Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Prairie Queen - Red Sky at Night Quilt

While on our family holiday down south last week, I picked up this great book, "Hearts and Hands: The Influence of Women and Quilts on American Society" from a second hand book shop. It's been quite the find! So far I've read mostly about the 1800s. It talks about the impact of the Industrial Revolution, the move from making everything at home, from spinning the home-grown cotton and weaving it into cloth to sewing the clothes, tablewear, and bedding, to having all the manufacturing, the cloth making, bread baking, and food preserving happen in a factory. We went from the entire family's focus being to make every day life happen, to much of the woman's role taken out from under her. It began 150 years worth of discussion about the role of women, the idea of 'traditional womanhood', the place of children in society, and women's rights to education, employment and the vote.

Many of you will know that we've been reading the "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder about pioneering life in the late 1800s. It appears that the chaos of the Industrial Revolution took it's time reaching the Prairies. While they could buy bolts of cloth from the general store, limited access to mass production meant they still grew their own food, preserving what they needed for the winter. They still made their own bedding (at one point in the series, Laura bemoans the fact that cloth can't be made wide enough for bed sheets, so they must stitch them together) and they made their own personal mark on their home through their quilts. In fact quilt making was considered, even throughout the changes in lifestyle and culture, to be the pinnacle of womanhood. I'm sure you can imagine that that was celebrated by some, and completely resented by others.

I found it interesting when I looked up the use of the term Prairie Queen to find that it didn't refer to youth or beauty or some kind of pageant, but to female leaders, the significant women running their households, providing for their families, creating heirlooms, and contributing to the community through their churches or charity groups.


You will need:

Red: Two 5" squares cut in half diagonally to make half square triangles. Eight 2.5" squares.

White: Two 5" squares cut in half diagonally to make half square triangles. Eight 2.5" squares. One 4.5" square.

1. Sew the red triangles to the white triangles. Press seams and trim to 4.5" square.

2. Sew the red 2.5" squares to the white squares. Press and sew these together again to make little four patches as below.

3. Arrange your block like the picture.

4. Sew the squares together in rows as below. Press.

5. Sew your rows together.

Even though I can't begin to fathom how they managed it all, and I'm grateful for the freedoms I have to choose how we shape our family and our time, I do admire them. I feel a bit nostalgic for a time that honoured skill and wisdom over celebrity and youth, where skill-sharing was a part of growing up, where quilt-making was considered the best use of a young mother's time rather than a slightly frivolous hobby that should be kept to when the children are sleeping. ;)

Monday, 20 July 2015

Lady of the Lake - Red Sky at Night Quilt

The year I turned 21, I lived by a lake. It was the year I met my husband, the year I shaved my head, the year I realised how much I love learning about history.
We were living on a cotton farm in the desert, 1000km from the coast. Gidgee Lake was a man-made dam used for irrigation, bigger than the nearest town, and named for the dead Gidgee trees that still stood in the water. They were beautiful, even in death, especially when silhouetted against the incredible sunsets and storms that passed through.
I loved that lake. I love the walking around the wall in the evening or first thing in the morning. I loved canoeing with friends to find a tree to jump from, I loved finding a quiet spot to hide along the water's edge when I needed to wrestle with something, or journal, or just be still. That lake heard many of my thoughts and stories that year, my longings and complaints. It always compelled me to take a deep breath and keep going, to be kind, faithful, patient.
So when I imagine a lady of the lake, I can't help but think she must be peaceful, colourful, and welcoming. A lady who knows herself and loves well. These are the things the lake always stirred in me.

The Lady of the Lake originates from the Middle Ages, a character starring in the myths of Merlin and King Arthur. She was as bewitching and mystical as the name suggests, yet her personality is split. In some versions of the legend, she used Merlin's infatuation with her to learn his magic, then traps him inside a stone, in others, she represents justice and wisdom and is the one to give Arthur his sword. Lord Alfred Tennyson rewrote these myths in Idylls of the King.

In 1810, Walter Scott wrote the poem, The Lady of the Lake that drew on the old legend. It became hugely successful through the 1800s, and is believed to be the inspiration behind the quilt block that was first published in 1900.


You will need:

Red: One 9" square cut in half diagonally, ten 3" squares cut in half diagonally (or your preferred method for 2.5" Half Square Triangles.)

White: One 9" square cut in half diagonally, ten 3" squares cut in half diagonally (or your preferred method for 2.5" Half Square Triangles.)

1. Sew the small red triangles to the white triangles. Press seams open, or towards the red. Trim to 2.5"

2. Sew the large white triangle to the large red triangle. You'll only need one of these. Press and trim to 8.5"

3. Lay out as above. You'll notice that all the small HSTs are facing the same way, and the opposite direction to the large HST.

4. Sew the small half square triangles together in rows as below.

5. Sew the shorter strips to the large square first. Press and sew the longer strips. Press.

I do think no matter the inspiration or character of the heroine, it is a great name for this block. When on point, it reminds me of the reflections of the trees and the sky on the water. I think it's beautiful, don't you?

Monday, 13 July 2015

London Square - Red Sky at Night Quilt

I have just enjoyed the most wonderful two weeks of winter hibernation. I've spent more time by the fire, less on the internet, or out of our house. We've focused our attention on getting back into some routines around the house that had started to falter. Last weekend, I just couldn't bring myself to sit at my laptop, even though I had many of these words already written in my head. So I gave myself the week off. Thanks for waiting for me! Now that our home is a bit more in order, I feel ready to get back to my usual schedule.

When I saw that my next Red Sky at Night post would fall just after the July 4th weekend, I had a look through my block plan to try and find a relevant block. Should I choose the Martha Washington Star? Or Union Square? But I didn't really fancy writing a post about Independence Day to a mostly American audience. So instead I chose the thing we have in common, yet, it makes us incredibly different. London Square.
It's tempting to think that because we Aussies eat American food, watch American movies and quilt with American fabric, that we are very alike. But the Forth of July reminds us that we are actually oceans apart.
Australia was colonised by the British not so long after the first Independence Day, though not by adventurous explorers or fleeing religious refugees, but by eleven boat loads of prisoners. I makes me wonder if you guys had not fought your war for Independence, would we have all ended up there instead?
The day the boats came is marked by Australia Day, a day about which we tend to feel a little uncomfortable. It's not a celebration of victory but a reminder of our sordid beginnings. These beginnings are not all that unlike that of the US. After all, we came from the same worldview that upheld the superiority of the white man, to the detriment of many others. But we just didn't have the conflicting ideals of justice and freedom, which has always kept America wrestling with the gap between it's words and it's actions.
We've never fought a war against the British, or against ourselves. In fact, our most celebrated war memorial day is Anzac Day, a day that commemorates our appalling loss at Gallipoli, due to cold and careless British orders, and yet we never wavered in our faithfulness to the crown. Not until World War Two, when the Germans were beating the s&*% out of the British, and the Japanese were making their way ferociously to the northern end of Australia, and suddenly, devastatingly, we realised for perhaps the first time ever, that we were not just a stones throw from London, but a whole world away. And they would not come and rescue us.
It's a good thing for us the Japanese bit off more than they could chew and bombed Pearl Harbour, launching the United States into the war. You came to our rescue, and ever since have been our beloved, yet slightly overbearing big brother. And we have been happy to oblige.

London Square is another block from the 1930s, also known as City Square and Danger Signal. It was usually used in a quilt by making four of these blocks and pointing all like colours, or opposite colours in toward the centre, to make a diamond. Another one to add to my to-make list!


You will need:

Red: Five 4" squares cut in half diagonally, one 3.5" square, one 3.5" x 6.5" rectangle.

White: Five 4" squares cut in half diagonally, one 3.5" square, one 3.5" x 6.5" rectangle.

1. Sew your red triangles to your white triangles. Press and trim to 3.5"

2. Lay out as above.

3. Sew neighbouring squares together in pairs.

4. Sew those rectangles to the ones beside.

5. Sew the larger squares to the one next to it. Press.

6. Sew your final seam and press.

So the Americans were the older child who couldn't wait to leave home and live life according to his own ideals, and we were the younger sibling who was happy to stay at home and keep having their meals cooked and washing done for them. Oh, just thinking about it makes me want to come visit you and get to know you better. But then, I always was the stereotypical oldest child!

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Nana McIntyre's Quilt

Way back in the late 1800s, Mrs McIntyre's grandparents made a quilt, hand stitched like the one above, but from old soldier's uniforms. I'm assuming by 'grandparents', we mean them both, not just Betty McIntyre's Grandmother. According to the book Australia's Quilts, by Jenny Manning, where I found this treasure, The quilt was made in England, and probably came to Australia when they immigrated here.

This quilt is everything I need in a project right now. My sewing room has been REALLY COLD and motivation for sitting at my sewing machine has been low. I needed a change of pace, or head space. And apart from basting hexes to machine appliqué to another quilt, I had run out of hand-stitching projects. When Beth from Stash Fabrics asked me a little while ago if I could participate in a Kona Solids Blog Hop, I was heading straight into my project overwhelm. But the deadline was still a way off, and I loved the idea of curating a bundle for her shop, so I agreed. Then, when I received the bundle a couple of weeks ago, a solution struck me! I could scrap the quilt I was planning, and use these beauties for a hand-stitched quilt. More time by the fire, easy to take on holidays at the end of the month, and then when I was keen for some machine time, I could work on Red Sky or my terribly late bee blocks. (Ahem).

I won't be writing a tutorial or pattern for this one, but I'm very happy to share the details with you if you'd like to make your own. I'm just copying the picture of the original below exactly, though obviously my colour choices are very different. Isn't it amazing? I love that it starts in the centre and works its way out. This is my pressure-free project so I'm going to let myself finish the quilt top when I've had enough. I hope I get to the end! I haven't done any maths to work out what size templates were used originally, so I might end up with a monster. And I haven't figured out what yardage I'll need. Every so often you (I) just need to go with the flow.

I started with a 1" hexagon (that is, with 1" sides), and then added 2" jewel shapes. These were sold to me as 2" Jewels because the longest edge is 2", but some people sell them as 1" because they go around a 1" hexagon. Just a warning! The diamonds are 2" diamonds for a 6 pointed star, and the large hexagons also 2".

I've found it tricky to attach already formed flowers to the growing top, but easy when I just stitch one piece at a time, round by round. If I just keep moving around the next border, I can use a long line of thread and not have to snip it constantly and start a new seam. I hope that makes sense?

I've been keeping everything, including some matching prints from stash, clover clips, embroidery scissors, needle and thread, and templates in this little basket. And I've got yardage of this Sweetwater print with quilt block names to hopefully tide the fat quarters over. Though, as you can see, I haven't used it liberally yet. I just love colour too much!
It's been an interesting exercise in realising the gaps in my stash. I have just scraps of gold, let over from fat quarter packs, but nothing that matches Kona Gold exactly. And that light blue Jacks by Melody Miller is the only really pale icy blue I own. I don't really use solids much, so I'm having lots of fun making a nearly solid quilt, but still trying to create that scrappy, moving feel I love.

Oh boy, I'm having fun!

And though I'm assuming the makers weren't actually called the McIntyres, because it was passed down the Betty Mcintyre, their married granddaughter, I've tagged it #NanaMcIntyresQuilt on Instagram, if you'd like to follow my progress or stitch along!

Monday, 29 June 2015

Log Cabin - Red Sky at Night Quilt

I grew up in a log cabin, did you know? My dad built it off the side of a big old caravan from trees off the farm. It was supposed to be our temporary accommodation while he built our 'real' home. But then he got sick, and money became tight and that simple log cabin just was our real home for many years. I've always imagined the Log Cabin block to have sprung from the American Pioneer heritage. But this week I was excited to learn that the design was possibly first discovered by British Archeologists digging up animal mummies in Egypt! If I had stumbled upon these kitty cats below, I would have gone home and made quilts too! Early British quilts of this design were called 'Egyptian' or 'Mummy' quilts.

The design came to America in the 1860s, probably via British and Amish settlers, a decade of turmoil and war in US history. In 1865, when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, Andrew Johnson came into office. Both men had been born in log cabins and this become a powerful symbol through the second half of the 1800s, used often to remind voters of their humble origins. They were 'men of the people'.

The log cabin symbol came to encompass American history, ideals, and identity. It was linked to a president that ended the civil war, it expressed trustworthiness and humility, and also that anyone, no matter their beginnings, can become anything they choose. If you want a quilt that represents the great American dream, this is your quilt.

The first time we see this quilt design named 'Log Cabin' is in 1869. By the 1870s, the design became so popular that it was often given its own category in country fairs. They were often made of wool blends, and then later from cotton and silk. Interestingly, they were almost always foundation pieced onto a square of muslin. They weren't often quilted, but tied in the centre squares.

I'm guessing the reason for this explosion of log cabin quilts was not only political or nostalgic, but also due to the seemingly endless variations in design that can be achieved through this simple block. Today I chose a variation called "White House Steps", a name a whole lot less humble than log cabin, but I think the symmetry will work well with the rest of my sampler quilt.


You will need:

Red: Two 3.5" x 2" rectangles, two 6.5" x 2" rectangles, two 9.5" x 2" rectangles, two 12.5" x 2" rectangles.

White: One 3.5" square, two 6.5" x 2" rectangles, two 9.5" x 2" rectangles.

1. Sew the two red 3.5" strips to opposite sides of the white square. Press toward the red.

2. Sew the 6.5" strips to the other sides. Press.

3. Next, sew the 6.5" white strips to the sides which have the shorter 3.5" strips. Press. Sew the 9.5" strips to the other sides.

4. Finally, sew the 9.5" red strips to the sides where the 6.5" strips were sewn. Press and sew the remaining 12.5" strips to the last edges of the block. Press.

And done! 

With so much history and symbolism encompassed in one humble design, I can see why they became a category of quilts all on their own, can't you? I'm adding this to my 'want to make' list!

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Mountain Campfire Quilt

There is something so satisfying about finishing a quilt that's been a long time coming. Even more satisfying to snap and edit the photos, to stand back and admire your work, to see in the flesh, the realisation of the idea you had several months ago.

This is Mountain Campfire. Named because the prints, Wild and Free, designed by Maureen Cracknell, and the design remind me of first moving from the city to 100 acres off the Mid North Coast of NSW when I was 12. My parents bought a farm, complete with horses, caravans and an old beat up Land Drover that had been abandoned by a couple going through a divorce. They left everything. Old song sheets and guitars, garden sheds full of blankets and mattresses, tin cups and tinned food. There was no electricity or septic system. No running water. I thought my parents were the coolest people who ever lived. It was quite the adventure!

These beautiful, warm prints arrived just as I moved back to the country, albeit to a different part of Australia, and working with them has felt like home.
I cut most of the pieces using my Accuquilt cutter, and made the quilt queen size to get enough repeat of the design. And then, feeling terrified of quilting something so big and special to me, I sent it off to Jeannette Bruce of Gone Aussie Quilting who quilted the perfect, all-over, boxy design on it. I'm so glad I took this option! I'll definitely be using it again, especially for queen size quilts!

I intended from the beginning to take my time with this quilt. I wanted to enjoy it, and not feel pressure to get it done. And while I'm glad I took that route, I never expected it to take six months! When I thought of savouring this quilt, I thought of sewing it when I felt like it. But often it sat waiting patiently in it's box, while I got other quilts finished with more certain deadlines, even though I wanted to be working on it! It's made me realise it's not just enough to intend to be slow, but to clear out the space for it also.

Now, thankfully, the intended recipients of this quilt are travelling the world on their honeymoon. And I'm just a little glad it gets to stay in my home for a few extra months before I have to hand it over! In the end, it's probably the best way to enjoy my work!

Thursday, 25 June 2015

WIP Box Overwhelm

One of my first blog posts for this year was The WIP Box Reflections. I shared how the challenge I set myself to empty my works-in-progress box taught me to use the box well, rather than feel guilty or overwhelmed that I needed one. I could freely put projects aside to wait for the next burst of inspiration. I could keep the lid on that box open and available for when I needed a gift or custom order, rather than hide it away to think about later. However, this year I've caught myself often feeling overwhelmed with the amount of quilts I have on the go. And it's made me wonder if my system needs tweaking?

I'm coming to realise that there are two kinds of WIPs: The ones that have been shelved because of lost love or motivation, and the ones that still inspire. The ones that have a clear deadline, and the ones that can be put off till the right time or mood strikes. Last year, my WIP box was full of projects for which I had lost motivation and had no clear deadline. The perfect projects from which to free myself of guilt and let them sit there waiting patiently. This year I seem to keep taking on quilts that I want to be finished NOW. I'm inspired by all seven of them! I want them completed by a blog hop date, or while the fabric line is still current to help inspire other makers or support the designer. When I have several of these quilts on the go, the pace seems frustratingly slow for all of them. They come off and back on my design wall regularly. And I use all my sewing time questioning whether I'm using my time well, and which quilt I feel like working on most, and whether that's even the best way to decide!

Part of my challenge is setting realistic goals. This involves thinking through the details. And I am not a details person. Sometimes, when the week goes well, the babies sleep, and I have an easy chain-piecing quilt to make, I can finish a quilt in a week. But as my designs have become more complex, as I play more with individual blocks and write tutorials, or hand stitch, I haven't readjusted my expectations for how long a quilt takes. Before I took on my Red Sky at Night project this year, I did not take a single second to think about how I was going to write 49 tutorials. That requires day-time sewing for good photos and research for history. At the moment, I'm spending a day a week on that quilt, and only just keeping ahead. Lesson learned!

I am very open to learning lessons. And because I don't always think through things first, mistakes and experience are my constant teachers. I'm learning to embrace that rather than tell myself, "I should have known!"
So last night I wrote out the quilts I was working on currently, and s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d out my plan till the end of the year. One quilt a month. And like every good addict should, I agreed with Tim to check with him before I take on another deadline quilt, for a blog hop or custom order. I find it tempting to just set a no-new-quilts rule. But a creative person still needs a little wiggle room right? A little space to follow whims or exciting opportunities. I'm just hoping the whim strikes in October, rather than next week!

If there's one thing I think I'd love, it's a week, or maybe even a month locked away in my sewing room, so I can dive in to all those projects floating around my head all at once. But assuming that won't be an option for another twenty years or so, I think I'm going to enjoy my sewing time, and my rest-of-life time with this new WIP box strategy. And maybe, maybe next year I'll become a bit more of a one-at-a-time kind of maker? I guess time will tell what this second half of the year teaches me.

And I'd love to hear, how do you combat project-overwhelm?

Linking up with WIP Wednesday