Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Quilting with cheap materials


I belong to an online quilting group on Facebook that now has over 10,000 members, including many who are relatively new to quilting.  Members share their ideas and tips.  However, there is one trend that has bothered me for a while - people recommending 'cheap' ideas for quilt fabric, wadding (batting) etc.

Today there were two fairly typical topics.  One raised the idea of buying sheets as a quilt backing.  This has been discussed many times before.  Many members swear that cheap sheets are perfectly OK as quilt backings.  The main attraction seems to be the price, then the width. 

I don't know the circumstances of each quilter, but when I started quilting, I didn't have a lot of money to splurge on quilting fabrics (I was unemployed), and much less idea of where to get 'proper' patchwork and quilting fabrics anyway.  The quilt in the photo at the top was the second quilt I made and combines Japanese craft cottons with batik bought in Singapore and Liberty Tana lawn. I backed it with black 100% cotton sheeting, bought by the metre from a good quality fabric shop in Chester in the early 1990s.  At the same time, I bought the same sheeting in pink and used it to back a duvet cover I made.  The pink sheeting pilled very badly, with little bobbles all over the back.  Luckily the quilt with the black backing has only been used as a wall hanging, but it was a lesson.  The wadding was a cheap 4oz polyester too!  Too thick to quilt through well, and I'm surprised it hasn't bearded through the black ikat fabric too badly.

I continued to try sheeting for backs, because it seemed to be the 'right width' for the back of quilts.  I was mainly hand quilting, and it wasn't nice to stitch through, so the weave was too tight. I have a few UFOs from that time, where I just wasn't enjoying the quilting at all.  After I joined our local craft group, I was given the advice that I wouldn't be able to achieve a really nice quilt with the materials I was using.  It was true!  Once I switched to using fabrics for my quilt tops and backs that was actually made for quilting, and used better quality wadding, quilting was so much easier and more pleasurable. I listened to what more experienced quilters told me, and learned from them - to my advantage.

The other topic today was about buying cheap polyester duvets and using the filling as quilt wadding.  I can only say that it sounds like a complete recipe for disaster.  If you have ever opened up a duvet, you'll know what the fibres are like inside and they don't behave like a quilt wadding.  Instead, they are all fairly loose fibres and will clump up easily.  They will also have a tendency to beard through the stitching lines in the quilting, and possible migrate through the patchwork seams as well.

What makes me sad is reading the number of responses to both these topics that seem to think these cheap materials are OK for quilting, when they are not. 

No one needs to make so many quilts that they have to resort to the cheapest of cheap supplies.  And if money is tight, why not make miniatures? Then you really won't have to buy much in the way of fabric or wadding!

It is worrying that people will try these cheap solutions, get into a mess and be discouraged from making more quilts.  Quite frankly, these discussions are becoming depressing.  More experienced quilters seem to be 'shouted down' by the cheap brigade.  This group has become very big and a lot of new quilters will be reading it.  It shouldn't be seen to be offering bad advice.

What do you think?



Sunday, 16 July 2017

Something new






A little peek at something new I'm working on.  I tacked the quilt sandwich yesterday.  Can't really show too much of it just yet, because the pattern will be in Today's Quilter in February, if all goes to plan!

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Textile memories of Wales in the 1980s and beyond


Last week, a quilting friend started an interesting topic about Welsh fabrics on Facebook in one of the quilting groups, but it now seems that the whole discussion has been deleted! So, before I forget about some of the information that was shared there, I thought a blog post (which won't disappear) might be useful.  I have added a LOT of links, so please do follow them, for even more information and photos.

I lived in mid Wales in the 1980s, going to UCW Aberystwyth in 1984 and staying on after graduation.  I had a part time clothing business in the late 1980s, and made a lot of custom clothes using Laura Ashley fabrics. Laura Ashley clothes were made in Wales at that time, with the main factory in Carno, so a lot of surplus fabric seemed to escape onto the markets.  There were two main fabric suppliers for me - a stall in Aberystwyth's market hall, which sold fabrics by the yard and also made very plain and quite distinctive pinafore dresses, and Phil Wheeler's market stall at Machynlleth and Clarach summer Sunday markets, superseded by their shop in Machynlleth which opened some time in the 1990s.  I used to get to Clarach by walking the cliff route over Constitution Hill and bringing the fabrics back in a backpack. Aberystwyth had another fabric shop, on the corner of Terrace Road and Cambrian Place, but it was more dressmaking fabrics with a lot of synthetics. There was also the very occasional foray to Aberkhan in Mostyn, North Wales (I didn't drive, so was dependent on friends going there).  Of course, once Laura Ashley stopped production in Wales, these sources of fabrics gradually dried up. 

The quilt in these photos is my Lulea Log Cabin, where I used up the scraps left over from making baggy trousers out of these fabrics and mixed in other scrap bag materials, including some Liberty fabrics.  The trousers were very much 'one size fits most' and had elasticated waists and pleats at the ankle.  I sold them at a craft co-operative called Chapel Crafts at Aberporth and also took stalls at the Aberystwyth Christmas Crafts fairs a few times.  Somewhere I have a lot of 35mm prints of these places and will eventually find them and post them - in another blog post I think. The quilt border is Laura Ashley - a kind of twill woven brushed cotton that they produced a lot in the 1980s - as are the very dark, rich prints in the patchwork.  Deep greens, turquoises, burgundy and cerise pinks were very much in fashion back then.  I wish I could buy those fabrics now! 



The question that started off the blog post was about whether there were any cotton mills left in Wales.  As far as I know, there was never a Welsh cotton weaving industry - the Welsh product was wool and, in the nineteenth century, there were still many small mills working in relatively isolated spots in the country.  Wales doesn't have the easiest road network in the West and a lot of it was never well linked by railways either, so I guess although the climate would have been good for cotton (high humidity, like Lancashire), getting the raw materials in and the finished product out wouldn't have been practical logistically. 

I learned a lot about Welsh textiles from various sources when I lived in Aber, although I never made any kind of formal study of the subject.  We had collections like that at Ceredigion Museum on our doorstep (literally, as I once lived just along the road from the Museum!) and I also used to visit the famous collection that was displayed in the large room across the top of Aberystwyth railway station (the part that is now the toilets for the Wetherspoons pub there).  This collection belonged to Mrs Evans, who also displayed a lot of it in several corner shop windows in the High Street/old town area between the castle and the harbour.  These shop windows were set up to look like displays from the turn of the last century.  She collected anything and everything of local interest, and the main exhibition was very hands on - you could touch anything and I think you could even try some of the clothes on.  She had a circular shop rail that was full of Welsh flannel skirts.  After she died and the exhibition was closed (and the front of the railway station became a pub), I heard that her collection had gone to Ceredigion Museum.

The Museum has a large collection of Welsh quilts, and some of them can now be seen online.   This 'baskets' quilt is probably one of the most famous, and has been shown in several exhibitions - here it is at the Welsh Quilt Centre in Lampeter.  It also features in Mary Jenkins and Clare Claridge's book 'Making Welsh Quilts' (the Welsh Quilt Centre had some hardback copies for sale when we visited last year, so it is worth checking with them first if you want a copy).


My main reference book on Welsh Textiles is 'The Textiles of Wales'.  Highly recommended, although the price seems to have gone a bit on the high side.  I bought my copy when it was first published.


I still don't own a Welsh quilt.  The strippy and wholecloth in these photos was shown at the Quilters Guild of the British Isles (QGBI) AGM and conference weekend at Harrogate a few years ago.  The quilting designs are very distinctive and the strippy, which belongs to Carolyn Gibbs, seems to have a cotton filling rather than wool (more info here).  Welsh strippies typically have the quilting patterns going across the piecing, not following the strips as would be the case with North Country quilts.





I missed a chance of buying a really lovely Turkey Red paisley Welsh wholecloth when I was a student and have regretted it ever since!  It was in the window of Oxfam in Aber, the shop was closed and I was leaving for the Christmas holidays very early the following morning.  I still don't know why I didn't put a cheque in an envelope through the letterbox and ask them to keep it for me until New Year!  There were many interesting textiles that used to pass through the charity shops then, including a lot of Welsh double weave blankets, which are now quite expensive to buy.  There was also a lot of clothing and accessories made from double weave, which went for peanuts then.  It was definitely the best time to be collecting.  These fabrics are still woven at Melin Tregwynt, one of the last remaining Welsh woollen mills.

If you are interested in Welsh quilting, have a look at Pippa Moss's blog Welsh Quilts.  Be prepared for a long visit!  This quilt from her collection was made in Aberystwyth.



St Fagans also has an excellent collection of Welsh quilts and textiles.  Elen Phillips is the textile curator there.  The last time we visited (May 2016) work on the new galleries wasn't yet finished, but apparently there will be a permanent display of quilts.  The Wrexham tailor's patchwork shown in my second blog post about our 2013 visit is currently on display at Wrexham Museum.

Now to a couple of modern Welsh quilters who both use traditional fabrics in their work - I don't think they were mentioned in the Facebook discussion?  We met Mary Jenkins at St Fagans museum in May 2016, when she brought some of her small quilts to show members of Yuza Sashiko Guild and we had a wonderful impromptu quilt show in the chapel gallery, much to the surprise of other visitors!  Mary doesn't use any 'reproduction' quilting fabrics for her quilts and believes very strongly that quilts made now should use fabrics made now, rather than direct copies of older materials.  Of course, she has an amazing collection of Laura Ashley and Liberty fabrics dating back over the last 30 years or so on which to draw...

 

 

And DeAnne Hartwell-Jones, shown here with two quilts inspired by the 1718 Coverlet.


DeAnne was one of the speakers at the QGBI AGM and conference weekend in Llandudno in 2016.



She was also our main exhibitor at Quiltfest in Llangollen in 2011.  All DeAnne's work is done by hand. More photos of her quilts here.




These are details of quilts she showed at the QGBI AGM in 2016, which include some of my Japanese fabrics - tsumugi striped cotton.  It makes a very good substitute for fabrics which are no longer made.  I have started a Facebook album for Japanese wool flannels I have for sale at the moment, which also made excellent substitutes for Welsh flannels - click here.  I am selling these 75cm 'double width' flannels for £16 per metre, with free postage in the UK.




For a final look at some Welsh fabrics in detail, here are some photos from the Welsh Quilt Centre's summer exhibition 2016, 'Unforgettable'.



Jen Jones is a remarkable figure in Welsh textile history and has done much to help preserve and re-evaluate the quilting tradition.  There are several other posts about the Welsh Quilt Centre here.


Not to forget Jen's shop! Although the quilt is mine - Dryslwyn Dreams, inspired by a quilt that she used to own.  






Monday, 3 July 2017

Junk hunting in Scotland


We visited Steptoe's Yard yesterday, a salvage/junk yard not far from Montrose.  Glyn was hoping for more architectural salvage than other stuff, but the sheet amount of things there was pretty overwhelming.  There were several large barns, one with the better quality antique and vintage pieces and the others with varying levels of chaos.  I wondered how it would even be possible to get some of the furniture pieces out of the largest barn, as it was packed so tightly, with just enough space between shelves to squeeze along the aisles.  Given that some of the barns were only semi enclosed, and swallows were nesting among the beams, it will give you some idea of what they were like!

Glyn spotted this Portmeirion mug commemorating the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, which fits the bill for the slightly odd kind of commemoratives we seem to collect.




Glyn loves having a good rummage at places like this...




I bought a Chinese figurine and vase.  I don't know how old this is - could be any time from mid to late C20th, and it is likely they were in production for quite a while too.



Not a lot of information on the mark.



The Chinese vase is the kind of thing that used to be in the shops here in the 1980s and 90s, although once again it might be older.  These pieces will be great for photo props.


Thursday, 29 June 2017

Sashiko projects - finished!


Lesley Bills sent me a photo of the sashiko kinchaku bag she started in our class on Saturday - already finished!  She wrote -

Really enjoyed the class on Saturday - here's my finished bag... enjoyed making it - nice to get a project finished. Put the bag together last night - good instructions which made it so easy - thanks again 

Love the coordination with the thread, lining and flower ends on the cord too.

Some sashiko projects are a bit more involved and take a little longer to complete. Joyce Petrie made this lovely wall hanging after our class in Dunfermline last year, where we combined sashiko with applique.  I like the way she has mounted the panel on hessian, which gives it a great Japanese country feeling.



Thanks for the photos!


Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Sashiko kinchaku bag panels with Aberdeen Quilters


We had a really nice day on Saturday.  In the daytime, I taught at Aberdeen Quilters and they made the sashiko kinchaku bag panels.  Lots of variety in thread and fabric combinations.  Hopefully I'll see some of these finished soon?

 


The weather was bright and breezy, so Glyn had a mooch around the city.  This is the Lang Stane, probably once part of a stone circle. I've never seen it before, but I haven't been in the city centre very much.

 

He also spotted this Japanese restaurant.  Maybe one for another visit?  We had fish and chips in Stonehaven instead, sitting by the boardwalk along the beach, and came home 'the scenic route' via Montrose and through Montreathmont Forest, alongside Rescobie Loch, to Forfar, and then home.




Today, lots of parcels of fabric arrived from Japan...