Thinking like a [sane] quilter

Months ago somebody handed me a bag full of quilt bits their grandmother or great-aunt had left them, because I like sewing and all, so maybe I could finish it and have a nice quilt. Why, thank you very much!

At home, I opened the bag and saw this.


Brown, red, green, and lavender-pink? Not my favorite color scheme.

And closed the bag and stuffed it away somewhere. Because, while that bit on top there is nicely done patchwork, it is flaming-’80s “country” colors in stiff fabrics that are heavy on the polyester.

First off, I don’t quilt. Yet.

But when I finally start, I don’t want to make something in colors that don’t appeal to me and in fabric that’s unpleasant to handle. There’s no way in tarnation I’d put that much work into polyester.

Well, that was then. I found the forgotten bag recently and decided to dump everything out and see how bad it really was. Turns out, there were just a few ugly pieces on top. Underneath . . . . .


It’s a flock of finches, flying in formation!

Underneath was the makings of a fun 1930s or ’40s quilt top with dozens of appliqued birds. About half of it was already pieced together.


Are these feedsack prints?

Plus there was a stack of finished blocks, and more peach cotton squares with bird appliques ready to assemble.


The quilter’s cardboard template—she traced it right off the pattern on the instruction sheet.

And the original directions, too!

“Alice Brooks” seems to have been the early 20th century needlework version of “Betty Crocker”—a marketing ploy, not a real person.


Lotsa little irregular curvy bits? That’s just insane.

I read the directions all the way through. Apparently this quilt was not meant to be appliqued at all. Alice Brooks expects you to piece it!  Look at all those little curvy pattern bits. There are ten of them, five for the bird and five more for the background.

You’ll need 94 blocks for a twin-size quilt. 111 blocks for a double. That’s 1,110 curvy pieces that must be accurately cut and sewn before you can even think about quilting the layers together.

This is not a beginner’s project. This is not even a sane person’s project!

As I sorted through all the quilt bits, I could just about hear the original owner thinking this through.

“There is no way in tarnation I am cutting and piecing a thousand bits of fabric. I’m not even going to piece the birds. I’ll cut them in one piece and applique them.”


“All those inside curves will be tough to turn under if I use a seam allowance. So I won’t use one. I’ll just blanket-stitch right over the raw edge.”


“How about heavy unbleached muslin for the blocks? I’ll start with these two. No, actually I don’t really care for that look. I’ll leave this yellow & purple bird unfinished.”

“Here’s a bunch of peach cotton sheeting. I’ll use this instead. Can I applique right through the batting and the backing too?”


“No, too hard to keep the layers aligned. Skip that. I’ll just zip through these blocks.”


“Oops, two bird appliques in the exact same blue print, right next to each other. Oh well. It doesn’t bother me enough to rip it out.”

birdquilt collage

“Running out of time to get all these pieces together! I’ll finish this later.”


“Later” just might be here at last. I think I’m going to try finishing this quilt top and putting it all together.

Wish me luck, Alice!

2 Comments on “Thinking like a [sane] quilter”

  1. janeray says:

    Wow oh wow oh wow!! Could anything be more perfect for your house?! I can just see it hanging in your stairwell along with the chalkware bluebirds that flew away before all the construction. Is it all hand pieced?

    • luray says:

      There’s nothing pieced at all! It’s just the little one-piece birds appliqued on peach blocks. I think the birds would be more interesting if they *were* pieced, so the fabric grain could follow the lines of the body and wings, but the original quilter took the super-easy way out.