Monday, 13 May 2013

Fabric of Life

My first mug rug swap made from scraps
This week I read a blog where the quilter had adapted a pattern to make use of the fabric and notions she had to hand and I was proud - proud of the 'make-do' legacy of quilting and proud that this legacy was still being used.  I know what you're all thinking - what has happened to the light-headed Patchsmith?  Well this week I want to get deep and share a little of my values concerning our craft. (If philosophical ramblings are not your thing then feel free to close the page and come back next week when I will be sharing some practical 'make-do' hints and tips for quilters.)
Buttons covered with very small scraps of fabric
I am strong supporter of the make-do-and-mend philosophy and when I am asked what batting or fabric I used on a certain pattern, my answer will usually be "I used scraps" or "scraps of batting".  Sometimes the fabric I use is from an old dress or shirt picked up from the charity shop, more often than not it is from my scrap box.  I keep and use scraps of all shapes and sizes - even down to 1" square.   I believe this is in keeping with the history and thrift of quilting.  ‘Recycle’, ‘upcycle’, ‘downshift’ – these terms were not in existence one hundred years ago.  Yet they were present in everything created, everything made, everything used and everything done. They were a necessity – the ‘fabric of life’ and, without them the brave New World and working communities would not have thrived.
Wnter wall quilt made from old shirts
Quilting and using scraps is not about getting back to basics either as basics have never left the quilter or home sewist – basics are woven with every stitch we make, every weft we follow and every needle we thread.
Black and White Cats Mug Rug - fun with fabric

To me quilting is about honesty, authenticity, creation and connection.  To me quilting is also about ‘fun’ and I am well aware that it is only because we sit on the laps of grandmothers, mothers and the women before them, that we have the luxury of sewing for ‘fun’.  We are the thread through time – a thread that runs across lands and generations, a thread that is born from watching, learning and sharing.  It is through us that this connection continues, into the future and into perpetuity.   We are that connection. 
Learning from our mothers and grandmothers and great grandmothers
As quilters and sewists - do we make any less contribution to mankind and history than the ‘great’ men and women? Theirs may be a singular life of achievements and progression of thought, whereas our history is a weaving of relationships, hearts, homes, warmth and love. When Lincoln died that day in 1865, laid out upon a bed, were his final moments made any more comfortable because of the quilt he lay upon?  And whilst they may have found the shroud of Christ do we know who stitched it?  I believe we may never know as the answers lie in the detail of everyday life and it is these very details that remain hidden from history. 
What I do know however, is that our craft is a craft that creates comfort and connection from scraps of fabric.   And through blogging we can be sure that the details of our craft are better recorded today than at any other time in history. 

Jinny Beyer's remarkable historical collection of quilt patterns
(Note:  I do not minimise the growing numbers of historians among us who are patching together the history of quilting – people such as Celia Eddy and Jinny Beyer, to name just two.)

So there you have it - a little bit of the Patchsmith's philosophy.  Bored yet?  I hope not but don't worry - next week I will be back to my practical self.  

Sew until then ....... 


  1. I think of the history of quilts so often myself, and how lucky we are to have so many design choices. The vintage and antique quilts that I love so much are even more special because they were made from what was available...fantastic, when you think about it!

    1. It is very clever - our foremothers were very clever - they didn't have design rulers or cutting mats or blades - just scissors, needle and thread. But I also love all the new fabrics and gadgets on the market and I think how lucky we are to have so much choice. I particularly like that we can buy charm packs, layer cakes and jelly rolls as well as by the metre or a fat quarter.

  2. Thoughtfully written. You have made some beautiful things too - cute elephants!

  3. I have scraps. I use scraps. I make big quilts and I make small quilts. I love fabric in any form and in any color. Thank you for your post. I feel so very fortunate to be alive in an era of opportunity and not necessity. We make quilts and fabric art because we want to, not necessarily because we 'have to'...

  4. There is such a special feeling when receive a quilted item... or we are wrapped up inside of a quilt... knowing it was crafted by caring hands.
    I really love learning to appreciate the 'art' of quilting, passed on through generations of sharing and teaching.

    They were "home engineers" and were brilliant to make their intricate quilt patterns without software and tools that we have today!

    I love your thoughtful post! And I love your commentors' thoughts, too.

  5. Hello!. I can't agree more with you. I think that we have lost, in a way, the original idea of how quilting started. I am, like you, totally in favour of what you say the make do legacy. That's how my mother brought me up. I wish all quilters could go back to that basis and in these times of financial crisis we use all what we have on hand instead of buying, buying and buying. Love, Victoria

    1. I think that quilting offers us so much on so many levels. There is the make-do-and-mend philosophy and thrift, there is the slowness and meditative quality of hand quilting/sewing, there is the opportunity to add a unique touch to our homes when all around us there is 'sameness' and mass production and then there is the opportunity, as adults, to play. Quilting is a philosophy all of its own!