Sunday, April 5, 2020

Vintage Quilt Remake

Quilting is more fun than Housework
Once or twice a year, Cynthia at Quilting is More Fun than Housework hosts a quilt adoption event. Click here if you would like to read more details about this spring's event and you can see all of the adoptions that were linked. The basic idea is that you can offer any unfinished project, set of supplies, or anything quilting related to any takers for free. You can decide if it goes to the first taker or if you'll have a random draw or if you'll make a decision based on some other criteria.

I love looking through all of these items and unfinished projects each time. I mean, it's basically second hand shopping for quilters! I work to be very cautious about how much I ask for. One of the main points of this event is to get these project finished/items used--it's not just to have these items sitting on someone else's shelf!

Having more time these days and experiencing a resurgence in my sew-jo led to me asking/offering on two items. The first was an old quilt top:
You can read the original offering and story here at Life's Little Adventures (item #4). I can't say exactly what drew me to it, but I liked the blocks, the basic colour scheme, and of course that it was old. My original thought was to "rescue" the blocks from that "horrible" fabric that was sewn between them.

When I got the quilt top, I realized the strips between the blocks were not a big collection of random ugly fabrics but was mostly just two ugly fabrics:
and the more I saw them, the more I liked them!!

I was still resolved to disassemble the quilt. The blocks themselves were sewn by hand:
with skillful stitches, at least by my estimation. They did not handle the seam intersections in the best manner so I wonder if they were a garment sewer by training and new to quilting. Or maybe she just didn't worry about which way to sew down seam allowances.

The blocks were sewn together and the strips sewn on by machine. By my limited knowledge, the fabrics in the strips were much newer (a decade or two?). Those two things make me think that it was a later sewer who did this part--the block maker's daughter or granddaughter perhaps. I also don't think they were as experienced as sewers.

For one thing, the machine stitches were far too small. My guess is someone didn't know what a conventional stitch length was so they went for what they thought was as strong as possible.
In fact, the close tiny stitches actually put the fabric more at risk as the many needle punches can weaken the fabric, and also put it at risk of tearing since the seam is stronger than the fabric.

Or maybe they just had no idea you could even change that setting and used the machine with whatever settings the machine was already set to.

Also, uneven seam allowances
show a sewer who didn't know how to control the fabric as they sewed or that it would affect how flat and straight the final product would turn out.

I proceeded with trying to take out all of those tight tiny impossible stitches. The first go was with a regular seam ripper, which worked but was pretty tedious. Someone on Instagram suggested a tool that was basically small electric hair clippers. The method was to pull apart the two fabric pieces and snip the thread with the clippers. The tension on the fabric would then pull out the next few stitches, you'd snip again and just zip your way up the seam.

So I tried it with our hair clippers with mediocre success. Our clippers were not quite as sharp perhaps. (Although don't say that to my husband who takes great pride in keeping everything very sharp around here!) But the main issue was that the stitches were so small, there was no "pulling out the next few stitches" with the tension on the fabric because the stitches were too close together.

Then I switched to using a razor blade instead. I'd put tension on the fabric, pulling the two pieces apart, press the blade against the stitches to cut them, and go down the seam that way. It was quicker than the seam ripper, although at higher risk of cutting the fabric instead of the stitches.

I only had one damaged part:
although I can't remember if that was done with the clipper or the blade. Probably the clippers.

But finally I had all of the blocks separated from the strips of fabric and from each other.

I have never worked with fabric this old. I was mystified by the strips of twill tape that were sewn into the fabric in random places, completely unnecessary to the piecing of the blocks:
Google searching has failed me. I came to the conclusion that this was reinforcement sewn in from when these were used as seed, sugar, or flour sacks. I think some of the fabrics go back to 1930s or 1940s sackcloth. Some of them are a very odd texture, like they've been coated. I assume this was to treat the fabric so it would not allow flour or sugar to leak through.

The other interesting thing was how precious this fabric was (fabric in general, I'm sure). If the piece was a tiny bit small, they would sew a piece on, no matter how close to the seam. Check out this small square:
 Can you see all the seams?
Holy cow!! Just to get a little 3" square--a piece many quilters now would consider waste. (Of course, not if it's the last little bit of a fabric you need to complete a pattern!)

Sometimes they matched the pattern
 other times they didn't bother:
Or more likely not that they didn't bother, but because it wasn't possible with the fabric they had available.

A lot of the blocks are dirty and faded:
but what can you expect? Some of them may be nearing 100 years old! (I can't decide if this fabric was originally blue or red. Or maybe they really did throw in one random purple block.)

I did wash the fabric and blocks once it was disassembled. The water came out pretty grungy so that certainly affirmed the decision. No damage was done as far as I could tell, so I was grateful for that.

Once I had the blocks apart, what now?

I tried a layout of just the blocks:
But I didn't like that. Too cluttered. But it did help determine where I wanted the blocks and demonstrated that I could use all 25 blocks in an "on point" setting. If I added some sashing between the blocks I thought I could have something!

But before I could do any sewing, I had to get the blocks to the same size. I measured each one and got measurements from 10.5" to 11.5"...that's a big range!

Not much choice but to cut them all down to 10.5". The blocks were uneven and did not lay flat. I tried to centre the centre square as best I could and just laid the square ruler on top to make it as flat as possible while I cut.

You might be asking how I could just cut the edges of the blocks off since they were hand sewn. Wouldn't the stitching come out? I asked myself the same thing. At first I thought I would just mark the new boundary of the block and try to match it with the sashing.

But then I thought I could cut the edge everywhere but the seam, like this:
So I have the edge I can match to the sashing, but haven't cut through the seams. Pretty clever, right? They remind me of the little notches that you leave when you're cutting out fabric for sewing patterns.

With that done and some careful sewing*, I got the sashing onto two sides of each block.

(*Remember that when you have to sew two pieces together that aren't quite the same length, always sew with a "baggy bottom". I.e. put the longer piece on the bottom where the feed dogs will ease it into the seam.)

And here is the top with the edge triangles and the rest of the sashing:
I really had to get creative to cut all the edge triangles from the fabric that was originally sewn between the blocks.

Then I realized that I read the chart I was using incorrectly and the corner triangles are too small. That elicited a big sigh from me, I can tell you. But since I first realized, I've been mulling it around and I think I have a solution I like.

In one place I saw this block called Puss in the Corner, but since then I haven't been able to confirm it. When I search for Puss in the Corner blocks, they are shown with half-square triangle pieces. If you have a name you use for this block, please leave it in the comments below. I'd like to know how to refer to it. Thanks!

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