Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Very Special WIP Wednesday

We all have projects that have been laying around for, well, a while. Possibly also guilt-tripping us with their beady little eyes.

Get ready to feel better about them. This quilt top has been a work in progress for more than 40 years.

My mom came up for a visit this weekend, and brought a family heirloom with her: a quilt top made by my great-grandmother in 1968.

From a dress my mom made in the 60s
It is at once the most hideous and most beautiful quilt top I've ever seen.

From a dress of my grandmother's
Emma Dashnaw, my great-grandmother, pieced it on her early-1900s Standard treadle (still used by my aunt).

A dairy farmer's wife in rural New York, Emma did it all-- home-made doughnuts (Mom's favorite memory), gardening, cooking, baking, quilting, garment sewing, and button-collecting, not to mention all the chores involved in keeping the cows, kids, and chickens happy and healthy.

A shirt my mom made for her dad
As her quilt top shows, Emma favored function over form. When clothes were worn, she cut them up and re-purposed them as blankets. My grandfather, an Army Sergeant, would bring her old wool army blankets, which she used as batting. All her quilts were tied with yarn.

A party dress

When quilts got old, she just sandwiched them in between a new top and backing.

Clearly, Emma was not plagued with my level of perfectionism. Then again, she was probably just too busy.

What better time to introduce my classic seamstress mom to modern quilting than with a backing for this quilt. I thought a liberated log cabin block, on a field of Kona Snow, would be just the thing.

How did that print get in there? Sneaky.
Selecting the fabric was fun. Since the front is so busy, we decided to go with solids that reflect the major colors in the top. I really branched out from my normal palette, and ended up loving the result.

At the end of the day, there's just no matching brand-new cotton and 43-year-old polyester.

So we forged ahead!
Mom looked on anxiously while I cut random strips. She was still a little unsure as we laid them out. But once we started sewing, cutting, and placing, she could see it taking shape. I have never done improv sewing with another person. It was an amazing experience to co-create a piece of art.

The result
I am so so in love with it. I think Emma would have loved it too. How marvelous to think that over 100 years of quilting heritage made this piece possible.

I might have a new obsession with solids.
So from Emma's WIP list, to my mom's, to mine...a top and a backing that will span two centuries, four decades, a continent, and four generations.

(Did I not promise you'd feel better about your own WIP list? :o)
When my mom visits again, we're going to tie it together. Too many metaphors!!!

Progress Has Also Been Made On...
Brother Quilt

A Lisette Portfolio dress

Still Marinating
Paisley Sunrise (being hand-quilted)
Spring Sampler

Annnnnnd....since we're talking family and WIPs (heheheh), I want to wish a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my favorite little sister, who is 21 today :o)

Check out more WIPs over at Lee's (whose link-up is having a birthday! Congrats on one year, Lee! Thanks for keeping this going!):


  1. Love your improb block! Great color choices. :)


  2. love family heirloom style quilts, i'm doing something heirloom-sh for a christmas present in quilt form as well.. such a great gift

  3. Oh my gosh!!! WHat an incredible project! How special!

  4. I've been handed down a quilt like that, except mine is a double wedding ring, a bit more intimidating. All hand pieced. It's so cool seeing all the fabrics from the generations before me though. One day I'll finish it.

  5. Awesome. I love the ability passed along generations to finish this amazing work in progress.

  6. I really love the mix between traditional and modern and how you kept it together with the colors. What a fantastic project for you two to do together!

  7. Wow, I love it! I have several of those family heirlooms languishing in a closet. You've really jazzing it up with the back. I. Love. It. Seriously.

  8. Love this story - your improv log cabin jumped right out of the linky at me. It's so interesting how up close the fabrics are kind of ugly but from a distance, that trip around the world looks simply fabulous! Happy WIP Wednesday.

  9. What a great legacy that you get to share this time with your mother! I was very impressed by your improv block, great job!

  10. Wow, what fun! Such a wonderful project to be working on.

  11. Oh my goodness! That is my dream.. for a family quilt to appear and be in need of love. So much history in one piece of cloth... really neat that you got to add your touch to it!

  12. What an awesome opportunity and a great result!

  13. Oh my goodness, such history and memories! Awesome!

  14. Such a wonderful story about the quilt and I love the improv block!!

  15. Wow, thanks for sharing your story, that's really awesome that you have such a history in your family with quilting. Your improv block is stunning as well!

  16. Such a cool find!
    I found a quilt top in my mom's basement that I had a lady at church finish for me. I gave the finished quilt to my mom for Christmas. That was 2 Christmas' ago. It had names embroidered in each square, both men's and women's. A lot of the names were of relatives. I came to find out the top was made in the 1940's at quilt club at my church!

  17. Thats a wonderful story - thanks for sharing it with us and good luck with the project :)

  18. What a special story. I love the juxtaposition of old with new.

  19. Love the idea behind the quilt, and your improv back is looking fab

  20. thanks for sharing the beautiful story of your great-grandmother's quilt top :)

  21. Wow! how great to be able to work on it together. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Oh my goodness! I love the quilt top made out of old clothing and what a great back for it!

  23. That is amazing: a real historical quilt!


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