Thursday, July 11, 2019

Now I Know My ABCs

An abecedary (or abecedarium), according to Wikipedia,  is “a full alphabet carved in stone or written in book form, was historically found in churches, monasteries and other ecclesiastical buildings. Abecedaries are generally considered to be medieval teaching aids, particularly for the illiterate. The alphabet may have been thought to possess supernatural powers along the lines of the runic alphabet. Each letter would have had a symbolic meaning to the devout.”

I consider myself to be a fairly dedicated quilter, perhaps even devout (certainly sincerely devoted to the craft).  I have wanted to try this project for a long time, putting something quilt-oriented to a letter of the alphabet, finally put into motion when I left the classroom and wanted to make a letter-based quilt.

Roman Letter Poster

It took me some time to make the letters, so the project was in process for a while, and is still subject to changes and amendments.

I have provided an index to the side.

A page from The New England Primer, the first book in the new American colonies.

Hope you enjoy this collection of improvised and free-form letters.

Elizabeth Eastmond

P.S.  Tag me on Instagram if you make some letters–I’d love to see them.  I’m @occasionalpiecequilt.  Our group started making words as #spellingbeequilt, if you want some ideas for how to make yours.


START HERE: Making Letters, Words and Snowballing

My name is Elizabeth Eastmond and I made this Quilt Abecedary.

I started this project with the intent of learning how to make letters free-form, or improv, as it's known now.  I used several books to give me loose ideas, and they are acknowledged in References.  I've taken Quilt Abecedary as the title for my Trunk Show, and when I'm home during the off season, I thought it would be fun to keep the Trunk Show going, so I've included my quilt images at the bottom of each page.

All images are mine.  If you want to use them, please write and ask for permission (available only for non-commercial use): Elizabeth  at

Basic directions for the Letters

You need a strong contrast between the background and the letters, otherwise the letters disappear into the background.  Watch out for “polka-dot-like” fabric, which blurs edges.  Example: if the letter fabric is the same tones as the background (like white polkadots on a colored fabric being used with a white background), it will look strange.

Strips for the Letters

I cut a length of letter fabric 1 1/2″ wide, and a length 2″ wide and use these in construction.   I use the wider strip on the parts of the letters (also known as the stems of the letters) that need a bit more visual strength.

Background Fabric

 I cut a length of letter fabric 1 1/2″ wide, and a length 2″ wide and use these in construction.   I cut the same out of the background fabric, but kept larger pieces of background fabric handy, as you'll be cutting rectangles from that.   I also cut a strip of 1" wide background fabric to use for "snowballing" on your corners.  This gives the letter shape and roundness.  Sometimes you'll use larger squares for snowballing.  Please make sure you are familiar with this term and how to do this technique.  There are some instructions below.


I cut my snowball squares 1 inch, then sew them diagonally onto my letters in order to form “curves.”

Here you see snowballing in its various stages: from sewn on (upper left), to trimmed (upper right), to pressed to the back (lower left and right). Because I’m not doing paper piecing and am going freehand, sometimes they are a little wonky, but when they are trimmed, they will be fine.

I generally start with a 2 1/2″ square for building the insides of most roundish lowercase letters (also called "counters" in typography).  Think of these: b, d, p, q, a, and so forth.  

To form your letters into words, you’ll need to cut 1″ strips as spacers.

Sew them in between the letters; trim. I always press them so the seam allowance is under the letter.  That way, it makes the letters come to the foreground and lets the spacers sink into the background.

I added a Chuck Nohara block here for a little fun.  Notice how my letters are all sort of wonky in size even though I was actively working to keep them about 6 1/2″ tall (they’ll lose some in the piecing).  That’s how it goes with these free-form letters.

I hope you enjoy the fun of making your own wonky, improv, alphabet.

This is the only page that allows comments, so feel free to leave one here.


Uppercase A and lower case a

If you are new to this process, please read START HERE, and perhaps look at a few other letters.  This blog is meant as a whole, an interdependent way of looking at improv letters.   I started with the center square, then added bits of scraps all the way around, following the numbers.

Having said that, this very first creation -- a lowercase a -- came out too small.  

Bigger center yields a better letter. There’s a truth in this somewhere. This would be a great place for a fussy cut bit of print.  I learned from this that all of the counters (empty spaces in letters) should begin with a 2" square.  I may end up trimming as I go, but that's better than having weensy letters.

Climbing into the capital now.  Begin with the cross-bar, bordered by a square on top and a bigger bit on the bottom. (It should be a rectangle, as that carved out bit in the lower right had to be filled in with another scrap in the end.)

I placed first the left hand side of the A, figuring out what angle I wanted.  I put right sides together, sewed a 1/4" seam, flipped it back and checked if it was what I wanted.

It was, so only THEN did I trim off the excess.

Repeat for the other side.

I cut larger rectangles (about 4" by 8") and sewed one to each side of the A.  I took my ruler and placed it so I could see  how it would look and then trimmed it down to size.

Other truths: you need a strong contrast between the background and the letters.  More advice is found in the reference books.

I'm encouraged.
I'm moving forward.

A is also for appliqué, Amish and All is Safely Gathered In

Sunshine and Shadow, No. 10 of Finished Quilts

All is Safely Gathered In: No. 91 of Finished Quilts


Capitol B and lower case b.

Once begun is half done, says Mary Poppins.  As usual, I made the lowercase b too small as I was trying to get that fussy cut B into the middle.  On the second round, I determined that I must always start with a 2″ square piece (includes seam allowances); from that the proper size seems to flow.  The center bottom square of the capitol B is 2 1/4″ inch without seam allowances, and the top square, while still that width, was eyeball-cut to be more narrow.

I also tried using directional fabrics, working to keep the alphabet always upright.

Here's your road map.  If you need lotsa photos, they abound on this blog, but start with "a" as that's where I started.

I only numbered the inside for you, as I knew you could figure out the rest.  Don't forget your snowball corners.

Here’s another way to make a capitol B, a little bit more elegant.

For the lower portion:
1-Start with the basic 2-1/2″ block .
2-Sew a 1-1/2″ inch strip to the side.  Trim.
3-Then sew on a 2″ strip to the lower edge; trim.
4-Snowball a 1″ square onto the upper right corner, trim and press it to the back.

For the upper portion:
1-Cut a rectangle 1-1/2″ by 2-1/2″.
2-Beginning with the lower edge, sew on a 1-1/2″ strip.
3-Then sew on a 1-1/2″ strip to the side.  Trim as you go.
4-On the top of the section, sew on a 2″ strip, but trim it down to 1-3/4″ so it doesn’t look top heavy.
5- Snowball on a corner square to the lower left of the upper unit, as shown.

Press both parts well and trim to 3-1/2″ wide. Sew the top unit to the bottom unit.

Snowball on two more 1″ squares, on on the lower left corner and the upper left corner, as indicated by the pink arrows.  Press and trim.

Then, sew on a long 2″ strip along the side, as shown above.  Press and trim.  This capitol B has more curves and I think, just looks better.

b is for backing, basting, batting, binding, bobbins, Broderie Perse and Belle Etoile du Jour

Belle Etoile du Jour, (No. 181), from here


Capitol C and lower case c

Remembering the truth that a bigger center makes things go easier, I cut the center of my capitol C, after measuring my B.

I cut a 2″ strip of this cool Jane Sassaman fabric.

Sew some on the other side, too.

Since I’m not using foundation paper piecing, things can get a little wonky, but a nice trim usually evens things up.

I cut freehand some little squares to snowball onto the corners to make the curves, but they are roughly in the 1" square dimension.  After making the As and the Bs, I'm loosening up.

This is what I cut my center of my lowercase c, as I have to leave extra to go to the edge on the right side.

I sewed on the 2″ strips...

...then cut down my lowercase c to this size.  I made it a squoosh narrower on the top part of the c, called  “the bowl” (see diagrams at the end–yes, I know there are three because I got carried away).

Corners snowballed on.

Big C, little c!

Now I know my B-A-Cs.

DIAGRAMS of typography terminology (you'll get more as you go along):

c is for cutting, crazy quilt, the color wheel, Criss-Cross, Colorwheel Blossom and Come A-Round

Criss-Cross, (No. 136), from here

 Come A-Round, (No. 90), from here

Colorwheel Blossom, (No. 140), from here