Wednesday December 30th 2015

Quilters and Braiders: Common Threads

You may have noticed in the last few years that many quilt shops are expanding their product lines to include wool. Some shops are also offering classes in non-quilt textile crafts like rug braiding. A growing number of longtime quilters, like my friend Anne Morton Caldwell of Marietta, Georgia, now alternate quilting and braiding projects, finding there are far more similarities than differences in the two crafts.

Block Buffet Mystery Quilt by Anne Morton Caldwell

“My mother had a friend that lived in southern West Virginia, and we would visit her every summer when I was a little girl,” Anne Morton recalls. “She had an old home full of samplers, quilts, and braided rugs. That was the beginning of my love of all three!”

Recently, after finishing up the American Quilter online Block Buffet mystery quilt in Civil War reproduction fabrics (photo above), Anne Morton decided to enter a braiding challenge held during the annual springtime Valley Forge Rug Braiding Guild Braid In, this year held in Barto, Pennsylvania. The challenge? Make a “rug” at least 50% braided using a theme of skies or weather. Anne Morton’s entry, named Braidie Snowlady, is 22” tall and 10” wide at the base. She is made of wool and completely braided except for eyes and nose. And she won Anne Morton first prize in the challenge!

Braidie Snowlady by Anne Morton Caldwell

What do quilters and braiders have in common? Both buy yardage (or disassemble clothing), wash and dry it, and cut it up into strips or pieces which are then reassembled into textile projects. Both attend classes and retreats, participate in challenges, and love learning new techniques (I’m told there are as many kinds of braiding “butt” styles as there are ways to make a quilt binding).  “A love of creativity, color, and fabric are common interests for both braiders and quilters,” says Anne Morton. “Both are making ‘art’ as well as functional items. I have found that braiders are so much like quilters in their willingness to share ideas and techniques and collaborate on projects. Braiders also love Featherweights!”

Fabric for the braids is cut into strips and folded with raw edges inside. The braider starts where all three strands are sewn together and braids in the usual way, with folds all facing either to the left or right side of the braid. A table or stand clamp is used to hold the end of the braid while braiding. The braids are laced together, not sewn, through the loops of the braid which creates a stronger and less visible bond. The ending is usually accomplished by tapering the wool strips and braiding so that the braid becomes smaller and smaller and then can be woven into the last edge of the rug.

In between her numerous baby quilt projects this spring, Anne Morton is working on an oval rug made of leftovers from other projects. “Sounds like a scrap quilt, right?” she laughs. “I am also working on a heart-shaped rug, my first of that shape.” Anne Morton highly recommends this book for new braiders: Combining Rug Hooking & Braiding: Basics, Borders, & Beyond by Kris McDermet, Dianne Tobias, and Christine Manges (Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2011).

Posted by Christine N. Brown, American Quilter magazine editor-in-chief

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5 Comments for “Quilters and Braiders: Common Threads”

  • Patty Martin says:

    Wow! What goes around always seems to come back around. I remember my parents buying up old wool clothes at the thrift stores back in the 70’s and 80’s, stripping them, and making bautiful braided wool rugs for each of us kids. I still have mine.

    • Dottie Noyes says:

      I remember my mothers braided rugs back in the 50’s. I used to help her cut up the old coat she would collect. It kept me busy and we would get closer with her hobbies and I learned a lot. She taught me to weave to. I got a loom from my husband for Christmas and all I learned from her is coming back. She and I were very close. I hope young mothers now days are teaching their kids some of the old ways.

  • Pamela says:

    Love the quilt and braided snowman! We quilters and sewers are able to do so many different things with fabric!

  • Deanna Waltz says:

    My mom started me with rug braiding many years ago. We used our left over wool from garment making. My first rug (9 X 12 feet) coast me just $5.00–the cost of the cording to weave the braids together. It still looks like new today.

  • Mary Alice Bates says:

    My Georgian style house had hand braids in every room. They moved with us to an historic condo near a famous uni-versity. The 5-strand graced our bedroom while the round and oval were in the living and dining rooms. Some were assembled “coil”, some as separate “rounds” and the 5-strand by strip.

    Although many DO lace them together, I found that rambunctious boys destroyed that lacing pretty quickly. My husband was a biomedical engineer with access to cable-lacing twine. I sill have a cone of it on the bookcase. Using a hefty mending needle and double twine, the braids were attached with back-stitches in a manner similar to the way I finish the quilt bindings.

    Had hopd to make stair carpetting in like manner, but never got the open stairs worthy of the art or the work.

    Imagine it is harder to accumulate the woolen fabrics now that wool is less likely to be available at rummage sales.

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