Tuesday, March 5, 2013

I guess I am a quilt snob . . . or maybe just a purist.

I was raised by a family of women who quilted.  It was how we celebrated - - new babies, new marriages, new beginnings.  When I was no older than about 6 or 7, I remember sitting on a step stool at an orange patterned quilt that was for my older sister and proudly adding my own stitches to the pattern.  Funny I didn't notice that the next day they looked much smaller and neater than when I first did them.  (Apparently, either my Mom or Grandma had redone them after I was safely tucked into bed.)

Over the years, my technique improved.  We did a lot of quilts.  Every new baby received a baby quilt . . . most quilted on a fabric we call tricot, which was a slick and finely knitted polyester of some sort popular in the 1970s.  These quilts did not involve patchwork, but instead had large designs of animals or flowers drawn on them, generally with fabric paint -- oh yes,  Artex Paints .  We quilted deer, bunnies, baby chicks, lambs . . . in fact, the Pumpkin's 'lovey' is the same lamb pattern that we used back then. 

At some point, my mom became enamoured with patchwork.  Not just any patchwork, but patchwork made from polyester double knit.  She made quilts for each of her grandchildren, mostly in the log cabin pattern.  She made me one of bright yellow and purple . . . my favourite colour combination when I was a teen.  Some she tied with contrasting wool and some she quilted in a crows' feet stitch

Handmade quilts were part of my life since forever.  They were pretty much all I had ever known.  My paternal grandmother made a raft of 'crazy quilts' and I recall using them to pitch tents along the picket fence that surrounded our house. 

I knew that other types of quilts and blankets existed.  One of my friends had Ibex blanket sheets on her bed.  These were thick, heavy warm sheets.  Other friends had what were called thermal blankets which had a strange waffle like weave.  But to me, none of these were what belonged on a bed.  Perhaps the only exception in my family was the use of chenille bedspreads over quilts.

It has been many years since I quilted beside my Mom.  The very last quilt she made before her hands became too sore and her eyesight too dim is one for my daughter. 

My sister PA and I carry on the quilting tradition.  She makes quilts for babies and new couples.  The Pumpkin's 'lambie' blanket was made by PA and is what my baby arrived home from the hospital wrapped in.  I am not quite as prolific as my sister, but I have made many quilts for myself and for friends over the years.  Baby quilts are made using the same wooden 'frames' that were used by my grandmother and perhaps by her mother before her.  They are plain 1x2x4s that are some wood that is both strong enough not to sag under the weight of the quilt and soft enough to easily thumbtack the quilt in place.  For larger quilts, I have several times purchased pine 1x3x8s, but they always end up getting cut up for projects after the quilt is finished.  Eight food lengths of wood are not easily stored.

My sister uses frames made from PVC pipe that look like this:

I had a set many years ago, but I do not recall what happened to them.  Undoubtedly they were lost or given away during one of my many moves. 

Since I am planning to make some larger-than-baby-size quilts, I went in search of a set of these frames.  Now, keep in mind I live in a large city in Canada, where generally there are several suppliers of any item you could imagine needing.  I had priced them out at the chain fabric store, but thought that I might find them at a better price at one of the boutique quilt stores (where amazingly most quilt-related items are priced lower than at the chain).  A couple of weeks ago I went in and as I wandered the aisles looking for where quilt frames were kept, I became slightly confused.  Upon reaching the back of the store and not seeing anything resembling quilting frames of any kind, I trundled back to the front to do another search.  Finally I asked one of the clerks where they kept the 'quilt frames'.

She took me over to look at something like this:

I said, "No, I want QUILTING frames.  You know for actually 'quilting'?"  I mimed the action of quilting up and down by hand.

She called to one of the more senior clerks who advised:  "Oh, we don't carry those."

I'm sure the look on my face was something to behold.  I crinkled my forehead and said:  "But I thought you were a QUILTING store?"

When she pointed back to the machine set up, I said, "I'm sorry but that is SEWING.  Sewing is done with machines.  Quilting is done by hand."  I left the store shaking my head. 

So I have accepted I am a quilt snob.  If it is done by machine, it is sewing.  I confess I did ONCE sew a small quilt on my machine. . .it was a handprint patchwork for my daughter's preschool class to raffle for a fundraiser -- I was sure I could feel my grandmother standing behind me shaking her head the entire time. 

When I conferred with my sister, she too said she had tried to make a quilt using a machine for the stitching.  But she JUST.COULDN'T.DO.IT.  We agreed that it just was wrong - - for us.  And that quilting by definition means using our hands.  It is putting something of US into the project.  Time.  Energy.  Blood. Not to mention the heritage of women sitting around a quilt in communal work.  Machine sewing is just so. . . so . . . individual.  And, even when I work alone on a quilt, I feel the presence of not only my mother but my aunts, my grandmothers and many generations before.

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