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Friday, October 16, 2015

Baltimore Album Quilts: Always Striking

Baltimore Album style quilts, originally made from the 1840s to the early 1860s, are always special to see. Today, they continue to inspire quilters to reproduce them or else to create new block designs that are similar in nature. Quilters, like their sisters of yesteryear, are tempted to write their names and messages on the quilts. In the past, Baltimore Album quilts were made mainly as gifts for departing Methodist ministers. This effort would keep the ladies very busy as the "tour of duty" was a relatively short one, usually two years.

Baltimore Album quilt by Carolyn Babcock which has both traditional and newly-designed blocks and is inked


The ink used for writing on old quilt often contained iron gall. The iron would literally eat through the fabric, leaving holes. In today's world, we do not have to worry about that problem as there are pens that have been found to be useful for the task. These are called Micron Pigma Pens and they are sold in various size nibs. Art supply stores are more likely than quilt shops to have the full selection of pens available from the smallest nib .005 to the usual .01, and the larger ones in sizes .03, .05, and .08. They come in a selection of colors ranging from red to green, blue, black, and brown.

With proper use, the ink will not readily fade but fading IS a big issue when fabric is not pre-washed to remove the sizing. I found that out the hard way. When I searched for information on a quilt label recently, I found that the words had all but disappeared even though I had heat set the ink by pressing for 20-30 seconds on each side of the fabric before appliquéing the label to the quilt.

A light box comes in very handy for tracing letters onto the fabric. One can create the label in a document, changing the font to one that is attractive and easy to trace. I like Lucida Calligraphy the best as it is close to the Italian Calligraphy I usually do free-hand.

My heart always beats a little faster whenever I see a Baltimore Album quilt, old or new. They are certainly works of art that require fine appliqué skills and special techniques such as layering. Many thanks to Carolyn Babcock for demonstrating the art of inking at the Common Threads Quilt Show in Morristown, Vermont (October 2015). We enjoyed seeing all of her quilts in the show and marveled at the fact that she works completely by hand.

Happy Quilting!

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