If you read my last post, you know that my mother is an amazing (hand!) quilter. Growing up watching her give her time making beautiful things is a huge part of my inspiration for knitting. But for the past couple of years, I’ve been thinking ‘I’d like to try quilting.’ Those words even came out of my mouth to my mother in the fabric store a while back and she sent me some lovely fabrics for my birthday last year–enough to make a lap quilt. But then the sewing machine went into storage whilst we had our flat on the market and (eventually) executed our move to Cambridge. But finally, I got my sewing machine back and bought a table for the sewing machine. I’ve been doing a few bits and pieces of sewing–a pillow, a couple of project bags and some heavier weight bags that I think I’ll use for my knitting or sewing notions. The straight lines had been going well (although I did have to call my maternal help desk once when I couldn’t figure out why the machine had suddenly stopped making stitches properly–user error, of course), and I wanted to tackle a quilt–I had the rotary cutter and mat, I had some fabric, a couple of patterns (that I understood from having watched Mom do them) and I had a good reference book. I did, however, lack the confidence to start. I didn’t want ‘teaching’ so much as I wanted someone there to ask questions of and to interact with if I got stuck.
Fortunately, I live near Sew Creative, a great sewing and fabric shop with a patchwork focus. (They are also my most local yarn store with a nice selection , which is why I first went to visit them….) They were offering a class for a patchwork quilting top in late April, and I thought that would give me the impetus I needed to get myself going. So I duly signed up. Later, I went back to the shop to pick the fabrics, which I loved to do with Mom when she was planning a quilt. The class was based on a ‘layer cake’, a stack of 10″ x 10″ squares in nine or ten different fabrics. I started with a bright cherry print that I liked and the vague idea that I wanted to do something with reds and purples and maybe blue or green and the amazing Lucy at Sew Creative patiently waited and suggested while I picked out the rest of the fabrics for my custom layer cake for the class. I even went ahead and picked the fabrics for the borders and the backing since it all seemed to work so well together. (Be patient, you’ll get to see the fabrics in a minute. I’m trying to build suspense in my narrative here!)
A few days later, I lugged a sewing machine, a cutting mat and a bag full of sewing supplies out of a cab and into Sew Creative. They’d made room around their big central display table and six of us and all our gear lined up around the table. The class was made up of a mix of seriously experienced quilters and sewers and passionate novices. I was sitting between two experienced quilters, of course. Elaine Green, our teacher, began quilting in (I think she said) about 2002 and hasn’t looked back since. She brought great enthusiasm and calm, clear instructions with her.
We started by randomly pairing our 36 10″ x 10″ squares and drawing a line across the diagonal. We then sewed a seam on either side of the line. And then, we cut along the centre diagonal, leaving two triangles. (This was where having someone there to watch what I was doing came in handy. Not only did Elaine point out that I would probably be safer if I worked the rotary cutter away from myself (whoops!), but also noticed that if I was using the cutter in my left hand, I needed to shift the blade to the other side so that it would sit flush against the ruler. That was a bit of a light bulb moment and things got much easier after that.)
Once we pressed the seams and opened the triangles, we had 36 squares like this. These all had to be trimmed to be precise squares of equal size. All six of us were sharing one square ruler large enough for the job. After Elaine showed us how to do it and I did a few to get the hang of it, I passed on the ruler to someone else. (In the end, Elaine wound up helping me cut the rest of the squares, because I ran out of time.)
While waiting to trim the rest of my squares, I cut out 100 smaller squares in my contrast fabric. Yes: 100. I’d seen my mother do squares and strips before, but again, it really helped that Elaine was there to help me get started. I now know the tricks for keeping things straight throughout.
After I got home from class, with my stacks of 36 big squares and 100 little squares, I kept going and attached most of the little squares to the big squares. The next day was a big day. Yes, it was the day of the Royal Wedding, but far more importantly, I picked the layout for the quilt.
…to this. I had been getting a bit wobbly about the fabric choices, and laying things out made me wobblier. I could see things were coming together, but I wasn’t sure whether I liked what was happening. But I persevered, turning the individual squares into larger pieces.
After a minor (okay, major) cutting fiasco (it helps to recheck the dimensions before you cut, even if you are sure the instruction says 3-1/4″) and a trip to Sew Creative to buy more fabric for the inner border, I had the whole of the patchwork top together and the inner border on. I loved the way the border went on, and how the purple squares at the centres of the blocks carried out into the border. But I was still unconvinced about the fabrics I had chosen and worried about the fabric I had chosen for the outer border. Would the colourful print on a white background work? I went ahead anyway, and was quite pleased with myself for figuring out the best way to cut the outer border to avoid having to piece it (although I did have to do squares in the corners). And in the end, I was really very pleased with how the whole thing turned out:
I think the white border helps to contain all the lovely, colourful visual chaos in the body of the quilt and softens the harsh lines. Besides, I really do love the cherry fabric. And I am happy with the way the colours came out now that everything is together. It’s vibrant and cheerful. And I love that the whole of the parts is completely different from how any of the individual fabrics looked, or even how the pieces without the borders looked.
The next step is to get this quilted. In some ways, the only way to quilt is by hand, because that is what my mother does so amazingly well. On the other hand, I would like to have this available to keep guests warm by Christmas time, so I am contemplating doing this as a machine quilted project. I have some time to decide: I am signed up for a class on machine and hand quilting in early June at Sew Creative (in their Bury St Edmund’s branch this time). And in the mean time, I’ve also signed up for a block-of-the-month club at the store too. In fact, my first installment in cheerful bright colours picked by yours truly is upstairs waiting for me to piece it together. And it’s possible that I’ve stashed a few pieces of quilting cotton with vague ideas for projects in mind. It seems that somehow I’ve picked up another hobby.