Friday, July 03, 2015

Lessons Learned from Antique Quilts:

My favorite part of the Vermont Quilt Festival –at least for the two times I’ve been –are the antique quilts on display –from the rafters, as well as in groupings.

This is where my heart skips a beat!

This is where I get a glimpse into the lives of others who loved to work with needle and thread and small pieces of fabric.

Without even half of the tools that we have today, they created such beautiful works of art –most often with only these simple items at hand:

Fabric, thread, needles, scissors, hand made templates, pins –and time.  Lots of time.

I am amazed and overwhelmed when I think of how much work went into many of these quilts, with stitching so fine –“Quilted to death!” as we would say. 

Some have embroidery.  Some have stuffed work ---

These quilters did not have burgeoning stashes and libraries full of books or computer programs ---they set about to make a quilt, and to put into it as much as it needed to be called “complete.”

Sometimes I think less is more ---we have so much!  But look what they did with LESS!


Trip around the world.

How many of us look at this in terms of rotary cutting, strip piecing, speedy sub-cutting and reassembly by machine?  Think again.  This quilt was cut one square at a time:


Prints are fussy-cut!


Every single square - print elements are centered!

Do you see it with new eyes now?


This quilt is a masterpiece –All from one simple square and sewn by hand.

Fabric, needle, thread, template, scissors, pins…..and TIME.


Simple double Irish chain??


The scale by itself is amazing!


Pieces are a bit more than 1/2” finished.

Are you back to thinking of speedy rotary cutting, strip piecing, sub-cutting and super fast assembly?  This quilt was cut out, one square at a time, and sewn together by hand.  The red squares in the alternate blocks are appliqued on –a time honored way of making the double Irish chain before rotary cutting became the new way to quilt.

Fabric, needle, thread, template, scissors, pins…..and TIME.

Somehow I don’t think these quilters could have ever imagined someone in our time with 99+ UFOs and a SPREADSHEET!

Maybe, because of the time it took – these quilters only were able to accomplish a handful of quilts during their entire life time.


Burgoyne Surrounded variation!

LOVE those huge flowers!


Machine quilted!



Whoever quilted this LOVED their treadle machine and was a master at quilt wrangling.  I wish I knew who she/he was!


Oh. My Word.

Other things I learn from antique quilts:
Things don’t have to be perfect to be perfectly beautiful.
Quilts don’t have to hang straight to be perfectly wonderful.
Points don’t always have to match to be perfectly acceptable.
Border corners don’t have to be perfectly square.
Bindings don’t have to be full and straight.
Nor do they have to have perfectly mitered corners --or be mitered at all! 
Blocks don’t all have to be the same size.
Quilting motifs don’t have to be perfectly centered.
Borders don’t have to turn the corners all the same way.
When I look at antique quilts, I just feel the love of the maker and the joy of fabric, needle and thread.


triangles are not all the same size --

Some points are cut off, seams do not meet, blocks are not the same size, nor are they square!


This maker –LOVED to quilt!


M.E.B. 1870

Fabric, needle, thread, template, scissors, pins…..and TIME.


Rose and Grapes.



Simply Amazing!


Fabric, needle, thread, template, scissors, pins…..and TIME.

Is “the pursuit of perfection” killing your love of quilting?  It’s crazy-making!  STOP IT RIGHT NOW!

Create to make something beautiful.  Create to buoy your spirit and fill your soul.  Do not quilt for perfection.  Don’t suck the joy out of something we love so much!  Yes, give it your best shot ---but try to relax at the same time.

I’ve uploaded the rest for you to view in a slide show!

Click the image below if you are unable to view the slide show on your mobile device.  You’ll be taken to the photo album for viewing.

Antique Quilts, VQF 2015

It’s a foggy drizzly day on the mountain.

It’s a perfect day for snuggling in with a quilt to bind, some movies to watch and enjoying our day up here at the cabin --

Have a wonderful Friday, everyone!

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  1. You are absolutely right. We should enjoy the process instead of stressing over every thread. I always think that after that first wash, all the imperfections are gone too. You just don't see them anymore.LOL

  2. Oh Bonnie - Thank you for sharing the lovely photo's and your words of encouragement. I am currently machine quilting (domestic machine) my 2nd GIMQ. I love the pattern and layout; but my skills at machine quilting are "novice level" so I stick to what works for me. I plan to show this quilt at my guilds quilt show (OceanWavesQuiltGuild.org) on July 17 & 18; and I know it isn't perfect, but by golly it is going to be DONE....and just maybe...someone else will come along and say "Wow, if that got in the show, then my work will get in too". :) I think your words "Create to make something beautiful. Create to buoy your spirit and fill your soul. Do not quilt for perfection. Don’t suck the joy out of something we love so much! Yes, give it your best shot ---but try to relax at the same time" should be at the preface to every book and every lecture and the top of every blog post to remind us to have a little fun!

  3. Thanks for this post - it is just literally awesome to see this work (awesome is a word that is overused but in the purest sense these quilts are purely and simply - awesome!)

    LOVE IT!

    sao in Midlothian, VA

  4. I enjoyed your commentary and the photos! I will definitely look at old antique quilts with my eyes open wider! I am a new-ish quilter and it's great to see such beauties made with little or none fancy machines and gadgets. Thanks for sharing! Happy holiday at the cabin.
    Cindy in Wisconsin

  5. Diane/NYC10:15 AM EDT

    AMEN sister!!! This is what I tell my beginning students all the time. especially true of appliqué quilts! Think of everything we have now, and how little they had in the 19th century. They did so much,and with so much less than we had. Fabric, needles, thread and TIME. That really does say it all.

    If you look at Baltimore albums, their threads don't match their fabrics, they used crazy fabric for appliqué like velvet and wool, and their quilts just sing. But perfect? Definitely not if you look up close! IMHO, perfection is highly overrated, and we spend entirely too much time obsessing over it. Just ENJOY.

  6. I wish more had your attitude of quilting. Too many stress for perfection and some even think there quilts are not good enough and stop making them. I made my first quilt 40 years ago at least and only made a couple more until about 26 years ago when I really got into it. For me quilting has always been something that I enjoy and I do not strife for perfection - I just want to make quilts and have fun - some of my quilts are great and some aren't - some I have chopped off points and I never count my stitches (hand quilting) I tell some others to relax and have fun but all they want to do is take more classes and strife for perfection. It isn't fun to be perfect.

  7. My sentiments, exactly....but you already knew that!

  8. Anonymous10:33 AM EDT

    Love what you've learned from antique quilts. Too many people get caught up in perfection and forget to have fun. I've been quilting around 35 years and love creating a quilt to keep someone warm and wrap them in love. None of my numerous quilts are perfect but they are loved. When I teach my first rule is always have FUN!

  9. Tears in my eyes. I needed to read this so badly today. Thank you for the reminder that my quilts don't have to be perfect in order to be a quilt.

  10. That time element is indicative of lives without iPods, cell phones and probably no tv or only 2 or 3 channels if they had one. No dish washers, no take out food, no convenient fast food for supper. Clean houses and large families. Those quilts are a work of folk art. Treasures we should try to save simply because that era is gone by. My mother did this kind of work, although she limited herself to two color quilts usually and her fancy work was embroidered embellishments. I have a box of blocks of sun bonnet sue decorated with hand embroidery that was dated as done the three months my dad was bed bound and dieing. She finished her last block a few days before his death. I treasure the box of blocks and have not been able to finish the top yet. My dad died in 1978.
    I see in those old quilts the contemplative time a woman spent thinking and working out her troubles. Loving her solace and enjoying her life's quiet moments one stitch at a time.

  11. Oh, Bonnie, today's post is one of the reasons why I love you and your blog so much--your heartfelt appreciation of life and quilts, as well as all the other fun and adventures. We have so many options and distractions these days, we forget to savor the moment, especially the simpler moments like those spent with needle, thread, fabric and the thought of a wonderful quilt to come, as Janice said above, "one stitch at a time."

    As far as perfection, I am learning when someone says, "Oh, your quilt is so beautiful!" to enjoy that and just say, "I am so glad you like it," instead of pointing out the imperfections.

    That slideshow is so wonderful, the quilts truly amazing. I must figure out the sashing on A40, the red and green quilt that looks like a variation of Wild and Goosey (or the other way around, since that quilt came first!). And A52, the same variation done scrappy. The log cabin variation A50, and then there is a51 and C51. OH MY! If I knew I could only make a handful of quilts in my lifetime, how in the world would I be able to choose just one to begin?

    All of it, just WOW!

  12. I was one of those people that strove for perfection. Stitch out of place, rip and repeat until it was perfect. I was that way in life too. Do it over until I got it right. Then I had a major illness and was unable to do anything let alone quilt. It took years until I was able to quilt again, but I grew in the process. I am working on a postage stamp quilt I cut out nearly 30 years ago brc (before rotary cutters) at least for me. The first blocks I did all those years ago were perfect, the ones now? Less than perfect but so much fun. I intend to keep my quilting this way, less than perfect but so much fun. There are life lessons in there but i'll stick to quilting. nanny_of_phillip@yahoo.com

  13. Oh Bonnie, thank you for sharing these beautiful quilts. Your perspective is always helpful. Seeing these quilts has made my day!!

  14. Anonymous5:43 PM EDT

    The quilts are really great! I've read that quilting was one of the few acceptable ways that our fore-mothers could express their creativity, and they certainly did that! Celine

  15. Thank you so much for sharing those amazing antique quilts, they truly are works of art, are foremothers were so good @ making do with a waste not want not attitude, I am in awe of their abilities. Quilts were made to keep their families warm, but what they could do with their limited resources is praiseworthy. I enjoy the process of quilting, & find handwork relaxing, & have learnt long ago to 'fudge' where necessary (if I had to do everything perfect I wouldn't be confident to attempt anything), we need to remember the history of quilting, & be kinder to ourselves so it remains an enjoyable process for generations to come.

  16. I had to learn to machine piece and quilt so I could finish more quilts. I do have one that I started in 1978 that is totally hand pieced and hand quilted. I have others that are machine pieced and hand quilted, but these days I piece and quilt by machine and still can't keep up with the ideas growing in my head and heart! Hopefully, I'll live a long, long life so that I can finish a whole lot more!

  17. Those quilts are beautiful. I always love the old ones the most. My favorite is the rose and grapes. My grandmother did all of hers by hand. When she would come to visit she would bring all her little pieces already cut out (with scissors and cardboard templates) and all strung together on a piece of thread. She would just sit and sew for hours. I have boxes of all her cardboard quilting motifs. One of my sisters has a nine patch she started with all the cut out pieces on thread. I have her sewing machine she used to make clothes for us and I use it everyday.

  18. Thank you for sharing these amazing quilts with us. Our quilting heritage in Australia is not nearly as old or well documented.
    We are very spoilt for choices these days, and could use our time a bit better.

  19. Thank you Bonnie for this post. I agree 100%. I LOVE making quilts, but I do struggle with "perfecting" them. It does take the joy out of making them. I make quilts to give to my family members who love them regardless of their imperfections. This post frees me from my guilt of not making perfect quilts but continue to love and enjoy the process. I look forward to meeting you in January 2016 for the four day workshops at Stitchin' Heaven in Mineola, Texas. I have signed up for all four.

  20. Anonymous2:57 AM EDT

    Bonnie, Well Spoken.

    Annette Lemon

  21. Thank you for showing this beautiful quilts. I do stress over cutting and need to relax, thank you for telling me to.

  22. Anonymous7:29 AM EDT

    Hey Bonnie, I have been to VQF twice it is one of the best shows to go to and of course the antique quilt display always warms my heart!!!! Thanks for sharing!!!!
    Dee Dalton. deedalton@att. net

  23. Such a good blog post! It really is something else! I actually learned to quilt using templates, and scissors! I think I made 3-4 quilts over 5yrs! THEN the rotary cutter came out! OMG true heaven! made life so much easier for quilters!

  24. Ditto to all the other comments. Love your life attitude, and of course your sharing of it to all of us. I do marvel at the beauty created by the unlimited minds of our heritage quilters. I feel the same way when I view the historical buildings of centuries ago-how did they create those pyramids??!!!! Happy 4th. rjc2cam(at)gmail(dot)com

  25. I love your admonition about perfection! Yes ma'am, will do!

    I think it's "coming back to it" over and over more than "time." Small bits of time and persistence and diligence.

  26. Thank you Bonnie for the wonderful slide show! The quilts were wonderful and very inspirational. You are right, sometimes (especially when we begin stressing about it) we need to keep our quilt work in perspective: not every quilt needs to be a show quilt and even show quilts can have imperfections (just not too many!).

    Whatever we are working on we probably have all that is needed to finish it and whatever we don't have (in terms of material, embellishments or skills) we can STILL finish it just fine with some changes in direction and attitude. I'm working on a little wall hanging that says "Do Something To Crow About" -- sometimes that means just finishing the quilt because that in itself is always an accomplishment!

  27. Oh my goodness, Bonnie! Those beautiful antique quilts took my breath away, especially the blue and white triangles by M.E.B. in 1870. Absolutely stunning. Thank you so much for sharing them. Even moreso, thank you for the reminder that "only God is perfect".

    I am a little past a beginner quilter, and have been sewing and picking and sewing several squares over and over trying to get them just right. I will stop it! Instead, I will try to do my best and hope my son and his wife feel my love when they see the finished quilt.

    Thanks so much for all your tips and blogs.

  28. thank you for sharing! Since I didn't inherit enough 'tique quilts, I'm in the process of making my own. I'm English paper piecing a tumbling blocks quilt in 1800's reprints. One of them is upside down. I'm fine with that! Only God makes things perfect.

  29. That Double Irish Chain is amazing! Love the idea of appliqueing the corners of the alternative blocks. The whole collection are inspiring - thanks for sharing :)


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