My Life in NotQuilts



To better understand the construction and thinking behind NotQuilts, I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks displaying the ones I’ve made for my family and friends and the thinking that went into each design.

I hope that you’ll take away from this that it is easier to make these than quilts, yet still gives you the freedom to express yourself by making beautiful objects that will keep your family warm. They may even treasure these.

Oldest Son’s first NotQuilt, done in shades of blue with a red backing


The first notquilt. Click to embiggen

This is my very first NotQuilt. It started with an old, cheap blanket that was dotted with cigarette burns. The holes needed to be covered so I started sewing on patches. I sewed on great big squares of fabric in various shades of blue, not paying any attention to the layout. The fabric patches were so big, I had to roughly quilt them in place, running lines of stitching through the patches and dividing them into segments.

making notquilts

The fabric backing. Click to embiggen.

When I covered the front, I sewed on the backing of red rayon with white rings. I realized that the backing needed to be better secured to the front so I sewed it down with more lines of stitching. Then I added the red, store-bought quilt binding.

This NotQuilt has been repaired with new patches. It doesn’t show that much on the front, but you can see the stitch lines clearly on the relatively plain back. Those small polygons of stitching really show up. Future NotQuilts have much more sewing visible on the back.

DD's Pink NotQuilt. Click to embiggen.

DD’s Pink NotQuilt. Click to embiggen.

Dear Daughter’s shades of pink converted bedspread

Next, I began a NotQuilt for Dear Daughter’s day bed. At the thrift store, I came across a large, off-white bedspread. It had the usual skimpy layer of batting with a backing fabric that was whispy-thin. I liked the curved edges and wanted to keep them.

The curved corner of DD's NotQuilt

The curved corner of DD’s NotQuilt

I ripped out the edges of the bedspread and ironed them flat. That became the new edge. I had learned from the first NotQuilt to attach the backing first so I bought enough cloudy gray flannel to cover the back, going for added warmth. This also added weight.

Detail from the cloudy grey flannel that covers the back of the NotQuilt.

Detail from the cloudy grey flannel that covers the back of the NotQuilt.

I covered the front with various shades of pink patches. This one has a bit more planning. I had some black floral fabric and I ripped that into six segments and spaced them evenly down both sides. I did the same with the other pieces, spacing them regularly on the surface. This NotQuilt ended up with larger pieces at the edges and smaller pieces in the center area. You can consider this as an effort to work out a border and a center medallion.

When that was finished, I bound off the raw edges by folding over the backing flannel around to the front. Then I sewed two lines of pink bias tape to cover the flannel’s raw edge and to add a decorative note.

This NotQuilt has been patched, yet the patches disappear into the motley surface. It needs a few more patches as two more of the original fabrics have disintegrated with age.

A Few Words About Fading

When I made this quilt, the fabrics were new and bright. Time, sunlight, and washing have faded most of them to pale visions of themselves. The first six pieces were black with a bright floral design. Now they are a uniform drab, ghostly floral.

So consider this a warning from my experiences: Don’t sew with pre-faded fabrics that pretend to look old. They’ll do that on their own, no matter what you do. Start with bright, rich colors and enjoy them while they last.

Also, do not be deceived by the few bright pieces into thinking that they are the most recent set of patches. Some are, but some are original. Polyester blends kept their colors far better than the 100% cottons. There are some pieces in here that came from a bag of muumuu scraps I bought while stationed in Hawaii. Those scraps are 100% polyester and they have held up great, better than some of those fine quilting cottons.

As long as the weights of the fabrics are similar, I have found that the composition (cotton, polyester, rayon, etc.) doesn’t matter that much. I do make sure to preshrink every piece of fabric before using it in a NotQuilt. I want to be positive that the finished product can be machine-washed in hot water and dried in a dryer.

It’s a terrible thing to put weeks and weeks of woman-hours into a quilt, wash it, and watch it rip.

This NotQuilt has been waiting patiently for its next round of repairs. The patches, as long as I keep them to the same color family of pinks, will blend right in. They only stand out because they aren’t faded, like the original work was.

NotQuilt baby blanket

This NotQuilt became a chance to use my vast collection of flannel bits culled from making baby blankets.

Dear Daughter’s flannel NotQuilt

This NotQuilt is much smaller than the two previous efforts. I have no idea what is inside of it, a mattress pad maybe. The backing fabric was sewn on first. This NotQuilt became a chance to use my vast collection of flannel bits.

I make flannel baby blankets for baby shower gifts, and I always save my scraps. A 1-yard piece of flannel cuts into a 1-yard square receiving blanket with a strip left over. Then I trim off a triangle at each corner to round the edges nicely.

So when I came to this NotQuilt, I had a large stash of baby fabric flannel, both in strips and squares and a lot of small triangles.

If you look carefully, you will see the triangles sewn back together into a pinwheel block. There are eleven pinwheels in all, and I organized the colors before sewing them together so that they matched up.

notquilt triangle block

The triangles were sewn back together into a pinwheel block. Click to embiggen.

This NotQuilt is far more organized than it looks. Every scrap that had a definite up and down orientation is sewn down to match that orientation. Every scrap has its counterpart on the quilt, spaced apart. The Garfield coffee and donuts and the tie-dye pink hearts are the easiest to notice. The pinwheel blocks are spaced sort of evenly across the top.

I am fairly sure that I sewed the center pieces first and then ran a rough border of rectangles all around the edges. There was a nice pink pattern square in each corner. Time and washing have faded those fabrics to bland nothingness, along with many of the other scraps.

I chose a lightweight cotton for the backing as I didn’t want any more weight than the NotQuilt already had with all that pieced flannel. Every stitch line from the front shows on the back and you can see the overlapping lines as one rectangle is sewn over another.

The binding is a standard, purchased quilt binding of pink, and it too has faded.

Because of its surface, this NotQuilt will have to be patched with more flannel. It won’t look right to use regular cloth, no matter what the pattern is.

The design of this NotQuilt changed as Younger Son aged. Click to embiggen.

The design of this NotQuilt changed as Younger Son aged. Click to embiggen.

Younger Son’s heavily mended NotQuilt of jungle animals

Inside this NotQuilt is another cheap discount-store blanket. It is about the same size as the first NotQuilt, the blue with the red backing.

I purchased a backing fabric for this NotQuilt of green foliage with lizards. That got sewed on first.

The front has been repatched multiple times so it is hard to see the underlying pattern. For Younger Son, I wanted jungle animals. At first, I used more babyish patterns as he was very young when I made this NotQuilt. As he got older, I patched using more adult jungle themes.

notquilt jungle fabric

This detail shows the progression from the babyish jungle patters to more older themes. Click to embiggen.

This NotQuilt had a definite arrangement of fabrics with a border of rectangles on all four sides. The original array of fabrics has been concealed by two or three layers of patching.

Younger Son has the annoying habit of using his bed as a work station for disemboweling small appliances. Sharp pointy tools, screws, and wires did not do the surface of this quilt any favors, nor did his shoes and uncut toenails. His NotQuilt has torn repeatedly in a way that none of the other ones have.

YS’s theory is that his NotQuilt was prominently displayed in full sun for years and that the sun weakened the sturdiness of the fabric. This could be true, although none of the other NotQuilts I have made have shown this much wear.

YS had dust mite allergies; he has since mercifully outgrown them. Therefore, this NotQuilt got washed on a near-weekly basis in hot water with a cold-water rinse. Most of the times, after washing, it went on the clothesline upside down to spare the fashion fabric surface. Sometimes, it went into the dryer. It is very likely that getting washed every week added to the wear and tear.

Washing machines abrade fabric when they rub the clothes up against each other in the hot, sudsy water. Dryer do damage too; all that lint you collect in the lint filter comes from abraded fabric.

This is why many people do not wash their quilts. They may dry-clean them, or hang them out on a regular basis to air them. Those quilts don’t feel the touch of hot water very often.

One of the great things about NotQuilts is that they are made to be patched. This one certainly has. To patch it, I cut off the frayed fabric, iron everything that is left smooth, then cut and sew down a new layer. I generally don’t do a patch job until I have at least five areas to fix.

notquilt jungle pattern

Detail of the NotQuilt’s back showing the repairs. Click to embiggen.

The repairs don’t show very much on the surface unless you look close. The back is where the multiple stitch lines show up, overlapping each other, running alongside, and criss-crossing endlessly. I have to be careful when sewing on a repair patch as I have to keep the seams from stacking up. I offset each patch so as to minimize bulk where multiple seam lines cross.

Again, the back of the NotQuilt shows this more clearly.

I still like the way this one looks and I really like the fact that I can repair it endlessly.

Next Week: Designing NotQuilts!