Thursday, June 30, 2016

Love Affair with Plaids

Before I was a quilter, I was a spinner and weaver. This was back in the early '70's when the "school of oozing wounds" style of fiber art was popular. Tie-dye some roving, attach braids and a macrame spider web, hang the whole mess from a branch and voila! fiber art that any commune would be proud to hang above their hearth. The picture at right was stolen from the TV cult classic Twin Peaks.

Except that I hated the whole jumbled, fuzzy mess and wanted to spin fine thread and, even more retrogressively, yearned to weave overshot as in mid-19th century coverlets. I did finally own a loom and spinning wheel but the wheel gathered dust as I began to weave the world's longest rag rug. 

In a tiny apartment, the stomping noise of the treadles and the metallic clash of the heddles mitigated against working whenever my husband was home. I tried to soften the noise by hanging the heddles with leather strips stretched in water but the craft was always at odds with the living space. I finished the rug (about 14 feet long) but in the process of being around fiber enthusiasts, I'd met a few quilters. Now there was a craft I might enjoy--small bits fashioned a little at a time, embellished with lady-like stitches and eventually resulting in a useful and lovely quilt. Then I met a quilt at a garage sale and fell head over heels in love.

The quilt was all blues, white, grey and brown and most of it composed of chambray, black-on-white prints, and soft muted plaids. It had been sewn by a woman and her young son in WWI as they awaited word of their MIA soldier husband/father. The fabrics were mainly from his shirts. The pattern was Bow Tie. Good news: the man did finally come home to his family and they used the quilt for years.

Psst-the picture here is one of my own recent Bow Tie blocks-the antique quilt is long gone.

The fact is that I've never gotten plaids out of my system. There is something so straight-forward and honest about a woven plaid. Unlike those who took clothes sewing as part of their home economics classes in high school, I never agonized about plaids (or stripes either for that matter) matching. I have no nightmares of a critical teacher telling me to rip out a seam and make the plaids match! 

I'll get to let my plaid flag fly this coming August when I go to teach at John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina. Not coincidentally, it's Scottish Week at the Folk School so plaid freaks will feel right at home--some of the pipers won't get out of their kilts all week. If you want to experiment with plaids and other pretties in your quilting, this is your best week to attend Folk School! The description of the class is the online catalog is pretty brief and sadly there's no eye candy to tempt the potential student.               I've included a gallery of possible projects that you might want to work on if you are tempted to 'go tartan' and join us.

A single Carolina Lily block against a plaid background makes a small wall hanging. You'd be done with this in two days.

Maybe bring all those 'orphan blocks' you don't know what to do with and make a truly great spit-in-their-eye sampler quilt. Nothing like plaid sashing and alternate blocks to distract from disparate designs.

The two patterns in the class description are Carolina Lily and string-pieced Star. Stars can have any number of points and I am open to helping you draft the plaid star of your dreams since I always bring graph paper and drafting tools to the class. 

This one is four point and crazy-patched over tracing paper.

And mid-week we'll take time out to learn to do the traditional Folded Manx Roof Tile block (otherwise known as the Log Cabin quilt).


If it bothers you to mix plaids and prints, you could take a more subtle, modern approach to the project. Here's a small quilt top (excuse the camera strap at the bottom) of Bow Tie blocks.

The J.C. Campbell class is called In Praise of Plaids and begins Sunday August 28th and runs through Saturday September 3. Yes, a whole week to patch, sew, and experiment with plaids. Be still my heart! Go call the Folk School at 1-800-365-5724.