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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Quilt Patterns and the Sweet Grass Hills

Yesterday my neighbor came over with a quilted table runner she was making. This was her first quilting project and she undertook to make a runner which had pieces set on the diagonal and pointy ends. It looked great and she did a wonderful job....but she was ready to put on the binding.

The instructions merely said "cut three strips 44" long x 2 1/2" wide. This is your binding. Apply." Not so good for a first time quilter. She said "Now, I'm going to sew this part down then I'll cut off the excess and turn it to the back." Uh, no.

I explained how since this was a working piece, the intent of the pattern maker was for her to fold the strip in half and with right sides together, sew the raw edges to the front of the runner, then turn it to the back and blind stitch it down. I showed her how to turn the corners and make the points, which is tricky enough for a quilter to get down.

She said "But the instructions didn't say to do that!" What did the instructions say? "Nothing. Just to cut it." Right. The pattern maker assumed you knew how to apply bindings. All she was interested in was getting you to the point where you had to apply the binding.

This made me think of a conversation I had with my sister-in-law in Montana. She had asked a pattern company if they would make a pattern for the Sweet Grass Hills, a line of hills in the north of Montana which are beloved of Montanans.

The Sweet Grass Hills are composed of three peaks, and are just south of the Canadian border. They are important to the Blackfeet and other plains tribes in the area. According to Blackfeet tradition, the hills were made by the creator from left over stone from the Rockies. Napi (the creator) loved them so well that he used them for his resting place. The hills were a perfect look out point for the tribes to watch for game and for enemies.

The pattern people told her "Sure, just send us the pattern and we'll print it and promote it. " Yah. Sure. Well, lets put it this way, they would print it, promote it and take all the money.

She asked me what I thought of such a plan. Hmm. The Sweet Grass Hills can be seen on the east side of my mom's house, but they are at a great distance. As we were driving to her church is when Barb popped this question, and we were looking at the hills. I told her that I didn't think it would make a very good pattern, at least what I knew of it (which grant you is from a distance as I've never made it over to the hills as an adult) because there wasn't very much of interest...meaning there wasn't a real focal point. The Sweet Grass Hills are what you see in the first image.

Then, I saw this grain elevator. That, I said would be it gave the interest and focal point.

Here it is with the Sweet Grass showing beyond it. Now mind you, I'm sure that if I got closer to the Hills, they would be more interesting and I could find another focal point....probably another grain elevator or a wrecked barn...or a piece of discarded farm equipment.

She didn't understand this and was a bit miffed that I was calling "HER" hills "without interest."

In order to have a successful piece, you have to have something your eye is drawn too...smudgy hills with flat land won't make for a good pattern. The other challenge for the Sweet Grass Hills Project is that in order to be successful, it would have to have interest for people beyond the people of the Sweet Grass Hills area.....and, of course, it should have the full instructions....even how to do the bindings.

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