A Charm Quilt

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Settle back for a cuppa as I have a few threads of a story to weave together. Mid Year Eve (my daughter) purchased her first sewing machine and became interested in quilting. She rang me up asking if I had any quilters cottons. I felt a failure as Mum, when I said I didn’t really as all my fabrics are suitable for crazy quilting. Out of all my bits I could only scavenge a hand full of cottons which were posted to New Zealand for her use.

Unlike many crazy quilters who discover this form of quilting via quilting, I came to crazy quilting via embroidery. It was the surface embellishment of these textiles that attracted me. I had made a few regular quilts but did not see myself as a quilter. So as I built my stash it was of fancy fabrics not quilters cottons. Anyway this year Eve went on to make a scrap quilt from recycled clothes scavenged in thrift shops.
Eve is home for Christmas and the sewing machine has been on the dining room table for the past two weeks as clothes and costumes are being made and there has been lots of talk about quilting! In our conversation I told her how I have been hoarding a snip of fabric approximately a 3 to 4 inch square, off garments for 28 years. These have been hoarded with the thought of eventually making a real charm quilt. I have scraps from my clothing, Eves clothes, I have clothing scraps from my mother, my grandmother, sisters and even some of Jerry’s shirts. My step mother is a dress maker and I have scraps from her and friends have often given me scraps that I have kept as little memento of them.

I have had these 3 inch scraps gathering for years. Last week I showed them to Eve and started to tell the stories behind the fabric. I have a scrap of the dress I was wearing when I met Jerry, of the blouse I wore on our first date, of maternity dresses, of the nightdress I wore in hospital when I had Eve, of her toddlers clothing as a child as at the time I made her clothes and in the hot West Australian summers she had horrid heat rashes if I dressed in anything other than cotton, of her first real party frock, and the dress she wore on her first day at school, of her graduation dress and so it goes on. As the stories built I realised that our whole family history was tangled up in these little bits of fabric, stories of friends and even sewing projects like library book bags, and scraps from gifts. They are not all cotton but they can be used in a ‘real’ scrap charm quilt. Eve became very enthused that I start on this charm quilt.


Some readers may be aware Australia had a federal election yesterday and today we have a new Prime Minister. Last night I was doing something I very rarely do. I was watching TV. I watched the coverage from the National Tally Room as the votes were counted. I thought if I was going to make this I may as well tie the start of this project to an historical event. It adds to the story of the quilt and makes it easier to remember when it was started. Above are the pieces I worked last night. I should have worked on red squares rather than blue as I am happy with the result but these were what I had to hand.

I have chosen a very traditional pattern and will be stitching by hand. The image above gives you some idea of the size of each piece. They are small. The piece of fabric you see is also from the dress I was wearing when I met Jerry. I hope to have every fabric different and it is not all quilters cottons, as that is my story.

I am not making it for Eve but I know when I am no longer here she will value it. So a new era for Australia and new project started for me. Lets hope its done by the next election!

19 Comments

  1. Hi Mary Frances
    Yes you are right sometimes design does get in the way of including some sentimental items in crazy quilting – I think in some cases traditioanl quilts because thy have such a strong established format serve the purpose better.

  2. How wonderful! I started in Crazy quilting by working on a similar crazy quilt my grandmother made…it has pieces of dresses my mother remembers her in, suits and ties from her Dad and party dresses my mother wore. I have tried to work in pieces from clothing we have around here, but design gets in the way! 🙂 Sentimentality in quilts goes a long way, eh?

  3. I hope you will let me retain lurker status. I just want to encourage your efforts. When my mother passed away in 2004, she left me 5 shelves of fabrics and about 200 quilt books. I promised my 6 brothers and sisters that I would eventually do a quilt for each of them. I still have 2 to go and have been keeping a notebook of the progress. I sketch out the overall pattern and chart/date the progress of each. I do drop everything and do special quilts for several reasons. I have pieced together the double irish chain blocks that my mother started for my brother and I am still practicing my “celtic” quilting until I can do it justice. My favorite “drop everything” quilt was my granddaughter’s where I transferred pictures of most of the family members interspersed with charm quilt hexagons. As I get a chance, I tell my daughter and I am sure I will tell my grandbaby of whom mom had in mind when she shopped for the fabric
    I do love to add pieces from outfits that were worn in places as well to crazy quilts. CQMadhatter

  4. Paula most of the clothes I had originally made so I had off cuts – as for other clothes from the early stages of our marriage we were so broke we had nothing worth donating!

    In fact for years I found secondhand skirts and things from thrift shops and re-cut them for my daughters clothes. I could not afford new material. I still recycle fabrics and I don’t have things like wedding dresses because we got married in a registras office . So no I have no hesitation in cutting up clothes I have done it for years.

  5. I am currently working on a crazy quilt of embroidered duchess sets/doilies etc, some of which my greatgrandmother made, most of which I have collected from fleamarkets. I had real problems cutting them up – (especially my G’Gmas) – but convinced myself they would be better displayed in a different format, than stuffed in the back of a cupboard – Although it only has a bit of our families history I get the same feeling of historical record about this quilt. I was saving baby clothes from my youngest with a view to making a small quilt for her, however I felt guilty cutting up good clothes(especially the ones which would have made the nicest patches) so I ended up donating them to charity. I regret this now, but I still dont think I could have cut them up – Did you have this dilemma?

    Paula
  6. This project is definitely full of soul.

    At the risk of sounding “out of touch” with current trends in quilting, esp. in capital-intensive America, I just love that this is hand-done…no downloaded designs, no long arm quilting machines…

    The design is a sister to the crazy quilt you are working on, too, isn’t it? The 3-D tumbling blocks, or diamonds? I think it is wonderful that you are working in two formats that are so related yet so distinct.

  7. Hi Sharon, You have finally got me – I have been a ‘lurker’ on your blog for a couple of years, reading regularly and following everyone’s work but never being brave enough to jump in for all the reasons you have highlighted in your recent post. My late mother made many patchwork quilts in her old age when her hands wouldn’t let her do her crocheting. They were all hegagon patches made by hand and at first all the material was from our clothing etc. The quilts were all given away to members of the family and I have photos of most of them – I have just counted and I have 40 pictures. The history of the fabric was not given with the quilts which is a shame I think. I look forward to seeing the progress of your quilt and I agree that you must record the history of the pieces and this must stay with the quilt. Thanks again for your blog and the links to all the other sites – I stitch away most days now I have stopped working, thankfully my husband likes cooking and shopping, perhaps I will get brave and post some pictures one day. I do a variety of mediums and have done stumpwork, hardanger, cross stich, beading and traditional embroidery and had a go at fabric painting etc. I am now trying to machine embroider so I can branch out a bit more. Avoided the crazy patchwork so far as I think it could be addictive. Thanks again for all your information.

    Bizzielizzie
  8. Sharon, today’s blog is so much a part of other women’s history too. There must be some genetic code that imprints into us to save bits of the past in clothing, Have done that all my life, because I followed my Mom and Grandmother who also kept scraps. For those of us who do this have a rich family history we can still feel. Rene

    ReneOrgeron
  9. Hi Sharon,

    Loved today’s read! What a fun and memorable project you’ve started.

    I’ve done several scrap quilts but none have the family history that yours does. When I first got married, I started mooching fabric scraps from some of the projects that my mom was making and when I had enough, I made them into a postage stamp quilt. Then I did a nine patch and then a 25 patch! There are also 5 more quilts all pieced and ready to assemble sitting in my closet.

    Am wondering how many stitchers work in a variety of mediums? Most of the cross stitchers I know just do cross stitch. But many of the CQer’s like to do a variety of things. For me, I do it all. Too bad I have to sleep!

  10. Many years ago as part of a creative writing course I was doing I wrote a children’s story based on what you have been talking about today.. A young girl watches her grandmother, her aunts and mother constuct a quilt from a communal scrapbag… The grandmother tells her grandaughter that the charm quilt was like photo albums – that each scrap told a story about the family and life… Reading your blog entry and the responses reminded me of the story which is in a writer’s infamous bottom draw…

  11. Lenora, I hope you make the quilt – the process is quite easy. I currently have a couple of posts in draft format to links on various quilting methods – I am sort of shaping them into something that makes sense – I will hurry the process along a bit

    thanks for de-lurking I appreciate knowing who my readers are

  12. I love the idea of the Charm Quilt. My mother, who died three years ago, kept scraps from all the clothes she made me as a child into early adulthood. As an cultural anthropologist she had a love of personal and cultural stories, especially where the story intersected with and informed the making and the treasuring of a handmade object. She passed on to me the love of textiles, particularly ones that are well made. She also taught me to sew and to knit. My mother never made a charm quilt. But your story and your daughter’s story about wanting to quilt has inspired me to learn to quilt and to someday use all those scraps and all the ones I have saved. What is interesting about the scraps I have saved is that I didn’t always know why I was cutting and stashing, it was more of a compulsion, a wee voice.

    I wanted to comment because I have been reading your blog almost daily for about three years, meaning I am a lurker. I find your posts to be simultaneously erudite and enthusiastic, which is a very difficult combination to pull off – but you do and very well. Thank you, Lenora

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