Crafts Articles

Quilting - Beginners and Fabric Collecting

by T. J. Modine

With an estimated 130 completed quilts to her credit (and counting), Trudy Schwader at age 75 has had a rich lifetime of quilting experience. Conversations with Trudy to make a record of these experiences resulted in a series of articles. What follows here is article Number II.

[Question: You have a legendary fabric collection - enough inventory for a small store! How did you collect so much fabric?]

Trudy: I had 8 kids and I sewed for them all the time - cotton dresses, shirts, whatever. When I sewed I always saved the material that was left, and I still have lots of those scraps (laughs). In fact, I know I have a few scraps from material that my mother used when she made clothes for us back when I was young. Unreal, but I really do have some of those fabrics from the 30s and 40s.

So when I started sewing a quilt, I would usually have scraps to begin with. And then I would go into stores - fabric places you know - and if I needed something special to go with the quilt I was making, then I would buy it. Of course, while I was there I would see other materials, and as I say, some of these bolts of material would jump out and say, "Buy me," and so I'd buy some of that cloth, too!

[Q: What happened to those pieces that you bought on impulse? I mean, sometimes, you'd have fabrics for a long time that you'd never use and then all of the sudden it'd be just the right thing for a quilt? Or did it end up that those that jumped out and said, "Buy me," never quite fit for any quilt you made later?]

Trudy: Some. I do use a lot of them, but there's still a few that I've never used. I think this is not unusual for quilters. It takes some time and some 'mistakes' to acquire a really good on-hand quilting fabric collection. You need lots of variety and color.

[Q: What advice would you give a beginner? What are some things that you know now that you wish you had known earlier in your quilting experience?]

Trudy: For a beginner, the thing to do is to go to a book, find a simple pattern that you might like and the instructions will tell you about how much material to get. And if you ask them about it, most of the people in fabric stores will give you a lot of advice about what goes together and what doesn't. There are plenty of books out there that tell you how much material, say for instance for a log cabin. Simple ones like that will give you a good place to start. Those simple ones are the ones that I make now to use up my scraps.

[Q: Speaking of books, do you have a big collection or library, or how did you get your patterns that you use for your quilts?]

Trudy: No. Not a big library. Just a few books that really have a lot of patterns in them. And then, like the log cabin - it's so easy now for me to put one together or to make variations. The way I make the log cabin, I learned from talking to another quilter. I had gone to a mall to one of the fabric stores, and they have classes. They have people come in and tell about quilts and other types of sewing projects.

[Q: So you learned an easy way, a short-cut way to put together a classic like a log-cabin, by taking a class?]

Trudy: It's a good idea for beginners to take a class, but this one wasn't a class actually. The speaker was just showing us some quilts and talking about how to do a few things. It was part of her demonstration with some other items she was selling. It's like with any craft, knowing a few little tricks can save you a lot of time.

[Q: Can you give an example of a time-saving trick?]

Trudy: Well. Most people might already know about a tool called a rotary cutter, but it is probably the biggest single thing that made quilting so much easier for me than using scissors. It's a cutter kind of like a pizza-cutting wheel. I can stack up fabric, line it up along the edge of a special ruler that belongs with the rotary cutter, and get a perfectly straight cut every time without the effort of squeezing a scissors over and over to cut out all the little pieces of a pattern.

It's the best, and anyone today quilting without this tool is really making it hard on themselves. Go get a rotary cutter right now if you don't have one already.

Theresa Modine's studies of American folk art and women's history includes an emphasis on quilting. She is contributing author of The Quilt Box, your resource for a world of quilting information. Addtional articles by Theresa are found at First Class Fabric.