Quilt by Quilt… A Quilter’s Journey
By Charlotte Maxwell
I have known how to sew since I was a young girl. My grandmother taught me to sew buttons onto scraps of fabric so that I could handle a needle and thread. I learned to tie a knot; a very large knot. When I was about 10 years old, my other grandmother, who had been a professional seamstress for a time, helped me to make a pink, pleated skirt for a doll I had at the time. I remember that skirt vividly. It had a waistband and she taught me how to do an almost invisible hemstitch. It was sewn on her Singer Featherweight. I remember being so proud of that.
My mother and grandmother made lots of clothes for the girls in our family. They also did sewing for the home; drapes and curtains and slipcovers for furniture. It was what many women did in the 50’s and 60’s to save money. I watched them. A lot.
I’m not sure when I started sewing in earnest. I was required to take home economics when I was 12 and in the 7th grade. There were two or three sewing units that year, and I enjoyed it enough to take another year in 8th grade.
Some time after that, I began sewing at home. I could now read a pattern and follow it. I made a baby bib for a friend’s child. I made a halter-top for myself, and a swimsuit. I only sewed with cotton for the most part. Other fabrics scared me and I never thought to ask for help.
My mother would buy fabric or give me money to buy fabric to make clothes for my sisters and myself. I made shorts and tops and a couple of pretty fancy dresses. I started saving fabric scraps at about that time. I thought that maybe some day I would make a patchwork quilt with the saved scraps. I don’t really know where that idea came from. We had no quilts in our home that I remember.
My very first quilt was started in about 1977. I took some of the scraps and cut squares, with scissors and a cardboard pattern and began stitching them together by hand. I didn’t live at home anymore, so I had no access to a machine. I also did a few larger squares that had appliqué on them of plants and flowers that I had in my apartment. They were done by trial and error, as I had no one to teach me the skills. I didn’t get very far and I put it all away.
In 1981 when I was pregnant with my first child I pulled it all out again and finished it in a small size. It was probably about 36 inches square. I don’t remember what I used for the batting. It was tied, though. That first effort ended up in the bottom of the playpen for quite a few years, through two children. I did not attempt any more quilts for a while, but I did keep sewing clothing and saving scraps.
I sewed lots of clothes for my girls when they were young. I enjoyed it and I had a friend with whom I sewed. Our kids were all about the same ages and I would take my machine to her house and set up on her kitchen table with her and sew. By this time I had my grandmother’s old Singer featherweight for my own. She had Alzheimer’s and couldn’t use it any longer. My mother gave it to me.
My friend Linda and I would hit up Hancock’s and buy as much inexpensive fabric as we could afford. We had a couple of patterns for shorts and tops and we made them over and over to outfit the kids for the summer.
In about 1990 when we were living in Dallas, I bought a Kenmore sewing machine, which I thought was the best thing ever. It could zigzag and do buttonholes and a stretch stitch. Since I was still sewing garments, this was appropriate for me. I still had the Singer, but it didn’t see much action.
After I got the new machine, I saw an ad for a quilting kit to make a log cabin wreath quilt to hang on the wall. Never being one to spend money on a kit with directions, I bought some fabric and squinting at that small picture, I made one on my own. I thought it needed to be hand quilted; was there any other way to make an authentic quilt? So I built a small square frame with my husband’s help, and stretched it onto it and away I stitched. I guess it’s called the stab and stitch method. I didn’t have any training in quilting yet.
I don’t remember how long it took me to finish it; at least a year or so until it was done and off the frame. By then we had moved to Florida. I don't have any photos of the first quilt from the playpen days, but here is the second quilt.
The binding is single fold, and each side is sewn on as a single piece since I didn't know how to turn corners back then. Each square is quilted with a fleur de lis in the center of the square.
I hope you enjoy my journey. I will be back soon for another installment.