Sunday, July 13, 2014

Smoky Mountains Quilt


A long time ago, maybe thirteen years or more, I started making this quilt.  I realized quickly that sewing those curved seams on a machine, while possible, was an aggravation I did not wish to endure, so I cut out all the blocks and commenced to hand-piecing them.  I probably worked on it sporadically.  Then, as now, this was not a project that required any kind of creative input—just the two colors, and the layout already determined, so it was pretty boring. 


Because I am that way, I cut out all the pieces, sorted them into piles by block, tucked each pile into its own plastic baggie, and put the pattern pieces carefully away.  I put a needle and three pins into a strawberry pincushion, and that, along with my spool of thread and a pair of collapsible scissors went into a zip bag in the workbasket.  Neat.  Orderly. 


We went camping, in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina.  The kids were still really little, which is how I am scientifically dating the origins of this project—I had it with me in 2001.  It felt so right to sit beside the campfire with a little piece of handwork on my lap, stitching away while the children played tag and built fairy houses in the poison ivy.  I got a lot of sewing done.  That’s the best thing about camping; when you’re all done catching your own dinner, struggling to light the stove, sitting in the open trunk of the car while the rain extinguishes your fire, swatting mosquitoes while you eat, and washing it all up again in a bucket of tepid water, you have nothing to do but work on your quilt.  Which I did. 


Once home, though, away from the griddle cakes and country music, this project lost all its panache.  I folded up the fourteen hand-pieced blocks I’d finished, along with the remaining two baggie packets of cut shapes, the pattern pieces, the needle, the thread, the collapsible scissors, the strawberry pincushion, and a huge piece of 90” wide muslin to be used for the backing, and stuffed it all into a bin in the attic, where it quickly disappeared beneath several layers of debris strata.


I thought about them a few times.  Wondered where they’d got to.


Then, a few weeks ago, in the process of ransacking cleaning the attic, I found them.  They needed a wash, so while they tumbled in the washer, then flapped on the clothesline, I made the last two blocks. 


I hand-sewed the blocks together and scrounged enough wool batting pieces from the stash to fill it.  I hand-quilted it in my usual way, with #8 pearl cotton, using big stitches, right across the pattern in both directions.  My quilting stitches are kinda in your face. 


I hand-sewed the binding--three out of four good miters this time, a step backwards—and it was done.  The pattern, in case you are inclined to go hand-stitching into the mountains, is the traditional “Drunkard’s Path”—you can find a free tutorial here—and there are as many ways to piece the individual blocks as there are blackberries in the bramble.  I’m pretty pleased to have this one done.  Finally.  That’s two hand-pieced quilts in a row. 


Here I go again! 


  1. My grandmother made this quilt for me when I was living in South Carolina. It was turquoise and cream... it was my favorite quilt that she ever made for me. Unfortunately, when we moved back home the movers lost a box... the box that the quilt was in. Yours is lovely, I'm glad you found and finished it!

  2. Your story and your quilt rocks! You have inspired me to begin a hand stitched pile of tumbling blocks. It's so therapeutic and satisfying! I never saw it this way back in the '70's when I first tried it. I guess I wasn't ready.
    Love the clothesline shot.
    And that new project looks wonderful as well.
    Keep 'em coming :)

  3. Great story ! And gorgeous quilt, too !
    This makes me think that "to every quilt, there is a season and a moment..." :))

    What intrigues me, is the very last picture and I just can't wait seeing this next project growing. Keep going, and come back soon with some new pics and words about it !

    Enjoy your stitches,

  4. Love the pattern, and gives me hope that one day I will finish all those UFOs!

  5. Well that certainly is a phoenix from the ashes project. I love the orderlyness. I cut out 4 items of clothing yesterday packed them in little bags with thread, zips, notions etc. all for when I have the inkling to run up a tunic or winter check skirt without having to clear the table to spread it all out lazy I know but very effective. Jo x

  6. Your quilt looks beautiful! And the story behind it makes it even better. This gives me hope that some of my unfinished projects may yet see the light of day...

  7. what an awesome story to go with a really beautiful quilt!

  8. Gorgeous! What a beautiful quilt to remind you of the trip you took with the family. Quilts have such wonderful memories embedded into them. That's what makes them so wonderful. :) The simplicity of the black and white is perfect.

  9. Your quilt and story are beautiful. You've inspired me to dig out my quilt-in-process that I started many years ago from pieces of my daughters dresses. Thank you. Jan

  10. Sometimes less is more, and I think your quilt looks sensational. The monochrome palette and strong shapes are timeless. If I ever get all my yarny and upcycling projects finished I'd be very tempted to give that pattern a go. I only hope I can remember where I saw it :)

    Jean x

  11. Beautiful quilt, I have a paper piecing project which I only do when I am visiting my family, so each piece is filled with happy memories although it will probably take me years to finish it! Love your story behind the quilt x

  12. Gorgeous! I love when projects come back from beyond! I'm curious what's on the back?

    1. The black is plain cream muslin, the same fabric as the cream on the front. Muslin was my go-to backing back then. Plain, plain, plain. :)

  13. Kristen, I laughed out loud at your description of the joys of camping, Aside from the opportunities to begin hand stitching such a beautiful quilt, of course.

    This black and ivory colorway is elegant and traditional and contemporary...all at the same time. Bravo!

    I think that it's a grand companion to the red and white quilt that you've recently shown us. Strong graphic designs, executed so beautifully by your skilled hands.

    And yes, like the prior commenter, I am curious to see what you are stitching now.

    Best mid-July wishes to you. xo

  14. Glad you have finished it - it is really striking. xxx

  15. Well done on getting the quilt finished! It looks great and all hand stitched too. To be honest, I prefer hand stitching to machine sewing. Just found out yesterday that the patchwork quilting class I've been attending for the last couple of years is NOT happening again from October (when it was due to start up after a long summer break). I'm not sure that I know enough about it yet to just carry on myself. We'll see!

  16. Frances above said it best: traditional and contemporary at the same time. A really great quilt - I love it.

  17. I am proud of you for taking out of the plastic bags, giving it life again. Maybe it was right for you a few years ago, but it is sure right for you now as it look spectacular on your sofa.
    Well done,

  18. I had a quilt that took almost 20 years to hand quilt so I know how that happens. Your quilt is very pretty. I would like to piece a drunkard's path some day.

  19. I love your quilt, and it's unique story. I like how you don't stress over the hand quilting, you just dive right in :) The quilt is beautiful <3
    Smiles, DianeM

  20. Wow -- it's beautiful! Congratulations on finishing a long-term UFO. I love that the fabrics and design are timeless too -- it doesn't look like a dated quilt!

  21. Stunning! The pattern and the black and white look amazing. I love the story behind it too, and the fact that it is entirely handsewn - just amazing. Now I want to make one too of course!
    Funnily enough in my wips pile I do have some finished blocks and more pieces cut out for smaller sized drunkards path blocks in a peachy 30s style fabric and white, and rather foolishly thought I'd try machine piecing them for a change, having hand pieced a drunkards path cushion front a few years back. Needless to say it didnt work so well!
    Gill xx

  22. Such a lovely post to read and recognizable too because I started boring patterns several times and it is difficult to finish for me too, but holidays can sometimes help. The result is beautiful though!
    And I had to laugh about this too:'Three out of four good miters this time' , because I also hope to make four good corners every time,but almost never do.

  23. Love your story about this quilt - and looks fabulous. Well done for completing it.