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Friday, 8 May 2015

Quilting

About mid-March, I decided that it really was about time I started using my fabric stashes, mainly made up of cheap remnants and used clothing whose fabric I liked. A number of items could not be used for The Greek Collection, as they did not feel very Greek to me, even though most of my fabric stash has been collected here. This past winter, I started making things out of my fabric collection, with the internet as my guide, and I still can't believe how fast I am - in just 8 weeks' time, I have made 3 large quilts, and completed a number of smaller patchwork projects in between, recycling and upcycling various items lying around the house.

The arts of quilting and patchwork are not at all well known in modern-day Crete, although there are now quilting groups all over the country (mostly headed by non-Greeks!). Since I've never quilted before, I didn't expect my fabric projects to go so well and get finished so quickly. We usually procrastinate over such tasks. In the past, all I did was small patchwork projects, without any quilting. I've now discovered that quilting using a simple made-for-home-use sewing machine is not at all easy because it involves pushing very thick (and often wide) fabric through a limited amount of space between the machine motor and the needle. This made my arms and back ache. But it was worth it!

My first project was a small mat, as a way to get back into patchwork, after a long break from it. I had made a patchwork armchair cover many years ago, using cheap fabric remnants bought in Athens back in the drachma days from a store that sold sheet and curtain fabric. (Such stores are long gone now.) The cover was all hand-stitched. It had gotten rather tired looking, and was eventually replaced by a store-bought cover. But I didn't want to discard my old patchwork given the amount of time I had put into making it. So I cut a piece and used it as backing material for a quick patchwork denim mat, made from my kids' old jeans. The light padding all came from remnants I had picked up from a mattress maker in Hania when we bought new mattresses for our kids' beds. This whole project took me just one afternoon, thanks to the sewing machine stitching.
Cost: just the electricity I needed to machine-sew it.


I decided to get craftier and tried a more advanced patchwork pattern, again using fabric remnants. I made another small mat for the bathroom based on a design called 'fake cathedral windows', as it is known among patchwork circles. More old denim was recycled, and the 'windows' were made using fabric scraps that were very small and practically useless and would otherwise have been thrown out. Again, the cost was virtually zilch.

My children had been watching me working on my patchwork projects throughout the winter, and they liked the idea of a quilt of their own, made by their mother. They have never had a quilt, mainly because my own mother left me a lot of blankets (we use what we have!). Quilts feel almost like a luxury to us. Having never quilted before, I decided to do a sample quilt using plain fabric which was not patchworked. The first quilt I made was for my son. The whole family loved it!

The designer fabric is called Tournament by Jane Churchill, acquired at a garage sale in Brockley, London, on a balmy September day as I walked through the area last year. My son is a fencer, so I immediately imagined these knights gracing his bedroom in some way. The red fabric has a medieval look to it - it was bought at a fabric store in Athens (more drachma days) and I used to use it as a sofa cover while I lived in Athens. The blue-white floral fabric used for the binding came from an upholstery remnants store in Hania.
Cost: designer fabric - £5; red fabric 1000 drachma; binding €1.50; €20 euro for the batting, from a local mattress maker. 

Before moving to Greece, I had bought a cheap king size quilt made of Indian cotton at a Wellington shop called Narnia. (I don't know if it's still trading - it was one of my favorite stores.) I have been using this quilt since I bought it, but it's now feeling rather old and needs repairing/replacing. During our New Zealand holiday 11 years ago, I bought some NZ-based fabric designs which were found in the remnants stash at the well-known Nancy's Embroidery store. I remember Nancy from her time in James Smiths (mention of this name does age me - James Smiths closed just before I left NZ). I embarked on a rather ambitious project using the 'disappearing nine-patch' patchwork technique. I needed 25 square blocks for the finished quilt top.
 Close ups of the main fabric used in the NZ based quilt. I didn't let any material go wasted by making squares from off cuts. 
Since the NZ designs were not enough to make a king size quilt, I bought some more fabric which had a NZ look to it from ebay sellers, eg shells, pebbles, (green coloured) sea, among others. I also cut up a NZ tea towel with a map of NZ on it. The sashing and binding were made using remnants from the local upholstery store, some cheap fabric bought in Athens during the drachma days, a used clothing item from the street market in Hania, and a batik design gifted to me by an Indonesian student while I was studying in NZ. The mattress maker sold me some more ready-lined padding, which meant that I didn't have to do most of the quilting myself. This was a very big project, so that was quite helpful. Most quilters leave the quilting part to professionals who use long-arm sewing machines, while others have computerised machines which are programmed to create intricate designs. (Maybe my next model!)
Cost: 3 metres of ready to use wadding - €35; NZ fabric designs from NZ - approx. NZ$22; ebay fabrics - £20; remnants/used clothing - approx. €10, plus a thousand (or so) drachma; the batik was bought in Indonesian rupiah. This really was quite an international project. 

The reverse side of the quilts did not need any fabric, thanks to the mattress maker. I took my quilt tops to him so that he could measure them and advise me on what I can use to pad them. In Hania, we have quite a few mattress makers, thanks to the tourist industry. A quick check on ebay confirmed that I would have paid roughly the same price for this wadding. (I'm not sure about how the quality compares - what I bought seems quite good).
The reverse side of the two quilts looks like this - the white cotton fabric was already sewn onto the wadding and I simply quilted the top side onto the ready-lined fabric.

My latest quilt project was for my daughter. It was made using fabrics I had bought on a whim while visiting Brighton on New Year's Day, walking through the Lanes (a bit like Hania's old town), where my eye caught a glimpse of some nifty floral fabric made into pyjamas which were displayed on clothes hangers. I decided to check out the store just because I liked the fabric, which turned out to be none other than a Cath Kidston fabric designer outlet. Rather overpriced of course (8 fat quarters for 25 pounds/30 euro), but I couldn't help myself.
On returning home, I decided that the fabrics looked a little too kitsch for my tastes. but my daughter loved them. I've used some of the CKs in my daughter's quilt - she chose the 'raggedy quilt' design. The CK fabrics were not enough for the quilt, so I had to add fabric obtained from all sorts of places: some skirts my daughter had grown out of, clothes bought from local second hand stores, 'old ladies' dresses (we call them 'robes') bought at the laiki, some fabric remnants that I had since my NZ days (off cuts from a dollmaker), as well as some cheap fabrics from my local suppliers. Some of the fabric that went into this quilt is over forty years old. With the use of so many different fabrics which can be traced to the very beginnings of my interest in patchwork, this quilt quite unexpectedly became a memory quilt.
Although the raggedy quilt design looked rather easy, it proved quite a challenge. It requires a lot of cutting and sewing, and trimming of threads. It becomes quite a heavy quilt to work with piece by piece, and gives you sore arms and backache. But I guess the end result was well worth it. I bound the quilt with fabric from a pink linen skirt in my wardrobe, last worn a decade ago.
When I buy clothes for patchwork, I always buy XL sizes and never pay more than 1-3 euro per item, at the street market and second hand stores (sometimes, the clothes are new, from previous seasons or store clearances). Upholstery remnants sell for all sorts of prices, but again, I go for the larger pieces, selling at 1.50-3.50 euros a piece. The bonus of the raggedy quilt design is that the padding for it could all be made from off-cuts from the mattress maker, so I didn't need to buy any. When I bought the padding for the other quilts, I was allowed to take all the off cuts that I could carry which were strewn around the workshop. Everything on the floor in the photo below went into the boot of my car.

Cost: second-hand clothes - 10 euro; upholstery remnants - 10 euro; Cath Kidston fabrics - 20 pounds; padding - free. 

During a recent window-shopping experience, I checked out the prices of  store-bought quilts. At the supermarket, you can get a simple king size quilt for 35-40€; similar prices can be found in the home stores. These quilts are padded, with one fabric on one side, another on the other side, simple binding and an elaborate machine-sewn design.  I can quite easily keep my quilt costs very low, but the real cost of home quilting is not based on the cost of the fabrics alone. Thank goodness for the invention of the sewing machine, which means that I can sew as fast as I can collect fabric that I like to work with. There are more quilt projects scheduled for the summer when I can work outdoors. These quilts will all be specially designed with certain people in mind. Watch this space.

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