Quilting, Weaving and Other Worthwhile Homestead Pursuits

We recently received a comment from a reader of our book The Self-Sufficient Backyard: For the Independent Homesteader who asked how I do quilting and weaving on the homestead and whether my fabric and yarn are purchased from elsewhere. This post is dedicated to answering questions regarding quilting, weaving and other worthwhile homestead pursuits.

Home Made Hand Stitched Quilt

Home Made Hand Stitched Quilt

Quilting

Traditionally quilts were made from whatever scraps were kicking around be they pieces of intact fabric salvaged from worn out or outgrown garments or leftovers after cutting out new garments. In other words, they were the result of what we would term recycling or repurposing. I made my first few quilts this way using what my mom had in her scrap bag.

For the past few decades however, I’ve used 100% cotton fabric I purchased from either yard sales, second hand shops, or surplus and salvage stores. As a last resort, I’ll visit fabric stores, but only if I’m looking for something specific. I use 100% cotton because it’s easy to press, can be easily manipulated to piece accurate points and curves and since it’s lightweight, it’s easy to quilt through by hand.

I always pre-wash my fabric before I cut it in case it shrinks and/or in case any colors run or bleed. I find this may happen with reds in particular. I line dry the fabric (I don’t own a dryer nor do I want one) then iron it to remove wrinkles. This is important for accurate cutting. To iron, I will use an electric iron if our battery status allows otherwise I will heat up an old heavy weight “sad” iron set atop my woodstove. That antique iron was from Ron’s Grandmother and works great. To prevent any soot from the stove top being transferred to my iron and then the fabric, I will put a clean piece of aluminum foil on top of the woodstove first then put my iron on top of that. Works like a charm.

Regarding the design of my quilts, occasionally I’ll make a quilt using a prescribed pattern but more often than not I’ll come up with my own creation. I may take some inspiration from here and some from there then combine that with my own ideas with the end result being a one of a kind original which is part of the fun of the creative process. Seldom if ever will I use colors specified in a pattern opting instead to come up with my own color combinations.

Cutting Rug Strips with Rotary Cutter and Mat

Cutting Rug Strips with Rotary Cutter and Mat

I used to use templates to cut out my pieces but now I primarily use a rotary cutter and mat. This makes for quick and accurate cutting of strips which can then be cut into squares, rectangles, or triangles. I do my piecing with an antique, non-electric treadle Singer sewing machine that was made in the 1920’s using a technique called chain piecing or assembly line piecing. Pieces are run through the machine one after the other without cutting the thread in between. Once all the units are sewn, I snip the threads cutting apart all the units and press all the seams towards the darker material. Unlike garment seams, quilt seams aren’t pressed open, merely pressed to one side. I repeat this procedure until all my blocks are complete, then I assemble the blocks, adding borders if I desire.

Our Singer Treadle Sewing Machine and 4 Harness Table Loom

Our Singer Treadle Sewing Machine and 4 Harness Table Loom

At this point the top is ready to be fashioned into a quilt which is really a 3 layer sandwich comprised of the pieced top, a middle layer of batting (I use polyester batting) and a backing. The backing can be a print or a solid but I use solids simply because they are cheaper than prints. If I don’t use 100% cotton for the backing, I’ll use a poly/cotton blend.

To prepare my quilt sandwich, I clear a large area on the floor (all my quilts have been full or queen sized), and lay the backing down first wrong side up. I’ll tape the edges to the floor in a few spots to keep it from shifting. Next I lay the batting on top of the backing smoothing out any folds or wrinkles. The pieced top goes on next with the right side up. Now all 3 layers need to be basted together so they don’t shift during the quilting process. I’ll use curved safety pins and extra long straight pins that are made especially for this purpose. If I run out of pins, I’ll resort to basting with thread to secure the layers together.

Fully Utilized Craft Room

Fully Utilized Craft Room

Nowadays many people machine quilt their projects either doing it themselves or sending if off to someone who has a long arm machine. I do neither preferring to hand quilt all my creations. Obviously this is a time consuming process but a highly satisfying one. I use a quilt frame to hold the 3 layers taut and sew them together by hand using a running stitch and hand quilting thread that’s sold in any sewing store. A thimble is a must for pushing the needle through all 3 layers. The hand that is below the quilt acts to make sure all the stitches are even but my thumb surely takes some abuse from all the tiny pricks of the needle. Once the quilting is done I bind the edges and the quilt is finished.

Weaving

I taught myself to weave a number of years ago using a 4 harness table loom a friend gave me. What looked complicated turned out to be amazingly simple, yet the intricate patterns and possibilities that could be created are endless so I was immediately hooked. First I made a sampler using threads my friend passed along to me at the time she gave me the loom. After I took the sampler off the loom, I made a rag throw rug using cotton rug warp and fabric strips cut from my box of fabric scraps for the weft.

Since our move to Nova Scotia 3 years ago, I’ve acquired a 4 harness floor loom thanks to the generosity of a fellow weaver who was getting rid of one of her several looms. Unfortunately between building the house, establishing gardens and orchard while at the same time trying to grow and put by enough food to get us through the winter, I haven’t had time to play with my new toy. Hopefully this winter things will be different though. I have plans to make bath towels, table runners, placemats, tea towels, rugs etc and if I can get really proficient maybe even some fabric for garment making. Before I can do any weaving though Ron will first have to build me a warping board which is a tool used to measure the warp threads that are used to thread the loom. I could buy one of these but he can easily make me one for a fraction of the cost.

Regarding rugs, I’m currently making a braided rug for the living room floor using 1½” wide strips I cut from old woolen clothing I deconstructed (ripped apart). I have a hooked rug in progress too. The ¼” strips for the hooked rug also came from old woolen clothing I ripped apart. I use my rotary cutter and mat to cut all the different rug strips.

With respect to threads for weaving, I have no expectation of ever spinning cotton or flax for linen thread. These I can purchase from numerous companies who deal with weaving supplies. Whether I spin wool for weaving remains to be seen. I do spin wool for knitting yarn and have made socks, mittens, gloves, hats, leg warmers and sweaters with my 100% handspun wool yarn. Sometimes I use my handspun yarn in its natural color but I have dyed some of the wool yarn I spun too.

Spinning Wool Yarn

Spinning Wool Yarn

Hand Knitted Sweater

Hand Knitted Sweater

I do have other purchased yarns in my stash. I use 100% cotton yarn to knit dishcloths. Yarns from man made fibers such as acrylic, rayon, nylon and polyester are purchased and in fact many of these yarns I inherited from my mom when she stopped knitting due to arthritis.

Final Thoughts

A couple of key points here. I try to reuse all materials in some creative fashion so nothing goes to waste. And for those concerned about electrical use, the treadle sewing machine and woodstove heated iron are perfect solutions for those off gridders wanting to pursue sewing/quilting but are unsure how to proceed without electrically powered gizmos.

Hopefully the above answers the reader’s questions. Should anyone have any questions on any topic related to homesteading and self-sufficiency we would be glad to hear from you.

Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!

Ron and Johanna

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