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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Quilting And The Stitch And Bitch

Some of you who may have heard our ABC Evenings 702 interview with Dominic Knight will know that I have undertaken a quilting course in order to make use of the left over cuts of silk from our bow tie production. It seemed a real shame to see these silks just sitting there in storage. 

The whole idea to use the off cuts of silk for quilting had been brewing in my mind for some time. However, it was not until a caller dialled into the talk back radio show that I found myself in the direct pursuit of my goal. 

At my regular Friday lunch, I announced to my friends, amongst whom were venture capitalists, lawyers and merger-acquisition specialists, that I was not going to make lunch over the coming weeks because I was attending a quilting course. After spitting out their water, one of the group grabbed his iPhone and did some googling. He then said 'there is a word for it.... It's called the Stitch N Bitch. You're leaving us for a Stitch N Bitch'. The name, I was told, had been around since World War II and effectively described what went on when women got together to stitch. I didn't care, because at the end of it I would have a quilt and new skills in stitching. And, before you laugh too, don't! I am not alone. More and more men are taking up the hobby of sewing quilts - especially, I am told, in the United States.

Quilting is a textiles art form of bonding a number of layers of fabric through stitch work. The word quilting comes from the Latin word ‘culcita’ which means a large stuffed sack. But it was the French that brought it into its modern word by using the word ‘cuilte’ during the middle ages. 

The earliest known example of quilting is from an ivory carved figure of a Pharaoh circa 3400BC – The Egyptian First Dynasty. In 1924 archaeologists uncovered a quilted floor in Mongolia which dates back to 100BC and the Crusaders brought back quilts from the middle east in the 11th Century. 

Quilting is the art of sewing patchwork and/or panels of fabric together and then bonding them by sewing two or more layers of fabric together. The top layer can be more than one layer of fabric sewn together to give texture and depth of field; or else to include the layers of patchwork within each panel.

The three layers are generally made up of the following: a top layer of fabric which includes the ornate patchwork. A middle later made up of batting or wadding. And, the third layer, made up of a backing fabric. 

The two top layers can be sewn together in a pattern, offering the quilter a chance to express their stitch work, not only in the panels of the quilt, but also in the quilting stitches which brings the layers together. (An example of this can be seen behind me on the wall of the studio where I am working).

As a rule of thumb, the quilter will often follow a geometric pattern in order to be able to stitch the various panels together. A more experienced quilter will show off their skills by engaging in more curved stitching and more intricate shapes and patterns. The quilting can either be done by hand or else by machine.

Much of the quilting we see in home maker books shows off patchwork quilting. Patchwork quilting is using small motifs such as teddy bears, cars, or fruits, to show off the hand-stitching or applique ability of the quilter. It is usually more ornate and requires more planning and panel work than a basic quilt.

Before we continue, I must say a big thank you to Hobby Sew ( ). These amazing stores are what is in part keeping quilting alive. They provide a great atmosphere in which people can gather and exchange ideas whilst at the same time purchase all the bits and pieces they need to sew their quilt together. 

During my first lesson I met a number of characters who all had the most pleasant way about them and being women, they were more than happy to share tips and techniques. It was nice, because had it been a male dominated environment, perhaps there might have been a lot more competitiveness. After twenty minutes of cutting I was already getting bored. I turned to one of the other ladies and asked her how she did it.

“When dinner is over, I just sit and sew. I have a family. But, you know, you just get in the zone. “

Indeed, you do just get into the zone. Like swimming or running, once you get into the habit of repetition you can just zone out and follow the ritual until you look back and marvel at how much you have done. For me, I decided to cheat a little. After having cut 81 squares of 10 inches for my quilt I decided to farm out some of my work. Thanks to Christine I was able to complete my first row by sewing machine all-by-myself and now she and I will finish this together in order to speed up the work. The final stage, once it has all been merged together, is to quilt butterflies into the silk on the top layer. More about that when it comes to fruition.

If you would like to see what serious quilting looks like, take a look at Siobhan Rogers' blogspot page where she documents her work and progress. Siobhan is often featured in magazines and is an Australian authority on quilting.

I asked Siobhan when we started 'Is it a duvet?'. Her response was that it is more decorative than a duvet in function but that when she creates her summer bedding for the home, she places one top sheet and then the quilt and stores the duvet. On that basis, I am going to use a quilt as my duvet this Australian summer so that my girlfriend can sing Madonna's 'Dress You Up' to me with some relevance.

To be continued.....

Sewing the 81 individual pieces together in lines of 9. I am not great on the sewing machine but I am getting better!

The first line completed. 9 10inch squares of jacquard woven Italian silks, four of the designs which are exclusive LNP weaves.  Whilst not cheating, I have employed the talents of Christine to help me complete the remaining 8 rows.

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