Quilting Piece by Piece, Just for Us

Quilt Leslie with Bagua

In our house, there are three perennial places for quilts:  two beds and one short wall in the kitchen near to the heart of the home. In the photo above, I am standing in front of a wall quilt I made for myself. The design is an emblem of wholeness and health, derived from the concept of the Bagua, a central tool of Feng Shui, the Chinese art of placement.  I find that as I allow myself to register the energy of the spaces in which I live or visit–and make changes when necessary–I feel happier, healthier, and more productive. (You might have noticed the favicon for winonamedia.net, too, is a Bagua!)


In the photograph above is my quilt version of Memory Lane. It is an autograph book that I bought many years ago. Instead of autographs it holds photos of the quilts I have made over the years. There’s very little by way of notation, except for the year and initials I quilt into the fabric. While I always remember working on the piece, and I remember if it was for me or to give away, I don’t always know what year it was made or to whom I might have given any particular piece. In a future post–sometime in March–I will consider the gift quilts. Here, I am going to focus on some of my favorite pieces made for my own home: to adorn our walls or warm our  dreams.

My First Quilt Pattern: The Drunkard’s Path

Quilt Drunkard's Path

I learned how to quilt when I was in a graduate writing program.  It was very soothing to have something visual and repetitive to do that counter-balanced most of my highly verbal day. I spent a year making these little two-piece, two-color blocks, then fitting them together into the larger blocks and finally assembling the overall pattern. For the longest time–years!–I had only the pieced top but no quilt. I hadn’t thought about the requirements of a quilting frame for example. Now, when I make a quilt to sleep under, I quilt the backing, batting, and top together in long rows and then assemble the quilted strips together before binding the edges. Since I don’t like working with a frame, this works well for me.

Eventually, I discovered that it was possible to have the pieced tops quilted by someone else. Through a quilting store in Edina, I was able to have the top above and the quilt below, quilted by Amish women living in Wisconsin. The stitching is exceptionally fine.

Postage Stamp Baskets

Quilt Baskets

This quilt was the result of the first class I took. I made the top, and it was later quilted by the Amish women. I was especially happy to have incorporated some cherished scraps of Liberty of London and other fabrics left over from some dresses I had had made. (If you look closely, you can see me wearing one of those dresses in the third photo.) This is the quilt that has been retired from use as a coverlet and is now protected by glass and gracing our dining room/school room table.

Christmas Windows Quilt

Quilt Christmas Queen

This quilt was the first queen-sized one that I quilted myself. I spent many happy hours working on it during our time in Bayfield, Wisconsin. One feature that I particularly like was very time-consuming but worthwhile. I quilted all the lines on the oak leaves for each frame, which gives the fabric the look and feel of tooled leather.

A Walk Through the Woods

Quilt Walk Through the Woods

Quilt Border Walk Through the Woods

This was the last queen-sized quilt I made for our bed. I had a lot of fun working with the different “woodsy” images: trees, leaves, bear paws and wild geese traditional patterns.

Wall Quilts

There is a special enjoyment in making wall quilts. Since they are small, they don’t take as much time. I find I am more likely to experiment with an intricate technique or idea on a smaller “canvas”. It is also a satisfying way to use the small pieces of fabrics–scraps from other projects–and to justify investing in the quilter’s version of bon-bons: fat quarters. (Fat quarters–often pre-cut–allow a quilter to buy a mere quarter of a yard of fabric in a more useable rectangular shape than one would get if one asked for a quarter of a yard at a large fabric store.)

Astrological Quilt

This one isn’t quite finished but is a quilted version of my astrological birth chart.

Quilt Birthchart

Moon and Stars

The quilt below was inspired by a picture I saw in a quilting magazine. The pattern is called “Moon and Stars”. The original was very different, a Victorian construction of black, maroon, and gold silk. I made this one in Bayfield when we had our little house there because we needed something to cover up an ugly utility box in the hallway. Because one of our favorite things to do up north is to star-gaze, I used fabrics that are more evocative of the night sky.

Quilt Moon and Stars

Big Dipper

Speaking of the night sky, I used an astronomy text to design this quilt. I gave the stars the color they are said to have, and even put the layering of double stars in the right places. Although it is impossible to see in the photograph, the top border has crescent moons quilted into it, while the border has a sun with long rays.

Quilts Big Dipper

Stars and Stripes

This quilt comes out each year for the Fourth of July. I had a lot of fun selecting fabrics from my stash and thinking about the borders.

Quilt Stars and Stripes

Most Recent Design

I made this quirkily graphic wall quilt this year, and I had a lot of fun picking out new fabrics…not that I need any new fabrics. I have realized recently that I have enough ideas and fabric to make a dozen beautiful quilt tops.

Quirky Geometric


Julia with Original Quiedie and a Bear-Paw Pillow

Quilts Julia & Original Queedie

No post on important family quilts could be complete without a mention of “Quiedie”, the baby quilt I made when I was expecting Julia. Quiedie is well beloved, and though she has a new front and back layer of different patterns now, she is still the most precious family quilt of all.

Beyond Quilting

In 2010, after making several of the Bagua wall hangings, I decided to try something else. I took photographs of each fabric square, printed the photos, and made a collage of them on a 12-inch by 12-inch canvas. I made one to donate to the Northfield Arts Guild’s 50th anniversary gala auction and one for myself. I love the portable and durable “canvas quilt” and keep it where I can see it every day.

Quilt Bagua DerivationThank you for reading this! If you think of someone else who might enjoy it, please forward it to them. And, if you are not already a subscriber, I invite you to subscribe to the Wednesday posts I am sending out each week–it’s easy, it’s free, and I won’t share your address with anyone!!Signature2

Quilting at a Leisurely Pace & “The Book of Quilts” (Poem)

Cover of The Quilters

The Quilters chronicles the lives and quilts of pioneer women of Texas and New Mexico at the turn of the twentieth century. Compelling black and white portraits of the women accompany their moving oral histories, while thirty-six color photographs showcase the quilts.  This award-winning book was the basis of the Broadway play Quilters, nominated for seven Tony Awards.  Patricia Cooper taught at the University of California at Berkeley until her death in 1987.  Norma Bradley Allen is a freelance writer who lives in Cedar Hill, Texas.”

The quote is from the Amazon page featuring this book, which is still–wonderfully and amazingly–in print after almost forty years. A copy of this book has been part of my own library since 1980–I bought it at a garage sale–it inspired me to begin making quilts, and it inspired this poem (written in 1983 and published in 2011 in the regional anthology Poetic Strokes.)


Every parting is a death; to join is holy.

IThe Photograph
Hattie Wooddell at 20, Jaspar, Texas

Wrapped in double wedding rings,
she rocks on the front porch, piecing.
Across from her, a tin love seat.
Above, the shingles, dancing octagons,
carry rain from the roof down
a glittering drain spout back
to the kitchen garden.
Her lap fills with diamonds
colored like new lettuce.

II.  The Pattern

This background
a reverse field:
now crosses,
now stars.
Both dark and the positive, light,
tell of the first split;
birds in flight,
on sections of blue ether,
pennants of gold like standards,
quadrangles of blood.

III.  Prairie Women 
Is it the Lone Star or the Star of Bethlehem?

They pieced for sanity,
for silence in the wind’s continuing,
stasis in the shifting dust.
Their faded dresses,
rose, indigo, black,
warmed the cooling bodies of their dead:
an embrace to last.
They knew, they must have known,
that a central, vivid red, like fire at midnight,
outlives any dark;
that something resides in the groans
of windmills and tight joists,
in shingles creaking, and chicken wire,
and in the long boards of a house,
that some order abides
in even the craziest patched quilt.

Leslie Schultz

I was inspired in so many ways but this seminal work of The Quilters. It combines the oral histories of women (and some men) who made quilts out of physical, economic, emotional, communal, and artistic imperatives, and it blends these first-person accounts with photographs of the quilters themselves, their quilts, and the elements in their world that gave rise to the shapes and names of the quilt patterns. It was revelatory to me to see photos of the cut ends of log cabin walls juxtaposed near photos of log cabin quilts, or photos of windmills and chicken wire paired with photos of windmill and hexagon patterned quilts.

In addition to writing the above poem, I learned how to make my own quilts while was working on a Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry. Though I have a sewing machine and a rotary cutter, I typically trace and cut each piece by hand, hand piece, and then quilt by hand as well. The pace is leisurely, to say the least.

Quilt Under Glass

One of the last quilts I finished before Julia was born was her baby quilt. I have made a few since then, but they were for other people. Meanwhile, the quilts I had made for our bed were wearing out. One of my favorites (much mended, made the year Tim and I were married) survived the dumpster and has been repurposed as a covering for our dining room table. So I began fashioning a replacement…

Which brings us to today! Below is the center of the quilt I began about ten years ago to replace the Baskets quilt that was fast wearing out after fifteen years of service. It has been quilted and awaiting the finishing borders for … oh, about six years or longer.

Quilt Center

Quilt Pieces

Quilt Border Detail

Quilt Border

Finishing this quilt has been on my New Year’s list of goals for three years in a row. I now have momentum. And when it is complete, I vow to post a photograph of the finished quilt!

Signature2Thank you for reading this! If you think of someone else who might enjoy it, please forward it to them. And, if you are not already a subscriber, I invite you to subscribe to the Wednesday posts I am sending out each week–it’s easy, it’s free, and I won’t share your address with anyone!

Next week, more on quilts!