Wednesday, October 16, 2013

31 Days - Day 16: Sampler, a cautionary tale

The first bed size quilt I made was finished in 1984, though it took probably a year all told to put together and quilt. Someone had given me a book of sampler blocks for Christmas or my birthday, and after a few months of looking through it and going back and forth, I had a plan, more or less, to make a sampler quilt for my own bed.

This was 1983, and while quilting had gained a lot of traction as a hobby thanks to the bicentennial, fashion comes slowly to the Midwest; at this point, I had taken no classes and had very little interaction with other quilters. I was purchasing my fabric for quilting at the local fabric store, not a specialty quilt store.

I was to find out exactly why most serious quilters were extremely fussy about the source and fiber content of their fabric.

But first, the happy picture.

Twin size sampler quilt, 1984
Year: 1984
Pattern: Sampler blocks in a 3 x 5 set
Fabrics: A mix of 100% cotton and poly/cotton blends
Quilting: Hand quilted in various designs in the blocks, cables in the sashing and first border, diagonal lines in the final border
Binding: Purchased double fold bias binding
Backing: A sheet

Lovely, isn't it? I can't remember the names of all the blocks...yes, the one on the far right of the second row down from the pillows is the Old Maid's Puzzle block from the previous post (I didn't jinx Jenny, but have apparently jinxed myself, minus the cats). In the center of the first row is Card Trick., with the last a Dutchman's Puzzle.

The first in the third row is Fifty-four Forty or Fight*, the last a Jacob's Ladder**. The first in the fourth row is a Mexican Star, the last in that row a Drunkard's Path in an alternate setting.

I slept under this quilt for a long time, and still pull it out when I'm sick and want to doze on the couch.
But time has not been kind to this sampler.

A number of the fabrics, most notably the red and darkest blue, are comprised of the 100% cotton favored by quilt makers. But the quality of the fabric was, frankly, pretty poor. In the almost thirty years since the quilt was completed, the red and blue fabrics have faded terribly, losing not only their color, but showing signs of actual fabric deterioration. The sashing and border fabrics, however, will never fade nor deteriorate, as they are poly cotton blends.

In another thirty years, this will quilt will most likely be twenty shredded, falling apart blocks held together by a pristine sashing.

One of the rules of quilting that it pays to follow, if you plan to actually use a quilt for years, is to use like-fibered fabrics for the top, binding and backing. A second rule is to use the best quality fabric you can afford; while the local everyday fabric store may have the "same" fabric as your local quilt shop for a couple bucks less a yard, the base fabric used for the runs provided to the fabric store are of lesser quality than the runs destined for the quilt shops.

After all, if you are going to put all that effort into the quilt, you should start with the best materials available.

*Yes, the name of this quilt block is taken from a political fight, involving President Polk and the fight over the location of the Oregon border.
**Quilt block names are often taken from Scripture as well.

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