The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge


By Susan M. Thigpen © 1984-2012

Issue: February, 1984

quiltingOriginal quilt design and illustration by Susan M. Thigpen. Click on image for larger color coded view.Many a February hour has been spent through the years in the creative and most practical art of quilting.

Quilting originated in the Orient hundreds (maybe thousands) of years ago as a method of making padded warm clothing. The bed covers our European forefathers knew were very different from the patchwork quilt we know today. Then, a bed coverlet was made from two full-size pieces of material and stuffed with a warm stuffing, such as goose down.

When our pioneer forefathers here in America began running short of supplies such as whole bolts of cloth, the American ingenuity came in. A piece of material probably started housekeeping on a bed as a sheet. When it became worn in places it was then cut and sewn into pillowcases; then dish towels. Worn out clothing was never thrown out but cut apart and the pieces still good were saved.

Along the way, some smart seamstress got the idea that even the smallest scraps could be sewn together for a warm bed cover and the American Patchwork Quilt was born.

Soon, seamstresses were showing off their best skills in the creative patterns and stitchery. A patchwork quilt is only limited to the imagination of the person making it.

In colonial days, it was a sign of wealth to have a good bed coverlet of fine, one-piece white material, with intricate designs stitched in white upon it. The patchwork quilt was a sign of poverty and “sniffed at.” It may have had humble beginnings but it has endured the years well, probably because it is a direct sign of the pioneer spirit, courage and determination.

To make a quilt, first sew the top pieces together, choosing a pattern you like. Then put down a backing cloth, the filling, and the top and proceed with one of two methods. If you have a quilting frame, you attach the quilt to it and begin stitching through all layers with as small a stitch as possible. If you don’t have a frame, (and I’ve never used one) you simply roll up your quilt and work on it one section at a time as you unroll it. As you finish one section, start rolling it up as you unroll the next section. For both methods, the last thing to do is to finish the outer edges by hemming it. If you are working on a quilt by the roll method, you can work on it across your lap on a couch or the floor.

There are three basic types of quilts:

Patchwork, in which various shaped pieces of material are sewn together to make squares and then the squares are sewn together to make the completed top.

Appliqué Quilts, which start with an entire quilt or square piece and designs of cut out shapes are hand stitched or embroidered on top of it.

The other type is a relatively new one. You complete a square, stuffing, backing and all and then sew the completed squares together. The beautiful and rather complicated “Cathedral Window Quilt” is made this way. It is the “Rolls Royce” of the quilting world and quite an accomplishment.

I have included a design that is one of my own originals. I call it Mountain Landscape. The pieces are free form and the quilting stitches are done to give the impression of trees, water flowing and rays of the sun. I think it is the prettiest when made of calico, especially if you can find the same print calico in several different colors.

I would use blue for the sky, yellow for the sun, (you could stitch the rays of the sun in yellow on the blue sky background) brown, red or orange for the plowed field areas, green for the hillsides with trees and blue for the river flowing around an island.

I made up this design and only made one quilt by it. My daughter now has it on her bed. I once painted mountain landscapes but I think they are captured just as well with needle and thread.

The measurements for this quilt will fit a queen sized bed as a coverlet or a double size bed as a full spread. The yardage is written on the pattern. It’s a little more than you will need, just to be on the safe side. The measurements are the only ones I used when cutting it out. Every landscape is a little different from the next anyway. You might even decide to Appliqué a house on one of the hillsides.

When you finish your quilt, embroider your name or initials and the date on it. Every work of art ought to be signed. I wish you good luck and many, many enjoyable hours and the satisfaction of a newly made heirloom for tomorrow.

If any of you would like to send in old quilt patterns or quilting tips or old time quilting bee stories, we’d love to hear from you.