Today's Quilt Historians
Women at Work
New Pathways into Quilt History written by Kimberly Wulfert,
you know that Crazy Quilts and heavily embellished garments were once a mark of
affluence? Women used them to declare – ever so subtly – that they had time for
elaborate hand sewing while their domestic staff toiled over the household
chores. Few of us live the lifestyle of the ‘landed gentry’ these days, but what
we do have is a wealth of time-saving products and techniques available to us.
There are many clever ways to accomplish wonderful embellishments with the
investment of very small amounts of time!
Embellishment includes everything from complex beading to sewing with basic
thread. In Crazy Quilting, the philosophy is this: if it shows, highlight it! In
today’s busy world, we have to grab sewing time whenever it presents itself, so
be prepared at a moment’s notice to have something to sew. Red work is usually
my favorite, but I don’t limit myself to basic red work. I’ll embroider tea
towels, pillow cases and make quilt blocks, stitching with floss, pearl cotton,
and, my favorite, thick thread made for the sewing machine. Any time you manage
to have fabric in your hand, relish the moment and let your creativity flow!
When embellishing with thread, which includes everything from embroidering to
quilting, use pretty much anything that appeals to you. Crazy Quilting is
definitely the time to show off your thread collection! You can really add your
own special touch to any project by putting a decorative stitch over the seams,
couching over one or more cords or ribbons and adding beads or buttons for
texture. Or make duplicate rows of stitching, highlight them with an entirely
different stitch or use thread to work a specific design onto your fabric.
Why not try something new? Stenciling was popular on Crazy Quilts. Using today’s
modern products, you can make you own painted quilts. Paint is easy, fast, and
so much fun. If you don’t intend to ever dry clean your quilt, try oil paint
sticks (Shiva brand is my favorite). Easy to use, paint sticks are shaped like
over-sized crayons and have about the same consistency. Amazingly, they can
replicate the look of air brushing without your having to invest in or bother
with special equipment. Paint sticks applied to silk or cotton are simple and
permanent and leave a very soft hand.
Simply remove the self-healing protective coating of paint from the flat end of
your paint stick with an X-acto knife. For the sake of convenience, I suggest
you use a favorite purchased stencil. Use masking tape to hold it in place and
Post-It Notes to protect any areas you don’t want to color. Rub your paint stick
with a stencil brush then dab the brush onto a paper towel to remove any excess
paint. A light touch works best, and you can always add another layer or two.
Using firm, short strokes, apply the paint in one direction. Start at the outer
edges and work inward. When you are satisfied, pull off your stencil.
It’s a simple truth – beads are a blast! A quilt is a two-dimensional work of
art. Add beads, buttons, or sew-on jewels and you launch it straight into the
realm of three-dimensional pizzazz. There are any number of ways to use beads on
your Crazy Quilt or garment. You can accent special stitches or highlight
specific features, such as flowers, figures, baskets, or stars. A few single
beads could add dew drops to a leaf, a string of them will quickly draw the eye
to any particular part of a design that you want to emphasize.
One of the joys of embellishing with beads
is that there is no real need to plan your designs ahead of time. You can start
by choosing beads of a particular type or color, or even with a random sample of
mixed beads, then design as you go! Make beading decisions one at a time as your
Start by threading a needle with a single strand of Nymo thread, about 25” long,
and placing a quilter’s knot at the end. Start about ½” away from the first bead
location and “pop” the knot between the layers of the quilt or quilted garment.
Come up at the point where the first bead will be placed. Put the point of the
needle into the bead and push it onto the needle with the tip of your finger.
The stitch you make needs to be just as long as the diameter of the bead – any
longer and the thread will show; any shorter, the bead won’t lay flat. Take a
second stitch through every third or fourth bead – if the thread should ever
break, two or three beads will come off, but not the whole group. As an extra
precaution, run the thread through bigger, heavier beads three or four times.
Keep going until you come to the end of your thread and end as you would for a
line of hand quilting.
If you allow yourself to make one design decision at a time, beading projects
are easy to return to after a lapse of time, so interruptions (and don’t we all
have them!) won’t be a problem.
Want something more subtle? Through the ages, ribbons have been a source of
delight. Luxurious, colorful, sensuous ribbons raise our spirits and make our
hearts beat just a tiny bit faster. Nothing signals treasures within like a
prettily wrapped package and the fancier the ribbon, the greater the
anticipation of delightful surprise! Take any Crazy Quilt or other project up a
notch or two by incorporating ribbons in dozens of ways – couching, ruching,
flowers, stems and leaves, bows – the list goes on and on!
Perhaps not quite as obviously festive as ribbon but still providing us with a
multitude of opportunities for creative expression, there is an abundance of
other trims available. I challenge you to think about rickrack, bias tape, cord,
fringe, doilies and lace without feeling your creative urges spring to life! Old
handkerchiefs or special fabrics, such as lamé, ultrasuede or embossed velvet
are other materials that can add that special something to any project. The
possibilities are so limitless that they boggle the mind.
We may not all have the same quantity of free time that our affluent foremothers
enjoyed, but by working smart and utilizing all the great new products on the
market these days, we can make Crazy Quilts and embellished garments that will
‘wow!’ any audience!
She is proud to be participating in the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative, a
program to raise awareness and fund research for Alzheimer's disease. It has two
parts: a traveling art quilt exhibit interpreting Alzheimer's in fiber art that
will tour the US for three years, and an on-going sale of small art quilts. All
proceeds will go to Alzheimer's research.
Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
or 26530 Lake Fenwick Road S Kent WA 98032 p 253.859.0446
Thank you Melody, for sharing your awareness of how the old and the new come
together in today's embellished quilts. Your book is full of easy-to-understand
ideas, to encourage us to make our own fancy objects or quilts. The photography
is excellent, and your writing is encouraging and clear. I highly recommend your
book, which is published by Breckling Press. To view their other books, go to:
http://www.brecklingpress.com/. Their toll-free number is: 800-951-7836.
© 2006 - 2016 Kimberly Wulfert, PhD. Absolutely no copies, reprints, use
of photos or text are permitted for commercial or online use. One personal copy for study purposes is permitted.
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