Sunday, February 5, 2012


In my last post, I wrote about bucket lists – a way to go about reaching some of those very personal, lifetime goals that all of us have. Now, usually, I don’t share my own most intimate goals in this blog. But, now and again, I do. And, even if I don’t mention them, my readers probably can guess what some of them are. Anyway, here goes a bit of personal stuff. One of my life-long desires has been to be a skilled needle worker. As you can see from my posts, lately, I’ve been working on knitting – and, pleased to add, doing this a little better. Another of my secret goals is to be a quilter. But, I spend a lot of time knitting and really haven’t a lot of patience – or good eyesight - for long hours of detailed quilt work. So, this post is about a technique called tie quilting that doesn’t require so many elements and works up fast. A tie quilted cover can be done in just a day or two.

Maybe you've heard about tie quilting. At least, those of you who are past fifty or have some rural background, somewhere, probably slept under one – whether you remember it or not. It’s the kind of quilt my grandmother made. We called her Maw Maw T. Raised in the Appalachian countryside, Maw Maw T. was a busy woman who lived in the city most of her married life, and as such, didn’t have a lot of time to do detailed needlework. So, when she needed an extra cover she made quilts held together with ties instead of endless stitches.

Now, Maw Maw and (Gran) Daddy T. raised a family of 4 children, plus more than a few nieces, nephews and others who lived for short periods with them, during the Great Depression. Back then, the last thing that any reasonable person wanted to do was throw out used things that had the possibility of being repurposed into something else that was serviceable. Among Maw Maw’s many "make-do" talents was transforming old sheets and blankets into curtains and drapes - window draft stoppers - and cozy tie quilts. Those tie-quilts held up very well – even better than most hand-stitched quilts do, at least better than the modern versions, I’ve seen. A couple of her tie quilts may still be around today but I don’t have one, anymore. Sadly, the only one I had – a small floor quilt/mat made for a baby, I believe - was stolen along with a box of linens and covers many years ago when I traveled by train through Mexico. Maybe my sister or a cousin still has one. (I’d like to know about that. Comments on this, anyone?)

But back to reminiscing, Maw Maw T. used to fill these tie quilts with improvised batting that included such things as torn and raveled blankets and quilts, worn-out clothing, and even flour sacks. Depending on the kind of the batting, some of these quilts were summer-weight and others were quite heavy. I used the small one that I lost years ago as my yoga mat. (Having used a collection of blankets and commercial yoga mats after that, I never again had a mat that I cherished as much as Maw Maw’s tie-quilt.)

Now, Maw Maw T. not only used blankets for the batting, but also sometimes as quilt backing. She'd tie the top material to a blanket and then attach the whole thing to another blanket. That created a double-thickness cover that really kept you warm. Back then, the bedrooms were unheated, but we slept warm under a bunch of cozy quilts, topped off with a duck or chicken feather comforter. The warmest quilts had a batting of old army blankets. The material on the top and bottom was soft and the harsh-textured army blanket was enclosed – so much nicer for the sensitive skin of little folk.

And, so to get back to my topic, if you have a few old blankets – something like those ugly, felted from use wool blankets or some pilled, polyester blankets with the satin bindings, get them out. You’ll find them to be great repurposing items and a lot cheaper than a roll of batting.  Not-so-attractive blankets are also an easy “find” in yard sales and thrift stores. And best of all, this project is great way to show off a few charming vintage sheets. You’ll be surprised at the speed and ease that covers and sheets that have been gathering closet dust can be made into lovely tie-quilts.

What you'll need for your tie-quilt
•Dense weight –about 300-count - cotton sheets. You'll need one or two of them, depending on how you’re putting your quilt together (2 sheets and a cover or 2 covers and a sheet).
•One or two blankets. The hidden, middle layer cover can be stained or a bit holey or even an old worn-out quilt. The front and back layers should be in good condition. All layers should be about the same size and everything pre-washed in warm water.  The backing cover needs to be several inches wider and longer than the top two, so that part of its outer edge can be folded over the front.
•Good sewing scissors
•50 or more large safety pins
•Heavy crochet thread
• Large embroidery needle
•Tapestry needle
•Strong, sport-weight wool or acrylic yarn, either a coordinate or contrast color

Cutting and pinning
Cut front and batting (center) piece to the same size. Use a clean floor space and lay the bottom cover or sheet out flat, right side down. Tape the corners to the floor. Lay the blanket or old quilt on top of the bottom cover, right side up. Line up the edges so that the top layers are least 2 inches from those on the bottom. Trim 3 sides of the bottom layer to extend 2 inches beyond the top parts. The fourth side will be the longer, head-of-the-bed part of the quilt, and it should be trimmed to about five inches. If your quilt is supposed to be a floor mat or some decorative piece other than a bed cover, then all four sides should be trimmed to 2 inches.

Place safety pins all over the blanket, pinning all three layers together at roughly 4-inch intervals. Begin at the center and work out so that any the work will be even without the need of tiresome basting. Make sure that the blanket lies flat as you pin. Then pin along all four edges.

Thread the yarn on the tapestry needle. Use the thimble and make sure the needle passes all the way through to the bottom. Start in the center of the quilt and make a 1/3-inch-long stitch through all 3 layers. Leave about 2 inches of yarn sticking up for the tie. Knot the threads. Just take hold of the 2 threads and pass the right over left, tug lightly, then right over left, tug lightly, and then left over right, pull tight. Trim the threads to 1/2 inch after knotting. Go out from the center, stitching and knotting with about 4-inch intervals between ties. Just be sure the ties line up visually. You don’t have to be too precise in this process. Don’t do any knots where the binding will be sewn on.

Once your quilt is completely tied, trim the backing (three sides) to 1.5 inches beyond the edge of the top pieces. The top part should be trimmed to 4 inches. (If you’re making a floor mat, make all 4 edges the same width.) Fold all edges in half and turn them over the top and pin them in place. Square off the corners. Hand sew with crochet thread or machine stitch the binding in place. You’ll be through faster than you can imagine!

Whether your new tie quilt is a thin, summer weight throw or a heavy, keep-a-body-warm cover, you’ll be pleased with the results. And there’s no need for all your quilts to be designer beauties. It’s just fine for them to be well-put-together, utilitarian items. That's what traditional quilting was about - worn materials set to good use instead of being thrown out. And your tie quilt will surely be smart, thrifty, and just right for some bed or other place in your home.

There’s a lot of beauty in quilting, and this tie quilt project is something that even a total beginner can do. So, if you’re hesitant about beginning to quilt, try making a smaller version - a cuddly tie quilt for a baby. That will give you the practice and confidence you need to do bigger projects.

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