Ending 2008 with Birds in the Air

After a fair amount of deliberation, I have settled on the pattern that I will use for my antique fabrics. It was no easy task. The history of patchwork quilts is vast and exhilarating, full of examples of utter originality, tradition and everything in between- it’s hard to know where to begin deriving inspiration. On the other hand, I also have some practical restraints. A reminder of what I’m working with:


I love these fabrics. I love that they are soft and worn and in some cases even falling apart. You can literally feel the history that they house. I even love that they’re random and constitute a far from obvious grouping of colors and patterns. On the other hand, this makes their successful combination a little bit challenging- though in a rather exciting way. Since I want to delve a bit into the realm of traditional quilting, I was considering a Log Cabin design for a while since it epitomizes this notion in many ways. But ultimately I decided that these fabrics weren’t really suited to that particular design. I put off thinking too much more about what to do with them because, I’ll admit, I started to develop the mindset that they are so precious, whatever I make has to be as perfect as possible. But then I realized that’s the sort of overly-precious attitude that I try to stear clear from! So I finally sat down and started flipping through some of my thesis books- and there it was, in Jonathan Holstein’s 1973 “The Pieced Quilt.” It’s a late nineteenth century “Birds in the Air” quilt, now at the International Quilt Study Center, in which according to Holstein “The lively optical effects and highly stylized avian forms evoke the image of swift birds moving in the sunlight.”

I’m not entirely sure why it struck me, but this pattern feels right. Now, I’m working with a far more limited range of fabrics- again, part of the delightful challenge of it all- so my own version will certainly look different.   I made two sample blocks before starting in on the bulk of the cutting. Personally, I think the one on the left is much more successful due to the contrast between the dark brown and lighter fabrics, so I’m hoping I’ll have enough brown to use in that role throughout the quilt- I’ll need roughly 300 of those little triangles! If not, I may use the brown for the three triangles and another shade for the six ‘background’ ones… even with a pattern in mind, I can’t avoid my fondness for improvisation.



So now that I finally have a design in mind, I’ve begun cutting out my blocks, the  always the exciting first step of a new quilt, which feels rather appropriate for this conclusive time of year. It’s actually a very different experience working with these antique fabrics. Like I said, they are worn in and often fragile- the brown one is nearly disintegrating in places so I have been carefully cutting out the good bits. For some reason, this makes it all the more interesting.  Certainly, it taps into the salvage art spirit that I have been so intrigued with lately.

The holidays continue and tomorrow I’m off for a three-day break in Jackson, New Hampshire- which will involve relaxing, sleeping in, a hot tub, outdoor wintry activities, good food and celebrating 2009. Sadly, it won’t involve quilting- but fortunately knitting is a portable companion and entrelac scarf number four (always by my side these days, filling every spare moment)  is really coming along…


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