In preparation for the “Anything-But-Plain Jane” story in the October 2011 issue of American Patchwork & Quilting (available on newsstands and at quilt shops now), I chatted with quilter, author, and the original “Janiac” Brenda Manges Papadakis. Her book Dear Jane: The Two Hundred Twenty-Five Patterns from the 1863 Jane A. Stickle Quilt (EZ Quilting by Wrights; 1996) has inspired quilters all over the world to make their own versions of Jane A. Stickle’s quilt, Sampler. Read on to learn more about Brenda and her book. Check out a slideshow of Dear Jane quilts on AllPeopleQuilt.com.
MC: What did you first think of Jane A. Stickle’s quilt?
BMP: I saw the quilt in Plain and Fancy: Vermont’s People and Their Quilts by Richard Cleveland and Donna Bister (Quilt Digest Press; 1991), and it took my breath away. So many of the blocks weren’t familiar to me, and I was impressed by the geometry, especially the triangles. Most of the blocks were unique to her quilt. But, to be honest, I had no interest in making or teaching miniature blocks at first. And I didn’t care for brown fabrics! Now they’re my favorites. Everything comes full circle, I guess. I started drafting blocks from the photograph in Plain and Fancy and thinking about Jane and what would have been happening in her life when she made the quilt. The letters are an outgrowth of my questions.
MC: What was your first Dear Jane class like?
BMP: I started my first Dear Jane class in 1992. At the time, we called the blocks Baby Janes. Each month we made four blocks and focused on a single technique. My students helped me name the blocks. If a student’s block name was chosen, I bought her 1⁄2 yard of fabric. Eventually, my students said they wanted to make the whole quilt. I laughed because I was teaching middle school and working at a quilt shop and had no intention of teaching all the blocks. I told my students, “I have a life.” Later that year, I got permission from The Bennington Museum in Vermont (where the original quilt is located) to draft the remaining blocks and eventually the triangles. I had no idea Dear Jane would become my life! I’m so blessed to have this journey.
MC: Thousands of quilters from all over the world have interpreted this quilt using your book. You’ve helped design two Dear Jane fabric collections for Windham Fabrics. There’s also Electric Quilt software for the Dear Jane blocks and Dear Jane acrylic templates from EZ Quilting. What do you think of this phenomenon?
BMP: I’m just a quilter who saw a picture of a quilt. It wasn’t that I had any vision to start a phenomenon. I just wanted to distribute the blocks to quilters who wanted them so they could make their own versions, and a book seemed like the best way to do that. It wasn’t until after the book was published and I started teaching that I realized people wanted to make this whole quilt, exactly as it is! I still pinch myself at times. I used to think Dear Jane would be interesting to about 5 percent of the quilters. Now, I believe everyone comes to Jane in his/her own time. There is so much to be learned in making this quilt, and all the techniques can be applied to other quilts as well. Another reason, I believe is the interest we have in the Civil War. We’re coming up on the 150th Anniversary of the War, and we want to know more about it.
MC: What can we learn from the quilt?
BMP: This quilt affords us so many chances to learn and improve our skills. I’m a big believer in the Dear Jane motto: “Finished is better than perfect.” I remind my students that quilting is supposed to be a joyful experience. Sometimes we tend to beat ourselves up. I believe that every time you make a block, you should do your very best that you can that day. This quilt is a learning quilt. By the time you make 10 more blocks, you’ll be discovering a new technique and learning something more challenging. Enjoy the journey!
Jane was not really a technician. She was a designer. Her work was not always perfect. She simply wanted to translate the ideas she had into fabric. I use her as an example that we don’t have to be perfect either. Just look at how much we love her quilt!
MC: What tips do you have for making Dear Jane quilts?
BMP: I’ve made about a dozen Dear Jane-inspired quilts, but I have not yet re-created the entire quilt. I’m working on one right now though. The one thing I always do to figure out how to make a Dear Jane block is to start with the center. If I can work out the center of the block, then the rest of it falls into place. There are many tips at dearjane.com
and in the software. The Dear Jane subscribers’ list is a wealth of information. Almost 2000 people from around the world are available daily to help you make your own Jane. They are also there to help and encourage you in all aspects of your life. I think they are the best group on the internet. They are the list that knows everything!
MC: What do you know about Jane A. Stickle?
BMP: I think she did go to school, because there are records that her father left 25 percent of his estate for her and her brothers’ education. At that time, many women weren’t educated. If they were, they could be teachers and nurses. I don’t know how much math education she had, and I don’t know how much was just natural talent. She’s just super gifted.
Her husband wasn’t in the Civil War, and she did not have children that fought. But I think the war affected her life, because of the fact that she stitched “In War Time 1863” and “Pieces 5602” in one of the corner blocks. In times of turmoil, we can always rely on math and science. Maybe she felt that she could not control what was happening in the world, but she could count the pieces she put in her quilt—she could control what was in that little sphere. I like to think she was saying, “I’m in charge here. These are my designs.”
MC: What quirks have you noticed about the blocks?
BMP: I’ve drafted all the blocks to be 4-1/2” square, but the blocks of the original quilt actually range from 3 to 5” square. When I was measuring the blocks while drafting them, I realized they are different sizes. I think that’s the miracle of Jane’s talent —she would add sashing around a block until it was the right size. She was really consistent with the triangles. I think she used little samples of fabric, and this affected the size she made her blocks—sample cards were about the size of a 3x5” index card.
MC: What have been some of the more creative Dear Jane themes you’ve seen through the years?
BMP: One lady made a quilt with a woman whose gown was made with Dear Jane blocks . In another quilt, the blocks were placed in a circle, radiating from the center. To me, all the quilts are beautiful and as unique as their maker.
MC: How do you think Dear Jane has impacted quilters?
BMP: When I received my copy of the book I started crying. My husband asked me what’s wrong. I told him, “Now everybody in the world will know about my relationship with Jane Stickle.” He said, “I thought that was our goal!” It is just that I had put my heart into this project, and I realized it was there for the world to see.
I’ve sent books to about 36 or 37 countries in world. I thought this journey was about getting everybody the blocks, but it’s not. It’s about a community of quilters who have created friendships and bonded over this quilt. The joy for me is when Janiacs gather at quilt shows and various events and share the Dear Jane quilts they’re making and the fabrics they’re using. It’s like a worldwide friendship circle. It’s all about those friendships, the quilters, and their work. I’m just a messenger.
If I have one message for quilters, it is to keep a journal. That is the lesson I learned while studying the diaries of the 19th-century women. I can tell you Jane’s story, and mine, but yours is the one that is important to those who love you. It doesn’t have to be a fancy diary–notebook paper will do. Just write a note beside the blocks you make. One entry I read said simply, “It rained all day, so I quilted.” I thought of that lady and the difficult life she had at that time, and I cried for her.
Visit dearjane.com to learn more about Brenda Manges Papadakis, purchase the Dear Jane book, or get tips and tricks for making the quilt.
Designer Toby Lischko’s Follow the Curves quilt in the October 2011 issue of American Patchwork & Quilting is so stunning, it might tempt you to learn a new technique—curved seams!
Follow the steps below to sew a curved seam by machine. Also check out Toby’s blog for two different tutorials—tricks for sewing curves and tips for using the right tools when sewing curves. Finally, view a slideshow on AllPeopleQuilt.com to learn about sewing curved pieces by hand.
Curved shapes add gentle ease and a sense of motion to pieced designs, but joining pieces with curved edges presents challenges. Cutting a small notch in the center of a curved edge makes it easier. Typically with curved pieces you’ll be joining two separate shapes: a convex curve (a curve that bows outward) with a concave curve (a curve that bows inward).
With right sides together match the center notches of curved edges. Pin together at the center point, at seam ends, and liberally in between, gently easing the edges as needed to align.
Sew together the curved edges. Clip into the seam allowance of the edge that curves in (concave) as needed, but do not cut into or beyond the seam lines. Do not clip the convex edge. Some quilters prefer not to clip curved seams. Instead they use a longer stitch length and sew slowly which helps ease the fabric layers together (the center notch is still necessary).
I recently chatted with author and quilt designer Cheryl Lynch to learn more about the inspiration behind her latest book ¡Quilt Fiesta! Surprising Designs from Mexican Tiles (2011, Martingale & Company).
This book contains instructions for 10 quilts, placemats, and other fusible appliqué projects inspired by beautiful Talavera tiles from Puebla, Mexico. To get a glimpse of another quilt from the book, read the Global Perspective column on page 104 in the October 2011 issue of American Patchwork & Quilting magazine (available on newsstands and at quilt shops now).
MC: What gave you the idea for ¡Quilt Fiesta! Surprising Designs from Mexican Tiles?
CL: I was first exposed to Mexican folk art when my husband and I took a trip to Cabo San Lucas for marlin fishing and whale watching. While there, we decided to spend a day in the little town of Todos Santos. My eyes popped at what I saw there: The folk art was so gorgeous! I realized tiles clearly look like quilt blocks, and the designs in the tiles’ corners would make great secondary designs when combined. After I got home, I made one or two quilts inspired by Mexican tiles. I also did more research on the topic and decided to make a second trip to Mexico to visit Puebla and find more inspiration.
MC: Why Puebla?
CL: Puebla is known as The City of Tiles. It’s a colonial city located inland, and it’s where Talevera tiles are made. There are tiles everywhere—on buildings, stairwells, the ground. We don’t speak Spanish, so we hired a guide who took us to the tile factories and provided some of the tidbits about the culture found in the book.
MC: What did you learn about Talavera tiles?
CL: The pottery methods used to make Talavera tiles were brought to Mexico from Spain. My biggest observation is that the Mexican tiles are more rustic than their European counterparts. They’re all hand-painted. To me, it’s folk art and it proves art doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. That is my mantra in general.
MC: How does this mantra apply to quilting?
CL: I’ve been quilting since 1992, and I’ve learned that perfection can keep quilters from moving forward. I say, “Just do it and finish it.” When you’re 10 or 20 quilts down the line you’ll be able to see how far you’ve come. I think the joy in creating a project far outweighs a perfect project.
MC: How did you select fabrics for the tile-inspired quilts in this book?
CL: I love scrappy quilts! I think prints are what make quilts so fascinating. I used lots of stripes and polka dots in the quilts for this book. My view is the more fabrics the merrier. If you’re going to use one blue, use lots of blues. Quilts don’t have to be “matchy matchy.” It’s not that the fabrics I used were made for Mexican-tile theme quilts. The fabrics, the design, and the quilting work together to give a quilt a Mexican-tile feel.
MC: What advice do you have for quilters on choosing color palettes and prints?
CL: Fabric choice is often the most difficult aspect for new quilters, but it’s often what gives experienced quilters the most joy. I’m a big believer in what’s taught in most beginning quilting classes: Start with a multicolor focus fabric. You may not always end up using the focus fabric in your quilt, but it gives you confidence that the colors it contains will work well together.
MC: What advice do you have for quilters who want to translate tiles or other sources of inspiration into quilts?
CL: Because fabrics have so much texture and pattern, you can simplify a tile design and still get an interesting pattern using prints. Or, consider making the design more intricate and using solids.
MC: How do you find inspiration?
CL: I think of myself as a quilter first and an artist second. When I travel, I take tons of photos, and I bring my computer on my trip so I can upload the photos while I’m still there. I look at life through a quilter’s eyes—I see quilts when I look at buildings or art. I’m currently inspired by wrought-iron designs that I saw on a trip
Photos by Brent Kane; courtesy of Martingale & Company.
This past March I was up in New York City to see the Empire Quilt Guild quilt show, the Red and White Quilt Exhibit, and I made it to The City Quilter shop … right around the corner from the Fashion Institute!
The City Quilter had just open their new Gallery space, which is the only Gallery in NYC devoted to contemporary art quilt, very exciting! The current exhibit are quilts by Noriko Endo. Here she is outside the Gallery.
This is her quilt titled Cherry Blossoms 3. If you go to the Gallery website you can see more of her quilts as well as photos from the opening she attended.
Click here to my page devoted to the Red and White Exhibit
Click here to listen to my May 2, 2011 interview with Carrie Nelson of Miss Rosies Quilt Patterns … we talked about the NYC trip
Click here to a red and white quilt pattern to download here at All People Quilt!
American Patchwork Radio Show host – Pat Sloan www.PatSloan.com
Hi this is Pat Sloan the Host of American Patchwork & Quilting Radio! I’m excited to be blogging about the radio show and things that ‘didn’t make it on air’. My guests have such incredible knowledge and so many great things to share.. that we can’t always fit it all in! Plus we reference things here at AllPeopleQuilt.com and I want to give you the links.
On July 4th I talked with Sherri Falls and we discussed this bag of her that has the oval bottom, I love it! Don’t you think it would make a super project bag? What fabric would you make it in? And she gave us tips for working with Rick Rack CLICK HERE for the pattern
And on that same show I chatted with Vanessa Wilson of Crafty Gemini. CLICK HERE to the article in the NY Times about her and her win of the Youtube Next Up contest… isn’t it fantastic a QUILTER made it in… Vanessa ROCKS and so does quilting! The project you see is in her video and it was one she taught her ‘non sewing team’ at the Youtube training she went to CLICK HERE to her blog
July 11 I talked with Joen Wolfram who is a master at color. She mentioned that she is starting a color series on her blog.. the first color is one that is a favorite of quilters.. BLUE! CLICK HERE
Then Pam Buda and I chatted about Make-Dos, her SECRET method to prepare fabric AND her antique quilts. CLICK HERE to the one above!
Finally Amanda Herring and I dished on quilting, designing fabric, and her fabulous crafty projects. Listen to the show to find out why she started quilting and show she made 17.. yes 17 quilts in her first 3 months of quilting! You know her skills are rock solid after that! CLICK HERE to her blog for lots of fun.. (ps – the pattern for the hats tells you how to make them into pincushions too.. ADORABLE!)
CLICK HERE to hear all the shows …. they are ALL recorded! You can subscribe to itunes, listen on your computer/ipad or download to your player like an MP3. Listen to the shows anytime you like (how about while quilting?)
CLICK HERE to hang out with me everyday at my regular blog
See you here every week.. maybe twice if I’m feeling chatty!
ps…. who would YOU Like to hear on the radio show?