“Fabric had to be got”: quilting then, refashioning now

A few weeks ago I wrote a roundup of recent books on refashioning garments for examiner.com. While I was working on the story, it occurred to me that refashioning is the new quilting. What we have a lot of these days is cheap clothing that might not fit us that well or serve our purposes. What refashioners do is turn these unwanted items into something that fits better, suits a style better, or serves some completely different purpose than what it was originally intended to do.

Early quilters started making patchwork quilts because fabric was so precious to them. Even small pieces of fabric were worth keeping and reusing however possible. When a length of fabric had been used for a garment, altered and patched, maybe cut down into a smaller garment for a child, and finally worn out, there would be parts of the fabric that were still usable, and they could be combined with other small pieces to make a quilt to keep someone warm.

I’ve often thought that nineteenth century housewives would be horrified at the fact that most of us quilters these days go to the fabric store, buy lengths of fabric, and then cut those perfectly good pieces of fabric up in order to sew them together again in a different arrangement. As Sandi Fox points out in the fascinating book Quilts: California Bound, California Made 1840-1940, which I’ll be reviewing for the San Francisco Book Review’s next issue, those traveling overland to the west had challenges that regular folks didn’t: “The equipment they required – needles and pins, thread, and a small scissors – could be carried in their pockets, but fabric had to be got.”

I’m no expert in medieval clothing, but I’ve read that a lot of garments were made in basic shapes and sizes no matter what your size, and made to fit using temporary adjustments. For example, you’d have a loose smock underneath a corset-style bodice which was laced up, and could obviously thus fit different ladies and during different stages of life. (It’s not like you could head off to the Pea in a Pod store every time you got pregnant.) Sleeves would be separate from a jacket and laced together, so either could be replaced or cleaned separately; the same with pants (which is why they’re called pants, plural, in English, not just pant, because the legs used to be separate from one another). It’s a different approach to the same goal as quilters, using a precious resource (fabric) in ways that made it easy to reuse for the next purpose or the next person’s need.

Signs point to the likelihood of the cost of fabric going back up again – this ‘golden age’ of relatively cheap fabric and clothes is coming to an end, more than likely. I wonder if future generations will still make quilts by cutting up new fabric, or whether patchwork reuse will make a comeback. I bet that refashioning will continue to become more popular, too.

Visit Your Local Quilt Shop Day

Happy Visit Your Local Quilt Shop Day! I wrote about this “holiday” at examiner.com yesterday. Unfortunately, there are no participating shops within easy travel of me. Instead, I think I’ll “visit” my stash.

I don’t know if I’ll ever really be a quilter. I really get a kick out of figuring out the math of geometric quilt blocks and making them (at least a few), but I’ve not yet finished a whole quilt top (well, I did finish a mini-quilt top that was about tabletopper size), and I’ve never done any actual quilting, i.e. stitching layers together with batting in-between.

While I’ve been doing my recent culling and cleaning, all the quilt cottons in my stash are staring at me accusingly. I don’t know if I’ll ever use them, or if they are evidence of a temporary infatuation with quilting that will never return. I have certainly known other people that have had hobbies that they returned to after years of blaseness. My interest in gardening tends to wax and wane, and my particular cooking and baking interests change and shift as well.

What do you think – should I donate the quilt fabrics, or keep them in case I get re-interested in the future?

Piecing with Craftsy

Craftsy has a new 2013 BOM class available for free. BOM stands for Block Of the Month, for those of you not down with all the quilty acronyms (seriously, with all the PIGs and UFOs and BOMs, quilters are nearly as bad as techies). They’ve also got the 2012 BOM still available to sign-up for and view. I don’t plan to make either of these quilts as designed (sampler quilts are not really my style) but I always enjoy adding new blocks and new skills to my piecing arsenal. I am really looking forward to learning some of the partial seaming techniques planned for later in the 2013 class.

It’s interesting that so far I’m not finding the video lessons for my various Craftsy classes particularly easier than figuring things out via written instructions. I’ve always known I was a word-based person, likely partially out of habit/training, and partially out of inherent preference. Written instructions are easy to “pause” when you need to think through something, and easy to scan back to find something you’ve missed – videos not so much. Even with visual things like piecing blocks or fitting garments, I’m not finding videos that much more useful than a written document with a few pictures added. We’ll see if that changes as I get more used to the instructional format.

During my super-brief career as an instructional designer more than a decade ago, the idea of multiple learning styles and sensory preferences was already in full sway. A lot of the training styles used for adults these days are very somatic and interactive, and from what I’ve heard that’s even more the case for kids. It seems to have trickled down to management approaches in the office, too – I’ve got a freelance gig where new policy changes are always communicated by group teleconference. This may be fairly efficient for the givers – they can talk once and everyone hears them. But for the receivers it’s not so great – you have to sit through everyone else’s questions which may or may not be relevant to you, and none of the information has been instantiated in text, so it’s not searchable in the future or printable as a reference document.

I’m not sure how I got from online quilting classes to learning styles, but in any case, right now I feel like the old man telling the kids to get off his lawn. You can take my old-fashioned written instructions and directions when you peel them from my cold, dead hands! (Ahem.)

My sewing goals for 2012

I recently read The Weekend Sewer’s Guide to Blouses. The blouse projects were very early-90s art-to-wear, not my style, although there were some cool techniques included. But the introductory section was excellent and made me think. The author made the point that for most of us, sewing is an interest we’ll have for the rest of our lives, and we should have the tools to make it fun, and the patience to develop the skills to make it worthwhile.

I easily get impatient with myself for the techniques I haven’t mastered yet. I think big but then I get frustrated when my results don’t turn out perfectly the first time. Hopefully I will have several more decades of sewing in my life, and taking the time to learn new skills now will pay off in the future.

With that in mind, here are my sewing goals for the next year:

  • Make my blog more robust; take and post more project photos
  • Shift my focus from pattern and fabric stash acquisition to stash use:
    • Winnow down my fabric to those I love and will use
    • Get rid of all patterns that are the wrong size, too complex, or require an FBA (I’m lazy and I like the ones with the FBA built-in)
  • Find a bookcase/location for my sewing books in my sewing space
  • Fit and make a pair of (non-elastic-waist) pants
  • Finish at least one project a month
  • Enter a garment and/or a quilt in the local fair
  • Attend a local ASG meeting
  • Explicitly schedule some time for sewing each week, and try to do a little each day

What about you?

Tuesday Morning on a Tuesday afternoon

Thanks to whoever it was on my blog reading list that mentioned that the discount store Tuesday Morning has sewing stuff right now. I’d never been to my local TM, so I stopped by the other day. I didn’t find any Liberty like the aforementioned blogger did, but they did have a nice selection of fat quarter sets, jelly rolls, and one yard cuts in different colors and styles. There was also a random selection of quilting and knitting notions – curved basting pins, stitch markers, rotary cutter rulers, that kind of thing. I looked through it all but in the end just picked up a discounted copy of Heather’ Ross’s Weekend Sewing (and some non-sewing things). It’s worth checking out if you have a local Tuesday Morning store and are looking to expand your quilting stash on the cheap.

The dreaded curve: is it what separates quilters and garment sewers?

Every so often I browse the modern quilts group on flickr. It can be a great source of ideas and inspiration, whether you quilt or not. Via it I ended up on Angela’s Cut to Pieces blog. She’s got a great eye for design and color. I was amused, however, to see the super-detailed tutorial on set-in circles. It’s a great tutorial but it reminds me how much most quilters are afraid of curves. Seriously, if you’ve ever set in a few sleeves the amount of agita that people have over blocks like Drunkard’s Path will crack you up. I’m not saying that sewing curves together isn’t trickier than sewing a straight line, but I don’t think it’s so hard that most people can’t accomplish it. I’m much more scared of free-motion quilting than I am of doing a set-in circle like Angela shows.

I find curves fiddly but straightforward, if that makes any sense – they’re fussy but not complicated. Just remember to match your seamlines, not your cutlines, mark clearly and use a lot of pins, and go slowly and adjust as you go.

Always shifting gears

I haven’t done any patchwork since finishing the swirling stars top for the local modern quilt guild challenge. I spent some time feeling bad about that, and then decided to reframe my thinking. This is my hobby; I do it for fun. I don’t have to complete a certain amount of work per week or per month, and if my quilt fabrics and tools sit in the corner for a while until I’m back in the mood, there’s no one that gets hurt by that. In fact, allowing myself to be creative when I feel so, and not forcing it, has increased my enjoyment and made me better in my craft.

I have been making garments, of a sort – I have made ‘muslins’ of both Lekala 5666 and Kwik Sew 3826. Both were workable, and now I just have to decide whether I want to proceed with them and if so in what fabric. (If you’re interested in the nitty gritty I wrote reviews on PatternReview.) I like making knit tops so much – no edges to finish and minor fit differences are no big deal.

I’m still mulling over whether to participate in Self-Stitched September. Even if I don’t commit to the whole month, I think I will do some kind of ‘wearing only self-sewn clothes’ day or series of days, for the challenge of it. Anyone else going to participate?