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Quilts, Tradition, and the Quilting Craze

So, this last weekend we went to a Sew, Craft and Quilt show. I hoped we'd find some bargains on fabric - you know, below the $5.99 - $9.99 a yard that the fabric stores are charging as regular price for plain cotton single side prints and solids. Seriously, I have a gut level aversion to paying more than $4/yard for a single-sided light-weight cotton print that really has no great artistic "zing". It may be cute, but seldom is anything $10 + per yard cute. $8/yard is about my limit if it is well done and has metallic inclusions. Don't even try to get to look at "licensed" media stuff.

I prefer my lightweight 100% cotton to be in the $1 to $3 per yard range - I am a cheap bitch, so I shop sales a lot. I am a red tag queen. If I really like the fabric, it's in my price sweet spot, and I have the money, I will often buy a whole bolt. If it's pug ugly, but is under $1 a yard and is basic 100% cotton, I'll stock up for pattern making.

But it was a well advertised show, so I figured we'd find some bargains.

No Dice. It was like the vendors had all colluded that the "shown price" for bog standard prints, like polka dots, florals and stuff, was $6/yard. The vendors collectively said "Oooh, a captive market of junkies with more money than brains, hook up the siphons to the wallets and lets go!"

"Fat Quarters" - a half yard cut in half along the fold to give you a quarter yard - ranged from $1 each for a few crummy patterns ($4/yd) to $4 each ($16/yd!!!). The going rate for most of them was $2 for a fat quarter - $8/yard! My regular fabric store is $1.49 for a fat quarter. Most of the fabric on display was tinted toward the yellow and brown, so the stuff looked aged and dirty.

WTF? We drove 25 miles, paid $8 for parking, plus $5 each for the two of us for admission, for the privilege of paying the same or more than an ordinary fabric store charges? Not only no, but HELL NO! That was $18 that I could have spent at my regular fabric store without the long drive! But idiots were buying this crap.

Actually I did find something useful - one lady with a small shop in Sacramento had Silk fat quarters for $3.75 - $15/yard, which was competitive. That and some folks had trim for a nice cheap price and were doing a land office business.

Now, I am an inveterate remnant snarfer. This is because I make small stuff out of remnants, and I need that stuff to be cheap. Therefore it's OK that I only get 13 inches of a fabric and there's no more in any store on the West Coast. I have been very miffed lately because many stores no longer will remnant anything over a yard - 37 inches of fabric goes back on the bolt to piss off the next customer looking to make a real garment (most patterns require 1 1/2 or more yards)!

But the show gouging, and the remnant chiseling got me to thinking about why modern quilting bothered me.

Then it hit me: The old style quilts were made from rags and scraps - remnants and recycled clothes. The real "memory quilts" were made from pieces of cloth that a person had worn, or were scraps from making their clothes. They weren't special bought for that purpose.

Quilts were a way to use every scrap of fabric that came in the door, and reuse the stuff that was worn out but still had usable sections! Worn out sheets? Piece them together and use them to back a quilt! Dead shirt? Cut it up, and use the dirty parts for rags and the clean ones for quilt pieces! Quilts were about thrift, and using up everything instead of wasting it.

Even in our throwaway culture, quilts to me should be made mostly from remnants or scraps. Yeah, I'll have to buy batting, and probably a backing (unless I piece together a bunch of polar fleece remnants), but if I do a quilt it will be mostly remnants and scraps. This means it won't be one of those fancy geometric things with the matching blocks of just perfect material, but somehow I don't think my thrifty German great grandmother would care.

The real irony? The fancy tools (like rotary cutters and clear rulers) that they have come up with for quilting make doing my bags easier.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 24th, 2010 04:37 pm (UTC)
My wife went and said much the same. She did find a couple things that will help finish out a couple of quilts. But over all she has had better luck at JoAnne's.

Feb. 24th, 2010 09:42 pm (UTC)
I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one with that perception.
Feb. 24th, 2010 06:17 pm (UTC)

When we swap sordak's office and the sewing room, I know we have a lot of scraps of mostly cotton byt some 'mystery' content material. Since I intend to pare down the over-accumulation of stuff, and I know you will put it to good use, you will receive a 'care' package if you would like it.

Some of the stuff is literal pieces that I consider to be too much fabric to discard, but not enough of a piece or an odd shape or too thin but very long. Some is weird fabric that you might be able to use for trim or such. I know there is some cotton upholstery velvet as well as trigger, denim and corduroy.

Might be ready to ship off in a couple of months because we are somewhat dependent on our helper's schedules.
Feb. 24th, 2010 09:41 pm (UTC)

I'll make sure you have my San Jose address.

Yes, those kinds of scraps and stuff make for very nice pouches and pieces. Two 8 x 9 pieces of a nice, but emo, fabric make a nice outside of a drawstring pouch, for example.
May. 1st, 2010 09:35 am (UTC)
Fabric goldmines
Hi Lamb, Might I dare to suggest the Goodwill store, yard sale clothing and the like? People sell or give away old table cloths all the time because they have a wine spot or the like. Also, for backing a quilt, your German, English great grandma Moore did the following -- an old blanket, cotton or fleece was the filling and the outer backing was a sheet which matched the predominant color of the quilt. Then she simply used yarn ties to grace each block as her quilting, or she hand quilted the layers together. Another possible backing is a lightweight cotton blanket, pre-shrunk, of course. Same for the sheet,by the way. For the traditional way to make those fancy geometric things was to use light or dark fabrics, not matching ones necessarily. It was the color value and not the pattern of the fabric that would match and it was nice when there could be enough of one print to have some duplication there. I still have your baby quilt that she made for you packed away carefully, by the way. Love you my Ravan beauty. I'm broke by getting there. Surgery is May 17th provided I pass the pre-op on May 11th. Keep everythin crossed for me. Peace and love and hugs to you and Sarah. ---Mom Oh, don't forget when looking for backing fabrics, most tricots are 60 inches wide!
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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