How I began my interest in Patchwork
In my last year at College, I specialised in Art.
I went to Chelsea Art School in the daytime and Bromley Art School for evening classes in embroidery.
At Bromley I learnt about the history of patchwork, and was taught the traditional template method; there was ongoing tuition in all kinds of embroidery.
I was lucky enough to be in wood-engraving and book illustration classes at Chelsea, besides figure drawing and pictorial composition,so I enjoyed an interesting and varied timetable.
I was very happy indeed.
After the day's work at Chelsea we went to a wonderful cafe,(it had a romantic name, perhaps the Blue Cockatoo?) where a three-tiered cake-stand piled with cream cakes accompanied an enormous pot of tea.
At Bromley I found a small cafe with dark brown furniture and lamplit tables, where they made the best Welsh rarebit I ever tasted, before or since.
In those College days I thought I was really living the good life!
In fact, because the College information booklet stated that five shillings per week would be a suitable allowance, I lived for three years with exactly that, and had to keep accounts too!
Only now can I admit that these were largely fictional; I sold my paintings in order to buy( for example) this bathing-costume for swimming-lessons,and theoretically bought a great deal of soap, shampoo etc. to make the books balance.
But I did have cream cakes!
I became very interested in the traditions and language of patchwork, perhaps particularly in America.
For the early pioneers,who were travelling,and even when in their log cabin homes had no room for luxuries, patchwork solved many problems.
It used up all kinds of remnants,took up very little space (the patchwork squares were stored under the beds until Quilting-time) and gave the women a creative outlet.
Those who practised the paper template style would use their letters,sometimes love-letters,to make the shapes, and they would be left in for added warmth.
At Quilting Bees the whole community would be gathered together. Everyone would bring food and after the quilting(done on a wide wooden frame ) there would be a celebration feast.
The names of the patterns are drawn from the lives of these hardy women,and from Bible stories too.
They are so evocative ---Jacob's Ladder,Star of Bethlehem, Crosses and Losses, The Delectable Mountains, Log Cabin, Grandmother's Flower Garden,Double Wedding-ring, Corn and Beans....patchwork was part of the rhythm of life for so many American families who were making a new life for themselves, and learning to make use of the materials they found about them.
At Bromley Art School I was taught to use paper shapes and tack the material round them, then oversew the pieces together on the wrong side.
This is a very neat and accurate method. Nowadays people tend to favour machine patchwork. I have tried both. Using the machine I made a Jacob's Ladder Quilt in blue and white, and using the much slower,traditional process I took seven years to complete a Flower-garden Quilt.
Here is the Jacob's Ladder, partially occupied:
And here is part of the Flower-garden quilt, which is King-size and heavy.
Hand-sewing for a quilt is really calming; you can't rush it,so your whole person slows down and becomes restful.
It is not easy to describe the template method of patchwork I was taught at Bromley.
Diagrams might hopefully help.
This is the diamond, used for Lone Star and similar traditional patterns.
My Flower Garden Quilt used the Honeycomb,or hexagon,template.
There are hundreds of ways of using these shapes to make quilt designs.
I used old Christmas cards for my shapes; they were just the right thickness.
It is a good idea to try making a pieced square first.
With 9 pieced squares you can make a cushion cover.
You need a small, sharp needle, not too long.
It is best not to mix old and new fabrics, and the tension of your quilt will be uneven if you mix types of fabric together.
For the Jacobs Ladder Quilt I made the mistake of using an old sheet for the white parts, and with constant washing those pieces frayed.
In Part 2 you will find examples of quilts from all over the world.