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Low Tech Quilting

Old 09-24-2021, 06:27 AM
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Default Low Tech Quilting

I have been noodling on teaching a class that along with the usual beginning quilting info includes advice and instruction on low tech quilting for those that either want to take a more "heritage" approach, or don't have access to a sewing machine and other costly tools.

Part of that approach would be building skills toward the day you do finally have access to machines etc.

Can any of you offer advice on what information to offer/skills to teach? Any experience teaching this approach?

Fabric acquisition is a real challenge for quilters on limited budgets...what strategies are there for that issue (apart from hoping the local thrift shop has usable old sheets and bedding for sale)?

Would appreciate suggestions!
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Old 09-24-2021, 06:49 AM
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I would disagree that machines are expensive. Sure, new ones with manuals and that do all sorts of things can be expensive, especially if you want one that lasts too.

As someone who has had both high end and simple vintage machines, all you need for quilting is a good solid straight stitch. That might not be all you want, but it is all you need.

There are plenty of solid little working machines out there in thrift stores and garage sales and such that are being given as free or sold close to it. With the internet you can get a manual or advice from sites like this one. You can do your own maintenance with a simple machine, they really aren't that complicated.

I am aware that my thrift store shopping here in Seattle is like the Mecca of the thrift world -- we have so much good stuff go through the stores and the sorts of goodies I find are just not in all areas. But also look for actual fabric in addition to sheets. You will notice that most modern patterns are built/designed around buying/using large amounts of yardage. But budget quilting is scrap quilting and some designs are more friendly to that than others. And that brings up the problem of storage, it may actually be a better deal to just buy the fabric you want when you want it/can afford it than try to put together things you find.

New quilters also should be told that fabric changes. All the time and there are no guarantees that the fabric you like today will be available tomorrow, much less 3 years from now.

I started quilting quite young, I think the best advice I could have been given was to not be intimidated by the little old quilt ladies. Now that I've become one myself, I find we quilters in general are some of the best people And we often have excess fabric of our own and sometimes even machines and stuff...
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Old 09-24-2021, 07:24 AM
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I agree with Ice Blossom. I've given away several sewing machines. In fact, I have one right now that I have offered to the slant needle group on groups.io. I've given away lots of fabric (I thought I had to build a stash when I first started quilting). I've donated fabric to individuals and to organizations.

In my area, the best deals on both fabric and machines are at garage sales and estate sales. I bought a pristine vintage Singer 15-91 at an estate sale for $47.00 (in a perfect cabinet), with all the accessories a couple of months ago. I also have several machines not in cabinets I would donate to a worthy cause.

I know that doesn't answer your question on how to teach "low tech" quilting, but it might give thought to how those people could acquire the fabric and machines if they "take" to quilting.

I had a friend who was a really good quilter. She had all the tools in the world. However, she used a cardboard pattern and scissors to cut out a grandmother's flower garden. She turned and hand basted the edge then sewed them together by hand. She then hand sewed the "flowers" to a block like you would do a Dresden plate. She never finished that quilt, and I have wondered what happened to it. She gifted me her county fair blue ribbon Dresden plate quilt a few years before she passed. Her grandmother taught her to quilt.

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Old 09-24-2021, 07:48 AM
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While I agree good straight stitch machines can be bought used, there are issues with that approach, particularly if you live outside a big urban area, or don't yet have your own car to attend estate sales. That search can take time. I want to give new quilters the ability to start their quilting journey right now, before they have time to save up for and/or find an affordable machine of their own.
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Old 09-24-2021, 08:25 AM
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Maybe refer to Jinny Beyer's "Quiltmaking by Hand."

I think one can obtain some used copies fairly inexpensively.

If the objective is to recreate how "poor folks made patchwork quilts" -

The minimum requirements are (in my mind):

Hand sewing needles - get good ones -
Thread -
A few thin straight pins
Pin cushion/needle holder
A decent pair of scissors
Something to make templates/patterns out of - I'm not a fan of cardboard/cereal boxes - can't see through them - but that might be what people used "way back when"
A pencil to draw around the template - draw dark enough to see - lightly enough so it does not show through to the front!
A ruler to draw straight lines and for drafting blocks
Some fabric - how to scrounge/salvage - and what to use and what not to use - example: most shirt tails were still usable from men's cotton shirts - while the elbows were worn out and the upper backs would be sun-rotted.

I am a fan of graph paper and teaching people how to recognize the components/units in a quilt block. Doreen Speckmann's book "Pattern Play" is good.

You might consider making up sewing kits for sale - or demonstrate what you put in your kit.

Also, I enjoyed "The It's Okay if You Sit on My Quilt Book" by Mary Ellen Hopkins.

Depending on how intensive you want your course to be - and the attention span of the students - that would also determine what you would cover.

The first class I took was to hand piece six different blocks. There was a hexagon grandmother's garden type, one using the drunkard's path unit, one with a baskety thing where we learned how to make a curved tube for appliqueing the handles, - don't remember for sure what the other ones were.

We learned how to join seams and how to deal with intersections - it was a class well worth the time and money to me.

In my experience, I have not seen all that many usable sewing machines available at yard sales or thrift shops. Or "quilting fabric" or even woven fabric garments that I would use. Once in a while there is "a bonanza" - about as often as one hits a jackpot while playing a slot machine.

Not everyone has easy access to "go shopping thriftily" . Or necessarily have the space or money to have "lots" of stuff. Or even the desire to have lots of stuff.

One can get machines "for cheap" - but would a newbie know what to look for? A piece of junk that doe not work properly is not going to make someone a fan of sewing!

I think it's a great idea to go low-tech.

Last edited by bearisgray; 09-24-2021 at 08:31 AM.
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Old 09-24-2021, 09:05 AM
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Thanks BearisGrey for those suggestions. Through my younger daughters I know there are a lot of very young folks who want to start quilting but have no idea how to start, and who are struggling with student and pandemic budgets. That is one of the motivations for coming up with an accessible, low tech approach for those who need or want it.

I will check out the books you recommend!
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Old 09-24-2021, 09:05 AM
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Sewing was done by hand for thousands of years and anyone can do that. Some may think they can't and it will be fun to teach basic sewing to them. I had a friend in school that hand sewed all her clothes.
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Old 09-24-2021, 09:27 AM
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You can also show how to do a Manx quilt. It is hand piecing and very forgiving. Yard sales are also a good place to find clothes that can be deconstructed for fabric
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Old 09-24-2021, 12:17 PM
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There may also be sewing machines available to borrow to use at home from the local library or for use at a local Makerspace.
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Old 09-24-2021, 12:50 PM
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The fundamental principles of accurate cutting and accurate seams would apply to both hand sewing and machine sewing a quilt top.

Needles and thread are quite affordable, but are you factoring in cutting tools (cost and where to purchase) to make the pieces that would get hand-sewn accurate to start?
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