieces. VERY simple.

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