What Quilts Mean: with Liz Smith from Smith Dry Goods

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Liz Smith QuiltingToday I have the extreme pleasure of introducing Liz Smith, my first contributor to this new “What Quilts Mean” series. Liz is an endlessly kind and generous friend and a constant inspiration – her lifelong love of textile crafts shines through everything she does, from felting to hand-stitching amazing vintage fabric finds. Today she’ll tell the story of how her craft path led her to quilts in this beautiful essay that I loved so much, it brought a tear to my eye.

I know you’ll make Liz feel welcome, my first guest poster ever – I’m so pleased to have her here!



What Quilts Mean by Liz Smith

I’ve always been a maker and my mom is an artist too. When I was growing up, mom made some square patchwork quilts as baby gifts.

Liz Smith - Mom Sewing

They were very simple, very sweet, usable blankies backed in soft flannel that parents loved to receive and babies snuggled with well into toddlerhood. But I didn’t really grow up with a tradition of quilting in my immediate family and I didn’t give it much thought.

Around college I took an interest in graphic design and collected a few inexpensive Dover quilt pattern books along with books of stained glass and chip carving patterns as reference guides for silk screening designs on T-shirts. I painted the printed tees with bright colors and sold them at local craft fairs.

In the ‘80s & ‘90s, quilting had a frumpy feeling to me, I didn’t think I could relate to the craft. Quilters seemed hopelessly mainstream while I was a punk in black clothes, extra face piercings, and Doc Martens. But there I was, designing quilt patterns on graph paper and making “paper quilts” by relentlessly cutting half square triangles of color from old magazines and gluing them to foam core.

Liz Smith - Paper Quilt

One summer I collected clothes and fabric from the thrift shop, gaudy prints from the ‘60s and ‘70s (which were very déclassé in the ‘90s, that was my counter-culture instinct taking over) which I cut up and pieced as half square triangles into panels for weird little bags I designed myself and made on the sewing machine I’d requested and received upon graduation from college in 1992.

Liz Smith - Bag

So when I look back I can see my urge to quilt was present for a long time before I actually started quilting. I had plenty in common with the quilters I couldn’t yet see my connection to.

Around the time I started living online, maybe 2006, 2007, I randomly bought Denyse Schmidt Quilts. In her work I saw clean, modern work with a respect for tradition that resonated with me. I started to notice more modern quilting online. I became real life friends with modern quilters and internet friends with modern fabric designers.

But I never made the projects in the books I loved looking at. I found I wasn’t so interested in following patterns. In general, I prefer to learn a technique then incorporate it into something I design myself. And maybe that was part of my reluctance to join up with quilting; it can be heavily patterns based. I gravitated toward the idea of improv quilting, but at the same time I found my heart jumping for joy at the nostalgic quilts featured in the very traditional Martha Stewart Living magazine. I was perplexed. Where did I fit in?

By 2012 I was well established as a professional maker, working with needle felting, polymer clay, and crochet. But I still wasn’t sewing. I had been collecting fabric scraps from friends who sew. Mostly they made bags with modern fabrics. By that time I was thoroughly intimidated by the prospect of sewing anything besides curtains. I knew so many amazing professional sewers who seemed to have it all figured out, I didn’t have a clue.

One day after a terrible dental procedure I found an inexpensive, very old, tattered log cabin quilt in a thrift shop. I had to have it. The pieces were cut with scissors, probably from old clothes, the seams weren’t straight, and the squares did not match up. I adored it, it brought me great comfort. Slowly I realized, being a non-professional sewer was just fine. I still had permission to sew like the lady or ladies who put together this charming quilt.

Liz Smith - Vintage Quilt

I started buying little bundles of vintage unfinished quilt pieces whenever I came across them. The first time I realized the squares I held in the thrift shop were hand sewn, my heart exploded with love.

Liz Smith - Unfinished Quilt

Then my mom gave me the contents of her fabric scrap basket and something sparked in me.

Liz Smith - Mom Scraps

One weekend at home I picked up a little piece of muslin she had cut decades ago and it felt friendly. Its wonky shape was not quite square, like the pieces in my treasured vintage quilt. I got out a box of carefully sorted green fabric scraps and started to piece a log cabin square.

Liz Smith - Log Cabin

I did it by hand. And I could not stop. I had broken through my reluctance. I loved the constraint of sewing slowly, using only what I already had on hand, and the freedom of using what was discarded by others. I realized sewing machines seemed too fast to me. Quilting can be overwhelming, but doing it this way scaled it down, made it accessible.

Liz Smith - Shirting

Soon after that I found shirting yardage, blues and whites, at a thrift shop on Cape Cod. Someone’s 1960s stash, never used, price tags still attached. I was compelled to begin another quilt top though the green one was not yet finished (sound familiar, quilters??). I started cutting squares, used the computer to create a random pattern, and sewed all the squares together by hand into a queen sized quilt top.

Liz Smith - Patchwork

While I sewed on this project for a year, I thought a lot about why I was doing it. Solving the color placement of the patchwork was a challenging puzzle which I enjoyed. But most of all I just wanted a blanket. I wanted to make a blanket for our bed. I wanted the blanket to remind me of Martha’s Vineyard and breezy beach cottages in New England. I wanted to evoke a feeling with my quilt using color, pattern, design, and texture. And I wanted to live with that feeling when the quilt was completed. I wanted to snuggle under the quilt on cool summer evenings with the window open and own it for years, wear the quilt out, and patch it. I wanted coziness and, a feeling of well-being, and a sense of accomplishment.

Quilts mean comfort to me, and creativity, and a connection with a past maker who didn’t worry about whether or not she should quilt, if she was qualified to do it or not, she just did it. With whatever she had on hand, and often by hand. I know where I fit in now, I love both modern and traditional quilting. I want to improvise and use patterns. I want to pair traditional techniques, textiles, and patterns with a modern aesthetic and use modern fabrics with traditional techniques. I hand sew and I machine sew. I want to honor all the quilters who came before me and share in the joy and satisfaction of all the contemporary quilters making things right now.


Visit Liz at her blog, her shop, and as @smithdrygoods on both Instagram and Twitter.

Hand-Pieced Mini Swap

I haven't any hand-stitching to do since I finished my peels appliqué. This are fun. #handpiecedminiswap #teamemiroos

As if I don’t have enough to do, I recently joined the Hand-Pieced Mini-Quilt Swap on IG, organized by Jo from A Life in Lists. I haven’t taken part in a lot of swaps in my crafty time, and I think this has to be my last for a while so I can catch up on other stuff, but with a hand-stitching void in my life since my peels were finished, I just couldn’t resist!

This is a little bit out of my comfort zone – everything else I’m working on behind the scenes is heading in a much more minimalist, quiet sort of direction, but I didn’t think that was my partner’s style. After a TON of doodling, I finally landed on this EPP design, with a fabric arrangement that I hope combines my urge to pare down with her love of brighter designs.

Whatchu think about these fabrics, partner? #teamemiroos #handpiecedminiswap

Of course I can’t quite show you more yet, but you’ll see soon enough! And if you’re on IG, follow my sneaky progress peeks over there.

What Quilts Mean (& Orange Peels FO)

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Wow, guys. This quilt has been a long time coming. It’s been through a lot. I started planning this project last August, and started really sewing sometime in September, so it’s been over eight months in the making. And not just any old eight months.

Orange Peels Quilt

While I was finally quilting, sitting at the sewing machine for hours on end, the quilt passing under my hands, I thought a lot about what it means to me. What making it meant to me while I worked through the first eight months of grieving for my mother.

Orange Peels Quilt

In a very literal way, this quilt helped me work through the first steps of this seemingly never-ending process. The hand-stitching of appliquéd orange peels is a beautifully mindless process, allowing me to shut down my brain while keeping busy at the same time. And sharing the steps and my progress with you all gave me the vehicle to interact online again, before I was really ready to talk about casual stuff. Every bit of this project helped me inch forward in some little way.

Orange Peels Quilt

This quilt has been a distraction, a comfort, and a friend. As I guided it through the machine, I thought about the actual tears that have soaked into its fabrics over the last eight months, and I wondered if it’s like the Sword of Gryffindor: what it absorbs only makes it stronger. Will it hold on to all of those feelings for me?

Orange Peels Quilt

One thing I know for sure: this quilt is not just a blanket. And the moment I thought that to myself, I knew it was true of all quilts. We don’t make quilts because they keep us warm. For most of us, we don’t need to do that at all. We could go buy a blanket for a fraction of the cost at our local department store. I’m forever saying that I love how quilts are allowed to be, symbolically, a little corny. We join fabrics that symbolize special people or times in our lives. We sew together to symbolize a sense of community or bond between the makers. We quilt to celebrate special occasions or meaningful events.

It’s clear that making quilts means something to us, and (hopefully) to the people who use them. To me, my orange peels quilt was something like an amour – to both protect me from and insulate me in my grief. And for the rest of my life, it will remind me of a comfort that I can’t quite put into words. There is a sort of comfort in sadness, when you feel broken-hearted – and this quilt will contain that for me, forever.

Orange Peels Quilt

I’ve invited a handful of fellow quilters to share their thoughts on the meaning of quilts. I’ve asked them to prepare a post, in any form or style they want, with the title, “What Quilts Mean” and I will share their responses over the coming weeks, or maybe months, or until I run out of contributions. I was overjoyed that they wanted to join me in this little project, though I know so many have thought about this topic from a million different perspectives – I can’t wait to hear some from our online community. I really hope you all enjoy the series!

Orange Peel Quilts Made by You!

Orange Peel Quilt-Along!

To officially close up our quilt-along, good and proper, I wanted to share your hard work – with each other as well as with those readers who have stuck with my blog through all these quilt-along posts even if they weren’t taking part. My wonderful quilt-alongers did such a beautiful job. Thank you all so much for sharing your photos with me for this post – and for sewing with me. This project happened just when I needed it most and I will adore you all always for sticking with me and keeping me company through this project. And I’m so happy that you’ve all ended up with such beautiful projects!

This WIP is by Andrée, who blogs at Quilting & Learning – What a Combo!, and she’s used Tula Pink’s Fox Field (NOM) for her peels:

Andree-OrangePeel5

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Holy yum, I absolutely love those low volume rings peppered in between the busy prints!! I’m a bit of Tula Pink fangirl anyway, so of course Andrée’s peels were going to be just my style!

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Wendy from The Crafter’s Apprentice chose to do a rainbow-arranged wall quilt:

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It’s so cheerful, Wendy – and you’re almost finished, you can do it!

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Robin C., aka GingerScribble on IG and the interwebs, has become a lovely friend through this quilt-along, and she absolutely killed this project:

RobinC-OPQA
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Robin didn’t just make her quilt (for her mother, in colors she doesn’t even like!) significantly larger than even myself, she finished first – and made a pieced back! I wish I had prizes, or ribbons, ’cause you’d definitely win this quilt-along, Robin!

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Barbara, who I don’t believe has a blog herself, joined us in spirit, but went her own way – a woman after my own heart! She’s used a different applique method and really went to town with hand-stitching:

BarbaraOPQA

I love the way Barbara took inspiration from this project but did her own thing. So so cool.

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Linda – also blogless as far as I know – made hers similar to my first peel wall quilt, but larger:

Linda-OPQA

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And hand-quilted it with thicker thread and yummy big stitches. I like how her stitches are very close to her peels, where mine were spaced out from the peels slightly – it’s amazing how that changes the look so much!

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Jenny (jeng_g_nj02 on IG) is the only one of us to have divided backgrounds and peels by solids / prints, and to absolutely charming effect:

JennyOPQA

So cheerful! I love how her choices mean that some blocks are dark-on-light and some are light-on-dark.

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Robin W, who happens to have been the winner of my recent giveaway!, did hers a bit like mine, in that the peels and backs are all in two colors, but in many different fabrics:

RobinW-OPQAL 2015

Robin said that she used the back-sides of a bunch of white-on-white and similar fabrics that she didn’t even really like, but lookit how elegant her quilt is!

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Rebecca (greenandbell on IG) is another wonderful friend I’ve been lucky to make through this quilt-along, and she’s endlessly inspiring as a quilter. Her peels are no different, such a beautiful and delicate combination of solids and prints –

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– framed in a pair of wide borders. Lovely.

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And last, but of course not least, my very own partner in crime, Karen from Henry’s Shed. You may not know this, but Karen is half responsible for all of this orange peel madness – when I wondered about making a large version of the wall quilt the Mini Bee made together, she laughed at my hesitation and jumped in with both feet. We stitched peels together at the pub and talked peels strategy for hours on end. What a good pal. :)

KarenOPQA

Karen’s still assembling her top, and then she plans on hand-quilting it, but you can see how lovely it’ll be already!

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I love them all, guys, and I love seeing them all in one place, all of our hard work all together. I believe there are a few more WIPs out there in the wild, so if you joined in but aren’t in the post here, leave a comment with a link to a photo so we can see your work, too! I know I promised to show you my finished quilt last week, but I lied – I had to wait out a couple of days of crummy weather to get a shoot in, and I haven’t been able to prepare a post in time because it will be a little more than just FO photos. I’ll be back in a few days to tell you more, cross my heart.

Attention Quilt-alongers! Please help!

Orange Peel Quilt-Along!

Hey quilt-along peeps! I’ll finally be showing off my finished orange peels quilt later this week (just stitching down the binding and a tag to go!) and I’d love for us all to share our quilts together. No matter where you are in the process – whether it’s a stack of basted peels, a finished top, or a whole quilt – I’d love if we all shared. Could you pretty, pretty, pretty please send me a photo or a link to a photo (to julie at button-button dot co dot uk) of your beautiful peels?? PLEASE! Even if we’re not all finished, I loved this group project so much, and I really want to be able to see them all together.

Thanks so much!

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