Saturday, June 23, 2007

Book binge: vintage quilting books

As I've been cleaning out my apartment, I've been trading books in at a local bookshop. In exchange, I got a stack of quilting books from the 1970s, and I've been thumbing through them incessantly ever since. I thought you might like a look too.

Books like these show the quilts being made before the multimillion-dollar quilting industry really took hold. They perfectly suit my taste for quilts that are neither traditional nor art quilts—and, well, it's pretty clear that my aesthetic is heavily retro.

It's amazing to see the quilts that came together without the thousands and thousands of bolts of fabric made specifically for quilting that we have access to today. Virginia Avery wrote in 1978 in her Big Book of Applique:
What a feast of fabrics we have today! Never before has there been such plenty, and never before has the choice been so difficult.
Our options have only grown.

Click on the square pictures to see bigger versions. I've picked out some of the photos that especially intrigued me, but if you're thinking of tracking down copies for yourself, keep in mind that there are usually only a handful of color plates scattered throughout each book; most of the photos are black and white.

The Big Book of Applique cover

The Big Book of Applique (1978) was a real score. The author can be a bit corny/whimsical ("Lure of the Islands, Magic of the Tropic Sun" is the name of the Hawaiian appliqué chapter), but the book has tonnes of pictures of the kind of free-form appliqué that was happening in the '70s. It covers a broad range of techniques, but the real treat is just browsing browsing for inspiration.

The Big Book of Applique photoRiddle me this: if everybody in the 1970s quilt revival was making these wild appliqué quilts, what happened to them? OK, so maybe it wasn't everyone, but there seems to be a certain genre of appliqué quilt that you just don't see at the flea market.

The Big Book of Applique photoI'd once toyed with the idea of doing something similar myself, but seeing it done here, I don't think I'd have the patience.

Patchwork Simplified cover

I nearly didn't bother with Patchwork Simplified (1973), but I'm glad I did. Though I have an American edition, it's an English book, so it takes an English piecing approach (that is, paper templates are wrapped with fabric, as in a traditional Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt). Even with my Anglo-Canadian-American background, my quilting practice is American, so I've been fascinated to learn other ways of working—especially since the American quilting tradition is so strong and often independent of developments elsewhere. English piecing apparently isn't just for hexagons; all the square work in the book is done the same way. In fact, the book lists the machine-piecing so familiar to us Yanks as an "experimental" technique!

Patchwork Simplified photosThe author's real talent lies in her colour and fabric choices, particularly in composing these small pillows of tiny squares. It seems quilters had access to crazier fabrics in Europe than in America, where gingham, stripes, small florals, and the like were still the dominant prints used.

Patchwork Simplified photoAnother striking composition, and a creative way to use dot fabric. I love the asymmetry. But why on earth wouldn't you just machine-piece it??

Patchwork Simplified photoThis, on the other hand, demonstrates the versatility of English piecing. It would certainly be a trick to do this with standard machine-piecing.

The Quiltmaker's Handbook (1978) aesthetically focuses on highly geometric piecing but offers a solid quiltmaking lesson. The love the cover quilt.

The Quiltmaker's Handbook photoThis is typical of the author's quilting style: a geometrical approach that isn't wholly removed from traditional quilt design but is fresh in colour and layout. The notches in the sides and at the corners (Battlestar Galactica cut corners, anyone?) are also typical of the not-quite-square quilts he shows in the book.

The Quiltmaker's Handbook photoAnother interesting shape in a nice colour palette.

The Quiltmaker's Handbook photoI liked the dynamism of this deceptively simple quilt as well as the way it ignores traditional block structure. The allover quilting design looks ahead of its time.

Mark Lipinski recommended Better Homes and Gardens Patchwork and Quilting (1977) in an issue of Quilter's Home, and I happened to find a copy recently. This is more of a pattern book than the others, and many of the patterns are fairly traditional, despite the cover. But there's still some modern stuff.

Patchwork and Quilting photoThe colours and irregular stripes of this one reminded me of the Any Way You Slice It quilt in Denyse Schmidt's book.

Patchwork and Quilting photoAnother example of the strong, colourful, graphic appliqué of the '70s. It's so rare now to see such a detailed quilt made entirely of solids.

Patchwork and Quilting photoThis quilt is the cover model, a modern take on Grandmother's Flower Garden. I like the pattern's somewhat vague layout instructions; patterns today sometimes give too-precise directions to fake a haphazard appearance that's better done by eye.

Also a bit more of a pattern book, The Great Noank Quilt Factory (1974) gives lessons of increasing difficulty to teach a beginner various techniques. The author has some peculiar ideas—for example, she suggests using the "smaller" toe of the presser foot, which is apparently always one-eighth of an inch, to set your seam allowance, contradicting the near-universal rule of quarter-inch seam allowances. But some of the projects are worth a look.

The Great Noank Quilt Factory photoI liked this simple quilt for its mix of print and pattern, piecing and appliqué.

The Great Noank Quilt Factory photoThese chevrons make quite a bold statement. The impressive colour gradation is in the quilt, not just a flaw of my admittedly crap camera.

The Great Noank Quilt Factory photoAnother geometric wonder.

The Great Noank Quilt Factory photoAnd a word of warning: please do not subject your children to these terrifying masks face sacks. Yikes.

The best vintage quilting book I've found, though, is Quilts and Coverlets by Jean Ray Laury. I didn't include it here because it wasn't part of my recent binge, but also because there's a good sampling of images from it out there somewhere. I discovered the book through another blogger who had posted a bunch of pictures from the book, but I can't find the post now. Does anybody know it? Some pics are here and here, but neither of those is the post I'm thinking of. If we can't track it down (and there's interest), I'll post some of my favourite shots here.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Bits and bobs: Spots quilt, Renegade Craft Fair, etc.

Spots quilt top

Are you getting tired of this one yet? I keep posting WIP photos, but really it hasn't changed that much. How much different does a Flickr picture of a quilt top fully seamed together look from the blocks laid out on my floor? At any rate, here it is—I actually finished it a few days ago. Just have to piece the leftovers together for the backing (I'm imposing a fabric embargo until the move) and it's off to the Mother for quilting. Though I'm tempted to start fiddling about with simple free-motion quilting on my own machine, but I'd need to practice first. I anticipate frustration.

screenprinted patches and pug pillow front from Renegade Craft Fair

Late mention, but Chonk and I went to the Renegade Craft Fair in Brooklyn last weekend, which was great fun until it started pouring. Browsing was great, but I actually only bought a few things, all in the picture above. The Other has a thing for pugs, so Marty—the name of the screen-printed canvas according to Pillow Pillow Pillow—will become a pillow for him (finished pillow at the fair: $50. Print on raw fabric: $10. Score!). The patches by Fishcakes, also chunks of screen-printed canvas, will probably find their way into some appliqué project eventually; cookie binges and grumpiness are both things the Other has been teasing me about recently.

Card Catalog quilt detail

Card Catalog quilt detail

Finally, they asked on Craftster to see some blocks from my Card Catalog quilt up close, so I thought I'd post them here too (I'm particularly liking the thread I neglected to clip in the top photo, as well as the not-quite-matched corners). As I recall, I had to fudge some of the bibliographic details; the records at the British Library were more complete than those at the Library of Congress. Well, that's probably more indicative of the data supplied by publishers than the relative merits of our national copyright libraries. Anyway, before I wax bibliographic for much longer than any of you care to read, I bid farewell.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Spots quilt top

Spots quilt blocks

So here's the progress on previously mentioned Spots. After squinting to make sure the sewing-machine needle was hitting the right places to attach the circles, it's a breeze to whiz through the small squares as I'm piecing them together. I should be busy packing up the apartment (and I am), but the lure of getting this thing finished continues to fester.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Death of an ironing board

Has anyone even heard of a broken ironing board?

Death of an ironing board

She made it from Stoke Newington High Street to Michigan and then to Philadelphia, but a year of quilting was too much. So when I move to California this summer to join the Other, I'll be sans ironing board. An upgrade is probably in order anyway given the amount of time I spend pressing.

That's my Spots quilt laid out on the floor, of course—better photo tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A tale of many threads

Spots quilt blocks

OK, things have gone quiet for a while, mainly because I've been tethered to the sewing machine and ironing board to make the blocks for my latest quilt, tentatively called Spots. Once again, the solid scraps come from Column Inches; the prints were gathered from my last trip to the Carolinas. I was originally going to do something really simple, with circles of only one size, but I finally opted to go with this more lively Verner Panton–ish design. The photo above is two of the blocks on my "design wall" (that is, carpet).

I'm using machine appliqué to stitch the circles down to the squares. Not satin-stitch appliqué, but what the splendidly comprehensive BHG Complete Guide to Quilting calls "mock hand appliqué." You use a blind hem stitch, which looks something like this:
The Vs catch the appliqué. The top thread is invisible nylon thread, which the Mother recommended the last time we were shopping for quilting supplies together. My trouble came with the bobbin thread. BHG recommends cotton machine embroidery thread, 60 weight, but I only had 50 weight (which is thicker, for those of you who don't sew or, like me, can't ever remember numbers). The 50 was too heavy—it basically worked, but even with my machine's tension turned almost down to nothing, little dots of bobbin thread were popping through to the front.

I've lamented before the lack of quilting shops in Philly, but I determined that there was one in Chestnut Hill, Byrne Sewing (the address comes up on a Google search, but apparently it's no longer actually affiliated with the Doylestown Byrne Sewing they link to). It's a ways out, but the train got me there on Saturday just in time to stock up on thread before they closed.

Of course, a man in a quilt shop is like a woman in an auto-parts shop: the people who work there assume you really don't know anything (credit to Middle Brother for drawing the astute parallel). "Now, you know there are different kinds of thread," the shopkeeper said to me. She was quite friendly, and certainly helpful, offering to order the embroidery thread in other colors if I wanted it, but I had to prove my mettle. It didn't help my case when I said I was doing embroidery when I meant to say appliqué. Anyway, it's always a laugh.

So, armed with 60-weight thread (which does work better), I've been sewing up a storm. All the solid-on-print blocks are sewn together, so now it's on to the print-on-solid ones.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Flamingo quilt finished!

flamingo quilt

Quite tricky trying to photograph an enormous quilt in a tiny apartment, particularly when said quilt has a black background. Anyway, here's the flamingo quilt I made for the Other, in all its quilted, bound glory. I'm really pleased with the way the pink binding and quilting turned out—the Mother thought the flamingo would have popped more had it been pink too, which is true, but I like that he (we'll call the bird a he) looks like a dusky silhouette this way.

The photo above is better for colour, but this one shows the quilting texture more:

flamingo quilt

And a couple other shots:

flamingo quilt flamingo quilt

So, what have we learned?

  1. Appliqué is amazing. I wasn't sure I'd ever bother with appliqué, especially by hand. But then, I wasn't sure I'd ever make a quilt, either. I like handwork like binding and hand-quilting, so it didn't surprise me that I really enjoyed appliquéing too. And to brag a bit, the Mother seemed to think I was a natural, insisting that my stitches were as good as her much-more-practiced ones.
  2. Freezer paper is our friend. All quilters know this (or should). You can do so many things with it—least of all freezing your food. I traced my appliqué templates onto a a doubled sheet of freezer paper (one layer ironed to another), cut them out, ironed them to the wrong side of the fabric, cut the fabric out with a seam allowance, then ironed the allowance down to the paper template, using spray starch to keep the seam allowances pressed down. Then you can peel the paper right out, and the fabric keeps its shape for easy stitching. The Mother is a proponent of needle-turn appliqué (which I tried out for my Ransom Note mini quilt), but freezer paper was less intimidating for a beginner and works quite well for large pieces.
  3. Print is nice. Many of my quilts so far have been heavily skewed towards solid fabrics, but I certainly have nothing against prints. I liked working with them here, and I've got plenty of designs in the queue that use a lot of prints.