Making quilts these days is laughably different from the way my grandmother made them. First of all, these days the first step is to “choose your material/fabric.” No one in my family ever really did that. The material that made up the quilt came from old, worn out dresses, shirts, tablecloths, scraps leftover from making cloth items, you-name-it, that could no longer be used for its original purpose and was then cut into smaller pieces — specifically, quilt pieces.
Secondly, these days almost everyone is stitching with a sewing machine. There are definitely pros to making a quilt with a machine — for one thing it is just plain easier and faster, but it also means your stitches will all be uniform. However, hard-core old-fashioned hand quilters will tell you that you can not get the same quality results with a machine as you can if you sew by hand. When sewing by hand your stitches should be very small, uniform, and barely discernible. It actually takes a great deal of talent and a steady hand to end up with a quilt the likes of which generations of housewives made in the past.
Thirdly, quilting is rarely handed down from generation to generation these days, but thanks to sewing and quilting classes, this art form is still persevering. Quilts make personal, thoughtful gifts filled with love and can be customized in hundreds and thousands of ways — from the fabric to the pattern — to make them even more meaningful.
Of course there’s also the fact that they’re just pretty!
Apparently these days, pre-washing your fabric is a must, to prevent any colors/dyes from bleeding and/or shrinking when you end up washing your final product. (This was not a necessary step back in the farm days, as the fabric came from cloth that had already been well-worn and washed multiple times.)
When my grandmother made her quilts, she would “piece” together all her quilt “blocks” (the pieces sewn together into the design the quilt would eventually have) and then attach the batting and backing with pins. All of this would be rolled onto a quilting frame which looking back reminds me of two saw-horses with blanket-wide rollers between them. These are heavy duty, take up a lot of space, and don’t seem that easy to find these days. One of the last times I saw one in use was during a country-themed Vacation Bible School several years ago when the grandmothers of the church dressed in costume and had an actual quilting party during the VBS sessions.
(And yes, if you hadn’t already learned how to quilt from a mother or grandmother, the quilting party was the perfect place to learn. Quilts take a lot of work and the more hands you have, the sooner it will be finished!)
The quilt was then “quilted” with the pattern of stitches preferred in order to hold together the layers.
Of course I’m talking about the type of quilt that has a uniform pattern from one end to the other and sometimes even has a pattern to the color scheme. (My family’s rule was just don’t put two matching colors next to each other.) There are also quilts that are basically functional canvases for artwork — pictures and collages. In the movie “How To Make an American Quilt” each character makes their own quilt block with a personal story that fits an overall color scheme and the pieces are fitted together and quilted into a gift for a bride (pictured above).
These days quilts aren’t just for warmth or bed comforters. Beginning quilters will often start out making potholders or table runners to become more confident in their abilities before jumping into a larger, more time-consuming project.
And quilts don’t have to be the traditional blocked and patterned variety. Some quilts aren’t even pieced, but made from one large piece of fabric that is quilted in stitching only.
If you happen to be interested in taking up quilting, or would love to incorporate the warmth and art of a quilt into your home without the two-centuries-ago appeal, here are some ideas.
Quilts as Tablecloths
Quilt tablecloths would typically not have a thick batting in between the layers like a blanket (or even any backing at all, depending on the project) since you would want a hard, sturdy surface to put your food and drinks on.
MelanieO at A Sewing Journal featured several examples in her blog post “Inspired by: Quilts as Tablecloths.”
If you wanted the tablecloth to double as a picnic blanket you probably would want another layer of cloth to shield you from any dampness on the ground and to protect the top/pretty layer of the blanket from being soiled from the bottom up.
(Click the picture below to learn how to make an easy, do-it-yourself Bandana Quilt Tablecloth.)
A quilt used as a tablecloth could easily be transformed into something that matched your home design by using blocks of fabric that coordinated with your existing color scheme. The fun part is that you can get as creative as you want or have a lot of fun shopping for just the right quilt.
Quilted Table Accessories
I think I’m in love with these quilted place mats. The advantage of having quilted place mats is that they soak up more “juice” or liquid and hold it to preserve your tablecloth. After dinner they can be tossed into the wash. They also just feel more soft and lush.
There are some amazing handmade table runners on Etsy (< click the link to see!) that demonstrate that a quilted table runner doesn’t have to be “traditional” if you don’t want it to. Here is one of my favorites:
Accessories for You
The amazing thing about quilts is that they can look like anything, and be made into almost anything — from a cup cozy to an electronics case to a wall mural. They are functional, insulated, and beautiful art. You can customize them any way you want to be exactly what you want.
Here is an example of Coffee Cup Cozies – perfect for when that napkin or cardboard sleeve that is supposed to wrap your paper coffee cup just isn’t doing the job. These were made by Julie Comstock, who offers her pattern on her website for free. (Click the picture below to visit it.)
If you would rather just buy yourself a cute coffee cup cozy, click here to see the variety on Etsy.
Quilt handbags and purses (of the cloth variety) have enjoyed a time in the spotlight thanks to designers like Vera Bradley. Not all quilted bags are the traditional soft and puffy blanket type, and – as charming as it might be – they don’t have to look like they’re fresh from the farm. (I love those vintage quilted leather purses from decades past!)
Check out these awesome “Laurel Burch Mermaid Bags” from DiannaInEtsy, which can be used as jewelry bags or just a pretty decoration.
Or how about this gorgeous ‘Orola’ Quilted Tote from Ted Baker London…?
Another wonderful thing about quilts is that if you have a specific design in mind and you don’t have the time or even want to sew it yourself, there are plenty of quilters out there who will be happy to do your bidding, even if for a price.