Creating from scraps of fabric and I mean true scraps of fabric is truly sewn into the fibers of my life and for me they include a circle of thrifty, artistic and loving women I call mom, grandma, auntie and cousin. I am certain as soon as I could stand on a chair and help catch the yarn schnibbles I was helping with the quilting process. I come from a family of sewers. Some because they had to and others because they loved to. In any case, quilting brought us all together and is a part of our family thread.
My mom tells the story about how her oldest sister Catherine would save two matching feed sacks to sew her a new dress. I don't remember my grandma sewing garments but I remember her piecing together practical things like hot pads and quilts or fitting curtains or mending or some other practical sewing task. I am sure she must have sewn garments but what I remember the most about her were her creative recycled quilts and strong opinions on color.
I am not exactly sure where the different fabrics would come from but I think somehow people knew that you are willing to take on cast off clothes or worn out clothing.. These were winter projects for my grandma. Shirt backs were saved always recycled into quilts , the rest made of the worn shirt made it to the rag bag and the buttons were carefully removed for future garments. Somehow, the clothes would find their way to "Hafner Haven" as my grandma's house was called.
My grandma also collected wool skirts and coats and was a brilliant crazy quilter. None of the woolen garment would be wasted and the seams were carefully taken out. To this day, she never divulged how a curved set in shoulder piece was added into a quilt top. It is our theory she didn't know how it happened either, it just happened. What I loved best about these wool crazy quilts was the hand feather stitching she would place here or there for a pop of color. The colors of wool could be as crazy as could be but the bright teal, pink, red or yellow embroidery floss would be used throughout the quilt.
My aunt is the keeper of "things" and she provided some historical photos to help illustrate our process.
Packaging was always eyed up to see if it would make a good quilting template for cutting squares. Heavy use would wear them down over time and they would need to be replaced. My grandma would sit for hours and carefully trace the square with a blue BIC ballpoint ink pen on the back of the fabric, sometimes the front and then cut them out. The leftover fabric would be burned or was used to stuff a pillow or some other item. If she was home she would use the worst metal scissors you could imagine but if she were visiting she would either use a pair of Fiskars orange handled scissors or the very precious Gingher scissors. She then would carefully count the colored patches and a small 1" square of notepad paper would be attached to the top square of each with one of those "worthless" shirt collar pins to indicate the total. The squares were then tucked away into shoe boxes or pop boxes or beer boxes that had been cut down to size for just this purpose.
When the time came for layout, the box of squares would come out of hiding and some times we would eyeball the box and declare it would be diagonal design and just start picking piles that had the right number of cut squares in it. Other times we would go for something a little fancier and with more planning like Trip around the World. Other times we would graph it out (usually on notebook paper). The goal was always to use all of the cut squares of the same fabric so as to not leave any orphan squares behind. Design walls had not been heard of and the dining room table was the layout space of choice. My aunt, my mom and my grandma all had the harvest threshing crew size dining tables to spread the quilts out on. Again, the scraps of paper came out to keep things in order between the table and the sewing machine. I still can see the cardboard flats that a grocery store would get canned goods on as the place where the in transit pieces would lay waiting to be sewn.Now is probably the time I should remind all of you that the fabrics were from all different kinds of garments and they were either recycled or the left over pieces from cutting a garment. They had different weights and stretch and many times they were not cut on the grain of the fabric. They were marked with an ink pen using a cardboard template. In other words, there was a lot of room for variables.
In addition, the blocks were sewn with leftover thread of varying weights and fiber content and then maybe were sewn partially on my grandma's treadle, my mom's Kenmore in cabinet sewing machine or my aunt's fancy portable Elna. The point is, this is where one learns the art of working with fabric and coaxing it into perfectly matched seams. Today's quilt police would have a fit....but it fit us just fine.
After the quilts were constructed our layers would be sewn together on 3 and half sides and would be flipped right side out with the batting in between and a day of tieing would occur and this was my favorite day.
Usually an easy oven meal like a roast was made with a yummy desert like homemade pie and plenty of coffee. Laughing and tieing would commence and each of us had our jobs. One person stabbed, another tied, while another trimmed and when I was little I collected the yarn schnibbles and placed them in the pie plate. Occasionally the needle would not budge and pull through and then the "Screwy Louie" was fetched from the kitchen drawer to pull the stubborn needle through.
My mom was always the "sewer shutter " of the final seam of the quilt and another quilt would be complete and ready to keep someone warm. These quilts were made to be used and they were. Some are still around and others were loved to shreds. One thing is for certain memories were made and warmth and love were given. Quilting is more than a perfect seam......enjoy the process, put a roast in the oven, bake a pie and create your own memories and give some warmth.
The above quilt is made from leftover garments or projects I personally sewed and was created with my Grandma Hafner when I was 13 years old. She marked and cut all the pieces and pressed. We laid it out and I sewed and we both tied. Although you can't see the edges, the backing wraps to the front and creates a 2 inch border....boy did we think we were smart.
Happy Sewing, Joy
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