A sampler quilt is a collection of different pieced blocks. An album quilt is a collection of different applique blocks.
A sampler album quilt will always be an interesting collection of pieced and applique patterns. However, you can make them very special quilts for very special people with the right choice of patterns. Though touches can be added to any sampler album to make it more personal, with some pre-planning, every block can be special.
I usually try to include some pieced blocks to speed up the sewing process, and they give the viewer a rest from the details of the picture, appliqué blocks. They also add a touch of mystery as the reason for including that particular patchwork pattern isn’t always obvious.
Plan the quilt before you begin to sew. Start with a pen and paper and make notes about the quilt’s destined owner. First list names, then look up the meaning of both Christian and surnames, along with birth dates, star signs, birthstone, wedding dates. Collect as much information as you can. Most of these details may be useless, but the bigger the choice the easier it will be to find appropriate patchwork blocks and appliqué patterns. Occupation should also be listed, past or present, paid or unpaid. Don’t forget any special skills, qualifications, or tools of the trade.
Hobbies, collections and sporting interests arc a great source of quilt blocks, so list as many as you can. Include holidays too – favourite destinations and pastimes. If the quilt is for yourself or another quilter include a basket of fabrics, a sewing machine, a miniature quilt
Buildings make great quilt block patterns, whether you use the traditional House on the Hill or work from photographs of childhood homes, present home, church, school, hospital (where you were born or work), farm buildings for farmers, offices and shops, libraries, theatres… list every building which has a special meaning. A lot of them won’t be included in the final quilt patterns but, again, the more there is on the list, the easier it will be to find suitable designs.
Finally, add the names of any special people you would like to have represented on the quilt. By now you should have extensive lists and it’s time to start looking for patterns.
Check the index pages of quilt books with block patterns. Look for place names (Tooligie Hill, Georgetown Circle), special occasions (Double Wedding Ring), descriptive titles (Country Husband), personal names (Kym’s Kite) and special people (Grandmother’s Fan). You will also find ‘general purpose’ names, such as Rainbow, Morning Star and Blazing Star. Check the patterns themselves and cross off the list those you don’t like. You may not want to do any appliqué and with care you can reveal a lot of family-history by carefully selecting pieced blocks by title.
Appliqué can tell a story in pictures that everyone can read. There arc many appliqué blocks that can be chosen by name – for instance Emily Rose – but if all blocks are chosen by name alone it can make it hard to decipher the true story of the quilt unless you are a quilter familiar with all the patterns you have included. Introduce pictures to tell at least part of the story in a clear way rather than relying on quotes from the past.
Block patterns can be found in many quilt books and magazines. Look in the quilting section of libraries, and also their magazine section. New books and magazines can be found in shops. newsagencies and specialized quilting stores.
When planning the appliqué, if you can’t draw don’t sit down with a blank page in front of you and expect inspiration to do the rest, but don’t give up either. Find a drawing or photograph that resembles, however remotely, what you want and trace off the most suitable areas. If necessary enlarge or shrink the tracing to a suitable size. Libraries and local councils usually have a copier that will enlarge or shrink at the touch of a button. Start adding your own lines to the design to change or add details. Trace off the bits you like, and then start again, until you are happy with what you have. Remember to keep the design fairly simple, and add embroidered and quilted details later.
Collect photograph albums, trade manuals, magazines, newspapers, brochures and children’s painting and colouring books and start browsing. I found the inspiration for ‘Donald’ in a thirty-year-old Stock Journal advertisement found at a dump, so don’t ignore any possible design source.
Look for designs to suit the style of quilt you are making. Printed fabrics, embroidery and quilting make an old-fashioned look easy to achieve. Search for early versions of modern technology to enhance nostalgia. Use a Model-T Ford to depict an interest in cars rather than the latest model. (In a hundred years the latest model’ will be rather nostalgic, but we can’t all wait that long for an old-fashioned quilt.)
On the other hand, if you want a stylish, elegant feel in the finished quilt, keep shapes simple and bold, use plain fabrics or subtle prints and look for modern logos and symbols to base blocks on.
If you have too much inspiration to fit on even a king-size bed, several related subjects can be combined into one block. I have done this with the wool industry on a Ruby Anniversary quilt (illustrated in the colour plate opposite page 27) with a Merino ram, spinning wheel and a shearer, by reducing the size of the individual patterns to make up one overall design.
Embroidered details can take care of numerous related subjects. For example, a house can have favourite toys and plants in the garden, gardening tools leaning against a wall and a pet on the front lawn. By combining subjects like this you can include more of the family history on a limited number of blocks.