Number Eighteen * August 15, 1997
Classifieds | Table of Contents
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By Harriet Hargrave
C&T Publishing, 1997, $29.95
144 Pages, Spiral Bound Hardcover
Available at a discount in the Planet Patchwork Bookstore
When I first picked up Harriet Hargraves' new book, "From Fiber to Fabric: The Essential Guide to Quiltmaking Textiles," I must admit I wondered what it was that was all that essential about it.
At first glance it seemed to go on and on about the process of making cotton, about singeing, desizing, bleaching, and mercerization, about tentering and about seven different kinds of dying. It traced the process of transforming raw field cotton through picking, ginning, carding, combing, drawing, roving, spinning, winding, and weaving into the bolts of colorful fabric that fill the shelves of our favorite fabric stores. All of which was no doubt interesting, but what could it possibly have to do with the making of quilts?
As it turns out, it has everything to do with the making of quilts. Harriet Hargrave, with the assistance of textile experts from the University of North Carolina and her own considerable knowledge and persistence, has created the definitive reference work on the history, characteristics, and use of cotton in quiltmaking. It's a book that belongs in the library of every serious quilter.
In the last 25 years, as Hargrave points out, fabric makers have scrambled to meet the increasing demand of consumers for fine cottons. Given the almost exclusive use of cotton by contemporary quiltmakers, most fabric issues revolve around the way cotton behaves -- how much it stretches, how well it holds dyes, what happens when it's washed, and many other qualities. Yet the irony is that the fabric industry is not really making fabric for quilters. Hargrave says:
Today's fabrics are manufactured under standards and
specifications principally for the apparel industry.
These are essentially non-durable products, designed to
last a limited amount of time with a limited amount of
Quiltmakers and crafters are really giving a special
application to a product that is actually designed for
something else. It is unfortunate the information
quilters need -- to determine if the fabric they are
purchasing is appropriate for their end use -- is not
readily available to them. Competition among fabric
suppliers to supply fabric to us with the "look" they
think we want does give us wonderful variety to work
with, but does not alter the fact that most of the
fabric is manufactured to fashion specifications, not
It is Hargraves' mission in this book to provide this information by educating us thoroughly about cotton and providing us the tools to further educate ourselves.
"From Fiber to Fabric" is divided into five parts, the first on the making and dying/printing of fabric, the second about testing fabrics, a section on threads, one on batting, and a final section on quilt care. Each section contains dozens of historical and technical insights and practical tips and techniques. Some of these have the force of the obvious: "... you cannot always depend on the price or the label to determine quality or consistency." Other discussions, such as those on the various thread counts and weaving techniques, confirm what we have always suspected, that the manufacturers often make different quality fabrics with the same pattern, so what you get at Wal-Mart may NOT be the same as what you get at your local quilt store, even if they look the same.
One of the most troubling areas for quilters in trying to insure the longevity of their creations is colorfastness. I was fascinated to discover that there are several different ways in which color can "go bad," and each has a name. There is, for example, "crocking," which is the transference of color from rubbing one colored fabric against another. Hargrave provides two tests, a dry one and a wet one, for testing a fabric for whether it will "crock." In addition she describes simple, practical techniques to test the lightfastness (tendency to fade in natural or artificial light), washfastness (including reactions to water temperature, chlorine, and detergents) and shrinkage. Beyond testing techniques, she provides methodologies for counteracting many of the most common problems in washing quilts. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book.
What about one of quilting's other eternal questions: is it better to cut or to tear fabric? All things considered, Hargrave comes down on the side of tearing:
. . . if the fabric is torn from the bolt, you
automatically know if the fabric is on-grain or not. You
will have exactly the same usable length on each selvage
edge, even though the ends do not line up. The biggest
argument against tearing is the streaking that occurs
when darker printed colors are torn. . . . This
damaged area is generally added to the yardage you are
buying, at each end. Therefore, after straightening,
this damaged area can be cut away, leaving you the exact
yardage you purchased and needed for the project.
And to top it off, Hargrave provides two good methods for straightening fabric which is off-grain.
In the following chapters, Hargrave gives the same thorough, reasoned treatment to thread and batting. In her discussion of threads she walks us through its manufacture and the finer distinctions between types of materials and thicknesses. She provides a very detailed and interesting table of compatibility among fabrics, threads, and needles.
Perhaps even more fascinating is her treatment of batting, that most unromantic and utilitarian of "fabrics." Hargrave has taken a rather special interest in batting over the years, and her discussion is exhaustive. She provides an illustrated guide to the manufacture of these non-woven fabrics, and a detailed matrix of the many competing brands of batt, with their fiber content, characteristics, and best uses.
In writing this book, Harriet Hargrave has filled a huge hole in the quilter's "knowledge base." She has used her thorough, if somewhat plodding, research to de-mythologize the materials used by quilters and to provide us all the most useful kind of basic information. This book is, indeed, essential.
By Merikay Waldvogel and Barbara Brackman
Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville, 1993
Softcover, 123 pages, $19.95 ($27.95 Canadian)
Available at a discount from Planet Patchwork and Amazon Books
Mystery, intrigue, moral turpitude, artistic depravity. The ugly truth behind the pretty quilts revealed at last!
Huh? I thought quilt books were supposed to be inspirational and uplifting. What's going on here?
What's going on is one of the most interesting books about quilting I've ever encountered. Waldvogel and Brackman, renowned quilt historians and writers, have joined forces in this book to chronicle the largest, most monied, and most famous quilt exhibition in U.S. history (eat your heart out, Paducah).
The Sears National Quilt Contest, a brainstorm of the company's marketing department, was advertised in their catalogues in the early '30s in conjunction with the large World's Fair in Chicago celebrating the city's 100th anniversary in 1933. Quilting was undergoing a revival in the U.S. at the time, similar to that in the 1970s, and this contest galvanized that growing interest into a stitching frenzy. By the time the contest's local, regional, and national eliminations were over, nearly 25,000 quilts had been made and entered in the mammoth competition.
One of the major engines behind the competition was the considerable prize money being offered. Prizes ranged from $5 and $10 at local stores, up through $200 in ten regional competitions, with a grand national prize of $1,000. In addition there was a $200 bonus on the national prize if the winning quilt was one based on the World's Fair theme, "A Century of Progress." This was considerable money, particularly in the context of the Great Depression. Waldvogel and Brackman put it in perspective: "In 1933 a luxury car such as a Dodge V-8 cost $1,115; a new Ford, $490; a three-bedroom house, $3,000. Translated into today's dollars, the award equals about $20,000."
In a time of economic hardship, in a context shot through with commercialism (Sears was in this, after all, to increase sales) and with so much money at stake, it is not surprising that beneath the surface there was a great deal that was questionable and downright disappointing about the final result.
Waldvogel and Brackman do an excellent job of examining the historical circumstances revolving around the winning quilt, a traditional pattern entitled "Star of the Bluegrass," entered by Margaret Rogers Caden of Lexington, Kentucky. This quilt was eventually given to first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and disappeared after entering the White House, but copies of it have been uncovered by the authors and photographed for the book. The quilt and its making are at the heart of the two controversies that tainted the contest.
On the Sears entry blank for the quilt contest there was a statement that had to be signed, that the quilt was of the quiltmaker's own making. It was this fine detail that Margaret Caden, apparently cavalierly and with little thought, totally disregarded. A relatively well-to-do quilt shop owner in Lexington, Caden worked up the basic design and colors, but farmed most of the piecing, quilting, and final construction to a group of talented quilters in the area who sewed to help support their depression-strapped families. None of these women, whose families were interviewed by the authors, shared in either the credit or the money from the prize-winning quilt.
In fairness, Waldvogel and Brackman point out that in the traditional context of quilting (and continuing today) the labor of quilt-making was divided and communal, and Sears was probably ill-advised to include such a stringent requirement. But they don't let Caden off the hook:
Margaret Caden, however, carried the concept of a
cooperative project to extremes that would have been
considered immoral even in the era of the professional
quilter. Furthermore, no excuses can be made for a woman
who did not share the enormous cash prize with the rest
of her team.
A more pervasive and perhaps more basic problem with the contest, from the point of view of quilting, was the artistic standards used to judge the quilts. Contest organizers encouraged quilt-makers to venture away from traditional designs and pattern kits to make quilts of their own design on the Century of Progress Theme. Many women accepted this challenge, and most of the known surviving quilts on this theme are reproduced and chronicled in this book. They are by far the most creative and interesting of the entries we have. Yet they fared very poorly in the judging. So poorly, in fact, that the additional $200 prize for that category was never awarded. Some of the contestants complained bitterly to Sears about this, but the prevailing standards for the contest were clearly biased toward traditional patterns and fine quilting. The quilting stitches on the winning quilt were sixteen to the inch!
There is of course a great deal more to this book than these negative aspects of the contest. Waldvogel and Brackman explore the context of the World's Fair and the state of quilting at the time. There are fascinating looks into the origins of many of the individual quilts entered in the contest. One of the most interesting sections of the book is about what I will call the "Kentucky Quilting Mafia," a group of talented quilters from that state who took a high percentage of the top contest prizes. The authors explore the reasons for the dominance of Kentucky's quiltmakers in the 1930s and provide fascinating insights into quilting culture.
The quality of this book is very high. The research is painstaking, the scholarship balanced and judicious, the writing straightforward and clear. And as we have seen, the authors don't shy away from judgments when they seem necessary. The book also contains many beautiful color plates of the contest quilts as well as fascinating historical photographs of contestants and the world in which they lived.
If you have any interest in the historical aspects of quilting, this book is a must-read.
Introducing a new stainless steel raised edge thimble with a unique soft cushioned surface that grips the needle for better stitch control. Improved oval design fits your finger almost like it's custom made.
My Favorite Thimble comes in three sizes, small (6), medium (8) and large (10). Petit or extra large sizes available for an extra 25 cents.
To order, please send $6.00 and your choice of size to:
3687 Coldwater Lane
Snellville, GA 30039
For more information or for dealer inquiries, please email me at: email@example.com or call toll free at 1-800-533-7259.
A new Quilting and Sewing Clipart collection is now available from SnippitS Graphics.
The set consists of over 120 clipart images for use in newsletters, stationery, address labels, business cards and web sites. Perfect for the Patchwork, Sewing or Craft enthusiast the clips include images of bears, animals, dividers, blocks, patchwork, sewing utensils, flowers and celebrations.
For enquiries please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site for Australian orders http://www1.tpgi.com.au/users/snippits/
For International orders http://www.needles.com/snippits/
The MINI DUST-IT. Genuine sheepskin duster on a 6" stick that is perfect for picking up dust and lint from your sewing machine and serger. Soft, beautiful sheepskin won't scratch polished surfaces. Picks up the lint and tiny threads; doesn't spread them around. Prevents lint build-up. Inexpensive way to protect expensive sewing machines and sergers. Fun and handy to use.
Price: $3.50 each including mailing.
To order send check to Silver Dollar Sheep Station, 5020 Winding Way, Sacramento, CA 95841. 800-887-8742. SILVER DOLLAR SHEEP STATION
- Labels designed with quilters in mind!
web site: http://www.quiltbroker.com
FREE Thangles sample by e-mail request (write in subject line: Thangles): email@example.com Buy one of each size of Thangles (3 packages total) and you will be eligible to purchase the "Scrappy Plaid Stars" Block-of-the-Month Club '97 Quilt Program, designed by Mary B. Hayes.
Hickory Hill Quilts offers a complete line of antique American quilts, tops, blocks and related items at our web site http://www.HickoryHillQuilts.com. We also offer the latest reproduction fabric and quilt heritage books - all at a discount! In fact, we guarantee the lowest price on the web.
We accept MasterCard, Visa or Discover as well as personal checks. We also have a layaway plan. All sales are 100% satisfaction guaranteed. To order, use the on-line order form or call 518-875-6133. We hope you enjoy owning your very own piece of American history!
Quilt Shop Service -- Discount Prices
Looking for discounted quilting supplies and books? Look to PineTree for discounts of 20%, accompanied by attentive customer service and prompt shipping! Don't forget to check out online catalog at http://quilt.com/Pinetree for ***new, new, new*** items and a partial listing of books!
You'll find a huge selection of batting, from Quilter's Cotton fine cotton batts to the full lines of Hobbs' and Fairfield's cottons, blends, and polys. Look for tools to make applique easier and more fun; fabric and hand care products; pencils and markers; templates and template plastic; needlecraft gloves; rotary cutters and related supplies; rippers, clippers, snippers, and scissors; machine sewing needles; seven (!) brands of hand sewing needles -- including Jeana Kimball's renowned Foxglove Cottage needles; basting systems; thread, including Mettler and Gutermann cotton sewing and quilting, Tire silk sewing, and Sulky rayon, metallic, and sliver, and *new* Roxy 100% cotton thread on economical 1200-yard spools; patterns ... and more. Check out the catalog on the web at http://quilt.com/Pinetree, or request a hard copy by e-mailing snail mail info to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are on AOL and prefer to contact someone there, Donna's address is PineTreeQW! Visa, MasterCard, and Discover are all welcome. PineTree is online to answer questions about quilting products at email@example.com
Check out our on-line catalog for our Monthly $pecial$!!
Or, if that's not possible, just e-mail Schoolhouse Enterprises (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your "snail mail" (post office) address for your FREE CATALOG and Sample of Gridded Geese(c)! Gridded Geese(c) is a unique paper foundation method for mass-producing Flying Geese units up to 24 at once (similar to the half-square triangle papers, which, BTW, are included in their catalog).
The Schoolhouse Enterprises catalog offers lots of Other Fun Stuff, too! We've added a few things we think you'll like, so if you haven't visited our web page lately, we think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Perfect Square, the REUSABLE (10+ times each) iron-on transfer, helps you make perfect half square triangles in almost any size. For those of you who like to work small, there is the Mini Pack with finished sizes from 1/4" to 1 1/2". Perfect Square also comes in real sizes for anyone intimidated by the small stuff. E-mail for more info or check out the Perfect Square web site at www.webworldinc.com/perfectsquare.
ARTFABR!K now carries a Color Card for their extraordinary hand-dyed perle cotton threads available in sizes 3, 5, 8 and the finest, size 12. Please send $7 plus $1 for shipping to ARTFABR!K, Laura Wasilowski, 324 Vincent Place, Elgin, IL 60123. E-mail email@example.com or see our web site at http://www.qcx.com/fabrik/artfab.html
Beautiful hand Dyed Fabric perfect for piecing, applique and pictorial quilts. Colors range from a sunrise spectrum of mauves, pinks, and golds to deep purples, blues and teals. Available in the following convenient packages:
|8 step color progression-||fat eighth cuts-||1 yard||$25.00|
|12 step color wheel-||6"x22"cuts||1 yard||$25.00|
|24 step color wheel-||6"x22" cuts||2 yards||$45.00|
|10" squares||1.5 yards||$35.00|
Send a self addressed, stamped envelope for free samples and full price list or to order send check or money order to:
Jay Dee Designs 18640 South Lowrie Loop Eagle River, Alaska 99577
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-- Quilting on the Web: Four new quilting sites with lots of goodies and "quilt-lits." -- Quilter Profile: Susan Druding. One of the early pioneers of online quilting, Susan recounts her days at Delphi and her current work at The Mining Company. And you won't want to miss her silk cocoon quilt! -- Plus: Turtle's Online Quilt Show has new host; TVQ looking for Quilter's Essential Library.
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