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October 1, 2014

Crazy for Crazies

By Donna di Natale

Donna di Natale

Donna di Natale

A quilt show I recently attended had a special exhibit of crazy quilts. They were wonderful crazy quilts – mostly old, but some newer. All had embroidered stitches of some kind, and most were embellished with lace, buttons, ribbon, embroidered design, and small bits of broderie perse.

Needless to say, they were amazing. The crazy quilts in my collection may not be as amazing as the ones in the exhibit, but I will share them with you anyway.

Some quilt historians, Ruth Finley among them, think that crazy quilts are the oldest known style of truly American quilts. In Colonial times, when every bit of fabric was so valuable, women used entire scraps for their quilts, regardless of how irregular the shape or how small the size. Some think that an exhibit of crazed porcelain in the Japanese pavilion at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition triggered the popularity of crazy quilts in the American Victorian period.

Crazy quilts of the late 1800s were made mostly by upper class women who had plenty of leisure time and who could afford to use silk, velvet and satin in their quilts. These fabrics were readily available as pieces left over from decorating their home or from clothes made after the Civil War. (Remember Scarlett O’Hara’s green tapestry gown?)

The majority of the quilts were made using cotton as the foundation fabric. The makers stitched irregular pieces of fabric to the foundation one at a time. They sewed blocks together, and then began the creative process of embellishment.

bird

Needlework skills were taught in schools and were considered essential for 19th century ladies. It was also one of the few crafts considered an acceptable outlet for women’s creativity. Thus every seam in a crazy quilt was covered with fancy embroidery stitches, and patches were embellished with embroidered designs, broderie perse, ribbons, lace, beads and sequins. This was a showcase, after all, and perhaps there was a bit of snobbery or one-upmanship involved in selecting embellishments. Crazies often contained images relevant to the quilters’ hobbies, occupations, politics or travel. Quilters also made crazies to memorialize departed loved ones, using bits of fabric from their clothing, military ribbons and cigarette silks.

Quilt 1

quilt 1 sample block

block embroidery

The first example shown here is what I call semi-fancy. The maker was certainly skilled in embroidery, but the embellishments are not as elaborate as many crazy quilts I’ve seen. The fabrics are typical of the period 1880 to 1900 and remain in remarkably good condition for their age. The embroidery thread appears to be silk, but I have not tested it. Various cotton fabrics were used as foundations, as seen in the areas where the top fabric has disappeared or worn. There are dozens of different embroidery stitches, as shown in just one block.

embroidery 1

embroidery2

embroidery3
The quilt includes a spider web, a Far Eastern symbol of prosperity in many crazy quilts of this period. The quilt also has pansies that appear to be velvet flowers taken from something else, perhaps a greeting card or corsage, and affixed to one of the patches. There is a fan in one block, something else often found in a crazy, and another block has what appears to be a garlic or onion bulb. Perhaps this was intended to ward off disease.

spider web

fan

garlic
This quilt is not tied. The border is velvet, and the backing is linsey-woolsey. The backing is pieced, and the seams are covered with feather-stitch embroidery.

quilt 2

quilt 2 sample block

quilt 3

quilt 3 sample block
The next two quilts are more difficult to date. The fabrics include wool, linsey-woolsey and cotton sateen. The embroidery is not very fancy, with a type of feather stitch the predominant stitch. Both are tied with wool yarn. The second quilt has thick batting that feels like loose cotton and is extremely heavy. It would either keep you very warm or suffocate you.

quilt 4 detail

mirrors
The last crazy is a modern, commercially made crazy. I bought the quilt from a friend, whose brother got it in India. It simply demonstrates the fact that crazy quilts are still popular today, and there is no such thing as over embellishment when you are getting crazy.

Next week is installment two of Crazy for Crazies, when I’ll show you the crazy quilt my mother made in the 1940s and 1950s. I love that quilt because mom made it, but also for the fabrics. It may be responsible for my being crazy about crazies.

Donna di Natale is an author and editor for Kansas City Star Quilts. She writes every Wednesday.

September 29, 2014

Mrs. Bobbins

s poker

 

For more quilty laughter from Mrs. Bobbins, get The Big Book of Bobbins by clicking here! Just $16.95!

September 26, 2014

Rose of Sharon

By Edie McGinnis

Edie McGinnis

Edie McGinnis

I wish I could make all the quilts on my bucket list. If I could do that, I could use up a good portion of all of the fabric I have stashed all over my sewing room. I would empty out those bins and clear out my shelves and be able to see my entire cutting table.

Time is my enemy, though. There simply are not enough hours in my day to make all the quilts I would like to make. But I’ve found a way to work around that. It’s called shopping: haunting eBay, checking out auctions, stopping by every antique mall I find.

Most often, eBay is the place I can find some of the quilts that take my breath away.

It’s also the place that can suck my bank account dry in a flash. It’s a good thing I have common sense and am able to do some prioritizing.  I also have this unwavering attitude that paying the bills comes first. Otherwise, I could be in trouble.

But I digress. Kind of. Sort of. But not really. As you can see by the title of this blog, I started out with Rose of Sharon.quilt

That’s the name of a Paragon Quilt Kit, No. 01130. The kit was most likely manufactured in the mid- to late 1950s. The company was still using black and white photos on the cover of its kits.

At the time I bought this quilt, I didn’t know it had been made from a kit. I just saw the photo of the whole quilt. I thought it was stunning, and when I saw close-ups of the quilting, there was no question that the maker was very skillful. The tiny little quilting stitches and the nearly invisible appliqué stitches told of her talents.block again

As I looked at the photos on eBay, I thought the quilt was older than the 1950s. I was judging by the double pink fabric used, a color that usually indicates the early 1900s. Paragon came up with some very authentic-looking reproduction fabric when they packaged this kit.border flower

I was very pleased with my purchase when it arrived in the mail. I was still unaware that the quilt had been made from a kit. It was probably less then four weeks later that I saw a quilt just like the one I had purchased being sold by a different dealer on eBay. That listing made me sit up and take notice.border corner

I posted a photo of my quilt on a vintage and antique quilt list on Facebook. That’s when I found it had been made from a kit. I also found a photo of another example of this quilt in The Quilt Index.

So here I am with a vintage quilt that may have a few or many duplicates. It’s tough to tell how many might be out there. But it’s a sure bet that each one that is still around is exactly like this one.joined blocks

Does it bother me to know there are others out there? Not one bit. The fact that the quilt was made from a kit does not diminish its beauty nor does it take away from the skillful workmanship of the quilter.

Sometimes quilters tend to dismiss quilts made from kits as being somehow less than. They are snubbed a bit because they come in a package and someone else has determined the colors used. There can be hundreds of them, all looking alike. More than one can pop up at a quilt show, with the makers the only difference among them.

Kits can be a real boon to the busy quilter who sees a sample on the wall of a quilt shop and likes that quilt. Kits also appeal to quilters who have yet to gain confidence in choosing their own colors. And for the quilter who doesn’t want to end up with fabric left over, a kit is an ideal solution.

Quilts made from kits have been with us for a very long time. Without them, we might never have known of the work of Marie Webster, Ruby Short McKim, Ann Orr, Ruth Finley and other designers who contributed their talents to the quilting world. How sad that would be!

Edie McGinnis is an author and editor for Kansas City Star Quilts. She writes every Friday.

September 25, 2014

Bobbins’ Bargains Serves Up a Deal

In honor of National Coffee Day on Monday, Mrs. Bobbins wants you to enjoy Café au Lait at a special price.

bobbins bargains logo - 200 wideShe is always one to find a good deal out there in the quilt world. Now she brings her amazing talents to you … with her weekly Bobbins’ Bargains!

Every Thursday, Mrs. Bobbins will select one of our books and offer it to you at a very special price … 75% off the current listed price!

Better yet, your shipping is FREE in the continental U.S.

Better, better yet, “Five Gets You a Freebie!” If you order a Bobbins’ Bargain just five times (from five different sales), you get a free copy of any of our books! Take your pick. We’ll contact you by email once you’ve qualified for a free book and take your order.  Plus your shipping on that one is free as well. Easy as pie!

This week’s Bobbins’ Bargain is Café au Lait: Paper Piece a Rocky Road to Kansas, by Edie McGinnis.CafeAuLait300

Try a new twist on a traditional pattern. Edie recreates the Rocky Road to Kansas with a fresh look: a new color palette and paper piecing. Enjoy her clear, easy to follow instructions to make two variations of this classic – one large, one smaller. Paper patterns and fabric requirements using fat quarters are included.

8 1/2 x 11 inches, 16 pages, full-color, softcover.

Click here to see a YouTube video of the book.

The book is on sale for $9.95. Your price using our Bobbins’ Bargains promotion code is just $2.49, plus your shipping on this book is free in the continental U.S.!

(SHIPPING NOTE! Please allow 14 business days for delivery after Wednesday, Oct. 1, the last day of this week’s sale.)

Be sure to use this promotion code before checkout:

BOBBINS75

Please make sure to click the “Apply Promotion Code Now” button after entering the code. The discount won’t apply unless you do so. Please verify that you’ve received the discount before checking out.

Click here to order.  And remember  …  your shipping of this book is free in the continental U.S.!

September 24, 2014

Shop Local. Buy Local.

By Donna di Natale

Donna di Natale

Donna di Natale

It’s time for me to get on my soapbox again, with apologies to those who were looking for pictures of vintage quilts.

The other day, I was shopping at a local quilt shop and saw something that hit that last nerve that we all have. You know, the one that just makes you want to lose it right there in the middle of store, get up on the counter and tell people just what you think? I didn’t. I bit my tongue and kept quiet, but now I wish I’d said something.

What was it that upset me so? A customer was going through the store looking at patterns and books. She’d find one that looked interesting (I guess) and then get out her smart phone. You guessed it. She was looking the item up online, presumably to see if she could get it somewhere else for less.

Privately owned quilts shops are not in business so we can handle the fabric, thumb through a book, rearrange the rulers, and then go home and shop online. They are there so that we can look before we buy, pile bolts of fabric on the table to make sure they go together, and most important, to serve as a personal assistant when it comes to quilting and sewing.

How many times have you gone to a quilt shop with a pattern in mind and asked for help selecting fabrics? How many times have you found a fabric that you just had to have and asked for help finding something to make using it? How many times have you downloaded a “free” pattern online and then had to go to your local quilt shop for help when the instructions were inaccurate, missing a step or just plain wrong? Just try asking for this sort of personal assistance at an online shop.

I know buying online is important to people who live with a dearth of quilt shops, and we all try to save money when we can, but I personally cannot imagine buying a piece of fabric sight unseen. I admit I did it once – back when it was almost impossible to find a piece of blue and white fabric and I needed some for a restoration project. But you know what? That fabric is still in the box it was shipped in because it wasn’t the color I thought it was when viewed on my computer, and it certainly didn’t fit my project.

Microsoft Word - Document7.docxThe concept of buying local is huge all across the country when it comes to food, especially meat, vegetables and fruit. The adage “if it wasn’t grown or raised within 100 miles of where you live, you don’t need it” can be translated into quilting supplies, too. If you can’t find what you need within 100 miles of where you are, you probably don’t need it.

You might note that I changed the statement a bit when attaching it to quilting. I shop local. I’m fortunate to have more than a dozen quilt shops within 100 miles of my home. I also seek out quilt shops when I travel. Before leaving home, I do my research to find out whether there are quilt shops near my destination. As long as they aren’t too far out of the way, those shops become part of my trip itinerary. (I have a very understanding and patient husband.) So I include those shops when “buying local.” (And if there’s a hardware store next to the quilt shop, it’s even better.)

One other thing I love about local quilt shops before I get down off the box. OK, maybe two or three. Many shops create their own designs for the fabrics and notions they carry. These are one-of-kind products you can’t find or buy anywhere else but that one shop. Local shops also give classes or workshops. One of my local quilt shops offers more than 100 sewing and quilting classes a year – all geared toward customer requests.
And that third thing I love? Community involvement. I bet there isn’t one individually owned quilt shop in the country that doesn’t give back to its community in one way or another. The owner and employees might serve on community boards and committees; give presentations at local libraries; volunteer to teach scouting groups about quilting; go to schools to tell students about the history of quilting; or donate time, effort, money and fabric to community organizations.

What does that online shop do for your community? Please keep this in mind, and shop local – buy local whenever you can. Support your local quilt shop. We’ll all be glad you did.

Donna di Natale is an author and editor for Kansas City Star Quilts. She writes every Wednesday.