Block Exchange Extraordinaire


House block exchange, 2000

In my early quiltmaking days, 1988-1994,  I belonged to a quilting bee in Denver, CO, where I was living at the time.  The day I joined the group, they made the decision to go ahead with a house block exchange someone had suggested.  With 10 in the group, the idea was to choose a building  block and make 10 blocks the same, one for each member, including ourselves.  The only stipulation was the 12″ height limit – the width could be anything.  We set a date set three months ahead, the first week in january,  on which all blocks were to be finished and brought along to exchange.  Those three months included the busy Christmas/NY season, plus we continued on with the normal monthly block exchange for members in their turn on that list – so by the time we gathered for the exchange day we were all pretty overwhelmed with what had  turned out to be a huge project; everyone took home their blocks, and nothing happened for a couple of years !  Then one day Barb brought along hers, pieced in a square village green arrangement.  That prompted me to get mine out, and this is how I arranged them.  The brown borders are a woodgrain fabric, and I made extra trees in the style of someone’s trees on their block, which helped pull it all together into a kind of streetscape.  An odd mix of architecture styles though!  I can still ‘see’ and ‘hear’ each of the girls whose blocks all express something about them and their individuality. 

Which is mine?  The caramel coloured New England style Saltbox with red door and chimney, second from the upper row right end.  The green-roofed courthouse next to it was made by Janet Jo, a lawyer and quiltmaker who  writes and lectures on legal issues for quilters, makes quilts and dyes fabrics.  On the other side of mine is a rural log cabin/ranch house made be someone whose name escapes me, but who I never met because she  moved away and I took her place in the group.  There are three miniature hand quilted ‘quilts’ hanging on the clothesline in front of her house.  Sandy’s, on the left end of the upper row also has an actual little quilt hanging on a line beside her house.  Sherri’s house is apparently just like the one she grew up in.   Mary Ann, a southern belle from Charleston SC in the bible belt,  did the church.  Barb, who as far as I remember did not have any rural background but had an interest in pioneer furniture and equipment, which probably included barns, did one for the heck of it.   Janet chose a mexican cantina because it was one of the group’s traditions to eat out regularly at a favourite one.  Next to hers is Karen’s – either her childhood home or the first one she lived in as a bride – I don’t quite remember.  Finally, lower right end, we come to Penny’s red schoolhouse.  I think her daughter was a teacher but its a traditional block, anyway.

I think the really, really bright red she used might have brought us all to a screeching halt worrying about how her block could fit in among all the other muted traditional north american colours that were still in vogue then and that everyone else used.   It was 1988, and bright colours were only just appearing.  Eventually I hit on the idea of overspraying the bright red with very watery sandy coloured paint, which toned it down so it looks perfectly in place on the front.  I think someone put Penny’s on the back of hers, but that seemed  sad to me.  Penny was so warm and generous to everyone, and in particular she’d been totally wonderful about the very first block I did in the monthly exchange – which was for her that month.  When we all produced them, mine was the only totally different one – I’d misunderstood what ‘baskets in blue’ really meant, being a naive new quilter and foreign to boot.  “Baskets in blue” was what she asked for.  I had very little idea about all this traditional block stuff I was so newly in contact with.  But  I understood the basket pieces of the pattern were to be one blue.  So I chose a nice darkish blue print for that part.  But I didn’t realise everyone would do the other part of the patern in calico/quilters muslin as tradition dictated, so I naively selected another blue, the palest, tiny weeny little blue print for the background, very pretty.  I felt pleased with the fabrics I found for ‘baskets in blues’.  Plus, as a real newbie wanting to produce something of good enough standard, it took me several goes over the month to get it to come out to the exact measurement she asked for.   So you can imagine my mortification when the blocks were all handed in and mine was the only one with a pale blue background – all the others were cream!  Immediately I offered to make another.  Penny had no idea how generous this offer really was, neither did anyone else then, although I told them a year or two later.  However, Penny, bless her, insisted it would go right in the middle of the front, and so it did.   So, when it came to her bright red schoolhouse block, I knew I simply had to find a way to place it on the front without it totally overwhelming everything around it…a couple of others took my lead and were able to finish their house quilts, too.

Apology -I took the phoot when I was back in our house in Perth a few years ago, and because it is not possible to stand directly in front of the quilt without rigging up a scaffolding above the staircase and walking out onto it, it’s rather lopsided.  But I assure you the quilt is perfectly rectangular. And its a marvellous keepsake of that group.  They were a pretty dynamic lot and I still keep in touch with a couple of them, and although the group continues the membership has changed a lot, perhaps by 100% now, I’m not sure. It’s been a while.  I think in all our moves, so far they are the group I found hardest to leave behind…. so far.



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