07 Oct 2016
The other thing that has happened in my life is I finally became aware of the Quilt Odyssey show, put on annually here in Hershey. We had been living here for a decade before I noticed that every late July a whole lot of quilters and sewists would show up at the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center.The Hershey Lodge is a very nice hotel, with its own resort amenities of ultra-fancy pool, sports courts, and mini-golf and they do conventions on a regular basis. They even host the world’s biggest dog grooming convention and show in late September. The competition photos are amazing and show up regularly in British newspapers, but not, alas, in any of the local papers.
Quilt Odyssey is a big deal, even though it and the dog groomers are ignored by the local news. I started attending a few years ago. I went to gawk at the gorgeous quilts on display and to shop the stunning array of sewing vendors, many of whom had the kind of fabric and notions you rarely see in your local Joanne’s and never see at Vol-de-Mart.
The remarkable quilts did not inspire me to make my own. I was outclassed on every level by the artistic designing, fine piecing and delicate quilting. One thing I did learn, fast, was that much of that quilting was not being done by hand in a frame the size of a dining room table. These quilters had specialized free-arm motion quilting machines, and they are huge and expensive. These setups are the biggest sewing machines I have ever seen and they run into the thousands, no, tens of thousands of dollars. You can buy smaller, more household-size machines but these sewing machines require that you hang around the sewing machine. Many of the super-duper models seen in factories work independently of the operator. You program the machine, set up the quilt, thread the machine, and walk away.
I was impressed and intimidated. It did not encourage me to piece my own quilts. Instead, I started looking more seriously at my own NotQuilts. I hadn’t made a NotQuilt in a few years, the wedding quilt for my brother-in-laws being the last one.
Then at the beginning of 2016, I needed a new project for the blog as I had finished writing “Suburban Stockade.” I had spent some time writing blog posts about my sewing adventures in making pjs and continuing in this vein seemed a natural progression. However, I had made enough pajamas for the household. But bedding, now. Everyone needs warm winter bedding and quilts seemed a logical extension of the aims of “Suburban Stockade.” A quilt is beautiful, warm, made of scraps so it’s thrifty, and they let you turn down the thermostat in the winter, letting you save still more money.
I thought back to the 2015 Quilt Odyssey, full of the most extravagant quilts ever; works of art every last one of them. They were covered with fine embroidery, crystals, beads, and made of top-of-the-line, costly fabrics. They took hundreds, if not thousands, of woman-hours each to design, piece, embellish, and quilt. Not one of them could be washed on a regular basis and for sure you wouldn’t want one of these masterpieces on your teenager’s bed, overlaid with clothes, shoes, cats and the detritus of snackies.
This was not the kind of quilt I wanted.
In addition, Quilt Odyssey had a museum selection of old quilts, each one lovingly handmade by some woman century or more ago. They do this every year, contrasting the old quilts with the modern ones, and it’s worth attending the show for that reason alone.
These old quilts were used on a regular basis. You could see how they had been loved by the worn spots and frayed bindings. Most of these quilts had been made of scraps, hundreds if not thousands of tiny bits sewn back together, then hand quilted over every inch to hold the layers together. This is a time-consuming process and again, not what I wanted to emulate as a way of demonstrating the value of learning to sew.
It was a puzzle. It should not have been one as I had made a bunch of NotQuilts by this time but I did not see what was staring me in the face until I had to repair Younger Son’s NotQuilt. YS is a budding engineer and likes to use the surface of his bed as a workstation. Pliers, wires, wire cutters, screwdrivers, and other tools do not make quilt tops last longer, let me tell you.
The answer came to me. I would write about making NotQuilts.
I thought back to Quilt Odyssey, full of art; all of it beautiful and useless and time consuming and expensive.
NotQuilts were none of those things. They use scrap, including the batting layer so very little money gets spent. They look reasonably attractive. They can be washed and repaired. They can be made on regular sewing machines. They don’t take that long to make.
I started the Cat NotQuilt as a proof of concept, writing about it as I made it. I began work in March of 2016 and was finished on 1 July 2016. That is a finished, queen-size quilt in four months, by myself. I did not work on it every day, but in snatches of time as I could.
I think this is important.
I am moderately well organized, and if I had more self-discipline I could get more done and play fewer rounds of solitaire. I have many other things that need doing on a daily basis. Even so, I finished a quilt in four months.
I suppose you could sew one of the lovely quilt kits sold in Keepsake Quilting catalog in four months. You don’t spend time designing it, buying the fabric or sorting through scrap boxes. You certainly don’t spend time cutting out hundreds of tiny polygons. You sew the pieces together and quilt it as you like.
The antique quilts at Quilt Odyssey were sewn of scrap and I would guess that the women sewing them didn’t have much money to spare. What they did have was mad hand sewing skills – something very few of us have these days – and a need for warm bedding that did not cost much. They also had the time as every woman was expected, when she wasn’t doing anything else, to keep busy and entertained with a needle.
The art quilts at Quilt Odyssey did not take intermittent bits of time over four months to make. I’d guess that each one of them was incredibly labor intensive from start to finish. The designing alone must have taken hours if not days. Choosing the right fabrics, cutting, sewing, embellishing, and quilting all take vast amounts of time.
NotQuilts do not take this kind of time. If I worked at it steady, I could probably sew one in a few weeks. Would my efforts ever be shown at a Quilt Odyssey? I seriously doubt it, but I will have a finished piece of bedding.
So this is why I recommend, even if you’re a skillful quilters, to give one a try. NotQuilts are fast, cheap, and they let you experience designing on the fly with no fixed destination in mind. At worst, you get a utility piece of bedding to keep the cold out. At best, you get something that nobody else in the world has; something that is truly unique and truly original.