Whenever I finish a quilt, I put the leftover binding into a shoebox in my closet. When I’m ready to bind a scrap quilt, I start by checking in the shoebox. Last weekend I wanted to bind my scrappy green and teal Patchwork Forest quilt, which I’ve named Can’t See the Forest for the Trees.
Once every few months, I get to spend a day at International Quilt Study Center & Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska, about 140 miles from home. Next to the quilts, the best part of these visits is checking out the used books for sale in the museum gift shop.
I always leave with my arms full of books, and not just any books. They’re the kind of quilt books that hold all sorts of treasures, sometimes literally and sometimes in the form of inspiration for my own work.
I collect books from state quilt documentation projects, and Florida Quilts by Charlotte Allen Williams is one I do not have. A steal at $4.
And if this Double Wedding Ring quilt photo was the only one in the book, it would have been worth ten times what I paid. I mean, have you ever?!? Quilts like this give me courage! Edna Earle McKee made it in 1931 in Cottondale, Florida. Edna was a woman after my own heart. Edna wasn’t too worried about whether the fabrics matched.
Texas Quilts, Texas Treasures from Texas Heritage Quilt Society goes into my collection, too.
The color photos in this one just never end, and the quilts are from all sorts of people. I can’t get enough of it. This sampler, called a “pattern quilt” in the book, inspires me to make a sampler from all the extra blocks filed away in my studio.
A slightly damaged America’s Quilts and Coverlets was just $1. It’s by Carleton L. Safford and Robert Bishop.
Inside the book were some interesting things: A triangular cardboard template, an advertising card for coffee, and some clippings with quilt patterns.
I wonder who clipped these out and tucked them inside the book. Did he or she use the Grandma’s Wedding Ring quilt pattern? What happened to that quilt? I hope it went to a good home.
Here’s an example of the quilts pictured inside.
No maker is listed in the book for this quilt, and isn’t that heartbreaking? I view this quilt as a permission slip to do whatever works in the moment. Notice that there are full blocks, half blocks, and even a quarter block up in the corner. How fun! We worry too much about everything. If your quilt isn’t quite long enough, then just add another border along the bottom and presto! Just right.
I’m also interested in weaving, so the coverlet section of the book intrigues me. I’d love to be able to weave something like this someday! I was given a floor loom a few months ago (for free!) but that’s a story for another day.
And if these vertical sashes aren’t the happiest, yellowest, staunchest pillars you’ve ever seen…! And consider this: There is hardly any other yellow in the quilt. I think we can all stop stressing over our sashing choices.
This black and white photo from the book is especially useful. You can see the values (lights and darks) without being distracted by the color. Isn’t it curious that this quilt maker used diamonds to create fan blocks instead of sewing the sections together to make a bursting star? I love this idea. It will probably show up in my own work.
Contemporary Quilts from The James Collection is from 1995, two years before the quilt treasure-store of Robert and Ardis James (New Yorkers with Nebraska roots) came “home” to establish International Quilt Study Center and Museum. Now boasting the largest publicly held quilt collection in the world, it has grown into an international phenomenon with quilts and related items dating from the early 1700s to the present and representing more than 50 countries.
The booklet is based on an exhibit at Museum of American Quilter’s Society curated by Penny McMorris, whose name you may recognize. She has worn many hats over the years, and today she is one of the owners of The Electric Quilt Company, where the quilt design software Electric Quilt originates. Quite a peek into the last 30 years of contemporary quiltmaking.
Whether your quilting library has new books or vintage titles like these, pull them out regularly. Browse for inspiration and soon you’ll have so many ideas, you won’t know where to begin.
I finished piecing my row quilt from Quiltmaker’s Bitty Blocks this week. We offered these small blocks as freebies when I was working for QM, and even though I made lots of blocks at that time, I had never finished my quilt.
When I pulled out this UFO to try again, I had stars, baskets, bow ties, hearts and houses. I made the triangle-squares at the bottom, above, as a quickie row to take up space and to warm up a little.
My friend Paula Stoddard made the quilt that QM published as Little Bitty Love in a newsstand-only special called Quiltmaker’s Row Quilts. I love her version, but I wanted to make it my own so I decided some creativity was in order.
I made a bunch of Flying Geese, a checkerboard, Housetops (third row from the bottom), and bricks (fourth row from the bottom).
I thought I had a pretty good handle on things, so I began sewing rows together. But when I looked again, everything felt very congested near the bottom. There wasn’t room to breathe. So much checkerboard going on and on and on. And the bottom row of Housetops just didn’t feel right.
This is often the price you pay for veering off in your own direction. It’s always easier and quicker to make your quilt look just like the one in the pattern, but for me, it’s more satisfying to add my own twist. That’s why I do it, in spite of the extra headaches.
In order to give it room to breathe, I wanted more background, so I made some improvisational trees using Amy Smart’s tutorial at Diary of a Quilter. I cut my patches 5″ x 6″ but pared them down a lot in the end. They’re the only wonky row in the quilt, and I worried that they’d look out of place, but I think they’re okay in the end.
As I stood back and looked again (always stand way back, across the room), something else was bothering me. I realized that the pinwheels would look a lot better below the trees than above them. More unsewing. Possibly bad words. Resewing. Good thing I was home alone!
I moved the trees up and I switched the triangle-squares with the row I call Dribble. Now Dribble is at the bottom. I also eliminated the Housetops—they seemed way too heavy for the quilt. Now we’re getting somewhere.
You can hardly see it here, but the horizontal aqua sashing is scrappy. I only had small pieces of aqua: fat quarters or less.
I wanted this to be stash sewing, so I found aqua prints that read about the same, pieced the length I needed and called it good. Some are brighter aqua prints but I used the back side—one of my favorite tricks!
For the side borders, I used up the leftover aqua strips. I think it looks fine.
I auditioned at least 10 fabrics for the final border. Nothing seemed to work. The idea is always to have something with interest that does not compete with the center. You don’t want to go to all that work in the middle only to have the border detract from it. I think this border works, and I had it in my stash!
Once it’s quilted, I may put a bright pink or red binding on it. It would be like an exclamation point!
To see what I’m working on from day to day, follow me on Instagram, where most of the magic happens: @stashbanditquilting
Links to QM Bitty Blocks
If you’ve watched popular documentaries such as Jazz, Baseball, The Vietnam War and The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, then you may know Ken Burns as a filmmaker. His highly acclaimed work is known the world over.
What you may not know is that Ken Burns is also a quilt collector. Some of his quilts are on exhibit for the first time at International Quilt Study Center & Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska through May 13. I’m lucky enough to live within a few hours’ drive and I visited last week.
What’s not to love about Valentine’s Day? Just about everyone can get on board with loving and being loved. I designed an easy little heart quilt block and put it into a small quilt design just for the upcoming holiday. I’ve written the instructions and they’re a gift. This is “To You, with Love.”
You can make all the hearts in just one color, or you can make them scrappy. You can do a scrappy background, or use just one fabric. So many options! You can see them on my Instagram where I’m @stashbanditquilting.
I unearthed a corner of my studio last week and came across some treasures. Neatly stacked in a cardboard box were my QM Bitty Blocks from 2015. I and other QM staff members designed these little gems as freebies that we presented month by month on the Quiltmaker blog that year.
It was so much fun. I made blocks in about half of the months but as always, there were more ideas than hours in the day, so my sweet little piles were set aside without being finished into a quilt. Coming across them again was like rediscovering old friends and I think it’s time they became a quilt.
Today I’m sharing a quilt that’s a lesson in what not to do. I learned something the hard way on this quilt. I like the center part just fine, but that wide striped border? There is room for improvement.
I spent a lot of time on these scrappy string Spiderweb blocks, pulling brights from my scrap bin and not worrying too much about anything.
Designing quilts for publication is a funny thing. Magazines work so far ahead that sometimes, if you’re not the one making the quilt, you forget all about a design until it appears on the printed page. And even then you might not recognize it as your own. That’s what happened with Briar Rose in the Jan/Feb issue of Quiltmaker.
I first imagined this design in monochrome, i.e. just one color. I thought it would be great in reds and pinks, and I named it Strawberry Sundae.
I walked into a quilt shop yesterday, and the owner asked me a question.
“What are you working on?”
I had to think hard.
I’ve been working on a lot of things, but I don’t have any big finishes to show for it. In this case it’s easy to feel like you’re not getting anything done. I think it helps to step back and give yourself credit for what you’ve accomplished. Here are some of my recent projects.
After a big holiday like Christmas I always find it hard to get started again in the studio. Maybe it’s the anticipation of it all and a bit of a letdown that it’s over, or maybe it’s just being tired, or because it’s the dead of winter (-3º here) or something else. I have a few tricks I’ve learned over the years—ways to prime the creative pump. Maybe they’ll work for you, too!