Sunday, April 28, 2013

Polka Dot Fabric: the New Sugar, Salt, Fat

For many years now, my first-resort host or hostess gift has been 9-patch quilted 'potholders' (or 'wall art', depending on how uppity I'm feeling).
The slightly wonky example above was stitched by my daughter - I led her Girl Scout troop in making them last year. They're easy, fun, and I always enjoyed using a wild variety of 4" novelty fabric squares, ranging. in the case above, from the sublime (raspberries) to the ridiculous (Reese's). 

They're always welcome - everyone needs a new and entertaining potholder. My friends use them for pots, hang them as art, or both.
My friend Petra mounted this one on a stretched canvas that she had splashed with paint, a la Jackson Pollock, but less, discussed earlier. Note that Petra does not eat kosher.
But last month, while continuing to wrestle mightily with my lifelong sugar jones, I splurged on a copy of the new bestseller, 'Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.'  The main point is right there in the title, but this book, by New York Times reporter Michael Moss, fills in the details with fascinating, horrifying anecdotes about the scientists, the business people, the research, and the money. I laughed, I cried, I read sections out loud to my husband, Just like junk food, I couldn't put that book down. 

On quilts, junk food is fun. In bodies, not so much. That's not news. But the book led me to a quilt-related revelation: There are more than enough paid advertisements for crappy (excuse my French) processed pseudo-foods out there. The world certainly doesn't need me to make even more, quilted, complementary advertisements for junk.

After all, I would never give a recovering alcoholic anything that featured this fabric (however delightful): 
On the other hand, I don't want to make a solemn potholder. Can good health, entertainment, and art be reconciled in the quilt world? (let alone the real world?)

I needed a fast answer, because a few days after reading the book, we were heading out on a 5-day-trip, staying at friends' houses. Normally I'd make more nine-patch hostess gifts, but this time, enough was enough. I craved something fresh. 

Fortunately, just as today's supermarkets offer better produce than ever before, there are also now many more excellent produce fabrics. Lifelike, mouthwatering, 100% vegan fabrics, like this garlic (used earlier).
Check out RJR's Farmer's Market line for a huge collection. Similarly, Fabri-Quilt has 'Farmer John's Marketplace'.  Timeless Treasures has 'Farm Fresh.' Equilter carries an awesome number of produce fabrics by various manufacturers. I happened to have some 6" circles of high-quality quilters' food fabrics leftover from a completely different quilt project. I dug them out. Here's one. 
I put the circle on another virtuous food - in this case, brussels sprouts (The selvage says it's cabbage, but I feel strongly that it's brussels sprouts.)
Better, but not yet thrilling. 

Fortunately, I had recently purchased a bundle of assorted polka dot 'charms' - 5" squares - in a variety of color combinations.
I decided to make them into rectangular accents, symbolizing nothing really. Just to spice things up. 
Now we're talking!  Extrapolating from the work of Freddie Moran, I long ago decided that polka dots are the new black - they go with everything. Or should I say, polka dots are the new sugar/fat/salt? Like sweet, fatty, high-sodium processed cheeze sauce on frozen broccoli, polka dots make everything more delicious - but unlike the sauce, they can't cause weight gain. 

Here's the back of the potholder above:  
Fresh figs. My mouth waters every time I look at this awesome fabric. 

Next, bananas on collard greens/chard. OK, maybe not the tastiest combination in the real world, but the fabric for both involves yellow crescents. The yellow polka dots speak to them. 
The back: 
Next: Mixed nuts on pretzels. I know pretzels aren't healthy....but they could be worse.... and gosh, the color went so well with the nuts.
OK, my willpower lapsed. The back atones for the sins of the front:
I had a Chinese food fabric circle so I surrounded it with my favorite chopstick fabric. In this one, the polka dot accent is a long isosceles triangle. 
Pretend the rice is brown.
The back: 
Bags'o'rice. Continue to pretend it's brown rice.

It occurred to me that these shapes might make interesting quilt blocks too. Here's how the potholders  look laid out in a four patch:
Whatcha think? Is there an entire quilt in these shapes? (Maybe a lollipop quilt?)

I finished the four potholders in time, we went on our trip, and they were very well received by our  hosts and hostesses. I felt good about leaving them with a useful item that is also a subliminal pep talk to eat (mostly) clean.  Everyone lived happier and healthier ever after!

Or did they? 

That was SUPPOSED to be the happy ending, but while writing this up, and making a few more, I had a headslapper of an idea: The polka dot band can be a handle! For the one below, I fused the polka dot band to another piece on the inside, then stitched it to the potholder only at the ends. 

Ta daaaa! Next is one I made with lime green polka dots on lavender. 
The other new and different thing about this project is that my friend Linda gave me a big strip of Insul-brite to use as batting. (Normally I used 2-3 layers of cotton batting for a potholder). Along with the promise of better heat protection, I like that Insul-brite is very stiff, yet thinner than 3 layers of cotton batting. So if you do hang these up, the corners won't flop. Thank you, Linda, for saving me from floppy corners!

All this leaves me wondering about you, Dear Reader: Do you make quilts that have helped you adopt healthy habits or discourage bad ones? If so, I'd love to hear about it. 


  1. great way to art, be grateful for food and foodie fabrics, and express a subtle yet healthy POV with a sense o humor. just what I need for breakfast(food for thought?)while my frittata bakes.

  2. These are very cute Cathy and would be Oh so convenient for those little unexpected needed gifts. The bright fabrics are great, and I have used the insulated batting. It is much better for protection than regular batting and no problem to quilt with.
    Lets hear it for healthy habits!

  3. Mmmmm! Fritata! The world does need more fritata fabric! Thanks for stopping by, Sonja!

  4. Cathy, you have such a great sense of humor. I love it. What's not to love about polka dots? Maggie

  5. Adorable, and what great ideas! I especially love the "handle" you created with the strip of contrasting fabric.

  6. The handle came as a surprise to me, Linda! Thanks!


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