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By Donna di Natale
This installment of our look at summer coverlets takes on the full-size version, the perfect seasonal replacement for the thick quilts of winter.
Coverlets are quilts without batting or filler. Sometimes referred to as counterpanes, they were made using a variety of needlework techniques. In the early 1800s, when cotton fabrics became more available and more affordable, whole-cloth counterpanes embroidered with wool yarn or cotton thread became quite popular. Flower-filled urns and curving vines were the most common designs stitched on these lightweight bed covers.
Floral designs carried over into appliquéd coverlets with solid or printed cotton used for the pieces. This method of stitching summer coverlets continued well into the 1940s. Companies began manufacturing kits for making coverlets using appliqué or a combination of appliqué and embroidery. The kits included fabric stamped with appliqué designs to be cut out and stitched to the cloth top, which was stamped to show the placement of the pieces.
Here is an excellent example of a top intended as a summer coverlet. The blue floral pieces are made of standard cotton, while the cream background fabric is a slightly heavier muslin – sturdy enough to stand on its own without a backing. You can clearly see the appliqué placement marks on the back. The blue flowers and leaves were appliquéd using a buttonhole stitch. The rest of the design was stitched using French knots.
The edges were finished by attaching a wide strip of blue, folding it to the front, mitering the corners and stitching along the inside edge. It makes a very neat edge on both the front and the back of the top.
The embroidery on this coverlet is called candlewick, a form of raised embroidery brought to America by the colonists. The thread used in this technique is a thicker cotton thread, supposedly originally used for making candlewicks.
The main stitch used in candlewick is a knot stitch, either the French knot or the Colonial knot. These knots are similar. In a French knot, the thread is simply wrapped around the needle in a circular manner. In a Colonial knot, the thread is wrapped around the needle in a figure eight. The Colonial knot is a little prettier and stands up better.
Another version of candlewicking uses a running stitch. These are sewn using an even heavier cotton thread. About 1/8 inch of fabric is left between stitches that are 1/2 to 3/4 inch long. The lines of stitches are sewn and snipped. The fabric is placed in warm water and laid flat to dry. This shrinks the fabric and thread and untwists the snipped threads. This resembles, and was probably a predecessor to, chenille.
Another example of a top intended as a summer coverlet is one I think was originally a kit for a quilt top. The appliqué pieces were again stamped for cutting and stitching to the background. The background was marked for placement of the appliqué pieces and for quilting.
However, instead of the layering the top with batting and back and quilting it, the maker used candlewicking. A French knot was stitched on every dot of the quilting lines. Hundreds of French knots. This is why I think it was designed as a quilt top but made as a summer coverlet that was never finished. One of these days, I intend to finish it by simply adding a backing to preserve the pretty scalloped edge.
Candlewicking, like other forms of needlework, has gone through ups and downs in popularity through the years without ever disappearing completely. Embroidery is very popular right now, so perhaps candlewicking will return to popularity also. What do you think? Should we bring back candlewicking?
Donna di Natale is an author and editor for Kansas City Star Quilts. She writes every Wednesday.
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By Edie McGinnis
I did a little shopping on eBay last week. I bought a quilt that had been made from a Kansas City Star quilt pattern published Dec. 13, 1939, called Rosalia Flower Garden. The pattern was also published in 1975 as Jack’s Chain in Primarily Patchwork by Marjorie Puckett and Gail Giberson.
It is a difficult pattern to piece. It is continuous and has set-in seams. Just the set-in seams are enough to make many quilters back away from making this quilt, even though the result is extremely striking.
I pulled the quilt out of the box and the plastic trash bag it had been shipped in and was met with the most horrendous odor. I can’t tell you what it smelled like, because I have never encountered that aroma before. The quilt was dirty, as well, and I didn’t even like touching it.
I carted it downstairs and put it in the washing machine. It took two washings before the smell was gone.
The washing machine. Yes, I put it in the washing machine. That’s probably the biggest no-no when it comes to caring for a quilt. It is a move that is sure to bring the quilt police to your doorstep, and they will bang on your door until they have had their say. At the very least, it will earn you a scolding like you’ve seldom seen. I think it’s probably worse than touching a quilt at a quilt show.
It is acceptable to put a child’s drag-about “blankie” quilt in the washing machine. We all know what kind of nasty things get on them, and we want our children to live in a clean, healthy environment.
But when it comes to an antique, heirloom quilt, we want to be kind and gentle to the old fabrics and thread. No washing machine for those pretty old ladies. Instead, airing them on a balmy, overcast day after vacuuming the dust and dirt out of them will work just fine.
There are times when only washing them will suffice, though. You will want to check the fabric for color-fastness before you get it wet. Test it by wetting a white cloth and rubbing it over a piece of the fabric. Choose a corner and a color such as red for testing. If the red dye doesn’t come off onto the wet cloth, you are probably safe to get it wet. However, you would not be amiss to include a color-catcher, just to be on the safe side.
The washing machine and laundry detergent are not your best option when it comes to washing an heirloom quilt. Instead, submersing the quilt in the bathtub and swishing it around after adding Orvus soap is recommended. Be prepared to spend a lot of time rinsing the quilt until the water runs clear and free of soap. Press the water out of the quilt, and wrap it in a sheet to lift it out of the tub.
Lay a fresh, clean sheet on the ground and gently spread your quilt out on the sheet. Cover the quilt with another sheet, and let it dry. Turn it every so often so it will dry thoroughly.
So why go to all this trouble instead of using your washing machine? Old threads are fragile, as is old fabric. A washing machine agitates, and that action is very hard on thread and tends to make them pop or break. Hanging a wet quilt on a clothesline also puts a great deal of stress on the threads and may cause them to break.
You are probably wondering what possessed me to toss the quilt I had just gotten into the washing machine. Obviously, the smell and the fact that it was very dirty had a great deal to do with my decision. But there were other factors that played into it.
The quilt is vintage and was made with a poly-cotton blend fabric rather than cotton, so I knew it was not likely I would run into a problem with fading. It needs to be repaired, and I couldn’t stand to touch the quilt as dirty as it was. While the quilt is pretty from a distance, it is a far cry from being heirloom quality. There is very little quilting on it, barely enough to hold the layers together.
I would be willing to bet my bottom dollar that this quilt was made to be used – and used it was. It wasn’t a quilt that was put away until company came to call. It wasn’t made to be displayed at a show, and it wasn’t made to be saved as a quiltmaker’s best quilt for future generations.
Does that mean it shouldn’t be treated well? Of course not, but it is in my home, and I have to be able to live with it. I can do that now that it is clean and pleasant-smelling. Who knows, I might even wrap it around me while watching TV. In any case, I can now appreciate the quilt and enjoy having it.
Edie McGinnis is an author and editor for Kansas City Star Quilts. She writes every Friday.
This week, Mrs. Bobbins wants you to go west, young quilter.
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, 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 Across the Wide Missouri: A Quilt Reflecting Life on the Frontier, by Edie McGinnis and Jan Patek.
Twelve stories honor the courageous women who left their mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers behind to go west. Their stories are sometimes tragic and sometimes funny. Even though they never knew one another, they had one thing in common: uncommon courage.
The featured quilt – The Kansas City Star’s 2010 Block-of-the-Month project – is offered in two colorways, Jan’s version and Edie’s version.
As you delve into the book, you’ll find quick and easy projects honoring the pioneer spirit. The church was the community gathering place for families on the frontier, and Jan reminds us of that with her Church Bells in the Snow wall hanging. The nine-block Gone Fishing quilt reflects the importance of nature’s offerings for the hardy pioneers who made their way west.
Whether you make the featured quilt, your favorite block or one of the projects, you will be reminded of the incredible pioneer spirit and bravery shown by the intrepid women who stepped into the unknown and made history.
Go to this link — http://youtu.be/OG0ux0uW0AQ — to see a YouTube video about this book.
The book is on sale for $19.95. Your price using our Bobbins’ Bargains promotion code is just $4.99, plus your shipping on this book is free in the continental U.S.!
Be sure to use this promotion code before checkout:
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.!
By Donna di Natale
It’s spring – at least according to the calendar. Time for spring cleaning and changing that warm winter quilt to a light summer coverlet.
Vintage coverlets are a special interest of mine. When I first saw them, I thought they were simply quilt tops that had never been finished. But after doing a bit of research, and more searching for vintage coverlets in antique shops, I discovered that this really wasn’t the case.
Big, thick quilts are perfect for cold winters. When the cold wind blows, it is so comforting to snuggle under one. But when warmer weather arrives, something lighter is needed to both cover the bed and cover the inhabitants of the bed. Thus, the summer coverlet, which is a quilt without batting or filler.
Some coverlets were foundation pieced on fabric, and then bound or hemmed. These still seem unfinished to me, but I completely understand it when you think about the fact that there are already two layers of fabric.
The most common summer coverlet is a single layer. This crib coverlet is embroidered. A tasseled edging was added to finish the edges. Embroidery is a common feature of summer coverlets, as is appliqué. This coverlet shows nursery rhyme characters. The boy and girl are assumed to be Jack and Jill, who have fallen down the hill, from the houses at the top of the quilt. What the Pied Piper is doing here is a puzzle for someone else to figure out.
Another way of making a coverlet was to layer a top and backing. Not really a quilt, if you consider a quilt to be three layers, but some still call these summer quilts. Many summer quilts were pillowcased, as was the blue baby quilt shown here. The maker turned the quilt right side out, tied it and then sewed Xs all the way around the outer edge to finish it. This sweet quilt is made with simple embroidered squares alternating with solid blocks and shows an interesting use of fabric in the border.
The quilt was either made by Margaret Rae Kalin or for her. Her name is stitched in a diamond on the backing.
The third example shows the combination of appliqué and embroidery. I love this little duck and her ducklings and have named this my Jemima Puddle Duck coverlet. It is one layer with a handkerchief hem around the edges. It was evidently made for a child’s four-poster bed, because of the cutouts at the bottom.
Next week, we’ll look at a full-size coverlet for a large bed. In the meantime, tell me about your summer covers and share this with a friend.
Donna di Natale is an author and editor for Kansas City Star Quilts. She writes every Wednesday.