Monday, May 16, 2016


This awesome 1950s quilt arrived recently, and it got me thinking about the vertical movement in several of the quilts and tops found in the last year. Here are some of the others.

I've decided it is not a coincidence to find all these pieces within the same year. Things really are looking up.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

1950s Tumblers

This wonderful, scrappy, 1950s Tumblers quilt came from a seller in Carlsbad, California. In the description, she said,

"My grandmother lived in Ohio. I spent the summers visiting her. She was always sewing something and keeping all the scraps she had left over. When she had a enough extra material in her basket, she would sit down and fashion a quilt with the leftovers. The result was this beautiful, colorful piece of art. I cherish it, but now it is time to share it with you."

The quilt is tied, approximately 73" x 80" with a wide variety of fabrics, and it is backed with a pretty floral print fabric. The backing is brought to the front for binding on two edges, and the other two edges are finished with a "knife edge" or "pillow edge" finish.

I am very intrigued with the quilts of the 1950s right now, partly because I don't see them for sale often, but also because I recognize the mid-century design influences in today's quilts. We haven't heard much about the 1950s in quilt history circles until recently, when Roderick Kiracofe's book "Unconventional and Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950-2000" introduced the tradition of offbeat and improvisational quilts in the period. It is a wonderful book, and it is also the tip of the iceberg.

In the 1930s and 1940s, quiltmaking reached a height of popularity. In the 50s, fewer publications printed patterns, crafts catalogues had fewer quilt projects, the textile industry was beginning a big shift toward polyester production, and there was a sharp increase in mass-produced bedding such as chenille, hobnail and matelassé woven spreads. The increased production of reasonably priced, mass-produced bedding had everything to do with a strong economy in post WWII America, and it helps explain the decline in people making quilts.

I have a friend who buys and sells hundreds of these mass-produced bedspreads, and her knowledge of them is encyclopedic, so I asked her. She also observed a sharp increase in the mass-produced items around 1950, post WWII. I keep begging her to write a book on the subject. She guided me to vintage catalogues from Sears and other companies. I am eager to see more of these materials. They will help determine when the increase in mass-produced bedding occurred, and how it unfolded.

My other reason for being interested in the handmade quilts of the 1950s relates to vintage design and how it influences what people make today. Mid-century design informs the work of 21st century quiltmakers, but the 1950s period has not been thoroughly explored by historians. We don't have a complete picture of the quilts of the period, even though we are making quilts derivative of the period style. In my mind, that makes the 1950s a period ripe for exploration right now.

I sent a note to the seller of the Tumblers quilt, asking for more information about her grandmother. She replied, letting me know her daughter, who is an archivist, is gathering more information for me. Score! Usually when I request this type of information, people are pleased to share it. As a bonus, there may be another quilt available from the same maker. Talk about the beauty of reaching out. I will be sure to post an update when I have more details.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

more block printing

Yesterday I did some more block printing on fabric. I was having so much fun I wasn't even disturbed by the Guy Fieri Triple-D marathon airing three times in a row! This time I was working with a different design, inspired by tattoo art. It took a few tries to get it close to where I wanted.

it worked with the other plate, but not with this one
playing with the tools
it's a little rough, but I like it that way

It may be time to set up that space in my garage and print a larger piece. I like the idea of doing a block printed wholecloth quilt. The oldest quilt in my collection is a block printed blue resist wholecloth quilt from the American Revolutionary War period.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

an idea

Yesterday I was happily printing away, and had an idea. I thought it would be interesting to print a long, narrow piece of fabric in turquoise on white, using my "Accidental Tiki" block print. Maybe I could use it to make a simple quilt.

A quick survey of my stash produced a long, narrow section of vintage bedsheet material, sent to me recently in a big bundle from Mom. The piece I found was very soft cotton, washed hundreds of times in its life. It had some wear and a few small imperfections, but that's what made it so perfect, in my opinion. The fabric having a life of its own attracted me to it. There was also a straight seam line, which I could use as a guide.

When it was time to stop for supper, I had a 60-inch length printed, but there's room for more if I like. Maybe I'll do something with it, but for now I'm just having fun.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Accidental Tikis

Accidental Tikis inspired by an art deco tile
On Saturday, I took a Block Printing on Fabric workshop with Valori Wells, and it was superb! The workshop was hosted by Portland Modern Quilt Guild at Dishman Community Center in Portland.

a sample of the mess I made in class, experimenting
Admittedly, I was kind of a disaster in class and was messing up everything I did, so I stopped a little early and spent the last hour or so looking at what everyone else was doing. There was some really great work!

Sam Hunter's print
Kristin LaFlamme's print
Petra Anderson's print
Elizabeth Hartman's print
It's probably a good thing I didn't excel in class. I went home wanting to do more. So, I did.

The design was directly inspired by an art deco tile. I had to modify it since my carving skills are a little rusty. I did it many years ago in college, but that was almost 30 years ago. Things have changed.

Upon returning home, I started drawing on the two pieces of leftover tracing paper. On Monday, I went to the art supply shop, got a few things, and tried them out this morning.

It's a lot of fun, and I have some space in my garage where I'm thinking of setting up a little area dedicated to block printing. That's saying something, considering I don't really have a space in my home dedicated to sewing but have made a few quilts.

Maybe I should set up the machine in the garage, too! A big thank you to Valori Wells, an excellent teacher! If you ever have an opportunity to take a class with Valori, I highly recommend it!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


As some people know, I like to refer to myself as a Quilt Magnet. There's a good reason for that. Here's one. A couple weeks ago I received an e-mail from LeeAnn of Nifty Quilts. She was cleaning out a closet, and wanted to know if I would be interested in a quilt she'd found at Goodwill about a year ago. She wanted to give it to me. How could I say no?

The quilt arrived yesterday, and it's sensational! I took a photo of it right away and sent it to LeeAnn as a gesture of thanks. The quilt was made in the first half of the 20th century. My feeling is it's from the 1920 to 1940 period.

It is tied, approximately 78" x 80" and features a square center medallion made of wedges radiating from a circular center, surrounded by 12 large strip pieced blocks. The center medallion could be called a "Thrifty Wife" pattern among other names, and the border around the medallion could be called a large Rail Fence design.

The blocks are all framed with a narrow sashing, and there is a narrow outer border in green. A wonderful selection of fabrics. There are a few fabrics that didn't hold up as well as the others, and they could be repaired, but you could hang this quilt on the wall as-is and heads would turn. Thank you, LeeAnn!!