The art of patchwork has been practised for many centuries. It is a layered structure consisting of a top made of pieces of patchwork fabric with a middle of quilt wadding or other insulating material and a backing to cover the wadding. In early days this way of putting together fabrics was done for warmth and was used for bedcovers, clothing and curtains or door hangings. Then as life became easier and women had more time they started to decorate the top piece with patterns and these patterns became the patchwork that we know today; patterns such as Flying Geese, Nine Patch and Drunkards Path. The early settlers in America took the art of patchwork with them and developed it into a thriving skill. Patchwork patterns would be designed to commemorate things that happened in their lives. One of these patterns 'Road to Kansas' was designed by women on the trail West in the 1800's. Another is 'Log Cabin' which represents the log cabins of the early settlers in America. All of these traditional blocks have a story to tell and it is fun to research them. The technique of using small pieces of material to make the top of the quilt comes from the need to use up everything that was available and not to waste fabric. Because cloth was expensive and not easily come by the early settlers used such items as flour and sugar sacks to make their quilts and these are still around today though mostly in museums. Then as cotton became a staple of the American economy and more dyes were discovered, especially mauve, patchworkers were able to have more choice over the fabrics they used.
Traditional patchwork is thought of as using the many and varied patterns to make a quilt top or patchwork item choosing a variety of fabrics usually in cotton. As mentioned above the majority of the traditional patchwork block patterns come from America in the 19th century. These block patterns vary from the simple Nine Patch block to the very complicated Mariner's Compass block. Quilters take great delight in showcasing their skills by completing quilts with complicated block patterns! However when missionaries tried to teach Hawaiian islanders patchwork the natives of the islands were horrified at the idea of cutting up fabric just to put it all back together. Instead they made their own patchwork designs of flowers and emblems by folding the fabric and cutting it into shapes which they then appliquéd onto a plain background. This method was very similar to the folded paper cutting that was practised in such skills as origami. This method became popular and is now known as Hawaiian patchwork and is often used in pictorial quilts such as Baltimore Album quilts. As the name suggests Baltimore Album quilts originated in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. The wives of sea captains would spend their time while their husbands were at sea appliquéing and embroidering blocks with pictures of things that had relevance to their lives or happenings in their lives so that when the husband returned he could see what had occurred at home while he'd been gone. They were like a photograph album only done in cloth. These were special quilts and were often worked as family heirlooms or given to a new bride or to mark a special occasion. The background fabric was always white though nowadays that isn't always the case. Many of the block patterns were designed by the maker and often new fabric was used as Baltimore was a prosperous city in the mid 1800's. Sometimes more than one person would work on a quilt and the popularity of this form of quilt spread far and wide and it is still very popular today. It is possible to see original quilts in museums and admire the handwork. The blocks with flowers, baskets, birds, trees, cornucopia and country scenes portray an idyllic life which wasn't always the case at the time. However these quilts are timeless and provide a challenge for today's quilter to make something original which still has overtones of the traditional. Elly Sienkiewicz is the most well know modern proponent of Baltimore quilts and she has written several books on them with many modern designs included.
Because precious fabrics such as silk were so expensive another form of patchwork became popular. First practised by rich women with plenty of time on their hands Crazy Patchwork became exceptionally popular in the mid 19th century and it is thought that it originated in America and then quickly found its way to Europe. Crazy Patchwork consists of small random pieces of silk, satin or velvet put together like crazy paving and then originally the seams were feather stitched. Later the stitching became more elaborate and also beads, buttons and charms were introduced. Stitching became more and more ornate and the centre of patches was decorated with embroidered motifs and pictures. Crazy Patchwork had a revival at the end of the 20th century and there is a large interest in this form of patchwork around the world with America, Europe and Australia leading the way. Luxury fabrics are still the staples of crazy patchwork but also cotton, rayon and polyesters are being used. Embellishments include lace, ric-rac, beads, buttons, couched motifs and trims, silk ribbon embroidery and even punch needle work. Today embroidery stitches can often be done by machine in place of traditional hand stitching and this has speeded up the process of creating a crazy patchwork quilt. However hand work is still the more desirable form of embellishment and additions such as silk pictures as given away with cigarette packs at the turn of the 1900's and later are still much sort after. They can be found in second hand and vintage shops. Because crazy patchwork is worked onto a calico or muslin backing it is fairly heavy when completed and rarely is wadding used with it, just a backing which has caused a few problems when exhibiting as a quilt is supposed to consist of three layers!
Appliqué is another technique that is used a lot in patchwork that is very popular especially when designing and making picture quilts. Appliqué is the sewing technique where one sews shapes to a background of a different colour and even fabric. It has been used as a form of sewing for centuries and probably started as a form of mending and then progressed from that to decorative effects. Originally a piece of fabric would be sewn on to the background material by turning the edges of the shape in with the needle and hemstitching it down. Today with the advent of transfer adhesives patches are able to be stuck onto the fabric and then either blanket stitched by hand or stitched by machine using either satin stitch or any other fancy stitch that may be available.
No patchwork quilt is complete until it has been quilted. Quilting is the stitching that holds all three layers together. Some quilts are known as 'Whole Cloth' quilts where the top layer is a single piece of fabric and the quilting provides all the decoration. And this quilting could be exceptionally elaborate and detailed. Amy Emms was a prolific quilter born at the turn of the 1900's near Sunderland and some of her quilts can be seen in museums. The small picture on the right is of part of a quilt done by Amy Emms and now owned by Barbara Chainey another well known quilter. Whole cloth quilts often used silk or satin as the top of the quilt so that the stitching would be easily seen and highlighted.
Hand quilting is an art form in itself. Originally women would get together and have sewing bees to quilt a patchwork quilt. It would be laid out over a frame and the women would sit around it and stitch the part in front of them. The ideal stitch was small and measured at 20 stitches to the inch. Quilters would design their own quilt patterns and transfer these to the quilt top either by stitching through paper or by the prick and pounce method. This is where the patterned was holed by the use of a pin and then powder was press over the paper through the holes thus leaving a line to delineate the stitching line. Nowadays there are many and varied marking tools available and often quilting is done using the sewing machine where the stitch is either outlining a patch or stitching 'in the ditch' which means stitching in the seam line.
A technique which is available to quilters today is free machining. This is where the feed dogs on the machine are lowered and a special foot called a darning foot is attached to the machine. The bottom tension is slightly tighter than the top tension. Then the machine is used to 'draw' on to the fabric producing wonderful shadings and outlines. (see picture right of gooseberries) This feature on the sewing machine gives the modern day quilter an amazing amount of control over the quilting on a quilt. Lines can be followed easily and the quilt top doesn't need to be turned around as the action of machine quilting is similar to that of panning for gold which is a side to side motion. This is an art form and enables the quilter to produce pictures and modern day 'art' quilts which use the sewing machine to embellish the top fabric or fabrics. By using water soluble fabrics in a hoop many intricate and attractive items can be produced using this method: items such as butterflies, trees, flowers, animals and birds. If the water soluble material isn't completely washed out the piece of embroidery can be shaped into three dimensional items such as small bowls and brooches.
There are many types of quilts. The majority of quilts are pieced and are usually known as Patchwork Quilts because of the many pieces of fabric that make up the whole quilt. This is the basic form of quilting. Piecing means cutting out the various shapes which form the pattern in different coloured cotton fabric, and then sewing these together, following the pattern, either by machine or by hand. Usually a ¼ inch seam allowance is used though some people like to use 3/8th inch but both these measurements are smaller than that used by dressmakers which is 5/8th inch. The majority of traditional quilt patterns were pieced and that usually by hand. Nowadays with the easy accessibility of sewing machines they would be machine sewn. The simplest quilts would be Postage Stamp quilts which can be made using Charm Packs and Mini Charm Packs. This type of quilt would consist of squares put together to form a quilt. The squares would vary in size but be very simple to sew together. Some would be using just one block and arranging this into a suitable design and others could be using several block patterns (see photo on right - Drunkards Path variations) to make the design. First each pattern piece would be cut out in paper and then put onto the fabric and the fabric cut out. Sometimes the paper pattern would include the seam allowance and sometimes this was added afterwards to the fabric before cutting. Paper piecing was when the paper pattern was retained on the fabric and the fabric sewn with the paper still visible. This enabled the quilter to get a clean line along the edge of the pattern. The paper was then removed after sewing. This should not be confused with foundation piecing where the whole design is drawn out on the paper. However pieced quilts are not always regular patchwork block quilts they can be worked around a theme or they can be scrappy with many different patterns; they can be traditional or modern; and they can be planned or free form such as wonky cut patterns. This type of quilt gives the quilter complete freedom of design. Whatever is chosen they are all pieced quilts where the pieces of the quilt are sewn together to form the whole quilt.
Stripes in Patchwork
Stripes are very important in patchwork designs. Leonardo Fibonacci, an early thirteenth-century mathematician, worked out a series of numbers in which each number is the sum of the previous two. This series turned out to be in the same ratio as many proportions of growth found in nature. The ratio of various parts of the body to each other follows this ratio as does the division of stems and branches of plants and trees.
This is how it works:
13 +21 =34 etc
If you base the proportions of your stripes on any part of the series it will look right. If you find this unwieldy when double figures are reached add the double figures together ignoring any 0s. This is called the reduced Fibonacci series. The Arabs made use of this latter system and it is used in many of their designs.
By sewing several strips together, cutting them up and re-sewing them several interesting blocks can be made as well as experimental pieces. The first thing to do is to choose several pieces of fabric which work well together and sew them together in long strips. The width of each strip will depend on the effect that is wanted but it is a good idea to make the length as long as possible ( at least 18 inches ) so as not to have to sew lots of smaller strips and waste pieces when cutting.
In the diagram below the angles are 60 degrees at the apex of each triangle.
For Spiders Web use the template to cut 8 triangular shapes. The template is formed by dividing a square into 8 sections. Draw the square of your block and then draw in the quarters and diagonals. Divide the angles at the centre, between the diagonals and the quarters, using a protractor or a pair of compasses. To make the octagon join the points where these lines cross the edge of the block. Erase the diagonal and quarter lines and leave 8 large triangles and 4 smaller corner triangles.
Log Cabin Quilt
The Log Cabin Quilt is a good example of a quilt made of one block sewn multiple times in different fabrics and rotated to create a design. This is a traditional pieced block and can be sewn using the foundation piecing method or just by ordinary piecing. The log cabin block works from the middle where a square, usually in red fabric, is placed and then the 'logs' or strips of fabric are sewn around this centre square. The idea is that the centre square represents the fire which would have been in the cabin and the strips around the side represent the walls and the windows. Two sides being dark fabrics and the other two sides being light fabrics. Log Cabin quilts have been made in the US since the 1860's but the pattern goes back a lot further than that. When putting the blocks together there are many patterns which can be formed by placing the lights and darks in particular places. Barn Raising is one of the more popular ones representing the square of a barn; Furrows is also a popular way of arranging the blocks.
How to make a Log Cabin Quilt
The Log Cabin block is a strip patchwork block as all the patches, apart from the centre patch, are strips. Log cabin quilts are some of the easiest to make as they don't require templates and so it is often chosen as being suitable for a beginner's first quilt. For a start only three colours of cotton fabric are needed plus a backing and wadding both of which will be the size of the finished quilt. Usually in each block the centre square is in a red cotton fabric but this does not need to be followed if one isn't doing a traditional log cabin quilt. These centre squares are usually cut at 2 inches to produce a finished square of 1 ½ inches after seam allowances have been used. Then one of the other fabrics can be in a dark coloured cotton to represent the walls of the house and the other in a light coloured cotton to represent the windows or light side of the house. The first side strip will be cut to the length of the centre square and be 2 ½ inches wide. This will be sewn to the centre square and the seams pressed to the side. The second strip will be cut in the same colour and be the same width but the length will be the length of the centre square plus the strip that is already sewn onto it! Strips 3 and 4 will be in the other colour chosen. All strips will be 2 ½ inches wide. Strip 3 will be the length of the centre square plus strip 2. Strip 4 will be the length of the centre square plus strips 1 and 3. Continue in this way adding two strips of dark fabric and then two strips of light fabric until the size of block is that which is wanted. When several blocks have been made they can be joined together in rows and then the rows joined together to make the quilt top. Before sewing the blocks together they can be arranged in various patterns to find the pattern which is most likes. Another way of making a log cabin block is not to stick to only one colour in dark fabric and one colour in light fabric but to use several light fabrics and several dark fabrics so that the finished block is more varied.By varying the width of the strips on each side different patterns can be achieved when the blocks are put together. So on one side of the block the 2 ½ inch strips would be used but on the other side of the block the strips would only be 1 ½ inches wide. As you can see from the illustration on the left this gives a circular effect.
By varying the width of the strips on each side different patterns can be achieved when the blocks are put together. So on one side of the block the 2 ½ inch strips would be used but on the other side of the block the strips would only be 1 ½ inches wide. As you can see from the illustration on the left this gives a circular effect.
Colour is very important in Log Cabin quilts as the way the colour/s lie can make or break the quilt. Choose your colours wisely and don't use too many patterned fabrics. Smaller patterns work better than larger patterns on cotton fabric.
Another version of Log Cabin is known as Court House Steps and is worked in a similar manner to Log Cabin except that instead of working on two corners diagonally this time the strips are worked on opposite sides. This is quite a masculine block and is often used for making quilts for men. It does not have the same variations in arrangement that the Log Cabin block does.
Fence and Rail Quilt
The Fence and Rail quilt is another example of strip patchwork. The strips are sewn together into blocks and then arranged into the pattern desired. They are quick and simple to do. The photo on the right shows a typical Fence and Rail arrangement in a skinny quilt which is being used as an end of the bed quilt.
Mixed Technique Quilts
These are quilts where the methods used can be varied. Appliqué, traditional piecing and other techniques such as trapunto can be used. An example of this is the quilt photo on the right where the basic quilt has been pieced by machine and then the cats have been appliquéd over this background. This method is frequently used for children's quilts. Another source of mixed quilting methods is the Sampler Quilt which uses all methods in its blocks.
Sampler quilts are so called because they sample many different and varied patchwork blocks and types of patchwork. A sampler quilt can have examples of pieced patchwork blocks, appliqué blocks and paper pieced blocks such as clamshell or hexagons to name but a few. The quilter will sort out different block patterns and choose those that complement each other and also that will show off her skills. In a class the tutor will make sure that each block included in a sampler quilt will be a learning curve for the pupil and stretch his or her abilities to the full. There are so many traditional patchwork block patterns that sampler quilts can vary from maker to maker without any crossovers of patterns. Often sampler quilts will be made up into Quillows which is an American word which means a cross between a pillow (cushion) and a quilt. Nine blocks will be made and sewn together with a tenth block sewn onto the back of the finished piece leaving one edge open. The quilt is then folded and turned into the tenth block through the opening thus forming the cushion. These are exceptionally useful and can be used in the car, at home, on the beach or in any number of ways where a quilt would be in the way until it was wanted for warmth or comfort. Often blocks on sampler quilts would be joined with sashing between them so as to show case the individual blocks. This is a good project for a beginner. Block patterns used in a sampler quilt include Flying Geese, Castle Walls, Drunkard's Path, Card Trick, Courthouse Steps, Road to Kansas, Steeplechase, Sunshine and Shadows, Martha Washington's Star, Dresden Plate and Lady of the Lake.
Baltimore Album Quilts
Baltimore Album Quilts originated in Baltimore, Maryland, USA in the 1840s. They have become one of the most popular styles of quilts and are still made today. These quilts are made up of a number of appliquéd blocks each depicting a scene or motif such as flowers, animals, houses or ships. The background fabric is always white and the colours used often include bright greens and reds. The use of the word Album is due to the fact that these quilts were often the equivalent to a photo album with pictures that the maker would see in her daily life. Baltimore was a thriving city and often the makers of these quilts were wives of sea captains so motifs applicable to the sea were incorporated into the designs. Pineapples were a common feature of these quilts because when the captain returned from sea a pineapple would be put on the doorstep to let neighbours and friends know that he had returned and visiting was welcomed! Even today pineapples are used as a symbol of welcome. Baltimore Album quilts are seen as something special and were often given as wedding gifts. The work done on them was exquisite and of an extremely high standard both in the stitching of the appliqué, where tiny scraps of fabric were often used, and in the quilting. They were looked upon as 'best' quilts and only displayed, not used, which is probably why so many have survived today in remarkably good condition.
Medallion quilts are quilts which are designed with a focal point of interest at their centre. This centre piece is usually larger than the surrounding area of the quilt. This would then be surrounded by patchwork blocks, squares of fabric or multiple borders. The centre was occasionally a piece of large scale fabric with ornate designs or it could be an appliquéd motif such as a Tree of Life Appliqué. Large and intricate patchwork patterns such as Mariner's Compass would also be used as the central piece. Depending on the intricacy of the central piece of work the borders would be either plain fabrics or patchwork or appliquéd blocks. The size of the quilt was another factor in determining what and how many borders were to be made.
In the early 1800 the missionaries in Hawaii showed the Hawaiian women how to make patchwork quilts with three layers of fabric. The top layer consisting of small pieces of fabric sewn into a pattern. However the Hawaiian women didn't think it at all sensible to cut up good fabric into small pieces just to sew it up again.
They were already using printed designs from nature in their own quilts and when the missionaries showed their children how to make snowflake designs from folded paper they found this method of creating a pattern much more useful and would then cut it out in fabric. They would take a large piece of fabric and cut the complete pattern out and then appliqué it to a background fabric. Often just one design was cut out from a very large piece of fabric to form the quilt top. This was then 'echo' quilted. 'Echo' quilting is where the quilting stitch follows the contours of the design and is repeated so that it resembles ripples on water spreading out from the appliquéd motif. The Hawaiians found all their inspiration from the beautiful islands where they lived and many of the designs have names which are reminiscent of their inspiration. Names such as Breadfruit, which is supposed to be the first pattern created and will bring a long and fruitful life if incorporated into a quilt, Calla Lily, Kukui, Anthurium, Mango, Star Lily and Wood Rose are but a few of the traditional designs that can be made. The work on a Hawaiian quilt is all done by hand and the appliqué is needle turned often against freezer paper which has been used to cut out the pattern. The freezer paper pattern is ironed onto the top fabric and then the fabric is cut away around the pattern as the pattern is stitched. It is quite a slow process and the seamstress needs to be quite an accomplished hand sewer to achieve the neat finish and good points that the design calls for. This form of patchwork is truly a labour of love with over 1000 hours taken to make a full size quilt. However when it is finished it will be a work of art and the quilt will be sure to become an heirloom!
Seminole Quilt Pattern
The Seminole tribe of Indians originated in Florida, USA. Seminole quilting came from the Seminole patchwork used for their clothing. In the late 1800s it was difficult to trade for cotton cloth on a regular basis so women began sewing the strips left on the end of the bolts of fabric to make what was known as "strip clothing". Around the end of the 19th century the sewing machine became available thus making it possible to use much smaller strips. Seminole designs grew to become even more complicated and intricate. Seminole patchwork was usually used for traditional dress including the women's long full skirts. Even today these garments are worn for special occasions. These beautiful Seminole patchwork patterns eventually became popular in quilt making as well.
The fabric is sewn in strips and then cut across the strips. The resulting strips are then sewn together dropping one colour each time as shown. The resulting piece is then placed on a 45 degree angle and the top triangles cut off. The strip of Seminole work is now ready to insert wherever you wish. It can be used as a border, an insert or several can be joined together to make a larger piece of work.
Strip quilts are just that! Strips of fabric sewn together to make a block or a quilt. There are many versions of strip quilts depending on the fabric you have. The strips can be carefully matched, cut on an angle or of varying sizes but overall they are the main component of the quilt. Sometimes a calico foundation is used and the scrap strips of fabric are sewn on to this foundation. Several of these foundation strips would then be sewn together and made into a quilt. Or long strips of fabric can be sewn together and then joined to other strips at an angle to make a squared strip quilt. Jelly Rolls are ideal for using for strip quilts as the strips are already cut out for you. They can be sewn together and then cut and re-assembled or used to make a long strip quilt. Most Jelly Rolls contain cotton fabric 42 inches long so a good sized throw could be made from one Jelly Roll. Another version of strip quilts is a different technique altogether. Thin strips of fabric are sewn together and then cut again into different sizes which are rearranged and sewn into various patterns to make a quilt top. Examples of patterns using this method are Fence and Rail, Spider's Web and Seminole Patchwork. With the advent of Rotary Cutting Equipment it has become easier for the quilter to sew fabric together and then cut out the various pattern pieces needed, thus saving time. These quilts are still known as strip quilts.
An art quilt is a work of art made with fabric not paint and it hasn't been created to keep you warm! You are more likely to hang an art quilt on the wall than use it on the bed! It is a way of expressing oneself and creating beauty, telling a story, recording an event or making a comment on social issues. Art quilts are originals which have been designed and made by the maker. They are one of a kind and there will be no copies! The materials used in making an art quilt will not always be the usual fabrics that one will find in traditional quilts. Mixed media techniques will often be used and three dimensional effects obtained with the use of metals and plastics.
Modern quilts are an innovation that is fairly new having only come into prominence in the last five years or so. Modern quilts often use graphic design, with bold colours and make use of negative space. Many quilters enjoy turning traditional blocks into more modern pieces of patchwork. Often modern quilts will employ mixed media techniques and add other materials instead of just using cotton fabric. Plastic, paper and wire are just a few of the additions to the modern quilt. The fabric can be manipulated rather than sewn. The piece on the left has a background of woven strips and the resulting design of the fabric is reminiscent of debris floating on water. The inspiration for this piece was a canal with autumn leaves caught in the eddies.
The Modern Quilts Guild’s definition on Modern Quilting is printed below.
"We define modern quilts as quilts that are functional, include bold colours, and are inspired by modern design. Minimalism, asymmetry expansive negative space, and alternate grid work are often a part of modern quilt compositions, as are improvisational piecing and solid fabrics."
This is the exact opposite of traditional quilting where the blocks would be reproduced to produce symmetrical designs, colours would be used in traditional ways and not in bright blocks of colour and harmony and balance of colour and design was paramount. There is not necessarily any symmetry in modern quilting and the randomness of the colour placement and the overall casualness of the design are far removed from the exactness of traditional quilts. Often a traditional block will be taken and extended into a modern day version of itself giving a pleasing and colourful update. There is nothing that can’t be done in quilting in this day and age. Anything goes as is inherent in the Modern Quilt Guilds manifesto.
Modern quilting is also about the attitude and the approach that modern quilters take. It respects the amazing artistry and talent of the tradition of quilting, while allowing the quilter to challenge the "rules".
In fact, if there were one rule in modern quilting, it would be that there are no rules. The concept of modern quilting is not meant to divide or segregate. It is meant to welcome new quilters, of all ages, to the world of quilting in a style that they can relate to. In many ways, modern quilting takes us back to the basics of the early quilters, when women of the day used the colors and styles of their time to express themselves creatively"