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.
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, if the letter fabric is the same tones as the background (like white polkadots on a colored fabric being used with a white background).
Strips for the words: I cut a length of word 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.
I generally start with a 2 1/2″ square for building most roundish letters.
I cut my snowball squares 1 inch, then sew them diagonally onto my letters in order to form “curves.”
Here you see snowballing in their various stages: from sewn on, to trimmed, to pressed to the back. Because I’m not doing paper piecing and am going freehand, sometimes they are a little wonky.
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 wanted to use a combination of Sam Hunter’s shapes as well as Tonya Ricucci’s free-form construction from her book, Word Play Quilts. I bought the Kindle edition of Sam Hunter’s Quilt Talk (I already had purchased the hard copy) and with that edition, came a digital file that allowed me to print out copies for easy reference. I printed out Sam’s chart from pages 36 and 37 (but could have just photo-copied it) and kept it by the cutting table while I worked. Refer to the post Reference Books for more information.
I free-formed my way to this tiny letter–way too small for what I want. I started with the center square, then added bits of scraps all the way around, following the numbers.
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.
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 straightened out in the end.
Angle on the first vertical side, extending it beyond the square. Then add the second side.
Two larger swaths of fabric on either side. Trim.
This is about the size I’d like to work with.
Other truths: you need a strong contrast between the background and the letters. More advice is found in the reference books.
A is also for appliqué, Amish and All is Safely Gathered In
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 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.
Here’s an early abecedary, the Ogham Stone from Ireland (from here).
The stone is “located near Caherdaniel Village, County Kerry. The marks on the edges of this pillar stone (left) are characters from an alphabet that was used in fifth-century Ireland. Known as Ogham, the 25-letter alphabet was supposedly inspired by Ogma, god of eloquence. Ogham was carved and read from bottom to top (and on occasion, right to left).
Also written as ogam or ogum, it is pronounced “AHG-m” or “OH-ehm.” Ogham served as an alphabet for one of the ancient Celtic languages. Its origin is uncertain: it may have been adapted from a sign language. Current understanding is that the names of the main twenty letters are also the names of 20 trees sacred to the druids. Some authors have suggested the existence of a 13 month calendar which shared some of these names. A 15th century treatise on Ogham, The Book of Ballymote, confirms that Ogham was a secret, ritualistic language. However, there is no direct evidence that the Ogham alphabet was used [in antiquity] for divination or any other magical purposes. (from here)
b is for backing, basting, batting, binding, Broderie Perse and Be My Valentine
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 new-to-me cool Jane Sassaman fabric.
I cut freehand some little squares to snowball onto the corners to make the curves.
Since I’m not using foundation paper piecing, things can get a little wonky, but a nice trim usually evens things 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!
c is for cutting, crazy quilt, the color wheel, Criss-Cross, Colorwheel Blossom and Come A-Round
Capitol D was pretty straightforward: center rectangle, but make sure you get the parts on in the right order. I snowballed on the corners and declared it done–my fastest yet. I had fun choosing the fabric and fussy cutting the center. There may not be as strong as contrast in the fabrics as the others, but I think it will work okay.
This pop bottle fabric is directional, so you have to watch out for that. The lowercase d ate too many pieces of chocolate and ballooned way out of size, but I kept trimming, keeping the proportions and eventually I was happy with it.
This letter was harder to get the proportions correct. I made the lowercase twice and remade the uppercase E twice as well. The problems were opposite on each: I kept getting the lowercase letter too large, and on the uppercase, I kept making it too small. I finally finished, and here they are:
Here’s another version:
Start with a small rectangle, and sew on the right-hand 1-1/2″ strip of your letter fabric; trim. Then sew on the top and bottom strips. I trim the bottom strip narrower than the top for a more graceful “e.”
Snowball on two corners, as shown. As a reminder, the snowball squares measure about 1 inch square. Trim the excess, then press to the back.
I always need to trim up after my snowball corners as they are pretty wonky.
I sew on another rectangle, a little bigger than the center (but watch your measurements), then another letter-fabric strip. I add the left strip to the side, then snowball on three more corners to get the final letter (below).