Postage Stamp Quilt Saga: Chapter 1

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Forward: I’m making a postage stamp quilt in the style and spirit of the ones popular during the 1930s. I’ll be chronicling the process here on my blog and on Instagram!

Once upon a time, I fell madly, deeply in love with a vintage quilt I saw in a magazine. The year was 2002 and Martha Stewart Living’s August issue was given to my mom by a relative who stopped by to visit, and being a voracious reader at eight years old I read it cover to cover. I came to an article on how to repair a vintage postage stamp quilt, and the photos, paired with a story, stopped me in my tracks.

Being a massive history fan, the story accompanying the photos was every bit as good as the quilt. The article talked about how postage stamp quilts became popular during the Great Depression, using up even the tiniest scraps to make the impossibly sweet one inch squares. The fabrics usually were calicoes left over from clothing, sheets, feed sacks, and “rag bags” bought for pennies at department stores. The article walked the reader through picking new fabrics at the store (turkey red and sky blue and pale yellow were popular colors the author noted, so choose those) so new squares could be made and painstakingly appliqued over threadbare patches. I was absolutely smitten, and swore one day I’d make my own postage stamp quilt.

I’ve had a few false starts in the past seventeen years, finding the tiny squares frustrating to get lined up properly and tedious to cut. I started reading every tutorial I could find on making postage stamp quilts and giving them all a try, fiddling with the size of the squares, buying 1930s reproduction fabric only to cut it up and give up, and moved on to other projects, letting the postage stamp quilt idea keep marinating in the back of my mind.

Fast forward to earlier this year, when I found the magazine again on ebay (the original copy long gone) and coincidentally came across Amanda Jean’s post on her Lost in the Crowd Quilt and had my ah-ha moment.

In the 1930s, the postage stamp quilt was about ingenuity, a product of the “waste not, want not” attitude of a culture where every last bit counted. It wasn’t made by strip piecing, ironing a chessboard of squares to a piece of interfacing, or english paper piecing. It was made by simply cutting squares, accurately and cleanly, then stitching them together next to the radio when time allowed.

So I aim for my postage stamp quilt to exemplify a modern version of the resourceful spirit of our grandmothers, with my personality where it counts.

I’m cutting 1.5″ squares from my modern, colorful scraps, not buying any fabric specifically for this project and using a 1.5″ wide ruler that makes it fast and easy. I’m cutting the squares as often as I feel like it and chain piecing a handful of 4-patch blocks after a stressful day, usually before bed in front of an episode of Friends. It might not be exactly what our ancestors would have done in their time, but I’m pretty sure it’s what they would have done if faced with a low hobby budget, a drafty house, and a Netflix subscription today.

If you’d like more details on how I’m sewing these blocks together and getting nicely matched seams, be sure to check out Amanda Jean’s awesome tutorial that convinced me this project could be simple and fun.

Halloween Makes: Lined Drawstring Bags + Economy Block Table Runner

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Note: post contains affiliate links. There’s a lot of reasons I’m excited to be done with college, but one of the biggest is because I actually get to enjoy the fall and Halloween sewing! Fall is my favorite season, especially October, and I never feel like I get to slow down enough to really immerse myself in it.

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Sometimes you just have to set your 20 works in progress aside and make a Lined Drawstring Bag or two. I absolutely adore this pattern, and even though sometimes I may get impatient and try to skip a step, it’s always worth the time to follow it exactly and get beautiful results.

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My favorite is the “everything” size, and I knew I wanted to try a patchwork panel after seeing Heidi Kenney’s a while back. I did a simple log cabin block with my favorite Cotton + Steel “Lil Monsters” prints, plus Kenney’s tiny happy gourds (a fat quarter I’ve been hoarding for just the right project.) When I first started making these bags, I always wanted to skip making the strings and use twill tape, but laziness (I almost never have twill tape) won out and actually now I love choosing an additional fabric for the ties. I’ll always err on the side of getting to pick more fabric. The black and white stripe from C+S’s “Wonderland” is one of my all time faves– I love stripes!

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The mini bag is so adorable, it’s one of the main reasons I wanted the pattern! They definitely take practice– don’t let this size be your first one. But it is SO CUTE. I used another beloved stripe (Tula Pink Tent Stripe) and classic Mini Pearl Bracelets and lined it with C+S XOXO in Ghost White. Naturally.

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Lately, I’ve been completely smitten with economy blocks. I loved Creative Grids’ Pineapple Trim Tool (affiliate link) for making my Lagoon pineapple blocks (post soon here!) and made just two layers for the easiest, most accurate economy blocks out of my favorite Halloween prints.

DSCN3482.jpgOne of the blocks ended up upside down, but in the spirit of Halloween kookiness, I decided to leave it. It’s a small runner– about 12″ by 24″, but adds a cheery splash of color to the kitchen table.

DSCN3487.jpgI machine bound it with that same Rifle Paper Caterpillar Stripe as I used for my bag ties.

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This was my first try at free motion quilting, and I think it turned out ok but definitely not perfect. I wanted spiderwebs, and they turned out, once more, a little kooky.

A Single Girl Quilt for a Mermaid

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There’s nobody easier to make/buy/pick out gifts for than my sister. She has maybe the most well-defined personal taste I’ve ever seen, which can be narrowed down to: Country/Tribal/Western, Non-Preppy Nautical, and Just a Smidge of Emo (black nail polish, tiny Sharpie tattoos.)

Part of the reagiphy (1).gifson I love making gifts so much is it’s fun to experiment with different colors and themes than I would choose for myself, and interpreting that theme in a way I still think looks good. I knew I wanted Christie’s quilt to be this pattern, mermaid/ocean themed, and in her favorite color combo: turquoise and brown.
IMG_8174.JPGDenyse Schmidt’s Single Girl is not a quilt I ever thought I would be drawn to, but something about those busy, colorful “squircle” rings set in a serene solid background just gripped me. It’s so visually fun and interesting, so different than my usual orderly squares, and perfect for using up scraps and small bits of fabric.

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pre quilted Single Girl 

While turquoise and brown might not be my favorite color combination, I love a color challenge and couldn’t be happier with the results. Instead of dark turquoise, it’s aqua; instead of medium brown, it’s rich bittersweet chocolate brown; and shades of coral, navy, teal, cream, and peach round out the palette.

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Aside from the background and backing, I actually didn’t buy much fabric for this quilt– most was scraps I already had, or fat eighths/quarters purchased as needed to complement the prints in my stash (you only need about 2-3 yards total of ring fabric.) The patchwork rings are improv pieced, meaning you get to sew scraps together in an curve more or less mimicking the pattern piece, then you lay the pattern piece over it and cut around to make a clean curved piece. It’s fast, it’s fun, and gives you a lot of freedom in terms of sizes and color layout. After just completing the Adventure Quilt a week or so earlier, this imprecise method was just what I needed. Sewing the curved pieces took a little practice, but if you use pins and go slowly it’s hard to mess up.

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I sent this quilt out to be longarmed because “scale” scallop quilting would be the final  touch to really convey the mermaid theme, and I’m so glad I did. I usually don’t want o to shell out the cash for longarming, but a few of my seams weren’t super flat and the quilting really nailed everything down.

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Even though I don’t usually use quilt patterns, I think Free Wheeling Single Girl is really well made and I’m already planning another for myself!

  • Pattern: “Free Wheeling Single Girl” by Denyse Schmidt
  • Quilt top fabric: scrappy, with an emphasis on aqua, brown, and coral, with mermaids and under the sea motifs. Background is Cotton Supreme Solids in Iceberg.
  • Batting: Hobbs 80/20
  • Backing: Pure Element in Grapefruit, a solid from Art Gallery
  • Binding: Whisper Palette Jewels by Lizzy House
  • Quilting by: Thread Bear Quilting
  • Number/size and type of blocks: 48/12″ (I think?) improv pieced curves
  • Finished size: twin