Quilting for Healing and Power

I haven’t made a quilt in years – about 15 years to be exact – when I made a baby quilt for my newborn niece. I had moved on long ago to home dec and then to apparel sewing, but every so often I would look through my quilting cotton stash and grow wistful at its possibilities.

That feeling grew stronger last week when I sewed up some stash to make masks for nurse friends of mine. I felt the pull to quilt again – partly to commemorate these homebody Covid-19 days, and partly to keep my hands busy, and partly because I had something to say in the fabric and colors and lines.

I heard about a Quilt-a-Long of this pattern by Denyse Schmidt, a quilt designer who lives nearby. I had bought this pattern years ago during a studio open house. While I loved it, the color choices and bias-cut edges daunted me. I thought, however, that with help I could do it.

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The quilt includes an alphabet of block letters done in a slightly rustic style. The letters are cleverly constructed to nest together with design options for the positive and negative space. And while some letters are quite complex, each piece is numbered so that it’s easy to sew them together, step by step.

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Letter T is an easy one
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The D is pretty complex – pieces D2, D5 and D6 are the negative space

So I had my pattern. But what to say? I thought of one friend who had started me on quilting more than 20 years ago but cannot sew any longer because of illness. I thought of another friend who I’d made a quilt for back when I had been a raw beginner – she lost that quilt and her other possessions in a fire last year. I had sewn pussyhats for them to wear to the 2016 Women’s March. I wanted to make them something else. Finally, I thought of my sister, who I also made a hat for and have marched with a few times.

So I hit on this idea:

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My quilt message and color scheme

The entire quote is “Nevertheless, she persisted.” The vile Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell uttered this sentence while moving to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren during a debate on the Senate floor. It became an instant rallying cry for women everywhere who are told to stay silent, be obedient, and defer to the patriarchy. (For the whole story see this excellent Washington Post article.)

The whole phrase would be a lot to quilt – the thing would be over 10 feet long – but the simple verb says it all anyway.

I designed this as four quilts that can be tied together to form the whole or used individually as wall hangings or other decoration. Each word uses lettering in one color and negative space in the color wheel’s opposite side to symbolize struggle and opposition. I don’t know yet if the background will be black or white – it’s more graphic in black, but I don’t think I have enough fabric in stash and I am using all stash materials to be sustainable. I’ll decide that later. In any event, the binding will be in the opposite color of the background.

I had plenty of fabric to choose from, for most colors:

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Stash – stash – stash – stash

I needed four fabrics for each of the eight colors. I didn’t have much orange or pink, but I have enough to go on with some creative use of “near enough” colors.

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Selected fabrics

The long piece at the bottom has elements of all the colors in it, so I will use it in all the letters as a way to tie them together.

The fabrics are mostly quilting cottons, some with metallic designs, but I am using some scraps of apparel fabrics too.

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The reds include silk and ultrasuede from jackets I’ve made, as well as red and gold cotton leftover from a Christmas project and some upholstery fabric in a dragonfly motif. The greens include some Irish linen scraps.

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I am using coral to fudge the oranges a bit. I also have some African Dutch wax with lilac and gold motifs. The blues include seersucker leftover from a bathrobe project from 20 years ago and velvet leftover from my husband’s smoking jacket.

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Yellows include some gold linen from a pair of pants, batik sunflowers from a quilt I made for my cousin’s wedding, and sunflowers from a vest I made my mother years ago. The purples include more leftover Christmas fabric and some brocade from a Halloween costume for my niece.

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Because I am using green opposite of red, I needed a grassy yellow-green to go opposite the pink. Some of this fabric is leftover from a quilt I made my nephew. The pinks include a red seersucker that reads pink.

In truth, the quilt is going to be kind of ugly – I mean, this is a metric fuckton of colors, textures and styles for one quilt. But that’s also the beauty of it. My friends, sister and I are all different people, after all, united in some things but with plenty of individuality.

Face Mask Couture

I don’t know whether Fendi was prescient or callous, but suddenly a face mask is everyone’s must-have accessory to cope with COVID-19.

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Fendi – brilliant and stupid

I made 12 myself this week, for nurse friends who have to work during this crisis. A homemade mask is quite literally better than nothing, as we in the United States can’t seem to get a supply chain of medical supplies going.

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Face masks – Samizdat style

I used closely woven quilting cotton for these, following a pattern demoed by Deaconess Health. I only had enough elastic on hand to make 12, and some of that is lingerie elastic, so those masks are sexy AF.

The quilting cottons were left over from quilt projects I did 15 to 20 years ago. A table runner for my great-aunt. Baby quilts for nieces and nephews (who are ages 14 to 20 now). A wall hanging quilt gift for a friend’s wedding. It was bittersweet sewing these up. I’d help on to that fabric in hopes of making more quilts someday for the next generation. Maybe the fabric will save someone’s life instead, or at least put their minds at ease a bit during this crisis.

Best and Worst of 2019

I am happy that I met all my sewing goals for 2019 and ended up with quite a few useful and well-made pieces!

My single biggest achievement (and #1 garment for 2018) was actually a three-fer. I made jeans! And I used the embroidery attachment of my machine for the first time! And I went to a sewing retreat!

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Jeans, bitches!

The jeans are Workroom Social’s Claryville Jeans. I can’t say enough awesome things about this pattern. LOVE. And as the jeans have worn (I have worn them a ton since I made them in September) they have conformed nicely to my bod.

Here’s another look at the embroidery on the back pockets:

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While the sewing retreat part of the jeans-making experience wasn’t for me, I am glad I did it. I learned a lot about myself and I have been thinking about how to apply that learning to next year.

Another goal was to make a garment for my mother. I made her a top from Lekala patterns, and she liked it so much, she asked for another one, in fancier fabric that she can wear for Christmas/New Year’s events. I sewed this up for her birthday in December.

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Lekala 4114

She picked out this gold polyester satin. Not the best, but I made it work. It looks better on than in this photo (I promise). I used the fancy buttons I got at LouLou in the Garment District in NYC.

I took the “RTW Fast Pledge” and made a goal to not buy any clothing except for things like socks and tights. I would have made it, too, if not for my vacation in May! It was so cold (unseasonably and unexpectedly) that I bought a few things on an emergency basis. I donated both jackets to a charity that provides coats to the poor, and I have worn the sweater a few times. So…. I am going to call this “a win!”

On the positive side, I truly did “Me Made May” this year – wearing at least one me- made garment daily for the whole month of May. Yay!

Here’s my biggest swing-and-miss from 2019: I didn’t do so well in my resolve to participate in fewer sewalongs and sewing contests. I get swept up in the excitement and camaraderie. I also hope to make new friends this way. It doesn’t seem to work out that way.

On the bright side, I won the January 2019 PatternReview contest with this ski jacket:

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Ski Jacket from Simplicity 8843

I had planned to enter this contest – and this contest only – but then I went on a binge of other sewalongs, contests and such. What happens when I do this? Let’s just call it a mixed bag:

I mean, there are no disasters here, but also not much that plays well with “sew edgy” looks. I did some stuff for charity (napkins and scrap quilts center top) and I passed the first round of the PatternReview Sewing Bee with that blue cardigan before bowing out voluntarily when the second round didn’t inspire me.

The white top was not what I wanted. I entered a contest to make an outfit, so made a nice pair of black wool pants and planned a button-down shirt to go with it out of this pretty white striped shirting I bought. But, I had a problem with my sewing machine’s computer and it was in the shop for a couple of weeks, so I needed instead to do a top that I could construct on the serger or by hand. This top is the result. It looks really awful untucked, better tucked in. I am kicking myself that I used that shirting for something I don’t love.

I joined two Sewcialists sewalongs – one where I drew the color “coral” and other where I drew the word “funky.” I ended up with a wrap skirt (top right) and a top upcycled from a tablecloth (bottom left). Since these sewalongs really run on Instagram, and I am not an Instagram person, I miss out on the whole thing. Likewise for the charity projects for The People’s Sewing Army – if you’re not an Instagrammer, you get left out.

Finally, in my effort to stop making so damn many mistakes, I claim a partial victory. I have made my peace with the fact that I need to just baste a lot more. Basting does things that pinning does not (at least for me). So I resolve to baste even more in 2020!

Quilting for the Birds

I used to be a quilter, and I have lots of scraps left around from those days. So when The People’s Sewing Army put out a call to sew for the wildlife rehabilitation program with the Audubon Society of Portland, Oregon, I had to sign up.

The wildlife rehabbers needed small quilts for songbird cages and larger quilts for cages of raptors and other large birds. I had fun sewing these up:

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Scrap quilts for the birds
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Scrap quilts – other side

Fabric scraps are such a trip down memory lane for me. There were lots of scraps from a cat-themed quilt I made my mother years ago, and more from a garden-themed quilt I made for a friend. I sewed up some scraps from quilts made for my nieces and nephews (the oldest of whom is now in college) and from a batik dolphin quilt I made as a wedding present for dear friends.

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I also had some library-themed fabric leftover from pillows I made my brother-in-law. And then there were scraps left over from various apparel sewing projects, such as these:

The Audubon Society also asked for cloth napkins for its volunteers, so I raided my stash of linen scraps. Whenever you make pants, you end up with long, skinny scraps left over, so they were perfect for making napkins:

The fabric came from these projects (it cracks me up how inefficient I was with that yellow linen when I made the clamdiggers – live and learn!):

I took apart this muslin I sewed a couple of years ago out of some damaged linen and added that to the project also, saving the buttons to use again:

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Muslin of a skirt I drafted based on the Maria Denmark Yasmin Yoke Skirt

In the end, I made 18 napkins of various sizes. They were simple to construct – I just cut squares and finished the ends with a rolled hem on my serger.

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I used up some thread I didn’t need, too. The bright blue serger thread wasn’t great quality, but it was fine for a rolled-hem project like the napkins. I also used up sewing machine threads on spools and  bobbins of lesser quality in colors that I probably won’t need again.

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And I used up some odds and ends of premade bias bindings, including a few thrift-store finds. And I didn’t sweat these – they’re not perfectly rectangular, and the quilting is a bit wavy in places. I don’t think the birds will mind:

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Altogether, I used up 1 pound, 10 ounces of scrap fabric and quilt batting, oddball threads and leftover bindings – all getting a new and much needed life, instead of going to waste in my stash.

I get a lot of satisfaction about sewing for others from time to time. If you’re interested in helping out in the future, follow the link to The People’s Sewing Army or see my previous blog post.