Grandma Flora’s “Bowties”

10 05 2016

IMG_20160507_113040_352When Sharon, a new friend at chapel, learned that I finish quilts for customers, her eyes brightened. “I’ve got three quilt tops pieced by my grandmother that were inherited by my mother. My mom passed 20 years ago without having them finished. Could you take a look at them?”

Before accepting the commission, I talked with Sharon about the options of preserving older textiles for posterity’s sake. Many quilt historians advise leaving some antique or intricate quilt tops as they are – unquilted – because “the quilt is only as old as the newest piece of fabric it contains.” We determined together that her quilt tops are not museum quality, but they are important pieces of family history. In a real sense they are Grandma’s heirlooms passed down to Sharon. They will be most useful if they are finished and their coziness is enjoyed as Grandma originally intended. (In researching the origin of this quilt, Sharon learned from an aunt that her grandmother Flora often pieced quilts with her friends Ms. Georgia and Ms. Della Mae all of Dawson, Georgia. This top may have been completed in the sixties or early seventies.)

IMG_20160506_214058_071All three quilts were pieced by hand and included home decorator fabrics, cotton/poly blends, and twill as well as 100% cotton. When I asked Sharon to select the quilt she most wanted finished, she chose the “Bowtie” twin size quilt because she remembered her mother mentioning it.

Most of the white and all of the solid fabrics are twill (like khaki pants or school uniforms are made of). Many of the squares were pieced together prior to constructing the “Bowties.” Grandma Flora used what she had!

The print sashing fabric is charming; notice that two colorways of the print are used. There’s a farmer and his wife holding a baby, a cat on the roof, a goose girl, chickens, and a woman hanging laundry on the line while a dog looks on. The bright colors of the sashing influenced my selection of the bright print backing fabric.

Although I generally use a predominantly cotton batting, in this case I chose a high loft polyester batting manufactured by Fairfield because I observed that the quilt was irregular and did not press flat. Polyester (and wool) allow the uneven places of a quilt top to puff up, making the fullness less noticeable. A pale yellow thread blends well with the bold colors and is nearly invisible on the white background. By using a simple meandering quilt design, I was able to work in most of the fullness.

Interesting Construction Technique:  Sharon’s grandmother constructed the “Bowties” with a technique I have not seen before. Normally when we observe bowties like this, we assume the small center square has been set in, stitched to the 4 larger pentagons.


Take a look at the back of the block. Instead of cutting out 4 pentagons (2 blue and 2 white), Grandma Flora simply cut out 4 (large) squares.


I replicated Grandma’s method for you, and snapped pictures as I went along. Beginning with two white 3 1/2″ squares and two blue print 3 1/2″ squares, I marked the white squares 1 1/4″ from the corners that will end up being in the center of the “bowtie.” I machine stitched from the edges of the squares toward the center of the “bowtie” and back-stitched at the marks. The four 3 1/2″ large squares form a “Four Patch” with a hole in the center. I folded and pressed the unsewn triangular flaps toward the back of the block.

IMG_20160507_133029_589     IMG_20160507_133229_249

The next step is securing a 2 1/4″ square of blue fabric on top of the triangular flaps on the back of the block so that the right side of the blue fabric shows on the front of the block. Since pins proved difficult to use, I applied washable school glue on the folded flaps. Then the flaps could be easily lifted upward as I hand stitched on the pressed fold line all around the small square.

IMG_20160507_133730_752     IMG_20160507_133342_787

When I came to a seam, I back-tacked and slid my needle through the seam allowance to the adjacent flap. Grandma Flora did not trim away the triangle flaps. They don’t show through to the front of her quilt because the twill fabric is thick. However, I recommend trimming the seam allowance to 1/4.”

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I share this technique, similar to “reverse applique,” with the thought that in the future we may see an application for using this idea in quilts we are working on. It’s always nice to know several construction methods for patchwork designs. If this method intrigues you, I recommend “Piec-lique:  Curves the New Way” by Sharon Schamber.

Do you own a vintage quilt top that needs completing? What is its approximate age? What “problems” do you need to overcome in order to finish it?






8 responses

10 05 2016

Love it!

10 05 2016

You are such a special lady. I really enjoyed reading about Sharon and her quilts and how you helped her out! I miss spending time with you but so glad you keep making new friends and sharing your knowledge! You’re amazing!!

10 05 2016

I wish I had an old quilt. My mother didn’t make them and her mother died in 1918 during the flu epidemic when my mom was only 5. My grandmother on my dad’s side sewed because they had no heat in bedrooms but never got any of them. I think they were thrown out when my aunt and uncle took over caring for her. Sad.

10 05 2016

How unique that construction technique is! I’ll definitely file that away for future use. Thanks for the tutorial Aby!

10 05 2016

I love this story. My vintage quilt, a (1946) wedding gift to my parents, is quilted.

Can’t wait to try this idea for the bowtie block. Time passes quickly and I feel productive when hand sewing. This is something I can put in a Ziploc bag and carry in my purse to work on while waiting or passenger on a long trip. Thank you Aby for sharing.

11 05 2016

Such a good story and it looks like Sharon is really happy with the quilt. Very interesting way to make bowties.

18 05 2016
Sana Moulder

What a fascinating way to make that block! Do you happen to know if this is (was) a “standard” technique for the time, or did Sharon’s grandma see a bowtie block and came up with her own construction technique?

18 05 2016

I Have Never Seen The Technique, And, Sorry To SaY, I Don’t Know If It Was A Common Technique For This Pattern During The Sixties.

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