Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Civil War

Fear ye not readers, I am not here with a news bulletin though I think what follows could be a tad surprising. I had to have a little chuckle when reading the comments on my last (Christmas tree) post (thank you very much beloved commenters,) that it was "your least pink and flowery post in a long time". Pink? Flowery? Who me?

I did hint a while back when I made the calico quilt (this post) that my colour preferences had undergone a little change. I think this is not necessarily permanent nor does it mean I have turned my back on my beloved sugary colours and florals, maybe it was the onset of Autumn, but I was feeling well, Autumn-y. I see it as more of an expansion of the palette and design of fabrics I love. Yikes, expansion?

And so with a nod towards the big 25th December, I started to think of what gifts for our nearest and dearest I might be able to make myself. Trouble is, not everyone likes the same stuff as me, of course. Indeed both parents and in laws tend to have a love of what I would term sludge. Herein then, a story about hitherto loathed sludge...

I decided I would make a quilt for my in laws, I can say this on here because I don't think they know what the internet is! Thinking about the colours in their home, there was no doubt in my mind that sludge was called for. Now might I say that sludge is not merely the concern of the middle aged for my dear quilting sister has tastes in fabric and colour nothing like my own and it is a long standing joke between us that she is indeed, one of the sludgies, too. At the Knitting and Stitching Show then, my mission was to purchase sludge fabrics with which to make a quilt. This was back in early October so you really are not allowed to say now, "Hen, you're soooo quick at quilting"!

So things in the den have been looking a tad different. Unbelievably, I found a tiny little space to dedicate to my burgeoning sludge collection, squeezed in between the Kaffes and the errm, miscellaneous scruffy pile.

The other thing I must confess is that I had started to admire sludgey type quilts in magazines and books. At this point, I think I have to stop referring to sludge and get professional (!) and start talking "civil war" for this is the term given to this type of fabric I am now talking about, the types of fabrics, both designs and colours, found in quilts dating back to the American Civil War. This is a huuuuge area of interest to quilters.

The quilt I loved in particular, was this one... (Mc Calls Quilting magazine, Sep/Oct 2010)

This was quite an intriguing quilt, unlike any I'd made before, quite possibly more complex too. Although each block is made to the same pattern, the use of varying fabric designs and colour placement within the blocks can actually make them look really rather different. I've never studied a photograph so much! I've even made notes in the margin!

Now to the fabrics. I have found civil war type fabrics much harder to find here in the UK but there were a few stalls with good stocks at the Knitting and Stitching Show (notably American Quilt Store - their website appears not to be working? - and Village Fabrics). I wanted to buy my first selection of fabrics in person as I was (am!) a novice at this type of fabric and sometimes, when fabric arrives in the post, it's not always exactly what you expected.

I think we can still safely say these are sludge so I went for the jazziest patterns!

But there are some surprisingly bright ones, too.

Even some rather pretty ones, I think.

What I love is that they all have historical backgrounds, some ranges have super names, I have one selvedge that reads "Civil War Dressing Gowns"! I am currently reading a book all about quilts and the civil war and I can tell you, it's jolly good stuff!!

What these blocks definitely needed were "shirtings". I have come to understand that these are the fabrics you can see in the photos below which look as if, funnily enough, they could have come from shirts! So they tend to be pale in colour with itsy bitsy patterns.

Quite cute though, don't you think? (Most of the shirtings came in a bundle from the brill Nauvoo Quilt Co on Etsy, cut to my exact specifications and arrived all the way from America in 5 days! My sister kindly bought me some too, thanks dear; hold the sludge, though!)

There's quite a lot involved in making each block. There are 21 pieces to cut out to start with and then you cut some of the squares into triangles so each block is made of 29 pretty small pieces. There are lots of points to match up (the parts where the patches meet), I've even ripped out a couple of seams along the way (something I loathe doing but which is more likely on projects like this to get things just right). And pressing, lots of pressing of all those seams is needed so I've been up and down to the ironing board like a yo-yo (this is what we quilters term "exercise", you know).

And in fact, I'm pretty pleased with how they're turning out, technically speaking. Not convinced of some of the colours but then, it's not for me, is it and I do think (hope!) that once it's all assembled, it will all come together nicely.

I'm just waiting on the final fabrics to arrive from my beloved Fat Quarter Shop to get on and finish the quilt. I'm making a throw/lap sized version so I have made enough blocks (I think!) and now need to assemble the setting triangles and sashing and so on. How many days until Christmas Day? Aaarrgghhh...

P.S. Sorry about the photos, the light in Winter, you know how it is for us amateurs...


  1. Wow what a labour of love!! If your gift is not appreciated they deserve to be shot. I am an Autumn person in clothing, (I try not to say sludge when I'm wearing it) but have to say that is not my taste for furnishings at all. However I do think your quilt looks beautiful and the fabrics are so right for the design. Good luck, hope you get it finished, you have a real task there.

  2. Mmmm what did I say about pink? Still not a hint, call the doctor!Your in-laws should be thrilled to have a daughter-in-law who's gone to so much time and trouble for them. I must admit I'm not very good at making things I wouldn't want for myself! My sister lives in a trendy apartment in Amsterdam and I did make her some gopping yellow and orange curtains for her '70's style room - that was quite hard!
    I'd be thrilled if someone had gone to this much trouble for me. I hope they appreciate all your hard work.

  3. it is absoultely gorgeous - clever you - I wish it was my Christmas present!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Glad to see how open-minded you are ;)
    And interesting post, too (though I enjoy pretty much all of your entries!). I was surprised to see these fabrics termed "Civil War", as I would have thought they would go under the moniker "American Colonial" or "Early Colonial", like interior decorating style. Apparently not!
    Thanks for teaching me something new, then...
    Happy quilting x

  5. That is so lovely Hen - to put aside your own likes (which I share!) to make things for others that you know they can love too - not everyone does that. I have to admit that there are very few colours I can't take to at all - just one or two, but it really does depend how they are used. Some people just have a knack for living amongst brown and grey sludge - where with a little bit of texture or thought they can be used in a way that reminds you of nature, which is after all beautiful in all her colours. I do wear these colours sometimes, but the colours I like around me are of the more vibrant kind. Even though the colours are not your own choice, I know that your quilt is still going to look amazing especially with your design skills. It's not any old sludginess either is it, your hand-picked fabrics? The amount of effort you have put into finding all these fabrics is amazing, I know that wouldn't have been easy. One thing is certain though, the recipients of your quilt are going to just love it!I think I will too.
    p.s. talking of colours, I'm rather taken by the background colour of your blog.

  6. This made me laugh out loud- I too have a secret stash of Civil War sludge amongst my colours- and it has many of the same fabrics in it - I'm still seeking the right pattern, I'll know it when I see it- and I have a suspicion it will be hand pieced.My sludge stash developed from a nostalgic memory of a fabulous autumn day we spent at Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts ten years ago, I had a whim to make us a small bed quilt to remember the holiday.
    Your sludge quilt looks like it is going to be gorgeous.

  7. Hmm there could be a little subliminal something going on here as I too have been slowly but surely drawn to the sludgie side Lol I have a very small stash too hiding away in the cupboard it keeps calling me, I keep thinking about them,I wonder what can I make with them... I push them to the back of my cupboard but they are crying even louder to see the light of day! Maybe I should just make a mini quilt out of them that might shut them up! Do you think?
    The blocks look great by the way!

  8. Hi Hen, Could you please tell me where you bought your weight from? thanks xo

  9. I'm an American and I love reading your blog with all its quiltiness and Britishisms and pictures of the English countryside and your steam engines and wartime dress. And the kitties! Love the kitties! Anyway, I just wanted to say that I am loving your new quilt and the design and fabrics remind me of quilts I've seen in old log cabin museums and like (think Little House on the Prairie).

  10. Leann in California9 December 2010 at 04:05

    I just can't imagine how the ladies from the Civil War era sewed their quilts without electricity and rotary cutters!!
    I love your blog, it's my favorite ... and I don't even sew! :-)

  11. Hen, that quilt is going to surprise and delight the recipients. It's great fun to go outside of our usual color comfort zones every so often, take that plunge and see what develops.

    In the case of this quilt of yours ... beauty!

  12. Ohhh what a lovely post. I love the brighter colours of fabric you chose to complement it. Can't wait to see what it will look it. It always amazes me seeing other people's quilts so much time, love and effort goes into them and the amount of design choice is amazing. What a beautiful personnal present its going to be. Look forward to seeing it finished. Dee x

  13. Hi Hen
    I must admit I love the sludge rather than the sugary, and the shirtings sre gorgeous.
    That was a very informative post, I brought back some of those vintage squares from Virginia a few years ago without realising what they were. They were put into my cheap scrap basket for fairs. I think that I have one left, if so I will keep it for you, as I am sure you will find a good use for it, or a place on your shelf!

    T X

  14. Another beautiful quilt in the making. I love it.
    I know what you mean re colours! Sludge is a good word - I have a problem with what I call "Granny Beige"!
    Julie xxxxxxxxxx

  15. I am sure they will absolutely love it Hen - a true labour of love! It is many years since I made a quilt - I think the last one was one I made for Tamzin when she was a baby so about 21 years!


  16. the colors remind me of the old and taterd quilts my gramma used to have on her bed. Good job!!

  17. The blocks on the quilt look amazing. You're right ... there are so many different looks you'll be able to get out of one block pattern. Your in-laws will love it! Some of the fabrics remind me of fabrics my mother used to make men's ties from way back when(as gifts for the men in the family). Bess

  18. Hen, I have an entire cabinet of beautiful sludge fabrics! :D I love the civil war repros...I love (almost) anything old. Sadly, they don't mix very well with shabby or cheery, do they? But I have them, and love them. But I wouldn't quite call my collection sludge, because I picked the prettiest I could find. :) I also have quite the collection of pinks and yummy! :)


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