Sunday, November 15, 2015

Le Challenge: Method. Using Orphan Blocks & Vintage Fabrics

Finding and using vintage fabrics is a bit of an art, and definitely a hobby of mine. When I began quilting, "The Quilting Police" were in their prime and I still hear their voices whispering in my head, "that fabric is sub-par,
it will not last 100 years,
it might bleed,
it might fade.... "
 There is some truth to this, and I look forward to sharing soon the biggest bleeding nightmare I have ever encountered. But not today as it is still a secret, and it's outcome is not yet known. However, the culprit in this case is a NEW, quilt-shop fabric.
Lately, I have been using some of my favorite vintage pieces and these things have been on my mind. You may have seen projects recently with some of these beauties:

Over the years there have been many times I've pulled lighter weight fabrics from my stash, yet there are many I just wont part with. Bottom line, I love them. I also love building my stash, as well as the thrill of the score! When I go fabric hunting at garage sales, estate sales and thrift shops, I seek them out. The rebel in me does not diminish and I continue to find vintage fabrics for my stash, and I find creative ways to use them.

Le Challenge for November is METHOD and I chose to finish up an orphan block that I found at a garage sale. There were six in the bundle, all signed and dated by different quilter's. They were made in the 80's for some sort of swap. Interestingly, most of them were appliqued on a poly/cotton blend background.
Unfortunately, purple is the hardest for me to photograph, especially on a stormy afternoon such as today. This is the best photo I came up with, taken indoors:
I Googled the maker and found that she passed away one year ago. Turns out Ruth was a Past President for her quilt guild. I did find a daughter and plan to mail this out to her once I finish hand-stitching the binding.
I used this method to make the Broken Dishes border:
This is the third orphan block that I have made into a mini, all with the same border.
One for myself:
I was able to find an address for the maker of this one:
She gave me a call after receiving the surprise in her mailbox and we spoke for more than an hour:)
Can you imagine opening this more than 30 years after you made a block and mailed it away for a swap? She was delighted:)

One thing I have learned about using vintage fabrics is that you really never know what you may end up using in the future. It is so nice to shop your own stash successfully when working on a project!

A few tips methods I use for stashing vintage:

1. Keep what you like if you have the space!
2. Avoid storing fabric in plastic bins if you can avoid it; they will acquire a peculiar odor.
3. If you can do this without offending anyone, smell the fabric before purchasing.
4. Wash pre-owned fabric before adding it to your own stash. Sometimes I air it outside for a few hours first. Then pre-soak in water with 1c. vinegar sprinkled with quite a bit of baking soda. Finally, wash with extra-gentle cycle and mild detergent. Dry and lightly press. Any odor remaining will be detected during the pressing, and I donate these to the thrift store.
5. I stick with 100% cotton for quilting. I can usually tell by the feel, however, if it generates static when removing from the dryer it is likely a poly blend. If you are really uncertain, a burn test can also be done. Take a lighter to a small snippet: Cotton will leave an ashy edge and synthetic leaves more of a melted edge, a bit like plastic.
6. I store lighter weight fabrics separate from premiums since I tend to use them together. I have been known to mix various weight fabrics with some quilts, but generally I use them together in scrappier quilts, smaller projects, linings, etc..

How bout these calico's, look familiar?


  1. I love everything about this post. I am an avid garage saler too and can't resist fun vintage fabrics but I've learned to be more selective because my stash was getting too big- even with fabrics I wasn't in love with. I recently made a few bags with vintage fabrics (adding a few "modern" quilt shop finds too) and they came out adorable- I gave them to friends and they loved them!

    I also love that you are making mini quilts with orphan blocks and sending them to the owners! what a treat for them.

    One of my most favorite quilts I have ever made is a Harry Potter quilt with a bunch of yard sale find star blocks from some long ago block exchange. I had these yellow stars surrounding the panel and it looked so unique and was half the work because all of the blocks were purchased for about $5!

  2. I love what you did with the orphan blocks and sending them back to the quilter/family is really, really sweet of you!

  3. I think this is so great and thanks for the tips. I haven't been adding any vintage fabrics to my stash but who knows when I'll come across some that I just have to have.

  4. I find orphan blocks all the time at sales. Rarely do I find a signed block. Awesome of you to "Make Their Day".
    (The only orphans I won't touch are double knit - eeewh).
    I use vintage all the time and I rarely quilt - possibly because of those afore-mentioned quilty police.

  5. How dear of you to return the blocks to their makers, now as mini quilts.

    Thanks very much for the advice on how to work with vintage fabrics. I received some old fabric that my grandmother had stashed away. As you can imagine, I want to find a way to use it, but much of it is musty, crinkly, questionable. This will help me save as much as I can, and not feel bad about the scraps that will have to go.

  6. Gosh loved reading this post - fantastic that these blocks are loved once again

  7. I second everyone's comments about this being such a great post. I love vintage fabrics even when they aren't "quilt shop quality". The designs speak for themselves. I loved that you tracked down the creators of those blocks and made and sent such a special gift to them. I also liked your instructions for washing vintage fabrics. I will definitely try this in the future. Looking forward to hearing what happened with your bleeding fabrics...

  8. Heidi, you just blow me away! What an awesome post, chock-a-locka full of good, quilty "stuff". As I'm getting ready to migrate south for the winter, putting all my stash away for the winter, I appreciate the timing. I will remain mindful as I organize for storage. Such an incredible idea to finish each swap block individually and attempt to return it to its originator! Lastly, thanks for the mini-tute for making little broken dishes blocks! I just may dig out an orphan block and try it today! I have bits and pieces of a lot of those vintage fabrics. They ARE so much fun to pull out and play with. Thanks again for such a great post! I'm inspired!XO

  9. Love how you used these blocks, amazing! Thanks for sharing on le challenge.

  10. This has great timing-- I just was gifted a huge amount of vintage fabrics from my neighbor, my mom, and my mother in law. I love seeing that you use them as I fully intend to, but it's nice knowing I'm not crazy! I can't believe you managed to find the woman who made that block- such a fun surprise! Sarah: crjandsbj(at)netzero(dot)com

  11. Found your blog so interesting Heidi. Your methods of airing & washing fabrics to neutralize smells is something I can use when I leave my wash in the washing machine too long. I've done this more than once. You'de think I'de learn, wouldn't you. Oh well, now I know how to fix it. Thanks.

  12. Found your blog so interesting Heidi. Your methods of airing & washing fabrics to neutralize smells is something I can use when I leave my wash in the washing machine too long. I've done this more than once. You'de think I'de learn, wouldn't you. Oh well, now I know how to fix it. Thanks.


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