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A World of Quilts
THE HISTORY OF America can be told through the history of quilt designs. Pioneering American women created thousands of quilt blocks and patterns that reflected their day-to-day lives. Designs from the homeland were no longer relevant or possible to re-create in their new environment. The terrain on which they lived, as well as the sky and landscape surrounding them, informed their new designs. The gardens they created and the communities they founded were also integral to this progression. Last but not least were the battles and rules of their new culture. Often the only way of expressing their thoughts and beliefs was through their hands.
Nature was an obvious and rich source of quilt patterns for women. Infrastructure was minimal, so families often lived in isolation with only Mother Nature as a neighbour. There are many patterns named for trees, flowers, animals and birds, and Flying Geese, or Wild Goose Chase, is one of the most popular. Geese migrated twice yearly to and from Canada, across most of America; it isn’t hard to imagine a quilt design being born of this amazing sight. Triangles are a simple geometric shape that are used to make hundreds of different quilt patterns. A basic (and very simple) Flying Geese block consists of one large triangle (the goose) flanked by two smaller triangles (the sky). Fabrics needed to be contrasting in tone so that the birds stood out from the sky. Women expressed their artistic abilities and creativity in the way they arranged the triangles or geese, and in the colours they used. They could be ‘flying’ in any formation, and there are more than a dozen different geese quilt block designs.

Flying Geese is also said to be one of the key quilts of the Underground Railroad movement, along with Drunkard’s Path and Log Cabin. Each quilt had a specific code attached to it, and this quilt pattern told the fleeing slaves to follow the birds and travel north to the free states.

Perhaps because I am a lover of gardens and nature, I like the idea of this quilt design very much. I love to watch birds fly in flocks, especially if I catch the moment when they break away and re-form. It is quite magical and strangely moving. So my design is based on this moment – a flock flying together, but separated momentarily before they continue forward as a flock again. It is a lovely parallel to family life, which I think makes this quilt a wonderful gift or tribute to someone special.

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© 2024 Cassandra Ellis · Reproduced with permission.
  • Step 1

    The quilt itself is simple to make, but it does take time to cut and piece. Make sure your rotary cutter is super- sharp and your main and support fabric are well pressed.

    From your main fabric cut the following, cutting your large pieces first:
    6 of 22 x 72cm
    4 of 22 x 62cm
    2 of 22 x 52cm
    4 of 22 x 32cm 286 of 12 x 12cm
    From your support fabric(s) cut:
    143 of 12 x 22cm

  • Step 2

    Start by sewing the geese. Place one 12cm square at one end of the 12 x 22cm rectangle, with right sides together. Using a pencil or tailor’s chalk, draw a diagonal line across the square from corner to corner, then stitch along that line. Trim the excess off both layers at the outer corner, leaving a 1cm seam allowance, and press the remainder
    of the original square to form the outer triangle (the sky). Repeat with a second square on the opposite end of the rectangle, ensuring you draw the diagonal line
    in the correct direction (the new square will slightly overlap the previous piece). You will have some wastage from this method, but the simplicity of this piecing style far outweighs the excess scrap. Repeat until you have made 143 geese blocks. Before piecing them together, trim off any ‘tails’. Re-measure and square up your blocks to be accurate (each should measure 12 x 22cm).
    Following the diagram on page 42, sew the correct number of geese blocks together. For example, for the first row you need to make two blocks of seven geese. Continue piecing until you have sewn all 17 geese blocks together. Press the blocks and trim off excess threads.
    Piece the quilt top row by row, following the diagram to ensure you join the correct plain blocks to geese blocks. Once you have assembled all 11 rows, pin and sew the rows together, being careful not to stretch or twist them. Press the seams and trim any threads.

  • Step 3

    The quilt backing needs to be a minimum of 240 x 240cm. Join together your choice of fabric until you have a backing the right size. Press the seams and trim any threads.

  • Step 4

    Assemble your quilt sandwich in your preferred way. Mark any quilting lines and machine- or hand- quilt using your favourite technique. Trim the backing and wadding so that the edges are even and square. Finally, make and attach the binding.

  • Step 5

    Although time-consuming to make, this is a very easy quilt
    to personalize. The ‘geese’ can be any number and combination of colours, and it is simple to increase or reduce the size of the quilt. This is an excellent quilt for children – either as a memory blanket or as a storyteller if you choose the right fabrics.

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