I am now a solid nine months into my Buy Nothing year and I thought you’d like to know how I was getting on. People keep asking me how I’m doing, perching their heads to one side as you do with those suffering from a life crisis. But I’m absolutely fine, haven’t once been tempted to break the No Buy rule when I’ve been out looking at clothes (which I do a lot) and it’s really changing my attitude to what I wear (more on this in a later post).
I must fess up to having had a couple of presents for my birthday (in August) that were clothes, from Middleagdad and my sis. I was in a blither about what to do about this but rationalised that it would be daft to refuse and treated them as acceptable treats for getting half way through.
But I have missed the joy and interest that new clothes bring to a wardrobe, so to bring back some buzz, I started to sew again. I have drawers full of fabric bought over the years (I bet I’m not the only one here) for projects I’d do ‘later’, so what better time to start than now? I have made a shirt, two pairs of trousers (SO easy!) and while pinning and machining, I was reminded of the pleasure sewing my own clothes used to bring me.
As a teen, I made loads of clothes, because as mentioned many times before, it was the only way to own a pair of paisley print loons or a patchwork Laura Ashley maxi when you had no high street and no money in the 70s and 80s. You don’t forget how to place a pattern on the straight of grain, or to leave a bit more seam allowance than instructed in case the pattern is too tight (often).
Bolstered by this sewing renaissance and while Kondo-ing my forgotten fabric trunk, I pulled out a project I’d started 27 years ago before having eldest son. Heavily pregnant on my last days working at Liberty, I’d popped into the fabric sales office to see them packing up their fabric swatch books for the passed season. They didn’t want them so I asked if I could take some.
I remember thinking to myself, “I’ll make a patchwork quilt out of them, I’m off having a baby so I’ll have plenty of time to sew.”
I know. I blame it on the pregnancy hormones.
Can I also mention at this point that I intended to sew the whole thing BY HAND. Using a traditional quilting technique of covering each geometric pattern shape – cut out of paper – with printed Liberty fabric, tacked down and then hand stitched in a complex pattern of squares, double quilt size.
I must have been bonkers.
Unbelievably, I kept at it through three babies, goodness knows how. I have one lovely memory of sewing in front of the fire with a eldestson in his rock-able car seat, but after that it’s all a blur and I have no idea how I had the motivation to keep going. Eventually, when all three sons were infants, I gave up and shoved the half finished quilt into the sewing trunk and it has hardly seen the light of day since.
When I recently found it again, covered in decades of dust, the quilt was more finished than I remembered. After a wash it just needed all the papers removed (a job that took me two solid weeks and at least four box sets, I’d advise NEVER making a quilt like this) and a backing fabric applied. But during the process I was reminded how calming and grounding it can be to sew, all that repetitive in-and-out with the needle and the touchy-feely physicality of being surrounded by lovely fabrics and prints.
The quilt pattern, although delightful and an amazing documentation of every one of Liberty’s 1990 prints and colourways, are now not my thing at all, they are too twee for my current mid-century-chic design ethos.
So our regular craft contributor and all round fabric expert Julia advised daylight bleaching (sticking it outside on sunny days), which worked to give the quilt a more vintage look and backing it with an indigo shade of linen, to make it more modern. I also left the edges distressed and frayed and patched on a small embroidered vintage hanky bag that turned up in my sewing basket, just because i thought it looked sweet.
After about a month of attention, it was finally finished, 27 years after I started it. The sense of completion is enormous. The quilt has given me a sense of who I used to be and I’m amazed at my younger self’s ambition in terms of the scale of the project. Every time I smooth the patched pieces I see those tiny stitches, sewn quickly in briefly caught moments of quiet in the maelstrom of family life. My feeling is that I’d never have finished it if I hadn’t been finding other things to do than buying clothes.
The quilt sits in the spare room now, and works nicely with a Welsh blanket in similar colours.
Obvs, boosted by these huge feelings of satisfaction and I’m planning new sewing projects to use up the remaining fabric and because when I look at those square blocked trousers and jackets in COS currently, I think to myself ‘I could make that’.
It looks beautiful A. And the hand sewing was all part of your instinct you had at the time, some might say ‘nesting’. If you’d have machine sewed it, yes it would have been faster, but it would have been a different experience. Love it! Jx
It is so beautiful and I love the story too. You have made a little bit of family history to treasure.
I have fallen off the Buy Nothing wagon… However; I have bought very little and put a lot of thought into any purchase. Maybe next year!
I had a very similar quilt that I started well over 30 years ago, but sadly didn’t keep mine, I threw it out during a big clear out of stuff I thought I’d never finish, or want to and like you, my aesthetic had completely changed. I regret it now, so much work wasted and it probably could have been rescued, with a little imagination. Maybe a cautionary tale of over enthusiastic clearing out?! I also am always thinking, I could make that, when browsing around shops like COS – such simple shapes, but I’d still need a pattern and have browsed pattern books but not found anything quite right. I’ve seen Japanese books with great, simple, stylish patterns, but they’re never in large enough sizes! A gap in the market perhaps?
I finished a quilt in the new millineum which was started in the seventies or eighties and it was a great feeling! Oh the fabric! the polyester! the upholstery material! I had none of my current elitist fabric sense, (although I did work for a time in a laura ashley store and made one of those precut pink quilts for daughter #2.)
The eighties quilt was given to my daughter and it was lost in hurricane Sandy which flooded her apartment with sewage sea water. But we had some time to enjoy it and remember it fondly. What more can a quilt ask? Due to its high polyester content, it probably still exists in some landfill.
Sewing garments is more challenging for me but I do try. I belong to the when I lose twenty (?forty?) pounds club. I did not know it was a life time membership. I look lovingly at patterns that fit and flatter the young and svelt but have learned repeately that they no longer suit this matronly, well grand matronly if you are truthful, figure. Sewing, for me, is more than the end result. It is a feeling of connection and creativity that I value, so I plod on and enjoy my journey.
Did everyone who was pregnant/ at home in the 70’s start a handmade quilt?
Mine isn’t quite finished yet but the joy of it is that it is partly made from the colourful shirts that belonged to my dear brother, he died over 30 years ago.
Beautiful Amanda — it looks amazingly complex — mine would have been just squares I think and those probably wouldn’t have been accurate !
Great job on the quilt. Just call it the Slow-Not-So-Easy quilt. And add me to the list of people with a partially completed quilt top sitting in a cupboard. All hand-stitched so far and awaiting my retirement next year.
Fantastic comments womenfolk, and clearly there were lots of quilts started and not quite finished! What a moving story from Martha, I did love your comment about polyester and landfill…made me laugh out loud. Sue, I suspect any quilt of yours would be a splendid riot of joyful colour that would be wonderful to see. Carol, lovely and moving comment on your quilt, that’s kind of why we make them, right? To sew in memories. Totally agree with you on the patterns, Alison, but have you tried Merchant & Mills? We did a blog post on them a while ago, really good simple patterns. Ax
Such a lovely story, and so much to identify with. I always intended to do a quilt but never made one. I’m not the most accomplished needlewoman, but I did manage to make my daughter a large cushion for uni and covered it in shapes of fabric scraps from her life – sports badges, scraps of deary loved t-shirts and embroidered words on it to join them up, I’ll do the same for my second.