What a cold, cold morning we've had! Didn't the quilts feel good last night? With all the fine fabrics we have to make our quilts from now, it's tempting not to use the beautiful creations for bed covers. In days gone by, they were a necessity; with no electric blankets or automatic heaters to keep one warm, the quilts were piled high each night on several beds in the household. Fabrics to make these quilts were most likely not purchased in yardage as we know of today. For utility quilts, as these were called, most every little scrap was put to use, no matter its shape or size or color, and patterns were kept simple. String quilts, being the easiest and fastest to make, were found on beds in most homes. The strings were probably not even the best scraps, such as those left from making dresses and shirts.
To make a string quilt, a woman would first decide what size blocks she wanted to make, and did she want the strings to run up and down the block or diagonally. The blocks required a foundation block on which to sew the strings. Unless she was fortunate enough to have newspaper or catalog pages from which to cut the foundation, it had to be made from fabric: pieces from a worn sheet or feed sack. If she decided to make her blocks six inches square, she would cut a piece six and one half inches square to make allowances for seams. Sewing by machine would make the task go smoother, but it could be done by hand too. So, with foundations in hand, the stash of strings was brought out and the construction began.
1)The first string was placed right side up on the foundation. 2)A second string was laid along the edge of the first with right sides together and sewed, using a very short stitch. This made it easier to tear off the paper later. 3)The second string was then flipped out and pressed (for best results this step needed to be done after each seam was taken.) Now it was time to pick another string and sew it to the second string. When the foundation was covered, the block was flipped over. 4)It looked rather messy at this point, but after trimming the excess off even with the foundation, she had a neat block. 5)Tear off the paper and it's ready to sew to another block to make a quilt top. With her own carded cotton and a lining made from feed sacks, the top was ready to be quilted and put over the little ones for the rest of the cold winter.
I use string piecing quite often in my doll quilts. Here are some examples of how I have turned strings into quilts: