Vintage Dresden Plate Quilt Blocks
I went on a binge recently and started buying up unfinished vintage quilts. By unfinished I don't mean, like, almost done. I mean a pile of fabric that was intended to be a quilt in some fantasy universe that never happened. Sometimes they're pieced into blocks, and sometimes they're just cut up fabric in a bag (more on that tomorrow). But they're so cool!
Here's one of the sets I bought. It's vintage Dresden Plate blocks made from what looks like 30's era fabrics, possibly feedsacks. I just love how they're on the coral pink background instead of the usual white. And the mix of fabrics--aren't they awesome? I really want to put these together and finish the quilt. I'm thinking a 30's green sashing? Maybe? Or a scrappy pieced sashing? I don't know. I'll probably agonize about it forever and not do it for fear of ruining it, but I can dream, anyway.
Even if I never put these together, I love to take them out occasionally and look at them. I love examining all the fabrics and seeing how the colors and patterns are mixed together. It makes me want to get out all my 30's fat quarters and start playing with ideas. Of course, I start out trying to make something authentic to the period and always end up throwing in some fresh modern prints. But you know what?
I think that's what any quilter from that era would do today.
In fact, most quilts made today with 30's fabrics you can peg as modern from a mile away. They're certainly nice quilts, but they're just missing something. They're.... well.... boring. Don't get me wrong, I love reproductions. It's nice to have something retro and fun that you can just use and not worry about it disintegrating in the washing machine. Especially when you have toddlers and dogs and a less-than-fastidious husband....not that I'm pointing fingers or anything.
So reproductions are great. But to get it to look right, you've got to be brave. Our modern eyes want everything to be pleasing, to blend beautifully. We want all the fabrics we put in the quilt to be from the same family and live happily with each other. Vintage quilts don't have that. They always have some random thing thrown in, or a color combination that's just out there. Vintage quilts have fabrics that are not only not from the same family, they're engaged in a blood feud. Fist fights are breaking out in the calicoes, if you get my drift. I'm not a quilt historian, so I can't say if that was an aesthetic choice or just one born of necessity. You gotta make a quilt, you only got so much fabric, you just throw it in there and make it work. Even with quilts from the 1800's, which were often 2 or 3 color designs, all the blocks the same, have random bits. Where the quilter ran out of the double pink she was using and had to substitute something similar for a few blocks. They didn't try to cover it up as a design choice, they just chucked them in and called it good enough. Most modern quilters wouldn't think of doing that.
So you have to be bold. You have to pair fabrics that make you wince. You have to have some faith, too. You have to believe that even though you're sewing a fabric combination that makes your eyes bleed that you'll have something totally awesome if you just hang in there and keep chaining pieces together. If you can do that, you might get something exciting. I'd sure like to try.
Maybe I should sew with sunglasses.