Thursday, December 31, 2009

Do I start from scratch, or what?

I don't do a lot of sewing, mostly because I'm not very good at it. In fact, my middle school home economics teacher took early retirement the year following my matriculation in her classroom, and I've always suspected it was because of her despair over my failure to achieve proper bobbin tension. I still have a lot of guilt to work through.

Every once in a great while, though, I like to slap together a quilt (that one up there in the photo is one I made last year). Nothing fancy--I'm less interested in intricate patterns than I am in the plain old practical idea of quilts. I like it that they had a simple purpose (keep the family warm) and were usually made from scraps (don't waste anything), after the chores were done (be useful even when you're sitting still). And here's the best part: all this practicality ends up in something pleasing to the eye.

Beauty plus pragmatism: watchwords for life.

The colors and patterns I like best are the ones that look like they were cobbled together on evenings by the fire when the plains winter was howling outside the door. It is in winter, in fact, that I usually make quilts, which is a holdover from grad school, when I used to piece and quilt them by hand (fear of bobbin tension drove me to machineless sewing); few things warm you better in a room heated on a student budget than spreading a quilt over your lap as you work on it.

Maybe because it's winter and the plains wind has indeed been howling outside our door lately, but I've suddenly got a hankering to make one again. But first, I needed to address a problem that's been bugging me for the past couple of years, namely that there isn't really a good place for my sewing machine in this house. (Yes, that's right, I finally mastered the machine a few years ago. That's not to say I especially like it, but it is a lot faster to make a quilt with a machine than by hand, and remember, the pragmatic nature of the exercise is a big chunk of what appeals to me about it.) The same holds true for where I place my rotary wheel cutting mat. Coffee tables are too low to be comfortable, kitchen tables are too high.

So since the winter weather was prohibiting me from working on my planned holiday project, a compost fence, I decided to start a quilt, and I decided to start it from scratch. That is to say, before I spent one more day being uncomfortable at the sewing machine (therbligs again), I was going to build a pull-out shelf in my study for the machine and cutting mat. I've worked on it for the past couple of days, and here's the finished product:

I used full extension drawer slides rated to hold one hundred pounds, scrap wood, and some left-over yellow paint (Laura Ashley Gold 3, if you care to know). The shelf is just the right height to sit in my back-friendly study chair while working, and there is still enough room to store two filing cabinets below it. I plan to use it to support my drawing board as well, since my knees aren't what they used to be (I usually draw sitting on the floor).

Now on to the next step: the actual making of the quilt. But first, you must excuse me while I go check my bobbin tension.


  1. Oooh, love the pull-out workspace!

  2. I love the quilt on the fence! As I twittered, I have made a few quilts a few years ago, but I'm like you--I wasn't good in Home Ec except at cooking, and as a result, I resented sewing until I took a quilting class in making 'quilt in a day' log cabin quilts. But then I got bored after making a bunch of them, and still have a dozen or more large squares upstairs that would make a queen sized quilt, except I don't feel like finishing it. I may hire a friend to put it all together for me instead. A bit wimpy of me, but better that than to leave it as a UFO (unfinished object) for the next twenty years, right?
    So what did you pick as colours and fabrics? That's half the fun, of course!

  3. What a great idea and a multipurpose addition to the study! Love the quilt in the photo, I too have a love hate relationship with sewing. I stink at it but love the end product (when someone else makes it). Happy New Year!

  4. What a wonderful idea! It looks great too. Being right there in your study ready to go at a moments notice is good too. I often find I put off starting projects because I just can't be bothered to haul the machine out of the closet, set it up at the kitchen table and then put everything away before dinner. Happy New Year and Happy Quilting to you.

  5. I agree with you 200% on your definition of quilts. I've made a few - almost all for other people and I didn't like any of them. They were made with planned fabrics, planned patterns, a specific color scheme etc. Scrap quilts have always been my favorites and that is what I made for our bed - real scraps :-D

    While I am capable of sewing I have never excelled at woodworking. I love your pull out shelf. Perhaps if I find some extra time and work at it I too, could make myself a pull-out shelf.

    Lindy in AZ

  6. This post made me laugh...when I was in 7th grade home economics (ugh), I got a D - I made a rockin' breakfast, but completely failed at anything to do with a needle and thread. Failed MISERABLY. I hate to sew. But - like you, love quilts and daydream about making one (so far only daydream - you seem to actually make them!). When my Mother first retired, she made me a gorgeous quilt - a sunflower pattern (my MS degree research was on sunflowers) - by hand. Over Thanksgiving when I was home in Virginia, I was going through some of her things and found a bag of dresses that belonged to my grandmother (I remembered many of them) that my mother had started cutting into squares for a quilt. Geez, how can I not make a quilt out of those squares? I'm doomed. There's sewing in my future...

  7. Hi everyone--I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to respond to your posts individually. I got sidetracked by my mother's accident. It does look like I struck a chord with the whole sewing/home ec thing, though. Funny that so many of us found it difficult!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.