Beauty or Utility

Quilted prom dress

I’ve been thinking about the reasons we quilt.  Sometimes, we do it for utility purposes and sometimes for beauty, but most of the time it’s a mix of both.  

One of the many conversations we had at my quilt group the other day was about this topic.  A woman in the group has a daughter-in-law that loves and appreciates the quilts she receives, but uses them for everything.  My friend described a beautiful quilt with lots of hand embroidery and ribbons that her beloved DIL uses at the beach every day. When my friend found this out, her reaction was similar to mine:


Another woman piped up and said:  “That’s why you make her a jean quilt!”  Probably  the ultimate utility quilt, after all!

That made me think of a conversation we (StashLadies) had with an Australian quilt designer and her husband at Market in Houston.  She hand pieces and hand quilts everything she does, and her husband was telling us how Jen wanted them to be used, and loved the fact that one of their daughters used a hand pieced quilt as her Barbecue Blanket, and that it was WELL LOVED, complete with BBQ stains, and rips and tears including one from someone’s high heel.  (Ok, seriously, who wears high heels at a park or beach BBQ??) 

I know that one of the first thoughts when I am designing or making any quilt is what its use will be.  That determines a lot of things:  Will I wash the fabrics before I sew to allow them to pre-shrink, or do I want my quilt to shrink on purpose if it is to be washed?  What sort of batting do I want?  (I am finding that for my wall hangings, I prefer and have switched to using a wool bat because of it’s beautiful drape.  For our Alexia Quilt line, I like the high-loft batts that fill out the ruffles so beautifully.). Whether or not I wash my fabrics, will I use starch while piecing the blocks?  Is it to be looked at on display, a bed, etc, or is it to be cuddled in?  How often, if ever, will I wash the quilt?

Quilts for Beauty

I hand-appliquéd this Fairy quilt for a VERY good friend of mine (Thought zinger:  Don’t we, as quilters learn rather quickly who to make and give quilts to?  If I am to put effort into it, I expect my quilts to be loved and used, even if it’s just for decoration! It only takes once to find out who is going to appreciate the love and time spent on each project.)  This friend loves fairies and was so very patient with me as it took over 3 years to finish.  (I realized as I was appliquéing that each fairy block had a different personality… it was funny as I definitely had my favorites when I was done, and I’ll be darned that some of those little fairies sported some serious attitude!)


I knew she was planning to hang this in her front entryway, but still mentioned that if she ever needed to wash it, I was afraid the delicate and small pieces would disintegrate if it wasn’t hand washed.  Definitely NOT a quilt for beach use!

Quilts for Utility (the Beach Quilts)


This quilt was started at a class at Road to California two years ago.  Part of the cost of the class was the Hawaiian fabric that made up the specific blocks we were working on, but not for the remainder of the quilt.  In the end, there was such a range of colors that I couldn’t find anything I liked to use for sashing, and really, wasn’t excited about the finished product.  (I enjoyed the class and what I learned, but the fabric was not what I gravitate towards, and though I had chosen to step out of my comfort zone, I just couldn’t make myself like it.) I decided I would use a solid pink I had in my stash and quilt it for MY use at the beach… In the end, I donated it as a charity quilt and it was tied and sent back east after SuperStorm Sandy. (The ladies who tied the quilt thought it was lovely, and I got a lot of compliments on it.  I still can’t make myself love it, though!)

This is much like the quilt I remember my baby brother dragging around… he had no use for small blankets.  His was a twin-sized flannel and corduroy quilt that went EVERYWHERE until it was absolutely shredded and StashMomma had to find him another similar one. 

Quilts for Beauty AND Utility (My favorite kind!)


This same friend (isn’t she lucky!) loved one of my designs and asked me to make it for her babe-to-be.  Even though this design has lots of little pieces and appliqué as well, I purposely made it to be cuddled and washed.  I machine quilted everything down leaving a raw edge on the appliqué in order to have give it a soft, “ragged” look.  

I know she uses this more as a display than a utility quilt, but it could be used and abused often, as the one I did for my daughter is.  The more it’s washed, the better, I think.

StashMomma made a king sized Alexia Ruffle for the same lucky friend’s master bedroom.  We have discovered with this particular quilt that it looks just as good if not better after it has been washed… Again a combination of beauty and utility. 

2013-09-05 10.03.41

So what do you think?  Do you quilt more for Beauty or Utility?  Or are you like me and try to quilt for both worlds?


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