This summer I’ve decided to host a guest post series here on bumblebird. Each of my guests have written posts in keeping with the theme of finding meaning in the mundane aspects of life, whether related to practical matters or matters of faith. I love to hear perspective from others and I hope that you’ll enjoy reading these blogs as much as I have!
Our next guest has chosen to remain anonymous on her blog and goes only by the name, The Textile Dabbler. She describes herself as a DIY fanatic who dabbles in textiles; whether it’s sewing, stitching, spinning, knitting, weaving, or other forms of craft. I love her blog because many of her projects are incredibly beautiful and her methods and determination are greatly inspiring, but I also love it because of her attitude that if a proposed project doesn’t work out as planned the first time, “there’s always something new to create. And a story to tell.” She finds joy in the process of creating and uses it as a way to relieve stress by shifting her focus off of the hard things in life. If you enjoy her post here you can check out her blog at The Textile Dabbler. Today, she’s writing for us about a quilting project she took on when she found herself between jobs:
Three summers ago I was between jobs with a lot of time on my hands. Most people in Vancouver would have taken such an opportunity to lounge on the beach or hike vigorously through the mountains. But I was drawn indoors instead.
I had just been given the rare gift of a vintage 1911 Singer sewing machine and I was transfixed. It was beautiful. It had a treadle. It gazed up at me with antique allure. Wouldn’t it be incredible, I thought, if I could make a quilt on this old machine? It would be so authentic, like stepping back in time and doing something entirely “unplugged.” I would become one with the quilters of old.
I confess it. I have a pioneer fantasy of living two centuries ago, doing textiles somewhere in Upper Canada. Admittedly 1911 isn’t exactly Canada’s pioneering days, but whatever. It’s my fantasy and my time periods don’t necessarily need to coincide. In my pioneer fantasy, I am idyllically living amongst the trees in a quaint little cottage, raising a flock of sheep, whose wool I use to spin and craft. I’m a creative genius, inspired by all that is natural and good. I sew beautiful but practical garments on my Singer sewing machine, gazing out my window at twilight, watching the sun set over the hills, turning them purple and grey behind the gold-dipped pond, shimmering in the fore.
Granted, a true pioneer would have made a whole quilt by hand with other members of the community. But no one I knew wanted to hand-sew a quilt with me. Besides, it didn’t shatter my pioneer fantasy to trade the traditional quilting bee for the solitary practice of treadling the Singer. So we’re all good.
The only problem was that this Singer didn’t actually run, nor did I have any idea how to sew on a treadle machine.
Don’t bog me down with problems, I told the critics in my brain. My pioneer fantasy will prevail. How difficult could it possibility be to refurbish a vintage sewing machine and get it running? People do this sort of thing all the time. At least some people do. It’s all wheels and rods and levers. No technological savvy required.
Except for consulting YouTube, of course.
Lucky for me, someone had documented in great detail how to refurbish just such a vintage machine. So after squinting at the video multiple times and consulting with my local Pfaff Sewing store (who also hooked me up with a quality treadle sewing-machine belt) I managed to get the machine up and treadling in just under a week. Phew.
To actually sew something with this machine, though, that was a different story. Or rather, it was the same story, but longer. My sewing common sense (what little I have of it) proved largely useless. Everything was different on this Singer compared to the modern machines I had used. I tried multiple approaches to winding the bobbin, threading the needle, choosing the tension, and treadling in the right direction consistently so as to create a straight line of stitches. Instead, row after row of thread clots erupted across my cloth, interspersed with snapping strands and breaking needles. It must have been a good two weeks of fiddling around before I managed to get the hang of the treadle movement and started creating fairly straight lines. It wasn’t exactly my pioneer fantasy, but it was definitely a start. I was ready to make my quilt.
I should probably mention at this point that I had never actually made a quilt before. True, I had sewn an “interesting” pair of patchwork pants in high school (which I probably shouldn’t have worn, but did). And I did sew squares on a fleece blanket that sort of resembled a quilt. But no genuine quilt. So I started my project where any logical person who has never made a quilt would start: by buying fabrics. I bought fat quarters and halves in colours and patterns that I really liked. Some of them even went well together.
Then I began to design a quilt pattern. I wanted something that reflected nature. So I settled on trees. After checking out a lot of tree quilts and patterns online, I created a traditional style of squares and triangles in a repeated pattern that loosely reflected trees in various seasons of the year. Note: the square in the centre signifies a trunk and the triangles are branches. Okay, so you may have to use your imagination a bit. But trust me; that’s a tree.
Then began the actual work. I bought a rotary cutter, a cutting mat, and a quilting ruler, and started cutting 4.5” x 4.5” squares of fabric. Squares and squares and squares and squares of fabric till I went cross-eyed with the effort and questioned my sanity. While the summer sun shone outside, I sat inside cutting and ironing, sweating and swearing and watching BBC’s Pride and Prejudice repeatedly. I was undoubtedly a true pioneer, a tenacious “Elizabeth Bennett” of textiles. (And didn’t she live—fictionally—two centuries ago? Right during my fantasy pioneer era?)
Next came the work of treadling short straight lines to connect all those little squares together and ironing each seam. Finally, many squares later, I finished my first tree. Oh the taste of victory. It was thrilling. I was on fire. Only eight more trees to go!
And that was my summer: quilting trees in a state not unlike solitary confinement. I was totally taken in by my project. I lived it. I breathed it. I cut and ironed and treadled it by the sweat of my brow. And by the time autumn came and I started back to work, I had the full front and back of the quilt complete.
After a much needed four-month hiatus, I went back to the project. It took the whole Christmas holiday season for me to sew the quilt together.
Not by hand. Not even on my 1911 Singer. But on my mother’s electric Bernina.
So I fudged the pioneer fantasy a bit. But really, can you blame me? In the end I got the project done, postmodern pioneer style.
Nine trees are gracing my bed.
Or in the case of my image here, nine trees are gracing my white wicker chair.