Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Feedsack Quilt as Chemical Weapon

So, last week I bought an unfinished top with what looked like perhaps feedsack fabric in it.  It was 94 inches by 36 inches, and been pieced on newspaper, and was cheap.  Ten bucks, including shipping.  The seller felt it was a "cutter" and so promised no great condition.

I have a long, narrow space where I needed some art, so I bought this with an eye toward that, thinking I'd just back it, pillow case method, to preserve the newspaper it was pieced on and allow it's patina to just be. The primitive condition of the quilt would add a certain je ne sais qua.


My first clue that it had just a little too much patina was my dogs ecstatically sniffing, and trying to roll on, the unopened envelope it came in.  Opening the envelope unleashed a holy terror of patina, olfactory version.  The kind of smell that makes your eyes water and your nose drip.  I took it out to the porch, optimistically thinking that a little time in the open air would take care of things. After a few days, it seemed better, so I brought it into the house and gingerly pinned it to the place on the wall I was thinking of hanging it.
All seemed well until I left the room, and when I came back, well, it smelled B.A.D. in there, and so back out to the porch it went.  Closer examination showed that, while this poor top was folded, Mrs Mouse had chewed straight through.  And then raised a family in it.  Maybe more than one family.  The newspaper back had been so carefully removed that not one complete word remained, so there went my lofty idea of dating it from the back. I carefully repaired Mrs Mouse's remodeling efforts.

It seemed too fragile to wash.  But the fabrics were compelling, and the slapdash arrangement of the blocks was interesting.  I decided to quilt it, and then wash the hell out of it.  But a long narrow quilt?  So narrow as to be unusable?  Couldn't do it.  I dug around in a bag of fabric I had just bought from a gal who had decided she didn't like quilting.  As I dug, I discovered what her problem might have been.  Every single four patch block that you see above in the completed quilt had a slip of paper pinned to it, with a letter and number for where it should be sewn.  Every block had evidence of having been sewn to a neighbor and then unpicked.  It made me discouraged just looking at it. So, I ripped off all the little notes, sewed them together any old way, and added them to the sides of the top. The four patches are all repros, and sort of fade into the background.  I think that is a good outcome. The only fabric choice I made in this quilt was the little bit of white and black polka dot in the upper left hand corner of the first picture.

I had to pin it outside, on the grass, and quilt with the window WIDE open.  I used a walking foot to make big, all over fans.  It was a race against the obnoxious smell the whole way. I got it done in two days, and I think that is some kind of a record for me.  With a bit of fear, I washed the whole darn thing in a bunch of Oxyclean and Orvus paste today, wondering if I would open the washer to find a lumpy batt, the backing, and shreds of former fabric.  However, my, and the old quilt tops's luck held.  It smells just fine now, and I think it is happy.  I know I am!

If anyone has any educated guesses on the age of the fabrics, I'd be happy to hear.  None of the plaids are yarn dyed- they are all printed.  All of it is cotton, except one piece that might be linen.
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7 comments:

Clare said...

Well done you!

Fabric? Hmmmmm - 70's?

Magpie Sue said...

How cool that you brought two quilters together in one top - who probably never would have met otherwise! What a great rescue job.

Those bright prints look like 40's or 50's to me.

Penny said...

In your last picture - the grey and white plaid fabric with the yellow flowers - I have some of that fabric in a quilt my grandmother made and she died in 1957, so I would guess at least some of that fabric is from that time frame. By the way, she also pieced her quilts with newspaper.

Cheryl's Teapots2Quilting said...

I like it. Everyone's combined efforts (and the washing machine) helped it turn into a nice quilt.

DragonPoodle said...

wowzer! you are a quilter after my own heart. what a terrific rescue story. I used to think I was the only one crazy enough to do stuff like this, but there are plenty of us out here.

June D said...

What a fun project you made this out to be! I really admire you for finishing it up - not just sealing it in plastic bag to do another time. It's really nice looking now too - great job! Glad I clicked to see your blog entry!

Anonymous said...

The prints strike me as ones I've seen from mt family and photos as being late 1940's to mid-fifties. Pre-madras plaid of the early to mid sixties, anyway. All bring back mostly fond memories. Nice job ob the rescue!