Barbara Howell uses velvet to recreate a 19th-century quilt design. Barbara made this quilt for the annual exhibition at Llanidloes in 2002.
Approximate quantities needed of each colour, but they can be different fabrics within that colour. Lay them out on a flat area to see if you have the right amount. The fabrics Barbara used are shown in parenthesis.
100cm square of red (red corduroy)
150cm square of black (velvet and some firm, close woven cotton)
75cm square of grey (two different velvets and some firm, close woven cotton)
50cm square of cream (firm linen)
150cm square of wadding
150cm square of backing fabric or piece a narrower fabric to make this width
Where to buy
Market stalls and traditional fabric shops are a good source of unusual fabrics.
54in (137cm) square
The theme was 'Old Welsh Quilts' and a number of quilters made quilts that were inspired by quilts made in Wales by previous generations of quilters. This quilt was made in tribute to Sarah Lewis of Aberdare who stitched a black and red quilt in 1875. Sarah went one step further than the traditional star by placing circles over the centre of each of the five stars. Barbara did not realise how important these were until she tried them in place and considered the 'before and after' effect. Barbara admits to being fascinated by velvet and the texture when it is quilted and has used velvet in a number of quilts. In this quilt she explains "I have tried to emphasise the serendipity of the 'scrap' effect by disregarding the pile when placing the grain of the velvet and using a number of different kinds of velvets differing in fibre and in pile. As well as the overall design and colour scheme, I tried to retain the naivety of many old Welsh quilts using whatever fabrics were available. Like the early quilt makers I have used heavier fabrics than we choose now, and as then, fabrics intended for clothes."
The design given here could be worked much more comfortably in regular patchwork cottons but, just in case, Barbara has included a separate section with some hints about managing the velvet. The patchwork could be stitched by hand if that is your preference.
Making the Half Square Triangles
The pieces are mostly half square triangles. The bias seams involved with these triangles can be problematic and Barbara tries to sew them before they are cut, in the way described and illustrated in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Preparing the half square triangles
Make a card template measuring the finished size of the square plus 1⁄4in plus 5⁄8in to allow for the bias seams. If you would prefer to think in terms of fractions, you need to add 7⁄8in. Use this formula whenever you need half square triangles with 1⁄4in turnings.
Star for the Centre
The block measures 21in when complete and consists of 16 squares, each measuring 5 1⁄4in; each square is made from two triangles as described above.
For the centre four squares, cut two 6 1⁄8in squares of cream and two of black. Place the RS of a black square to the RS of a cream square and machine stitch the two diagonal lines as shown in Figure 1. Cut down the centre line and open out the two squares. Press open the seams, avoiding distorting the shape. Repeat with the remaining two squares of fabric.
Following Figure 2, continue to make half square triangles and piece into the block shown. For the circle, cut a 4 1⁄2in circle of template plastic. Cut a 5 1⁄2in circle of fabric. With running stitch, gather around the circle. Place the plastic in the centre of the reverse of the fabric and pull the thread tight, without bending the plastic. Fasten off the thread. Still working by hand, stitch the stiffened circle of fabric to the centre of the block.
Figure 2: Arrangement of central block
These four blocks start off in the same way as the centre block with the size of each finished square being 3in. So cut the corner squares 3 1⁄2in and the half square triangle pieces 3 7⁄8in.
Piece into the block as shown in Figure 3. Then apply the circles; the plastic circle is 2 1⁄2in diameter and the fabric circle 3 1⁄2in.
Cut four 2 x 12 1⁄2in strips for each block. Stitch to two opposite sides of the the star block. Stitch 2in grey squares to each end of the remaining two strips and use these for the remaining sides.
Figure 3: Corner Blocks
Zigzag sections with supporting bands
These sections each consist of two rows of half square triangles and long strips. Note that there are seven pairs, which allows the sections to be asymmetrical but mixing the colours distracts from this. For each zigzag unit make two strips of seven 3in half square triangle square blocks. Following Figure 4 complete the section and bands. Note that you can use vertically pieced bands as shown.
Join the main sections
The main challenge is to make the pattern work! Keep setting out the blocks, as you go along, and check with the diagram of the whole quilt. Stitch the nine sections together to make three vertical strips then join the three vertical strips, again taking care to match up the seams.
Figure 4: Zigzag section with supporting bands
Quilting and Finishing
Cut a piece of fabric for the reverse of the quilt. Make it slightly larger than the patchwork. Check that it is cut square and has not pulled itself into a diamond shape. Cut a piece of wadding the same size.
Iron the fabric for the reverse of the quilt and lay it out, RS down on a large flat surface maybe the floor. Use pins or masking tape to secure the corners and the centres of each side to the flat surface. Lay the wadding on top of the fabric and smooth it out. Get someone to help you to lower the patchwork over the wadding, RS up.
Start at the centre of the quilt and put in lots of pins through all the layers, working out to the edges. You will then be able to baste the work ready for quilting with the usual running stitch, ensuring that your needle passes vertically through the layers each time you make a stitch.
Start at the centre of the quilt and put in lots of safety pins through all the layers, working out to the edges. Barbara recommends safety pins instead of basting as they hold the work more firmly. Place them in a grid about 4in (10cm) apart so that there is nowhere for you to lay your hand on the work without touching a pin.
Let the quilting lines emphasise the shapes made by patchwork, allowing the quilting lines to ignore seams between patches that are the same colour and stitching around the inside of a shape about 1⁄4in away from the seam. Use some large motifs or stipple quilting on the large plain areas.
When the quilting is complete check that the corners are square. Cut four long strips of black cotton fabric 3in (8cm) wide. The length of each strip is the length of the patchwork plus 1⁄2in. Do not use bias strips as there are no curves to go around and the straight grain is easier to work with.
Figure 5: Final quilt layout
For the first stage fold the strip in half, WS together, along its length and place the face side of the folded binding to the face side of the patchwork. Stitch a 1⁄4in seam, leaving a 1⁄4in of patchwork unstitched at each end plus a 1⁄4in of binding for you to mitre the corners. Repeat this process for each side. Stitch the mitres by hand and fold over the strips.
Work by hand to hem the folded edge of the binding strips to the reverse of the quilt, covering the line of machine stitches. This neat narrow binding will strengthen the edge.
If you intend to hang the quilt, stitch a hanging sleeve to one edge. Make a label with your name and date of completion, to stitch onto the reverse of the quilt.
Working with Velvet
Velvet tends to creep when you machine stitch a seam. Barbara suggests combating this by:
Using a walking foot
Allowing larger turnings that can be trimmed when the section is finished and the correct size achieved
Mixing plain weave fabric with the velvet so that only one of the patches that are being stitched has a pile
As a last resort, on occasion, Barbara has resorted to English Patchwork
The pile of the fabric affects its colour, appearance and the way it creeps. Because Aberdare is a scrap quilt and uses a mixture of velvets Barbara disregarded the pile but normally she suggests marking the top of each patch so that the direction of the pile is the same throughout. If you stroke the fabric in the direction of the warp you can feel which way is the smoothest i.e. the pile is pointing downwards. Then turn the fabric the opposite way and use it with the pile pointing upwards because this gives a more denser colour with less reflection.
Barbara's website can be found at www.barbarahowell.co.uk.
First published in Popular Patchwork Volume 12 Number 11 - October 2004