There are two basic types of sewing, hand sewing and machine sewing. Specific skills must be acquired as we progress in both fields. We start with hand sewing and progress to machine, the reason being that hand sewing is the simpler of the two.
When teaching either of the forms of sewing we work through a progression of steps that lead us upward to the mastering of this skill. Starting on the very simple projects which Mom, and later Hannah, assigned, we gradually work our way up to the more difficult projects. If our interest lagged Mom and Hannah would firmly encouraged us to complete what we had set out to accomplish. Being thus stimulated, I moved foreword to the completion of many goals, written and unwritten. The joy I receive from the completion of one project pushes me on to start another soon thereafter. Many of my projects end up in my hope-chest while others are gifts to family members. Sewing is very versatile. It is simple enough for the beginner to learn quickly and enjoy, yet sufficiently complicated that one never grows bored with either hand or machine sewing.
Sewing by hand is one of the first skills we teach. Eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills are two of the skills it teaches. Both contribute to being able to put the needle where it belongs. Hand sewing includes everything from buttons, to hemming, to quilts. Hand sewing is simple, easy and fun.
When we are teaching sewing we start with buttons. This gives a very structured element. The needle must came up here in this hole and go down there in that one. This allows the children to learn how to hold the needle, not get it un-threaded and practice getting it where it belongs.
I personally do not recall sewing buttons strips, although it is quite possible that I did. Sarah is the earliest child I can remember who was taught by this method. For really young children this is perfect! We simple give the child a scrap of cloth, needle, thread and Mom's button tin. Every child loves to dig through that button tin; permission to use any ones they like is quite a privilege. Shaped buttons go fast, as do brightly colored one. More than one button strip has left this house when the little owner has unexpectedly thrust the treasured item into the hand of a visiting friend. Of those strips that remain within the household the buttons will eventually be cut off and returned to the tin but only after the budding seamstress or tailor has out grown the item and it is no longer a cherished treasure.
Sewing isn't my specialty, however I am pleased to have acquired a skill (even if it's limited) which I will undoubtedly need at various times in my future. Actually sewing (quilting a baby quilt) proved to have a number of challenges of which I was unaware. (Causing respect for my sisters to rise.) One of which is the ability to multi-task, a skill in which I lack proficiency. Keeping the hands occupied during Bible time or classes redeems the time, however, it also requires your mind to maintain two simultaneous trains of thought even if one is as simple as counting stitches and rows. Overall, though I haven't done any in a while, hand sewing is a practical skill which I am pleased to have acquired.
At the time I began quilting, 1998 our final plan for teaching the skill was of course not yet fully developed. Because of this the first baby quilt I made was what we have come to use as the second in our progression; quilting around every shape on the panel. Later I got around to the first! Hannah and I had identical panels of Noah's ark and the animals only she had a brown flannel back and I had a deep rust/red. She graciously chose to use the brown backing that was too small to form the border that finishes the quilt, allowing me to have the bigger one. Once she had quilted her piece she added a strip of blue flannel around the edge, which, when finished, formed a border both on the front and back like an edge binding. On the border she traced the little animals from the quilt panel, and quilted them, adding a fancy touch, which I envied, though I was glad mine was simpler. One of the biggest difficulties I faced was popping the beginning and ending knots through one layer of material so that they were hidden inside the quilt. Dread over having to make these knots inclined me to look ahead and plan where I was going so as to do as much as possible without needing a knot! Even so, I made plenty of knots, some of which are now visible on the outside, I became quite comfortable with them (knots) by the time I was done outlining every block and animal.
This is the third baby quilt I made. The batting was a new experience, I still remember what a hard time I had adjusting to using a hoop. My stitches started quite large but quickly grew smaller as I got used to the tension of the material and thickness of the quilt. I used cotton batting so I quilted every inch (with the new cotton batting you don't have to quilt so close together). It was really a lot of fun doing all that decorative quilting. It gives the finished piece a unique, very impressive appearance and texture. I enjoyed it immensely but don't think I'd want to do it on anything bigger than this one, which is one yard long.
After mastering hand sewing, if one so chooses, she can continue on. We tend to do so. Here are some of the hand sewing items we made after mastering hand sewing, many of them do include some machine sewing. Some projects are large and elaborate with many pieces and much quilting. Others are simpler. Some are completed while others are still in the process of being made. Some have been laid aside unfinished to await a future date. Mostly Hannah and Sarah have made thing from this category. Let us now take a look at some of the things they have made and learned.
After finishing my last baby quilt I moved on to the master bedroom quilt for my hope-chest. When I am ready to take on a new skill, it is my tendency to jump right in and start with a really big and/or elaborate project first. Hand piecing was no exception!
There are almost 1,000 individual pieces in my Star of David quilt. Tracing and then cutting each piece by hand was a tiring process. My back, in particular, rejoiced when all that bending over was finished.
My only concern when making the quilt was that it might not lay flat when it was all sewn together. I distinctly remember praying each day when I began to sew "Lord, give my fingers your skill as I work today" and then simply trusting Him for the rest. You know God knows how to do everything and He promises that if we meditate upon His word day and night, He will cause whatever we do to prosper.
I remember how, when the time came to baste all the layers together the most readily available floor space was the dinning room. After removing the table and chairs, the quilt literally filled the room from wall to wall. I quilted it in a lap hoop during school reading time which worked very well. I basted it all together on the first of the year and it was done by the end of April, I was really surprised at how fast it went.
From start to finish, it was over two years before it was completed. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process. Having learned from a young age to appreciate the satisfaction of a job well done, I was delighted when the last few stitches were completed and the borders were sewn on.
Note: My quilt did lay flat.
Piecing quilts can be both fun and fast. Sarah and I made matching bear paw quilt tops in just a few short weeks. Although quick progress is sometimes nice I wanted to slow that process down a little so made the more elaborate flower and butterfly quilt top next. With five girls making, or soon to be making, things for the hope-chest, space quickly becomes a premium. After seeing how much room my Star of David quilt took up after the batting and backing were added we quickly decided that the rest of the quilts we made would have to remain as quilt tops until the time when we got married or should need them. A quilt top (and nothing more) takes up 1/4 to 1/6 the room that the same finished quilt would take. They're much easier to store!
Hannah and I often do identical projects at the same time, she starts and I follow along learning from her. That was the case when we decided to make our first boy's quilts. Together with Mom, we picked out the material; green for grass around the paws of the Bear-paw block we had chosen, brown for the paws, off-white for the claws, and another brown made more active with deep orange and lighter browns to spark off the whole quilt and add greater texture to the nearly solids of the other pieces. I had done very little in the way of piecing before this time so I wasn't particularly precise in putting the pieces together, which is probably the reason I ran into trouble. When I went to sew the borders on they were slightly too short. I made the serious mistake of stretching them a little bit to make them fit. This trick works when making clothing, but I soon found it to be the death of a quilt. It wouldn't lay flat. Another thing which probably contributed to the difficulty was that I sewed the right four blocks to their borders and the left to theirs and then both strips together. I should have sewed the top two, and then the next two and so on like that. Then I would only have had to line up two sets of two with each other at a time, rather than four to four. Trying a second time, I was careful not to stretch the borders, but the damage was already done and they still wouldn't lay flat. In a year of two when I have more experience I will get it out again and Lord willing try to make it work.
One thing my mother taught me which I think many of us might overlook in our eagerness to produce beautiful quilts is that, for best effect, all the quilts in one room should share the same color scheme. When Mom made quilts for us kids, she used one set of materials to make all the girls' quilts and one set to make all the boys'. A similar effect can be gained simply by choosing a color scheme, such as pink, blue and white, and using the same colors in each quilt even if you use different prints. Another method would be to use similar tones, deep dark colors, bright colors, light colors. In some way the quilts of a given room should be tied together to give a sense of unity and oneness, of design and purpose, rather than disorder and chaos and clashing colors. In order to accomplish this we must make a plan ahead of time, before we get started. When I made my Bear Paw quilt I had given this idea very little thought, Thankfully it uses colors and tones I will be happy with for my other boys' quilts. As I begin plans for girls room quilts, I like to look ahead to the potential future and ask myself what I would like my girls' room, (boys' room etc...) to look like; what atmosphere or feeling I want to have as I enter that room. This helps me design quilts not only that will go well together but also that I will be happy with in the future. These thought plans are best made at the start. The quilts, I feel, will be the drawing point of the room. Once you know what you want with them, the rest of the room decor will follow, so know what you want before you get started.
Tip: always buy all the material you will need at one time, as color tones change from year to year and it is often impossible to match pieces bought in different years.
Sewing by hand is very simple and is easy to learn. Because of this we start the children at around age 6. Coordination is taught extensively in the hand sewing skill base. Once you can sew on buttons and quilt, we consider you to have mastered this skill base. Hemming, another form of hand sewing, is quite simple. Quilting, which is probably the best known form of hand sewing, we find to be quite enjoyable, but sewing on buttons is also an essential if you make many clothes Our method has been developed over many years to best meet our family's needs.
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