The Old School House

Some old buildings fascinate me. I love the lines of old train stations, small-town Carnegie libraries, and one-room school houses. For many years I’ve fantasized about turning a school building, of the style common in the Midwest and seen in television’s “Little House on the Prairie,” into a home.

There’s another style of school building more common in early New England, two stories with straight lines of brick or clapboards, and symmetrical windows. Buildings like these appear often in embroidery samplers from the early years of our country, worked by school girls expected to learn domestic arts, rather than academics. Here is a charming example from wikipedia:

These buildings hold a different romance for me, and I wanted to make one for myself. About mid-way through creating the top, I posted about it (and thoughts on the term “improv”) in this post.

And more about it here. In the photo below you see the center framed four times, through the dark red paisley. I could have maintained the square shape with the rest of the borders, but elongating the quilt would emphasize the tall, narrow shape of the school. To lengthen the shape, I added borders to top and bottom.

By mid-March I had the top finished, including a bit of additional embroidery. By the way, I loved doing the embroidery! It was free-style, improvisational all the way, with no hoop. There is more embroidery in my future, no doubt!

The finished quilt pleases me enormously.

The Old School House. 51″ x 64″. March 2018. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Though I had several dozen flying geese in double pinks, reds, browns, and teals, (after all, the quilt was supposed to be a strip quilt of geese, not a medallion quilt with a house,) I opted to simplify the colors by using only pinks and reds. Using a wide variety of fabrics for them makes them a bit more interesting.

With all the warm colors, I chose to repeat the cool colors with the teal triangles and the olive green narrow strip, as well as in the star points.

Notice how simple this construction is! The only obviously pieced borders are those with stars and with geese. The rest are plain strip borders. (The print second border, just outside the line of teal, is actually pieced in many places, as I eked out the length from scraps.) No one needs to be an expert to make something like this. They just need to know how to make things fit well enough to lie flat.

As with Fierce Little Bear, some of the detail is in the quilting, rather than in the piecing or format. I used white thread to create some airy detail in the sky, and green to draw more wispy leaves around the tree and to expand the globe of flowers on the right. The roof got lines in rust, and the window details were emphasized with the texture of pale golden tan thread, similar to the window backgrounds. I also quilted lines across the house in the manner of clapboards. Click on any picture to open the gallery for a closer look.

I’ve been enjoying my projects so far this year, both those finished and those still in process. I’ll keep sharing the finished ones as I get posts written, though in truth, I’ll probably skip writing about the VA hospital quilts.

Thanks for taking a look!

Finished in 2018:
1. Fierce Little Bear
2. VA hospital quilt
3. VA hospital quilt
4. Charlotte’s Kitty
5. The Old School House
6. Georgia’s graduation quilt
7. Where Are the Birds?
8. Fiesta!


16 thoughts on “The Old School House

  1. Pingback: Saturday Quilting Bring & Share (23) |

  2. KerryCan

    I think embroidery is making a comeback–I find it quite compelling, too. Not the structured counted cross stitch sort but the more relaxed spontaneous kind. I’ll look forward to seeing where you go with it next.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yes, embroidery IS having a moment! My guild has a woman coming in September for lecture, and she’ll do a workshop, too. I am really looking forward to it. Thanks!

  3. snarkyquilter

    I’m glad you brought in those touches of olive green that help offset the dusty rose and blue colors. I’d give you a star, but you already have several of those. The embroidery touches are special; and I think there could be even more to continue the link to old samplers. Don’t you like how I’m suggesting more work for you?

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Oh yes, Joanna, please give me more! 🙂 Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I really do love the links to the past. It’s one of the things I intend to do more of, in varying ways.

  4. audrey

    Wow! What a great looking quilt! Your colors just shine and the sawtooth star border on the top and bottom only is genius!

  5. Paula Hedges

    This quilt brings back memories of the elementary school I attended in Burlington, Iowa. It was red brick. The first two years I attended a one room school out in the country, then we moved to town. Thank you for sharing it.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I love the connections we can make with images like this. That’s one of the main reasons I keep pushing in the direction of storytelling. I’m nowhere close to it yet, but I feel like it’s getting there… Thanks, Paula.

  6. katechiconi

    You’ve done a wonderfully neat job of piecing that second border; I can’t tell at all, despite zooming in for a look! This is an immensely charming quilt, and I’d dearly love to see a label for it along the same lines as Polly Bedford’s effort 🙂


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