Getting Ready for the Edmonton Festival of Quilts

Part 17: Quilt as Desired

I wonder when that phrase “quilt as desired” was 1st used!! Does that not sound like it should be really trivial??? Yet this is the step that often separates the amazing quilts from the ho-hum. I bet we also would not have so many UFO’s, if it were all so simple.

Unlike the thousands of historical patchwork quilts and patterns recorded, I found it a difficult task of discovering how our quilting ancestors responded to “quilt as desired”. The historical records describe quilts but often I found they leave off how it was actually quilted!

Technically, quilting is process of using small, regular stitches that hold together two or three layers of fabric. The main purpose is to keep layers of fabric from stretching or shifting out of shape. Quilting has been done for thousands of years to strengthen cloth, to add warmth or as creative outlet by stitching textural and artistic designs.

Traditionally, quilting stitches are made with white thread or in colors to match the fabric and done by hand. The goal was to make small even stitches, seven to eight stitches per inch whether they were functional or decorative. However, stitches have been recorded up to twenty-two stitches per inch!  The straight or running stitch could be accomplished by stabbing, rocking or loading a needle. House hold items such as cups, and plates could be used to draw designs with lead pencil or chalk. All over designs, such as a Baptist fan, were made with pencil and string.  Tying knots (tacking or tufting) at regular intervals was an alternative way to quickly finish a quilt. What really surprised me was that even though the sewing machine has been around for about 150 years it appears that both machine embroidery and machine quilting were not a widely accepted practice by quilters until the early 1980’s.

Without any doubt many settlers to Canada brought with them stitching skills. In Europe trapun1835-jessy-andersonto and provençal quilting (also known as boutis), were elaborately stitched whole cloth quilts that used a stuffing technique and has a history extending into the 17th century. Counterpane, whole cloth quilts, popular in the early 1800’s used cording to create elaborate designs.

But what inspired the stitching? Current fashion certainly influenced stitch patterns. Originating in the 18th century, French Rococo fashion, for example,  with its curved lines and stylized natural motifs or flowers, leaves, cables and wreaths were in evidence everywhere      Jessy Anderson                     from wallpaper to furniture, teapots and spoons and even gravestones. For the patchwork quilter they would have provided endless inspiration to stitch stylized flowers and clam shell motifs.                              Rococoitalian_baroque_mirror-1

For many busy women, however, a utility quilting was more practical. Repetitive designs, such as grids, were stitched across the entire quilt without regard to the patchwork design.  Another repetitive design called fan quilting appeared as a series of concentric arcs or clam shells. This was popular especially with heavy and cumbersome quilts that were only sparsely quilted. This design was popular since it required that only the 1st line needed to be drawn and the successive lines could be estimated. Outline and echo quilting was especially popular with applique.  I suspect the invisible stitch-in-the-ditch (or seam line) technique has always been popular especially for beginners.

A v1841-anne-bender-child-quiltariety of techniques might be used in a quilt. For example where patchwork blocks are set next to plain blocks, the quilter might outline the patchwork and then quilt a feathered wreath or pineapple in the plain blocks. Commonly quilts would have extensive quilting in the centre with the background filled in by a secondary design of grids of parallel lines or closely spaced random stipple patterns. The result is that the background appears to pucker. The outer edges typically were simply cross hatched since they would not be seen draped over the side of the bed. Traditional stitches patterns also had names such as Broken Plaid, Hanging Diamond, Twisted Rope or True Lovers’ Knot.  National Quilt Collection

So what does this all mean for my final step in my Canada 150 quilt? Yes it is time for the dreaded “quilt as desired”.  Will I take a utility approach or go elaborate. In the past I have typically used an all over pattern. I think it is time to be more creative!  I can tell you right now there are be no 20 hand stitches to the inch!  So far all I have done, a 1st for me, is to stitch in the ditch but clearly I need to do more. Too bad I removed all the wallpaper in my house. Maybe my dishes will inspire a design.

If you come to the Edmonton Festival of Quilts come see the finished quilt in the Canada 150 show.  I look forward to seeing all the quilts from far more experienced traditional quilters. Looking for inspiration?  Check put  Canadian National Film Board “Quilt”

I am now headed down a few other rabbit holes getting ready for the quilt show. Come visit my blog again. I have another special project I want to start and this time I really could use so help.


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