Hello, my lovelies! Now that I've wrapped up both of my Christmas quilt projects, I've resumed working on my FrankenWhiggish Rose needle turn appliqué project and I'm continuing to weigh my options for a new machine piecing project. At the moment, I'm feeling wickedly inspired by a vintage hand pieced quilt top that my client Bobbie rescued from abuse and neglect and brought to me recently for longarm quilting.
Rescued and Redeemed: Bobbie's Vintage Little Boy's Britches Quilt
|98 x 98 Little Boy's Britches (Vintage) with Basketweave E2E|
Bobbie isn't a quilter; she's an interior designer who loves and appreciates vintage quilts. When she spied this quilt top in a secondhand shop, she says it was black with filth and they were using it to wrap motor parts in or something like that! Can you imagine anyone doing that to a quilt top that somebody spent hours and hours piecing by hand?! I feel like the cops ought to have been called, or Social Services, or at least the Quilt Police!
Quilt historian Barbara Brackman wrote about the Little Boy's Breeches/Little Boy's Britches quilt block in this blog post from 2012. ("Britches" is a variant spelling in the United States for the older British word "breeches;" I found both spellings used for this quilt block in my research and am using both spellings in this post to help quilters find it no matter which spelling they put in their search engines). I didn't immediately see it when I first looked at the block -- I saw stars or flowers -- but if you look at just a quarter of the block you can see a pair of those "short pants" boys used to wear that came down to just below the knee, like the costumes in the musical Newsies!
Four Little Pairs of Britches Per Quilt Block
The Historical Significance of Little Boys' Breeches
|Gender-Neutral Children's Clothes in 1884: Former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt|
|Random Little Boy Wearing Breeches, 19th century, New York|
Oh, and why do you suppose those first breeches worn by little boys were "short pants" rather than full-length trousers such as their fathers were wearing? Two reasons, both having to do with economy: before mass production, clothing was both expensive and labor intensive to make. Shorter pants required less fabric than long pants, and short pants would not be outgrown as quickly as long pants, either. Cue Angela Lansbury in the musical Auntie Mame: 🎶 "...and why did I ever buy him those damn long pants?" 🎶
|Blocks Combine Machine Piecing with Hand Pieced Center Patches|
The maker of Bobbie's vintage quilt top used a sewing machine for most of the block seams, but the center circles are hand pieced -- not hand appliquéd, mind you, because the stitches are straight rather than slightly slanted. I can't tell for certain whether the center shape was meant to be a circle or an octagon, either; they are kind of a hybrid of the two shapes, like a lumpy circle or a rounded octagon. Although I usually recommend quilting a fragile vintage top prior to attempting to launder it in order to minimize fraying of the seam allowances, Bobbie washed this one first because it was really gross and she was afraid no long arm quilter would be willing to touch it in its state she found it in.
|Using the Parallel Frame Rails to Straighten Rows and Sashing|
Bobbie added borders of plain muslin and plaid to enlarge this quilt top to fit a modern King size bed in her home. Although in great condition overall post-laundering, there was plenty of "piecing personality" and fullness in the quilt top, and I did my best to straighten the sashing and work in that fullness as I was quilting it. Bobbie elected to use lofty Dream Wool batting and that was a big help in combating and disguising piecing irregularities, too.
|Basketweave E2E on Vintage Little Boy's Breeches Quilt|
Side note: One of my favorite things about this quilt is the way the original maker positioned the grain/plaid pattern on each little pair of "pants" so it would run vertically up and down each "leg" in the same way that a plaid fabric would be laid out on an actual garment. I think that makes them look even more like little pants than they would have if the plaid fabrics had been cut up randomly or with any other different grain orientation, don't you? She did not, however, attempt to match the plaid pattern at the "center back seam."
|Little Boy's Britches Quilt Top Before Quilting|
Thank you for partnering with me to rescue this vintage treasure, Bobbi!
And Now, Meet Brandon's Breeches!
|My EQ8 Design Using Kaffe Fassett Collective Fabrics|
You know I couldn't help myself, right? So yes, I had to play with this block in my EQ8 software and see what I could come up with. In the version above, I've used a solid navy background fabric to set off an assortment of wildly colorful Kaffe Fassett Collective prints from Free Spirit Fabrics. I'm calling this version "Brandon's Breeches" after Kaffe's partner Brandon Mably because, when Kaffe and Brandon came to Charlotte to do a lecture and workshops sponsored by Sew Much Fun, they came dressed in shirts made from their colorful printed fabrics.
As I played with the design, I realized that the blocks look more like stars or flowers and less like little pants when my fabrics aren't evocative of menswear like the plaids used in Bobbi's vintage quilt. That made me think about appliquéing little back pocket patches on some of the "britches" to make them look more like pants... But then they would look too literal and too cute for my taste. Hmmm... Here's another, smaller version of the Little Boy's Britches pattern using a white background and reproduction 1930s print fabrics:
|Another Version in 1930s Prints|
I kind of feel like making ONE of these blocks, but not sure I feel like making a whole bed quilt of them right now. So no, this is probably not my next patchwork project... Unless I made just one 6" Little Boy's Britches block and added it to my stack of abandoned Farmer's Wife blocks. Ugh -- I just looked at those again and my idea of randomly picking fabric from my stash and hoping it would all go together in the end is NOT working out. Some of those blocks don't even belong in the same room, let alone the same quilt!
Alright, alright... Carried away with a too-long blog post yet AGAIN!! I'm linking up today's post with my favorite linky parties, as listed on the left sidebar of my blog. Have a great week, everyone, and happy Quilting!
That was fascinating, Rebecca. I love reading about unusual quilt blocks and definitely had not come across this one before. No way would I have thought of little pants looking at that! Of your EQ8 versions, I like the quilt in the thirties fabric but probably only so because I now have read about its history.
So interesting to read all about the little boy's britches quilt! And I see you got happily sidetracked making up those EQ8 versions, I'm team 'brandon's breeches' ... love the contrast between the Kaffe fabrics and the navy!
What a save! The stories that top could have told! Now it is going to be used as it was intended to be. . .terrific! I liked both of your EQ designs. . . . so many opportunities and so little time to fit it all in. . . sigh. . . .I understand where you are coming from!
Absolutely stunning - the pattern, the attention to detail and your recounting of the history. Thank you for pointing out that each pair of britches looks like a correctly sewn pair of britches. Even before I scrolled down, my mind had started to remake the pattern. Even if I attempt the pattern, trust me I won't be using plaid. But I am fascinated by the pattern. Your EQ8 mock-ups don't help. insert eyeroll here.
I love the original best of all. If I were ever to attempt it (not likely … too many other projects) I would try to use plaids. Is tartan a plaid? Wouldn’t it be amazing in Scottish tartans!
My father was born in 1919. There is a picture of him looking similar to the young boy you featured in your blog, wearing a white dress, is wavy hair past his shoulders. I remember asking whose picture it was, never dreaming it was my father. However, I hadn't realized the rational behind the dress. Thanks for another very informative post.
Thank you Rebecca that was very interesting. I had seen pictures of little boys wearing dresses, and always wondered at it, so it was great to have an explanation. Your blog is always great!
What a wonderful post! It's such an unusual pattern, I've only seen one or two "in the wild".
The quilting is great on that vintage little britches quilt. Thanks for joining TGIFF.
What a great rescue, Rebecca! I read and re-read Little Lord Fauntleroy which popularized the long-locks and fancy short-pants suits. (Worlds away from my life in the 1960s, let alone today.)
Wow, such a great story! It's fun and interesting to read all about the pattern, and the story of this rescued quilt! Your version tests are beautiful too!
Well done with the quilting, as usual ;))
Thank you so much for sharing, and linking up!
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