Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Patchwork Clothing

 Well we all need a break today after last night's debacle--er debate.  How about Patchwork Clothing?

In the 1980s, a lot of my friends were upset that Ralph Lauren used antique quilts to make clothing.  I found this image on Pinterest:

These pieces appear to be made from 19th century quilt.  A lot of my friends in the quilt world were greatly upset by this decision.  There's an article about this on the Ralph Lauren website here.

The V & A museum (sorry that is the Victoria and Albert Museum in the U.K.) has a piece designed by Adolfo from the 1960s that incorporates a 19th century crazy quilt.
I appreciate that the word "cannabalism" is used in the description and you can read that here.

A few years ago, this trend in fashion resurfaced.  Here's a great article you can read.  "Quilts are having a moment in fashion that I wasn't expecting," one textile artist was quoted.  

I have a secret pinterest file and a whole file folder called A New From Old.  I'll be writing about this topic again.  But let's look at clothing.  In the 1930s, as interest in quilting became more popular, incorporating patchwork into fashion became a trend.
From 1930:

Jackets were popular and this American actress showed off her jacket made of suede in 1932:

This trend appears to have been popular with college aged women in 1934:

The difference of course, was that antique quilts weren't cannabalized to make these garments.  Like many quilters still do today, the pieces were sewn and created in the present day.  To simulate an old quilt look for a mass market is nearly impossible unless one is hiring overseas sweatshops--a dishonorable way to manufacture.

Everytime I think of this particular subject I wonder if Frank Baum had a part in this trend.  Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz and invented a character known as The Patchwork Girl.  She appeared in his books in 1913 and I found her particularly terrifying when I was child and read the books:

Come to think of it, this may have been one factor in my lifelong aversion to Halloween.  

Have you ever made quilted or patchwork clothing?  What are your thoughts?  We will catch up with writer's thoughts tomorrow and you can email me at

Have a safe and happy day!

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Alice's Star


1933, The Free Press in Detroit

In normal times, we have a group that meets every other month on the third Thursday to study old quilts.  If we had to cancel a meeting we might post photos online, usually on this blog.  But these are not normal times and with my husband's back problem this past month, I'm not getting much sleep.  All this is my way of saying that I'll post photos of people's quilts when they email them as I can.

Alice is one of my favorite people in our group and she follows this blog.  Recently, she emailed me a photo of a quilt top that she received from a friend.  It's a vintage, most likely first half of the 20th century.  Thank you Alice for sharing with us!

This top is lovely and the maker not only worked hard on the star but the piecing around the star really makes it unique!

What Alice knows about the top:  It's hand pieced.  It was apparently passed on to many folks before a friend found it recently and passed it on to Alice.

Quilt collectors love quilt tops.  The colors are rarely faded, we can study the construction of the piece, and it's easier to store a top than a quilt.  

But there is a down side of some tops.  Many of them remained unquilted becaus they don't lay flat.  I think this quilt may (hard to tell from photos) suffer from this dilemma.  Alice mentioned in her email that she had also received more of the triangles and pieces to complete the quilt.

The upside of quilt tops is this:  we often think that all our foremothers were so frugal and industrious that they finished all their projects.  The large amount of tops in the auction market belies this assumption.  Women have always had UFOs just as we did.  We often don't know why.  Did they get busy or ill?  Did they end up being tired of the piece?

When we study quilts, we often search and speculate as to why something is unfinished or what the quilter was thinking.  It is ALL speculation without provenance or documentation about the piece.  We don't know why this piece went unfinished.  But it is lovely and interesting with the triangles and stars around the main Star of Bethlehem.

Alice has been busy during the pandemic and also sent me a photo of a quilt she finished.  I hope she doesn't mind me sharing it but I think it is adorable!  She calls it "Covid Cats" and I saved the photo because I love this piece so much!

Do you have a an old quilt or a project that you are working on that you would like to share with the group?  Email me photos and the story at if you have a project you wish to share!

Have a safe and happy day!

Monday, September 28, 2020

Sewing Spaces

 I woke up on Sunday with a bad case of giggles.  I had a hilarous dream and could not shake the merriment it brought me.  For a couple of nights, I had been watching a Netflix show called Get Organized with The Home Edit.  The Home Edit is a small company of organizers who have built an empire that services regular folks and celebrities with their organizing methods. 

The show is cute; lots of laughter and some good ideas.  In my dream, they were to organize a quilter's sewing room; when they entered the room, their usual upbeat countenance eroded and was replaced with unabashed horror.  My laughter only increased when I googled "messy sewing room" and thought of the mayhem they could encounter.

I admit that I'm a bit obsessed with organization shows and have been watching these kinds of shows for decades.  I love purging things as life rolls on.  My husband on the other hand...well he still had clothes from high school when we got married--and he was in his 40s at the time.  

Most of us are always eager to look for a way to organize our sewing room so it doesn't become a mess.  We want the perfect system and perfect organizational method so we can find everything when needed and walk out of the room without a zillion pieces of thread stuck to our clothes.

Sometimes we reorganize with a particular purpose--like finding space for a new type of sewing machine or a new type of sewing (or knitting).  Beth has been in this process throughout the pandemic and carefully planning her sewing room to accomodate the sewing classes she intends to teach in the future.

The idea of the "sewing room" is actually quite modern.  For centuries a woman's sewing was relegated to their work tables.  
A wonderful article is on the V&A website here.  Through the years I've had about a dozen sewing tables like this one which is still somewhere in the attic:

Think about our mothers and grandmothers.  Where did they sew?  Nana Betty kept her sewing machine in the front room.  She loved being surrounded by kids and activity and sewed right in the thick of it.  My mother preferred the bedroom.  Thinking of it now, I'm sure it was because she could close the door and escape the kids.  I don't recall Nana Elsie even having a sewing machine although she did a lot of hand sewing;  this might be because she worked in a sewing factory and had enough of machines at work.  Where did your mothers/grandmothers sew?

It seems like "the sewing room" is a fairly modern use of household space.  The earliest photo I could find was this one.  I like the room but thought: where's the fabric?  Oh yeh, maybe in those small bins behind the bookshelf: 
January 1945, Ladies Home Journal:  "A Mother and Daughter Room."

This sewing room is from the 1950s and is found in the laundry room:

Here's a 1970s sewing room set-up which I found on a blog called Pattern Junkie.  The blogger's explaination of this room is hilarious and worth a read (here):

Another 1970s sewing room (put on your sunglasses):

So we are obsessed with our sewing spaces.  One reason may be because for many of us, we've put our families' needs before our own for decades.  Once the kids have grown up and moved out, we can finally have a space that is our personal (and prized) real estate in the home.  We reorganize because we can.  I do this every few months not because I am disgusted with my space but because it gives me pleasure to do so.  

Being creative is often messy so we need to clear our minds and our sewing rooms so we are inspired for the next project.  This is particularly important during the rough times we are in.  The world is chaotic and we need one space in our home that is orderly--and ours.

Maybe we have too much fabric.  But who among us isn't grateful  for our stash during this pandemic!

There are whole industries on sewing/craft room organization and plenty of ideas on blogs, websites, magazines and even whole books.  Why doesn't any of this keep us organized?    We may be limited by income or time or a myriad of other factors.  

I suspect that one way to organize does not fit all.  The best organizer I have ever watched on tv takes into account the actual personality of the person.  Cassandra (Cas) Aarssen had a show recently on HGTV.  She has a website and a theory that we are "not messy.  We organize differently."  She even has a quiz to determine what kind of organization may suit your personality (see here).  If you take the quiz, let me know what your result is; I'm a ladybug.

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about comfort sewing and making doll quilts.  I showed a vintage doll quilt made of sample pieces that women could get via catalogs like Sears.  For the life of me, I couldn't remember where I had put the hefty pile of sample pieces I had.  I found them last week in the area of my sewing room designated for current projects and scraps.
Here are a few:
All organizers have tips that we can find useful in our spaces.  The Home Edit divides spaces into zones.  If the samples were actually stored with vintage fabric, I would have found them right away.  

Would you like to share your sewing space ideas or photos?  I'm not ashamed to show mine; I'm in the middle of making a few hundred four-patches for a new quilt and that means I am in the midst of a mess:

a=fabric currently using for quilt.
b=vintage fabric
c=finishing station:  quilts to bind and behind is a cabinet with backing fabric
d=fat quarters (or scraps of that approximate size).  Below fabric yardage is stored.

e=current work.

Everytime I finish a big project, I clean up the room to start over again.
What do you do?  What works for you?  Email me your thoughts or photos to

Have a safe and happy day!

Friday, September 25, 2020

Happy Flower Friday!
What's blooming where you live?

Betsy sent this cheerful Autumn Crocus!  
It's lovely and happy!

The Toad Lily is blooming in my garden!

The bush below is caryopteris.  Gardeners:  I can't recommend this bush enough!  It blooms late in the season, attracts butterflies and bees, and even the leaves are fragrant (not unlike lavender).

Some interesting embroidery:

If you like embroidery and Art Noveau/Arts and Crafts Motifs, here is a lily you can sew:


Thursday, September 24, 2020

Sewing Together: Blooming with Friends

Mary Cassatt,  Young Mother Sewing
 Cassatt had a long friendship with Edgar Degas.

 I enjoy reading about artists and it always interests me to learn about the friendships between artists.  Picasso and Manet, van Gogh and Gauguin, the list of artistic friendships goes on and on.  I've always gravitated to creative friends--artists, writers, etc.  Their perspective even--and maybe especially--when it is slanted has enriched my view of the world.

It's the same for quilters.  We thrive when around other sewists--even if our contact is virtual.  What would we do during these days of the pandemic without pinterest, quilting tutorials, websites and blogs?

I'm very protective of my research--it's my intellectual property and I often guard it by copyrighting my work.  Quilts are another matter.  I'm very much flattered when something I've sewn has inspired another quilter to do something similar.  Sometimes it is as simple as the fabric choices.  A few months ago I made a quilt and a wall hanging for my niece:

My friend Sam who is a member of my guild and participates on this blog, loved the concept and later texted me photos of fabric she was inspired to buy and use.  In this case, imitation is the highest form of flattery and I was enthused that she found inspiration in something I made, even if it was just the fabric choice!
Sewing together is synonymous with growth.  We learn new techniques, easier ways to do things, and new ways to integrate color and pattern in our work.  We form friendships--in person or virtually--that become valuable assets. 

Diann recently posted adorable blocks called "Preeti's Petit Sisters" and I'm enamoured with these blocks.  She found them on Preeti's blog and you can see them on her blog --along with a link to Preeti's tutorial-- Little Penguin Quilts, here.

Sometimes our quilting friends take us out of our ruts--LOL--even the ruts we aren't aware of ourselves.  A few years ago, I was building a program that celebrated the designer Ruby Short McKim.  The program was called "Designs STILL Worth Doing:  A Celebration of Ruby Short McKim."  I went shopping with my friend and fellow guild member Kim.  I needed to buy fabric for projects that would illustrate McKim's versatility.

I gravitate towards pinks and blues but Kim put a halt to this.   She told me--in the nicest way--that I needed to step out of my rather conservative pallet and began pulling fabrics that I would NEVER have chosen.  It was a game changer for me and it forced me to look at the sum of my work in a different way.  Here's one example:

The quilt is electric and utilized orange--a color I don't normally appreciate and batiks which I had never purchased or worked with before.

Meeting our sewing friends--no matter how you choose to meet--keeps us sewing.  Our guild does a virtual show and tell right now; on my other blog, 3 Poodles and a Nana, I participate in To-Do-Tuesdays, and write along with my other blogger buddies, a list of sewing goals I hope to accomplish.

Throughout my life, I've sewn with other women, starting with my Nana Betty, my friend Linda, a group of women in the late 1980s and early 1990s; the women I worked with at the college; and now via my guild and the internet.  All of my sewing companions have enhanced my work and all have increased my commitment to spreading love through my sewing.
Many of you do that as well.  Libby wrote this week that she has been spending the pandemic making baby quilts for "Jack's Baskets" a group that celebrates Down Syndrome babies and also for the local pregnancy center.

During these troubled days, sewing together also helps us cope. During the Depression, Franklin's philosophy was (in sum): do something.  Working and sewing helps us endure.  Sewing allows us to contribute to each other and our communities.  We sew.  We share.  We gift love in the form of a fabric hug.  We bloom.

Tomorrow is "Flower Friday" and if you want to share a photo of flowers, be they real,  textile or illustrated, email me at

Have a safe and happy day!

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Sewing Together: Busy as Bees!


The term "bees" were used for a variety of get togethers with a theme.  For example, there were "husking bees"and "paring bees" (these focused on paring apples).  Often bees were organized to assist neighbors and centered on some kind of work.  As one 1866 article offered "an accident or calamity of some kind may have occurred throwing the settler behind-hand with his owrk or doing damage to an extent he cannot repair by his own undivided efforts."  

Another website offered that sewing bees in the United States sometime in the first half of the 19th century.  Often sewing bees focused on helping the poor and indigent, I found a number of articles that cited sewing bees were making clothes to distribute before winter.

Bangor Maine, 1857:  An interesting aside on this article is the use of 2 sewing machines.

Quilting Bees became one of the favorite tools used by the Ladies Aid Society.  Somewhere in Palmerton, Pennsylvania, I did a program for a guild in the basement of the church.  It was many years ago and I can't find the photograph but there was a Ladies Aid Society quilt from the 19th century hung in the social room.  

Ladies Aid Societies were--to my knowledge--formed during the Civil War, usually out of groups of women who already met or sewed together.  They used their skills to benefit the Union cause and after the war, their communities.  A few societies existed even to the end of the 20th century.  Yesterday Kathie emailed me about her grandmother:

"My grandmother was a hard-working farm wife with 8 kids. My mum says that one of the joys of her life was the Ladies Aide group at our church where they joined together for quilting. She was the designated person to mark the quilt designs."

Quilting Bees still occur today.  My own guild had a daytime and an evening bee until recently.  

So why the allure of sewing together?  We'll talk about that tomorrow!

Have a safe and happy day!

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Sewing Together: Sewing Societies


Didn't expect this photograph today, did you?  Guilds and sewing groups tend to focus on community projects.  Most guilds have a non-profit status and donate a portion of their yearly earnings to charitable causes.  

I've never been to a guild where there wasn't some kind of drive:  colorful pillowcases for children in hospitals, Quilts of Valor for veterans, quilts for bereaved children (children who lost a family member) via Camp Erin, quilts for premature babies at hospitals, people at hospice, teddy bears to be distributed to sick children in the emergency rooms at hospitals.   The list goes on and on and on....
Premie quilts, sorry about the shadows..

And now during the pandemic, we have been making masks and ppe for hospitals and community groups.  You probably have as well.

Our tradition of sewing benevolence comes from sewing societies.  I never found an actual history of sewing societies but as early as 1821, I found reference to them in newspapers:

Sewing societies were often linked to a particular religion and church.  This tradition continues today in many areas.



Sewing societies could even allow the ladies to express their political perspective, even if they couldn't vote.  In particular, many Anti-Slavery Sewing Societies sprang up before the Civil War:
1836 Vermont

And 1843 Vermont

The sewing societies also held fairs and sold various sewn and crafted items.
Freehold, NJ 1838

Of particular note was the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Fairs which were held right before Christmas from 1835 to 1861.  The Anti-Slavery organizations became key factors in the Sanitary Commission and the U. S. Christian Commission.  The commissions were founded in the beginning of the Civil War and the Sanitary Commission was eventually sanctioned by Lincoln (who discounted it by referring to it as "a fifth wheel on a carriage").  The Sanitary Commission may have had men heading the group but the real power and organization came from women.  The Sanitary Commission alone raised 
$4,924,480 in cash and contributed another 15 million in supplies.

Sewing societies did not have the full support of men.  I found letters to the editor and editorials that questioned the integrity of the sewing societies:  "I sincerely believe, that the wish to be considered charitable far exceeds the wish to do good," wrote one man in 1834 who was too cowardly to sign his name to the letter.  Other men questioned whether women were competent to run fundraising.  For their part, the women ignored the men and sewed on.

Benevolence continued after the war by various groups of sewing women and supported causes such as suffrage, hospitals, aiding the poor or infirmed, and other charitable work.

It seems as if the word "guild" began to be used by quilters and sewing groups in the 20th century.  The first one I found was in the 1920s and affiliated with a church; in the 1930s, I found active guilds that were independent of a particular group in Michigan.

In the 1970s, more guilds were formed as I mentioned yesterday.
So back to this photograph...

Many years ago, my own guild had a sale of a woman's stash that was held for months.  Each meeting, volunteers carted in fabric that they had measured and priced.  It was explained that a member of the guild had passed away.  The guild was selling her stash for a very special purpose.  

The lady had two cats that she adored and a family was found that agreed to adopt both cats.  The fabric sale raised money for that family to supply the cats with funds for the food, vet bills, and other supplies needed.  
As a pet lover, I thought it was an extremely sweet and thoughtful gesture.  I don't know how much money we raised but I suspect it was a hefty fund.  As you know, we quilters love to buy fabric--especially when it is for a worthy cause.

What kind of charitable causes do you like to sew for?  Email me at

Have a safe and happy day!