Sharon has been sewing since she was 6 and has quilted for 30 years. She taught quilting for 20 of those years and also set up the Quilt Pattern Tester group on Yahoo. This is a pattern-testing community to support and compliment designing. The group has over 250 members. Sharon loves the history of quilting and will share her thoughts today. She is the Article Editor of The Quilt Pattern Magazine.
Please join me in welcoming Sharon.
One thing I think quilters often forget, if they ever knew, is how old the art of quilting is and what our quilting roots may are. There are so many theories about the start of quilting. Many say that the beginnings of patchwork came from Eastern Europe / Asia as the nomadic tribes began patching together animal hides in patterns, using the colors of the skins to produce designs. Embellishment may have been developed there, too, as they sewed pieces of pretty stone, feathers, and even bones to their apparel as decorative additions. The results would be warm as well as decorative. There are those who say that certain designs were indicative of which tribe or family made the article of clothing. Some feel that quilting fabric together originated in the colder climes of the same area, where two or more fabrics were layered together to create warm clothing for defense against the chill.
The fact is, quilting has been around in some form or other for at least 5000 years. There is a museum, I believe in Egypt, with a statue of King Menes dressed in finery, topped with a vest that appears to be layered and quilted together. So, we know there was quilting being done for royalty at that time. It was at the most basic level - layers of fabric of some sort being held together with stitching. And, from all of these humble beginnings, quilting has now become an art form. Amazing!
I wonder what the quilters of centuries past would think of the variety of fabrics, colors, patterns, tools, and machines available to us today. There are so many things I would hate to be without – my sewing machine, my rotary cutter and mat, my stainless steel scissors (and if I ever catch anyone cutting paper with them, well…you know what I mean!), my leather thimble, quilting needles, patterns and books full of new designs – not to mention the internet, where you can find information about anything to do with quilting, as well as buy it there.
I sometimes think of the pioneers in this country, carrying bits of fabric to their new homesteads and saving every scrap to use again. For me, that’s where the modern form of patchwork began. I read an account of a woman living on the prairies who had certain patterns she made over and over with her fabric scraps. Her husband had cut templates for her from wood so that she would have them to use whenever she needed them. She put two layers together with stitches that could come out easily, because she filled her quilts with layers of sweet-smelling grasses from the prairie, and those grasses would need replacing from time to time. And that reminds me: add batting to the list of marvelous modern inventions!
Obviously, we’ve come a long way, baby! With a rotary cutter, a mat, and a good quilting ruler, we cut many pieces at once. Instead of painstakingly putting together every little piece of a quilt with an endless stream of running stitches, we chain piece on our machines, putting a lot of block components together in quick succession, and then assembling all of the blocks into a quilt top. Instead of sitting at a quilting frame or with a hoop for weeks, taking tiny little stitches all over the quilt, we pay to send the quilt off to that great longarm quilter from the guild, who will quilt it all together in a matter of a few days and sends it back to us to bind. And, that, too, we do on the sewing machine.
We can make scads more quilts in much less time than our earlier counterparts, and that makes us seem infinitely more productive. And, maybe we are, but, perhaps we are comparing apples to oranges. Before all the fancy tools came along, quilting was a much slower undertaking, but the quilts created were beautiful. Everything was once done by hand, and that took lots of time. That’s something that we don’t do much of any longer, yet one of the most satisfying things in the world for a quilter to do is to produce something entirely by hand. The more society becomes hi-tech, the more creating something with one’s own hands becomes a luxury. I doubt many of us do that without balking because of the time involved.
And so, I offer you a challenge that I hope you will accept at some point. I challenge you to make something by hand. It needn’t be a big project; a pretty pillow, maybe, or a small wall hanging would be very nice. Start by picking out a design you like – preferably something with both piecing and appliqué. Make a template for each component and cut each one out. Sew the components together and do the appliqué by hand, taking small stitches as you go. If you have never done appliqué by hand, now is a good time to give it a try.
When you have the top all finished, layer it together with backing and batting, get a good thimble and a quilting needle, and find yourself a comfortable chair with good light. I like my big wooden rocker with the fat cushions.
Now. Just sit there and stitch your project together with the quilting pattern of your choice. As you take each stitch and watch your creation take life, take a few moments to think of the thousands and thousands of people before you, men and women, who have done this pretty much the same way through the centuries. It is a link to all those who were putting together clothing for necessity and for love. Some of those were making tiny things for a new baby, or a quilt to fit a wedding bed, or to send off a quilt with a loved one who was moving west to settle and would be too far away to visit easily for many years.
Whatever your project was or is, you are part of a long, long line of creative and talented quilters, and many more will follow you in the future. I wonder if those quilters in the future will think about us and see our marvelous modern tools as terribly old-fashioned? No matter. There is something comforting about being a part of something that is both so old and so new. We are connected, you and I, to all of them, and the heritage is a good one.
Rocky Road to the White House
In-progress hand-sewn project
If you take this challenge and give this a try, I would love to hear from you and see your creations. Leave a note in the comments or send me a post! firstname.lastname@example.org
Piece be with you!
Thank you Sharon, what an interesting article. You have given us much to think about and appreciate regarding our quilting. I love the challenge you presented and I hope many will take that challenge and keep us appraised.
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Until next time...
Until next time...