Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Back to basics

I was unpacking my quilts from my recent trip to NQA in Columbus, OH, and spread out an old basket quilt on my cutting table so it could relax a bit before I rolled it up and stored it once again. But then, as the sunbeams warmed this rather dull quilt and the richness of the quilting showed so beautifully, I re-discovered its beauty in its very simple, basic quilting. I also appreciated the vintage style fabrics that nowadays seem to be out of fashion in quilt shows and shop displays. Funky, bold and bright gets center stage most of the time, but I still think there is a place for the classics.

So no apologies from me - I still love quilts that remind me of ones made hundreds of years ago. I think the pioneer women especially, with limited supplies and the necessity of making warm bed covers out of what might have seemed like "thin air," were true pioneers in the art quilt movement. They used what they had and made some amazing compositions that still command our respect and admiration. One little piece of Turkey red placed well in the top turned a dull array of shirtings into a visual delight.

My little basket quilt was a sample I pieced together out of blocks made to demo the piecing techniques for it. When asked to appear on Simply Quilts about 10 years ago, I used it to layer and mark and show how you would do this for machine quilting a top. When I returned home, it seemed like a wise idea to go right ahead and quilt it.

I used #100 YLI silk thread, mostly neutral shades, as that is all I had at the time when I was just beginning to venture into using opaque colored threads for the quilting. I discovered that most of the colors in the quilt could easily be quilted using the neutrals and look just fine. The old idea of color matching exactly the thread to the fabric that hung on in my mind from my days of sewing garments sort of went out the window.

This thread sort of "morphed" into whatever color fabric I used. Dark brown thread on deep red print fabric looked like deep red thread, taupe thread on chartreuse fabric looked like green, not taupe anymore at all. It was a big surprise to me, as you could still see the stitches, but the thread was a chameleon.

It took me more years of using this thread to realize its full potential, and now it is the extra touch I use to give my quilts depth, highlights, dimension. I still avoid using very dark fine thread on lighter fabrics as the machine stitch does not look wonderful nor does your quilting if you do this. Stitching over a line of quilting to get to the next area is not obvious, as you can see in the rosette in the corner square, below.

This basket quilt has simple quilting throughout, but has a complex border design that creates a lovely frame. The sashing and inner borders don't have background quilting, just basic cables or pumpkin seed designs. The basket has clamshells and continuous curves, and my favorite part was the straight parallel lines of backgrounds, exactly as a hand quilter would have done in the 1800's. This basic style is what made the quilt look vintage, even though done on my modern sewing machine. Stippling, or any of my new backgrounds, done around the baskets would have been just fine, but definitely have taken away from the mood of vintage. One basic old fashioned design,straight parallel lines, did so much for this quilt.

The lines were done free motion and I didn't mark them. I learned to look ahead of the needle and aim ahead, use a speed where I could stay in control yet fast enough for smoothness. Sometimes in larger areas it's a good idea to mark a "plumb line" or horizon line so there is something to keep you going straight. I did not use the edge of my foot as a guide, instead, I visualized the "puff" I was creating between the lines, and that was much easier for me and made everything fall into place so much better.

And the most important thing is to quilt the lines on the bias just as the old hand-quilted ones were done. There will be the least amount of distortion, "snow plowing," or pushing fabric along and causing a pleat when you arrive at a ditch or previously stitched line if you quilt a straight line on the bias. Yes, I did stitch in the ditch first, and around each basket. Everything stayed perfectly in place, there was no excess at all, and each basket background was more even and better than the last.

It's also a wise idea to do all one sort of quilting at a time - in this case, I quilted around each basket, then within each basket with the designs there, and finally all the backgrounds, one after the other, with a tiny break or mental "re-boot" time in between each one. This worked to increase my skill with the built-in repetition.

If you have some old tops pieced up that maybe don't interest you anymore, take one out, mark some basic designs on it, and quilt it up. Use some of your newer freehand designs as well to add to the complexity of your quilting, some un-marked feathers, whatever.

If I were quilting this top now? I'd probably have some echo feathers sprouting around those baskets, or a bird perched above one every now and then, but maybe the old way is still the best for simplicity and holding true to the roots of our quilting heritage. could piece up a classic design like this in bright, bold, funky fabrics and quilt it, enjoy it, love the colors you have used and enjoy re-visiting each one as you quilt over it. The thing is, you need to look down at your work and love it. Love the fabrics, the colors, thread, designs you quilt. Then you will do your very best.

The pattern for this basket block and quilt are in my book Guide to Machine Quilting, still available at or other major booksellers' sites.

Have fun deciding, and keep quilting! Your work gets better every day.



Jocelyn said...

I do love the classic traditional quilting. I think there will always be a place for classic quilting. Thanks for sharing.

MH said...

that is such a treasure !! I is nice to look back with you and see what you had done in the past . I remember you on Simply Quilts . Your work has always been an inspiration .
I hope the traditional doesn't deminish in popularity for long . They are materpieces that we all love .
I is great to see what you did with that quilting , up close, and gives me more to think about when I approch my next quilt
Thanks !

vivian said...

Love the basket quilt because it reminds me of my Mother. She loves basket quilts and her proudest moment was when her basket quilt (hand quilted) won Best of Show at the SC State Fair!

marlene@ByTheSeam said...

Beautiful quilt. I am not sure I will ever get the hang of free motion quilting. I am just starting and trying to figure it all out. I will be checking back often. I do like the more traditional quilting.

Dena said...

Thank you for the valuable insight on thread choices and machine quilting designs. It's a good reminder to remember the basics.

Danielle said...

Welcome to blogland! I was so excited to find you today. I will be following and checking your blog often. Beautiful display of quilting and explanations. Thank you for sharing.

Creative Times with Sue said...

I can already see this is going to be a beautiful blog. I love what you machine quilters are able to achieve; you are a true artist!

Diane Gaudynski said...

Thanks for the lovely comments - I plan on more quilts, more tips and ideas about quilting, and photos to help you with your own work or give you a smile. Arnie, my cat, likes me glued to the laptop and not off teaching somewhere. said...

Diane - what I really want to know about is the leaf quilt that you have pictured at the top of your blog. What a beauty it is.

Diane Gaudynski said...

Karen - Thanks! The leaf quilt is a piece of sun dyed fabric by Diane Bartels that I purchased locally, and then decided it was too pretty to cut up or use in a quilt, so I just quilted it. I used many shades of silk thread to set off the natural leaves, and many varied background motifs. I'll try and get a photo of the entire piece - it's horizontal - and will post it soon.