One of the most frequently asked questions at any workshop I’ve taught on design, is ‘where do I start?’ There are as many different replies to this question as there are quilt blocks. However one simple reply, is to open your eyes to what is around you. Inspiration can strike in the most unlikely places. By having an enquiring mind and curious outlook, you will start to see pattern combinations and colour possibilities in the most unlikely places. Even an everyday event or mundane chore can sometimes spark off a glimmer of an idea. Hence the idea behind Everyday Inspiration which promises to be a sporadic series appearing as often as the inspiration strikes!

A Fresh Start

Winter has passed and it’s time to throw open the doors and shake and vac. Celebrate spring by making some fun projects inspired by cleaning. And let’s face it - wouldn’t you rather be sewing than cleaning? At this point, I can feel a Mexican wave approaching, as quiltmakers across the country shout YES! Dorothy Stapleton literally uses her cleaning cloths as patchwork fabrics. This is one way of ensuring that you cannot clean the house since you have run out of J-cloths.
The design of Fast Spin was based on washing powder packets from the 1950s, seen at Robert Opie’s museum of packaging in Gloucestershire.
In the decade following the war, sales on washing machines boomed and the market was flooded with new brands of washing powders such as Fab, Tide, Daz and Omo. Unlike previous decades, in which packaging was heavily illustrative, 1950s packaging is highly graphic. As self service supermarkets became the norm, manufacturers concentrated on brand names and snappy slogans extolling the virtues of the latest wonder products. In comparison to the scientific and analytical information on packaging today, these boxes exclaimed:
  • The wonder washer
  • adds brightness to whiteness
  • super lather, or oceans of lather or even, lathers like magic
  • It’s new! Blue!
  • for all your dainty wash
  • Washes whiter - yes it does!
  • Presto! bewitching whites. Presto! enchanting colours.
  • guaranteed no scum
Fast Spin by Marion Haslam
Fast Spin by Marion Haslam
And the colours were equally bold - blocks of blue, white flashes and spinning circles of orange. I decided to translate these images fairly literally. Firstly I made a series of quick thumbnail sketches to isolate the main shapes on each packet. Looking at these, I realised that machine appliqué using Bondaweb would be the easiest way of incorporating curves and lettering in the design.
Thumbnail sketches picking out
the main elements of each soap packet.
Thumbnail sketches picking out the main elements of each soap packet.
From the initial twelve sketches, I decided to sew a series of wall quilts, keeping the size small, approximately 12 x 12", in order to interpret the designs quickly. The next stage was to finalise the designs. The rectangular powder packets became square and I chose and combined my favourite shapes, constantly thinking ‘keep it bold, make it simple, sew it quickly’. These second thumbnails are the final designs, proving that as long as the idea is straightforward, you don’t need a full-size scaled drawing, prior to cutting and sewing.
1950s classic cleaning powders from the Robert Opie Collection
1950s classic cleaning powders from the Robert Opie Collection


Next stage was the fabric selection - my favourite part!
From my stash, I pulled out any patterns which seemed to say ‘washing powder’ - polka dots and circles (looked like bubbles), patterns which looked like spinning cycles, bold stripes, plus of course solid colour fabric in bright colours. From this heap on the floor I then selected fabrics for each quilt, roughly displaying the correct proportion of fabric on a folded background square. By doing this, you can see if the colours work well together. All four panels were placed on the floor (my design ‘wall’) to see how they worked as a set. Wonder Washer, based on the Oxydol packet was originally navy blue and orange. However, none of the other squares included orange. So I substituted this for a dull apple green. Now Wonder Washer seemed to have lost its vim, but by adding a touch of yellow, it perked up. Also, repeating the yellow fabric balanced out the ‘rubber glove’ motif in Fancy Wash. This is what I like, when you can sort out two design queries at once!
At this stage, leave the designs and go away and do something completely different. For me, this is when I usually fit in food. Seeing the designs after a break, you will be able to see instantly if they work - if not jiggle the fabrics around again.
Each square was sewn one at a time. Using Bondaweb to applique the motifs, creates quite a stiff surface. I thought I would accentuate this by using Vilene compressed volume fleece instead of a normal wadding as it gives a really crisp finish. The three layers - backing fabric, Vilene and background fabric were pinned together as a sandwich.
Revised sketches - the outlines have become square and favourite elements from the different packets have been combined.
Revised sketches - the outlines have become square and favourite elements from the different packets have been combined. Top left: Keep colours simple and bold. Top right: Appliqué soap bubbles from fabric scraps. Bottom left: Sew on slogans and words at a jaunty angle. Bottom right: Use yellow or pink so it looks like a rubber glove and use satin stitch for emphasis

Main programme

The Bondaweb was ironed onto the top fabrics and then the individual motifs cut out. The rectangles and flash were cut out freehand, as were the bubbles. To get the red circle in Fab, I drew around a saucer, the correct size. The inner green circles on Wonder Washer were drawn with compasses, increasing the radius by 3cm (1 1/8") for each circles. When the compasses would not extend any further, I marked 3cm dots at intervals and then joined up the dots freehand. (The blue circles are the background square). I couldn’t draw a full scale hand properly so enlarged the small thumbnail sketch twice on the photocopier. Although the photocopied glove was not exactly the right size, it was close enough for me to then draw round it freehand, making it slightly bigger. Remember with the letters, to draw them in reverse on the Bondaweb, otherwise they will be back to front. I find it easiest to draw them on a piece of paper, cut this out as a template before flipping it onto the Bondaweb.

Final rinse

Each square was then appliquéd and the edges of all the motifs covered in satin stitch. The slogans were sewn using free machine stitching and a dropped feed dog. The finished squares were trimmed to the same size and I was about to sew a narrow red border around each, when I decided that they looked good butted up to each other. So, rather than 4 individual quilts, I decided to make one, sewing a narrow border in blue, joining the blocks as one would with a quilt-asyou- go project. This is what I like about not planning a project from start to finish - you can adapt as the mood takes you.
The final stage was to sew a label and decide on a title. the original titles I had in mind - Soap Suds and Wash Day Blues - were replaced by Fast Spin as it seemed to echo the speed at which I made this quilt!

First published in Popular Patchwork May 2000