East Dakota Quilter


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1930s Reproductions, Pajamas & Memories: A Quilt Story

My grandma’s death last year was difficult. She’d had Alzheimer’s for many years, so in a way, our loss was more about the years we lost during her life than about her death. Alzheimer’s also meant there were no attics to search for treasures, no inspiring little finds; those things had been done long ago. All that was left with her really were the pajamas she wore in the nursing home and a favorite print she’d received as a gift from her brother. I decided to use the pajamas to make a memory quilt.

Grandmas_Pajamas by eastdakotaquilter

I decided to incorporate small pieces of the pajamas with larger 1930s reproduction prints. It wasn’t until I started researching 1930s repros that I realized where my grandma got her style. All those cartoon kittens and ducks? Straight from the 1930s!

1930s repro prints by eastdakotaquilter

I decided on a layout that would showcase both the repro prints and the pajama pieces.

grandma quilt layout by eastdakotaquilter

At first, I thought I would use a white background. Then I realized some of the pajamas were a little dingy from multiple washings. A quilt store employee in my home state suggested I use a darker color to make the smaller pieces pop. Although pinks and purples aren’t my style, they were my grandma’s. I decided to use a purple (Robert Kaufman’s Quilter’s Linen).

basting by eastdakotaquilter

With a color scheme my grandma would have liked, I decided to include a few details that would also make it more “me.” I wanted this to be a quilt that linked us through the generations.

In particular, I wanted a pop photograph of my grandma on the quilt. I think on one hand she would have hated it and thought it was too ostentatious. On the other hand, I think she would have been flattered and would have thought I was being goofy. It makes me smile to think that she would have teased me for my selection. I turned a photo of hers into a Spoonflower design and had it printed.

grandma portraits by eastdakotaquilter

My grandma was BIG on sending birthday cards, sympathy cards, letters, etc. She kept every card she ever received. Ever. I wanted to somehow incorporate that part of her into the quilt. I used her birthday calendar to get samples of her handwriting, then embroidered her name and dates onto one of the quilt squares. I was lucky she had several friends with the same first name, and obviously family with the same last name, so it was easy to cobble together her name!

grandma signature by by eastdakotaquilter

When it came time to bind the quilt, only one color would do. Fuscia was her favorite.

quilt strips by eastdakotaquilter

(Don’t you love my washi tape “design wall”?)

langdon house by eastdakotaquilter

fuscia binding on gma quilt by eastdakotaquilter

For the quilt back, I used up the remaining portrait fabric. (I bought a yard so I would be sure to have at least one full portrait, plus a few extras in case I messed up.) I also used smaller pieces of 1930s feed sacks that I bought on Etsy, along with 1930s repro prints.

quilt back by eastdakotaquilter

I kept the quilting simple, using straight lines along the outsides of the bigger/repro squares with painter’s tape to mark the lines. The finished quilt is lap size.

This is a quilt I think my family will appreciate for a long time. My mom (whose mother is memorialized in this quilt) has first dibs, and if she decides the colors are too bright, my sister has expressed interest. My sister said the sweetest thing, “There aren’t many things left from Grandma. If I have kids someday, I would love to show them this quilt and tell them what I remember about her. It would be my way of passing along her memory.” How could a quilt be more appreciated?! I am so glad to have created a piece of family history.

Another great thing about this quilt is it was finished in February, which means my current finish rate is one quilt per month! I don’t know that I can keep it up, but I feel such a sense of accomplishment in 2014 so far.


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Vintage Quilt Revival Color Play

This past weekend, I attended a great event hosted by the D.C. Modern Quilt Guild at the Anacostia Arts Center. Speakers were Katie Clark Blakesley, one of the authors of Vintage Quilt Revival, and Laura Gunn, artist, “color expert,” and fabric designer.

The combo of these two speakers was pretty great! On one hand, Katie talked about updating traditional designs with bright colors and using neutrals or inversing colors in a quilt block to change the aesthetic. Here she is with her Cut Glass Baby Quilt, which is featured in the book.

CutGlass photo by eastdakotaquilter

Then Laura showed us how to make a color look brighter or darker based on the colors around them. I knew that certain palettes work and some don’t, but it was frankly mind-blowing to think of starting a quilt design not with a group of similarly-sized color chips, but with colored pieces spread out across a board. (Perhaps that’s how some people use their design walls, but I just hang up finished blocks and see after-the-fact whether it looks like I planned it out on the computer.) 

Here, Laura shows how cream and aqua look different based on background color.

LauraGunn photo by eastdakotaquilter

Audience members got involved and helped create a palette/design.

quiltboard photo by eastdakotaquilter

Vintage Quilt Revival was on my wish list for quite awhile, but I didn’t let myself buy it until just before the event because the anticipation ensured I wouldn’t stay home sewing at the last minute, haha. It was surprisingly better than I’d hoped it would be.

I have been working through my own design processes lately and wasn’t too keen on starting  a new quilt from a pattern before testing out some new designs of my own, but I have to admit, I think the book convinced me otherwise. It has big, glossy pictures. And even if a particular block is less appealing than another block, each block also comes with tips that can be applied to any quilt design. Even the brief “Did you know…?” type discussions about the history of quilting were interesting. Liberty Love has my favorite quilt design so far, the Marcelle Medallion, but I think Vintage Quilt Revival is my favorite quilting book.

Following the event last weekend, I set about trying to plan out a quilt not with a palette, but with color placement, using some of the blocks featured in the book.

I love the Riviera block, and especially the versions made by Holly at Bijou Lovely and Karen at Lady K Quilts. I figured I would start easy, making mostly black and white Riviera blocks with one or two blocks in color to break things up. Then I realized I didn’t like that the secondary pattern, which looks like a spiderweb to me, was more prominent than the stars in the center of each block.

riviera sketch by eastdakotaquilter

riviera spiderweb by eastdakotaquilter

The Stardust Quilt featured in the book includes both the Riviera block and another block, the Dakota Star block. Although I love the Dakotas as a geographical location, the quilt block is not my favorite. I decided to use the same concept: the Riviera paired with another block, but mine is the Geometric Star (from the Cut Glass Baby Quilt, my favorite quilt in the book).

I started with my B&W Rivieras.

black and white rivieras by eastdakotaquilter

Next, I thought I would add modified primaries: mustard yellow, rusty/dark red, and a dusty blue.

rivieras and primaries by eastdakotaquilter

I wasn’t sure I liked it. Let’s make those colors brighter!

mixed blocks by eastdakotaquilter

Now what if we add some color to the center block?

mixed blocks by eastdakotaquilter

Hmm, not sure I liked that. What if we just mix up the colored blocks, switching out the pinks and greens on two of them? 

mixed blocks by  eastdakotaquilter

I liked that a little better, but I still wasn’t sure it was quite right. I decided to change my block placement so there were two color/star blocks (each)  in the top and bottom rows, one in the center, alternating with the Riviera blocks.

mixed blocks by eastdakotaquilter

That was my favorite iteration, but I still wasn’t sure I wanted to go to the effort of sewing those blocks in that formation. I decided to try again, this time with the Double Windmill block.

double windmill by eastdakotaquilter

Again, I tried to mix a black and white concept with a few blocks of color, and I tried to invert the background of one of the blocks. I made a second attempt, too:

double windmill by eastdakotaquilter

In the end, I think I still want to play with the Cut Glass Baby Quilt design. Did I mention it’s my favorite? But I really enjoyed starting with color instead of with fabrics for once.