Saturday, July 30, 2011

What is a Handmade Quilt?

Ok, deep thoughts here, or maybe just rambling. We'll see.

Today we were having a bit of discussion on the Etsy Forum about what is handmade. Seems as though another quilter's customer was disappointed in a quilt she received that was machine stitched, feeling that it was not handmade. I've never had this happen, but I call all my quilts handmade. I chose the fabric with my own taste. I make them, using my hands to cut the fabric with tools, stitch the fabric together with my sewing machine, and quilting them - also with my sewing machine. Because I do all the work with my own hands and tools, I consider them to be handmade. They are not hand stitched. I can do that, but don't sell most of them because they are special to me, and because I'd have to charge an outrageous sum for them. They are definitely not made in a factory. So I think they are handmade.

The dictionary definition of handmade says: Made by hand, not made by machines. I feel like the machine did not make my quilt. My hands did. My hands used the machine, but without my hands the quilt could not be made. That's handmade to me.

Now, because Google is my friend, I went deeper into the question - what makes a quilt handmade? There are a lot of different answers, and most people readily admit that a handmade quilt is better than a factory made quilt. What is the difference? For many people that difference is LOVE.

A handmade quilt is one that is made with care. The fabrics are chosen with a preference toward quality in a handmade quilt. A factory made quilt is made with the most inexpensive materials. A handmade quilt is sewn together with an eye for precision and a desire for durability. A factory made quilt is sewn together with speed being top priority. A handmade quilt is quilted to enhance the piecing, with a feeling for how the stitching looks and holds the layers together. A factory made quilt is quilted in an efficient manner with the main concern being speed, not quality.

Many people love quilts, and find that an inexpensive factory made quilt fills their needs. They don't care if they use it up and wear it out quickly. And that's ok, because you get what you pay for. Other people are willing to pay more for a quilt that is made with care and will last for many years, perhaps even be handed down to their children.

Some quilters love to hand-stitch and do it beautifully. Some quilters enjoy the speed and freedom of machine quilting. I love both, and can appreciate them for what they are. I like to machine quilt on my domestic machine, some people own or rent a long-arm machine. The results can be very similar, but both methods require skill and practice, just like hand quilting. Just like some people hand quilt in a frame, some in a hoop, and some in their lap. Different methods, but all are quilting and depend on the skills and work of the person doing the quilting.

I think it's wrong to represent a quilt made in a factory as one that was made by hand. I also think it's a mistake to call a quilt not handmade simply because it was made with machine stitching instead of hand stitching. I don't think a quilter should feel defensive because of how they do their quilting. I think quality work should be respected for what it is. Hand stitched does not necessarily mean handmade. And handmade does not necessarily mean hand stitched.

Just my Two Cents Worth!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Laura's Luggage by StudioCherie

I need to catch up reviewing all the patterns I have sewn up this month! This is one of my favorite projects - Laura's Luggage. This pattern was as well written as the Luggage Tag pattern, and made a simply beautiful bag that would be perfect for a weekend away. It features two large outside pockets, two zipper pockets, and large inner pockets with elastic at the top.

I did have one issue with this pattern, and that was the fact that in order to get your full size pattern pieces you have to go to a copy store and have the page enlarged. This was the only pattern that I worked with that required this step, and I believe that the shop did a poor job of getting it to the correct size. I had to buy a longer zipper for the top closure and spent a bit of time fiddling to get things to line up correctly. I generally prefer having pattern pieces printed full size in patterns and having to tape the pieces together than having to worry about taking them to be enlarged and having them come out correct. But all is well that ends well and the bag came out terrific! It's a nice light weight and not too stiff, and the piping gives it a really classy look. Below is a peek into the large zippered pocket, which is hidden behind the outside panel pocket. The other pocket is a small one in the side that would be perfect to stash your keys in.The instructions and illustrations were perfect - and I appreciated the tip on sewing the lining to the outside at the top as it really made a difference in the finished bag. This is an easier bag to sew than the Amy Butler Weekender bag (less bulky), and has a similar style to it. Definitely one I would make again!

For more patterns by StudioCherie, check out her shop here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why do I Quilt?

This is an interesting question to ponder, and (at least for me) you might get a different answer on different days depending on my mood and the depth of my thinking at the moment. I can think of several reasons right now, without even trying too hard because quilting really meets a lot of different needs in my live on a variety of levels. One of my quick and easy answers relates to how I started quilting in the first place.

I have sewn all my life. One of the first projects I can remember making was a sweet outfit for a barbie doll - I'm guessing I was around 7 or 8 years old and cut a piece out of one of my moms good sheets for my project. After that she was a little more careful about providing me with acceptable materials for my experiments! My mom also grew up sewing, as most girls of her age did. She never liked handwork, though, so the patchwork blankets at our house were tied with embroidery floss, except for the quilts we got from grandma. I always loved those - made of flour sacks and hand quilted. They were bright and it was fun to look at all the different prints, I think my love of all things scrappy originated with those quilts! We used and enjoyed them, and wore them down with picnics at the park, forts in the living room and overall daily abuse. So for me, quilts are meant to be used and loved - there will always be fabric to make more.

As I became a teen I continued in my love for making things and taught myself to knit and crochet. I joined a craft of the month club and learned decoupage, cross-stitch, and a host of other crafts, but always enjoyed sewing the most. In high school I made many of my own outfits, finding great joy in being original and wearing things that no one else had. I took home ec, and had a lovely teacher who was happy to teach this girl the finer points of sewing and handwork, and found some lesser known forms of needlework to challenge me with like swedish weaving and chicken scratch! I am glad she was not one of those mean ones who don't like students that know a lot already. I made a simple quilt out of rectangles for my bed, using scrap fabrics from the dresses my mom made me growing up and fabric bundles we purchased through the mail. This was in the seventies, when quilting was becoming more popular again - we used two thick poly bats and tied it with embroidery floss to make a thick warm blanket that was wonderful to sleep under on cold nights in Colorado.

I was married in a wedding gown I made myself, and as my girls were born enjoyed making them dresses and nighties, but found less and less time as my family grew for being creative. I made a few simple comforters for our beds, including a "big girl" quilt for each of the older two when they moved to a twin size bed out of their cribs. When I was pregnant with my fourth daughter I made a wonderful friend who was absolutely in love with the idea of quilting! She persuaded me to try hand quilting.

I used a pattern from a womans magazine. I did it in red and green and chose a background fabric with little blue flowers because we were hoping for a little boy. It was an Irish chain quilt with stuffed hearts in the open area. I worked for weeks hand quilting it - I used two strands of regular sewing thread and stretched that fabric so tight in my hoop that all I could do was stab stitch up and down. I was hooked! I loved the texture that the hand quilting created. I loved the fact that I could quilt a block, and come back to it later and be able to do another - finally a chore that stayed finished! And the fact that I could be busy doing something and have a few minutes to quiet my mind and think. From there I never looked back and have always had a quilting project (or three!) to work on.

As my skills have progressed the quilting world has changed. There are so many more options now, less rules about how to do it "right". More fabric available, more tools, and more options for meeting with fellow quilters! Right now I see a lot of "Farmers Wife" projects being worked on, which is exciting. A lot of people are making these wonderful blocks, learning to quilt with templates, which for many is a new skill - for me it's going back to where I started! (No, I'm not joining in, I still have my Dear Jane in progress, so I'm not going to go there!) I'm thrilled to sit by and watch while a new generation of quilters is learning how to use the tools I started out with - and really happy that the traditional methods still are relevant in a world of rotary cutters and fast piecing.

I still love scrappy quilts, most of my stash consists of pieces that are less than 1/2 a yard! I now machine quilt more than I hand quilt, though I do love both. Quilting fills a need in my life to create something that will last longer than this day, week, or month. Quilting also gives me an opportunity to play with color, contrast, pattern. It quiets my mind, allows my thoughts to percolate and develop and centers me. It gives me a social outlet as I meet other quilters and am able to develop friendships. I quilt because it gives an added depth to my life, allowing me to be creative, it challenges me to develop skills and expertise beyond what I already have and it allows me to touch the lives of others.

(please forgive the bad pictures, but I started quilting before digital cameras...these pictures are in no particular timeline, just some of my favorites I have made!)