Welcone to the ninth and last in my series of quilt retrospectives. I was going to post this last year but my posting schedule lapsed, and then I decided to leave it for this month as it’s the tenth anniversary of my father’s death.
Length: 155 cm (61″) Width: 140 cm (55″) Design: original Batting: high-loft polyester (unknown brand) Pieced and quilted: July 2010 by machine (Janome MemoryCraft 8000)
My father’s health failed in mid-2009 and my brother and I alternated going up to see him and caring for him for the next year or so until it came to the point where I realised I would have to move up and look after him until he died.
He was so frail by that point that even the mild Brisbane winter was too cold for him, and he was using blankets and rugs to wrap around his legs when he was in the living room. I decided to make him a lap quilt — large enough to wrap around his legs, but not so large or so heavy that he couldn’t lift it himself.
Both top and backing were flannel, so that it felt warm to the touch. I chose red for its psychological warmth, mixed with black for strength (and to give the quilt a more masculine look). The batting was polyester, because I knew the quilt would have to stand up to frequent machine washing, and high-loft for warmth.
The quilt top went together very quickly, of course. I machine quilted the borders but decided against quilting the centre and instead used small machine tacks (asterisk stitch) at regular intervals, which softened the contour. The binding was attached by machine and sewn down by hand. Because of the thick batting it never lay flat, but I didn’t mind – it was never meant to be hung on a wall or over a bed.
My father liked it and certainly appreciated the warmth. My foresight in choosing a polyester batting was rewarded when I was able to get the quilt washed, dried and back on his lap inside two hours of a spill. He died only three months later, but I’m glad that I was able to make something that helped him in those last few months.
Lessons learned: 1. High-loft polyester will never lie flat. 2. When doing machine tacks, either start and finish with a lockstitch so you can cut the threads, or make an intermediate stitch far enough away to ensure thread tails are long enough to knot and bury.
That is the end of my retrospective series: nine quilts finished before I began the blog. There was actually a tenth quilt, a variable star design in Quilt-As-You-Go technique, which hung on my office wall for a couple of years before I gave to a co-worker who had admired it, but I never took a picture of it so there was no point making a blog entry for it. I still have a large pile of WIPs/UFOs that date back to the early 1990s but I’ll talk about them as they become nominated for Finish-A-Long goals … if I can bestir myself to get back onto a schedule.
Close-front English gown in indigo, over a lemon petticoat, with a fichu. Modelled by American Girl doll Marie-Grace (because she’s my favourite, even though her hair is definitely not right for this period).
English gown ensemble
There are many layers to this outfit:
1. Chemise, stockings and shoes. The stockings and shoes are from American Girl; and I made the chemise from cheesecloth entirely by hand. You can read more about making the chemise here. I found that the chemise made it almost impossible to get the bodice sleeves on, and since it was going to be completely covered by the fichu anyway I figured it wasn’t essential and removed it.
2. Underskirt. I made this from white cotton homespun without a pattern, mostly by machine. I wanted a wide waistband so that the gathers would be slightly lower than the gathers on the petticoat. I cut it 1½” wide but I think 2″ would have been better. I also made the skirt a bit too full, with a circumference of 91 cm / 36″ — the usual circumference for an underskirt is approximately twice the hip measurement, so it should have been closer to 60 cm / 24″.
3. Hip pads. I realised that this gown needed a little more padding over the hips so I made up a couple of pads from the same homespun and filled them with loose polyester stuffing. I joined them with ties so that they are versatile — they can be tied close together for a bum pad or separated for hip pads. The ties are polyester-cotton bias binding but they are very stiff so I’ll need to find some 100% cotton bias (or make it myself — I can see I’m going to be using a lot of it). They were also completely stitched by hand.
4. Fichu. I have about fifty old handkerchiefs, some of which came from my grandmother. Four of them are very fine white cotton lawn and are perfect for a doll’s fichu. This one has an initial embroidered in one corner but that’s tucked under the bodice, so it looks plain and very suitable for a day dress like this.
5. Petticoat. Made from the pattern, mostly by machine. To be honest I’d like this to be about ½” to 1″ longer than it is now, but it will do. I’m not sure if you can see it in the photo but it’s actually a very fine lemon and white stripe. I’m toying with the idea of adding embroidery in either white or blue along the bottom.
6. Gown. The gown is made from half a metre of an indigo quilting fabric with small floral sprays in yellow and green, and has sleeve ruffles of cream broderie anglaise. I haven’t quite decided on the fastening yet so it’s pinned together at the front for now (which is historically accurate but impractical for a doll that will be handled). It’s lined with a grey cotton voile. I didn’t add the ties inside as I don’t want to pull the skirt up en retroussée.
For complete accuracy there should be a mob cap or similar, an apron, a pair of pockets and a pair of stays, but I don’t have any lawn or gauze fine enough for the apron and cap, and since dolls can’t actually put their hands in any pockets I figure she can live without them. I thought the stays would add too much bulk but I may make a set anyway for the next time.
The pattern I used was Thimbles & Acorns 1770-01 En Fourreau Gown. The name is technically a misnomer — it’s a closed-front English gown. The term “en fourreau” has been used frequently for the English gown back (Janet Arnold uses it in her book covering the period) but the original meaning was apparently “a frock for a child” without any reference to style (Source: American Duchess Guide to Eighteenth Century Dressmaking). My Collins-Robert French-English dictionary describes fourreau in two ways: as a noun, meaning a sheath or scabbard, and as an adjective, meaning narrow or tight-fitting. The “tight-fitting” is certainly accurate, but could equally well apply to most forms of fashionable dress from 1500 onward.
The pattern is well written, but because it was my first attempt at the pleated back it did take me several read-throughs before I felt comfortable enough to start cutting. Everything went together fairly well, and most of the small errors I think are due to my lack of precision or trying to do things in the wrong order. The gown was almost entirely stitched by hand, the exception being the seam that joins the sleeve, cuff and ruffle, which was too thick. For the seams and top-stitching I used Superior Threads Kimono 100 wt silk thread which absolutely melts into the fabric, and for overcasting I used single strand DMC embroidery floss.
There are some things I’ll change when I make this gown again:
1. The centre back of the bodice is three to five layers deep over the pleats and it was difficult to turn the seam over once it was stitched to the bodice lining. I’d like to trim it to the seam line and cover it with bias or ribbon, but I can’t do that on the current pattern because the outermost pleat on each side involves the seam with the side back panels. Consequently, I’ll have to adjust the pattern slightly to add half an inch to each side of the centre back portion and remove same from the side backs so that all the pleats are in the centre back portion.
2. I’m not entirely happy with the way the bodice is buckling at the sides. Technically the bodice should be sitting over a pair of stays but I thought they would add too much bulk, and there would still be problems arising from the hip pads and petticoat, which sit over the stays. I may add some interfacing to the next version. The other option is to overcast the bodice/skirt seam and turn it downwards so that all the fullness is below the waist seam and not above it.
3. The armholes in the bodice lining didn’t quite match up with the armholes for the bodice — I’m not sure why. It could have been that one or the other was stretched or distorted or that the shoulder seams were slightly off-true. I may cut a slightly larger seam allowance in future and leave the curve-clipping until the last minute.
4. The cuff and ruffle make a very bulky seam at the end of the sleeve. Next time I’ll do a single layer cuff (If I add a cuff at all) and I’ll make a pair of engageantes (lace ruffles bound at the top) that can be hand-tacked to the sleeve. I may also cut the sleeves a quarter-inch shorter.
5. I managed to get the skirt pleats the wrong way around because I was working from markings on the wrong side of the fabric. It doesn’t look too bad but traditionally pleats always fold to the back so I’ll make sure I do better next time.
6. The skirt gapes very slightly at the front on each side — I thought this was another personal error until I saw someone else’s version of this gown in the Bbeauty Designs etsy store (the doll was actually modelling a wig) and saw exactly the same issue. On looking back at the pattern it’s also there on the front image. This does need a small pattern adjustment to give the front edge of the skirt a slightly steeper angle than it has now.
All in all, though, I’m very happy with the result and I’ll definitely make this gown again. In fact, I’ve already started on the next version so I can do it while all the above issues are fresh in my head.
I haven’t been entirely idle the last few months — I’ve started stitching together the units for my second Penrose tile quilt, and I’ve been doing dressmaking for dolls.
I started making an English gown for Marie-Grace and decided that I ought to make her a chemise to go under it. Since I was watching DVDs in the evenings I also decided that I would make it by hand. I haven’t sorted out my new printer yet so I wasn’t able to print out a pattern but I figured I could use her measurements and do a basic shift, which is a T-shape with added gores and small square gussets under the arms. You can see the general idea here.
Oh, how wrong I was. I mean, I finished it, but there were so many mis-steps along the way, it’s ridiculous. First and foremost: the fabric I chose was cheesecloth as it’s the thinnest and softest fabric I have. I wasn’t prepared for the stretchiness — it moves. A lot. Pins shifted very easily so most of the seams and hems were basted before I stitched them, hence it took about four times longer than I had anticipated.
I drew the pattern on parchment (which I use for all my patterns) and cut it out with scissors rather than a rotary cutter. Then I discarded the pattern and drew the rectangle directly on fabric instead. I also cut a couple more small rectangles to extend the sleeves but ended up not using them. I cut the gores and pinned them to the sides. The underarm gusset squares were cut from the neckhole and set aside.
I stitched the shoulder seams using a fine backstitch and then overcast them. That and the final hem are about the only things that were done right without any incidents.
I stitched the gores along one side and overcast them. When I went to press them and stitch the side seams together I found I’d stitched the gores to the wrong side of the fabric. I unpicked them and after looking at the shreds that remained I figured I could live without the gores if I trimmed the side seams to have a shallower angle.
I next went to stitch the gussets in place but couldn’t find them (I still can’t). Oh well, I told myself, she’s a doll, she isn’t going to be swinging her arms a lot. I stitched the side seams in place, adding a short angled portion at the underarm. I over cast the seam, snipping the corner under the arm (this also went well).
I was going to use polycotton bias around the neck but it was too much of a contrast so I went with a one-inch strip of cheesecloth doubled over instead. I stitched a small buttonhole for the ribbons and then attached it to the shift … the wrong side of the shift. The trouble with backstitch is that it’s a pain to unpick, especially when you’re using a fine silk thread. Still, I got it undone eventually and re-stitched it to the correct side. Given that it’s now six thicknesses of cheesecloth, it’s understandably a bit thicker than I wanted.
I turned over the sleeve hem once and covered it with lace trim on the wrong side, using backstitch. The stitching didn’t show much on the right side but that’s because of the coarse weave of the cheesecloth — I don’t think I could get away with it on voile or lawn, but I’ll experiment.
Hemming the bottom was tedious but uneventful. It has scalloped a little but not enough to bother me.
I bought some 3mm white ribbon and threaded it through the buttonhole and around the casing using a very small safety pin — I would never have managed with a bodkin. The pin caught in one of the shoulder seams but I was able to wiggle it through eventually. The ribbon is a bit stiff for this scale, though, and I should have taken the effort to make a cord from cotton floss.
The end result is … well, it’s acceptable, I guess, and I’m sure it’s adequate for a poor person, but it’s not a chemise that a gentlewoman would wear. I would still have used it underneath the English gown but as it turned out I couldn’t get the bodice sleeves over it so it wasn’t used in the final ensemble.
If I make another chemise I’ll try and find a very fine lawn or batiste (I do have voile but even that is a little too thick). I’ll also try using a fine lace strip as both casing and trim around the neckline in order to reduce bulk.
1. Cheesecloth isn’t really appropriate for clothing at any scale.
2. If you have small pattern pieces, put them in a bag or container so you don’t lose them.
3. Make sure you attach pieces to the correct side of the fabric. If in doubt, baste and check before backstitching and overcasting (why do I still have to remind myself of this after fifty years of sewing?).
4. Stitch down any seams that will be inside a casing.
5. Use cotton embroidery floss (plaited or twisted) as cording rather than ribbon.
I found the missing stomacher so here is a picture of Pearl (Our Generation doll) in the finished dress with buttons and a new petticoat. The old cream petticoat is underneath. It think it drapes much better now, but the added thickness around the waist has pushed the bodice up a little. I may have to modify future under-petticoats so that they are shorter and can tie around the hips rather than the waist.
Even with the pushed-up bodice, it still looks much better than the original finish:
I’m still working on the 1850s day dress. I’ve had awful problems with the sleeves and trimmings, which I’ll discuss when I eventually get it finished.
I’m also working on some masks, using various patterns and seeing which modifications add value and which are not worth the effort. I am going to have to get more 100% cotton thread — I usually use 100% polyester, which is fine for most things but can’t be sterilised at 165°C as cotton can.
Welcome to the eighth in my more-or-less monthly series of quilt retrospectives.
Size: 80″ square
Fabric: cotton flannel
Batting: 100% wool
Backing: cotton flannel
Pieced and quilted by machine (Janome MemoryCraft 8000) July 2005
In July 2005 I wanted a quilt to wrap around myself when watching TV or reading. I was back in Canberra full-time by then and the cold winters required warm covers. While I had several quilts in the cupboard, they were all fairly smooth cottons, which feels cold to the touch, and they didn’t drape well. I decided I was going to make a quilt out of flannel instead (technically it’s flannelette, flannel being a wool fabric, but the term cotton flannel is used more and more these days).
The choice of patterns in flannel is much more limited than in quilting cottons, but I found six that coordinated reasonably well in pink, purple and turquoise (even if the patterns themselves were nauseatingly cutesy) with a plain pink flannel to use as sashing. I cut out 8″ squares, put sashing around them and assembled the top. I chose wool batting for its warmth, and used another flannel print as the backing. It was machine-quilted around the sashing, leaving the squares themselves open and fluffy. All told it was finished in a week.
Even though it is not a beautiful quilt by any means, it’s the one I’ve used the most since it was made. It sits on the sofa and gets pulled around me any time I get cold — it’s soft, it drapes well and it’s very warm. I’m not afraid to pull it or twist it, or to eat or drank near it. It will probably wear out fastest (some of the fabrics are of a loose weave and now, 15 years later, are pilling badly and pulling at the seams), but I can always make another one.
1. It’s a good idea to build a small flannel stash because good quality and decent patterns may not be available when you want them.
2. Pre-washing flannel at high temperature to shrink it would be a good idea to combat the loose weave.
3. Flannel cotton + wool batting is heaven.
Here’s my finished version, as modelled by Caroline from American Girl:
I actually made two versions of this pattern, and I’ll probably make a few more before I’m happy with it.
The first version was done in cheap cotton homespun, just to see how the pattern came together without any adjustments or alterations. It wasn’t as difficult as I had expected, except for the sleeves (part of which was my own fault because I read “cuffs” as “ruffles”). Once I got my head around the back pleats they were easy to do; the side pleats were a little harder.
There were several issues with the test garment (ignore the petticoat length, that was me being ridiculously stupid).
1. One thing I wasn’t actually prepared for was that this pattern isn’t fitted as loosely as the commercial doll patterns (Butterick / McCalls / Simplicity). Even with the modifications this dress is too tight for my very early Pleasant Company dolls (Addy is the largest I have). It may not even fit early Mattel dolls, but anything after 2011-ish should be OK.
2. Even on a later AG doll (Felicity is from 2013 and is my thinnest AG doll) the front edges didn’t drape properly — this may be a function of the variation that is inevitable in soft-body dolls, but it’s still annoying.
3. The pattern included pockets and pocket slits — they may be authentic but with dolls they are also useless.
For my second version I made several changes.
I wasn’t all that happy with how the test gown draped at the front so I made a couple of minor changes to the armscye (I added 1/8″ to the back just behind the side seam and 1/8″ to the front at the shoulder) and the front edge (added 1/4″ to the front edge; reduced the angle of the seam at the yoke) and it fits better now.
I altered the back pleats so that there was one central box pleat and then three knife pleats on each side. It looks OK but I think I’ll fiddle around with it some more — maybe two box pleats either side.
I also replaced the box pleats at the waist with gathers. This wasn’t very successful, as you can see, because the gathers went right up to the bodice side seam. If I do gathers again (and I probably will). I’ll sew a straight seam out about half an inch and then gather to the edge – the gathers are only needed to allow the skirt to curve over the extended hip.
I made the stomacher a little narrower — the original version was too wide and looked out of proportion with the dress. I embroidered the front with a decorative stitch on my Janome 9400 — unfortunately I didn’t align the starting points as precisely as I had hoped, so that is something to work on in future. It’s pinned in these photos because I want to fasten it with 5 pearl buttons and thread loops on each side, and I only have 6 buttons. I could use hooks and eyes, but in my experience they never fit as well as you think they will, especially at this scale.
I wasn’t happy with the sleeve length on Caroline, so I tried the dress on two other dolls that have longer arms: Pearl from Our Generation and Galina (unnamed ballet doll) from My Sweet Friend.
I really liked the sleeve length on Pearl but the button on the back (to control the hair extensions) made the dress drape really badly so when I make a sacque for her I’ll put an opening in the back of the bodice lining so that the button is between the lining and the outer back.
Unfortunately Galina’s torso is a fair bit slimmer than any American Girl doll, so the extra centimetre in her arm length was counteracted by the looseness of the bodice – you can see it bulging outward under the arms.
Overall, though, I am fairly happy with this project.
Things I will change for future versions:
— the sleeves themselves are a little too long for AG dolls — by the time the ruffle is added the sleeves reach to the wrists, which is a little long. Next time I make this I’ll take out about 1 cm from the sleeve. I’m also going to reduce the sleeve cap a little (just a little) so that it’s eased in rather than gathered in.
— I really need to consider handstitching the sleeves to the bodice. Between the tight curves and the gathers it’s extremely difficult to sew an accurate seam on the machine, and that doesn’t help with the fitting issues.
— It may be worthwhile to make two stomachers (one narrow, one wide) to allow the dress to fit more than one doll.
— I also want to make a hoop skirt to go under this gown. It’s always a mistake to make a dress without making the relevant underwear and I should have remembered that.
1. Doll dresses need fitting and tweaking just as much as human dresses do.
2. Doll seam allowances are not at all forgiving. Be better!
3. Period dresses need period underpinnings.
4. I need to practice decorative stitches more so that I can align them more precisely.
Welcome to the seventh in my more-or-less monthly series of quilt retrospectives.
Size: 235 x 280 cm (93″ x 110″)
Design: traditional basket block
Batting: low-loft polyester (I think)
Pieced: by machine (Janome MemoryCraft 8000) 1998-2000 (blocks) August 2002 (top)
Quilted: by machine (Janome MemoryCraft 8000) September-October 2002
Completed: November 2002
In my early years of quiltmaking (the late 80s, early 90s) I purchased various packs of fat quarters and fat eighths in order to build my stash. Many of these were “ditsy” prints (small floral sprigs) which I found I didn’t care for very much, so they languished in the cupboard.
In 1998 I decided to use up as many of these fabrics as I could by making a scrap quilt. In order to have as little waste as possible I chose a very simple basket pattern (basically a half-square triangle with a bias-curve handle). Over the next two years I made hundreds of blocks … literally, hundreds of them. I had so many blocks I had no idea what to do with them.
In 2002 I was posted to Sydney. I was living in a furnished apartment close to work during the week and commuting back to Canberra at the weekends. I wanted a quilt to use as a bedspread (it being too warm there for a doona) so I picked out around 260 of the basket blocks to assemble into what I hoped would be a colourful and cheery quilt. I quilted it in the ditch by machine (which took a fair amount of effort and a lot of rolling and clipping to get it through the small harp space) and bound it in a yellow print similar to those in the top.
When I put it on the bed, I discovered that while it was, indeed, colourful and cheery, I just didn’t like it. The fabrics were not to my taste and in all honesty I hadn’t arranged them as carefully as I might have done with a little more effort. Still, it did the job intended and saw me through another two years in a city I dislike. The silver lining is that I wasn’t terribly upset when I spilled a cup of tea on it (some of the stain remains to this day).
Apart from two baby quilts I made for my mother’s church fête, I never did anything with the rest of the blocks (approximately 500) which remain in a bag in the cupboard. From time to time I play around with ideas on sashing and embellishments, but I suspect that they’ll probably end up as a charity donation one day.
1. If you don’t like the fabric, you won’t like the quilt.
2. It’s hard to quilt in a small harp space.
3. An ugly quilt is still a useful quilt.
4. Tea stains add character.
Welcome to the sixth in my more-or-less monthly series of quilt retrospectives.
Size: 90 cm / 36″ square (approx)
Design: traditional blocks, in my own arrangement
Batting: unknown, low loft
Pieced: by hand (blocks) and machine (sashing and borders) July 1988
Quilted: by machine (Janome MemoryCraft 8000) August 1998
In 1998 I underwent an operation that I knew would entail several weeks’ convalescence, during which time I would not be able to do anything that required upper body strength, incudling lifting or machine sewing. I decided to embark on a hand-piecing project, which resulted in this wall quilt.
The centre is a Castle Wall variation in burgundy, green and gold, with the colour placement emphasising the star shape. Sewing this together took me only a few days, so I did the Kaleidscope blocks as well. By the time I had finished the blocks I had recovered enough for light machine work (that is, capable of sewing, not of lifting the machine), so I got one of my friends to set up the machine and then I sewed the border strips and set the top together.
It was machine quilted by me, mostly in the ditch but with a star in the centre octagon (formed by extending the seam lines) and some free-motion work in the strips. The binding is attached by machine and sewn down by hand.
I never did get around to putting a tube on the back, so the Castle Wall wall hanging has never been hung. (!)
1. Plain strips are plain.
2. Free-motion quilting is difficult and I need to practise more.
3. Hand piecing is much more fun than I had anticipated.
Welcome to the fifth in my more-or-less monthly series of quilt retrospectives.
Size: 160 x 220 cm (63″ x 87″)
Design: Traditional blocks in an arrangement by Mary Ellen Hopkins
Fabric: all cotton
Batting: Hobbs Heirloom 100% Cotton
Backing: plain muslin
Pieced: 1998 by machine (Janome MemoryCraft 8000)
Quilted: 1998 by machine in monofilament
In 1998 I did a workshop at Truly Lois (a quilt shop in Canberra, now defunct) on quick-piecing techniques by Mary Ellen Hopkins, one of which was the “Four Ts in a Maze” pattern. The instructions said to bring two sets of three coordinating fabrics, so I made my choices in burgundy and green.
The block itself is a very simple rail fence with three fabrics per unit — the T pattern arises from the way the units are arranged. The blocks were cut and stitched together in only a few hours.
Once I had finished the maze section I had to work out how to finish the top — the maze is only 36″ x 60″ so borders were required. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on a detailed pieced border and my original plan was to use the dark burgundy print, of which I had about a metre and a half left. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough to bring the top up to the size I wanted, so I bought an unrelated print that didn’t clash too badly and used it for a 3″ inner border and binding, and the burgundy as a 9″ outer border. It was machine-quilted by me using invisible thread — in-the-ditch for the centre section and parallel lines in the borders. It was bound in yet another multicoloured fabric.
When I had finished, I found that I really didn’t like it (I still don’t). In the maze section some of the fabrics blend too well, others are jarring. The border is far too plain in comparison with the central section and that one extra fabric sticks out like a sore thumb. Until I got my cats it was only ever used under something else, and most of the time it sat in the linen cupboard. Since the cats arrived, though, it sits on top of a box beside a window and has become one of Verya’s favourite spots.
1. I don’t have a problem with colour, I have a problem with contrast (I ought to try a colourwash quilt one day, I think I’d do well).
2. Don’t let your desire to finish quickly lead you into bad border choices.
3. Cats love ugly quilts.
Today the weather was back to Canberra-normal (cold but sunny), which is a lot better than it was earlier in the week, so I took En Bourgogne out to Lake Burley Griffin for some glamour shots. Unfortunately I forgot to take any photos of the lake itself — you’ll just have to accept that it was there behind me.
First, the obligatory flat shot. I held the camera as high as I could but it’s still at a bit of an angle:
If you look closely you can spot the two out-of-place blocks. If you can’t spot them, I’ve circled them in the next shot:
I tried to take a couple of “artsy” pictures but it was pretty windy and the corners kept turning. This one was nice, though:
You can see the blossom on the trees in the background — and it’s only half-way through winter! I couldn’t resist taking another couple of close-up photos as it was so beautiful:
I also caught a couple of black swans who came out of the lake and wandered across the grass. I didn’t want to get too close (they can be aggressive) but I got a couple of zoom shots:
It was too cold to stay out for long so I packed up and came home. It was lovely to get a little sunshine, though, and it was a pretty good place to take photos so I’ll go back there later in the year.