The Quilt Scout
by Mary Fons
Mary's Getting Fussy!
I have designed and am currently making a quilt with partial seams and fussy-cutting. I am addicted to making these blocks; there are dishes in the sink and laundry needs to be done but I have little interest in these household tasks while that marvelous patchwork waits at my sewing table.
I’ll be teaching classes using this quilt starting in the fall and I am excited to share with my students that the oft-avoided partial seams are absolutely, positively no big deal and in fact super fun to do. But it’s the fussy cutting part of this quilt that has me in thrall.
Fussy cutting is cutting piece of printed fabric in such a way that you isolate a particular motif for use in your patchwork. In the case of my blocks, I am being fussy with the center patches. I combed through my stash and found tiny figures and wee motifs to showcase in those 2’’ finished squares.
It’s a fine line I walk with novelty prints. I am not interested in purchasing fabric featuring The Hulk, for example. If I’m making a quilt for a small boy, he’ll have to learn to love black, red, blue, and white, and flying geese, too. It is my position that baby and children’s quilts ought to look like they used to, like smaller versions of adult quilts, not washes of hot pink Hello Kitty and neon orange fuzz.
I’m pretty sure this is my one area of quilt policing, though to be fair, I also strongly believe that any quilt is better than no quilt at all. Still, must aesthetics fly out the window because the recipient of the quilt is six? And do you really want to have Spongebob Squarepants scraps in your stash for the next 10 years? Think about it.
But while novelty prints leave me cold, the small scale conversational print—especially the mill engraving—is most certainly my thing. If there is a small sparrow, a dancing girl, or two people on a sled on a white ground, I’m in. I buy these prints when I see them because they’re not easy to find and their whimsy and sweetness speak to the child in me. Just because I’m in my late thirties doesn’t mean I don’t like to sit with a charm quilt and discover its surprises.
A charm quilt is a quilt with many different patches, no two alike, and a charm quilt is what I’m more or less making. My quilt top has a consistent red and a variety of white shirtings, but none of the fussy cut centers will repeat.
If I did repeat one of the conversationals I would have something of an “I Spy” quilt. Women over the ages have made I Spy quilts for children by repeating one single patch in a sea of scraps. A child would spend hours, apparently, trying to find the one repeating patch in a quilt with hundreds, even thousands of patches and this was done so that the woman could think for five minutes for heaven’s sake.
As we all know, innumerable American quilts through the ages demonstrate pure elegance and sophistication: the Baltimore Album comes to mind, the Feathered Star. These strike many quiltmakers as “aspirational” quilts, quilts on the proverbial bucket list, quilts that have become a kind of graduate thesis, as though you’re not a real-real quilter until you get one (or all) of them made.
But what if you take the pressure off yourself? Maybe your aspirational quilt is the humble charm quilt, made with lots of fussy cutting to get those sweet little figures smack in the middle of each block. It takes time and care to do this, too.
Go on: aspire to be cute.
Fussy Dancer: Ain’t she sweet?
Vintage Convo: Vintage conversational print. I love those kitties!
Fussy Sled: Whee! Mill engraving print (reproduction.)
Fussy Bird: The scale is a bit bigger for the bird and the letter “A”, but they were irresistible.