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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Let's Talk About Making Do!

Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without

As creator of the Prairie Women's Sewing Circle, I spend a lot of time reading and thinking about life in the nineteenth century.  The phrase shown above can be applied to many aspects of the lifestyle of those who lived in America long ago (early American life).... and not so long ago (WWI & II for instance).  It has a lot to teach us in today's world too, but it's the impact this lifestyle had on antique quilts that so intrigues me.

As many of you know, I am passionate about Make-Do quilts!  (Truth be told, that's an under statement.)  I'm on a mission to educate the quilting public about Making-do, to share my love affair for the old Make-do quilts, and encourage you to "make-do" as well.  But first, you have to know what a Make-do quilt is!

There is a difference between a scrappy quilt and a Make-Do quilt.  A scrappy quilt can have Make-Do elements in it, but for it to truly be a Make-do quilt you should be able to spot a theme within the quilt's design.  The theme indicates there was an ordered plan to the quilt in color, fabric(s), blocks etc, and for many reasons, the quiltmaker had to deviate from the theme and "make-do" with what fabric she had available to finish the quilt. 

As we look at this antique doll quilt, we can easily spot the theme.... simple Four Patch blocks made of dark blue and pink patches.  Yes, it's also a scrappy quilt using many fabrics, but you do see the theme in the color. The two Make-do blocks are also easy to spot.  I'm fairly certain that the quiltmaker would have preferred to make all of her Four Patches with the dark blue and pink fabrics, but she substituted......Made-do....with the light blue in place of the pink within two blocks.  What about the red binding?  I love the red binding!  If you were making this pink and blue quilt today would you have chosen red fabric for the binding?  Probably not....because we are so used to coordinating everything...but the red binding is wonderful on this quilt.  That begs the question....was the binding a Make-Do or was it her choice?  Remembering that beauty is in the eye of the beholder....often we can only speculate about Making-do.

Why am I so passionate about Make-Do quilts?  The reason is very simple.  As quilters, we love a quilt pattern or block...it stirs our creativity and we want to make a quilt.  We plan...we choose just the right fabrics....we labor giving our time and talents....we know every fiber and stitch in that quilt and work to make it the best it can be.  What if we then realize that we can't finish the quilt as we had hoped and planned?  Sometimes, in order to finish the quilt, our quilting ancestors had to make substitutions and use what was available to her either with her own scraps or those from a fellow quilter.  She "make-do" with what she had.  Was she disappointed?  I think yes, because she had a theme...she wanted the quilt to turn out a certain way....but on the other hand, they were quite used to making-do in all aspects of their lives.  Nonetheless, she completed the quilt and no doubt loved it.  It kept her family warm...it still held her love in every stitch.  I think all of these qualities are wrapped up in the old Make-Do quilts and that's why they are so endearing to me.

I find most every antique Make-do quilt charming although some are...well....homely.  Ok...those homely quilts kept their family warm too, but I don't necessarily want to make one just like it!  However, I do love adding Make-do blocks into my quilts, and by doing so, I honor the women who didn't have all of the choices we have today, but who worked very hard to create beauty when they truly didn't have much.  I hope that you will come to love and appreciate the art of Making-Do as I have, and remember, if you create Make-Do blocks in your next quilt, you'll be honoring our American quilting heritage.

I'll be writing and showing you lots more about Making-Do in the future.  Remember....I'm on a mission!


  1. Pam, I love your passion for "making do" and I am a loving follower. Thanks for all the inspiration!!
    Karen Schultz

  2. Hi Pam,

    Seems many folks have gotten far away from the "Make-Do" type of thinking after many years of peace and plenty. I think this is a great time for us to be learning about "Making-Do" not only because many of us have been impacted by the recession, but because this is a valuable history lesson that we would do well to learn and practice. Thanks so much for sharing this information and your passion for "Make-Do" quilts. I'm anxious to learn more!

    Blessings, Karla

  3. This is a great post! I love your passion for "Make-do" quilts. A small sewing group I belong to just finished a quilt for our local library. We ran short on one fabric and used something similiar in its place. We just made-do instead of redoing.

  4. I've heard, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without," many times since moving to New England - seems there are a lot of "Make doers" here... - but "making do" was a way of life in Northern Wisconsin when I was a child.

  5. I so enjoyed reading your post today!

  6. Wonderful post - thank you! I've also heard these blocks called "maverick blocks" - sometimes they even have a slightly different pattern, but whatever the case - make-do or maverick - I think they give a wonderful little personal twist to a quilt!