quilted mats

Do you remember some patchwork quilted placemats I was making? I used the projects to experiment with patchwork and stitching various quilted patterns. Four of them were just right to fit round our table.

patchwork quilted placemat © elisa rathje 2012

I’m quite pleased with how they turned out. I quilted a diamond shape, a simple angle, overlapping circles, and squares. The patchwork on these quilted mats is quite vivid, often I prefer to turn them linen-side up. I made my own linen bias tape to finish them, amazing how that brings it all together.

patchwork quilted placemat © elisa rathje 2012

Oh, I do miss that bright little room in the old English cottage.

patchwork preview

All through my studies of traditional skills, the most unexpected pleasure has been connecting to a long history of people with the knowledge to make things themselves. A pleasure of the handmade is also the tremendous centeredness, rootedness that comes with self-reliance. I love that moment when you really see how something, maybe a kind of food, an object in your home, a thing you’ve encountered your whole life, is made, and find that you can make it yourself. Making a useful thing, the way you’d like it, with great quality of materials and imbued with your personality, gives an object provenance, a story, and connects it to you. Which things in our homes have those histories? The best ones.

I’m so excited to be making movies to teach you this traditional skill in a simple, casual way, by watching me work, like looking over your grandmother’s shoulder. I’m creating an everyday sort of mentorship, learning at home the way the old methods were so often passed on. A patchwork preview:

The first homemade pictures my sweetheart and I made are The Quilting Series. Quilting Squares and Quilting Triangles are guides to patchwork quilting, a small-scale project, one beginner, and one intermediate. They were shot in the studio at Knaves Acre, our old Sussex cottage. You’ve already met the starlet of this series, a beauty at one hundred years old. You can mail-order your own pattern from the appleturnovershop; then check back here to work along with the movies! Watch them in the schoolhouse, in the column to your left.

quilting squares liberty floral project kit

quilting squares liberty floral project kit

original quilting triangles project kit

original quilting triangles project kit

handcrank sewing machine

The culture that produced our extraordinarily strong, elegant, exquisitely engineered handcrank sewing machine must have envisioned a very different future than one of planned obsolescence. All its parts are built to last, and they have done, so exceptionally well that using it is like looking deep into history without the translation of a word or photograph. If I had the skills to build a machine, I would study this antique. Watching the bobbin winder alone is a delight. Working the crank is surprising, nothing catches, only smooth, magnificent turning movement. Absent of the electrical, the digital, it’s an object that I find at once enigmatic and much more accessible than any contemporary machine. Such a design! The children stitched their hand puppets on it with ease.

handcrank sewing machine © elisa rathje 2012

It’s no surprise then, that this gorgeous little singer from the early 1900’s, with its curved wooden case and elegant paintwork, is the star of a couple of movies I’ve been making with my sweetheart. This is a sneak peek of the singer on set. Our little moving pictures will have homemade projects to go with them, I’m bundling the kits up now. Do sign up for the appleturnover quarterly to get an early invitation to the appleturnovershop opening, I’m aiming for later next week.

Oh! If you’re in England and you’d like your own vintage sewing machine, my dear friend Sarah has a shop full of them.

tailor’s chalk

Like a set of wooden drawing pencils, or an ink-filled fountain pen, I adore tailor’s chalk for its simplicity of form.

tailor's chalk © elisa rathje 2012

Just a flat shape to grip, a sharp edge to mark fabric with, a pure substance that harms neither the cloth nor the tailor. I have great respect for the ecology of a product that leaves nothing to throw away when it’s done. Even a broken piece remains useful. I love to use this chalk for measuring and marking in quilting and dressmaking. And isn’t it a pretty object?

quilted quilt

Oh, I’m thrilled to finally have finished a nine-patch quilt. All patchwork, all piecing, all quilting, all binding finished today. It only took me three and a half years.

patchwork quilt © elisa rathje 2012

With a few interruptions. (Alright, interruptions like going to Canada for months, or working on seventeen other projects in between – don’t worry, it really needn’t take three years!) A second one is nearly done, so my children will each have a quilt.

patchwork quilt © elisa rathje 2012

I’m always delighted to complete a project. It looks just right with the bunting in their little room up in the cottage gable. I’m so pleased.

quilting & piping

I have been using our throw pillows as small studies in the fabric arts. They’ve enabled experiments in knife pleats and kissing pleats and smocking so far. I’ve had a terrible time with some stubborn ruffles on a piece which may never recover, though I’m going to see if a few rosettes will save the thing. I’ve been warming up my quilting skills on another placemat and then on a cushion, before taking on the large quilts, and decided to throw in a small lesson in piping, while I was at it. I’ve never tried piping, very exciting.

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

I used a wide bowl and some tailor’s chalk to draw out the pattern. If you like things to be very precise you could mark out lines first, but I’m both impatient and fond of a handmade sort of drift and wiggle. I’ve simply cut a piece of cotton quilting batting and pinned it in several spots behind the linen.

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

Come into my dim and grainy evening studio for a bit. I bought piping cord a whole year ago with good intentions. You’ll need to make or buy some very wide bias tape, as it needs to stretch round the corners of the pillow without puckering. Cut it long enough to overlap generously. Fold it around the cord and pin the cord into place along the fold.

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

This would be a good moment to switch to a piping foot or a zipper foot, to allow the needle to move along snugly beside the cord. I confess, having neither for my vintage machine, and not quite having the patience (hmmmm) to wait for dear friends to post me one (thank you!) I went ahead and sewed the piping anyway, with the foot moving along on top of the piping and the needle dropping in beside. I know. It did work, happily!

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

Pin the piping round the cover, raw edges together, easing the corners and then notching them with little triangle cut outs to help things stay smooth. Fold one edge of the piping, and when you get back around to it, tuck the raw edge inside it so that they overlap cleanly, and trim. There are some good resources for how to do this bit. Stitch round, as close to the piping as you can get.

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

I chose a slightly rougher, slightly darker linen for the back. I pinned the back of the cushion cover on to the front, right sides together, sandwiching the piping, and then sewed around again following the first line of sewing precisely, and stopping with enough space left to both turn the cover right side out, and stuff the pillow form into it. Best to choose what kind of closure you want in advance – I’m happy just to handstitch it closed and toss it in the wash if it encounters some messy little hands.

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

Quilted and piped!