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Use Quilting to Tell The Story of Your Life - Make a Diary Quilt

Updated on December 14, 2013

Is a diary quilt in your future?

Would you ever consider making a diary quilt for yourself or a family member?

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A Quilter's Diary: Written in Stitches, by Mimi Dietrich. Use this book to start your diary quilt.

The Birth of an Idea and a Diary Quilt Begins to Take Shape

Several years ago, my husband was home for several days over the holidays. I was in the process of teaching him how to quilt. Yes, there are many men who quilt nowadays - it's not such a far stretch to see men quilting. He's actually not the first man I've taught to quilt.

Men who are drawn to quilting usually have an art background or even a background in engineering where they deal in graphics and math. But, this is an entirely different story for another time.

It was New Year's Day and we had decided to run down to the local fabric shop to take advantage of some huge sales on fabric and supplies he would need to begin his quilting career.

I also decided to browse through the book section and when I did the title of a book caught my eye and I was hooked. The book was A Quilter's Diary: Written Stitches, by Mimi Dietrich. I was very familiar with Mimi and her work and already owned several of her books, but this one was new to me. I picked the book up and began thumbing through it and knew the book would be going home with me.

Mimi's concept of a "diary quilt" is simple. It's actually what we would call a "sampler quilt" - a quilt in which every block is a different block instead of a quilt in which the same block or maybe two blocks are repeated to create an overall design.

In a diary quilt you would pick different blocks to make your quilt based on what the blocks mean to you or what they represent in your life. For example, let's say you love to fish, then you might make some kind of fish block to place in your quilt. If you love to go sailing, you might make the sailboat block for your quilt and so on.

You can see how everyone's quilt would be different because everyone's life is different.

The Design Begins and a Name is Born for My Diary Quilt

So, I had a twofold operation when I got home: I began the joint project with my husband and I began my diary quilt.

I started looking at the possible blocks I could use from the diary quilt book. A tip here. The blocks for the diary quilt are based on using 6 inch x 6 inch finished blocks. You can make your quilt whatever size you liked. Just remember, the bigger the story, the bigger the quilt. If you prefer using larger blocks, say 12 inch square blocks, you could do that, but again, plan accordingly and remember that will affect the size of the quilt.

I found several blocks in the book I thought I'd like to use, but I knew there were areas not covered I'd like to add. So, what to do?

Design my own or find more blocks from other sources.

There several ways you can accomplish that:

  • Find the block you want online or in another book
  • Design or redraft (if it's the wrong size) the block to the size you need using graph paper. I use 1/4 in. scale graph paper.
  • Use quilt design software like Electric Quilt 7 to design blocks or redraft blocks

I was fortunate to receive Electric Quilt 7 (EQ7) as a gift one year, so I use it to design and redraft blocks to the size I need -say a 12 inch block down to a 6 inch block. You can also design your own blocks from scratch in EQ7. I have also laid down the overall design for my diary quilt, including sashing and borders.

My "brand" is BamaSteelMagnolia, so I decided my quilt would be The BamaSteelMagnolia's Diaries and since I write, I decided when I made a block I would write a "chapter" and tell why that block was significant to my life. I was prompted to do so because so many people have said, "Bev, you really need to write a book about your life."

I began the quilt and as I finished a block and it's chapter, I posted my finished efforts on my quilt blog.


A Great Quilt Design Software. I use this to lay down the design for my diary quilt.

Want to get you feet wet first before trying out EQ6 or EQ7? Then try Electric Quilt Co.'s Design Wizard

Quilting Terms

1. Sashing -strips of fabric that join blocks together to form the quilt top. The sashing can be plain strips or they can be pieced.

2. Borders - borders are the outside finishing treatments of your quilt. Think of them as the "frame" for the quilt. Again they can be solid, single strips of fabric or pieced borders.

3. Applique - in applique you take a fabric shape, say a circle, leaf, flower, etc., and with small hidden whip stitches sew it onto a background fabric.

4. Quilt Sandwich - no, this isn't an edible food product. After you complete your quilt top, you'll be eager to complete the quilt and will need to baste it. You will need a backing make of fabric, batting (the inside of the sandwich) and the top you've just made which will be the top layer of the sandwich. Once these are basted together you have your quilt sandwich and you're ready to start quilting.

5. Basting Stitch - long stitches that hold the quilt sandwich together. They will be removed.

6. Quilting Stitch - this is the stitch that holds the quilting sandwich together. It can be done by hand or by machine.

7. Sampler Quilt - a quilt in which all blocks are different.

Example of Blocks and Their Significance in my diary quilt - The BamaSteelMagnolia's Diaries

So what are some block that could represent your life, you maybe asking yourself?

Well, let me give just a few examples of what I've use and tell you a little about them.

The Cupcake Block

The Cupcake Block
The Cupcake Block | Source

The Cupcake Block

Since red, white and blue is one of my all time favorite color schemes to work with, I opted for that scheme for my diary quilt.

Since our earthly life begins at birth, it's seemed the logical beginning place for me to start was my birth and birthday represented by the cupcake and the chapter title "Happy Birthday to me".

I hand appliqued this block using the freezer paper applique method.

Freezer Paper Applique How - Video #1 Ironing onto the Freezer Paper

Freezer Paper Applique How to - Video #2 Basting

Freezer Paper Applique How To - Video #3 Appliqueing

Freezer Paper Applique How To - Video #4 Removing the Freezer Paper

Freezer Paper Applique How To - Video #5 Pressing Your Applique

Freezer Paper for the Freezer Paper Applique Method - it's not always easy to find in the supermarket.

The Paw Print Block

Paw Print Block
Paw Print Block | Source

The Paw Print

The Paw Print is one of my favorite blocks in my diary quilt. I am an unabashed canine lover and currently am the momma to two Miniature Schnauzer fur babies. Before them I had an English Cocker Spaniel who was sent here from Heaven to watch over me through my second bout of non-smoking lung cancer.

My sweet husband would like to think the Paw Print would include feline prints, but allergies make that an impossibility.

I called the chapter for the Paw Print, To All The Dogs I've Loved Before.

Again this block was created using the freezer paper applique method.

Southern Belle Block

Southern Belle Block
Southern Belle Block | Source

Yankee Puzzle Block

Yankee Puzzle Block
Yankee Puzzle Block | Source

The Southern Belle Block and The Yankee Puzzle Block

Yes, you read that correctly. My quilt will contain both of those blocks.

As the group Alabama use to sing, I am Southern born and Southern raised. You would have to go pretty far back into my genealogy before you start finding ancestors born outside or above the Mason - Dixon line.

But, with that said, as a genealogist I have to tell you, I have found very few ancestors from my deep southern roots who fought for the Confederacy. I have many who fought for the Union including my 3rd great-grandfather, Henry Ogle of Sevier Co., Tennessee.

It is a very little know fact that many Southerners had relatives who fought for the Union. It was a region divided, house against house, brother against brother.

I titled that chapter A House Divided Will Fall...

These blocks are 6 inch square and were machine pieced.


Henry Ogle's Civil War Pension Record

Civil War Pension Record of my 3rd Great-grandfather for the Union Army. Henry was from Sevier C., TN
Civil War Pension Record of my 3rd Great-grandfather for the Union Army. Henry was from Sevier C., TN | Source

The Spool Block

The Spool Block
The Spool Block | Source

The Spool Block

The spool block represents my love for quilting and for the reason I quilt...my great-grandmother, Becky Shafer McGee.

Becky was a formidable woman in her Middle Tennessee county of Lawrence. She was the county midwife in addition to being the loving mother of a large family and grandmother of a passel of grandkids. She made each one of those grandkids a quilt and it was my mother's Lone Star quilt that gave me the inspiration at a young age to say to myself, "One day I'm going to do that".

My spool block is machine pieced, and I haven't written my chapter for it yet.


Becky's Quilt

Becky Shafer McGee's Lone Star Quilt - the inspiration that lead me to quilting
Becky Shafer McGee's Lone Star Quilt - the inspiration that lead me to quilting | Source

Mimi Dietrich, Master Quilter talks about her quilts, including The Diary Quilt at about 19:19

Leave a legacy and a story by making a diary quilt.

There are many kinds of quilts you could make your family.

But, if you're looking for the perfect quilt to tell your family and friends your story after you're gone - make a diary quilt.

Leave them your legacy in textile art.

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    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      I don't quilt but someday maybe I'll take it up. I've always loved those family history quilts and such, not only are they beautiful but I can't think of anything I'd treasure like that, beyond scrapbooks and such (and actual family of course). There are some inspiring ideas here.

    • BeverlyHicksBurch profile image
      Author

      Beverly Hicks Burch 3 years ago from Southeastern United States

      Thank you! I have found quilting very soothing and comforting over tbe years. The beauty of a quilt like this is you get to tell you story and leave a legacy. I loved listening to Mimi talk about bers in the last video.

    • Reggie Burch profile image

      Reggie Burch 3 years ago

      I can't wait to see the finished quilt.

    • BeverlyHicksBurch profile image
      Author

      Beverly Hicks Burch 3 years ago from Southeastern United States

      Hopefully it will be soon and there will be more chapter with each block.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 3 years ago from USA

      I am definitely planning on making a diary quilt. In fact, I've been making a list of things I would like to make sure I included in it. Yours is turning out wonderfully - and writing chapters to go along with it is a great idea.

    • BeverlyHicksBurch profile image
      Author

      Beverly Hicks Burch 3 years ago from Southeastern United States

      Thank you! It's one of my projects I want to speed up in 2014. I've actually made a few more blocks, but I need to write those chapters.

      What fun you'll have making you diary quilt! Be sure to post a picture for us :)

    • annejantz profile image

      Anne Crary Jantz 16 months ago from Dearborn Heights, Michigan, U.S.A.

      What a great idea! I will definitely add this to my list of things to do - TTD. Thank you for sharing, Beverly.

    • BeverlyHicksBurch profile image
      Author

      Beverly Hicks Burch 16 months ago from Southeastern United States

      You're welcome, Anne. Everyone seems to love the idea. I taught a friend to quilt and the very first quilt she wanted to make was a diary quilt for her dad! It turned out great!

      Have fun with yours :)

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