Warning for lovers of antique quilt patterns: Addictive quiltmaking ahead. Proceed with caution.
Author Mary Elizabeth Kinch says she couldn’t have escaped the appreciation of all things historical if she’d tried. As the daughter of avid antique collectors, creativity runs deep in her family. Although collecting antique quilts has given Mary Elizabeth great satisfaction, her true passion lies in designing “antique” quilt patterns that are all her own.
Mary Elizabeth does admit to having a streak of what she calls “modern-style quilt renegade” in her work, however. Along with the legendary quilts of Gee’s Bend, she found a connection with Gwen Marston and her landmark book Liberated Quiltmaking. But Gwen’s influence on Mary Elizabeth and coauthor Biz Storms goes beyond mere admiration. In fact, it was Gwen herself who inspired the pair to write their first book. In Mary Elizabeth’s words:
“Biz and I had spent about a year admiring quilts with small blocks and pieces at quilt shows and exhibits. We were brimming with ideas and enthusiasm. At a Gwen Marston retreat, Biz mentioned to Gwen that we thought she should do a book on full-sized quilts made with small blocks. Gwen said, ‘no, YOU should do one.’ The rest, as they say, is history—that’s how our first book, Small Blocks, Stunning Quilts, came to be.”
Their new book, Small Pieces, Spectacular Quilts, shows how you can create the look of antique patchwork quilts with small pieces–and do it smarter by using streamlined techniques that make the process manageable. Because isn’t that the question we all want to ask—how do you manage all of those tiny pieces? Mary Elizabeth has a tried-and-true plan for making these stunning quilts (see the slideshow at the bottom of this post), and she’s here to share it with us today as our guest blogger.
Spill the (tiny) beans, Mary Elizabeth!
Batchwork: Making Light Work of Full-Sized, Small-Pieced Quilts
Sewing with small pieces is addictive. Small pieces will sweep you up in their beguiling beauty. As you stitch them together into ever more adorable little blocks, you’ll be rapt with their wonder. The temptation, as you admire the one block you hold in your hand, is that you will be drawn into making just one more, and then another and another. More than once I’ve looked at my watch with a gasp and an “oh my gosh!,” and anyone watching would see me fly out of my sewing room, off to an appointment or to pull something out of the oven. I’ve had to learn to set a timer or commit to sewing through just three songs or a favorite episode of The Big Bang Theory. This advice is only a band-aid solution—the truth is, if you’re at that point you’re fully addicted!
When people see the diminutive size and the sheer number of pieces in one of our quilts, the first question is usually how many pieces are in the quilt, followed by an audible gasp when they hear the answer. Inevitably, the topic turns to how long it took to make the quilt. While the number of pieces and work involved can seem daunting to some (even I am staggered when I finally calculate the total number of pieces in a project as I write the instructions), this is where the beauty of batchwork comes into play. It’s extremely useful when making quilts with lots and lots of small pieces.
So what exactly is batchwork?
- It’s a system for organizing your work
- It divides up cutting, piecing, or assembly processes into manageable chunks
- It uses efficient construction methods
- It’s well suited to sewing during small snippets of time
- It offers mental variety by changing up tasks
Resealable plastic bags and tackle boxes help keep pieces and units organized as you sew.
Some projects naturally divide themselves into batchwork by blocks, rows, or units. “Making Waves” (left) is a quilt that epitomizes the concept of batchwork. Using a couple of organizational tools made switching back and forth between units and rows easy to do. We were soon rewarded for our work as each row was added and we watched the quilt top grow.
The quilt “Wassenaar Windmills” (below right) is a project that’s perfect for chain piecing. I used thread pads between components or blocks as markers, which helped to remind me what belonged with what. This technique allowed me to stop and restart, and to easily keep track of where I was between snippets of sewing time.
“Wassenaar Windmills” is also what we call a great “Pocket Project.” The blocks can be hand pieced during bits of time—simply take pieces along in a resealable plastic bag or small container. Some might refer to it as “emergency quilting”! Biz and I have both completed many blocks in the hours we’ve sat on riverbanks during rowing regattas as we wait between races for our children to compete.
“Across the Pond” (below) offers opportunities to break up stitching pieces for inner rounds by tackling some of the piecing for the outer rounds, which require more piecing. We ended up with long ribbons of half-square triangles ready and waiting when we needed them, offering some mental variety as we stitched.
So now with batchwork as your strategy, you can curl up with Small Pieces, Spectacular Quilts and enjoy planning your next project. Happy stitching!
Thanks for the tips, Mary Elizabeth—it’s all about getting there one piece at a time.
Visit Mary Elizabeth and Biz at their website, Kinch and Storms Quilts.
So, how many pieces have you counted in one of your quilts? Tell us about your petite patchwork and you could win a copy of the Small Pieces, Spectacular Quilts eBook! We’ll choose a winner one week from today and let you know by email if you’ve won. (You can also purchase the book here, and if you do, you can download the eBook for free right away.) Good luck!
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Thanks to all who entered the drawing to win the Small Pieces, Spectacular Quilts eBook! The randomly chosen winner is Pat.
“I must confess that I have never counted. I fear it might keep me from quilting entirely. I am looking at the fab border on my Amsterdam Star quilt in my dining room. I used all the leftovers and made some very tiny pieces, 70 in just the bottom border. Please don’t make me do the math.”
Pat, we’ll email you a special coupon code for your free eBook. Congratulations!