Tartan or Plaid? What’s the Difference?

Hello Everybody,

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I’m back on familiar ground now after a run of difficulties with recent experiments. I’m back to using English Paper Piecing, this time for a series of small quilts with a Scottish theme.

I only work with 100% cotton and finding cotton tartan is becoming increasingly difficult. The few online shops I have come across prefer to sell in metre lengths which  is crazy when I use less than a quarter of a metre of each fabric and need to buy a range of fabrics for each quilt. Moreover, cotton tartans are limited to about half a dozen different patterns for some reason, which is so disappointing. How many Dress Stuart or Blackwatch tartan quilts would you want to make?

What about plaids or faux tartans? What’s the difference between them? All tartans are in fact plaid, though not all plaids are tartan. Both are a mix of stripes woven in a criss crossing and overlapping pattern of stripes, meeting at 90 degree angles. However, tartans have an identical pattern of stripes running vertically and horizontally, resulting in overlapping square grids, while the stripes in plaids may vary in direction colour, size, and pattern.In Scotland, the word “plaid” comes from the Gaelic word for blanket, which refers to the long piece of fabric worn over the shoulder as part of the Highland costume, rather than to any pattern in the fabric.

So, using checkered plaid, or faux tartan fabric, isn’t authentic and therefore not quite right for Scotland but what if you don’t like tartan much? Not everyone does. The patterns are often obtrusive and rarely work well with each other. I wondered if using plaids with a Scottish theme could create a more modern look and appeal to people who feel traditional tartans have a limited use or are not for them.

So, as an experiment, I  have made a start on a series of mini quilts, one with a touch of tartan, two with faux tartan, two with plaid, two using true tartans and one that simply reflects the kind of landscape that surrounds me, using no tartan at all.  None of them are finished. They are all pinned, tacked and works in progress for now.

In addition to using plaids, I had the idea that it might also be fun to adapt a traditional American quilting block for my Scottish theme. To begin with I took the old quilting block ‘West Wind’ (shown on the right, here)

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Borrowed from Pinterest

and removed three of the triangles to make a quilted picture that I have called ‘The Wind in the West’.

In my new version, the three black/purple triangles represent the fierce winds, that we experience from time to time here in the west of Scotland, buffeting a small cottage on farmland. I have used black, white and grey patterned fabrics with Celtic crosses, raindrops and windblown plants.

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The Wind in the West

 

It is still to be quilted and I may add some surface embroidery and appliqué. It measures about 8 inches square.

The second block I have begun is a traditional ‘Sawtooth Star’ block but I have used it to represent the twilight time in Scotland that we call ‘The Gloaming.’ The quilt uses faux tartan and two different patterns featuring Celtic crosses, all in shades of blue, to suggest that bluish/mauve light that softens the landscape as the sun sinks in the west.  I remember my father singing,  “Roaming in the Gloaming, wi a lassie by my side”,  when we lived far away on the other side of the globe.

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‘In the Gloaming’

My third experiment has no tartan. It uses an adaptation of a traditional pinwheel block to suggest a remote glen (narrow valley) in Scotland. A cottage sits among the hills and windblown leaves, while hares run around untroubled by traffic.

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‘Down in the Glen’

 

I may add some appliquéd trees or quilt it with tree shapes. I’m still thinking about what might would be best.

What my fourth project represents, I am going to keep a secret for now, though if you know anything about old Scottish traditions, you may be able to guess. As I add to it, it will become clearer.

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Mystery Quilt – title to be revealed in due course!

In a future post I will describe the remaining projects in this series, two of which will use true tartans and the last a mix of plaid and embroidery. We’ll see how they go.

What do you think about using plaids and faux tartans? Does it feel completely wrong for a Scottish theme?

Until next time……

 

A Tartan Twosome

Hello again,

img_0932We have glorious colour in our garden at the moment and here are two mini quilts to match. These are the two tartan inspired mini quilts I promised to show you in my last post. I have been a while finishing them because I have about twenty different projects on the go at one time. I tend to do bits on one and bits on another, partly so I don’t tire of any one design and partly to give my fingers a rest from quilting too many at a time.  I have a local craft fair coming up in the third week in November so I have been working hard at building up stock. I am pleased to say I have a whole stack of accordion houses, tall wall houses, house  brooches,  house quilts, ( mini, small and medium sized) and a couple of crib sized ones all ready for a new home.

The two quilts featured here are my first attempts at using cotton tartan and ric-ric trim (spelt rick-rack in the States, I believe).

img_8658The first mini quilt I have called ‘Dog Star’. The tartan is a warm brown, yellow, soft red and olive and I have given it a burgundy trim. There is a black star, in a star print, in the top right hand corner among a series of small quilted stars and a dog at the bottom left hand corner, basking in the glow from the stars. If the dog looks familiar, it’s because he appeared in one of my earlier posts (‘The Humble Square’)  on using basic shapes to create people and animals. He wasn’t very happy languishing in a plastic box so thought I might as well make good use of him so I put him on this quilt where I hope he might get some love.Here’s a close up:img_8478

The above photo and the one  below show my basting stitches before I start quilting. The one below shows how I put the three layers together (the back the front and the batting in the middle) and then baste from the centre outwards. I make a cross from top to bottom and side to side and then go out to each corner. This keeps the quilt top really secure while I quilt. I don’t want to worry about it moving and ending up with uneven borders. After quilting, I trim the batting to the quilt edge and turn backing fabric ( 1 inch) , folding it once  (to a 1/2 inch) and then again to meet the edge, hiding the top of the ric-rac between and stitching it all down together.. img_8477

‘Dog Star’ is quite a small quilt, only 23 x 25 centimetres or 9 x 9 1/2 inches.  I have used quilting thread here for the first time but I don’t think it is as successful as using embroidery thread for big stitch quilting. I feel my stitches here are not big enough to be called big stitch quilting and not small enough for the understated look that traditional hand quilters manage so well. Still, it’s early days and I’ll be getting plenty more practice. 

img_8662The second mini quilt is even smaller at 20 centimetres or 8 inches square.  (I have called this one ‘The Bothy’. Here in Scotland, a bothy is a small cottage style house, originally intended for farm labourers, now just a basic shelter left unlocked or abandoned in fields or on mountainsides, and available for any passer by to use. This mini quilt uses only a little tartan, the same tartan that I used in Dog Star, as a part frame at the edges.  The centre, background fabric has  a red spot on tan that echoes the colours in the tartan and the this time the ric-rac trim is black. I wanted the quilt to suggest a partly enclosed field with a small house in the corner. I quilted straight across in the manner of a ploughed field but added small fly stitches at the edges to suggest some greenery beyond the field.

 In the first quilt I put the trim on the outside, so for this one I thought I would try putting it on the inside. It was very tricky getting it to go around corners. I looked for videos on Pinterest and was struck by how many showed you how to add trim, but not around corners, or posted that it was easy to bend around corners but the photos sliced off the corners, as if they didn’t want to show the not-so-good? result.  One person said you should turn the ric-rac over at the corner and proceed with it  until you reached the next corner and turn it again. I tried that but found that this method created a lump at each corner. The best way seems to be to coax it around the corner, letting it form a small raised ‘loop’ in the corner and then wriggle the loop into place and sew it down. It was a much easier process going around the outside of the quilt. I don’t think I will be using it on an inside border again in a hurry.

Here is the back of The Bothy. img_8680I let the quilting show through but kept the embroidery stitches to the front surface. I felt they might wear more easily at the back and make it look more cluttered. I wanted a simple, clean look. It could be more even but some irregularity is to be expected when you are not using a machine.

The back of ‘Dog Star’ shows just the basic outline of the stars and the dog. Surface additions such as the dog’s back leg and ears don’t show up.img_8657

I have two more Scottish themed quilts to show you in my next post and, as these are now completed, I can add them to a new post as soon as I get a moment to photograph them.

 In the meantime, here is another photo from my much loved garden. See, the sun does shine in Scotland even in November.  Till next time…..

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Put a Wee Bitty Tartan on It

IMG_7670Continuing with my current ‘House’ obsession, I decided to try my hand at making some House Brooches and that it might be fun to start with some tartan ones. I used to think brooches were just for jacket lapels and  although I own quite a few brooches I have been given as gifts, would never have considered myself a brooch person.  However as I was making these, I started to think about other places they could be pinned; not just jackets and bags but hats, curtain tie backs, lampshades, decorative cushions – and realised they could be pinned to any fabric background that that invites a temporary pop of colour. And why not a pop of tartan?

I was particularly excited about making house brooches because I could imagine a row, a whole street of little brooches, IMG_7688pinned on a jacket like a crop of medals; a row of cottages or a cityscape travelling across a weekend bag and the thought of it made me smile. Unlike a lot of brooches these are quite robust, in that they are soft and flexible, can be bent and just pop back up again. They are also washable. Of course the embroidery threads could catch on anything jagged, so I am working on decorating my houses in ways where this won’t be a problem. Fabric paints here I come….

I began with houses just an inch tall and then moved on to larger ones of two to two and a half inches. IMG_7683After adding a door and a window the large ones still seemed too ‘naked’ somehow, so I started adding a few flowers and stems.  Then I wanted to try adding vines and painting flowers, so I made some wider. (Three inches wide but still two and half inches tall).  I thought these might be a bit big but there seems to be a trend in big brooches at the moment, so perhaps they are OK.

They are surprisingly simple to make; only using small bits of tartan at front and back, a spot of interfacing between, a little flourish with the embroidery needle, a stitch all around the edge and few more stitches to secure a pin onto the back. IMG_7673Despite that, the smaller they are the more fiddly they are to hold and decorate. I also learned, after making the first few using co-ordinating colours, that the tiny ones really needed to make use of more brightly coloured threads if they are to stand out on a coat or a bag (for example, the one on the right in the photo below, rather than the one on the left.

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You haven’t heard from me in a while because I have been busy sewing like crazy for the first sales of my crafts in a local shop throughout June. I have been worried about not having enough stock and enough variety of stock available, so have been burning the candle at both ends trying to get through what I had planned months ago and fallen short of achieving.

I have ideas to do so much more in tartan but I’m surprised by how difficult it is to find good quality attractive, varied tartans in 100% cotton in the UK.  The best (i.e. authentic) tartans are wool but I found wool too hard to work with. It frays easily and doesn’t hold creases, both of which is a nightmare when making tiny things using the English Paper Piecing technique. I have come across some tartans in polyester/cotton and perhaps I should try some of those. There are also some lovely ones available in brushed cotton which might be good for  wintery, Christmassy designs. I do love working with cotton though, so I am sticking to a mixture of cotton tartans, when I can find them, and cotton plaids (checks and mock-tartans) which are more fashionable and therefore more readily available.

Tomorrow I am off to join in the last day of this year’s Spring Fling. Spring Fling is a contemporary visual art and craft event that ranges across Dumfries and Galloway here in South West Scotland throughout the bank holiday weekend each May. Close to a hundred artists and makers across the region open their studios to the public while a variety of art projects take place in various venues outside these as well. I look forward to it each year and try to cover a different set of studios and events. Last time I went west. This year I’m going east. Yesterday I went to a new local craft fair which is to be repeated at Christmas. Thinking it would be good to give this try as it was so close to home, I have booked myself in for a table at Christmas. Excited by this but also getting the “oh no, more manic sewing!” tremors too. IMG_7698

By the time my next post appears, all my little creations will be for sale in a shop and I do hope people will pop in and, whether they choose to buy or not, that they give me some useful feedback. When you first start out, you don’t know what people will like or would prefer to have. I guess you need quite a bit of time and experience before you figure that out. Anyway I hope to be able to tell you a bit about the experience and how it goes.

Till next time……