Starting the border

Not that I’m anywhere near finished the main applique part of the quilt, but to get some of the fabric out of my cabinet and into production I decided to start making the striped border.

The border on the original 1851 quilt is made of heavy fabric with a paisley design on a dark blue stripe and a floral design on a light cream stripe – I would guess that it was furnishing or curtain fabric. Can you see the join in the bottom border where the maker put two sections together?

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I don’t have anything similarly striped in the stash of old shirts I’m working with, so I am making stripes by sewing together strips of the darkest items (mostly trousers) and the lightest items (white/light blue shirts). The suit and shirt that my husband wore at our wedding are included in this border! (Now we need to buy him a new suit, pronto.)

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After a long debate with myself I decided that I simply could not hand-sew what will amount to about 240 seams between the dark and light strips. I brought out my sewing machine. I had wanted this whole quilt to be sewn in the same way that the maker of the original 1851 quilt would have constructed it (ie, no use of freezer paper or any other applique tools they wouldn’t have had then), but this striped border actually didn’t require the maker to sew together 240 seams – they had about 10 pieces of striped fabric that they fitted together to make the border. That’s a lot less sewing! So I feel justified in using the machine. The applique will still be done with just needle and hoop as tools.

Except for the addition of a couple more pieces of applique, work had stalled on this project because of the holidays. Ever notice how you get completely sidetracked with new and different sewing projects during November and December? I made six Christmas stockings this year, in a bid to use up my stash of pretty ribbons, trims, and embellishments. I’m extremely pleased with them and it was a hugely fun project to do, but it took me ages to do each of them and guess whose didn’t get finished in time? Yup, my poor husband didn’t get any trim on his… but he still got some good presents inside. I’ll be taking them out before next Christmas to finish them (a few don’t have tassels yet and a few need more sewing and/or repairs where El Puppo, my parents’-in-law’s new dog, managed to sink her teeth in!)

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More updates to come when I have sewn this stack of strips into a long border.

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Hours logged to date: 77.5
Research: 15 hours
Blogging: 7 hours
Fabric preparation: 7 hours
Design: 4.5 hours
Cutting/patternmaking: 9 hours
Sewing: 35 hours



Mystery objects’ true identities revealed!

Yesterday evening I was the speaker at my own quilting group – the Oxford Quilt Group – and I gave a talk about all of my quilts that had been inspired by my time working at the V&A, including, of course, this current project.

I was showing some slides of the photos I took way back in March of all of the appliqué elements of the original 1851 coverlet, including some of the more difficult-to-identify objects, and when I got to this one I said I thought it was probably a rifle:

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My fellow group member Theresa spoke up and said ‘Isn’t that a clay pipe?’ – she has been doing some research on clay pipes recently. And she sent me an email later on with some links to clay pipes, and lo and behold, it definitely is one! I had always thought it was funny that the rifle trigger wasn’t as clearly defined as I thought it might be, given the intricacy of some of the other appliqué pieces. And Theresa is definitely correct; what I thought was a trigger is actually the spur of the clay pipe. Funny that it’s on its side, though – although I said that when I thought it was a rifle, too. (Anyway, in my version it’s going to be converted into a hockey stick!)

Then I showed this photo, which I have mentioned in previous blog posts as a mystery object that no one (even the V&A curators at the Clothworkers’ Centre who helped me with the coverlet when I was examining it) was able to identify:

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No one said anything when I showed it, but my fellow group member Rosie emailed me later in the evening to say that she thought it was a goffering iron. Now, I’ve never heard of a goffering iron before, but having looked up some images I think I can safely say that Rosie is absolutely correct! A goffering iron (also called Italian or tally iron) was a device used to iron ruffles or frills without pressing them flat – the ruffles were curled around the top of the device, which had a cylinder into which a hot poker was inserted in order to provide the heat. What an interesting device! I think Rosie should win some kind of prize for identifying this truly mysterious piece of appliqué.

Here’s a photo of me after my talk, with all the quilts I showed. You can see most of them in the Gallery section of this website.


And here’s a photo of the 10th Anniversary Quilt so far, with thanks to Theresa for both photos from the evening.


And now, the hour count! There’s much more sewing time ahead…

Hours logged to date: 65
Research: 15 hours
Blogging: 6.5 hours
Fabric preparation: 7 hours
Design: 4 hours
Cutting/patternmaking: 5 hours
Sewing: 27.5 hours


I’ve been working hard on the appliqué for the past few weeks. So far I’ve done mostly figures that appear on the original 1851 quilt, except for the 10 in the centre. I had thought I would start in the middle and work outwards, but I realized that some of the figures (such as the large tree) are repeated in different sections of the quilt, so I decided to do all of those first and then fill the spaces in. I’ve done two of the large trees (near the top and bottom of the quilt) so far and will continue by doing the next two (left and right), and then fill in the rest of the space.

This (terrible) photo shows what I’ve done so far. The linen background is a wonderful weight and fineness but it’s also extremely wrinkly, and I’m darned if I’m going to iron the whole thing every time I need to sew a figure on, so I have only ironed the worked section.

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The ease of stitching is definitely different piece by piece, depending on the softness of the shirt, how much the fabric frays, and whether or not it’s 100% cotton. There are some poly-cotton shirts, and there are also a couple with a bit of stretch built in, which is much better for not fraying but much harder to roll under to make satisfactory curves. I bought a 14-inch embroidery hoop to help keep the fabric taut while I’m sewing and it has definitely helped a lot.

I’m also thinking about how to make the border and backing, but those will come much later. For now I’ll continue on with the appliqué work as much as my hands will allow.

Hours logged to date: 53
Research: 15 hours
Blogging: 6 hours
Fabric preparation: 7 hours
Design: 3.5 hours
Cutting/patternmaking: 4 hours
Sewing: 17.5 hours

Another quick side project

I’ve been working on the 10th Anniversary Quilt, honest, but somehow I keep getting distracted by side projects. This one uses offcuts of the shirts – to be precise, the pockets! When I was cutting up the shirts for this project I realized that putting the pockets together could result in a unique piece of hanging storage space, with each pocket a little section that could hold a small item. Well, I found 30 usable pockets, and lo and behold, we now have a quilt that is going to be used as a multi-toy sleeping bag by our daughter! She was thrilled to have somewhere that 30 of her littlest stuffed animals could sleep, while I was slightly mortified that she had so many toys to put inside… plus lots more cuddly toys that are too big to fit!

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With the toys inside it, the quilt is much too heavy to hang, and hanging it would just make the top few rows inaccessible for a 4-and-a-half-year-old, so I’m leaving it without any hanging accoutrements and just having it as a quilt that can be used at playtime, and rolled up with the toys still in it when it’s time to put them away.

My next post will have some actual pictures of the actual 10th Anniversary Quilt, don’t worry!

Hours logged to date: 41
Research: 15 hours
Blogging: 5.5 hours
Fabric preparation: 7 hours
Design: 3 hours
Cutting/patternmaking: 2 hours
Sewing: 8.5 hours
Hours spent getting distracted by other quilt projects: 15 (not counted in total!)

Sewing has begun!

After so many hours of preparation, I’ve finally started sewing! I decided that I would split the quilt into 10 sections (a 3×3 grid of appliquéd sections plus another ‘section’ for the decorative edging). Because each section can be done separately, I decided I’d design only one section at a time so I didn’t have to design the entire quilt before starting to sew. It’s easier for me to visualize it in smaller sections. I started by designing the middle section so I could sew from the centre outwards.

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The centre section of the original 1851 coverlet features the central panel plus the smallest figures encircling it. The panel is a ready-made octagonal floral panel, and the figures that surround it are hearts and animals, with a pair of hands above.

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Since the hearts and hands certainly mean something for any marriage, I have kept them in my reworking of the design, but I will be replacing the animals with some animal figures that are meaningful to us – silhouettes of a few family dogs, some other animals we have had in our lives, and some toy animals that are very special to our four-and-a-half-year-old daughter and therefore play a large part in our lives. I’ve replaced the floral panel with a large number 10 for our 10th anniversary, still in an octagon to preserve the look of the original.

I started the design work by taping six A4 pages together to make a sheet of paper approximately 60×60 cm, which is easy to look at and not too overwhelming to think about. I sketched my design based on the measurements I took of each of the figures on the original quilt. The central panel, for example, was 28×38 cm, according to my notes, so I kept my octagon the same size. The hearts remained the same size (5×5 cm), and the animals (still to come, as I’ve only done half of the design as you can see below) will be similar in size to the original ones they replace. For the hands, I traced my husband’s hands and they turned out to be the exact same size as the hands in the original quilt, 15×25 cm. I’ve turned a horse into an ‘X’ to mean 10. The trees below the octagon will stay the same, but I’m still not sure whether I’m going to change the house into a book or put the book into a different place on the quilt. It’s pretty exciting to be doing the design but it’s definitely the hardest part of any quilt.


Each piece to be appliqued will need to be traced, cut out of paper to make a pattern, and then cut out of a selected shirt fabric leaving enough seam allowance to turn under. It’s amazing how small some of the bits of fabric will be – and I wonder how many other quilts I will be able to make with the 68 shirts I have collected, since there will be plenty left over!

I’ve started on the appliqué work now on the central panel, and I have to say it is a lot faster and easier than I had thought. Because my only experience of hand-sewing is the kantha quilting I am doing for a very colourful quilt I’ve been working on for ages, I thought that it would be hard on my hands. I definitely have to stop after a while when I’m doing the kantha quilt, and sometimes my hand aches afterwards, but I realized that this is because I’m quilting three layers and I’m using a fairly large needle because my quilting thread is flower thread (a discontinued product made by DMC – I received mine as a present from my aunt Janet when I was 17 so they are 26 years old now!). Here’s the kantha quilt with a 10p coin to show the size of the stitches and the thickness of the thread:


And here is the first appliqué I have done for the 10th anniversary quilt, the number 10 on an octagonal background. Working with the smallest needle I could find and a single strand of thread on really well-worn, thin fabrics, I have found this appliqué work much easier than the kantha stitching. I’m really looking forward to working on the rest!


Hours logged to date: 36
Research: 15 hours
Blogging: 5 hours
Fabric preparation: 7 hours
Design: 3 hours
Cutting/patternmaking: 2 hours
Sewing: 4 hours

Still prepping those shirts

I took a break from this project in June to complete a different project, one that I’d been thinking about for a long time: I bought a piece of furniture to use as a cabinet for fabric storage, refinished it, and reorganized my entire fabric stash to put in it (including all the 10th Anniversary Quilt Project fabrics!). I am extremely pleased with the result! You can see some of the shirt fabrics in there along with my other quilting and dressmaking fabrics.

Fabric cabinet after - Nadia Arbach

Here’s the ‘before’ photo.

Fabric cabinet before - Nadia Arbach

I’m now really close to being ready with the shirts. I have washed them all again, since they were smelling like they’d been in a closet for a while, and I’ve folded them all into neat piles to put into the furniture. Here they are, strewn on my dining room table after a load of laundry (it took three loads to get through all the shirts!). I spent a fair amount of time folding and shelving!

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I’ve just gotten started on the design, which I’ll reveal in my next post. It’s a difficult process, but once I feel like I’m getting it right I can start with some actual sewing… having worked nearly 30 hours on this project without having lifted a needle yet!

Hours logged to date: 28.5
Research: 15 hours
Blogging: 4.5 hours
Fabric preparation: 7 hours
Design: 2 hours

Detailed photos of the 1851 coverlet

I’m back from a bit of a hiatus on this project – I had a wonderful time at the Clothworkers’ Centre at Blythe House at the beginning of March examining the 1851 coverlet in person, and I took lots of photos and got really inspired, but then I had to focus my attention on other projects for a little while. So now – a few months after the fact – I’m sharing some of my photos from my visit so you can see the amount of detail that the maker(s) put into this quilt.

First, here’s a view of the whole quilt, which didn’t even fit on the massive work table that was available. It really is huge. The curators had to fold about an eighth of it inwards so that it wasn’t hanging off the edge, and when I was done taking photos and measuring each individual appliquéd figure, they came over and re-folded it for me so that the other side was visible.

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You can see a lot of details in the photos that just aren’t visible in any of the standard photos of the quilt on the V&A’s website. It was absolutely worth my while going to see it in person, because I got so close up that I could count the stitches in every piece of applique, and see every stain on the fabric, too!

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I measured every single piece for length and width, so that I can create new appliqué designs for each position with the same approximate measurements. But I wasn’t allowed to rest my arms or hands on the quilt, so I hovered over it with my measuring tape. By the end of my 2-hour session my shoulders were aching!

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My experience at Blythe House was fantastic, and the curators were extremely helpful. But neither of them could help in figuring out what the mystery item (which I mentioned in a previous post) might actually be, so it’s still a mystery!

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Hmmm. Maybe it is my spirit sinking in a spiral of disbelief at how much hand sewing I have in store for me! Just kidding. I am really looking forward to starting on the hand sewing part of this project. I have even chosen my background fabric, so my next task is to cut out some shapes and get going!

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Hours logged to date: 20
Research: 13.5 hours
Blogging: 4 hours
Fabric preparation: 2.5 hours