Need a holiday handknit? Time for a Schmatta!

Send It Out

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Dear Ann,
There is a genteel school of crafting that I associate almost exclusively with needlepoint. A nice lady, leaning on a velvet-backed cushion and wearing half-glasses, spends pleasant hours filling up a canvas with pretty wool stitches in a delightful design. When it’s time for the tedious business of making it into a velvet-backed cushion with a zipper, she blithely “sends it out.” I know someone who does this with her knitting. She only enjoys two parts of the process: the part where you are knitting, and the part where you are wearing a beautiful handknit sweater. For the bit in the middle—where you ease sleeves into armholes and all that mess–she “sends it out.”
Since “sending it out” is not in the sod-busting, string-saving DNA I inherited from my foremoms, I generally do the whole process of my needlecrafts myself, and take the consequences. Make do and mend! Keep calm and carry on! Those shoulders will stop looking like that after you’ve worn it for a few years!
But when it came to quilting, I quickly realized that I couldn’t do it alone. Or that I couldn’t do it alone all the time. Quilts are big. Machine-quilting them is ideally done with a very large, very expensive machine, by a person skilled in its operation. For me, piecing a top is always a fun part, handquilting is sometimes a fun part (depending on mood and size of quilt), and sewing on a binding is always a deliriously fun part. But the part where you make a quilt sandwich, tape it down to the floor, or the ping pong table, and try to baste it so that it doesn’t pucker or shift during the quilting—you can have that part. I don’t care for it, my back really doesn’t care for it, and it doesn’t seem like I’m getting any better at it, either. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, if I could just send it out? And get a basted quilt back?
This idea seemed sort of extravagant. I hadn’t heard any quilters talking about sending out their quilts for machine basting. So I let the idea drop, and continued to muddle through with the blue painter’s tape on the linoleum. Until the feedsack quilt came along.
A few years ago I bought a vintage feedsack quilt top on Etsy.com, for cheap. I thought, wow, I’ll make a back for it, send it out to a machine quilter, and I’ll have an instant heirloom! What a great idea! How clever and economical of me! Thrifty prairie genes rule!
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Then the quilt top arrived. It was vintage feedsacks, all right. But what is more, the maker had sewn together all these 4-inch squares, in a “trip around the world” layout, by hand, in tiny, even running stitches. She was so frugal with her feedsacks that some of the pieces are themselves pieced from smaller, matching pieces of cloth. There are places where you can see the lines of holes where there once had been stout stitches that held the feedsack together. It was obvious to me that I was going to have to quilt the thing by hand, or not be able to enjoy this quilt in good conscience. Mrs. Joad was going to haunt me if I didn’t do right by her handiwork.
I love hand quilting, so this was not a daunting prospect. But all those squares set on point create a mighty bias stretch. The seams are a little bumpy, especially where 4 of them meet. Basting that quilt sandwich — which I gamely started to do–filled me with dread. Dread of breaking my back and still spoiling the quilt with my halfassed workmanship. I wanted this quilt to have a happy ending.
So I sent it out. I sent it out to Tillie Studio. Tillie Studio is run by Angry Chicken’s mom, aka Grammie, aka Gayle Karol, who is on a first-name basis with her long-arm quilting machine (Tillie). What a genteel experience. After some pleasant and educational back-and-forth with Gayle (how I learned the terms “bias stretch” and “set on point”), I sent it out, and back it came, the top thoroughly basted, in long stitches, to a thin cotton batting and a plain muslin backing. Accompanying the quilt was a really useful written report noting Gayle’s observations about my quilt top and what she had to do to it; I learned a lot. Henceforth, whenever I’m in “send it out” mode, I’m sending it out to my girl Tillie.
In the two weeks since I got the quilt back, three fingers on my left hand have become perforated with holes. Every night I quilt for a couple of hours. No hoop or frame, just me, the quilt, and a small dog holding down one section of the quilt, in case a strong wind should blow in my bedroom. Progress is imperceptible. Quilting doesn’t grow, like knitting. The layers get laminated with ever-denser lines of stitching, but not so you’d notice it from one day to the next. There is some kind of metaphor in there, but I’m not sure what it is. It’s a leap of faith that I’ll ever be done with it, that I’ll ever sew the binding on, that a small dog will ever be holding down one section of a finished quilt.
Good thing I like doing it.
Love,
Kay
P.S. Photos from last Sunday. What the Marathon Means To Me:
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In the early morning, hours before the first wheelchair racers would finish, their gear had been neatly organized, and an army of orange-coated volunteers was waiting for them with barely contained excitement. (I want to run the marathon one more time, just to have my bag tag read, “Kay Gardiner UNITED STATES.”) (The last time I ran, my tag just said my name and “Female, 36″–which was also pretty cool. Who was that girl? Why did she run so slowly?)
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Yeah, you ran 26.2 miles, but your mom was worried about you the whole time. Ya big lug.

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44 Comments

44 Comments

  1. I’m with you! Must remember your girl Tillie in the future. My mom always “sent her quilts out” to be marked. There was a farmer who marked quilts during the winter (off season).

  2. Anything larger than a crib quilt gets ‘sent out’ to a local senior center. The nice ladies make some pocket change for the center and I get a beautifully quilted piece back. Win-win. :)

  3. Should you and Neil run the marathon together? Then I could worry about you both, and be waiting at the finish holding beers. If I had any left after the worry, obviously. Perhaps me and Olive could be waiting at the finish? If you’re very lucky it might be me, Olive and your lovely offspring, but perhaps better for them not to see you at the end of 26.whatever miles. I don’t think they would worry enough, and they’d probably complain you were embarrassing them.
    I always enjoy other people I know running marathons. Much the best way of getting involved.

  4. ps – lovely quilty thing! x x x

  5. For me, the roughest part of the basting is the dog: mine does not quietly hold a corner down, she frantically follows me around. (She is a rescue dog, from a shelter, badly abused before she found us…. and she does not like to be far from me. ) So Liza (my dog) and I try to work on a quilt, and she is a lovely dog, but quilting is not her skill. So I send it out!

  6. What a truly beautiful quilt. I just love it. I’m so glad that you are hand quilting it to do it justice. I have some old tops from my mother in law but they have areas that are in sad shape – esp. edges – so I have ended up cutting them down and mending them before I can even start. I know what you mean about things not lying flat though – some of mine look like the Rockies.
    Thanks for the tip! I never thought of sending out for basting.

  7. Okay– your gal Tillie will be my gal too, if ever I get around to quilting at all.
    And I LOVE that last picture.

  8. I’m beginning to think that when I finally finish piecing my very first quilt top, that I will send it out to be basted. It sort of feels like cheating, but I know if I do it myself, I will spend the next week in bed suffering. There is no pleasure in that and this is a hobby. Then when I get a nice basted beastie back for me to huddle in warmth under while the howling wind blows down the chimney this Winter, I will do it without guilt. Sounds like a good idea to me.

  9. I think I’m beginning to understand why my great-grandma (Big Mumma to those who knew her) hand tied all her quilts instead of true quilting!

  10. Chris, to my quilt-snobby foremoms (excellent word, Kay!) a tied blanket was a comforter, only a quilted blanket could be called a quilt. I guess if you do all that hand work you get to be a bit shirty about those who don’t.
    That is one breathtaking quilt top, Kay. Can’t wait to see it gracing your bed. With the Olive accessory, of course.

  11. Beautiful. I love the idea of sending something out. Who does your friend send her knits out to? I also enjoy the knitting more than the putting together (and sometimes even more than the wearing, but I digress).
    When you are ready to run the marathon again, please let me know. I need the motivation to move from 13.1 to 26.2.

  12. Such beautiful feedsacks!

  13. Laughing about genteel lady who doesn’t finish. I had an ongoing argument with a LYS owner because I insisted that knitters who don’t finish their own work aren’t really knitters. If you want to master a craft, you have to learn how to do it all, not just the fun parts.
    Now, that said, with the lovely heirloom that you didn’t make yourself, and want to respect and honor, I have no problem at all with you sending it out to Tily. You know how to do it, maybe not as well, and you are valuing that woman’s amazing work. Inconsistent me? Why yes, I am!

  14. That is a beautiful quilt. I want to touch it, and stitch it myself, and smell that lovely vintage-y smell it surely has.

  15. I bit the bullet and “sent it out” when faced with a king-sized double wedding ring: I knew that there was no way I would be able to baste that top and still be able to walk upright at the end. I was amazed at how little it cost to take days of work off my hands. Now I’m happily hand-quilting that continent-sized quilt knowing that I’m not going to end up with a bubble or a pleat in an awkward spot.
    After that success I took advantage of the summer lull at the shop to get several other tops basted. I now have a drawer of basted tops patiently waiting their turn at the hoop. It’s a lovely feeling.

  16. I’m so glad you’re hand-quilting that top. Don’t you wonder about the woman who made it? What was she planning on doing with it? Why didn’t it get done?
    Although future generations may wonder about the abandoned WIPs in my stash, I’d prefer not to think that she was just tired of it and put it aside to finish someday later. I’m trying to decide what tragedy befell her…

  17. SO, how come you are quilting without a frame? Do you just like punishment or what? Especially when frames are so easy to set up and take down. Come on, quilting is fun to do–let’s get a frame and really enjoy it.

  18. I have a petitpoint bag a friend gave me. Her grandmother, a fine southern lady, worked it back in the 50’s and ‘sent it out’ – it has lining, handles, and a little interior pocket with a mirror for freshenin’ your lipstick. I use it for special knitting projects. Nice quilt.

  19. My quilt teacher used to quilt without a frame every time. She liked it better that way. I haven’t seen her in 21 years, wonder if she’s using a frame now…
    “The layers get laminated with ever-denser lines of stitching, but not so you’d notice it from one day to the next.”
    As for that meataphor, to me your words refer to building/getting comfortable with something new, like a new friendship, or a new way of life.
    LoveDiane

  20. I have a quilt top my grandmother left to me of hand stitched feedsack fabrics (or flour sacks)two inch hexagons. She even pieced the hexagons if the piece was too small. I was told by an expert quilter not to finish it to keep the authenticity and value. I have it hanging on the wall and I absolutely love it and have made my sons promise to pass it on to their daughters or I will haunt them!

  21. I used to like Quilting, before I made a full sized Quilt(My first one). I had no clue what I was doing, I was making my own rules. I mean I sewed the back on before I quilted it(Don’t ask me how, I cannot bear to speak of it)And when I went to quilt it Instead of takin the time to sew little stiches for miles, I sewed a button in each square. I don’t advise trying this, now, I don’t like quilting or sewing on buttons. And now everyone I know wants me to make them a quilt.

  22. I love this post. Sending out might be the only way I ever finish anything again.
    Also, my sister was too ill to run this year :-( I actually missed the worry. What to do? How do you even watch the thing without someone to fuss over???

  23. My mom and I used to do needlepoints from the Ladies’ Hobby Shop on Bway and 85th. They would finish the needlepoints into cushions for you, if you wanted–or you could wait and figure you would get around to doing it some day yourself. Last month I was cleaning out my mom’s apartment, opened a trunk and there was an inch-thick stack of the needlepoint canvases we’d finished needlepointing but never made into pillows. The Hobby Shop is long gone. I think I’ll send them out!
    Gorgeous quilt, by the way!

  24. Concerning the metaphor “layers of stitching on a quilt” – They are perhaps like problems in a marriage or sins. Layer upon layer, they accumulate subtly over time.

  25. “Some of the pieces are themselves pieced from smaller, matching pieces of cloth.” Nice. I love this quilt, and appreciate how you’ve thoughtfully honored the maker, but made it work for your life and needs.
    This post made me think of a book I recently read, The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club. It’s well-written and funny, and has a celebrity knitter character in it who “sends out” the tricky bits and the sewing up of her knitting to the novel’s narrator.

  26. Love the softness and the vintagey charm of that quilt. Could anything be softer than an antique feedsack quilt?

  27. That really is a beautiful quilt. Don’t beat yourself up over “sending it out.” You know how to do it, you just choose not to. “Let’s have some fun!” should be our motto. We’re not thriftily cutting up feed sacks on the prairie anymore. And you will love having that quilt finished.

  28. The “send it out” mentality is not in my Midwestern family’s roots either. And (God forbid), if one of us ever uses a frozen, pre-made pie crust for our made-from-scratch pies, I think we would be banished from the family forever!
    My farm wife grandmother in Ohio saved all of the floral flour sacks when my sister and I were little, then mailed them to my mother in Minnesota. Mom, in turn, sewed play dresses for we girls out of the flour sack fabric. I think fondly of those play dresses every time I see a flour sack quilt. I know you will do the flour sack quilt justice with your hand quilting. I look forward to seeing the finished product!
    Mary G. in Texas

  29. lovely writing and pictures

  30. I thrifted a feedsack quilt a few years back, one of two really fabulous finds at my local Sally Ann, that was machine quilted but hand pieced. The squares are less than 1.5″. I can imagine some tiny grandma patiently stitching those scraps together over a long, cold winter, determined to use up every last bit of fabric. All that work and I paid a paltry $2.99 for it.

  31. My friend and I are learning a song for possible performance, and he chose it for us because of this verse:
    “Only the face was handed down, of this frayed old patchwork quilt,
    From my grandmama’s mama, Willie Brown, and it’s just like her: No frills.
    She sewed the feedsack scraps into a Double Wedding Band,
    I was years puttin’ on the back, but I quilted every stitch by hand.”
    Robin and Linda Williams, “Home #235.” Lovely. I’m not sure John can tell knitting from quilting (see dead bumble bee video) but he surely gets the *gist* of it all, anyway.

  32. I love that vintage quilt. Please don’t worry about the “sending out.” I’ve never done it – yet – but many of my quilting friends do. The San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles will hand baste. There are places all over the country with people willing to hand quilt for you. Or, as you know, there are lots of places to send a quilt to have it pin basted & then machine quilted. So just name your poison! In the end, you’ll have a lovely quilt to enjoy.

  33. oh this looks so good— of course I had to run over and see it at mom’s, on Tille, right when it came. it’s a beauty, kay.
    as for sending it out, I think whatever it takes to bring these lovely unfinished quilts to life is all that matters. they are worth it, and so is saving your back.

  34. Thanks for the vision of you and your dogga, stitching and sitting, while you perforate your finger. The love of hand quilting lives on. (And that was a lovely shout out, too! Tillie is blushing.)

  35. If you’re doing your own quilting, you have every right to send it out for basting – I’m glad you did, so you could learn Grammie’s terms and observations.
    Quilt on! It’s a beautiful thing, both the quilt and the image of you peacefully perforating your fingertips.

  36. (posted before I read Grammie, just above me – go figure!)

  37. I am making my parents throw-sized quilts out of flannel for Christmas, and I am stalled at crawling around on the floor and doing all that pin-basting. I’m hoping to bite the bullet and get it done this afternoon—I’m thinking the machine quilting will go fairly fast, but the binding is going to be a slog as well. (Good thing I have all the seasons of “The Tudors” on DVD set aside specifically for that purpose.) And I’m sure my Yorkie will be loads of help and make sure the center of the quilt is well-anchored. Or, knowing her, she will be sure to lay exactly where I want to pin. She is just gifted that way.

  38. Kay, I’d love to ‘send out’ quite a lot of my life…..the endless dull cooking, the tidying up, the boring job lists that involve excitements such as ‘buy glue’ and so on. Sadly not happening any time soon, but there we go…..Ax

  39. I sent out my first sweater that was knit in pieces. It was a birthday gift for my mom, and I was late in my pregnancy when rushing to finish it up. Needless to say, the rush job meant I completely botched the seaming and it was unwearable for two years. I finally bit the bullet and paid for someone to pick out the seams and put it back together. It was worth it.
    I have yet to see her wearing it, though.

  40. In NYC ya send it out. In western MA ya stick it in a plastic bag and forget about it. Sewing together, blech.
    Top down circular all the way baby!

  41. You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with your blog.

  42. If I had the money I would send out every.single.quilt. I love how the time away from the quilt- sort of like sending a kid to camp- makes me fonder of it when it comes back. I forget the thing that bugged me, and the fresh eye lets me see things I didn’t appreciate before.I know how to machine quilt, I know how to hand quilt, but I’d rather piece tops. I’m about 15 tops behind right now, and have two or three more mostly done.
    Must start researching next years summer camps….

  43. Your style of writing is amazing.What is campaign performance air max without more information? I really liked this site. Thanks a lot.

  44. For another method of basting a quilt, and saving your back, try looking on you tube, and search Sharon Schambers Hand Basting a Quilt (p1) and (p2). I watched these videos and now, can’t wait to try her method!
    You know, if you ever have a quilt you can’t send out, for whatever reason.