I’ve wanted to make these blocks for years, so I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how to sew them but also share the experience with others for a long time. Without actually starting any of the patterns, though, it’s hard to decide some of the things that will become apparent once I get going. So I will fill you in on the basics here, on how to sew along with me if you’d like to, and update as needed.
Basic Sewing Skills
You can use either a sewing machine (of any era) or hand-stitch your quilt block. I will be doing both. In Alias Grace the doctor receives a letter from his mother mentioning a sewing machine, so using one is historically accurate. Grace herself stitches by hand until the end of the book. I will probably be using my rotary cutter and ruler more often than scissors or pinking shears, simply for my own desire to be precise and quick.
You can use any fabrics you’d like, although the Quilt Police insist on 100% cotton fabrics (in truth, the Quilt Police don’t exist but if they did they’d be right about this one – it truly is the best choice for making quality quilt tops). In the time period the book covers, certain colours and fabric patterns were in vogue and I’m researching colour-fastness to ensure that I use similar designs available at the time. I will update with information and resources if you want to do the same. On the other hand, quilt blocks are gorgeous using batiks, modern patterns, and solids so you can choose whatever you wish.
I am loathe to use this word, because even though I’m someone who likes a good sturdy guideline I also don’t think it’s conducive to creativity. So think of these rules more as a way to ensure consistency, rather than a way to bum you out. If you want to change any of these “rules” you’ll have to change them throughout the rest of the blocks as well.
1) Sew with a 1/4″ seam allowance unless otherwise noted.
2) Measure twice, cut once.
3) Wash all the fabric you use in your blocks – or else don’t wash any of it.
4) Change your sewing machine needle regularly.
5) I will endeavor to remain as faithful as possible to the light/medium/dark placement in the hand-drawn images in the book.
6) Blocks will be made in various sizes, but I will try to keep to the 12″ block size so that you can make a complete quilt with all the blocks if you wish.
7) There are 15 sections in the book, each named after a quilt pattern, and several mentions of quilt block patterns throughout the rest of the book. I will attempt to add at least one block pattern per month.
8) Resources I will be using include the resources Margaret Atwood used herself, the book Alias Grace, a family copy of Ladies Art Co. catalogue circa 1914, my local library (this region is where the historial murders took place), and online.