Monday, December 30, 2013

Let's Start at the Very Beginning

A very good place to start. I have that song in my head from the Sound of Music. Anyway, today I am going to start my new series about my quilting journey and how I got from there to here. A couple of years ago, after I discovered the quilty blogging world, I decided to write an essay of sorts, about my quilting experience from the beginning. I wanted to document my quilts with words so I could show where I began and where I am now. I am going to share that here with you. I will still of course post more recent things here as well. So here we begin with the first installment.

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.

 This little quilt is only 30 inches square and all the fabric was bought at my local Hancock fabrics in Dallas. It has very little actual quilting on it, is backed with unbleached muslin and has never been washed. It spent lots of years hanging on the walls in our homes.
 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.


  1. Such a sweet story about your quilting journey...love it!

  2. I think I still have the "playpen" quilt. I will look for it so you can take it's picture. :)


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