Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Loving Those Doll Quilts from the Past

Doll quilts from the past stir our hearts and engage our emotions with their simple blocks and imperfect stitches. It's fun to imagine what kinds of quilts children may have made and played with long ago. For me,  making little scrappy quilts almost brings the past alive in a way.
Doll quilt from an online auction.
The doll quilt craze is not new, however. This was written in 1831:

"Little girls often find amusement in making patchwork quilts for the beds of their dolls, and some even go so far as to make cradle quilts for their infant brothers and sisters."

I am happy that doll quilts are not just for dolls or children anymore. They have a particular appeal to those of us who have fond memories of playing with dolls as young girls (maybe boys, too . . . ). Doll quilts from long ago were played with until they fell apart and that's why they're so rare today; not many survived the wear and tear. 
This little sampler quilt from my book Prairie Children & Their Quilts is a treasure and would be a lot of fun to make with your pink and blue print scraps.

 If you follow my blog and books at all, most of you know by now that doll quilts were often used as practice for young girls' sewing skills in the past.
Needlework and sewing were an important part of a girl's education in the 18th and 19th centuries. Quite often, these skills were taught before reading and writing.
Doll quilts were learning pieces. It was the practicing of the sewing skills that was important, not so much the design of the quilt. But I like to think that, like their mothers or other early quilters, even young girls making small quilts for their dolls still learned about color and the whole design process and it helped to give life to their creative expression in a small way. It's the same with many quilters today who are still learning.
I read something recently on a blog that really annoyed me - the blogger wrote something trashing beginning quilters for not making perfect quilts and criticized them for putting up photos of them on their blogs (or, heaven forbid, in books) for everyone to see. How dare they! The quilts were not perfect! What right did they have to bring down the quilting community with their imperfections . . . .
Wait, I thought - Quilts that are not perfect do not deserve to be seen? Had she ever looked at any antique quilts? Beginning quilters do not have the right to show their humble yet earnest quilts and still be considered quilters, even if they are learning? They should hide them until they're perfect?   Excuse me, but everyone has to start somewhere. When did perfection take over and exclude many of us from being a part of the larger quilting community if we cut off a corner now and then? Is it now a private club with membership determined by a few? Aren't we supposed to be having fun?
(Okay, I'm done. Sorry I ranted but I needed to get that off my chest. Everyone is entitled to her own opinion and this is mine.)

I learned to quilt myself by making doll quilts. A couple of my early learning pieces, above. Yep - sorry, not perfect, crooked borders, but still cute and near and dear to my heart. Never fear, I will not stop posting photos of my imperfect quilts . . . . 

Love this darling vintage quilt on eBay -  oops, watch out, some of those corners are cut off . . . . better hide it under a bushel.

I don't own a lot of antique doll quilts. They can get pretty pricey because they're so rare. If I see one that's affordable that I like I may buy it but I often prefer to make my own because sometimes it's fun to be a part of the whole reproducing process yourself. That seems to be what it's all about for me -  the process.
Even if they're not perfect, maybe the small quilts we love to make will be valuable to someone someday. And, if not, that's okay. Like little girls' sewing samples, mine were my own simple learning pieces from the past. It's fun to look back and see how far I've come.

(Eliza Jane's nine-patch doll quilt)
I love this quilt for its simplicity. 


  1. I started quilting over 30 years ago and took lots of classes from well-known quilters who stressed perfection.
    I worked hard, entered a couple shows and won ribbons including first place. But I realized I found my quilts kind of boring. When I looked at the antique quilts that I really loved I realized it was their quirkiness that attracted me. I barely looked at the perfect quilts, preferring those with less than perfect blocks and cut off points. I went to an exhibit of antique Baltimore album quilts and was surprised to see how far from perfect they were and I loved them. I think quilters need to stop stressing perfection while not accepting slipshod workmanship. For me quilting should be enjoyable and I want to like the quilts I've made.

  2. I know many 'advanced' quilters that make mistakes in their quilts. The first 'real' quilt class I ever took, the teacher (she has books, her own fabric line, etc) showed several of her quilts before we started the class. She kept saying that she 'didn't do mitered borders' over and over. That was a big shock to me, as a newbie quilter, who had already done several mitered borders, learning from a book. From then on, I decided that anyone who said that there was only one way to do something, or fussed about someone else's quilts, was just jealous, but, wouldn't admit it. I'm teaching a beginning quilting class right now. The first thing I told my ladies was, your first quilt won't be your best. They should improve with each quilt, and showed them several of my quilts to prove the point. Besides, if you can't see the mistake from a moving horse, then, it's ok. Just try harder next time. Quilting is supposed to be FUN!

  3. Kathy, someone who critisizes beginners is making quilts for the wrong reason. I made my first quilt in 1980 by making templates out of cardboard. I made it for my nephew. I was thrilled when my sister-in-law brought out that faded quilt at the baby shower for my nephew's first child. Quilting is a lifelong journey--the quilts I make today have fewer mistakes, but I doubt if I will live long enough to make quilts without any mistakes.

    Patti K
    in Virginia

  4. What a lovely blog post! The quilts are beautiful! We need to continue to make them because we love the process, we love fabric, we love the colors, we love the peace of just sitting and stitching, we love the old, wonky, family heirlooms that hold history in their threads, we love quilting...period!

  5. Kathy, this was such an enjoyable post. I loved seeing all the pictures of the children sewing. I just love the charm of a quilt sewn by a beginner. I have several and they are always my favorite ones to display.

  6. AMEN!!!! The "quilt police" need to get a life. They don't realize what it's all about. I adore your quilts and those antique quilts as well. Wonder if they ever looked closely at the "Dear Jane" quilt.

    Barbara Daniel Cissne

  7. I love seeing all the fun little quilts. I can't afford the antique ones either. Making them is a fun way to use up our scraps. Thanks for sharing your love of them with us>

  8. Another wonderful post, thank you Kathy. I cherish all things hand-made. That's what makes them special to me...each a unique, one of a kind piece. Besides, who wants something mass produced, that isn't individual at all? Handmade has always been the special things or gifts, I've tried to teach each of our children this and will never change:)

  9. I really enjoyed this post, particularly about the children's early quilts. The majority of quilts made in the early years were made for use and I doubt that the women worried much about being perfect. Those quilts are very valued today.

  10. Kathy, what a delightful post, I just wanted it to go on & on & on.
    I too am a self taught quilter and making small (doll) quilts brings me immeasurably joy. I subscribe to the make-do philosophy, and I love using scraps.
    I'm mad about antique quilts, I love the look, the feel & smell of them. Above all, I love the fact that they are NOT perfect.
    Your little sampler doll quilt is on my to-do list.. would be perfect for next month's SQT challenge? cheers... Marian

  11. Oh My!! Thanks so much for posting this blog. It's not the perfection that makes anything---it's the love of making it for someone to enjoy. I am making memories for my granddaughter and am enjoying every stitch I stitch.

    Ruby in MS

  12. Kathy,
    I totally agree with the philosophy of make-do. Another way to look at it is that a so-called imperfect quilt is truly one of a kind. Unless someone is entering a contest or doing commission work, the end result should be the enjoyment and fulfillment of the journey.
    Sue McQuade in IL

  13. Kathy,

    I am a recovering perfectionist ;) and that is because a few years ago a close quilter friend said to me, as she gazed at my stack of unfinished projects, "Done is better than perfect." She was right.

    While I continue to practice my longarming and always aim for precise piecing, I'm not so hard on myself. Ironically, the quilts I have always loved the best are antique and were rarely precisely pieced or quilted or there was a wonky fabric somewhere...

    I love your collection of doll quilts. As always, I've enjoyed your post and knowledge of quilting in times past. Thank you for blogging!

  14. I agree with your opinion...those
    imperfections are the character traits we love! I like to think my
    quilting is more about the journey,
    and in the end, what I learned.
    I love my quilts because they are

  15. I love your quilts. They inspire me to make my own. I love SOME perfect quilts, but I also love the ones made from the heart. My grandmother's quilt will never win an award but it warms me more than a thousand blue ribbons.

  16. A story to my hart. So true...
    Bye Miriam

  17. Amen! I agree 100%! I'm not perfect, why should my quilts be perfect? That's never gonna happen anyway! Hee hee!
    I love all the antique quilts, and your quilts too. I just love doll quilts - they're cute and fun.

  18. Preciosos trabajos y preciosa entrada. Yo también aprendí a coser y a hacer puntillas de bolillos desde muy pequeña.

  19. Oh, you said it! I love wonky quilts - have a look at Bents Corner quilts (are they called like that? - I have nothing to verify where I am just now). Arent they wonderful?
    And the doll's quilts - how charming!

  20. I couldn't agree with you more! The imperfections are what I find "human". It gives a quilt a personality. You have made a fan for life!

  21. Thank you for your post... I am one of those folks that post my imperfect quilts on my blog. They are imperfect because I am just beginning to learn piecing. My thinking is that a person learns by doing... and that sharing that process online will encourage other people to TRY quilting... for many years I was afraid to try quilting because I knew I'd never be perfect (because I thought ALL other quilters were perfect)... now... I enjoy the process of quilting and find it very relaxing... and also rewarding when each quilt improves just a little bit more... It is the Amish that intentionally put a "humility block" in their quilts declaring that only God is perfect... amen!

  22. Unfortunately when you get groups of people together sometimes there are some who get a superiority complex. I get my collar in a bunch for 2 seconds when I see an error. If I don't fix it I choose to leave it so I can see the changes and things Ive learned over time. Blogs are journals basically, and if some new person puts there stuff out there I look at it as an invitation to follow their quilting journey. And you are so right, there are soo many antique quilts out there going for big money that aren't perfect!

  23. Enjoyed seeing the doll quilts. I love them too and often it's their imperfection that makes them so charming! None of us can make perfect quilts and I'm so glad most of us just keep quilting anyway! I enjoy your blog, thanks so much!

  24. Oh, thank you so much for ranting. I needed that. My quilts are not perfect and I am so extremely hard on myself. They don't HAVE to be. The joy is in the journey and creating. I've had to stop being so critical to myself. I do NOT look at others quilts and examine them for their "imperfections!" I have to work at not doing that to myself. I love quilting and I LOVE making doll and mini quilts. None of my quilts would survive that person's critique!! Thank you again. We must learn to be kind to ourselves as well as others. Love your blog, love your books and think you are a terrific lady!!

  25. Thanks for this great post, Kathy. I once read a quote that said "If you are a perfectionist, don't try quilting." I love quilting, and I know that I make mistakes, but that seems to add to the end product. Your doll quilts are all sweet and I've enjoyed the pleasure of making quite a few from your books and patterns. Quilting is not about the perfection, it's about the process: playing with the design, putting different fabrics together and enjoying the end result. I hope there are many new quilters reading your blog, and these comments so that they can see that quilting is not about perfection, it's about having fun.

  26. to everything you wrote....AMEN SISTER! Totally agree, and proud to have non-perfect quilts.

  27. Thank you for the rant. It was great. I hate seeing a new quilter, apologize for how bad (they think)their quilt is, before they even show it to you. They should be proud of finishing a quilt...period. Whether we strive to make perfect quilts or we're happy making quilts to cuddle under and don't give a darn whether our seams are a perfect 1/4 inch, we're all quilters, and as such, should be part of the same community. I've had my little rant.

  28. I almost didn't comment, because so many others already had, saying what I meant to say. But then I decided you should get all the credit you deserve for what you've written. I say "amen" to what you've written and "brava." I honestly prefer some sign of an actual human hand on my handmade items--go figure!

  29. I have to agree with you completely. I actually prefer the imperfect quilts. They have a charm that the so-called perfect quilts just don't have. I am a sucker for a make-do thrown together scrap quilt. My favorite piece is an old top that I purchased at an antique shop. It was made from feed sacks. The maker pieced together every little scrap she had to cut out the larger pieces she needed, then stitched the blocks together with the string that came included in the sack. It is not a particularly attractive top, but the story behind it makes it beautiful to me.

  30. My last quilt is called
    "Only God is perfect"
    I love the quilts that are "different".
    Greetings from Janny Schoneveld

  31. I agree with you Kathy, every quilt is beautiful in its own right. I even make liberated and wonky quilts that cut off those pesky corners on purpose! My improv quilt I just made would definitely annoy her - I didn't even bother to use a ruler!

  32. I think the beginners quilts are amazing! Everyone has to start somewhere and hope to run across one of these "glorious finds" sometime.

  33. That is a great post. I UNFORTUNATELY know an individual who is ...I call her a quilting SNOB, who trashes people's quilts that are not perfect. I was told she had made a comment about how ugly one of mine was at a quilt guild meeting. Hurt my feelings and I have not shown one since. I will enjoy my imperfections in my own home. Too bad there are some people like this.

  34. What darling little quilts. I'm must look for your books.

  35. I was taught as a young girl to "enjoy and find value in the process and the product" with no mention of either needing to be perfect. No one should be discouraged by the negativity of others...ignore them and keep sharing your quilts. ALL quilts are wonderful regardless of skill level just because of the love that went into the making.

  36. All quilts are perfect in their own way . The colours chosen , the way they're pieced , the infinite variety ...


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