Seeing Stars

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Original Coverlet

Several months ago a client sent me a vintage crocheted coverlet that had been in her mother’s family for many years. It was made by one of her mother’s relatives but unfortunately neither she nor her mother knew who that was. Clearly it had been a labor of love, an intricate pattern with cotton crochet thread and a fringe border. But it had also seen better days. Like a lot of fiber items, its storage situation had been less than ideal and it had suffered damage from rodents and other vermin.

The client gave me free rein in repurposing the coverlet, hoping only that something could be done with it. The star design in the pattern immediately stood out, and I figured I could salvage enough stars to put onto blocks and construct at least a lap-size quilt.

Once I got going it proved more difficult than I’d anticipated. Cutting one star meant destroying the stars bordering it. When done, I’d only managed to get 16 stars good enough to reuse. I attached them to neutral fabric blocks (the client’s color choice) using a permanent fabric spray adhesive. Then I sewed, by machine, around each star using a fine-weight thread and small stitch. Each piece was hand-washed in a gentle detergent and air-dried, followed by pressing.

As I completed these steps I knew there weren’t really enough blocks to make even a decent-size lap quilt. Not ready to give up, I kept thinking about possibilities. I finally came upon the idea of creating a bed scarf, which was enthusiastically received by the client.

There was a little more sewing – the blocks together in two rows, the layers basted together on the long-arm, sewing the layers together on my regular machine, and last of all the quilting around each star. I hope the new piece will shine in its own way for many more years to come!

Bed Scarf

Bed Scarf

Squared Up

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There is often an illusion that happens with quilt patterns; those that may look difficult may actually be fairly easy due to the cutting and sewing order and technique, and those that look quite easy may be somewhat difficult for those very same reasons. Quilters may not often talk about this with non-quilters – we don’t like to see people’s eyes glaze over as we say things like “strip piecing”, “fussy cutting”, “half-square triangles from squares”, and so on. And it is a little bit like being a magician; we don’t want to give away too many secrets as it could diminish the allure.

I even succumbed to the “this looks easy” fallacy this past summer when I agreed to make a quilt for a client. She had already selected Grandma’s Window, from The Vintage Clothespin, for the pattern, and purchased a variety of fabrics. The only real direction I received was “Make it look as much like the one in the pattern as possible.” There were some differences in color palette, so I knew right away the over-all look would not be exactly as pictured on the pattern PDF, but it wouldn’t be too far off. And it all seemed pretty straight-forward. The blocks were, after all, BLOCKS! They were literally squares of fabric. What I failed to appreciate, at least initially in looking things over, was the precision in cutting that this kind of design requires.

When squares or triangles are sewn to other squares or triangles there can be some “give” in the block. Fabric stretches so seams can stretch a bit, or be eased in a bit, as needed. A single block of one fabric doesn’t offer this same kind of give. When you have six or seven blocks in a row it doesn’t take being off by much before things can get out of kilter.

With some patience and attention to detail, cutting and piecing went quite well. When the large squares and the groups of four smaller squares were ready for final placement I found myself doing a lot of shuffling and reshuffling, trying to avoid too much of one color in one area, not enough of something in another, not too much of one fabric in a row. A process like this can go on forever, so at some point I had to remember that there isn’t a perfect layout, but rather to seek a pleasing layout.

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The finished quilt

I did the quilting, straight lines through the white sashing, on my long-arm. Variations from the original pattern included the addition of a piano key border, and making the final white border uniform on all sides. The finished quilt maintained it’s shape, not a square per se, but a rectangle of squares that were, indeed, properly squared up.

 

 

Present Perfect

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This month marks the two-year anniversary of my retirement from my 30 year career in higher education. It wasn’t the first time I’d left a job, and it reminded me of other times I’d left places and how these transitions are usually marked by a party or lunch, a card, and sometimes a small token of appreciation or affection, often with the organization name or logo. And while I did receive a lovely gift, an engraved Tiffany vase, I have to confess it was not the best goodbye gift I’ve been given.

About nine years ago I left one college to go to a new position at another college and the obligatory goodbye party was held. Near the end of the gathering one of my co-workers handed me a small package and said, “You may want to open it in private, it is rather personal.” I could not imagine what this young woman was giving me; we had worked together for only about 6 months, and although we had grown somewhat close I was at a loss as to what could be so personal I could not open it in public. As it turned out the personal nature of the item was because of her attachment to it, not because it might embarrass me in some way.

Dresser Scarf

Dresser Scarf

It was one of the most touching gifts I’ve ever received –  a hand-embroidered dresser scarf, made by her Hungarian grandmother; a family heirloom stored away, and treasured, for years. When I look at this piece I marvel at the craftsmanship that went into it. The back is nearly as perfect as the front, and unless one looks closely it is difficult to tell which is which. I think about the woman who made this many years ago, and how she had no idea it would end up across the Atlantic in America, cherished by a former co-worker of her not-yet-born granddaughter. Had she known, would she have taken less care in creating it? Would she have been disappointed that it was not kept in her family as a treasured heirloom? Or would she have been pleased to know that something she created was so loved that it became the perfect gift, given from the heart by the giver and held in high esteem by the recipient; a wonderful reminder of how our handiwork can span time and distance to impact people we’ll never meet in ways we can’t imagine.