Monday, June 30, 2014

The Emmeline Mini

Have you ever heard this rhyme?

 “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” 

As a young mother in the Great Depression, this saying typified my grandmother's experiences. Even though the time she spent in abject poverty was short-lived, it altered the way she looked at the world for the rest of her life. Grandma didn't throw much away. Bits of string were carefully wound around the old-fashioned bottle opener to save for later. Tinfoil pieces were re-rolled. Knee high nylons were mended multiple times. Margarine tubs became containers and the lids morphed into coasters for plants. Growing up, my mother never had a chest of drawers to hold her clothes, only a wooden orange crate that had been tipped on its side and fitted with a curtain on a spring to hide the contents. Every once in awhile, grandma would splurge and buy store-bought bread to use for a picnic. After the picnic, the sack was carefully washed for reuse.

Grandma had a great eye for beauty and painted amazing landscapes before her vision deteriorated. A travelling photographer came out to the farm to take pictures of the homestead. Grandma purchased a large portrait that showed the house, her gardens and some of the closer outbuildings. I looked closely at it one day and noticed that she had taken a paintbrush and added color in the section of the picture with her flower gardens. Apparently it wasn't yarrow unless it was yellow. It made me smile. Trust her to look at something and try to invent a way to make it more beautiful.

I had to channel that attitude to improve the disaster I was handed at our August quilt guild meeting last year. My guild holds annual challenges and this year our challenge was to make a mini quilt. The first option was to make a mini quilt with any fabrics we wanted. The second option was to make a mini quilt that used bits of all the fat quarters we shared with our table groups on the night of our opening activity. These are the fabrics from my table. Ugh.

You know how sometimes there are fabric groupings that just need one more fabric addition to unify the collection and make everything seem purposeful and harmonious? Yeah, this isn't one of those. There is only one thing you can do in a situation like this........and that's throw more fabric at it. LOTS MORE FABRIC.

Before I go any further, I should tell you why I shared the Great Depression stories about my Grandma. I am a saver too. I am able to control this tendency in most areas of my life that are outside of the sewing room. Inside the sewing room, all bets are off. Not only do I save EVERY scrap, I also have them broken down into various subsets.

1. 5 inch squares
2. 2.5 inch squares
3.  2.5 inch strips
4. Fabric strings (long strips narrower than 2.5 inches)
5. Triangles (from binding or scraps from making flying geese units)
6. Snippets (irregular pieces smaller than 2.5 inches)
7. Chunks (pieces larger than 5 inches)
8. Solids (all shapes)
9. Flannel (all shapes)

I went through every scrap container and pulled fabrics that I thought might work with my duds collection. With the exception of 3 fabrics, I did not repeat any fabrics in the project (I really regret those three times and can spot EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM). I used a quarter square triangle ruler to make templates out of newsprint from the Sunday paper and used them as a foundation for string piecing. Each of the little triangles are two inches tall.

I added an envelope backing to give myself a display option with this quilt. It finished at 14" x 14" so it can be a pillow or a wall hanging. I chose a print with yellow flowers as another nod to Grandma and bound it with a 30s feedsack reproduction print. I used a scrap of wool batting I had and quilted it with an off-white Aurifil thread from my collection.

I thought of Grandma the whole time I made this quilt, so I named it after her. This quilt didn't cost me one red cent to make. I think she would appreciate that.


  1. I love the backstory and memories you shared of your grandmother. At first showing, the mini was pretty and I missed out on how much fabric and piecing went into it. Well done. I have stared at it for a while and am yet to find a repeat. :)

    1. I am glad you couldn't see them. I just looked at the picture again to reassure myself that the matches weren't that apparent and found ANOTHER duplicate. Yeesh. I think I need to go work on another quilt.

  2. It's a gorgeous quilt. I love the design. My Grandma lived through the depression and war era in poverty too and was exactly the same about saving everything.