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Tackling Difficult Piecing

March 18, 2012

Secret Drawer quilt block, graph paper version (photo ©2012 by Michelle Southern)

Secret Drawer quilt block, graph paper version (photo ©2012 by Michelle Southern)

After the very easy Broken Dishes and then the more challenging Hearts and Gizzards patterns, the next project I decided to try was from Part VI, Secret Drawer. Have a good look at it. It’s four spools spun around a diamond-set square. And I am not sure how it was pieced – there’s no simple way to really dig into this one. So I’ve spent a lot of time staring at it, drawing it on graph paper, and wondering not just how I’m going to put this thing together, but how I’m going to explain to YOU how it’s done. I really don’t have much of a clue for any quick piecing for this one. It appears it’s all template-created and hand-sewn (although those of you with talent for Y-seams and/or like to live dangerously on the sewing machine can give it a shot).

Part of my process is puzzling out the blocks, no googling allowed, with pencil and paper. I have an old, family-owned copy of the Ladies Art Company quilt block catalogue that I might check names against, because it’s circa 1914, but I don’t go looking for patterns or directions for any of these blocks. I DO research for other names via google after the fact so I can add those into the comprehensive blog entry when I release the pattern. And I did look for sources for the earliest time that Hearts and Gizzards would have been made because it seemed so out of place in what I’d seen in Canadian quilts of that era. But in Grace’s time, and I would imagine it was this way for most of Canada during this period, quilt block patterns weren’t readily available at the local store. Obviously now we have our choice of magazines, quilt stores, and online resources at our disposal. But working out how a block was sewn (and in what order), or creating brand new quilt blocks through discovery and artistry, was a more likely way that quilts were made. Traditional patterns were handed down, not googled 🙂 So that is my starting point, always, with these blocks. As they say “everything is easy if you already know the answer” I know I’m going about this in a rather backwards way, considering the abundance of resources I readily have at hand. But this project is important to me – as is the history – and so I’m starting out with a dunce cap (or is that a thinking cap?) and making little chicken scratches until what I’ve made makes sense. And then I go with it. So far, it’s worked 🙂 I love the results of the blocks and now that I’ve hit a whopper of a pattern, I’m not going back. To me that would be like cheating a little bit. If I veer off of this process, I’ll let you know. But it’s going to take a little more than some inset seams to scare me off.

Are you looking forward to challenging your current skills? After the first two blocks, which were quite easily completed, I’m conflicted. This one will be time-consuming and complicated, but on the other hand I’m also happy to be stitching without a machine for this block. I have a rough idea of how this will be presented in the upcoming pattern but I do fear that I won’t be able to make a printable template for you – just instructions on creating your own with some good old-fashioned graph paper. I can make the template in Photoshop myself, but how it will translate on the PDF file concerns me. So if you’re eager to have the same experience I’m having in making the quilt blocks from the Alias Grace book, albeit with a slightly more informative pattern in front of you rather than struggling to find their creation from scratch, then maybe pulling out that low tech graph paper will be part of the process for you as well.

This quilt block is a case of taking the road less traveled, and enjoying the journey while you go. If you’re looking for a speedy, strip-pieced, instant-gratification block this is not the one. Heaven help me while I’m trying to create it… it’s causing attacks of perplexity and fits of mathematic doubt. Wish me luck! 🙂

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6 Comments
  1. March 30, 2012 4:40 pm

    I have a knack for understanding construction just by looking at it. Not bragging, it’s one of the weird ways my brain works, I guess. Spools or Secret drawer is not as difficult as it looks at first glance.

    You might enjoy the process of a Dear Jane–there are no official instructions. People post suggestions but there are many combinations to complete the little 4.5 inch blocks. Plus, it really allows you to play to your strengths while learning piecing (simple to advanced) and applique on a small scale {since you love a challenge!}.

    Best of luck with your blocks.
    H

  2. March 30, 2012 4:23 pm

    I have a knack for understanding construction just by looking at it. It’s one of the weird ways my brain works, I guess. Spools or Secret drawer is not as difficult as it looks. I was googling it for something else when I was whirled away to your blog.

    You might enjoy the process of a Dear Jane…there are no official instructions. There are variations on every one of the blocks and it really allows you to play to your strengths while learning piecing on small scale {since you love a challenge!}. Best of luck with your blocks.
    H

  3. March 18, 2012 8:36 pm

    Looks like a challange. Cannot wait to see your end results…

    A challange is always fun – one of my biggest flaws is I do get frustrated when things get very hard – perhaps I will save this one until I work on my patience 🙂

    • mds permalink
      March 23, 2012 9:48 am

      Thanks for the support! I’m going to need it… what a difficult block to do, it took me 4 tries just to sketch out properly 🙂 Hope that I can do it well enough to inspire you to give it a shot!

      Happy Friday to you!

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