Picnic Quilt and Napkins

You may remember an exhibition of quilts that came to Southern Oregon University's Schneider Museum of Art last year. One of the most appealing things about those pieces is that the women of Gee's Bend, Ala., created them from what they had on hand.

Here is a creative project that follows the same theme — one for the whole family that will add some color and fun to your summer picnics.

Have each member of your family donate a piece of clothing to be used in your picnic quilt. Old jeans are great for the quilt, and soft shirts are perfect for napkins.

Cut (or tear for straight lines) the garments apart into pieces of various sizes — smaller if you want to sew more or larger for bigger blocks and less sewing.

Your picnic quilt can be sewn in straight, patchwork pieces (illustration No. 1) or a crazy-quilt style (illustration No. 2), in which you're sewing angled pieces together and working from a center piece out. As you cut the clothing into pieces, consider using pieces with pockets, buttonholes zippers and logos, which will make your picnic quilt more fun and personal.

Start by laying out all your pieces and moving them around until you like the arrangement. Sew together all the pieces you want to use until your quilt is the size you want. It is a good idea to double up the thinner fabrics or sew them on top of denim, corduroy or other sturdy fabrics first.

To back or not

If using heavy fabrics (like jeans), a single layer will make a sturdy picnic ground cover. You can also add a lining. A dark-colored sheet works well for this.

To add a lining, place quilt and lining pieces with right-sides together (facing each other). Then sew around the edges, leaving one edge open, and turn right-side out. Leaving one end open — if you add a lining — also gives you the option to put an old quilt or blanket inside for more padding when you want it. If you do this, I suggest sewing ties in the inside corners (illustration No. 3), which will hold it in place in the bag. If you are recycling a blanket or quilt, cut a small hole 2 inches in from each corner (illustration No. 4) to tie the blanket into the corners. Ties or Velcro can be sewn onto each side along the edges, or you can use strips from shirts or jackets with buttonholes and buttons along the open edge to close the bag. (illustration No. 5)

If you are not going to add a lining to your picnic quilt, you can make a finished edge with squares of denim, corduroy or other heavy fabric (illustration No. 6). To do this, start with fabric squares (5 to 8 inches or so) then fold and overlap them, sewing down along the edge as you go. This technique makes a decorative and sturdy edge.


I love using an old, soft, cotton shirt for a set of napkins to keep in the picnic basket. Tear 8- to 10-inch squares for napkins. Edges can be serged or folded twice and sewn all around on the machine (illustration No. 7). A hand-sewn blanket stitched with colorful embroidery thread all around looks good, too.

Christening your new picnic quilt

Make sure to celebrate the first time you get out to the park and use your new picnic quilt and napkins. You could bring permanent fabric pens (Sharpies will work, too) so everyone can sign their names on the quilt.

If picnicking is going to be a family tradition, you can make a journal for poems, food lists, names of friends who join you and photos of each picnic day. A pile of clothes can be just the beginning.

Diane Ericson's studio is in the Ashland Art Center. See her work online at www.dianeericson.com.

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