As anyone who has ever stitched, admired, or snuggled with a quilt knows, quilting has a history steeped in resourcefulness, storytelling, community, and warmth. In honor of National Quilting Month, which marks its 20th anniversary this year, Amy Milne, the director of the Alliance for American Quilts, has penned a how-to project and a call for the importance of labeling quilts (and artworks of all kinds) for the sake of staking a spot in handmade history and taking pride and authorship in your craft. Do you have a quilt that holds a special spot in your heart or family history? Be sure to share your story in the comments below.
Note: On Monday, March 28, we will be hosting a mini-quilt Craft Night with Haptic Lab and the Alliance for American Quilts at the Etsy Labs in Brooklyn, NY, with a QSOS interview and demo on Etsy’s Livestream beforehand. RSVP for the workshop here. I hope to see you there!
I have been working as Executive Director of the Alliance for American Quilts (AAQ) for the past five years. The AAQ is a national nonprofit with a mission to document, preserve and share the rich history of quilts and quiltmakers. I came to the AAQ with a background in fine art and textile design. I’ve always been a maker of things, including sewing and fiber art. I inherited all of my grandmother’s notions and sewing supplies and count them amongst my most important and memory-inducing treasures. I still have and wear many garments made or worn by my grandmother and even have a memoir she wrote about her life. Amongst her things are textiles including quilt blocks and embroidered pieces that I have no clue about — who made them, when, why and how?
My passion for the mission of the AAQ comes from an understanding that objects, like the one in my humble collection, have an undisputed inherent value. They can tell us (and future generations) about our culture, our communities, our families and our everyday lives, and whenever we carefully record and preserve information about these objects and their makers/users we are reinvesting in our culture and our history. The AAQ and its partners want quiltmakers today to know the importance of documenting their work, because we see every day the gaps and mysteries in available records of quilts made by the generations before us. Labeling your work doesn’t just apply to quiltmakers of course; clothing and other textile works with time are usually separated from their maker and if not labeled, no matter how unique, they drift into the massive author category of Anonymous.
Labeling your quilts is relatively easy, but many quilters still don’t take the time to do it, myself included. Last year I helped my son, Clark, make his first quilt. Since it was a wholecloth quilt (two whole pieces of fabric with cotton batting sandwiched in between, then quilted and bound with bias tape), we whipped it out in two days. Clark was proud and excited and the quilt immediately went on his bed. Now, over a year later, I’ve borrowed his quilt back for the purposes of this demo, with a reminder to myself that I am not exempt from this important last step.
Join me as I walk through one method of making a quilt label.
Supplies you’ll need:
- Permanent fabric marking pen
- Two rectangular pieces of fabric for your label:
- A print or solid fabric that coordinates with your quilt
- Muslin or light colored fabric (cut ½” smaller than print fabric piece)
- Piece of freezer paper same size as muslin piece
- Needle and thread
- Double fold bias tape (1/2 yard for a 3” x 5” label)
1. Cut out fabric pieces to size based on how much information you plan to put on the label. (The label in this demo is approximately 3” x 5.”)
2. Iron the shiny side of the freezer paper to one side of the muslin piece. This stiffens the fabric temporarily so that it is easier to write on.
3. Write the information you want to include on your label on a scrap sheet of paper roughly the size of your finished label to practice spacing. Basic information includes quiltmaker’s name, date finished, location made, phone number or email address of owner. For other ideas see below.
4. Use the permanent fabric pen and copy the information to your muslin piece. Remove the freezer paper from the back of this piece.
5. Attach the bias tape to the muslin piece by sandwiching the edge of the muslin piece inside the bias tape and sewing through all three layers using a running stitch.
6. Position the muslin piece on top of the coordinating fabric and sew down using a whip stitch. Now your label is ready to attach to your quilt.
7. Fold under ¼” on all sides of the label, finger press and sew to your quilt using a whip stitch.
A quilt made by the Quiltsy Team for the Etsy office. (More here.)
- If your quilt is washable, then your label should be too. If you use inkjet printables, be sure to follow instructions to set the ink and keep it from fading or washing out.
- Some quiltmakers hide an additional washable label inside the binding somewhere on the quilt to add an extra way of identifying the quilt if the outer label were to come off.
- Historians can more easily decipher quilts that have a name and a date. If you want a minimal label, be sure to include at least these two things.
- Family members can piece together the family history easier when dates, names, locations and other details remain with the quilt, often a long time after the maker has passed away.
- Consider recording both the begin and end dates for your quilts so you’ll remember how long it took to complete.
- Lost quilts are easier to locate if contact information is included on the label.
Entry from AAQ’s 2010 “New From Old” contest
Variations and alternatives:
- Write your information directly on a coordinating fabric, turn under the edges and sew to your quilt.
- Write your information on a piece of muslin then position a ribbon, rickrack or a row of buttons over the raw edges and sew to the quilt.
- Buy inkjet printable fabric sheets to print your labels and either sew or iron onto your quilt.
- Write your information on a wide, light-colored piece of twill tape and sew to your quilt.
- Embroider your information onto a fabric label and sew to your quilt.
More Quilt Label Examples:
By Robin Smith (my mom) for my birthday
Entry from AAQ’s 2010 “New From Old” contest
Quilt label with 2006 coin by Jane Jellyby
Tell us your quilt story in the comments below!