Saturday, January 23, 2010

Promise Quilting 1

On Wednesdays I've been going to the quilt group called In Stitches that meets at the Methodist Church in our town. Jo, one of the leaders of the group, teaches a method of hand quilting that she learned from her aunt in Montana. Her aunt is Cherokee and teaches Promise Quilting. What's special about Promise Quilting? There are specific rules of construction that reflect the culture and heritage of the Cherokee people. The name refers to the maker's promise to not use anything mechanical to make the quilts, i.e. sewing machine, iron, pins. As a promise quilter, you also promise to pass along the techniques that you have learned to others. I am not going to claim to be an expert in this. I am taking the beginning class from Jo now. Several years ago she taught our quilt group some of the techniques and I remember some of that information as well.

The first project that one makes in Promise Quilting is a pillow. Traditionally, a young woman would begin her pillow at the time she was coming of age to be married. In making the pillow, she would learn all the techniques she needed to make a quilt of any size and also sew for her family. While she was learning the technique, her father would carve her a special button that she would sew on the front of the pillow when she was done.

There are more interesting aspects about all the special techniques used and what they represent in the Cherokee culture. I don't want to get the details wrong, and I don't want to make this post too long. I just thought I would share my Promise Quilting project with you.

So, I began my pillow last week. Using squares measuring about 2 1/2 inches, I sewed together the 25-patch block. The seams are sewn by hand with a running stitch in the usual way. When you get to the end of the seam, you fingerpress the seam allowance to one side. Then you open the two layers and topstitch with a running stitch through the seam allowance in a line parallel to the seam. This is an uncropped picture of the front of my pillow which doesn't have a border yet.

The picture below shows a close picture of the topstitching. You are not supposed to use pins, so if you want to hold two pieces together as you are sewing, you tack with a short loop of thread. I chose my fabrics from a bucket of scraps Jo provided for us. I love these colors.

The next step, which doesn't have a picture yet, is to apply borders in the same manner as you sewed the squares together. When you are done with the front, you make a sandwich with double sided flannel as batting and muslin for backing. Now you will be quilting through all 3 layers along the seams that don't have topstitching.

What I like about this is the simplicity. This can be done with scissors, needle, thread and fabric. It can be worked anywhere. Working by hand is also very relaxing. The measurements used are supposed to be based on the proportions of your own body For instance, the squares are approximately the width of 3 fingers on my hand. So the project reflects the quilter very personally. A lot of the projects are worked with scraps. I love making new fabric from virtually nothing.

Years ago when I first learned about this, Jo demonstrated making string pieced blocks pieced with the double sided flannel as foundation. I made a bunch of little blocks, about 5 inches or so in size. Now I am learning what to do with those blocks.

Jo does all kinds of quilting. She machine pieces some of her quilts. She has done a lot of hand quilting, but she also has some of her tops machine quilted by area longarm quilters. But, according to the philosophy of Promise Quilting, each quilt you make is like a child to you. Her Promise quilts are some of her favorites. "It instantly relaxes me when I sit down to work on my Promise Quilting," she says.

This blog is meant to record my accomplishments in quilting and creativity, so I thought I'd include this entry about what I am working on today. It's very addictive. I'll show more pictures later.


  1. What a wonderful project! And it looks wonderful. The colors are great!

  2. I'd never heard of this before and it is fascinating. Not for me to try (yet) but very interesting to learn about. Thanks for the post!

  3. I have never heard of this before either, but it's so interesting. Thanks for sharing the info and the pics. I look forward to seeing it finished!