Lately I’ve been bombarding Facebook with a new craft endeavor: patchwork. I’ve mistakenly been calling it quilting, which is the ultimate goal, maybe, but for now, I’ve been learning how to piece together different shapes of fabric bits. And I’ve been re-learning how to sew.
So, a little sewing history: In my senior year of high school, I made a dress. It was a fairly complicated pattern as I recall, and I had problems with darts and such. Once done, I wore it to school. Morgan Fowle, my beloved art teacher, always stood at his podium and quietly took roll, eying each of us briefly and making a mark in his record book. When he got to me, he did a double take. Then he obviously tried not to smirk when he said, “You made that dress, didn’t you?”
And that was the end of my sewing career other than a few repair projects. That is, until recently, when I decided to learn patchwork. I am a quilt junkie and we own several. This is one of them:
Here’s a little favorite called Scrap Happy that a quilting friend surprised me with made from a bag of scraps I sent her one Christmas on a lark.
And here’s another favorite, created by my mom and featured here by Shinny the cat, with matching needlepoint pillows by friend Kathy:
A full size quilt wasn’t an appealing project for a newbie, but I figured a table runner or topper could be more manageable for learning. As always, I planned to teach myself with help from cyberspace, which was especially helpful considering we are all on lock-down because of the Pandemic Hoax.*
The first thing I learned was that written instructions are useless, at least the ones I found! It was much easier to understand the process by watching a video that I could stop and rewind until it made sense. Thanks to YouTube, I learned how to cane chairs from Ed Hammond and how to upholster chairs and benches from several creative sorts who freely shared their experiences. For patchwork, I found the Missouri Star Quilt Company videos (with Jenny Doan) and I collected design ideas mostly from Pinterest.
My first project was a little table runner. I bought a bundle each of dark and light vintage cotton fabric squares from Etsy plus a rotary cutter and a healing mat from Amazon. Then I cut out squares, sewed them together, and cut them into triangles (a trick learned from Jenny) until I had all the parts ready to assemble.
Each row had four pieces to sew together, then each square had four rows of pieces to sew together. Then I just sewed together the squares, so logical! I could have added borders between them, but it would have made the runner too long for its designated table. I faced it with scraps, mangled on my first binding, and called it done.
The only issue I had was that things seldom wanted to line up, try as I might. I ripped many seams and kept trying and mostly failing again and again. Finally I decided that if it looked good from far away, it looked good enough to me. My motto became, “Don’t look too close.”
Next was a bigger table topper. I drew up the pattern using Adobe Illustrator, then played with colors. A.I. can create patterns from photos of fabrics. Then we can try on all the options from our fabric stash. The hours will go by fast, I promise. I settled on patterns and colors then played with different designs:
Sewing up this topper had its own challenges. Some of the fabric was harvested from cotton clothes and the differences in weights and textures created a few issues.
The next project involved learning appliqué as well as an Amish style patchwork design. Shinny seems to like this one more than she does the previous.
I’m still working on another appliqué project, though so far it’s only on the computer, other than practicing sewing a few birds on a wire. This is the computer file:
Anyway I’m happy to report that after creating the first two projects and watching many tutorials, I can look at almost any quilt and figure out how it’s put together. Meanwhile those two toppers are just waiting for backing fabric, batting, and gasp, quilting!
For the next project, I’m creating something that breaks from all those perfect shapes. I adore Gee’s Bend quilts and wish we owned one. But alas, they are either in museums, in someone’s possession, or out of my price range. This one was created by Mary Lee Bendolph. Is it cool or what?
I’m going to make a table topper inspired by their whimsical abstract design techniques. Here’s what the design is looking like so far. Pay no attention to the straight lines, I intend to freeform it and see how the sewing goes:
It’s always good to use up scraps while coming up with a fun color arrangement. The computer helped with this one too, but I think the project will progress more spontaneously when I get down to cutting and sewing.
The challenge now is finding fabric, even more challenging since we can’t go to the usual thrift stores for a very long time. But hey, today I uncovered a cotton scarf I bought for a buck at a yard sale years ago and never wear. Score! So I’ll keep hunting.
Anyway, back to history: Morgan and I stayed in touch over the decades until he died just a few years ago. I never told him about the dress incident being so devastating to my career as a seamstress. But I think he’d be pleased that I gave up dress-making and am making art with a sewing machine instead.
Just don’t look too close.
P.S. Right after I posted this, the CDC called for everyone to start wearing a cloth mask when out in public when social distancing will be difficult for them to control. So I switched to making masks, and learned as I went along. I made them for friends and neighbors who requested them, and asked them not to look too close. Be well, everyone!
*Don’t think for a second that I think this virus is a hoax. I’m beyond disgusted at how our government ignored this crisis despite ample and urgent warning until it was too late. I hope everyone reading this survives both the health and the financial crisis.