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Calling all Quilters


Quilts are as much art form as functional, and they have existed for hundreds of years. They began in the lower classes, as thrifty peasant women used scraps of leftover material or pieces of worn out shirts or dresses to make blankets for their families. Gradually, quilts evolved into beautiful handcrafts, and since they are so large and labor-intensive, making them became a social event-the quilting bee. Neighbors or family members would gather at each other's homes, sit around a large wooden quilting frame, and assemble the quilts. In this way, they accomplished necessary work and were able to socialize, as well.

Quilts may be functional or purely decorative. Smaller quilts are often used as wall hangings, in the decorative sense, while a larger quilt may be neatly folded over antique quilt rack to give a country "Americana" look to the room. Functional quilts are used in the same way as bedspreads. They make the bed look neat, and also provide warmth. They come in every size, from tiny ones for a baby's crib, all the way to large quilts that cover a California king-sized bed.

Whether functional or decorative, what makes quilts famous for their beauty is their patterns. Some of these patterns’ pre-date the American Revolutionary War. One popular pattern is the double wedding ring, the familiar series of interlocking circles. The log cabin pattern is a series of blocks, with rectangular strips of fabric sewn at right angles to each other to form squares. Small octagonal pieces sewn together in groups form the flower garden pattern, and a five-pointed, stylized leaf forms the maple leaf pattern. Diamond shaped pieces sewn together can create the shooting star or lone star patterns. Some people prefer the arts and crafts look of the "crazy quilt," which is made of pieces of any scrap fabric sewn together in no particular pattern.

One specialized form of quilt emerged during the nineteenth century in America: the slave quilt. These quilts were functional as bed coverings, but also served another purpose: they gave directions that helped slaves escape north on the Underground Railroad. The quilts were sewn with various colors and symbols that represented the local roads, fields, plantations and streams. These quilts were on every plantation, hung on a clothesline or tree branch to give their messages. The orientation of the quilt as it hung changed the messages. These quilts also gave information about hiding places, food caches and safe houses to any who could read their language. They began appearing about 1835, when people from the north came to the plantations and taught the slaves how to make the quilts.

The few slave quilts still in existence are in museums or are cherished family heirlooms.

Tip: Organize your fabric inventory by color and theme to quickly locate fabrics for your quilting.

If your sewing machine did not come with a quarter inch foot, you may be able to buy one for your machine or buy a generic one. It is well worth it. If you sew with the fabric just at the edge of the foot, and not beyond, maybe even a few threads closer to the needle than the edge of the foot, you should have a quarter inch seam.

Tip: When you reposition your hands when free motion quilting, take a stitch or two in place before you begin quilting again, to get oriented and avoid little squiggles.

Put a ruler under your needle and mark with masking tape where the quarter inch mark should be. If you use several layers of masking tape, it makes a little lip to work against.

Electrical tape works well too. You can buy a magnet that will serve this purpose.

Do not use a magnet, if you're using a computerized sewing machine. Magnets demagnetize the computer; thus, your expensive unit is ruined!

Tip: When sewing a decorative machine stitch, set your machine to half speed and push your foot pedal all the way down, this will give you consistent even stitching.

Practice making an accurate 1/4" seam using scrap fabric until you are very good at it. Cut two pieces of fabric 2 1/4" wide; sew them together and iron, checking afterwards to see if they are 4" wide.

After washing your fabric use spray starch while ironing to replace the sizing, this makes it easier to get that accurate seam.

Tip: Use medium gray or taupe thread for all patchwork piecing, except for very light color fabric combinations.

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