Category: Vintage fabrics

Apr 26

The Stitch Society* apron

 

 

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An array of aprons c/o The Stitch Society*

 

I’ve been on a quest for the perfect apron for a while now, and I think I’ve found a compelling solution in The Stitch Society*‘s offerings. It seemed appropriate to share details during Fashion Revolution Week when we push for fairer conditions in the garment trade.

I caught up with The Stitch Society*’s Charlotte Meek at the Selvedge Fair at the Assembly Rooms in Bath last month.

 

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Charlotte Meek of The Stitch Society* at the Selvedge Fair in Bath

 

All her aprons are individually crafted here in the UK, from robust materials and often using remnants for pocket linings, and vintage buttons to secure the straps. They’re soulful labours of love, equally perfect for the artisan maker, or just in the kitchen or craft room at home.

So, I had to come home with one.

 

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Delightful packaging – with matching pouch and ‘Friend of The Stitch Society*’ badge

 

Here’s what I love about it:

  • Robust striped twill
  • Deep, capacious pocket – lined with a remnant of fabric, in this case a vintage piece of Liberty from Charlotte’s own family scrap-bag
  • Made sustainably/fairly here in Yorkshire (‘God’s own county’, they say), UK
  • a 10-year no quibble repair guarantee

Yes, Charlotte (who loves mending) will take your apron back any time to fix it for you.

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Vintage Liberty remnant lining pocket

 

But, if you’d rather make your own apron, you can also buy their pattern here.

When it comes to sustainable, soulful aprons, I think The Stitch Society* has really got it all covered. I’m looking forward to wearing this one out. She’s called ‘Martha’, incidentally, and is dubbed ‘the workshorse of the range’. Perfect. I’ll be proudly wearing her for my next darning workshops (early June and early July) at A Yarn Story.

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Ready for work

 

Check out The Stitch Society site for further apron details.

 

 

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Jan 05

In with the old

 

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Floral scrap from a 1979 Sanderson furnishing cotton called ‘Border Incident’

 

Happy new year! You’ll find this a largely resolution-free, reflection-empty zone, which may come as some relief. It’s going to be a full-on 2016 for me, and I won’t have much time or opportunity for making. But I do need to carve out a little stitching in order to preserve my wellbeing. Rather than rushing headlong into something new, I’ve decided to finish some of the things I’ve already started. And this old hexagon patchwork quilt top is top of my list.

I started it, oh, twenty-something years ago, and can’t quite remember why the project lost steam – something to do with having children, perhaps…? Culled from 228 scraps (so far) of mostly vintage furnishing fabric (Sanderson etc) interspersed with rows of unbleached calico, it’s been packed away in three house-moves and lived deep inside a box for much of that time. I had it draped over one side of our sofa for a while (see below), the backing papers still basted in place around the edges, waiting patiently for the stalled process of precision tessellation to resume. And there it sat for another year or two. Well, enough’s enough; if this baby could talk, it would be crooning this little number at me.

 

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Slung for years over a sofa, unfinished

 

Those who’ve tried the very traditional method of English pieced patchwork (or EPP, also known as mosaic patchwork) can confirm that this kind of stitching is a slow and painstaking business. There’s no rushing it.  You have to take it just one piece at a time, cutting out your backing papers accurately, then covering each one with fabric, folding the edges over smartly to get those sharp, precise sides as you baste/tack them down in order to create the best possible fit between pieces. But joining each hexagon to its neighbour – seam by hand-stitched seam, two together with right sides facing – is simple and pleasantly mindless once you get going.

Or possibly mindful.

As more and more practitioners are pointing out, slow hand-sewing of seams brings its therapeutic rewards. Whipstitching hexagons together is a very absorbing, relaxing thing to do. For me, it works wonderfully to dispel anxiety and level my mood. And for those hung up on ‘wasting time’ (and who therefore might not go for a colouring book, say), EPP is ultimately a productive process too – if you ever get around to finishing whatever you’re making, that is…

It’s worth pointing out here that there is a certain leeway in the creative EPP process – it can be totally ‘hap’ and random: a pure product of the hand-stitched moment, joining piece to piece as you happen to pick them up. Or you can focus on a meticulous and fussy-cut result, carefully selecting fabric colour and design and pattern placement, forming your hexagons into clusters of rosettes etc – as I’ve tried to do here. 

Here’s the backstory. When I started this project, I wanted to create something that looked a couple of hundred years old – at a superficial glance, anyway. I was studying patchwork history at the time, and this kind of patchwork goes back to the earliest documented days of the English craft in the 18th century. This was also during IKEA’s ‘Chuck out your chintz’ period, so – because I’m perennially contrarian – I think I probably made this as a direct, defiant response. I don’t remember being influenced by any particular quilt, but by an amalgam of fabrics and 18th and 19th century styles. I wanted to convey something of that time when the new printed cottons were so treasured that your middle-class leisured lady patchworker would want to make the very most of every scrap and display each motif to optimum dazzling effect. And then I re-found my diary from 2011, with a distinctive V&A quilt on the cover which looks very, very similar to mine. But the diary was obviously produced many years after I’d started this quilt. It’s possible that I could have spotted the same one in a book somewhere and filed it away in my subconscious. Anyway, it was very spooky to note the similarity. There’s more about that particular quilt (which is dated 1797-1852) over on the V&A site.

Back to the business of finishing, as I said, I have 228 pieces joined together, including 19 seven-hexagon rosettes. I estimate that about 500 pieces will be needed in total (and another 20 or so rosettes) to create something close to a full-sized quilt top. I’m setting myself the goal of adding just one hexagon a day, which (at the moment) seems manageable. I’ll try to come back with periodic updates. There are more pictures of my quilt so far over on my Instagram feed.

What kind of unfinished craft business do you have lying around? What do you think prevents you from completing it? And what is stopping you from ditching it altogether? If you’d like to join me this year in completing something you started a while back, do leave a comment and, if relevant, a blog/social media link below. I’ll be happy to cheerlead and provide encouragement. 😀

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Floral motif (maker unknown) from my 25-year-old unfinished quilt top

 

 

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Aug 27

A nifty fifty

 

There’s no getting away from it. I’m 50. Well, how on earth did that happen…?

I’ve rounded the corner and am most definitely vintage now: absolutely midway between BNWT (that’s ‘brand new with tags’) and antique. But I’m holding up pretty well, though I say so myself. If I had to grade my condition as an antiquarian book, I might flatter myself with a VG (very good): my spine is still straight, nobody has scribbled on me, but I’m looking a little careworn, my edges bumped. You don’t live this long without collecting a few knocks.

There seem to be several approaches to facing these bigger, rounder numbers which I’ll summarise as:

( Read more )

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Nov 16

Support SecondhandFirst Week

 

 

SecondhandFirst Week

SecondhandFirst Week

 

Tomorrow (today if you’re reading this on the email feed) marks the first day of #SECONDHANDFIRST Week, 17-23 November 2014.

The week aims to encourage people to commit to sourcing more clothing and other resources second hand. It’s organised by TRAID, the charity doing tireless work to ensure sustainable and ethical practices in the clothing chain. It’s hoped that this will become an annual event.

Here in Bath, the Big Mend is delighted to be acting as a partner organisation, and we’ve arranged one of our Flash Mend events* in Bath Central Library on Monday 17th November. We’d love it if you’d join us any time from 1-4pm with some hand-held mending: darning would be ideal as we’ll be hoping to quietly impart mending skills to passing library users. If you’re in Bath and would like a quick darning lesson, come down and say hello, pick up a darning mushroom and try out some stitches with us.

Here are ways you can support the week:

 

Flash mend event

A Big Mend Flash Mend event

 

*Mass mending events in public places

 

 

 

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Sep 05

Closed for repairs

 

This poor, neglected blog is having its innards looked at. The content is broken, the ideas ragged, and (unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective) the author is run off her feet doing other work and simply doesn’t have the time to look under the bonnet.

Until it’s up and running again, here is a pretty bundle of mending materials to gaze upon. Thank you for your patience, and could you please pass me that screwdriver… ?

 

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Mending bundle

 

 

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Mar 25

Mend with Mother

 

 

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Mend with Ma this Wednesday

 

The Big Mend this month will have a Mother’s Day theme. So there’ll be FREE CAKE for all mums this Wednesday 26th March at the Museum of Bath at Work, Julian Road, Bath7-9pm.

We’d also love it if you’d come along and share your mending memories with us. Memories of watching things repaired at mother’s knee, perhaps; memories of Granny darning, maybe. We will be beginning to record mending memories in our imaginatively titled Mending Memories Notebook and warmly invite you to add yours.

I’m aware that many of us don’t have mothers (myself included) but I hope that won’t deter anyone from coming; there’ll be FREE CAKE for motherless souls too… :*-)

If you are in or near Bath and haven’t attended one of the Big Mend sessions, here’s how it works. We always meet on the last Wednesday of the month to tackle whatever’s in our mending pile – or, at least, a small portion of it. Tools and materials* are laid on, as far as possible, though you might want to bring along matching thread, or the perfect button, if you’re picky about such things. Or your sewing kit, if you’re attached to your particular needles, sewing scissors etc. There’ll be advice and suggestions on how you might go about your textile repair, if you’re stuck. We don’t charge, as such, but ask a minimum £2 donation to help cover the museum’s costs.

The more is most definitely the merrier, so if you like the idea then please share this post with someone else who you think might appreciate it. Thanks. Oh, did I mention the FREE CAKE?

 

*we’re always happy to accept donations of sewing tools, haberdashery or scrap materials that we can use for textile repairs. If you have anything that you think might be suitable, please get in touch.

 

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Feb 23

Scrap of the week #36

 

Here are several scraps sneaking in together as #36.

I was delighted to have a huge bagful of fabric scraps donated recently for use by the Big Mend. Here are just a few, washed and pressed and ready to go. There’s a ’70s duvet cover (purple flowers), ’70s pillow case (yellow flowers) and an old tablecloth (brown flowers). All of these had been carved up for the upcycling exploits of the previous owner. Underneath that is a length of late ’60s/early ’70s furnishing fabric. They will all be available to use for patching at our skills-sharing repair socials (or sewcials, if you like a cutesy handle).

The Big Mend sessions are open to everyone and anyone to come along with their mending pile and get guidance on how to work repairs. I give my time and skills freely (as do all the generous people who help me run the events). We see all sorts of people turning up to do everything from sewing on a button to repairing the seat of their favourite jeans. Tools and materials are mostly laid on gratis, again by yours truly. Which is why it’s particularly lovely to receive supportive gifts such as these. All we ask of attenders is a very small donation.

Did you know that you should always pre-wash fabrics* before using them to patch clothes or linens? At least, for anything that you intend to wash once it’s repaired. If not, the patch will likely shrink and detach from the garment it has been applied to. Such textile-repair wisdom was once commonplace, so much so that Jesus used it as an analogy in a parable to explain how he saw the meeting point of the old and new kingdoms:

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:16-17

So, pre-wash your patching fabrics. You heard it here last.

 

*at least, when using natural fabrics – polyester, nylon etc won’t be so prone to shrinkage

 

The next Big Mend session at the Museum of Bath at Work takes place on Wednesday 26th February, 7-9pm. Besides these fabrics, there will be various materials to try your hand at working golden mends

We could always do with more sewing materials and tools, so if you happen to have anything you can donate to continue our skill-sharing in the community, please get in touch. Thank you.

 

Scraps for patching repairs

Patch-worthy scraps for the Big Mend

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Feb 17

Art by the yard

 

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Lanz dress featuring Picasso fabric, 1955

 

I’m standing in front of a red dress by Lanz of California, 1955. Featuring nipped-in bodice, square neckline, half-length sleeves, gathered mid-length skirt and a dainty white lace trim, it has an approachable Sound-of-Music quality. On closer inspection, the white-scribble printed cotton carries the distinctive mark-making of Pablo Picasso.

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Lanz dress using Picasso ‘Notes’ fabric

 

A few yards away is another 1955 dress, this one with a bolder fish design, also by Picasso. The streamlined chic cut is signature Claire McCardle, the doyenne of modern American fashion.

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Claire McCardle dress for Townleys using Picasso ‘Fish’ fabric

 

Astonishingly, these special dresses aren’t behind glass. I could (but wouldn’t) touch. In the low light I lean in to examine the texture of the cotton fabrics. To think that these were designed by Picasso himself. Not a design interpreted by someone else from his painting, but actively intended by the maestro to be roller-printed onto cotton textile. And then worn by ordinary everyday people, everywhere.

I’m at Artist Textiles: Picasso to Warhol, a new exhibition tracing the history of 20th century art in textiles. The location is Zandra Rhodes‘ Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey, South London. Artist Textiles showcases over 200 rare items, a lot from the private collection of guest curators Geoff Rayner and Richard Chamberlain. It’s a rare opportunity to see these works as many have not been on public display before. And the roll call is extraordinary: Georges Braque, Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí, Sonia Delaunay, Raoul Dufy, Barbara Hepworth, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso, Ben Nicholson and Andy Warhol.

Picasso cotton scarf, 1951

Picasso cotton scarf designed for the Berlin Peace Festival, 1951

 

Art by the yard was what Dan Fuller of New York-based Fuller Fabrics had in mind when he launched his Modern Masters project. His vision: to sell fashion yardage by famous artists on a mass scale for just $1.50 to $2 a yard. He managed to secure an extraordinary group of modern painters including Picasso (who jumped on board, it seems, because the project dovetailed with his own political belief that art should be accessible to the masses), Joan Miró, Fernand Leger, Marc Chagall and Raoul DufyHere’s a 1955 print designed by Joan Miró, entitled ‘Farmer’s Dinner’. The maker of the dress isn’t specified.

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Dress from Miro fabric, Fuller Fabrics, 1955

 

Again, it’s good to be able to get close to these textiles.

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Joan Miro textile design ‘Farmer’s Dinner’

 

You can’t cover the subject of fine artists and textile design without mentioning nineteenth century English artist, political theorist and textile designer William Morris. Morris saw the production and mass marketing of textiles as a way to combat the elitist tendency of art: “I do not want art for a few, any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few.” Into the early 20th century, the Fauvists, Futurists and Constructivists took up textile design, graphic design and book illustration as legitimate – in fact, important – areas for their artistic endeavour.

 

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But the story told by this exhibition effectively starts in the 1940s when the relationship between artists and textiles became particularly close and fruitful, paving the way for Fuller and others.

With post-war Britain on its knees, textiles were central to national recovery efforts. An export drive was directed with the American market very much in mind. Zika Ascher, the London manufacturer of luxury textiles, cajoled Henri Matisse and Henry Moore into designing scarves and fashion yardage to aid the recovering couture industry. It wasn’t necessarily an easy sell; Picasso turned him down, and Matisse didn’t say yes straight away. This little film, Fame in Fabric, made by Pathé in 1945, shows Ascher searching galleries for suitable artwork, gives a glimpse of the screen-printing process, and shows some of the finished textiles and scarves being modelled. 

 

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Henry Moore scarf featuring standing figures, Ascher Ltd, 1940s

 

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, New York textile converter Wesley Simpson Custom Fabrics captured the zeitgeist in a confident, post-war, modernist America, engaging several prominent Surrealists including Dalí and the Franco-Hungarian painter and graphic designer, Marcel Vertes to create a range of headscarves. Dalí’s c.1947 design, ‘Number Please?’, used artwork originally created for a 1946 Disney cartoon, Destino. The film was never released.

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Dali design produced by Wesley Simpson, c. 1946-7

 

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‘Flower Heads’ design by Marcel Vertes

 

Back in Britain, long-established Lancashire cotton goods manufacture Horrockses Crewdson & Company Ltd  set up fashion subsidiary Horrockses Fashions in 1946. It snapped up British artists’ offerings, including designs by Alastair Morton and Graham Sutherland. In the 1950s, the Horrockses dress came to epitomise the English cotton summer frock, worn by everyone including the Queen, Princess Margaret, and prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn. 

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Horrockses Fashions’ frocks

 

I was taken by the snowdrop print. Interesting that it was used horizontally.

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Horrockses’ snowdrops print

 

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Horrockses dress

 

Perhaps my favourite design of all featured was this 1951 fashion border print designed by Ken Scott. Entitled ‘A Fish is A Fish is A Fish’, it looks remarkably fresh and modern.

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‘A Fish is a Fish is a Fish’ by Ken Scott, c. 1951

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‘A Fish is a FIsh is a Fish’ by Ken Scott

 

Upstairs at the exhibition, the story continues into the 1960s. In 1963, two major Picasso projects launched; one for White Stag après-skiwear, one for Bloomcraft Fabrics, producers of furnishing textiles. A Look magazine feature (December 1963) about the Bloomcraft project  claimed, slightly mischievously, that the maestro’s designs were suitable for every form of interior decoration except upholstery: “Picassos may be leant against, but not sat on.”

 

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Bold Picasso designs for Bloomcraft Fabrics, 1963

There was so much more upstairs, but I had Sarah Campbell’s talk to get to – which will fill another post – so I whizzed past the Andy Warhols.

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Andy Warhol print, ‘Bright Butterflies’

 

And zipped past an appealing section of whimsical New York book illustrations. On a day of transport disruption  (I’d walked from Paddington to Charing Cross to catch the overland train to Bermondsey – greater love hath not textile-phile), I was drawn to this 1952 border print, ‘Paddington Station’ by Saul Steinberg. Not so far off the real thing, though the trains have changed. This would make a cracking skirt for the First Great Western corporate summer uniform, don’t you think?

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‘Paddington Station’ border print by Saul Steinberg

 

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‘Paddington Station’ – a 1952 design by Saul Steinberg

 

Back soon with a write-up of the Sarah Campbell‘s talk. It will feature work From Start to Finish, an exhibition of the prolific textile designer’s recent work (post 2011) which will be also be on display at the Fashion and Textiles Museum for the duration of  Artist Textiles.

 

Artist Textiles: Picasso to Warhol runs until 17th May 2014 at the Fashion and Textile Museum, 83 Bermondsey Street, Bermondsey, London, SE1 3XF. Nearest overland train station: London Bridge. The museum has a pleasant cafe, Teapod@FTM, offering a selection of hand-made cakes, salads, soups and stews. FTM also has a shop selling products by up-and-coming design talent, plus vintage and new fashion-related books.

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Jan 14

Scrap of the week #35

 

Boussac fabric samples

1993 Boussac fabric samples

Boussac furnishing sample, ‘Tsunami’, 1993, New York

 

I have a stylist friend in New York who understands my passion for fabric scraps. When I visited her in 1993, she presented me with a huge stack of rectangular home furnishing samples jettisoned from the Third Avenue offices of French textile company, Boussac. Such treasures! I had to buy an extra case to get them home.

 

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Third Avenue scraps – nothing but the best!

 

Poignant to think that I hadn’t even heard of the word ‘Tsunami’ when I was given these beautiful fabrics.

It can take me a while to find just the right use for a scrap. 21 years later, one of these Boussacs finally assumes its role as a patch for my student son’s jeans. He basically lives in jeans these days, and all his pairs are showing signs of wear. Here’s a typically shredded knee.

 

Jeans for repair

Jeans before

 

Jeans repaired

Jeans after

 

I love the rich shot effect of the red warp and teal weft of this fabric. And the 50% linen, 50% cotton feels great with the denim as it’s robust, yet yielding. I worked quite a traditional kind of reverse appliqué patch which should be super-secure (with 4 rows of stitching, though only 2 are visible). I hoped it would do justice to the Japanese influence of the fabric, with just a whisper of boro, the Japanese art of repair. What do you think? 

Jeans repaired plus Boussac samples

Jeans repaired plus Boussac samples

 

Jeans patch.

Four rows of stitching (two invisible) make this a really strong patch

 

And here are those jeans alongside another pair, patched with raw-edged scraps from my husband’s worn-out pyjamas. Both pairs had been in my mending pile (well, it’s more of a spreading mending cairn) for a while but were finally completed and delivered to the diligent student yesterday. He’s very happy  with them, despite their ostentatious repairs (which I suspect would be a little full-on for most blokes).  Their new wearer just told me that the patch is really comfy, hugging his kneecap and actually feeling much nicer than the non-repaired knee. So, a great result!

Two pairs patched

Two pairs patched

Would you like help repairing your jeans?

I’ll be teaching jeans makeovers to small groups in Bath this spring; Jean Genie sessions will show you several patching techniques (some very visible, some not) to re-knee your favourite jeans, plus the best way to shorten hems, narrow legs etc. Do get in touch if you’d like further details.

Patch-ology: I also teach a comprehensive selection of patching techniques for your whole wardrobe in small workshops. Do get in touch with me for more information.

 

 

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Nov 06

Scrap of the week #34

 

Is there such a thing as a scrap too far?

I finally began to deconstruct Scrap of the Week #19 in order to re-use the ’70s* hexagon patchwork portions which were desperately ill-served by the backing fabric.

The border of the quilt was odd. It looked like some kind of trim had been cut off, because all that was left was an unattractive wadge of frayed edges in a shade of beigey-pink that you’ll recognise if your cat has ever reintroduced you to his/her dry breakfast. Somebody had already attacked this edging with scissors, it seemed, so I felt less bad about doing the same to the entire quilt.

 

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Odd edge

 

But when I began to unpick it, I had a surprise. The edging was actually constructed of multiple folded square ‘frames’ of fabric.

 

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Mystery squares

 

The burning question is why? The end result was, at best, underwhelming. So what was going on here? Did some other craft project create all these little frames as a by-product which the quilter then felt compelled to re-use? If so, what on earth…? The most probable explanation is that the border began life as a series of folded-square triangles which someone thought better of and hacked off. Got any other ideas? Anyway, I leave you with the thought that not all reuse projects are worth the effort. Perhaps this one hasn’t been – I wonder how many unpicking hours have I dedicated to it thus far?

I’ll be putting some of the liberated patchwork pieces up in my Etsy shop shortly. Some pieces are small 7-hex rosettes (as shown in Scrap of the week #19) and would  make great pincushions, some are bigger, cushion-ready segments. The patchwork has been carefully hand-pieced, then machine-zigzagged onto the ground fabric.  Some of the pattern placement is really nicely done. And if you should have a use for hundreds of little frames of pinky-beige fabric, please do get in touch. They’re yours.

 

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Blue hex blocks

 

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Orange hex blocks

 

* This could conceivably date from the early ’80s, but my hunch is late ’70s. What do you think? Do you recognise any of the fabrics shown?

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