Saturday 29 December 2018

300 Years of Canada's Quilts - A Book Review and a Quilt

I'm a patriotic Canadian, who enjoys Canadian history, and, of course, I love quilting. So, I looked on Amazon to find books about quilting in Canada, Canadian quilt patterns and the history of Canadian quilting. I found a total of 3. And I now own every one of them. I'll discuss the others in separate posts later. 
Last year (2017) was Canada's sesquicentennial (150th anniversary of confederation), so I not only wanted to make at least one "sesqui" quilt, but I also wanted to read about the history of quilting in Canada. So I started with this book: 
As it was published in 1976, it is "dated" with most of the pictures in black and white. However, the historical information is still relevant. And I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The author is informative without being scholarly, and has a very readable style. She included much of the social history surrounding quiltmaking and not just the art itself. The book is divided up into historical time periods, providing the relevant information for quilting during that era. Fifteen quilt patterns, with templates, fabric requirements and brief instructions, complete the book. I'm glad I made the purchase. My only wish would be for someone to bring out an updated version of this book, with full colour pictures. 
Now to the quilt. I was tossing around numerous ideas for what I was going to do for a sesquicentennial quilt. There were quilt-a-longs, quilt challenges, a mystery table runner (which I completed - see On Guard For Thee), and lots of Canadian themed quilts and fabrics available this year. And while many of them appealed to me, I wanted to do something that would stand out as unique - and preferably with a historical theme. One of the ideas I came up with was to make a sampler quilt from all of the block patterns in this book. Initially, I was going to use Civil War reproducation fabric, but the package I wanted was no longer available when I went online to order it from Craftsy. So, I kept looking at what was available. I finally settled on Boundless Ruby Fleur, a line of reproduction fabrics from 19th century France, in reds and creams. Perfect. A significant part of Canada's history has its roots in France, Confederation was in the 19th century, and our flag is red and white. The reds and creams are more historical colours from the 19th century than the bright red and pure white of our flag. So I was happy with my choice. 
The first block I tried was the Variable Star. By the time I had perused all of the fabric, it was getting late, but I wanted to at least get one block done. So I chose this one. It's only 4", and I felt like I was making a doll quilt working with such small pieces.
Ideally, the star points should have been done as Flying Geese units, but I just started cutting for HSTs before I thought about it. And when I did think about it, I decided to just go ahead and continue. After all, I've probably done hundreds of HSTs, but not nearly so many Flying Geese, and I think each time I've done Flying Geese, I used a different method. So, I would have had to determine what method I would use and then make the appropriate calculations. 

Yes, there are templates in the book, but I don't use templates unless I absolutely have to. Here's the final block: 

I did get some natural-coloured solid fabric from my LQS to use for the background in this quilt, but in this particular block, I decided to use some of the lighter beige fabric, since it's neutral enough. 
Next I started working on the block from Marie-Esther's Wedding Quilt. This is an appliqué block and here's where I discovered that there were problems with the templates. 
In the picture of the original quilt in the book, these leaves have longer stems, and so does the template. However, I realized that if I allowed the full-length of the stems, I would not be able to fit the appliqué on a 14" block, as stated in the directions. So, I had to make the stems shorter. I had already mapped out how I was going to arrange all of the blocks into a quilt and if I started changing block sizes, I would probably have had to rearrange the whole quilt. I also found that the template for the centre was a little uneven. Oh well, no one ever said I was perfect, least of all me. Unfortunately, I couldn't finish this block right away as I did not have the right colour of thread to do the appliqué. Some background for the quilt this block came from: "Made in Montreal in 1840 by Marie-Esther Anne Raymond for her wedding. The maker lived to be 102 years of age." p. 35.
Since I was doing appliqué, and needed to know what thread colours I required, I decided to do the other appliqué block as well, Wreath of Roses. Sunday afternoon in a small town in rural Alberta, and I had a thread to match the light red appliqué, and the beige, but not the dark red.
Fortunately, Walmart had the red I needed, and it was even cotton!
The book has this to say about the quilt upon which this block is based, "This outstanding Rose of Sharon quilt was made in Digby County, Nova Scotia, c. 1850-1870. It... was likely a marriage quilt. The flowers and buds are stuffed so that they stand up in relief." p. 47. The book Quilts and Other Bed Coverings in the Canadian Tradition has pictures of similar quilts, but calls the pattern Garden Wreath. It also states that the flowers are stuffed. Unfortunately, as I was doing machine appliqué with fusible web, that really wasn't a workable option for me. At 18", this is the largest block in this quilt.
While waiting to get the dark red thread to complete the appliqué, I worked on the Hill and Valley block. This was based on a pattern printed in the Kansas City Star during the depression, but it came from a woman in Toronto, according to the reprint. The interesting thing is the pattern that the author gave the templates and instructions for and the one reprinted from the newspaper are actually quite a bit different. 
Author's pattern, for which templates are provided - note dimensions 4"x7"
Newspaper reprint - note the measurement at the top = 10-1/2"
I decided I preferred the original from the newspaper. However, as mentioned previously, I couldn't just randomly change sizes as it could lead to having to reorganize the whole quilt layout. But I did have a little bit of "fudging" room where this block was going in the quilt. I ended up with a block 8.5" x 4.25". 
Following this, I made the Rothesay Beauty, a 5" checkerboard. 
The original was "made in Rothesay, New Brunswick about 1850." p. 41
Next up was the Yarmouth Patchwork Signature Quilt. This is it before adding any "ink."
Here's what the book has to say, "A popular type of quilt during this period (1867-1900) was the autograph or signature quilt. These consisted of blocks on which, for a small fee, persons wrote their name, either in pencil (which was then embroidered by the quilters) or in India ink. The money raised was for some worthy cause." p. 54. The original was made in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in 1881-82. This is a 10" block.
Initially I wasn't sure what I was going to write on this block, but here's the final product:
I started out using a fabric pen to write in the words and numbers, but then decided I wanted the Canada 150 to stand out more. So I did it in a red permanent marker. Since it wasn't a fabric marker, I wasn't sure how durable it would be and then embroidered it. The needles, floss, embroidery hoop, thimble and pincushion used are all vintage, and I believe came from my grandmother. I ended up embroidering the years as well, as you can see in the finished quilt above.
I wanted to finish all of the appliqué blocks, so I moved on to the New England Planters' Quilt block. 
This one is actually mostly piecing - and very challenging piecing it was: 9 y-seams! Only the stems and leaves required appliqué, and I happened to have a good colour match in my thread stash. The quilt this block was based on, known as Prairie Lily or Tulip quilt, was made by Henrietta Eaton of Nova Scotia, c. 1824, from a family pattern. 
Wanderers in the Wilderness came next. 
Also known as Drunkard's Path, Solomon's Puzzle (you can see my first version in Far Above Rubies) and other names, the original in the book was made in pink and white by Margaret Hopper Brown, Essex County, Ontario, c. 1930. The name Wanderers in the Wilderness is uniquely Canadian, according to the book. I used my Drunkard's Path templates for this one.
The Green Gables Quilt block, actually a flying geese block, is taken from a quilt at Green Gables
Some day, I'd like to visit there. And then I can find out if this quilt is still around. 
The French Star, an old Canadian pattern, is an attractive block, but it was especially challenging - lots of weird, curved seams that stretched. 
It didn't help that the templates didn't have the seam allowance. Adding a quarter inch to a straight seam is one thing. Doing it on the curve is a totally different matter. As you can see, all of those petal-shaped pieces are puckered. But I'm not doing this one over. It can just be my most imperfect block to remind me that no one is perfect, but God. It probably would have been better hand-stitched, as these curves are quite awkward to fit under the sewing machine presser foot. However, I'm not one for hand-stitching if I don't have to. Nor are my stitches fine enough to produce a good quilt block.
After that fiasco, I moved to something simpler: the Quilt of Many Names, most commonly known as the Churn Dash. 
Though I did not require templates for this one, I did measure them in the book. The rectangle piece for the sides was out by a quarter of an inch, measuring 1¾" instead of 1½". The original for this one was found in Upper Canada Village. The pattern is typical of Mennonite quilting, though there is no detail given in the book on the origins of this one.
The Double Pyramids is full of 1" HSTs.
And I made them as HSTs, not as individual triangles sewn together. This wasn't a difficult block, just "fussy" with all of those tiny pieces. This one is based on a quilt in the Royal Ontario Museum. It was made in Lincoln County, Ontario, c. 1860, in pink and white, maker unknown.

Next up was the LeMoyne Star, featuring 8 y-seams.
The directions suggested doing it all one way or the other. I liked the look of the half dark/half light points, but would have ended up with 16 seams coming together in the centre, so decided to do it this way. As it is, there's still a big bump in the middle. And all of those bias seams made for lots of puckers. As an afterthought, I should have used some spray starch to help keep the bias from stretching. I did end up using the templates for this one. I have to laugh because a note in the instructions says, "This is a simple design for the beginner." Ha! That might apply to a 4-patch or a 9-patch, but a LeMoyne Star? I don't think so. Maybe it's referring to the suggested quilting along the seam lines, but it's not written that way. Anyway, the original in the book is a crib quilt, c. 1870, found in Hagerman House, King's Landing Restoration, New Brunswick. 
Swallow in the Path, also known as Jack-in-the-Pulpit, looked simpler than it was.
It included 4 y-seams, which I thought were going to turn out alright until I started pressing the block and realized it had gone wonky. I took in some seams and it's improved, but not perfect. "The original of this quilt is in the Glenbow-Alberta Institute (now known as the Glenbow Museum in Calgary). This pattern was taken from the column 'Dear Susan' in the Christian Witness and Canadian Homestead, July 15, 1931, a paper that was widely circulated throughout the Canadian west." p.124. This statement is from the page where the pattern is, but the pattern refers back to p. 69, where it says, "Swallow in the Path, Fort Edmonton, Alberta." Hmm, is it in Edmonton or Calgary?
Finally, I did Marion's Stripes and Squares.
Oddly enough, this particular block pattern doesn't refer back to any quilt within the text of the book. So there was nothing to go by when I realized the measurements in the instructions were incorrect. In the description, it states that the quilt has 35 16" blocks, and that size fits into the dimensions given for the finished quilt, including the borders. And I appropriately planned for a 16" block when I mapped the layout for the quilt. However, the directions and template are for 4 - 4" squares, which only yields an 8" block. I then had to determine if I was going to use 16 - 4" squares or 4 - 8" squares, as I didn't want to have to re-plan my layout. I opted for the 4 - 8" squares. Sixteen 4" squares would really be making 4 blocks, not one. 
Having finished all of the blocks, my next challenge was to assemble the quilt top. Because the blocks were almost all different sizes, this was not easy and involved numerous y-seams to fit it all together. I had assembled about half of the top when I realized that I had planned on the Double Pyramids being a 9" block, when it was in fact a 12" block. When I double-checked the pattern, it did indeed say 9" blocks, but the block diagram indicated a 12" block, which is how I constructed it. Doing all of those 1" HSTs was challenging enough. If I had made the block 9", those would have been ¾" HSTs! But I suddenly had to figure out how to make a 12" block fit in where I had planned on a 9" block. I wasn't about to take things apart and start over. 
Fortunately, the side sashing was generous enough to allow for the extra width, but I had to switch the Green Gables block with the Rothesay Beauty to allow for the extra depth, and had to move over the Wanderers in the Wildness to give Green Gables enough room.
I actually finished the entire quilt top in 2017, but just didn't find the time to get to the longarm studio to get it quilted. Besides, as I've mentioned before, I was really getting tired of the amount of money it was costing me for longarm rental. I really, really, really wanted my own longarm machine. That way I could use as complicated a pantograph as I chose without it costing me an exorbitant amount of money in rental fees. Plus I could take breaks whenever I wanted for as long as I wanted because I could leave the quilt on the machine. So, at this year's Creativ Festival, Central Sewing Machines had very good sales prices on the Handi Quilters. So I took the plunge and bought an Amara (20" throat) with a 12' frame. It took a while before the basement renovations were finished so that the Amara could actually be set up. But finally they were done (with some major flooring hiccups, as mentioned in my previous post), the machine was set up and then I had to determine which quilt would be my "inaugural" quilt. I had about 7 quilt tops waiting for this moment, but I wanted the first one to be special. So this quilt took the honours.

I chose a red and white Aurilux thread that I had in my stash
and the Maple Grove pantograph from Urban Elementz. 

The quilt is almost done. I just need to hand stitch the bottom of the hanging sleeve and then it will be ready for hanging on the quite bare walls in my quilting studio.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Laura, I was so pleased to come across your blog about your sesquicentennial quilt. I am a Curator at the City of Edmonton Heritage Collections and was just entering the quilt featured on p.69 in the "300 Years of Canada's Quilts " books into our collections database. I searched the quilt block pattern name "Swallow in the Path" and found your blog. We have a copy of the 300 Years of Canada's Quilts book in our reference library and I was disappointed to see the misprint saying that the original quilt is in the Glenbow. I see that you noticed the discrepancy as well. So I thought I'd write to let you know that the quilt that has a block of it photographed on p. 69 of the book is indeed held in the City of Edmonton Heritage Collections. I'd be happy to send you a colour, full photograph of the quilt if you'd like. If so, let me know, my email is Thanks for sharing your beautiful quilt online! Trisha