Caring for Quilts
For many years my mother worked in sales and lived out of a suitcase as she traveled the country, but that didn’t stop her from doing some of the most beautiful needlepoint and cross-stitch work I’ve ever seen. When she retired, she quickly filled up the walls of her home and kept the local frame shop in business. After she had given favorites to her children and filled every white space in her home, she decided to start making quilts, but instead of just sewing the pieces of fabric together, she cross-stitched or needlepointed squares that would be sewn together by the town’s quilting expert.
I was the recipient of one of these beautiful quilts but because my children were small, I didn’t want to leave it out on a bed where it might get smeared with peanut butter and jelly, or even worse, colored with crayons or a permanent marker. Instead, I folded it up and put it in my closet inside a plastic zippered bag that my bedspread had come in.
Well, when Mom came to visit the next time, she went looking for that quilt. I assured her that it was packed away and that nothing could harm it. After all, it was sealed in plastic. Nothing could get to it. Boy, was I wrong!
I learned a lesson from Mom about how to store quilts:
1. Don’t ever store them in plastic of any kind! It doesn’t matter that your bedspread came in it. It’s not the same.
2. Don’t store them in humid or hot climates. If the temperature feels good to you, then it’s okay for your quilt. If you live in Houston you shouldn’t even own a quilt!
3. Don’t store quilts in attics or garages. It makes a comfy bed for rodents and insects.
Instead, you should:
1. Store your quilt in a pillowcase or sheet, or roll it onto a muslin-covered tube.
2. Place a piece of fabric between the pillowcase or sheet and your quilt to protect it from the acids in the wood.
3. Twice a year, when the humidity is low and the air is blowing, air your quilt outside, out of direct sunlight.
4. Mark your calendar to refold your quilt every 3-4 months so you won’t make a permanent crease in it. Crumple up some acid-free tissue paper to help eliminate fold lines.
If you feel comfortable in displaying or actually using your quilts (and isn’t that why we make them?), you’ll want to follow these guidelines to make your quilt last longer and help retain its beauty.
1. Keep your quilts away from direct light. The sun will make them fade and will age the fabric.
2. If you notice any tears, repair them as soon as possible. Remember that a stitch in time saves nine, and will help lengthen the life of your quilt.
3. Clean up any accidents immediately. Washable quilts can be cleaned with cold water. My quilt, with the delicate cross-stitching fabric and thread, would need to be dry cleaned by an expert.
4. Before you wash, test the fabric to see if the colors are going to run. Use a white towel and cold water to test each color.
5. Do not put quilts in the dryer or hang them over a clothesline. They should lay flat between two sheets placed on the grass in the shade.
When I was a young, married woman I discovered a box of fabric in my grandmother’s closet along with the pattern for a quilt that had been published by the Kansas City Star in the 1920s. Grandma told me she had bought the fabric when my dad was born and had just never made the quilt. She told me if I wanted to make it, she would pay to have it quilted for me. I accepted the challenge, and without knowing anything about quilts (or anything else!), I cut and assembled all of the pieces. It was beautiful, and I remember the pride I felt in knowing that I had sewn every stitch, but even as I laid it across my daughter’s twin-sized bed, I could see how thin and worn the fabric had become. I wish now I would have used the pattern and bought newer, more sturdy fabric, that would have lengthened the life of the quilt, but that was just one of life’s lessons I had to learn.
Going through the process of piecing that quilt helped me to have a deep appreciation for all of the time and love that goes into each stitch. As I worked on it, I tried to imagine my grandmother as a young mother and wondered what life was like for her. Was motherhood as challenging for her as it was for me? Did she ever imagine that she would have a granddaughter who would treasure this old fabric and the bond it gave to both of them?
Buying a bedspread is fast and fairly inexpensive because they are mass produced, but you can’t expect it to give you you the same warm feeling as when you run your hands over the stitches of a quilt that was made by you or someone you love. When your hands caress the fabric and stitches of the quilt you have painstakingly created, the memories of the past are guaranteed to rush into your heart. If that quilt was made by someone who loved you, you will feel a connection that seems oblivious to time.
Old quilting patterns vary widely
Quilts are really nothing more than fabric sandwiches – – with two pieces of cloth enclosing a cotton batting or some other kind of filling. They were made primarily to keep people warm during cold winters, but they also were made to impress guests or potential mates with the maker’s skills as a needle worker.
Quilts were made in a variety of ways. One was to sew together pieces or patches of fabric that had been cut in a certain way so that when assembled, they formed some sort of a pattern. This is generally called a patchwork quilt.
Another way to make a quilt is to sew or apply pieces of fabric that have been cut in a predetermined way to a backing. These are called applique quilts, and many of the finest quilts made in the United States were crafted in this manner.
It is said that the applique quilt originated when designs were cut from chintz and calico and sewn to a white cotton or linen backing to accentuate the pattern of the elements that had been cut out. Once this was done, the piece was quilted to make it into a warm bed
covering, and sometimes, embroidery was added.
We use the word variant because every handmade quilt made during the 18th and 19th centuries (and before) was a one-of-a-kind, and an expression of the design capabilities and sewing talents of the maker or makers.
Some quilters just let their imaginations fly, and they created unique designs that were all their own. Others, however, worked within the structure of designs with which they were familiar. There were, for examples, a number of applique quilt designs such as Whig Rose, Tulip, Rose of Sharon, Oak Leaf and Sunflower that were well known to quilters, but every time a given person made one of these familiar designs it was a little bit different. In other words, the maker brought his or her own artistic sensibilities to the job and created a quilt that was unique.
Some quilt makers decided not to put a border on all four sides. Why? Maybe this was the way she wanted it. Maybe she ran out of the properly colored fabric before she finished. Maybe the quilt was the size she wanted with only a border on two edges. Or maybe she did not see any sense in putting borders on edges that would not be seen.
Quilting creates a magical world; Age-old tradition of quilting,
I grew up in a home where Mother sewed beautifully. She made matching suits and dresses for her and me. When I was little I would sit at her feet and cut fabric for dresses for my dolls.
I was taking an art class when my two lovely daughters took a quilt sampler class and that got me re-involved in quilting.
Like my mother, after marrying I was sewing mainly to make clothes for her children. But I would find fabrics I wouldn’t use for clothing but wanted to use for something – novelty prints, big florals, pretty, fun, colorful – so I took a quilt-making class.
When I first started quilt makingI thought, ah, I finally found what I was born to do.
Quilting is like that for us. A lot of emotion and love and heart goes into it.
I grew up with two grandmothers and a mother making things for us – my mother made my wedding dress – so I associate that creative activity with love.
My daughters and I did a quilt for a woman recovering from breast cancer. It was a total act of love. She liked Hawaiian things so we did a Friendship Star with Hawaiian-motif fabric: tropical fish, hula dancers, Kauai chickens, a Maui cow.
Children benefit from their stitches, too. We have done quilts for chemo kids at local hospitals too. Giving them a quilt is like wrapping them in a big hug.
Quilts are associated with comfort and safety, regardless of how young or old you are.
So much of what quilters do is that kind of thing. After Hurricane Katrina, Houston was inundated with quilts people sent. They finally had to tell them to stop.
I believe one reason quilting is so vital is that it creates strong bonds between women.
Some women wish they had a sister, daughter or mother involved in what they love as well. A quilt group can help provide that kinship. We’re lucky because we have that as a family, which makes the bond even stronger.
I realize that we were given a gift. Not just the ability to make a perfect point or a straight seam, but to make people feel the joy they do when given a quilt. I have learned that there is so much more that goes into a quilt than stitches and fabric. It often takes teamwork, passion and love. That magic is what I share with my daughters.
My Top Ten Quilting Tips
So many people have written asking how I manage to get a quilt made a week. So here’s my top ten hints on how I get quilts done!
1. I have a room just for sewing, right next to the kitchen and away from the bedrooms. I can dash in there and sew a few seams whenever I find (literally) a minute. I bound a quilt during the commercials on a movie on Sunday night – the TV was on in the kitchen, so I knew when to go back.
2. Put your sewing pressing on the ironing board at the end of each sewing session, alongside your clothes ironing. When you iron some clothes, get your sewing pressing done too.
3. Put a small table next to your favorite comfortable chair and ALWAYS have some hand-sewing on it. So if you sit down for even a few minutes you can get a little hand-sewing done without having to hunt for something to do first.
4. Make up an attractive bag with a full sewing kit and a small hand-sewn project in it. This is your take anywhere project, and you pick it up whenever you think there is any possibility that you could be stuck somewhere and can get some hand-sewing done. I keep mine on my small table next to my chair, so that I only have one hand-sewing project to worry about at a time.
5. Keep all your sewing tools (scissors, rotary cutter, etc) in a central place like a basket (I use a big pencil case). And keep this basket next to you as you sew so that you always put the tools back in it. That way you will never have to waste time searching for tools. Also, you can grab this quickly as you rush out the door late for a class! Also, I keep my bobbins in three separate bobbin cases – marked polyester, cotton and quilting. The plastic bobbins have p, c or q written on them too, so I always know what I have in my hand.
6. Use zip-lock bags to store all the bits and pieces of each project. Even if you have to pack it all away at the end of the day, you won’t waste time searching for anything. If you are using any special threads, trims, etc, put these in the zip lock bag too.
7. Binding can be almost completely sewn on by machine (sew on the front as normal, fold it to the back so that the binding overlaps the first seam by about a quarter of an inch, pin well, then ditch-stitch from the front). It doesn’t give as neat a finish as hand-sewing, and you might have to finish off the corners by hand, but it is quick.
8. When you buy the fabric for the quilt top, or when you start a project from stash fabrics, buy or set aside the fabric for the backing and the batting as well. Store these with the top while it is in progress. When the top is finished, the next step – without stopping for breath! – is to baste the quilt and then start quilting. If you pack the top away because you have to go out and get batting and backing you might never get back to it. A quilt is not a quilt until it is a quilt – it is a quilt top and, unless you want to use it for a tablecloth, it is not finished!
9. Keep your tools in good condition. When you put a new blade in your rotary cutter, buy the next one. Nothing slows you down like a blunt cutter (two cuts instead of one). Have your scissors sharpened regularly. Keep your different types of pins in different containers so you don’t have to hunt through one big pin tin for the right sort of pin. Change your sewing machine needles regularly (I use a new piecing needle and a new quilting needle for every second quilt). Clean the fluff out of your sewing machine after every quilt.
10. Look after your patterns. The small zip-lock bag most patterns come in are seldom large enough to keep it all in after you have opened it up and pored over it, and never big enough to hold all the templates and little scraps of paper you add when it is an applique pattern. Put the pattern in a large zip-lock bag and keep it all together, rather than trying to squeeze it all back in the original bag (trust me – it’s hard enough for me to fit my paper-hungry patterns in the original bag before you buy it, let alone after you have opened it up!). If you can’t fit all the bits and pieces in the bag you might leave some out and then that wastes time in looking for them later.
There’s nothing quite like the feel of an old patchwork quilt that was lovingly crafted by hand and worn in gently by countless generations. Anyone can go to the store and buy a quilt, but not many people ever take the time to learn the ancient art of quilt making.
A quilt is not just a bed covering. A quilt symbolizes comfort, warmth, and security, and a quilt made by hand is cherished even more because of the work that went into making it.
I personally have only begun attempting to learn this time-consuming art. Hand quilting is not for everyone, because it requires a lot of patience and a fine attention to detail. One of my first quilting efforts was a small doll quilt I made for my daughter when she was about 5 years old. It wasn’t too bad for my first try. My daughter wasn’t very impressed, however, and I was absolutely thrilled when years later our cat adopted the quilt as his favorite napping companion. I decided I’d rather see the cat enjoy the quilt then have it end up in a box somewhere to be totally forgotten (he’s now having to share the quilt with our new kitten!).
I envy people who have the patience it requires to quilt. I am determined to one day make my first full-size quilt. I first became interested in quilting when I was fairly young. I had a grandmother who liked to quilt, and I will never forget a conversation I had with her one day that will stay with me forever.
My grandmother made many quilts in her day. I was never fortunate enough to receive one of them (she was my grandpa’s second wife), but I was lucky enough to see some of her handiwork displayed in her home. One time when I was about 13 or 14 years old my grandmother pulled out a patchwork quilt she had been working on and asked my sister and I if we’d be interested in taking it home and finishing it. We were overwhelmed, but thrilled at the prospect of completing her work of art. She then went on to tell us where all the different scraps of fabric had originated.
This piece is a scrap from one of my maternity dresses, she told me and my sister. A maternity dress that she had worn more than 50 years before. She had saved scraps from many different pieces of clothing she had worn over the years. Each piece had a meaning for her, and she had saved them knowing she would someday make a quilt out of them. She was, piece by piece, sewing together memories from her life. She was tired of quilting, though, and she would never make another. My sister and I took the quilt home and started adding pieces of our own fabrics to the quilt. We quickly tired of the activity, however, and the quilt ended up in a bag in the closet (where it still sits today).
Every once in awhile I pull the quilt out and look at it, thinking I really ought to finish it. I know that in time I will, and it will represent at least four generations of our family’s history. I wish we could learn to live our lives in a way where every day we are striving to consciously make family memories that will stay with us forever. Whether she knew it or not, that is what my grandmother was doing, and I wish to take that idea and consciously put it into place in my daily life, as much effort as it sometimes seems. I know tomorrow I will be glad I did.
Discover How To Quilt
In order to learn how to quilt you must first understand how a quilt is made.
Basically a quilt is a sandwich that consists of three layers. The top of the quilt is a decorative layer created from small fabric pieces or patches sewn together in a creative and artistic manner.
The second layer is the batting. Batting is a cozy thermal layer of matted cotton, wool, polyester or silk fibers that give the quilt warmth and volume.
The third layer is the backing that is made from one continuous piece of fabric.
Quilting is the stitching which holds the three layers of the quilt sandwich together while forming a decorative design. Quilting can be done either by hand or machine.
The three layers are held together in one of three ways…
The oldest method is hand quilting. This is perhaps the most labor intensive choice for those just learning how to make a quilt. Hand quilting is usually done in a quilting hoop or on a quilting frame using special needles, called betweens, and quilting thread.
The easiest method is machine quilting. Machine quilting involves the use of a sewing machine to stitch the layers of the fabric sandwich together.
The third method is called tying which involves using evenly spaced knots or bows to hold the layers together at wider intervals than quilting. Done by hand or machine, this method makes a generous, puffy quilt called a comforter.
Those learning how to make a quilt should be familiar with the term piecing or patchwork as it is sometimes called. This is an exacting method of sewing small pieces of fabric (patches) together to produce a decorative pattern or block. This can be done either by hand or with a sewing machine.
Another important definition to know while learning how to quilt is of the term applique. Applique is the method of applying fabric shapes (called patches) by hand, onto a fabric background. Applique are grouped together to produce a decorative pattern or block. If you are using a sewing machine, applique, fabric shapes are usually cut into the desired shape without seam allowances. The shapes are then fused to the background with heat-activated fusible web. They are usually sewn on the quilt using a close zigzag stitch called a satin stitch. This method is particularly suited to intricate pictorial applique that attempts to reproduce a stylized or realistic story or picture.
Another method of machine applique involves drawing or tracing the shape onto the wrong side of the fabric. The patch is then placed facedown onto a lightweight lining and sewn around the marked seam line. It is then trimmed, turned right side out and sewn to the background using invisible thread and a machine blind hemstitch.
If you are just learning how to quilt that are plenty of sites on the Internet that can explain such products as heat-activated fusible web and, seam lines and various stitches used in quilting.
A Block is a single design unit comprised of small fabric pieces sewn together to produce a decorative pattern. Often, blocks are separated by alternating plain squares or by fabric strips. This is called sashing. Sashing is a term that those just learning how to quilt will run into often.
Quilting is addictive – You will need:
1. Rotary cutter – I recommend a 45mm blade. It’s small enough to handle some curves, but large enough to go through a lot of fabric. Once you’re sure you want to continue quilting, get some spare blades and change them as soon as you notice that it isn’t cutting through fabric effectively. Be very careful when using a rotary cutter – it’s essentially a round razor blade. If you lightly bump the blade, you will draw blood. Get a cutter that has a built in safety feature, and get in the habit of using it. I like Olfa’s curved one because you squeeze the grip to expose the blade, and when you let go, the blade is covered. You can also lock the cover into place.
2. Self healing mat – Buy the biggest one you can afford and have space for. I like by 24″ x 36″ mat, and I also use an 18″ x 24″ when I’m taking classes. Be sure to get the thin green, blue, pink or purple one (depending on brand) NOT the thick white plastic ones. They bog down your fabric and cutter. I prefer to use the back of the mat – the measuring lines just get in my way. I use the ruler for measuring and squaring the fabric.
3. Acrylic ruler – You need at least two – a short one that is easy to maneuver and a long one that you can cut strips from the width of fabric. I prefer a 6″ x 12″ and a 3″ x 18″, but most people like a 6″ x 24″ for the long one. Make sure you can see the markings on both light and dark fabrics. At least one of them should have diagonals marked – at least a 45 degree and a 30 degree, and preferably a 60 degree as well. You may not use these now, but you won’t have to buy another ruler later. They must have at the very least a clear 1/4″ marking and a 1/8″ “dot.” I prefer a ruler that has a 1/8″ grid in one corner (or all over if I can find it). When you measure, always measure to the outside of the marking line, not the inside or center. Some rulers come with a non-slip surface (Omnigrip) or you can buy a roll of clear plastic (Invisigrip) that you can cut and apply to the back of your existing rulers. You can also use little sandpaper discs with adhesive on the back.
4. Fabric – Start with 100% cotton, and buy the best quality you can afford. If you have a local quilt shop, see if they have a clearance section. Not only can you get first quality fabrics for nearly half price, the limited selection forces you to try colors that you might not otherwise have chosen. It’s good to stay out of ruts. If you like scrappy quilts, fat quarters are a good way to get a lot of different fabrics. If you like more planned color schemes, buy yardage. Watch for sales to acquire backing fabric. Value (light and dark) is more important than color. We gravitate toward the pretty fabrics in the middle values, but for a quilt to really sparkle, you need to include light and dark fabrics as well.
5. Thread – again, use 100% cotton for the piecing. Cotton (thread) against cotton (fabric) wears better. If you use a synthetic thread and make an heirloom quilt, the thread could damage the fabric and destroy the quilt. Use the thinnest thread you can find for piecing (I like 50/2). This helps keep your seams accurate. Every hair counts. If your seams are off just 1/8″ and you have eight squares in a row, the row will be off 1″. You don’t need to match your thread to the fabric color, just the fabric value. If you have white, black, cream, and gray you can handle just about any fabric. “Match” your thread to the lighter fabric. When you quilt the top, batting and backing together, you’ll probably want a slightly thicker thread (40/3 works great, and can also be used for piecing if you like). This doesn’t HAVE to be cotton, but many quilters still prefer it.
6. Scissors – you need both a larger pair to cut fabric, although you won’t use it very much unless you get into paper piecing or hand work, and a smaller pair for cutting thread. I love my spring handled large scissors. They’re comfortable for lefties and they open by themselves, which reduces a lot of strain on the hand. My small scissors have very large finger openings and are comfortable to hold. Both of mine are by Fiskars. You can also try thread nippers for the smaller scissors.
7. Pins – get the longest, finest pins you can find. A glass head is nice if you plan to iron with the pins in (plastic will melt). A large flat flower head pin is nice to avoid distortion when sewing, plus they’re easier to find on the floor.
8. Hand sewing needles – you’ll need this for the binding. I prefer a long fine “straw” needle, but most people use sharps for piecing. Betweens are for quilting.
9. Seam ripper – this will be your best friend. Rather than “ripping” the seam, cut every third or fourth stitch and pull it all apart. It’s faster and less messy, especially if you use a piece of tape to remove the cut threads from the fabric.
10. Blue painters tape – yes, I consider this an essential. When you sew your scant 1/4″ seam, you should not be watching the needle – by the time the fabric is at the needle, it’s too late to correct anything. Instead, you should watch about an inch or two before the needle. You can measure your seam by using an index card with a 1/4″ line. Put the needle down through the line and make sure it’s straight. Draw a pencil line on your machine bed along the edge of the card. This is your 1/4″. Use the painters tape to make a fabric guide. Cut through several layers of tape on the roll, peel it back and cut off a section that is at least 1″ long. Place this on the bed of your machine along the 1/4″ mark you just made. Now just butt your fabric up against this guide when you sew your seams. With this guide it doesn’t even matter if you have a 1/4″ foot on your machine (although they are handy).
11. Instruction books – I really consider a couple of good instruction books to be essential. You can find a lot of information online, but it’s worth the extra to get a couple of really good books. I recommend Start Quilting with Alex Anderson for your beginner book. It’s only about on Amazon and it’s a skinny little book that teaches you six basic blocks. I also recommend a reference book called The Quilter’s Ultimate Visual Guide. It doesn’t have patterns but it does answer nearly every question you’ll ever have. Spend a little extra (just a couple of dollars) and take your books to a copy center (Kinkos, Staples, Office Max, etc.) and have them cut off the binding and put on a spiral binding. This way you can fold your book back to the page you want, or open it flat.
12. Courage – Don’t let anyone say you can’t make a quilt the way you want to make it. It’s great to learn the traditional methods, but some of the most incredible quilts have come from people saying, “What if I did it this way instead?”
13. Inspiration – Use the internet to find photos of quilts that inspire you. It can be about the color choices, the patterns, the style – whatever you like. Use magazine ads to help you with color choices. Keep a file of interesting ads – you’d be surprised at what the professionals put together. I have a fantastic quilt in dark purple and lime green that I never would have chosen on my own. Check out internet sites that have quilting videos. Join one or more Yahoo Groups that are about quilting. Try Quilter’s Cache for free, amazing block patterns. (You’re going to love this site.) Also check out their tutorials.
14. Patience – You aren’t going to make a perfect quilt the first time. Enjoy the process, learn from your mistakes, and keep moving forward.
These directions are for using regular crayons on 100% cotton. If you want to color on synthetic or synthetic blend fabrics, you will need to use Fabric Crayons. Fabric crayons are ideal for transferring colorful designs permanently to all your craft and home sewing projects when using synthetic and synthetic blend fabrics.
Start by prewashing your 100% cotton fabric without using a fabric softener or dryer sheet. Then iron it to a stabilizer like freezer paper. Using a light box, trace your design on to the fabric using a fine Pigma pen. If you don’t have a light box, try a glass topped coffee table with a lamp underneath. You could also tape your paper design to a window during daylight, then tape your fabric to be outlined over that. Coloring books are a good place to find open designs with clearly defined lines.
Now color your pattern, pressing down firmly on the crayon. The darker the better. (You can also use melted crayons if you are the adventurous sort.) For a great stained glass look, you could scan a motif into your computer, then print it on fabric adhered to freezer paper. Color the design, then trace over the lines with a black pigma pen. You will get rid of the excess wax in the next step.
Protect your ironing board with a couple of sheets of newspaper or paper towels. Put the colored fabric face up and cover it with a paper towel. Press with iron set on wool or medium. As you press, you will see the paper towel start to absorb the excess wax. It may or may not have color.
Change the paper towel and press until there is no longer any wax. If you don’t think it’s dark enough after pressing it, you can go over it again with crayons and then press again. When you are finished, let it cool a bit and peel off the freezer paper. You might want to turn the fabric over repeat the process with the back side of your crayoned design up.
Let your fabric cool before you use it. You can do a wash of clear textile medium or transparent textile paint (like Seta color) over the crayons to make it more permanent, but it probably won’t be necessary unless you plan to wash your quilt often. If you do need to wash, use cold water on the gentle cycle and line dry.