17 November 2007

Quilts - I get it!

The tentative beginnings of a quilt. The centre panel is an old pillow slip I bought from Ikea, that is bordered by leftover fabric from my new curtains. The rest will be made up of bits and pieces of old fabric, never used. It's from old skirts of mine, tablecloths, pieces from Tricia and a couple of metres of blue tones bought specially for this project.

I'm a quilter! I never thought I'd ever utter those words and if the truth be know, I'm only on my second quilt. Ummm, and there is a gap of 27 years between the first one and what I'm doing now. LOL My first quilt was made using precut Laura Ashley squares. I made a single bed quilt so that my baby Shane could sit on something soft on the floor. All I did was sew the squares together, attach some wadding and a backing and that was my quilt. I still have it somewhere, I think Hanno has it packed in a box in the shed. Shane is now 27 years old.

My sister has been a quilter for many years and has made some beautiful quilts, one of which I use on my bed in winter. But I never really understood the quilt mentality - when my brother-in-law asked Tricia "why are you cutting up fabric and sewing it back together again?" I listened closely for the answer because I didn't know. Of course, Tricia didn't answer her husband because she thought he was teasing her. Maybe he was, but I wanted to know what her answer would be. Now I know.

Or think I do.

Making a quilt from pieces of fabric left over from other projects, or gifted to me, is the essence of simple living. It's the ability to make something functional, beautiful and necessary using the frugal remains of other projects. It's the motivation to use what we have, to make what we need.

I arrived at this pleasant rethinking of patchwork because three things worked together to convince me of the worth of a patchwork quilt. One was that I now have enough fabric - Tricia's overflowing basket full of scraps gave me the means. Secondly, I realised that what I made didn't have to be perfect. This was galvanised into my head when Tricia was here and I told her that I couldn't get my patchwork squares to line up exactly on their seams. "So?" was her answer. I loved that. I love knowing perfection isn't required. If it is, I always fall short. The third thing was after seeing Tricia's quilt I finally knew where my starting point was. I never knew that before and for someone as craft-dumb as I am, that is a really important step.

About a year ago when Tricia visited, she cut out a lot of squares for me in preparation for the quilt I'm now making. Over the months, I sewed lengths of them together (hence my shock when they didn't all line up) but I didn't really know what I was supposed to be doing with the strips. I am an intelligent woman, but I can also be very stupid with things unknown to me. I could write a creditable magazine article in an hour, I could explain to you the life cycle of the worm or make a speech to a thousand people, but give me strips of fabric and I'm dumbfounded. Completely dumbfounded. Tricia's quilt showed me the way, I start from the middle and work out, that makes sense to me!

This quilt, like my first quilt, is for Shane, I plan to make Kerry's for his birthday in July. The symbolism of a handmade quilt can be quite powerful and it can echo meaning to family members over generations. I will weave several messages to my sons in their quilts, there will be symbols of their Australian, German, Irish and Swedish heritage, as well as secret messages from me to them, some they're recognise, some they won't. I hope the quilts show my sons their uniqueness, my unconventional nature, some of my humour and grace, as well as the values I've come to live by, and I hope they discover too - thrift, generosity, kindness and acceptance. I hope my sons recognise all the idiosyncratic elements stitched in piece by piece, because I want them to know their quilts are meaningful. But most of all I want them to feel the love I've stitched for them, and to be wrapped in that love as they sleep.



  1. What a beautiful post! My Mum has told me of the "quilts" they had on their beds as children, that were basically made from clothing (like overcoats) that was no longer wearable. My grandmother was frugal and inventive in that way, as were most women back in the war era. Perhaps one day I too will make some memory quilts for my childre, but i need to work on my sewing skills first! One apron at a time...

  2. Oh Rhonda- what wonderful post!!I hope you enjoy making your son's quilt-and what little pieces of you he discovers as he wraps himself in it. Sharon

  3. What a Wonderful post. So true nothing is Perfect! I Love my memory quilt my Mom made. A Treasure for sure.
    Happy quilting.Lib

  4. Yet another beautiful and inspiring post! Thank you!

  5. RJ, my mum has made us all a quilt for our weddings, and then each grandchild a quilt for their cot, and then another for thier first big bed. They are so beautiful and filled with meaning and love. She too uses bits and pieces from other projects, but she tries to make them to suit the child. My wedding quilt is navy, with a large central small square patchwork area of different colours made to represent an island surrounded by a coral reef. Someone else will see something different in it, but I know that this is the design she made for me. Your boys will love these special handmade things.

  6. What an absolutely beautiful post, again. Rhonda, I too just could never "get it" about quilting but have over the last few months of re-learning sewing skills do understand and love using up fabric to make something else. I think what I don't understand is buying new quilting fabric to cut up and make as if they were scraps, its kinda too contrived for me. I love your sisters quilt and absolutely love the memories and stories that you are going to put into the quilts for your sons. That I do get and love!! Bella

  7. Hi Rhonda Jean :) You know that I especially love this part:

    "But most of all I want them to feel the love I've stitched for them..."

    What a precious mom thing to feel and to do. I hope that you are blessed by every single stitch! And I can't wait to see them become as you work. Love, Q

  8. Hello Rhonda

    I intend to do the same thing for my children...I am keeping special items of clothing from birth to about 16/17 years and using these cherished bits and pieces to do a quilt for their 21st birthdays. I am keeping photos aside of them in these clothes to hopefully scan some pictures in as well.

    I don't 'get' quilting whatsoever...I had always planned to PAY someone....but reading your post, perhaps I COULD manage to sew something held together with crooked seams and a lot of love.


  9. Oh Rhonda - I really feel I need to warn you - quilting is addictive, very very addictive. It will creep up on you ever so slowly just as you are now beginning to "get it" - soon you will not be able to get "enough" of it. Don't say I didn't warn you!!! Great post Rhonda and I am sure your boys will love your quilts as mine do - there is nothing like something made by Mum!!

  10. My grandmother had memory quilts that I used to sleep under when I stayed with her as a very young child. She died when I was 11, but everytime I visit my parents, one of Nanna's quilts is on the bed for me to sleep under.

    My mother made me one of my own for my 19th birthday. When I was younger, she used to make all skirts, shirts, and shorts, so she cut the leftovers up and used them in the quilt. It's such a wonderful gift to give someone... but yes, very very addictive :)

    Best, Becca

  11. It looks great Rhonda! I have some questions..did you have sew the little squares together? into strips? and is it then sewn onto the white fabric or is it just laying on top of the white fabric?Did Tricia use a rotary cutter to cut the square or scissors? and did you machine sew or hand sew it all together? I am playing with the idea of a making a quilt the way it would have been done long ago, before rotary cutters, sewing machine, cutting mats and all the modern tools of quilt making. I just need to know.... :)
    Hugs to you

  12. Sorry the first question should have read "Did you hand sew the little squares together into strips?" I'm only halfway through my morning coffee....

  13. Your memory quilt for your son is looking wonderful. I have made mostly logcabin and Ohio star quilts for my family. It is one of the best things for my family that I ever did. Blessings, Rose

  14. Have you seen the movie "How to Make an American Quilt"? It's a sweet little drama, about just some of the things you've written about. If you see it, my favorite are the yellow roses talked about in the one of the ladies' quilts....

    I have never made a quilt, but I have been given one. There is something special about wrapping yourself in a warm blanket where you know that each bit of it was handstitched from the heart.

  15. Rhonda Jean,
    Was wondering if I could quote this post of yours in my blog over at The Quilterhood...you've found a way to say about quilts what was in my head but I didn't know how to express it!

  16. Rhonda, it looks like that's going to be a lovely quilt. I sure would like to try quilting sometime! I need to find a good tutorial.

  17. Despite any protesting, you have a fine eye for design & I'm sure you will wind up with a beautiful, one-of-a-kind, quilt for your son.

  18. Hello ladies, thank you for your lovely words. : )

    anon, if I can do this, anyone can. The sewing itself isn't difficult because it just straight lines. The design and colour matching seems to be the bit that requires thought and a bit of time.

    robbie, I'll remember that warning. LOL

    Niki, I machine sewed the squares into strips, they are laying on a white sheet. All this work was done using current day quilting and sewing equipment, cutting boards, rotary cutter etc. I am hand stitching some parts of the quilt but I am using all modern conveniences. I must say your completely hand made quilt sounds like a wonderful project.

    Melinda, I have seen that movie but I'd like to see it again now. I will look for a DVD of it.

    Christie, yes, of course you may use it. : )

  19. I know this is an older post, but I just have to stop and thank you for posting about quilting with scraps. I'm making a quilt for us because we really need warmer bedding but don't have the money to purchase some. I'm making mine out of old sheets and flannel that was given to me, and I get funny looks and comments from "experienced" quilters. Apparently the trend now is to buy new fabric and I am the odd one. I love reading your blog, I don't feel "poor" any more, I feel thrifty and empowered!


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