The Cottage Orné Quilt

The Cottage Orné Quilt
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Saturday, 11 December 2010

Slowly made quilts

Once upon a time I bought a rotary cutter.  I came across it the other day while looking for something else, it's unused and I put it away again!

Rotary cutters represent quick quilts to me and though I know that making things quickly is sometimes necessary  it's a wave that has swept over quilting world, well actually it is more of a tsunami!  How many books and magazine articles do you see exhorting you to make a quilt in this or that latest rapid technique?  Absolutely countless! Sadly there is no voice encouraging us to take our time and praising the therapeutic qualities of making things slowly.

Most of us probably have several projects on the go at any one time -  I know I do - so we can make quilts at all different speeds. All my quilts are slow quilts because I cut out with scissors (Yes remember them?) and piece by hand but some are even slower and are only worked on spasmodically when the mood takes me.

The one above has been put on the back burner because I can't decide whether to finish as it is, which would make it a manageable size for quilting or to add another border?  I have three others in a similar state of indecision and I don't know when, or if ever, they will be finished. (Looking at this picture here now I think it needs another border, but what type?)

I don't mind doing things slowly because I don't need quilts, I just love making them, they are my creative outlet and I am extremely lucky to be able to indulge myself and work at the speed that suits me.  Of course I do get frustrated because ideas flow and I know I am running out of time.

Just as a matter of interest,  I saw in the current Quilters Newsletter magazine that the quilt market is now worth $3.58 billion and I think that in just in America. I expect this figure would drop significantly if we all made quilts more slowly!  Maybe this is why we are not encouraged to take our time and make things by hand?


Erica Spinks said...

Hi Mary,
We are on the same wavelength! You may like to check out my blog post

Eve said...

How about a narrow border in red, to pick up the house? I think you're right, it does need something to set it off, but I think there's enough piecing going on already so a nice strong colour might be better just to give it a good frame. The fabric you used for the house looks like it's got about the right level of pattern, or perhaps something a smidgen plainer, but not a solid. Nothing too patterned, though, as you have that lovely big paisley for the main outside border. Red with bits of a darker colour in there could work too.

As for rotary cutters, I too am a hand-quilter and work at a pace most machine quilters think is dotty, although it's surprising how fast you can put things together sometimes. I use scissors for some cutting, e.g. curves or fussy-cutting, and a rotary cutter for the rest. I don't rotary cut in the traditional sense of folding the fabric over and cutting through several layers at once, though. I work out what pieces I need, sketch them on graph paper if need be (especially when I'm trying to get a variety of shapes and sizes out of a quarter-metre and they will only just fit), and then draw them onto the fabric with pencil or soapstone. I make sure the pieces all tile neatly, draw the seam allowances too, and get them into rows as far as possible. This means that it's relatively easy to put down the acrylic ruler (sandpaper dots on the underside and one of those little suction-cup grab rails on the top help hugely) and then zoom along with the rotary cutter. It's still a lot slower than how most people rotary-cut, but I don't waste any fabric, my shapes are dead on, and I can make sure that I'm on grain and so forth. Scissors are quite a bit slower than this method, and tends not to produce such straight lines, plus my hands get achy if I scissor-cut for too long. I will often cut the piece of fabric into strips using the 6"x24" ruler, then switch to the 4"X14" ruler for cutting the strips down into individual pieces.

As for the rest of doing things slowly, I do keep meaning to learn how to use a sewing machine some time, mainly because I love the effects machine quilters can get (have you seen Leah Day's free-motion 365 project?), but for piecing I think it would just feel wrong. I love the physical process of sewing, and I really need something visual to do while I'm listening to audiobooks (I have odd eyes and can't really read any more) otherwise I get fidgety. I don't mind learning techniques that speed up how I sew, though. Jinny Beyer's piecing technique made a big difference to me, the way she gets multiple stitches on the needle each time. Well, at least some of it, I do draw in the seam lines and check that I'm sewing on it on the back, but then I often do quite tricky piecing. Which is another thing which I prize doing by hand: I once sewed a shell quilt where the centre of the shell had curved pieces about 1/2" x 1/4", and you could never do that by machine. I'll quite happily tackle (well, with grumbling, they're still not the easiest) S-curves and inset pieces and corners and all the rest of it, which I gather are a nightmare by machine.

Eve said...

It's funny, everyone draws the line somewhere. Here I am, sewing much slower than most people think is worthwhile, and spending ages making and marking up freezer paper templates for more complex piecing (Ruth McDowell method), but I cannot for the life of me understand how people can be bothered with English piecing over papers, especially since you really don't need all that fuss just for something easy like a hexagon. But then a friend of mine says she can do whip stitch much faster than she can do running stitch (it's the opposite for me), so maybe it's just that.

The whole "slowing down the pace of life" thing doesn't appeal to me, but then I'm housebound due to disability and have been forced to slow down rather more than anyone would want! I do like having the time to think my way through a project, though. I should probably do the odd quickie just to see whether it loosens up my creativity, but generally I really like having the time to think through every stage as much as I want. It's a lovely meditative process. My partner is quite used to asking me sleepily, "What are you thinking?" last thing at night, and getting the answer, "Patterns for that baby quilt..."

Lynn S said...

Mary, your quilt is stunning! I agree, if you elect to add anything--have it be red for red is a color that draws the eye. Your border on your blog is red. I am so excited about your pending book. I live in Louisiana USA--but feel a connection to the beautiful quilts of your region and I love handquilting.

Anonymous said...

Just because one uses a rotary cutter doesn't mean, a priori, that one cannot do slow, careful handwork. I use a rotary cutter by preference for my hand work 'cause it doesn't hurt my hands. Also because I can be more accurate easily with rotary cutter and ruler than with scissors and templates.


Karmen said...

Bless you! I just finished a hand-quilting project I started 32 years ago, so I am MUCH to slow to continue doing things only by hand. I enjoy mixing hand and machine work. We must not lose the connection to traditional techniques. Karmen

artymess said...

Yes I totally agree ....when I teach i find that my pupils try to draw and stitch at lightening speed then are not satisfied with the result ..(it's the instant gratification society that we live in I think )..i have brought in TYT to my lessons....Take Your Time has started to work ...

Anonymous said...

Hello Mary, I also make my quilts at a slow speed using scissors and hand piecing, for me that is the enjoyment of the process! I also agree that a thin border would look great, maybe even a stripe or check. Ann

Meredith said...

I think the quilt would look great with another border. A large red floral? I sometimes like wide floral borders on quilts. I was once referred as the local Luddite in the local quilt store because all of the "time consuming work" I do by hand. They were referring to my hand appliqué and hand quilting. It did not bother me at all. I do not feel moved to make 12 modern (square in square) quilts in a month. To each his own. What I get from hand applique and hand quilting is pretty hard to replace with anything else.

I think your post could be applied to all of the U.S. not just in quilting. I do own a machine and a rotary cutter. Both of them were bought by my husband and I do use them. :)

Miriam said...

I am another one who uses scissors and a needle and thread. I make plastic templates and cut out with scissors with almost all of my quilts. I love working with fabric and creating. Some things just can't be rushed.
I have tried cutting out long strips with a rotary cutter, but it still sets me on edge having that sharp blade rushing so close to my fingers!!
I too would love the hand process to go faster so I can finish something and get on to the next quilt. Sometimes I get on my sewing machine and make something small in a day or 2 to satisfy the urge to get something finished.

Eve said...

Miriam, you said:

I have tried cutting out long strips with a rotary cutter, but it still sets me on edge having that sharp blade rushing so close to my fingers!!

The blade shouldn't be anywhere near your fingers. How are you using the rotary cutter? How are you holding down your quilting ruler, and how wide is it? I rotary cut using a 6" x 24" ruler and put a grab handle, the sort attached by suction pads, on top. You can cut perfectly safely without the handle, but I have muscular problems and it's much easier on my hands this way.

Little Welsh Quilts and other traditions said...

Thank you everyone for all your detailed comments, it was lovely to have so many and I take them all on board. It is also nice to know that I am not alone in believing that making things slowly is the way to go!

Bertie said...

Great to hear that scissors are ok to use, I do and yes it takes longer but it's so relaxing.
Again a wonderful quilt :))

Vivienne at Vivebooks said...

So interesting Mary - I've tweeted this one!

Sarah said...

Count me in as another hand stitcher and scissor user.
I really like the flexibility of this way of working, it means I can sit and watch tv while hacking away at bits of fabric with some scissors. It may be a bit rough but once basted to a paper patch it looks fine.
If the original templates are cut accurately then everything else can be done without too much thought.

Although I still have to unpick the occasional bit if the telly got too interesting!