In With the Old, In With the New

17 Oct 2012

We quilters are fortunate to have so many wonderful tools and materials available these days. I for one could not create my quilt projects without my 'holy trinity': rotary cutters, self-healing mats, and acrylic rulers. I can't imagine tracing cardboard template shapes on the back of the flimsy cottons of years ago.

With pin basting alone, this pepper block is rippled and will poses problems for machine quilting.
But as advanced as our tools have become, there is no substitute to learning and using good sewing know-how.

I grew up in a time when Home EconomicsHome Ec., for shortwas still taught in public schools. I made some nifty aprons, pillows, and pot holders ... and then promptly forgot all the rudiments I was taught. Pity. That knowledge would have been an excellent foundation to build on.

When I took up quilting 25 years ago, I plowed in and remembered enough rudiments of sewing to get by for many years. My skills even improved. I embraced or at least experimented with many gadgets, tools, and techniques. Many of my teachers were writing books and designing new tools, and there was always something new to try. But what about the 'old,' the basics, the classic techniques? Sometimes you bump into a problem that can't be solved by the latest gadget or new fad.

After hand basting the block, the ripples really
calmed down.
Recently, I ran into a little trouble with a paper-pieced vegetable quilt I am trying to finish. After making the blocks and sashing them, I figured they were stable enough to remove the annoying paper from the back. I tried to be careful but then I handled the quilt top, ironed it, and handled it some more. Well, guess what? All those bias seams that were no longer stabilized by the paper foundation began to wiggle woggle. As I sandwiched the quilt, I discovered pin basting was not helping the rippling. It was too late for spray baste. What to do?

Lucky for me, my co-workers at Quilting Arts and our sister publications, Stitch and Cloth Paper Scissors, are excellent seamstresses and quilters and they are happy to help in times of fabric emergency. I sought out Stitch technical editor Mary Walter, who is also an award-winning quilter and designer. Mary suggested I thread baste the blocks, by hand, in a grid pattern. Gulp. Ah yes, memories of seventh-grade Home Ec. class came flooding back! At first I resisted the thoughtwasn't there a faster, more modern approach, I asked myself? But a wiser part of my brain asked that cranky girl to please be quiet and she acquiesced. I hope she went and bought herself a how-to book on sewing basics!  

If you look closely, you'll see my machine quilting success.
Also pinned on the block is my tissue paper "template" for
writing with free-motion machine stitching.
So, the other night I sat down with my hand-sewing tools, my quilt, and a nice TV program. I basted a 2" grid across each puffy vegetable blockand I sewed an even narrower grid on one block that was really troublesomeand all of the wonkiness disappeared. The stability of the grid evened it out and calmed my nerves, too.

As an unexpected bonus, I was reminded of how much I enjoy hand work! After that, machine quilting the blocks was so enjoyable that I even went the extra mile and decided to add some writing on the quilt, labeling all of the blocks with the name of each vegetable. Did I mention this is a quilt for a child? The words might be teaching tools someday.

So the long and short of it is this: Don't forget the tried-and-true techniques even while you're working with the latest tools. They complement each other. If you don't know them, look for resources at your local library, quilt shop, or bookstore.

And to my lovely and patient Home Ec. teachers, wherever you are, thank you for giving me my start in sewing!

Kristine

P.S. Who gave you your start in sewing? Did you learn in Home Ec.? Leave a comment below.


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Comments

on 17 Oct 2012 12:35 PM

So true!  Sometimes the old way is still the best way.

And off topic but do you have any idea why your blog posts do not come through to my email?  I thought I had signed up for all of them but alas this is not the case.  Went to my settings but don't see where to make changes.  Any suggestions would be appreciated.

okieLinda wrote
on 17 Oct 2012 2:10 PM

I do all my wild quilts completely by hand and love it ,the way you fix them is  you pin them and then you baste them and then you quilt them  and they all lay flat and play nice ,there is not a angle or size or shape in this world that I cant make work . I may be the only contemporary hand quilter in the world but glad that you saw it as a enjoyable activity like I do , wish more would just try it  Enjoyed your story Thanks Linda

Bev-Houston wrote
on 20 Oct 2012 7:19 AM

My mother taught me to sew when I was young; first by hand and then by machine when I was about 10.  I never took Home Ec because I felt like I would be so bored since I already made my own clothes.  Reading your entry above makes me wonder if that would work on quilt top I found in the attic after my mother's death.  I'm sure my grandmother must have made it (unless my mother tried quilting and failed miserably).  I have several of my grandmother's quilts, but this one is very badly pieced--won't lie flat at all.  Maybe it was her last one and she couldn't see well.  I don't dare toss it and have thought about taking it all apart.  But I may try hand basting a grid.  Thanks for the post.

Ucolo1 wrote
on 20 Oct 2012 8:32 AM

I started sewing by heming flour sack dish towels from the sacks we got our flour in when I was a pre-teen and then went on to becoming a Home Ec. Teacher for a few years before changing careers.  It is sad that the life skills taught in Home Ec. are often missing in today's classrooms!

racheld18 wrote
on 20 Oct 2012 11:45 AM

Thank you for sharing your story. As to who gave me my sewing start.  I was lucky, it was my aunt and my mom.  And yes, I had 4 years of Home Ec. I often think of Mrs. Williams when I get into a tricky situation or I am complimented on my sewing skills. She was one of my favorite teacher and a tyrant, but in a good way.

on 20 Oct 2012 8:40 PM

Yes, I did - way back in 7th grade in 1953 and have been sewing ever since. I made a lot of my children's clothes and mine when funds were really scarce. I'm quilting big time now and still love to do hand work occasionally. It's relaxing and easy on my shoulders.

turtle990 wrote
on 20 Oct 2012 9:55 PM

My Mother started me sewing.  I remember the quiet times standing beside her at the treadle sewing machine waiting for the scraps she gave me.  Then I hand sewed them into cloakes for my dolls and eventually learned to use the that machine which I still have packed away.  Guess I should get it set up again.  I became a Home Ec. teacher and at 71 years of age taught another beginner adult class today and saw the excitement in some young eyes as they envisioned what they might make.....and saw them purchasing sergers and "fancy" sewing machines!

Aspenpines wrote
on 21 Oct 2012 1:03 AM

Coming from a long line of machinists I was fascinated by the machine - loved the smell of the oil and metal on metal.   I love reading about the new machines and test driving them.  Not the typical entree into sewing.....

anna294 wrote
on 4 Nov 2012 7:00 PM

Oh the good old days in Home Ec class. Not only did we learn to sew, we learned basic cooking and proper table placement and several others helpful lessons. If only the schools would bring Home Ec back, our youngsters would be so much more well rounded and better mannered.   Anna In Phoenix

on 25 Jan 2014 2:49 PM

I originally learned in Home Ec class, and I would watch my grandmother do her hand work which included making quilts by hand.

cathyg12 wrote
on 25 Jan 2014 4:50 PM

Both of my grandmothers sewed. So I'm sure that they taught me. I remember "making doll clothes" from my grandmother's scraps by hand as a young child. That fascination with cloth seems genetic.

on 25 Jan 2014 10:24 PM

Loved the article.  Thanks

on 25 Jan 2014 10:24 PM

Loved the article.  Thanks

memarston wrote
on 26 Jan 2014 7:10 AM

I learned from my Grandmother, then a neighbor who taught sewing and went on to be a Home Economics teacher or as we called it Family Consumer Science.  Many young people want to learn but need mentors and teachers.  Most of the FCS programs in our area are gone including mine in the last year.  The focus in education has moved away from hands on programs and toward all academics and test scores. For me learning to read directions and be able to translate them into useable information was the key to becoming a life long learner.

The loss of the education opportunity is sad and short sighted.  Keep in mind that hands on programs are more expensive because they involve equipment and space as well as lower student teacher ratios.

on 26 Jan 2014 2:01 PM

Muy Mom taught me to embroider when I was 7.  When I went to intermediate school I was in Home education and learned to sew on a treadle machine (no electricity)  Lucky for me my Grandfather sent us Grandmother's Singer treadle machine when she passed.  I have been sewing ever since.   U started quilting in the early eighties with my Hawaiian group in California.  

on 29 Jan 2014 8:20 PM

My mother got me started in sewing. I used to watch her as she sewed dresses for my sister and I. By the time I was eight I couldn't wait to try it myself. I also got involved (along with Mom as a Leader) in our local 4-H Home Ec. Club. 10 years in that system taiugt me many valuable lessons which I still draw on today 48 years later.

Mary Simon wrote
on 6 Feb 2014 8:52 PM

Another method for getting rid of stretch within a quilt block is with steam from your iron.  Just hold the hot iron above the block and let the steam do the work.  Then go ahead and quilt.  This method also works for stretched borders on quilt tops.