Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I think we are all sensitized now to the shifts that are occurring in responsible lifestyle choices.

This is nowhere more evident than in our leisure activities.

We need to become very careful of waste and unnecessary spending for several reasons: We are no longer able to blissfully disregard the fact that we need to reduce our carbon footprint, which is still the largest in the world; and that many resources are no longer renewable and must be husbanded; and secondly we are under financial stress due to Wall Street's irresponsible practices and the mortgage market's willingness to extend interest only variable rate mortgages to people who could not afford to pay them once the mortgage rates went up and their home values plummeted. While the governmental cat was away or refused to be interested, it was proven that greed and not personal honour governed big business, this is true in my own country, Canada, as well as in the US. The final reason we must mend our ways is that the eyes of the world - often envious and angry eyes - are on us and it is time to put our money where our mouths are.

I am reminded that my minimalist approach to quilting may have been very much in front of the curve in the past but is now being practised by more and more quilters. Below is a quilt I made several years ago, entirely by hand and from clearance fabrics.

We need to look at how we express our interest in quilting. Are we ready to continue the "fast fast and on to the next" method in quilting. Are we ready to continue using glues, commercial embellishments imported from third world countries, fusible web made from petrochemicals, many many special acrylic rulers and other gizmos, and finally quilting machines that cost as much as a motor vehicle, and sewing machines with so many of the bells and whistles that we may never need to try them all out.

I own a Bernina 830 that I bought over 35 years ago and with a tune up and minor repairs amounting to maybe $175 last year it's now good to go. This was the first money I spent on the machine. It has dropfeed, knee operated needle lift and a lot of the things being touted today as the last word. Most of the time I don't use it, choosing instead to piece by hand because of the Zen feeling of getting close and connected to my passions and also being able to get it right the first time. Yes it is slower, but who said fast is best - the industry perhaps, becauser of its interest in selling more and more product and running more and more classes.

I also hand quilt - almost unheard of today, but do some everyday and it gets done. Quick and easy to pull out if you aren't satisfied. I can't express the pure joy of sitting in a warm house, with a cup of coffee at hand, listening to great music and handquilting. You have to try it to believe it!

So let me look at my tools, and show them to you - I have learned over the years that these are best for my minimalist approach: chalk markers in solid and loose chalk both (in yellow and in white) if you want the mark to stay around awhile use the solid chalk and if you want to brush it right off, use the loose chalk in an applicator. In addition a very narrow, fine permanent marker in black or sepia for lightly marking your seamline on the back of lighter coloured fabric and for writing on your labels. Ocasionally I also use a fine mechanical pencil - bought in bulk at Office Depot. I have lost faith in the various pencils and "removable" flow on stuff. Add a few sheets of template plastic if you are a reckless spender - these are available in an envelope featuring both gridded and plain - gridded is great for piecing templates, plain for applique although if you aren't going to cut many, cardboard will do too. You can also used ice cream containers, cut and flattened if you are very careful to be accurate as that stuff wants to roll up. The lids are great for smaller templates.

The very best quilting thread (cotton) that money can buy, in a few basic colours and as large a spool as you can find. And for piecing: the same, but of course a lighter weight - neutral colours seem to work for everything.

For needleturn applique, which is now the only kind I do, I found a supplier on Ebay who was selling new old stock fine silk finish (mercerized) cotton in a multitude of colours and ordered a variety of 40 spools - I think I will not need to replace it in a hurry and I do a lot of applique - this was cheaper than buying new at my local quilt store and the quality is superb, as are the colour choices.

Again buy the best pins and needles - needles as small as you can tolerate - start with a mixture of sizes - DMC puts out a nice variety pack - and you are bound to find what you like and when you're ready to move to a smaller size you have them on hand.

Scissors - large dressmaking shears - top quality ones - mine are Gingher, smaller embroidery scissors to use as clippers and a pair of kitchen shears to use on template material - never never allow your dressmaking shears to cut anything but fabric - hide them from the rest of the family if you must!

Patterns and fabric: there are wonderful free patterns out there on the internet - and in addition, shop the online quiltshops and ebay sellers for patterns that appeal at less than full price. As for fabric, of course buy only top quality Quilt Shops Only fabrics but buy carefully to avoid paying top dollar for these fabrics. You may be attracted to prices at Joann's and Michael's but there are many levels of "greige goods" used to print the same fabrics so you want to go for the highest thread count per square inch and no sizing which washes out at the first washing, leaving a shoddy stretchy material that will soon fade and wear out and look shabby.

As a rule, try to buy from clearance items at venues that are known to stand behind their goods. I have gradually found a number of Ebay sellers of this calibre and also a number of online shops.

I know you will be pleasantly surprised at how economically you can make quilts if you slow down and apply your energy to finding just the right pattern, just the right fabrics (prints and colours) and just the right approach to relaxing and slowing down.

Next I will post on how to make a very acceptable smaller quilt from next to nothing! I'm looking forward to showing you how!


Patchmaker said...

I completely agree, Janet. I use HB pencils or shards of soap for marking and cereal boxes (industrial size Cheerios ones are best) for templates. Most of my sewing is done on a Singer commercial lockstitch machine rescued from a garment factory 10 years ago; it will last longer than I will! Great post!


Jeri said...

Very interesting post! Though I'm not a big fan of "latest and greatest", I do love using my sewing machine. I think you've addressed a lot of good points to ponder.

Anonymous said...

I too am an entirely by hand quilter. I think you bring up some interesting points.