“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.

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.)