photo of International Sisters quilt

Sisters Helping Sisters

Preeti Harris
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Autumn 2020

Ontario’s York Heritage Quilters Guild is busy making quilts for Toronto shelters. Sadly, the need is great. Numerous women and children are  escaping abusive relationships and are in need of support; with Toronto’s diverse population, the International Sister block seemed very  appropriate. When the guild was able to hold in-person meetings, members could pick up pre-cut fabrics and instructions; they can also use their own fabric. Finished blocks are returned to the Community Quilting tables for assembly into quilt tops and sandwiches. The guild is having so much fun that they want to share the idea. These blocks are decidedly addictive and a great way to play with lots of different fabrics, perfect for a sew-along or a virtual guild sewing day. Bet you can’t make just one!

photo of the International Sisters quilt block layout

Preeti Harris designed this block and we thought it would be fun to get the inside scoop on how it came to be. She kindly agreed to share her story.

I first came across the African Queen block in 2017 and was smitten. Hunting for the pattern or a tutorial left me empty handed so I decided to draft  the pattern. I made a block. It was midnight. I was dying to share it with someone so I called my friend Bernie on the west coast knowing that she was likely to be awake. True to form, she was a mountain of encouragement.

Bernie: I’d be happy to sell it in my Etsy store.
Me: You are very kind.
Internal Voice: It is not your pattern. You should not be profiting from it.
Me: I drafted it. I refined it. I perfected it.
Internal Voice: Not from scratch. The idea was someone else’s.
Me: Profit or not, I want to make more of these blocks.
Internal Voice: Go ahead.

photo of an International Sisters quilt block

By the time the 2019 Rainbow Scrap Challenge came along the design had been modified, several outrageously loud fabrics had been acquired and I was ready to churn out these lovely ladies on a regular basis. And I did. I experimented with various skin tones; freckles and age spots, too. The ladies were received with universal appeal. I danced with joy.

photo of three International Sisters quilt blocks

There were several requests for a pattern/tutorial and the internal dialogue began all over again. One thing was abundantly clear – if I shared the pattern, it would be free. But I still struggled with the question of whether or not to share it with the world. Several emails ensued and the final  decision came after a phone call with Mari. “These ladies are very popular; there is no way you can keep them all to yourself. If you don’t share this tutorial, someone else surely will.”

photo of an International Sisters quilt block

So, in May 2019, without further dialogue (internal or otherwise) I posted the International Sister quilt block tutorial on my Sew Preeti Quilts blog. The credit for naming the block goes to Cathy, who very wisely said, “Your lady blocks have morphed from African women to International Sisters’’. And you’ll notice a little whimsical touch in the two slight variations of the block. In the beginning, open palms indicated a willingness to dance and closed palms meant ‘I am tired’. Current events demanded that I change the narrative to say that open palms conveyed a willingness to welcome others; since then all palms have been open. In the end, it is a design choice with the interpretation left open to the individual.

It has been incredibly rewarding to see the enjoyment that quilters get from making this block and I hope that your readers will have some fun with  it as well. You can find the full tutorial here.

photo of Preeti Harris

Preeti Harris works as a transportation planner in Washington, DC, and is also a Distinguished Toastmaster. She enjoys spicy food and Bollywood music. In 2013 she caught the quilting bug and made her first quilt. Since then, she has been completely addicted to fabric and all things quilting.