UFOs Part III: Civil War Vintage/Repro

February 13, 2010 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

In light of my post about Gyleen Fitzgerald’s vintage block project, I should probably talk about my own.  Although, where hers ends with gorgeous quilts and an equally gorgeous book, mine ends with a bunch of scraps in a cardboard box and some wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Back before the recession ripped the beating heart out of the antique trade, my friend Kathy and I made annual pilgrimages to Atlantique City.  Held in the Atlantic City Convention Center, it was a mind-numbingly, foot-numbingly huge antique show.  While many of the vendors were extremely high end ($55K Pairpoint lamp, anyone?) it was also a great place to find some unusual little items at reasonable prices.  One vendor I always had to frequent sold beautiful antique quilts in amazingly good condition for equally amazingly high prices, but also had bins of antique and vintage blocks and tops.  Since the focus of this show was collectors, not quilters, their prices for these unfinished pieces were always significantly lower than those I’d seen at quilt shows.

I bought a set of blocks, handpieced, whose fabrics appeared to be 1860s.  Unfortunately, as was common for that era, one or more of the fabrics used had disintegrated, most likely due to the mordant used in the dyeing process.  Of an original set of fifteen blocks, there were only nine that remained intact:

Civil War vintage blocks

Civil War era vintage blocks

Suffice to say, they have some problems.  You know that rule we’ve all been taught, not to have bias edges on the outside of the block?  Yeah, that’s apparently a new rule.  The blocks ranged in size dramatically, necessitating some trimming.  And before anyone gasps and clutches their pearls in horror, before anyone requires their smelling salts, these blocks were junk.  Not to me, obviously, or to the dealer, but to the vast majority of people, these blocks were rags.  Yes, they’re old.  Yes, they’re handpieced.  But we’re not talking about heirloom quality here.  They were indifferently pieced:  unmatched intersections, wonky angles, ripply edges.  And let’s face it, if they had been that important to the original quiltmaker, she probably wouldn’t have left them as a UFO.  I think the most respectful thing I can do with these blocks is to turn them into something useful and enjoyable, rather than letting them continue to be a stack of rags in a storage bin.  And if that process necessitates a little trimming, even of 150-year-old fabric, so be it.

So:  I repaired some damaged stitching, trimmed the blocks where I needed to, eased in fullness where I could, and stitched the nine blocks together in a square, so the diagonal rows of Flying Geese-like half square triangles could flow together.  (According to Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns, the block is called Pennsylvania Pineapple, which I find hilarious and endearing.)  I then put some borders around it, using reproduction Civil War prints and muslin to make and add a Flying Geese border.  And then I was stuck.

Civil War w/ borders

When in doubt, add borders!

Actually, when in doubt, ask quilters.  I brought the top as it stood to my guild retreat in April 2005 and threw myself on the mercy of the court.  A very skilled and very missed guild member, Nancy, who unfortunately and untimely passed away the following winter, made a great suggestion:  why not turn it on point and do some applique?  And so I did:

Civil War applique

One-quarter of the proposed applique

And here’s where the obstacles come into play.  The first one, that derailed me from continuing at that point, is that size matters.  It took me a long time to do just one of the four corners, and it became overwhelming and discouraging.  This was a very ambitious project for someone who hadn’t done much applique, let alone relatively complex, layered applique.

Which leads to the problem of the learning curve.  The applique here was done using Beth Ferrier’s Hand Applique by Machine technique, just like on “Blue Butterfly Day.”  Except — this was three years earlier, and I wasn’t very good at it.  It’s a little ugly close up, which kept me from wanting to pick it back up once I really learned what I was doing.  There’s a strong temptation to let my inner perfectionist out and redo that entire section before proceeding with the rest, which just bungees me back emotionally to the “overwhelming and discouraging” part.  There’s some quilt guilt associated with this as well, since a) I took on a 19th century UFO and turned it into a 21st century UFO, and b) after my guild friend Nancy died, I really wanted to finish this quilt with her suggestion in tribute to how much she influenced and inspired me, and I have failed to.

So what do I need to do to finish this quilt?  I thought about just quilting and binding it as is, but beyond wanting to use Nancy’s suggestion in her memory, I also think it’s a really good suggestion.  I need to take a second look at that applique section and reassess just how bad it truly is.  After all, this is never going to be a show quilt due to the vintage blocks, and it’s never going to be a heavily used quilt for the same reason, so neither the perfection nor the structural integrity of the applique is as important as it might otherwise be.  If necessary, I could always go back over the “invisible” blind hem stitching with machine blanket stitch or satin stitch.  Despite my newfound love of hand applique, I don’t think this is the project for that.  I should complete the applique sections with whatever machine applique technique seems most appropriate, put a poison green border around the whole thing, and then quilt the living daylights out of it so neither the hand piecing nor the less-than-stellar applique comes apart.

I can only imagine the original quiltmaker would be pleased.

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Entry filed under: UFOs. Tags: , , , .

Inspiration Interlude: “Quilts: Unfinished Stories with New Endings” Progress Report 2/18/10

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