Monday, May 19, 2014

Everything old is new again

Lately I've been thinking a lot about modern quilting and what exactly that is as I work on a newspaper article about just that topic as the big annual quilt festival in Waterloo Region approaches. Coincidentally last weekend my mom gave me a few quilting books she cleared from her shelves that were 20 and 30 years old.

Flipping through the books, I was amazed to see many examples of what we would now consider modern quilts. Maybe not the fabrics chosen, but definitely the design. There was also a churn dash quilt, which is traditional block very popular among quilters now.

Then one quilt in particular caught my eye because it sure looked familiar. As soon as I got home, I shuffled through my pile of quilts to make and pulled out this pattern bought just recently.

The book explains this Depression-era pattern was traditionally made using white fabric for the background. White or grey backgrounds are a common calling card of modern quilts. How interesting. I guess there really are no new ideas, just new interpretations.

Thankfully now we have lots of tools like rotary cutters, rulers and sewing machines with all the bells and whistles to make our quilting quick and precise. It wasn't that long ago quilters cut out all the pieces using templates and scissors. Now that was dedication to a craft! Among the books was a 1985 reprint of a 1942 book packed with 500 blocks. Again, there were so many I've seen pop up online and in patterns recently. This one has elements that reminds me of the Swoon block, just a bit different in the centre part. The numbers on the bottom indicate which templates you need to make the block, which were all at the back of the book.

A while ago, a friend gave me some quilt magazines found in an older lady's home when it was cleaned out. I was immediately drawn to one of the quilts in a 1992 magazine called Old-Fashioned Patchwork, but I'd say it is quite modern even in the fabric choices with all solids. Again, a hallmark of modern quilting. (How would a patriotic Canadian make this quilt when we only have white and red? Hmm.)

Among the magazines were newspaper clippings from the early 1930s with instructions for making blocks, complete with templates. Can you believe newspapers used to publish quilt blocks? No going online and finding something new to sew in a minute. Those blocks were precious. Women clipped them out and tucked them away for safe keeping, for decades even.

And again these are quilts I can easily imagine people making today. Dutchman's Puzzle is a well-known traditional block, but modern fabric would give it a whole different feel.

So quilters today really aren't reinventing the wheel. We're using traditional patterns and, at the most basic level, traditional techniques. It's neat to think that even though our quilts are so different from those made a century ago, we're all connected. Quilts used to be made out of necessity to stay warm using bits of fabric salvaged from worn clothing and blankets, and now we sew as a hobby and go online to buy yardage of designer prints. But we all share pride in carefully piecing together fabric into something beautiful that's also meant to be used and loved.

Alright. That's enough uber crafty nerdiness for now.

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