Sunday, May 6, 2018

TBT: Quilts from my Tiny Career

Yeah, I know it's not Thursday anymore, but I've been away doing the best kind of daycare ever!! I wrote this post during naptimes, intending to publish on Thursday, but I had forgotten my log book with details about this month's quilts and couldn't finish it until now. Sandra has kindly extended her timeline for Throwback Thursday on mmm! quilts so I could get it completed. A thousand thank yous to her. I love writing TBT quilt posts and reading about quilts others have in their pre-blogging archives.

A couple of months ago, I shared an audition quilt I made for an interview for a little quilting job I had in the 1980's and early 90's. This week, I'll share some the quilts I worked on during 1985. These quilts were made by Becky Schaefer, who was known in the quilting world at that time for her work on miniature quilts. In fact, when she interviewed me to quilt for her, she was working on a book called Working in Miniature: A Machine Piecing Approach to Minature Quilts. It was published in 1987. I think it might still be available online as a digital book. I have lost contact with her since I stopped quilting for her in 1992, but I think she has since worked in other fiber arts, most recently knitting from recycled/redyed yarns. At the time I quilted for her, she made quilts from antique blocks or reworked blocks as well as bits of antique fabric, all sewn on a Singer Featherweight. Every few months, she would send me a batch of her latest creations (first from California and later from Kentucky), basted and ready to hand quilt. Sometimes she would include quilt pattern stencils or instructions for how she wanted items quilted. Other times she left the design up to me, which was unnerving at first. She also sent me a chalk marking tool that, after all these years, still makes a wonderful line. Amazing!! Some of the quilts were throw size or (much) smaller and many were miniatures like the ones featured in her book. We worked out a payment system that went by the yard of quilting thread used, with bonus pay for marking or making minor repairs. (Sometimes seams popped or little tears appeared in fragile fabrics, and Becky taught me how to repair the tears with super thin fusible material inserted in the damaged area.) 

The quilts from 1985 are a good sampling of the kind of quilts I worked on. I hope you enjoy seeing these little creations. The larger quilts usually had cotton batting and pieces of antique fabric for the backs. The miniatures had light weight polyester batting and usually muslin backs. I used off-white hand quilting thread. I don't know a whole lot about historic fabrics, but a lot of these are from the 1800's, and I think it's fascinating to look at the prints (lots of shirtings) colors (browns, double pinks. turkey reds) and block designs. And just wait until you see the tiny blocks in the miniatures! These are all from scanned pre-digital photos. They came out better than I thought they might. I'll include fronts and backs for documentation purposes, and in some cases, to better show the quilting.

This first one is a variation on Capital T which I referred to as Inverted T in my notes. I think Becky reworked the T blocks (flipping the large half-square triangles, for a more pleasing design. Lots of shirtings. I quilted it with concentric squares, diagonal lines, and straight lines in the borders. I completed it in June 1985. It's 30 by 38 inches. (And for anyone who cares, it took 153 1/2 yards of thread to quilt. I needed to keep track of this detail, as that is how payment for quilting was determined.)



This Pine Tree quilt is a good example of Becky's miniatures. It's only about 11 by 15 inches, with 2 1/2 inch Pine Tree blocks. I loved doing those tiny feathered circles. Miniature quilts usually did not have quilting in the borders. (The quilt was rectangular--just laid out a little wonky here.) I quilted it in June 1985. (5 1/2 yards of thread.)


This cute little Variable Star is 20 inches square. I love these browns and double pink prints from the 1800's. The quilting outlines the star, and there is a ropy cable design in the border. Look at the detail in those tiny cornerstones. One has a slightly different design than the others. I love that creative use out of necessity. I quilted this one in August 1985. (37 1/2 yards.)


The quilting doesn't show much on this back, but what a sweet print.
I love the vibrancy of this one. It's 40 inches square. I did concentric stars in the middle, ditch work on the diamond shapes and grid work in the backgrounds. That is a striped fabric in the border with a vine design in the quilting. My notes indicate that the beautiful applique work was completed by a group of Hmong women in my community. Tiny, tiny stitches. These larger quilts were a real treat because they were unique among the dozens of miniatures I quilted. I'll share other widely varying larger quilts in future posts. I completed the quilting on this one in September 1985. (132 1/2 yards.)



This sampler blew me away. The blocks are 3 inches square. Becky's book has lots of tips and techniques for making these kinds of blocks.  Aren't they incredible? The whole quilt is 14 inches square. I did in-the-ditch quilting to stabilize each block and then tiny grid work in the background. I completed this project in November 1985 but have documentation of quilting three others like it in July 1987. I used approximately 14 yards of thread for each quilt.




Isn't this Rose of Sharon with the sawtooth border sweet? The applique work is exquisite. More grid work on this one. It's 10 by 11 inches. I quilted it in November 1985. (7 1/2 yards of thread.)



Another Variable Star. This one is 10 by 12 inches. I love how some of these very old fabrics look modern (except maybe for the color.) Becky talks about scale of print when working with miniature blocks. It's important to use small prints for such tiny pieces. But even tiny motifs are eye catching when isolated and highlighted in a block. This is another example of outlining the block in the background. Hand quilting through seamlines on these bitty blocks would be difficult, and hard on the seams, which have only 1/8 inch seam allowance (the width of a Singer Featherweight foot). I quilted this one in November 1985. (5 2/3 yards of thread--every snippet of thread counts when you are paid by the yard.)


I also quilted at least 11 of these samplers over the years. They varied slightly in border colors and overall size. Again, outline quilting because of all the seams. I never tire of studying the variety of prints and the fussy cutting. This whole quilt is 11 by 12 inches. (Some were 10 1/2 by 11 1/2 inches.) I finished this one in November 1985. (7 to 8 yards of thread for each of these.)




School houses. Isn't that fussy cut sashing neat? I quilted a number of these in various colors over the years. (I'll show a whole school house collection in a future post.) I did parallel diagonal lines in the backgrounds of the blocks. The quilts were about 8 1/2 by 11 inches. I completed the quilting on these two in November 1985. (3 2/3 yards of thread for each.)



I have lots more quilts that I'll share over the next few months. Quilting for Becky led to other quilting commissions for people she knew. Eventually, I started making and selling my own creations close to home  and did commission work with vintage fabric (much of it from the 1930's) for a woman I met at a craft fair at a local mall. So there are definitely more TBT posts in my future. 

Thanks again to Sandra for keeping the TBT link open on mmm! quilts extra long so I could squeeze this post in before it closed. I've been sewing a lot this past week--with my granddaughter!!! We both had a blast. I'll share what we made in the next post. 

If you have some pre-blogging archives, please share next month. (First Thursdays on Sandra's blog.) Okay, going to link up now. Better late than never. 

(I'm not affiliated with any company, so when I mention products or services, I'm just documenting what I used or liked.) 

9 comments:

  1. So glad you were able to join in the fun. Your hand quilting is exquisite, such tiny stitches just perfect for the miniatures. I can see why you were hired. Very interesting to see the thread yardage, seems it would be more than what you had on record. Sandra told me you were in my neck of the woods and thinking of a meet up but I know it's hard to break away from the grandkids. Maybe someday.

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  2. Holy cow, those are terrific. Did you measure the yardage every time you filled a needle? Whatever she paid you, it wasn't enough for such great work. And did you have small children then? I'm just in awe of all of it!

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  3. So glad you had fun times with the grands!
    I'm just blown away both by the mini quilts and your exquisite hand quilting. Charging for hand quilting by thread used seems really cheap, but you could charge by fistfuls of dollars now!
    Really, really neat and enjoyable post. I thought about linking up with my 1980s "quilt" but I waited too late. Does TBT happen every month on Sandra's blog?

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  4. This was an interesting post! I enjoyed seeing all the miniatures, I remember making some miniatures myself back in the day. Not as neat as these though. I look forward to seeing more

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  5. That is how Ella at Alma Sue's Quilt Shop in Sarasota pays her Amish ladies, and charges her customers for the quilts they bring in for quilting, is by the yard. :-) 153 in that first quilt!!! Takes my breath away. Janine, these give me goosebumps. Literally. I am fascinated by old fabrics, by the stitching, imagine the women who stitched by oil lamp after a long long day of hard work...and yes, as Mari said, you were doing this over a hundred years later, with your own small children. Becky's work is jaw-dropping meticulous, so your meticulous precise quilting is a match made in heaven. I'm so glad you're sharing these...and I paid attention to dates: whoa, you were prolific! You are more than welcome for keeping the linky open a few more hours; no clue why I had it close at 7 pm as I usually leave it until 11 or 12 midnight!

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  6. Wow!! These are so cool and interesting! Such tiny pieces. You're right, some look quite modern other than the fabric colors. I love that you have these detailed photos of each piece to share with us, lo, these many years later :)

    It never occurred to me that there was a market for someone to hand quilt another person's pieced quilts. But it makes sense, just as long armers do the same job today. You are the original human powered long arm LOL!

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  7. Thanks for sharing these little gems. Do you find yourself wishing you had some of them to keep?

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  8. This is really interesting. The tiny piecework is fabulous. When you were doing a lot of hand quilting for her, was it impossible to sew for yourself as well? Your kids must have been fairly young at that point. I would think you put your sewing time to use for these hand quilting projects. Also, did you send them back to her and she put the binding on?

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  9. What fabulous quilts!!! Your handiwork is so neat and precise. Felt like I was in one of those heritage quilt museums.

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