In the last newsletter, I described my motivation to write my Master’s thesis about the storytelling of quilts. This installment is a historical account of how quilting was used to communicate in times of war.
Quilt meaning and history
During the Second World War battle for Singapore in 1942, thousands of allied soldiers were killed or captured by the Japanese. Many Allied citizens were caught in the colony. Initially, about 2,500, of whom 400 were women and children, were interned in Changi prison by the Japanese.
While in jail, the women were banned from communicating with the men. Writing materials were scarce, and written communication was held in suspicion. The Red Cross leader in the camp suggested that the women should embroider patchwork quilts, one each for the British, Australian, and Japanese Red Cross. Each interested woman was given a 6 ” square of fabric and asked to put her name and something about herself into the square. By substituting conventional pen and ink with the needle, thread, and bits of clothing, the women skillfully recorded their specific view of internment. They eventually circumvented the Japanese restrictions by sending the quilts to the hospital in the military camp.
In signing each square, they created a permanent historical record of internees. They provided the men with a list of names of women who were alive in Changi prison, transmitting a secret and yet powerful message of comfort and solidarity, hope, and encouragement. The Changi quilts symbolize the story of civilian internment. The civilian internees were a patchwork of individuals, weak and strong, optimistic and realistic, skilled and unskilled, old, and young.
The women created a quilt of armor against the fear and uncertainty within a civilian internment camp.
Working with a Professional Quilter
We all know the joy of finishing the last seam of the previous block or border on our beautiful quilts. and we like to take a step back and appreciate what we have accomplished. But that is soon followed by the thought of “How is this going to get quilted?”.
Some projects are very appropriate to be quilted on our own domestic sewing machines with our personal tender loving care. Other plans call out for the services of a professional longarm quilter to complete the process. At Bear Patch, we get many inquiries from customers looking for someone to do some quilting, and they usually have some questions about what to expect.
Whether you already have a relationship with someone who is a professional quilter or are searching for just the right person to hire for your quilting, these tips might be helpful.
- before you even get to the point of handing over your quilt top, whether for machine quilting, hand quilting, or also to be tied.
- Make sure you have constructed the best possible quilt that you can. Seams need to be completely intact, stray threads clipped from both front and back, blocks and borders lay straight and flat, corners are square.
- Meet with the quilter face-to-face so you can start to develop a productive relationship. Expect to meet at the quilter’s home or a location that is convenient for her. Write down your questions and be prepared to answer some questions, too. Some of this question-and-answer exchange can happen over the phone, especially if you are trying to narrow down your choices between quilters.
- When it comes to backing fabric, never skimp! The longarm frame and machine set- up require 3-4″ of extra backing on all 4 sides of the quilt top to get the job done. If your support needs a seam, do this in advance or expect to pay the quilter to do it. Trim off selvages and use a ” seam allowance. Make sure the creases are pressed out of the backing, and uneven edges are trimmed off.
- Batting will need to be discussed with your quilter. Most longarm quilters purchase bulk batting, which they can sell to you, but they might be open to using another batting if you prefer. With all the types of batting now available on the market, the quilter can’t have it all on hand. If you supply the batting, remember that it needs to be larger than your quilt top and of good quality.
- Thread is another variable to consider and discuss with your quilter. Color and weight are two significant points, but also think about what you want on the back of the quilt and whether you want the same color throughout.
- Please do some research by looking at quilt shows, books, and magazines to learn about quilting styles and designs, and ask your quilter for examples of what she/he has done. If there is something you really want on your quilt, talk about it now rather than later. There are quilting specialists of one style or another, just as in any profession. and you need to be aware of anything that might be a deal-breaker for you.
- If you are working within a budget or on a deadline, communicate that early on. Professional quilters have a range of prices, and can usually accommodate any budget limits, within reason. You indeed get what you pay for, and a skilled machine quilter has invested a lot of her time. Money and energy to get to the level of workmanship that you want to compliment you are fine stitching. Make sure you understand what you will be charged for, as most quilters do not charge one flat fee, but will be happy to discuss the itemized billing.
- One often overlooked fact is that the process of quilting causes the overall size of the quilt top to shrink slightly. More dense quilting results in more shrinkage, but exact final measurements are variable and unpredictable. This usually does not cause any problems unless you are locked into needing a quilt of a precise size. My suggestion to deal with that dilemma is to incorporate an outside border that is larger than the desired finished size and then trim to fit after quilting.
I have tried to summarize the most commonly discussed questions, but this list could go on and have many variations. My hope is that you will make good use of the services of the many talented longarm quilters that are in the business of quilting. Because they love it just as much as you love putting your quilts together. As a team, you can make beautiful quilts happen!