Posts Written On October 2009

Ferris Wheel Quilt Top

All of these blocks were completed some time ago — I just needed to sew them together and add additional applique pieces where the blocks meet. This is a large quilt (84″ x 98″) which is going to work well on my ridiculously thick mattress. It will look much better when it’s quilted and I’ve cut the scalloped edge.

The blocks were constructed with vintage 1930s Double Wedding Ring pieces.  If you look closely in the third photo, you can see a little red print with a swastika. I was surprised to see this, even though I realized these prints were manufactured way before the war when the swastika was still a symbol for good luck. In Ruby Short McKim’s 1931 publication 101 Patchwork Patterns, she included the swastika pattern.

“Our frontier mothers ingeniously converted this ancient symbol of good luck into a quilt pattern which is simply from two triangles. Somestimes they call it “Fly-Foot.”

Thanks to her youngest granddaughter, the original book (with templates) is available here. Of course, probably nobody makes this pattern anymore because of the negative connotations. I just left the little quilt piece in because I thought it was historically interesting. 

The pattern for the Ferris Wheel block is available on my earlier post.






Letha’s Electric Fan Quilt – WIP

These are the little quilt pieces I just purchased from an Etsy shop — 211 small arcs with 5 pieces each — for $15. It’s not unusual to see a lot like this — probably the quilter was attempting a more difficult pattern and ran into trouble with the piecing. There are several reasons this can happen — maybe the templates were inaccurate, or the pieces were not carefully drawn or cut, or she just got discouraged.


I would not have been able to guess the pattern this quilter was using just by looking at these little arcs, but fortunately she made one block. It’s pretty easy to see what happened here — she pieced the middle circle, which would be difficult for even the most accomplished quilter. You’ll notice that she stitched the blocks with arcs containing the same fabrics (although strangely, not all in the same order). She quickly gave that up, however, because I could find no two alike in the additional 211 arcs.



The pattern for Letha’s Electric Fan appeared in the Kansas City Star in 1938, which is probably about the age of these fabrics. I’ve always loved this pattern with it’s funny name (who was Letha?), and am so happy to have found these old pieces. The KC patterns are rather notorious for having inaccurate templates, although this one is actually pretty good. Because they rarely included instructions, you can see why a novice quilter might think the whole pattern should be pieced.


After drafting a new pattern, I was able to salvage most of her arcs intact (with just a little trimming and swapping out a few inappropriate pieces). Usually I take the blocks completely apart, so this quilt will go much faster. I changed the shape of the interior white template and simply appliqued the center circle on top. To me, her yellow center suggested a flower, and I didn’t want to use blue (as indicated in the pattern) since I already made a quilt with blue circles. Finally, I selected a pretty vintage green percale from my stash. This is my first block, which will finish at 9 1/2″. I’ll redo the original block with the same arcs as a tribute to her.



Hand Knit Sweaters by Marjorie Dellasega

My mother was an accomplished seamstress, and also loved to knit, cross stitch and needlepoint. She made these two little sweaters for Elliott and Emily shortly after they were born in the early 80s. I have no idea where she found the patterns, but they are so cute — she had extremely good taste. Elliott got a little hat to match his sweater.



Emily got a cute bunny sweater, but no hat.



She did, however, get these adorable matching pink leather shoes which my sister, Sally, bought in Paris. Emily really likes shoes, so I’m sure even as a toddler, she would have opted for shoes as opposed to hat.


Here’s Emily with mother when she was visiting us in Los Angeles (mother also knit the sweater she is wearing). Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of Elliott and mother where he is wearing his little sweater.



Quilt Q&A

In the 10 months since I started this blog, there have been quite a few questions about my quilts. I usually answer these in an e-mail to the commenter, but I thought it might be interesting to put them in a post.

Where do find your vintage fabric?

I’ve bought most of it on ebay, although it is much more difficult now because there are fewer auctions of vintage quilt pieces/blocks/tops, and the ones I like are usually too expensive. Just yesterday I found some wonderful pieces on Etsy which were very reasonably priced. I have found fabric at thrift stores and occasionally friends send me vintage scraps. My favorite finds are sample swatches or cut quilt pieces — the more prints, the better.

When marking your pieces, do you also mark the seam allowance/sewing line, or do you just eyeball it as you are sewing?

I never mark seam allowances — for piecing or applique.  I am usually working with small pieces, and I have become accustomed to sewing a 3/16″ seam allowance on all of my quilts. If you are just beginning hand piecing, it might be helpful to mark the seam allowance, but I think you will find that very shortly you can eyeball the seam without a marked line. I would recommend the Jinny Beyer book, Quiltmaking by Hand — she describes all the techniques with wonderful pictures.

Do you starch your pieces? Do you use knots or back stitches when hand piecing?

I always starch before I draw around a template — it makes it easier to keep the piece flat and the pencil glides much more smoothly. I use knots to tie off, but I always back stitch when turning a corner and on both sides when crossing a seam.

How long does it take you to finish a quilt?

This is hard to say since I jump around from project to project. If I look at the number of quilts I’ve completed in the 8 years since I started quilting again, I guess it would be about 6 months for a hand pieced, bed-sized quilt (about evenly distributed between piecing and quilting) — maybe 4 months if the top is machine pieced. This varies depending upon the difficulty of the pattern.

Where can I find a pattern for the Pieced Butterfly Quilt?

I drafted my own pattern (which is available under downloads), but a pattern and instructions are available in the book New England Quilt Museum Quilts — it appears to be out of print, but you can find it on Amazon, ebay — or best of all — at your local public library.

Do you have some kind of color pattern in mind when you are putting your quilts together?

Usually I am looking for a pattern I like that will also work with whatever vintage quilt pieces or blocks I have purchased. The quilt pieces are really the driving force for the color and pattern. I don’t think of myself as being very good with color, but fortunately most of the prints from a particular decade seem to look good together.

How do you trace your designs for embroidery?

With a light box made from a wood wine box and a #2 pencil — I posted about it here.

Do you ever take a break?

Well…yes….when I’m working on my blog! My children are grown now, so I have much more free time these days. I do some sort of hand work every evening for 3 or 4 hours. On my days off (I only work 3 days a week) I will usually try to get some machine work done. I sew while I watch television (don’t like the movie theater — too dark to sew), riding in the car, waiting in doctor’s offices or anywhere else I can get away with it. My husband draws the line at walking and sewing — like at the grocery store.

Many people comment that they would never have the patience to hand piece a quilt.  I also felt this way when I was young, but now that I am old, I find the process so relaxing — almost therapeutic.  And really….what’s the big hurry?  It’s very satisfying to finish a project that took months to complete, and you feel an attachment to the quilt that is very personal.  It’s a wonderful pastime, and when you get really good, you can make something like this.



Seven Sisters Quilt – WIP

For this post, I thought I would show you a little more of my process for designing/piecing my quilts.  No Electric Quilt software for me — I work with computers at my paying job, and I’m not interested in combining computers and quilting.

This project began with a box of vintage salesmen sample swatches — probably from the 1940s or maybe the 1950s. There were hundreds of prints (some with duplicates and different colorways).  All of the pieces were the same size (1 3/4″ x 3″) with a pinked edge. I drew a pattern of how I wanted to set the blocks and computed that I would need 1,488 printed diamonds (the dark setting triangles will be a solid — probably green). I drafted my template diamond to fit the quilt pieces and began starching, drawing & cutting (they were very clean and did not need to be soaked). Once the pieces were all cut, I began sorting them by color and matching up the six diamonds for each star.  I pinned each star’s diamonds together and put the 42 pieces for each block (represented by the white hexagon) in it’s own little envelope.



I hand pieced all the stars with a running stitch (I don’t like to paper piece) and pinned each block group together.


Next I had to figure out the order for sewing the white diamonds to the stars and joining everything together. This is the trickiest part and I’m sure each quilter probably does it a little differently. For me, it works best to draw it out on a grid.  I decided to combine the 2 white diamonds and the triangle on the outside of the block into one long piece. First I stitched the white diamonds to their corresponding numbered star — then the stars are sewn together sequentially.  The long white pieces are added last.


Here is a finished block.



John Martin’s Book – October, 1926

I love everything about these old magazines — the stories, illustrations and advertisements are all charming.  40¢ seems expensive for 1926, but they are pretty wonderful — more like a soft-bound book than a magazine.  This one is just a little larger than a National Geographic magazine — my copies from the 1930s are larger but thinner, and the paper is slightly glossy and didn’t turn brown as badly as these, which were pretty dark before I Photoshopped them.

I had no idea that Jell-O used to come in chocolate — yuck!  I also discovered that Colgate’s Ribbon Dental Creme was the first toothpaste to come in a collapsible tube — it was previously sold in glass jars (Wikipedia is so great).

The front and back covers and the first two pages were illustrated by George Carlson, who was fabulous and did lots of work for JMB.  Visit to view more of these great covers.






Simplicity Needlework Catalog – Mexican, Cowboy & Indian Tots

More cute little tots from the 1948 Simplicity Needlework Catalog. A month ago there was a huge lot of vintage Simplicity embroidery patterns (lots of them from this catalog), and they sold for over $300! I wish I had the original patterns, but most of these are not too difficult to copy from the envelope illustrations. Thankfully, Simplicity usually puts all of the designs on the envelope.






Applique Butterfly Quilt – WIP

I’ve photographed most of my completed quilts, so now I’m bringing out all the WIPs — and there’s a lot of them. These butterflies are cut from some vintage bow tie quilt blocks I purchased on ebay. They were pretty big blocks, so there was enough fabric left over to make lots of little basket blocks — some of which I used in this doll quilt.

First, I match up the prints and solids and cut out all of the pieces.


Next, I baste the pieces — I never got the hang of needle-turn, but basting works just fine for me.


Then I applique the pieces to the background and add the embroidered details. The red bow tie block was pieced, so that butterfly has one pieced wing.





Ferris Wheel Quilt – WIP

Of all the old quilt pieces you can find on ebay or in thrift stores, Double Wedding Ring arcs and pieces seem to be the most abundant.  It was a very popular pattern in the 30’s and 40’s and, because it is challenging to piece, many quilters seem to have ended up with unfinished DWRs.

Because I have lots more vintage pieces than I need for my DWR quilt, I was looking for another pattern that would accommodate the particular shape of my pieces.  Contemporary and factory-made DWR quilts usually have fewer squarish pieces in the arc — older quilts generally have thicker arcs with narrower pieces (like mine).

The pattern I settled on is Ferris Wheel — from an old Aunt Martha’s booklet entitled “Quilt Designs — Old Favorites and New” (the pattern is scanned below).  As I’ve said before, I love these old books which just contain templates and minimal instructions. I had to reduce the pattern to 85% of the original to fit my pieces, but it’s still going to be a nice-sized quilt.  I think I am going to quilt spokes in the middle of the block, but I never make a decision about the quilting design until the top is done.



Update:  The Ferris Wheel Quilt top is finished — you can see it here.




Embroidered Haunted House Pillow

Update:  I used an online coloring page to make this pattern, and I just realized that the page no longer exists.  Fortunately, there are lots of haunted house coloring pages out there, so I’m sure it would not be difficult to find a pattern you like.

All of the fabric is vintage and the lavender percale was especially nice to stitch on. The embroidery was done with one strand of floss using outline and back stitch. I love the border print and have been saving it for something special. Although I suspect those are actually apples, for this project I’ve decided they’re pumpkins.

This is a little Halloween gift for a special person in my family who is a freak for Halloween — she knows who she is!


Circus Quilt – Center Blocks and Border

The blocks for the center are finished, and I have just completed the stitching on the bottom border. I’m going to make a similar border for each side. Because I only have one skein of each color of Danish Flower Thread, the elephants are stitched with a few different shades of gray.




1942 Animal Paint Book – Part 7

I am finally finishing cleaning up the scans from the Animal Paint Book. These are over-sized pages and do not fit on my scanner, so I took the book apart and ran them through our copier at school and e-mailed them to myself as a pdf. I thought this was so clever until I opened up the documents and realized they were bitmap images and they had little black specks all over them. This turned out to be more difficult to clean up than a scan with the normal brown discoloration that occurs in these old books (and I didn’t even clean up all of the spots).  There’s one more batch to clean up — then I’ll make a new pdf of the whole book and add it to downloads.

This is one of my favorite old coloring/paint books, and one of these days, I am going to make something with these cute anthropomorphic animals.

1 comment