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The Making of "Frosty Flakes" or My Modern Remake of a Family Heirloom Quilt

Updated: Feb 13, 2022

December Featured Writer: Kristi Lea Schmits


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I never knew my great grandmother, Gertrude Hendricks, who passed away when I was an baby. I don’t honestly know much about her life except that she was a prolific quilter. On one of our rare visits to my parents’ hometown in Nebraska, a long 10 hour car ride from our house several states away, my grandmother—my dad’s mom--gave us a series of the “old blankets” that her mother had made. She had a closet full of them gathering dust, and I remember us all looking through them trying to decide which we would get to keep. We left with five quilts—one each for me and my sisters.

One of the quilts was a bold red and white quilt in the house that I am sure I lobbied to use on my bed—I had the perfect red-and-white bedroom to go with it--and had that request soundly denied. The quilt was an antique, and my mom was adamant that we treat them gently and not tear them up.

I remember once getting in trouble for playing with the treasured quilts. I don’t remember what we were doing, but I spilled a glass of orange juice on one or more of them. Before I could get in trouble, I did the responsible thing and put them in the washing machine. Luckily the orange juice came out and the quilts survived their adventure. And I survived the scolding from my mother.

None of the quilts has a label, so we don’t have a firm date on any of them. Any could be as much as 100 or more years old now. My best guess is probably in the 50-80 year range, assuming my great grandmother waited until her own children were well out of diapers before she found the time and creative energy for her quilting.

I myself learned how to sew in middle school home ec. Despite a series of uninspiring assignments (sew on a button, make a square pillow), at which I performed rather dismally, it was enough to trigger a lifelong love of sewing. I started with clothes, Halloween costumes, and home dec items, and I once refashioned old color guard flags for my troop because we needed them for a performance. It wasn’t until my friends started having babies that I tried to make a quilt, and it wasn’t until my own kids hit high school that I started really sewing and designing quilts regularly.

My mom quilts too, nowadays more than she did before she retired, and far more than she did while I was in high school and she was a busy working mother of five children. I know that back in the early days of me learning to sew that she helped and encouraged me, and gifted me a basic sewing machine for Christmas when I was 12 (one of my most favorite gifts ever).

Today I’m a software engineer, so of course I am drawn to anything computer related or high tech. I love machine embroidery and dabble in digitizing my own designs, use a Cricut for appliques (and a million other crafts), and regularly play with Illustrator, Inkscape, and EQ8 when designing new projects.

The beautiful antique red and white quilt had eventually come home with me to stay and hangs on a quilt rack in my family room. I’ve been literally looking at this quilt for decades and decided long ago that I wanted to remake it, despite the fact that it is far from my usual style. It is hand pieced and hand quilted and, while the bold two-color design is actually pretty modern in some ways, it doesn’t have the bright colors and scrappy look that I usually go for. And did I mention hand pieced and hand quilted? Nevertheless, I knew I had to try.

First, I measured all of the pieces and discovered that the block sizes would be difficult to measure and cut. The HSTs around the large blocks measured in strange fractions, and some were stretched funny to make them fit. I wonder if she had a paper pattern or cut a cardboard template for the original. One of the blocks is actually sewn together with the HSTs going in the wrong direction (an easy mistake to make, as I later discovered). Next, I examined all of the intricate hand quilting designs, and decided that I was unlikely to find the time or the patience to replicate those either.

My version of the quilt design uses simpler math including 1” and 2” finished HST blocks that are easy to cut by rotary cutter. The math on the economy block, or square-in-a-square, is a little fussier but there is a trick. If you round the sizes of the triangles up, and then trim you block down after each round, you will find the cutting less complicated and it’s not hard to keep all those points.

For my magazine version of the quilt, I wanted to play around with the color options. Instead of simply duplicating the red and white, which would be a bold and modern palette, I tried a lot of options. For McCall’s Quilting, I ended up inverting the background and accent colors and choosing Kona’s Horizon as the background and Snow for the foreground. It was the Kona color of the year for 2020, which I liked just for contrast in dates. I played around with other options and may still go back one of these days to make a black-and-rainbow version!

For the quilting on the finished piece, I clearly did not opt to hand quilt. I have hand-quilted smaller items before, but it’s not my usual style. One of my favorite ways to fancy up the quilting part is to use my embroidery machine to quilt out feature blocks. Since this design was special to me, I digitized my own unique design, testing and re-testing until I was happy with how it stitched out. I combined that design with walking foot quilting to highlight the piecing of the quilt without taking away from all those points and triangles.

I am very happy with how this quilt turned out, and did add my own label so that my great-grandchildren know who made it and when. I am also thrilled that McCalls Quilting liked the design enough to publish it. The original name I gave them for this quilt was either Double Sawtooth, or “Grandma’s Red Quilt”. Given the blue and white look and its placement in this year’s holiday themed issue, I love the final name they chose: Frosty Flakes. I look forward to seeing more quilts like mine out in the wild—either with traditional colors and handwork fitting the original, or modern takes like mine.

Kristi Lea Schmits

Purchase the Pattern, Frosty Flakes, here.


Kristi Lea Schmits Links:

Purchase the Pattern, Frosty Flakes, here.

Would you like to see more of my Featured Writers? Keep in touch by signing up for my monthly Newsletter here.


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