Post # 15. On precision

Do you carefully tie off the loose ends and then thread them through the eye of a needle and stitch them into the batting of your quilt? Not I, said this slapdash stitcher with a sigh. It takes too much time, takes one away from stitching that next section, from finishing the piece so that you can see what it will look like. But this does mean that sometimes the stitching comes undone.

And yet I know that careful and accurate stitching pays dividends. At the very least it means your quilt will hang square and true. And at the very most, you will produce a masterpiece. So I try to curb the impetuousness that leads to fast and slapdash sewing.

I was reminded of the importance of precision while reading Pam Holland’s book The 1776 Quilt. Heartache, Heritage, and Happiness (Breckling Press, 2007). She documents how (and why) she re-created an old quilt made by European soldiers in 1776. (The original quilt is held in a small museum in the town of Bautzen in East Germany.)

What a remarkable story, and what a beautiful book. Pam Holland also generously shares her designs and methods, so it is also a superb practical guide. Here is one paragraph to convince you that it is indeed a remarkable story and feat:

My passion for the quilt became an obsession that saw the last stitch placed on 27 May 2003 – a total of 9586 hours, or 818 twelve-hour days. There are lots of stories associated with the making of the quilt – many sleepless nights, help of friends and family, days of 4:00 a.m. starts and midnight finishes. I worked methodically through the designing, drawing, appliquéing and piecing of each block, and I documented each step. (p. 15)

I read on Pam Holland’s blog  that she is re-creating the Bayuex Tapestry.

Reading (actually, pouring over) The 1776 Quilt reminded me of a workshop I did with South African quilt teacher Marilyn Pretorius. Yes, we did slip away our loose threads under her tutelage. But, more important, we learnt how to cut absolutely accurate blocks and to then stitch them down perfectly. There were no short cuts in the making of this bag.


Marilyn Pretorius’ design of the bag, and her course notes for the making of it were both impeccably precise. This is not to say that there was not room for individuality. Her design for the large blocks at the bottom of the bag was of a snowflake, but she encouraged us to create our own pattern by cutting shapes into a folded piece of paper, to the size of the block. I found myself cutting out a paper doll. The cords we had learnt to make (by twisting together different threads) made perfect skipping ropes for the dolls.

As usual, I checked the word in my faithful OED. Precision is defined as exactness; definiteness; distinctness; accuracy. Spot on!



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