Monday, March 7, 2011

Quickie Weekend Quilt-Top

A few weeks ago my mother in law came by and handed me a plastic grocery bag. It was one of her thrift store "finds". She is the Queen of Thrift and finds amazing deals. This one was a 3 yard length of high quality green and white polka dot cotton. It was lovely. Into my head sprang a dozen potential uses for this pretty cloth and I decided soon after to make a tunic for Malachi from it.
A few days later I was happily cutting and pinning a little tunic, experimenting with a new design. I had pleats pinned at the shoulders and the waist and had lightly sprayed the fronts with starch. I lifted my iron, tested its warmth and pressed the fabric, finding satisfaction in the smooth, crisp folds of fabric that emerged from beneath the iron as it slid over the pleats.
Then I stopped. I sniffed. Something was dreadfully wrong. That strange aroma - what was it? I kept pressing and the smell got stronger and stronger. I set the iron down and went around the house looking for something on fire. It was some kind of a smoke that I was smelling and I feared the boys had put something into the oven and turned it on. But all was well, so I came back to the ironing board. I started to press again but the smell was overpowering by now. Finally, I clutched up the fabric and pressed it to my nose. THAT was it, then. And then my mind flooded with recognition. Cigarette smoke.
I have nothing in particular against cigarettes nor the people who smoke them. In fact, some of my fondest childhood memories embrace the scent of cigarette smoke. I was fathoms deep in love with my Grampie as a little girl and was never happier than when I was sitting with him at his house as he read the paper, putting on The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show for me to watch while he took in the news, or going out with him to "the shed" where he kept the mower; a place heavy with the smell of gasoline and oil with a hard packed, dirt floor. And Grampie smoked cigarettes. In fact, he always lingeringly smelt of tobacco, aftershave and money. To this day I cannot smell a dollar bill without thinking of Grampie. But while cigarette smoke on Grampie may be nostalgic and sentimental, it is absolutely unappealing on fabric. (And to anyone interested, Grampie gave up cigarettes altogether a very long time ago and has never gone back. I'm proud of him.)
I found myself in a bind. I washed the fabric and dried it, but the smell was still there, subtle and sinister unless exposed to warmth and then POUF - the smell came out in full force. I would have to throw it away. But 3 yards of beautiful fabric? The fabric hoarder in me screamed at the thought.
I stuffed it in a bag with old clothing waiting to be cut down into quilt squares and thought about it. Or, to be honest, I didn't think about it. But I knew it was there if I wanted it, and I could no longer smell it since it was in a bag.
This weekend I was chomping at the bit to sew something. I didn't sew at all last week (well, except for some throw pillows for the boys beds but that doesn’t really count). I am prone to, at random times, tear scrap fabric that is not big enough to make any thing with into 4" squares. I have several plastic gallon size bags stuffed with these 4" cotton squares and whenever I want to make a quilt top, I can dip into the pile. Judah and Malachi both got quilts made from this 4" square collection and I made my mom a table runner last Christmas with these - since they were already ready and waiting to be sewn, it took me only two hours to make it.
So on Saturday I wanted to make something. I got out my bags of 4" squares and looked through them. I had some pretty pink squares (but not many) and quite a few tan and white striped squares. Green would be nice to set off those colors. . .and my mind leaped to the polka dot fabric, stewing in the bag. I got it out. I sniffed it. I couldn't detect any cigarette odors right off. I tore the fabric into a lot of 4" wide strips, then pressed the strips, and tore them into 4" squares. When I pressed the fabric, I could indeed smell the odor once more but it didn’t seem as potent as before. I laid out a block with the green, striped and pink squares and I thought it looked all right.
In the end, I had just enough of the pink and striped squares to make fifteen 9-patch blocks. I am a lazy quilter and do not feel any guilt about boosting the size of a quilt top by alternating plain squares with pieced squares. The printed fabric for the plain squares came from a yard of very nice home dec cotton fabric I got at Mission Mart for 50 cents. I ended up with thirty blocks altogether and set them 6 x 5. If I had had enough blocks to set them 7 x 5 the quilt top would have ended up large enough for a twin size bed, but as it is, it will make a very adequate nap or "throw" quilt. I'm hoping that with the green fabric being surrounded by different fabrics, the cigarette odor will be dispersed and un-concentrated. I can't really smell it anymore. I'm very glad I saved this fabric, now.
The best part about this method of quilt making is that it costs so little. One reason I never got into quilting before is because fabric is so expensive and I just can't afford $50 worth of cotton for a twin size quilt top. But by using the scraps that are available, the quilt tops I've made have cost nothing. I use a blanket for the middle and, usually, a sheet for the backing so the cost for a completed quilt is never more than $5 or so. I can get nice, soft, worn blankets at the thrift shop for next to nothing and there are usually very nice sheets to be had which, with a good hot washing, work great as the back.
Another nice thing about sewing quilt tops with 4" squares is that it is FAST. This one took me a few hours to sew up. A nice Saturday afternoon project. And as quilts usually have names, this one will be "Memories of Grampie - Springtime and Cigarettes".


  1. Good idea! I'm currently obsessed with the idea of letting nothing go to waste, so I just may begin a 4-inch-square stash of my own!

  2. Really pretty, and very fresh colours for spring. I like it being a memory quilt.

    That's my philosophy in quiltmaking as well - I save everything that is not smaller than 1x2 inches. It might be in my scrap stash for a long while, but in the end, I'll find a use for everything. I never really got the thing with buying new fabric, cut it to pieces and sew it back together again. Now, all my quilts contains memories of my family, since I know that the fabrics came from my Mums skirt, a sisters dress or a brothers shirt, the old Christmas tablecloth etc.

  3. Awesome! Very inspring. Me and Michelle decided to work on quilt blocks at reenactments this year. So this has been a great read. :D Now I want to start getting my repro fabric scraps out. ;)


  4. Love it! I want to make a quilt so bad, but I always end up choosing the patterns that are just so...complicated...for someone as busy as I am. I always seem to gravitate towards the time-consuming projects. :)

  5. In my eyes, that is the only way to make quilts... Thank you for the idea of keeping a stash of quarters! That sounds like a good way of eventually finding color companions for scraps.

    The finished result is beautiful, I like the combination of colours and patterns. And good for you for not throwing that green fabric away!

  6. Looks good. The colour combo gives it that vintage feel.
    And when you have scraps too small to make squares...there's always crazy patchwork.
    I'm still using the leftover scraps from the first quilt I ever made. Its always turning up in things I make.
    I have a shopbought quilt on my daybed....but would like to eventually replace it with a homemade one that fits the bed rather than coming up short. Thought if I mix up the colours enough it will fit any colour scheme as my other quilt I made now doesn't quite match (the room was yellow and its blue and cream).


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!