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The Chicken Scratch Quilt

Long ago (twenty-two years!) and far away, I was teaching weekly classes in a private home. We sewed from 10 - 4, with a break for lunch, which was always a delicious, elegantly presented meal - no brown bags allowed! I aspire to this still today in my monthly "Sewing Saturday in the Studio" classes, but have not quite accomplished it yet! Well, back to 2000 - my class had only about six regular attendees, which was just right for the size of the basement studio, but occasionally someone else would drop in to see what we were doing or to get questions answered. One of these visitors, Barbara, came one day with a bag of thirty-seven blue and white quilt squares - cross-stitch on gingham, which is called chicken-scratch embroidery. Barbara said that they were made by her mother in the 1970's. Barbara wanted to assemble the squares into a quilt to give to her granddaughter, but she really didn't know how to get started.

All the squares were clean and in excellent condition. Over the next week, I worked out a plan for the quilt, drew it out on graph paper with a pencil, ruler, and eraser (my favorite things!), figured out how much fabric she would need to buy to make the quilt, and gave her the plan at our next class.Then... never saw or heard from her again... until 2015! Barbara called me out of the blue and wanted to talk about putting the quilt together. Honestly, I had no recollection of the woman or the quilt squares! But I thought "This sounds interesting, let's see how it goes!" So, we arranged to meet, and she brought the squares and all of the fabric that she had purchased for the quilt, plus another old top that needed to be finished (but that is a story for another time)... but no graph paper plan! When I saw the squares, a dim light came on in my memory, and I knew that somewhere, sometime, in the past, I had met her and seen those quilt squares. I tried to act like it was all fresh in my mind! But no graph paper plan... that was scary - with all of that fabric that went with the squares - what had I been thinking?!

As usual, I just decided to work with what I had, and came up with another graph paper plan for a traditional six-by-six setting for the blocks with sashing, cornerstones, and borders. This was probably identical to the original plan, but now it was critical that it fit to the cut fabric amounts, fabric which had been purchased fifteen years ago, and was no longer available. I was hoping that I had allowed for a bit of leeway in the yardage. The plan vs. fabric math seemed to work out, even after pre-shrinking the fabric, so I started cutting and stitching. This was the only two-color quilt that I had ever made. I love the classic look of two-color quilts, but I found it a bit boring to work on!

I have overcome that now, though, by using many different shades and prints of a color, combining them all in each quilt block, and find that quite fascinating. In 2014, I was vending at Quilt Festival in Houston, and it was the year of the Ruby Jubilee. There was a special exhibit of only red and white quilts. Individually, they were beautiful, but together, they were truly stunning.

Next, it was time to quilt it! Back to the graph paper plan! Getting out my trusty pencil and eraser, I started drawing. I knew that I would only outline the star-in-a-star embroidered blocks, wanting them to have a nice puff and not wanting to snag the embroidery in any way. So I really only needed to work out the free-motion quilting for the sashing and borders. I wanted a very traditional look, so I turned to classic feathers for the design. I made a simple curved template which could be mirrored to create a wave design going diagonally across the quilt through the sashing strips, and traced it with an air-erasable marker on the quilt. Free-motion feathering is easier with a guideline, and it really doesn't matter to me if the number of feathers is not exactly the same on each section of the sashing, as long as the size and character of the feathers is fairly consistent.

To finish the project, I squared the quilt, made and applied the binding, put block #37 on the back of the quilt, created a label with names and dates, and had enough white fabric left to make a protective bag for the quilt. I was very pleased with how the quilt turned out, and Barbara and her granddaughter were over the moon with this lovely family heirloom!


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