Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Bargello quilting - beauty belies simplicity.

I saw a picture of an amazing quilt that looked so detailed and intricate, I thought I would never be able to replicate anything like it. Not least because I lack the patience required to be a really proficient quilter. The bottom drawer of my crafting chest contains "The Guilt Quilt" - or rather the pieces of it. This was what I started when I bought my sewing machine and wanted to try it out without risking damaging a piece of dressmaking. That was probably about twelve years ago! So completing a quilt has always been something that I've felt is likely to be beyond me.

Only then I discovered something.... quilters cheat!! I don't mean to diminish the skills of quilters. I have a huge amount of respect for their craft, and the rather daunting amount of maths it can involve, but I had always assumed that each piece was cut and stitched individually. When I looked into the technique for making a bargello quilt, I discovered that this isn't necessarily the case. This was somewhat of a revelation to me, and has made the whole world of quilting suddenly much more accessible.

In the hope that I can do the same for other people, here's what I've learned about the technique (and my apologies to more highly skilled quilters if I have misunderstood any of this.)

Step 1 - Take a whole load of strips of fabric and stitch them together length-wise. Width doesn't matter. Lengths should be roughly similar. Colour is fairly unimportant, although you can make something truly artistic if you play with colour at this point. Variations of a single colour can look spectacular. Ideally each strip shouldn't clash too badly with it's immediate neighbour, but that can be a design feature in itself.

Step 2 - Stitch the top row and the bottom row together, creating a tube. (Strictly speaking, this step isn't totally necessary, but if you do it you will end up wasting less fabric)

Step 3 - Neaten the ends, and cut across the tube to create a series of loops. This is the bit that blew my mind a little bit. As a dressmaker you learn not to cut across seams that are stitched. But quilters do this quite a lot, and it is a really effective trick for creating intricate patterns quickly and simply. In this case, they can be cut evenly or at different widths according to the desired effect.

Step 4 - Hang the loops off something that gives them free movement. I used a bit of doweling. Broom handles are good too - as long as there is enough length to accommodate all the loops.

Step 5 - Go along the line of loops, shifting each one a little up or down. In my example here I shifted them all in one direction, and only by about half or one centimetre. This worked best since I was only making a small panel.

Step 6 - When you are happy with the general pattern, go along your dowel and snip through each loop. This will turn them back into long strips, but this time each strip will be made up of a series of small squares or rectangles. If you cut along the dowel, you will keep an even edge top and bottom, and have very little squaring off to do at the end.

Step 7 - Stitch all the strips back together in their new pattern. The result is a piece that looks like you've spent hours snipping and stitching tiny bits of fabric, when actually you've been stitching and cutting long lengths.

I now have this rather attractive panel that I need to find a use for - I suspect it will end up as the front of a bag.
More importantly, I have a great urge to start cutting lots of fabric strips and stitching them together to create a more substantial piece. I lack the maths-skills to be able to calculate how much fabric I will need to make a piece of a set size (quilters, I salute you for this skill!), but I could always make a selection of panels and join them together......
Ideas are blossoming!


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