Quilts From The Scrap Basket

Being a quilt-maker, my home is filled with quilts — finished quilts and quilts in progress. My first full-size quilt was made when I was 21 years old and within a few years, I knew that I had found a lifelong hobby.  Like so many other quilt-makers have discovered, the process and the finished quilt is relaxing and exciting, beautiful and yet pragmatic.

A Four Square Design

My Mother was a quilter, and my Grandmother before her. My Grandfather’s twin sister was also a quilter and she made money selling her hand-stitched quilts in the backwoods of West Virginia. Two of my sons made small quilted wallhangings and now one of my Granddaughters wants to learn how to sew and quilt. Quilting has become a family tradition and since quilts have a special beauty and functionality in a home, passing the quilts and quilting tradition on through the family is a personal pleasure.

Moms Log Cabin

A useful, even beautiful, handmade quilt crafted from bits of cloth that once served another purpose can keep someone warm or comfortable when needed. A quilt might not even be made for warmth but for a design element in a decorated room. No matter what the purpose, most people are drawn to a handmade quilt. Many of us have family ties to quilting and there are family stories about gift quilts or old quilts that have been passed down through the generations.

Jacobs Ladder, Restored

Quilts are an American beauty.

Skyline Album Quilt

Quilts serve so many purposes — they can be constructed as a Summer throw, or as a quilt to ward off Autumn’s chill, or even as a thick comforter quilt to warm the body on a cold Winter night. The thickness of a quilt and the quilt’s ability to provide warmth depend upon the filler — the inner quilt batting. Batting can be cotton, a cotton blend, wool, or polyester. Quilt batting can also be made of silk, although silk is very expensive and very thin.

Quilts can also contain unusual filler material like an older, worn quilt. I have two quilts that contain older quilts and was intrigued at my discovery. But I am not interested in tearing apart the newer quilt that covers them just to find the inner quilt. Here is one of those quilts, an antique quilt made with the patchwork design known as Churn Dash:

Antique Churn Dash

Quilts were fairly common in early America but true patchwork quilts first became popular in the 1800s. This style of quilt design is still popular with quilters. Patchwork quilts were originally made as a way to use discarded and worn out clothing. These quilts were meant to be functional as blankets but their patchwork designs and beauty did not go unnoticed. Made from fabric scraps left over from sewing and gathered fabric bits, scraps and strips, many patchwork quilts became works of beauty.

Quiltmakers today still use traditional patchwork quilt designs that were popular in the 1800s. These are my own scrappy Nine Patch scrap blocks:

Nine Patch BlocksI made hundreds of those Nine Patch blocks for a large King-size bed quilt. Here is the quilt top being stitched:

Nine Patch WIPSo the large Nine Patch quilt was made with patchwork scraps — small 2-inch squares of scrap fabrics added to squares of a basic white fabric. A few of those fabrics came from blouses that I had worn in high school. Yes, quiltmakers keep fabric scraps stashed away for decades. :-)

Scrappy patchwork quilts begin with leftover cotton fabrics from the scrapbasket, or from fabrics that have been handed down or given to the quilter. Traditionally, quilts were made with scrap fabrics or remnants of cloth. Fabrics were traded among women and even remembered as once being a shirt or a dress.

Scraps of Cut TrianglesQuiltmaking goes well with frugality and a person’s interest in saving and recycling. Many quilters enjoy knowing that their art (or craft) has come from frugal beginnings.  Fabrics are also purchased for quilt-making, although most patchwork quilts have been made from scraps and leftover sections of fabrics originally purchased for clothing. This Pinwheel quilt was made with scraps and leftovers but the outer border cotton fabric was purchased:

Pastel Pinwheels

My favorite quilts have always been patchwork quilts made with scraps of fabrics. Patchwork quilts — the scrap quilts — stitched from leftover fabric scraps or bit of cotton salvaged from an old shirt or dress are the quilts I appreciate most.

Antique Patchwork Quilt Tops

Most patchwork tells a story that can include the origin of the fabrics, the choice of the patchwork designs used, or even the quilting designs stitching the quilt layers together. Antique patchwork has appealed to me so much that I have purchased quilts needing repair, unfinished antique tops, and antique patchwork blocks to finish. They have always been a real joy to stitch and there has been a sincere appreciation when repairing or completing the handwork of a quilter from yesteryear.

Nine Patch With Mourning Prints

A quiltmaker’s ability to transform fabric scraps into patterned beauty has spanned centuries. A patchwork quilt, born of necessity, provides the quiltmaker with a means to practice frugality while also enjoying the art and craft of home decoration.


Through women’s diaries left behind and our old history books, we learn that quiltmakers of long ago had a special connection with fabrics. Alice Morse Earle (1851-1911), the first American historian to chronicle everyday life in the Colonial era, wrote:

The feminine love of color, the longing for decoration, as well as pride in skill of needle-craft, found riotous expansion in quilt-piecing. A thrifty economy, too, a desire to use up all the fragments and bits of stuffs which were necessarily cut out in the shaping, chiefly of women’s and children’s garments, helped to make the patchwork a satisfaction. The amount of labor, of careful fitting, neat piecing, and elaborate quilting, the thousands of stitches that went into one of these patchwork quilts, are to-day almost painful to regard…

A sense of the idealization of quilt-piecing is given also by the quaint descriptive names applied to the various patterns. Of those the “Rising-sun,” “Log Cabin,” and “Job’s Trouble” are perhaps the most familiar. “Job’s Trouble” was simply honeycomb or hexagonal blocks. “To set a Job’s Trouble,” was to cut out an exact hexagon for a pattern (preferably from tin, otherwise from firm cardboard); to cut out from this many hexagons in stiff brown paper or letter paper. These were covered with the bits of calico with the edges turned under; the sides were sewed carefully together over and over, till a firm expanse permitted the removal of the papers. (1)

Hexagon Doll Quilt, Antique c.1810Quiltmaking continues now, with more interest and passion than America has ever known. There’s just something about a quilt…

Starz Of Blue
(1) Alice Morse Earle, Home Life In Colonial Days. (New York: Macmillan Co., 1898), pp. 271-272.

Making The Best of A Cold Winter

The cold Arctic weather moved in as a permanent resident so we didn’t have a choice — we made the best of a very cold Winter.

Wit Being GorgeousWe’ve spent as much time indoors as possible because single-digit temperatures are too cold to enjoy. Here in the Shenandoah Valley, we’ve had a crazy mix of sleet, ice, and snow for most of the Winter season.

For some, snow means nothing more than having fun.

Run Tanner RunThere’s something to be said about snow and how children and dogs make the very best of a day with snow. But the school kids have been home so many days that they’ll be finishing the school year in July.

Sledding In The BackAround here, it’s been a White Winter — an Arctic Winter, of sorts. We’ve seen beautiful blue sky days where the snowy white pastures and snow-covered trees gave us reason to pause at the beauty around us. And we’ve seen the treacherous days where the ice storms have given us glass to walk upon when doing chores.  Two weeks ago, we had a snow storm with 10 inches of snow and no electricity for about 4 hours. Snow is pretty, but we’re anxious for some warmer weather.

Another SnowSo we’ve been making the best of a cold winter, despite the extra work involved with all of the snow or ice-coverings. In addition to the plowing and shoveling, we have had many extra trips to check on all the animals. Dressing for the chores this Winter has meant taking more time to dress in layers to stay warm, too. And the wet boots, gloves, and outerwear means they all need to be warmed up and dried by the fire for the next trip outside.

At this point, these routines have become more frequent and have normalized. This Arctic Winter has been filled with extra trips outside to check on the goats, rabbits, and chickens.  Chipping frozen ice out of their water buckets and bowls is carried out a few more times each day. All of the critters enjoy the warm water I carry to them and they all gather around as I pour their fresh water, each taking a turn to sip.

Goat GirlsThe extended cold weather has meant extra work to keep the house warm, too. We’ve burned through 4 cords of wood already.  The faithful wood stove has had quite the workout this season and we are so grateful for the warmth it provides. There is nothing like the comfortable, honest warmth a roaring fire brings to the soul.

With all of the Arctic Winter weather conditions, I’ve been mostly home bound. I’ve had ample time to sew, mend, organize, cook, and read. I have stayed close to the fire when I’m able to, so I’ve stayed warm.  And the deep cold of the Winter season has provided the necessary quiet time to grieve the loss of my son. Staying busy and focused has helped tremendously, as has the loving support of my family and my best friend and Mother, also struggling with her own grief and loss of her grandson. We cry, we talk, we remember — and we push ourselves onward, trying to get by and get on, even with this very cold Winter.

One household project I needed to tackle was my very messy sewing and craft room. It took many, many hours to to re-organize and deeply clean this room — and it’s done. I added in a few small storage cabinets to hold scrapbooking and card-making supplies and papers. And I reorganized my fabrics so that my rug hooking wools now have a few shelves, instead of being folded into spare baskets. The sewing and craft room has become a favorite place for my granddaughter — she loves to create!

And since I also love to create, I’ve been busy sewing. Several new pillows have been crafted from cotton patchwork, a few home-made cotton pillowcases have been stitched, and some new white cotton dresser drawer liners were sewn. Everything was made with fabrics on hand (I have quite the cotton fabric stash, trust me!).

Making Pillowcases

I am still making patchwork blocks from my late son’s cotton shirts. And now that I have more than a dozen patchwork blocks for the quilt, I am able to envision how the quilt top will be assembled and how I’ll sew the borders. I am planning an applique vine with leaves.

A small memory wallhanging from these same shirts was made for my late son’s best friend, Tom, who is struggling hard with loss and grief. The wallhanging was made with the same patchwork block.

Wallhanging From His ShirtsThere is no outdoor gardening yet. The ground is still frozen.  And the greenhouse remains closed due to the Arctic Winter here. So at this point, a shelf in our dining room gives us some much-needed greenery. I have started flats of seedlings, including some pepper and tomato seeds that I started early, hoping for an early yield. This week, I will seed more flats but they will be started in the house where it is much warmer than the greenhouse is right now.

I hope the weather warms so we can open the greenhouse and get the water up and running. We are looking forward to the 2014 garden and Spring.

Stitching Patchwork From His Shirts

Most of my departed son’s clothing was gathered and brought here, to his childhood home. Though we are in the process of dividing up his belongings, I have kept most of his clothing. With more than 50 button-down shirts, I knew I would need to make at least one quilt with those shirts.

Quilts are often constructed of patchwork that has come from used or discarded clothing. It is not uncommon to make a memory quilt to celebrate a loved one who has passed away. And it’s not uncommon to stitch a passage quilt as a way to work through grief while being constructive.

I made my first large quilt when I was 21 years of age. I am now 59. At this point in my life, I have quilted more years than I haven’t. Making a quilt from my departed son’s clothing is not surprising to anyone who knows me. Many phases of my life are stitched into my quilts and this patchwork quilt from my son’s shirts will be stitching through another phase — the hardest phase I have ever faced.

So I have about 50 cotton shirts. His shirts defined his appearance. And they smell just as he always did. I have always admired his shirts —  they were all thrift-store purchases and great frugal bargains. He rarely purchased anything new, opting for recycled or used items. And now, his shirts will be reused yet again, with a different purpose. And he wouldn’t be surprised at my doing this.

Cotton ShirtsBut I find myself struggling as I hold these shirts. It is difficult to cut shapes or even sew.  I have to go slowly and focus intently or my mind wanders. Or the tears come. Or I am bombarded with unrelenting questions. But this is all part of the grief process and my changed life path, so I continue on. Each day is confusing — perhaps the stripes and plaids I am sewing will serve as the reminder of the impact of chaos and irregular motions that transform life as we believe to know it.

Stitching patchwork from his shirts, I am discovering, is bittersweet.

Patchwork From ShirtsSome day the patchwork quilt I have begun to stitch will be finished. And through the process, the fabrics and the stitches will hopefully help me heal. Some day, I believe the quilt will give me — give us — warmth and comfort. And maybe some day this quilt will give me the feeling that I am being hugged by my boy again. For now, though, making this quilt provides an opportunity to be productive, even through grief.

Repairing The Family Pinwheel Quilt

MamseyElizabeth G. Delozier (July 21, 1903 – Jan 21, 1996) was my husband’s grandmother. She was  known to her family as Mamsey.  She was a strong, hard-working, devoted woman who lived in a farming community in eastern Maryland. She was very self-reliant, frugal, and lived off the land.

Mamsey had a pioneer spirit with a sprinkle of renegade in her.  I have gotten to know her through her legacy of handwork and the larger-than-life stories that my husband has shared with me.

Back in the 1950s, when her grandchildren were very small, she made Pinwheel quilts for the oldest granddaughter, Phyllis, and also for the twin grandsons, Kenneth and Steven.  These quilts were used back then — slept under, drug around, washed and rewashed. Each of these 3 Pinwheel quilts are now in their own homes, stored away to pass on to the next generation.

Shaw Pinwheel QuiltsMamsey’s Pinwheel Quilts (c.1955) vary slightly in size, but the quilts have all been made with many of the same cotton fabrics. The Pinwheel quilts were made for Mamsey’s grandchildren and were used when they visited and stayed overnight with Mamsey.

Evidently the kids loved to spend the night with Mamsey and PapPaw, their grandfather. They didn’t live far away, but their bare-to-the-bones hand-to-mouth lifestyle was different from the home where the grandchildren lived. The kids knew this and enjoyed the farm and old-fashioned lifestyle that their grandparents lived.  Mamsey and PapPaw raised all of their own foods, they didn’t have indoor plumbing, and there wasn’t any form of heat or cooking except for the wood cook stove and the woodstove in the main parlor area.  There were pigs and cows and chickens and outbuildings to hang out in.  There was even a tin can dump-area to toss rocks into.

When Mamsey set out to make the three Pinwheel quilts, she rummaged in her scrap basket and stash of cotton fabrics that she had collected over the years. The Pinwheel quilts were all made with cotton feedsacks and a variety of cotton fabric scraps.

Each of the Pinwheel quilts was filled with used blanket waddings rather than cotton batting because that’s what she had on hand. The quilt backs were a solid shade of denim-blue cotton. The quilt layers were all hand-tied with a white 3-twist cotton thread. The blocks were machine stitched, and the quilt top was assembled by machine. The quilt bindings were machine-stitched back-to-front.

One of the Pinwheel quilts was in very poor condition. I volunteered to restore this quilt, which meant repairing the quilt, too. The quilt layers were taken apart so that the disintegrating filler could be replaced with a thin cotton batting that might have been used at the time the quilt was originally made by Mamsey.

About 10 patchwork sections needed to be replaced so feedsack cottons of the same era were used. The triangular patchwork pieces used from these cottons were appliqued on top of the damaged patchwork pieces of fabrics, preserving the original fabrics underneath.Pinwheel Quilt Repaired

When the quilt top was finished and the quilt was ready to reassemble, a new quilt backing was selected, matching the original shade of denim-blue originally used. After the quilt was hand-tied, and the binding was sewn, the Pinwheel Quilt was almost finished.

A quilt label was made for this Pinwheel quilt, naming the quiltmaker, Elizabeth G. Delozier. The other 2 Pinwheel Quilts also have quilt labels now, too, preserving these family heirlooms for another generation.

A Quilt On The Line

We’ve had some warm weather recently. It’s been a nice change. In weather like this, I enjoy being outside. Yesterday I washed a pink Log Cabin quilt my Mother gave to me. She made this one back in the 1970s.

Hanging on the clothesline, the quilt appears to be almost transparent.

Quilt Drying On The Line

Sometimes the clothesline is filled with colorful cloth and it always makes the day just a bit brighter.