(Note: this was first published in Our View from Iowa on 3/30/2013.)
It’s been a busy three months of quilting for me.
The Charity Quilts
I started the year with a group project. An online group in which I participated was creating two quilts for auction. Each quilt is to support a different non-profit organization. There were 12 blocks made for each quilt, and each quilt used a different color scheme. Each contributing member made a block to finish to 12″. Then they sent the blocks to me. My task was to assemble the individual blocks into attractive quilt tops.
Anyone who has participated in group quilting projects knows that sizes aren’t always consistent. If one quilter uses a scant 1/4″ seam allowance, and one uses a fat 1/4″ seam allowance, it might have minimal impact on their own projects, as long as they always do the same thing.
A block that finishes at 12″ ideally should be UN-finished at 12.5″. The blocks I received ranged from about 12″ unfinished to up to 13″. The larger ones were deliberately over-sized, giving me room to trim and square. The smaller ones… were more of a challenge.
Before I started I asked my good friend Beth to come over to consult. She’s a quilter, too, but more than that, she’s an artist. We are creative in somewhat different ways, so we find solutions differently. I knew I would need to frame the blocks to make them all the same size. She suggested framing all the blocks with the same fabric I used for the sashing and borders. That would allow the size differences to disappear completely. Besides that, she helped me choose fabric from my stash for the first of the two projects.
The color scheme for the first project included black, red, white, yellow, and tan. The project supports a Native American community in South Dakota. The fabric we chose for the framing, sashing, and borders is almost black, with a coppery brown graphic design on it, so it reads as brown. After trying several others, and then seeing the black/brown, we knew that was right.
I made the twelfth block and then assembled the top. When I was done with it and with the second one, I mailed them to the professional quilter who was finishing them. The quilter is Laura at Butterfly Quilting. She does amazing work, and the group was very fortunate to have her services.
This is the first quilt. It’s in the process of being auctioned now. The second one is on the frame now and will be sold later. I’m proud to have been part of the effort.
The Comfort Quilt
I had another project in the works at the same time. A friend had asked me to make a comfort quilt for his significant other, a woman with whom I’m acquainted but do not know well. She’s planning to have hip replacement surgery soon. As an avid bicyclist, the pain of a hip joint with no cartilage has become too much.
I do not make quilts on request. It’s a “thing.” I just don’t. A quilt from me needs to be a gift from me. And though I always make a quilt trying to please the recipient, I don’t take orders for them. (I did make quilts for both my daughters after shopping for fabric with them. Still, it was my offer to do so, and the designs were my choice completely.)
This time, though, I agreed. I would make a quilt for her, in return for a donation from him to a food agency. We agreed on an agency and a dollar amount. I began the quilt and finished the top. Her surgery was delayed, and another friend’s life changed quickly, and I switched gears.
The Wedding Quilt
In the fall of last year a dear friend got engaged. Excited for him, for his dream come true, I planned to make a wedding quilt. With their event scheduled for June of this year, I had plenty of time. However at the beginning of this year, his fiance became quite ill. It soon became apparent they had little time left. At the beginning of February I began making a quilt, intended to be a symbol of their everlasting love, regardless of their physical time together.
I started a medallion quilt, perhaps my favorite form. I wanted it masculine, strong, traditional. My friend has many antiques in his home, and I thought he’d appreciate the ties to the past.
Speaking of ties, I realized quickly that many of the fabrics I chose were “foulards,” a type of print often used in men’s ties. Barbara Brackman explains them this way:
One distinctive print style is a small isolated figure set in diagonal repeat. Figures fall in a half-drop repeat with rows aligned in staggered fashion, giving the over-all effect of a diamond grid. The figure may be a flower, leaf, paisley cone, or motif so abstract it is identified only as a mignonette (little fancy). The print style with its diagonal, neat design is also known as an Indienne, a copy of an Indian-style print. And, because these prints were so fashionable for scarves, the French word for scarf, foulard, came to mean any half-drop print of isolated small figures. In the years between 1840 and 1865, Americans craved foulards to the point that they became a standard for American clothing and quilts.
Besides the foulards, I chose a border print on dark red, which I used for the first interior border as well as the last border. When I turned the center on point, I used a tan-on-cream toile, continuing the traditional theme. And the lovely French-style small medallions accented the center and carried the dark red into more layers of the quilt.
After assembling the top, I decided to piece the back from my stash. I cut 36 squares and distributed the colors throughout. Once top and back were ready, I quilted it with wool batting. The finished quilt is about 77″ square, big enough to top a queen-sized bed.
Start to finish, including a label and mailing, this quilt took me 16 days, a land-speed record for me.
Sadly, my friend’s fiance had died in the interim, a tragic ending to a magical romance.
The Strip Quilt
A small piece in a much longer story (not to be told today) is the strip quilt. More than two years ago I helped my friend Lisa make a baby quilt for her coming grandson. Lisa is not a quilter, so we modified a very simple strip quilt design, to make it something she could do without quilting skills. I needed a similarly simple quilt for a project this year, and used the same basic plan. (Lisa! Call me!)
Though the comfort quilt was ready to put on my frame, I wanted to quilt something else first for practice. I chose the strip quilt. It is small, it would be easy, and when done I would feel confident and ready for the more important project.
But it didn’t go well.
The quilt is narrow, about 35″, and I was able to quilt almost half of it in one pass on my long-arm frame. And when I finished that pass and rolled the quilt to advance it, I saw: the bottom thread tension was pretty bad. The tension was much too tight, leading to the thread lying on the fabric surface, instead of embedding the loops in the layers. It looked messy, badly done. But I had quilted densely enough that picking it all out was out of the question.
I adjusted the tension and finished quilting, feeling defeated. That much longer story already had me down, and then this… The problems with this small quilt seemed never-ending.
No matter what, someone would get this quilt. I finish things. There are very few UFOs in my stash. So I bound it (which didn’t go great, either.) And when it was done, I wondered, what if I washed and dried it? Would the tension problems fade in view as the fabric and thread puckered some from the wash?
And glory be! It came out of the dryer looking better! Though I can still tell which side was done with bad tension, no one else would see unless they looked for it. The fabric on the back is very busy, disguising a lot of sins in the pattern. And as hoped, the puckering from washing helped the rest pull up and into the layers.
Finished, the quilt is about 35″x60″. I actually like it quite a lot. The fabric is soft and smooth; the quilting makes it drape nicely. But the problems and the untold long story make it a quilt I can’t keep.
The Test Quilt
The bad tension made me wary, even though I fixed it. I wanted to do one more project on the frame before starting the comfort quilt. The only other project I had ready was too complex. I needed something much easier. So I made one.
For this little quilt I used a center block made last fall. After turning the block on point, I framed it with squares on point, using the last of the chartreuse fabric.
It’s not bound yet. When it’s done I’ll send it and a small throw pillow to my great-niece, who just turned two. It’ll be a great little quilt for a little girl to drag around.
The Round Robin
In January my small quilting group began a round robin. Each of us created a center block. During our January meeting we passed them so another member could add to them. In February we did the same. Now the blocks each have two borders added. I don’t have a photo of my own starting block. Here is the block of another member, with the border I added for our February meeting. This is the first border.
And this is a different project with two borders added.
In April each project will have three borders. We have a goal of finishing the projects, including quilting and binding, by our September meeting.
A Project for Me
Like many quilters (and other crafters), I rarely do projects just for me. Needing a little indulgence, I started one with pieces leftover from the wedding quilt. Though I started with pinks and greens, a pink and green quilt was not my intention. When I tried fabric to make the first border, the purple spoke to me, and it said, “Pair me up with that pale aqua. We won’t do you wrong.” It didn’t lie. I love the direction they took it.
Next I chose the bright teal to edge the small triangles, and after that, the only thing I could imagine was a riot of triangles that brought some yellow into the mix.
I’ve started another border since this photo was taken, and I have a tentative plan for the one after that. But I won’t know what this quilt will look like until it’s done. The improvisation, taking one step at a time, is part of the pleasure for me. It’s one of the reasons I love medallion quilts. They don’t need a full plan from the beginning. They don’t need a plan at all!
When it’s done, I think this will be for my own bed. Quilted with wool batting, it will be soft and light, a great weight for half the year.
Back to the Comfort Quilt
The recipient of this now has her surgery scheduled for the end of April. After quilting the “test” quilt for my great-niece, I was confident that I could manage the comfort quilt. As mentioned, the woman who will get it is a bicyclist, which drove my design. In addition, my friend told me she would like it done in cream, tan, taupe, and brown. I countered that I needed another color, not being comfortable with a monochromatic palette. He added blue to the mix, and so did I.
Pinwheels that seem to spin were the natural choice for the blocks. Also I found a wonderful border fabric in brown, with a blue “wallpaper” print on it. Though the print has a lacy effect, it also is somewhat angular and suits the rest of the design.
I quilted it with continuous spirals, spinning in and out like wind through the spokes of her bike.
It’s a beautiful quilt and I hope she loves it. (And I hope she doesn’t see the photo here before she receives it!) My emotional attachment to the quilt is minimal, and my reward is knowing that a food recovery agency will receive a helpful donation.
What have you been working on this quarter?