SOME THOUGHTS ON BEHALF OF MODEST QUILTS

My first book Little by Little was the outgrowth of a class on making miniature quilts that I taught periodically over a couple years through a quilt store where I was working.  It was a teaching gap that needed filling at the time, and it appealed to me.   Regularly in the quilt store I was engaged in consulting about colors and yardage for quilt projects. Many times the customer wanted to do a bed-size quilt for a child, or for someone’s wedding; and after a short discussion it was clear that the person often had little or no sewing or quilting experience.

The basics of quilt construction used to be passed from mother to daughter and have not changed since the first pieced quilts were made hundreds of years ago.  Tools and techniques have improved, but the fundamentals of cutting pieces of fabric and sewing them together to create designs remains the same. What has changed is the size and complexity of a quilter’s first quilt.

I had studied art in college, and had relatives who were professional artists. What my customers were undertaking was the equivalent of a painter attempting a five by seven foot canvas, or a sculptor working on a five foot statue.

It is helpful to realize that when art students begin to paint, they work on small canvases about 20” x 30”.  They make many small paintings as they learn to control the colors and to create balance and composition.  They would shudder at the thought of using their precious paints and exposing their souls on a 7’ x 9’ canvas.  Even experienced artists make small studies for each major painting.

Transfer this concept to the making of a quilt. Planning the average-size bed quilt, 90” x 108” is an intimidating job. The cost of fabrics is considerable, and the time investment in selecting colors, and then in setting the color pattern within the chosen blocks, is enormous.  Consider instead making a small quilt, a small study, both to audition your fabrics and to hone your piecing skills. Now you can see the interaction of the colors and plan their placement in your quilt.

The ideal is to make several small quilts just to play with the fabrics colors and patterns.  Doll and small quilts are such an art form and planning exercise.  They spring from snips, scraps, and gleanings and produce gems of color, composition, motion and whimsy.   

[The two quilts below illustrate this.  Lucy’s Ninepatch is a study of red, rose and white, a limited color palette for traditional blocks, set off  by a wide rose paisley border to add more color and movement.  Zephyr uses a wild color palette in the block pattern, with a complementary solid red/blue boarder.]

Zephyr Mary Hickey 1991  25” x 25” Pioneer Storybook    p. 71

Zephyr
Mary Hickey 1991 25” x 25”
Pioneer Storybook p. 71

Lucy’s Ninepatch Judy Pollard 1991   24” x24” Pioneer Storybook    p. 29

Lucy’s Ninepatch
Judy Pollard 1991 24” x24”
Pioneer Storybook p. 29

The creation of these modest quilts exercises the nonverbal side of your brain and improves your ability to work with color, not to mention enhancing your skill at sewing the quarter-inch seam and at matching corners.   These may be and should be humble quilts, childish in size but significant as experiments in technique, composition and color.

[These two quilts are studies in color gradation.  Trip tests strip piecing ability in a traditional Around the World pattern with a simple floral border.  Star is a trial run at the daunting Lone Star block, again through strip piecing.  The wide border makes a small practice block into a satisfying small finished quilt.]

Miniature Trip Around the World Mary Hickey 1994

Miniature Trip Around the World
Mary Hickey 1994
Big Book of Small Quilts p. 39

Glowing Star   Mary Hickey 1993   31” x 31” Joy of Quilting   p. 195

Glowing Star
Mary Hickey 1993 31” x 31”
Joy of Quilting p. 195

In the last ten years my husband and I have been watching our grandchildren grow.  Among other things this means being surrounded with cardboard bricks, wooden blocks, Legos, Lincoln Logs, crayons, colored pens, chalk, and reams of white and colored paper.  The process is always the same; a sketchy drawing, a simple arch, a ten piece Lego figure, a Lincoln Log wall; and then a more elaborate drawing, a block building, a Lego vehicle, a Lincoln Log house; and on and on to more elaborate and more complex levels. And when they get to the kindergarten level it starts over with words and spelling; the “I luv yu nana”, to the three sentence story, to the full page letter, or the multipage fairy story.   It is the same with us even though we are older.  We need time to learn our medium, to play with our materials and ideas. We need dozens and hundreds of little experiments.  For quilters, that’s what modest quilts do for us.

Over The Rainbow Mary Hickey 2002 38” x 38” Warm Welcome  p. 93

Over The Rainbow
Mary Hickey 2002 38” x 38”
Warm Welcome p. 93

Wonder Baby Mary Hickey 2001 36” x 36” Sweet and Simple Baby Quilts p. 35

Wonder Baby
Mary Hickey 2001 36” x 36”
Sweet and Simple Baby Quilts p. 35

Chubby  Checkers  Mary Hickey 1995  30” x 30” Big Book of Small Quilts p. 24

Chubby Checkers
Mary Hickey 1995 30” x 30”
Big Book of Small Quilts p. 24

Ribbon Wreath MaryHickey 2000  26” x 26” Comfort and Joy  p. 52

Ribbon Wreath
MaryHickey 2000 26” x 26”
Comfort and Joy p. 52

If you are an experienced sewer, but a novice quilter, do two or three or five modest quilts, to get to know the territory. If you are an artist, a person who is at home with color and design, but not an experienced sewer, do three or five or seven modest quilts and get to know how fabrics work through a sewing machine, stretch on the bias, bunch at the seam.

Small quilts with simple shapes are the easiest to make, yet have a humble charm all their own.  Their simplicity makes them perfect quick projects. The pastime of cutting out little patches of fabric and sewing them back together again is fun, formative and yes, even addictive. But the same can be said of doing crossword puzzles or playing bridge.

Every quilt is a story. It is your story of color and light, of pattern and design.  The best way to get proficient at telling those stories is to start many of them, complete some; and complete a few really well so that you have the experience of knowing what works, what is just right, what is just the way you want it to be.  Do small or modest quilts and you will know when to extend and expand your effort to the 7’ x 9’ project.

Here are some more modest quilts.  I hope they inspire you.

Evening Star  Mary Hickey  2001  38” x 38” Sweet and Simple Baby Quilts  p. 89

Evening Star
Mary Hickey 2001 38” x 38”
Sweet and Simple Baby Quilts p. 89

Chicken Coop Mary Hickey 1991  25”x 25” Pioneer Doll  p. 10

Chicken Coop
Mary Hickey 1991 25”x 25”
Pioneer Doll p. 10

Pioneer Pinwheels Mary Hickey 1991 20” x 27”   Pioneer Storybook  p. 21

Pioneer Pinwheels
Mary Hickey 1991 20” x 27”
Pioneer Storybook p. 21

Little Forest Mary Hickey 2000  39” x 27” Comfort and Joy p. 58

Little Forest
Mary Hickey 2000 39” x 27”
Comfort and Joy p. 58

Baby Bows and Twinkle Toes Mary Hickey 2002 35” x 35” Warm Welcome p. 76

Baby Bows and Twinkle Toes
Mary Hickey 2002 35” x 35”
Warm Welcome p. 76

Flying  Geese Mary Hickey 1995 14” x 17” Big Book of Small Quilts p. 49

Flying Geese
Mary Hickey 1995 14” x 17”
Big Book of Small Quilts p. 49

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That First Summer the Roof Leaked

P Storybook cover
In 1992 I did two books through That Patchwork Place, [now Martingale]. The one, Pioneer Storybook Quilts pulled together several strands of my life into one project.

1.  I had grown up in St. Louis right at the time that the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, [St Louis Gateway Arch] was the subject of almost daily newspaper reports regarding location, funding and design.  Additionally, I had gone to a private girl’s Catholic high school which was established in St. Louis in 1844.

Both of these circumstances were background for many stories in school, in books and on television, of the pioneer experience in our country, the lives of people moving through St. Louis out into the west, into the Louisiana Purchase territories, and other areas of westward expansion.   I had sustained an interest in these life stories, and whenever I could I had read and collected stories of lives of pioneer women.

2.  I had established a reputation as a quilting teacher and author with my book Little by Little on miniature quilts. I knew from my own experiences, and from my knowledge of how quilting developed in America, how important small quilts were for the development of quilting skills and techniques in beginning quilters, whether young or old.

Pioneer Doll cover3.  Some years before I had taken classes in writing stories for children, and I wanted to try my hand at that.  My own children had loved being told and read stories, and also the Little House on the Prairie books and TV show.

With Pioneer Storybook Quilts I thought I could combine these interests into a book which mothers and grandmothers could use with children and grandchildren, to amuse and entertain on a subject of pioneer experience, and which might also spark an interest in learning that very American domestic and artistic endeavor – quilting.

The second book from 1992 was A Pioneer Doll and Her Quilts.  This was in the period of Cabbage Patch Dolls, and was an attempt to interest quilters and sewers in a handmade doll in the same size as the American Girl dolls and Cabbage Patch dolls, but using cotton fabrics and sewing techniques that would have been used by pioneer mothers and daughters in making dolls.

Pioneer Storybook Quilts  and  A Pioneer Doll and Her Quilts were modest successes.  Both have been out of print for many years now.  In honor of the 20th anniversary of their publication I present to you one of the stories from Pioneer Storybook Quilts in the hope that it might brighten your day and perhaps allow you to have some quiet time with a grandchild or great grandchild.

See also my blog post Quilting Philosophy, Some Thoughts on Behalf of Modest  Quilts.

story 1 0513_edited-1 story 2 0513_edited-1 story 3_0513_edited-1 story 4 0513_edited-1

Click here for the PDF version

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Flying Geese: the fast and easy way

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E-Pattern: Contrary Wife & Ornery Husband

The design uses two different blocks, the simple “Snowball” block and a traditional “Contrary Wife” block. Notice that the “Snowball” block has two red corners and two green corners. Half of the “Contrary Wife” blocks are red and half are green. Careful color placement is the key to the design.

Read more…

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A Fast and Accurate Way to Make Half Square Triangles

A complete e-guide to quickly making half square triangles. Free Download

With this technique you can make the Contrary Wife & Ornery Husband quilt.

Free Download

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Folded Corners

Also available as a free download

Many design blocks in quilt making use a technique we call folded corners. In the old days, making a Snowball block, a square with triangles on each corner, required two templates, one for an octagon and one for the triangles. We drew around the templates with a pencil, cut out the shapes, and stitched them together. As you can imagine this was time-consuming and inaccurate. Then somebody realized that we could just cut a large square and four small squares. By putting the small square right sides together with the large square, and sewing on the diagonal on the small square, we could get the same effect, but with half the work. Thus came about, the folded corner technique.

The simple Snowball is a great alternate block for many two-block quilt designs. The “Contrary Wife and Ornery Husband” quilt is an example of a good use of the Snowball block. When you look at magazines and books, look for the humble Snowball and notice how the block can move and link the patterns in a quilt.

1. Making Squares with Triangles on the Corners – Folded Corners.

2. A simple way to make a square with triangles on the corners is to draw a pencil line from corner to corner on the back of small squares.

3. Position the small square on the corner of the larger square and stitch along the pencil line.

4. Fold the triangle toward the outer edges of the large square and press.

Corner Triangles Step 4

5. Then trim away the extra fabric.

6. To determine what size to cut the small square, look at the finished size of the triangle and add 1/2”. This number will be the size of the square. For example, our triangle finished 2” wide so we cut the square 2 1/2”.

Also available as a free download

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Cupcakes e-pattern

  • Cupcakes by Mary Hickey Cupcakes $5.00
    Order Cupcakes (PDF) @ $5.00

I’m happy to announce my first e-pattern, entitled Cupcakes!

These luscious little cakes served up in delicious sherbet colors are as easy to make as real ones. Just assemble you prettiest pastels, some bright thread, and some iron-on transfer paper and pop them into your sewing machine. I suggest using a single fabric for the backgrounds of all the blocks and for the outer border to give your eye somewhere to find rest from all the colors and dots.

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Welcome!

Welcome to Mary Hickey Quilting.  We are just getting our blog and site started.  Come back soon, for patterns and more. Until then, here is a preview of the quilt for our first pattern: Cupcakes!

Cupcakes Pattern

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