Sometimes, you just need a quilt to lay on, and your human doesn’t understand.
And sometimes, the human needs to spend an evening playing with scraps.
A post on the full quilt will come sometime next week…
Sometimes, you just need a quilt to lay on, and your human doesn’t understand.
And sometimes, the human needs to spend an evening playing with scraps.
A post on the full quilt will come sometime next week…
Thine arms are ever warm,
Thine arms are ever warm.
Memory still shall close enfold,
Bringing us joys of days of yore;
Faith shall thy constant fame uphold,
While years, Carissima, grow cold.
We love thee evermore, We love thee evermore.
Like most residential college students, I lived in school t-shirts while pursuing my undergrad degree. Then, as I moved along in my professional career, I found myself wearing them less often (hastened by the fact that I lived a mere 15 minutes away from my alma mater). When we packed for our move to Vermont (downsizing in the process), I refused to move the bag of shirts yet again so, I spent some time one afternoon fusing on interfacing and cutting the shirts into future quilt pieces. Those took up far less room in packing boxes.
Now—eighteen months later—it took just a single evening to piece them into a quilt top. All told there are 21 shirts represented (some with multiple squares depending on their print design).
It’s a partially-complete capsule of my four years—music, dorms, publications, social justice, just plain social, and a summer internship that set me on the road to my career. I even designed a couple of the shirts (and countless posters, event invitations, and publication layouts). It’s oddly lacking in reference to my major (I still wear our hoodie) or the on-campus internship that ate up over 20 hours of every week (and a few summers).
For backing, I spray-basted two layers of fleece in the school colors (“buff & blue”, or in this case Joann Fabrics Anti-Pill Fleece in Camel and Navy Blue Tartan), then sewed the outline of an ‘H’ shaped after the official logotype. After cutting out the top layer inside the ‘H’, I zig-zag stitched around the cut out to secure it before basting the top to the two layers of fleece. Eagle-eyed readers will notice it’s slightly narrower than square; I trimmed off an inch from both sides so that I didn’t need to piece the 58″-wide backing fleece.
I chose to hand tie the quilt rather than machine quilt it for no reason other than wanting to tie a quilt. Again, I went with the school colors, using embroidery floss I had at home (DMC colors 842 and 823, inherited from my grandma). It was not easy pulling two full-thickness strands of embroidery floss through the layers, but a few TV marathon sessions (a habit started in college) and a few large tapestry needles got me through.
In my haste to finish it, I made a rookie mistake of using unwashed cotton binding (Moda Bella Solid Royal), which shrank in the wash. It’s usually not an issue—I don’t prewash fabrics so they all shrink together, but well-worn t-shirts are another matter. The result is a slightly rumpled edge and corners that like to turn up. It just adds more character in a memento of four years full of it. I’m looking forward to cozying up with this during my second Vermont winter. With two layers of fleece, it’s quite warm!
I hope you’ll forgive me for delaying this post for a couple weeks for photo purposes. It seemed fitting to wait until we drove back to Utica for a weekend, giving us a chance to take photos on “The Hill” where it all started. The weather didn’t cooperate, but it certainly brought back memories. Also, there’s no small amount of irony that the Dark Side tee anchors the quilt (as well it should, considering my dorm choices for three years), yet we took all of the photos on the light side of campus. It fits.
Early in my quilting adventures, I was guilty of starting many more projects than I finished. Case in point: this quilt started life in April 2011, but a block disappeared as I was piecing them into rows and I quickly moved on to newer, shinier projects. In the 43 months between then and now, the almost-completed top and its scrap fabric have migrated from box to bin to box, apartment to house to apartment. So consigned to oblivion, it wasn’t even mentioned in the unfinished projects lists in my yearly review posts of 2012 and 2013.
I started the top shortly after buying a Jellie roll and the book Two from One Jelly Roll Quilts by Pam and Nicky Lintott. It’s made from alternating 6″ nine patches and snowball blocks, using 2.5″ strips and a background fabric for the snowball (in this case a Target cotton sheet set clearance buy). After one of the blocks went missing, I bought a charm pack of the fabric with which to recreate the stray block, but never followed through on piecing it.
The host of unfinished projects in my sewing closet has lately become mental as well as physical clutter, demanding commitment. I unboxed this one while considering co-opting the backing fabric for another quilt you’ll see soon. Instead, I finished piecing it while waiting for a different fabric to ship for the other quilt. When I opened the box, the missing block was there on top—found and again forgotten at some point over the years. A few seams, two borders (most of which were already pieced), and it was done in the span of an hour. I’m glad it was a simple quilt design; I de-stashed the book a year or two ago.
To fit the bird nest theme, I used a stashed embroidery quilting bird motif to quilt some of the snowball blocks and two of the corners. The rest of the blocks are quilted with an all-over swirl design, the borders feathered. The sheeting fabric was somewhat difficult to quilt as it didn’t glide over my machine like quilter’s cotton does, but my free-motion skills aren’t perfect anyhow. All the free motion made for quick work—it went from basted to quilted in a single evening.
And so my sixth quilt start became my thirty-second quilt finish. Working with the older piecing, I could tell how my skills have improved—small betterments became a substantial change that I hadn’t otherwise noticed. There’s also something to be said for ease of working with high-quality fabric instead of the cheap stuff this is made of.
In the end, I didn’t need that charm pack at all, although a few charms made it into the binding when I found myself short on the brown texture. Perhaps I’ll make a pillow or two to match—I still have an entire twin sheet plus scraps of the background and backing fabric. Regardless of its future, it feels great to recover the storage space and knock another unfinished project off the list.
In the realm of quilting, this is hardly an “old” project to finally finish. What’s the oldest project you’ve ever dug out of a box and finished up?
The last time I mentioned my english paper piecing project (blocks from Lucy Boston: Patchwork of the Crosses), I’d sewn together about fifteen pieces—not even half a block. That was two years ago. Unlike many of my once-mentioned (even twice-mentioned) projects, I have continued to work on this one, albeit unhurriedly.
I go through phases where I’m content basting the individual pieces to their paper foundations, and make a bit of progress that way.
Then, I go through phases of piecing some together, building blocks a bit at a time.
This is where it stands after a bit more work while we traveled to New Jersey to see family last weekend.
In another two years or so, I may even finish an entire block.
In 2012, I started a steampunk costume that never seemed to take flight. The only finished piece is the skirt stay/brooch, created in collaboration with my friend Katherine Koba (who did all the beadwork, and continues to create the mathematically-inspired jewelry in her Etsy shop).
The backstory for the character I dreamt up to costume included Ada Lovelace as her godmother, inspiring her to tool about with Babbage’s analytical engines. While the character is fictitious, Lady Ada King, Countess of Lovelace was not—she’s considered the first computer programmer, having theorized how the Analytical Engine could do calculations decades before an electronic computer was built. So, in honor of Ada Lovelace Day (the middle Tuesday of October every year), here is a post about the brooch (finally!).
With computers, everything boils down to zeros and ones—electric current on or off. Calculations are performed by circuits of varying complexities. One of the more basic is called a full adder, which we modeled this brooch after. As you might guess from the name, it adds numbers together.
In the beadwork, the inputs are splayed across the top and the results (sum and carryover) are dangling from the bottom, with the gates and intermediate results between. The smaller, purplish beads are numbers—1 or 0—and the larger orange and gold represent the logic gates—gold for AND, orange for XOR. The white beads are filler for the paths between the gates.
The beadwork is mounted on a base made from bicycle gears (we can pretend they’re from an analytical engine) that were superglued together and spray-painted. I can’t speak for Koba, but I think sizing the wires correctly was the most difficult part of this—particularly since the gears and I were in Utica, and Koba and the beads were in South Korea!
Plumleigh can’t do any actual calculations with this full adder, but it certainly is a fun accessory to wear while she fiddles with a real set of circuits solving any manner of problem.
Projects like this are just one of the myriad ways STEM sneaks into my crafting. How does it influence your hobbies?
A group of us are starting a Modern Quilt Guild here in Vermont. It’s very exciting, but also a bit drudging trying to get everything set up and official and to get the ball rolling with actual guild-type stuff rather than being all about business, business, business, and “do we want to be MQG-official?”, et cetera.
At our September meeting, we had our first demo, potholders based on the ones in Zakka Style—a great demo idea, since it shows all the steps of quilting in one small package. To encourage members to try out the skills and techniques, we’re charged with bringing a completed potholder of any type to the next meeting.
I thought I should tackle two to-do items at once and get a head start on xmas gifts, so I made a matching set for a friend. I’ve been saving a charm pack of BasicGrey Origins for almost three years now, purchased with this friend in mind. I paired it with stashed ivory linen, a brown texture print from JoAnn Fabrics (I had nothing in my stash that matched the linen and charms. Amazing!), and an embroidery from Urban Threads.
After I finished, I remembered that we said we’d do a swap at the meeting, so I made a third for that (a great time to incorporate what I learned from earlier mistakes!).
That time around, I cut the binding as a 2.5″ strip instead of the 3″ that I used for the other two, since I wasn’t entirely happy with the width. Next time, I know to use 2.75″; 2.5″ is slightly too narrow for me to machine finish cleanly.
I pieced the 2.5″ hexies by machine (not perfect, but nothing a liberal amount of steam couldn’t handle), and turned them into a pouch for better gripping (making the pretty side the won’t-get-shoved-into-food-accidentally side, which makes the ivory far more practical). All three are 8.5″ square, with a layer of Insul-Bright and low-loft cotton batting between. I do wish I’d remembered to add a hanging loop to my friend’s, and am not entirely happy with the contrast quilting on the back (which makes the un-quilted, embroidered area even more obvious).
As for the guild, join us the last Sunday of every month, 10am-noon, at Nido in Burlington!
A bit sooner than anticipated (prompted by a comment from a reader), here’s the next edition of my Half-baked Blueprint series. Remember, these are not patterns; think of them as rough outlines of the inspiration, math, fabric, and techniques I use in some of my quilts—there’s a lot you’ll have to fill in yourself. My hope is that it will inspire other quilters to play with quilt top designing rather than always reaching for published patterns.
Three years ago, I pieced the Lollipop Baby Quilt quilt improvisationally, initially aiming at creating a straight-forward Jelly Roll Race quilt (albeit with a strange non-standard roll of half-strips). Halfway through, I paused to do a few quick math calculations and chose to piece it in four sections.
20 2.5″ x width of fabric strips
Jelly Roll Race quilt measurements are inexact by nature—the whole point is to just sew everything together and square it up at the end, if needed. Piecing blocks is largely the opposite—you need relatively precise measurements so that everything joins up correctly. To mesh the two, you need to be willing to deal with both.
This is just basic Jelly Roll Race quilt making, but you stop mid-way through.
Sew all 20 strips together, end to end. You should have a strip that is at least 800″ long. If it is shorter, you need to add one more strip. If it is longer, that’s great. Most of the time, it should end up around 820″ long at this point.
Cut exactly in half, then sew the two strips together along the long side. Now, you should have something that is 4.5″ x 400″ or longer. Square up the ragged end if needed, but try to not cut off too much.
Cut in half, sew along the long side, result should be 8.5″ x 200″ or longer (4 strips tall). Square ends if needed.
Once more. Cut in half, sew, result should be 16.5″ x 100″ or longer (8 strips tall). Square ends if needed.
The finished quilt is just 6 squares cut from your strip set.
Cut six 16.5″ blocks off (you should have a few inches leftover—discard it, use it on the back, or in a different project), then sew the blocks together in three rows, where rows one and three have stripes vertically, row two has them horizontally.
You now have a completed quilt top.
A whole standard jelly roll can make a 48″x64″ quilt. You’ll use 40 strips. You’ll start with a pieced strip 1600″ or more long. Your finished strip set will still be 8 strips tall (16.5″), but 200″ or longer, and you’ll cut 12 squares. Just remember, not all rolls have the same number of strips, and you’ll need more strips than a standard jelly roll if you piece diagonally (46 strips total).
Rather than cut six blocks, you can cut two off of your strip set for the middle row, then sew the remaining length into a 16-strip-wide strip set and cut that in half for rows 1 and 3—this is a little less exact, but will let you use up the full length rather than discarding the remaining few inches leftover after cutting blocks. Doing it that way likely accounts for the longer length of my quilt.
Good luck with your own quilt-making!
Caveat: I donated the quilt to the Linus Project a few months after finishing it in 2011, so I’m working partially from memory/partially by working out the math and logic again in 2014. The latter has some contradictions to the original post, such as the finished size. I claimed that the original quilt is ~36″ × 51″, but my current math concludes that it should be 32″ × 48″. My best explanation is that I must have (really) sloppily measured the unwashed, finished quilt and rounded up. I feel confident that the new measurements are correct (plus or minus an inch or two to account for piecing/cutting/shrinking deviations).
It’s been a long time since I followed a quilt pattern. The last twenty quilts I’ve made have been largely or completely my own designs, or my own take on something I’ve seen. The hardest technical part is doing the math and figuring out if I have the right amount of fabric for what I’ve chosen to do, but simply believing that I don’t need a pattern was a huge initial hurdle. Remembering that hurdle, I’m starting this Half-baked Blueprint series. They’re not patterns; think of them as rough outlines of the inspiration, math, fabric, and techniques I use in some of my quilts—there’s a lot you’ll have to fill in yourself. The rail fence “Noble Blooms” quilt from earlier this year is a good place to start. My hope is that it will inspire other quilters to play with quilt top designing rather than always reaching for published patterns.
40.5″ square quilt, made from 25 8″ finishing blocks
Starting with 24 2.5″ x width of fabric strips…
Sew six strip sets of four strips each…
Cut four 8.5” blocks from each strip set, totaling 24 blocks.
Then, cut a 4.5” x 8.5” section off two of the strip sets and sew those together to create one more 8.5” block.
Alternative: if your strips have 42.5″ of usable width (after you remove selvages), you can get all 25 blocks from only 20 strips—5 blocks per strip set, and no pieced extra block. Some strips will have this width, others won’t; each manufacturer, fabric line, and even bolt varies on the total width of fabric.
Basic: Five rows of five blocks each, alternating the direction of each block.
Intermediate: use values of the strips within blocks to create secondary patterns (sketch it before piecing or use a design wall).
Advanced: solve the n-queens problem with your placement like I did to please my nerdy mind (no block is on the same horizontal, vertical, or diagonal as another of the same block set).
Go Further (optional):
Use embellishment or applique to personalize it
Add borders to make it larger
Add asymmetrical borders to play with negative space
What caused me to make the choices in my own quilt? In this case, form followed supplies and time. I had a Rolie Polie of 23 2.5″ strips, a 54″ square piece of Minky, a stash to draw from for binding, but nothing much that coordinated with the Rolie Polie otherwise. And, I had about a week and a half to make the quilt.
Rail fence blocks can be arranged in any number of ways. Since I had four distinct color and value groups (brown, pink, green, beige) with an equal number of strips in the roll (more or less), I was inspired to make all of my strip-sets with one strip of each from darkest to light. Because I could only cut four blocks from each strip set, I had to add one additional strip from my stash to the Rolie Polie, and piece a block together from two half blocks to make 25. As I mentioned above, the layout of blocks was mostly to appease my problem-solving mind (although I deviated with the planned layout for the half-and-half block and another spot where I flipped a block when sewing rows and didn’t want to rip).
I wanted to personalize it, since the recipient’s sibling’s quilt had her initials in the quilting, so I chose to applique her first initial and a crown (playing off the meaning of her name) in one corner, using one of the few FQs in my stash that matched the other fabrics. You can download a printable version for your own project (if you want a curly, be-crowned ‘G’).
Quilting possibilities are only limited by your imagination. I used a large-scale, all-over flowery free motion motif based on the flowers in the fabric for two reasons: it could be done quickly, and was a good project for me to play with free-motion on. I chose to use a cream-to-brown variegated thread because it was the best match in my stash, but also because it blended the quilting into the varied colors of the fabrics.
Because I worked with 2.5″ strips, the math on this was simple. But, that didn’t mean everything went to plan. I didn’t measure the width of the strips, so I couldn’t cut my planned five blocks from each strip set and had to improvise by finding a 24th strip (actually, two 21″ strips from a fat quarter) and piecing a block together from the leftovers of other strips sets. Sure, it meant reevaluating the block layout I’d planned initially (as well as choice of binding, as I’d planned to use the leftover strips and that fat quarter as the binding), but in the end, I am pleased with the final quilt (and, I like the solid binding far more than I think I would have liked the original plan). In the blueprint above, I went with the assumption that you might also run into this issue.
In 2012, I participated in a monthly sampler group at one of the quilt shops in Utica. I kept up with the block piecing during the course of the sampler, but they’ve been languishing in a box ever since. I lost track of both the number of times I’ve sketched layouts for the twelve blocks and the layouts I liked, so the blocks sat unset and out of mind. Then, a need to carve out sewing time amidst wedding planning grew, culminating in a strike of inspiration for a simple layout for these blocks. So, out they came!
The theme of the sampler was “Road Trip”, with each block name corresponding to a place in the United States. I described each of the blocks in quarterly installments as I was working through them: Road to California, Cheyenne, and Baton Rouge; Road to Oklahoma City, Philadelphia Pavement, and Alabama; Kansas Star, Chicago Pavements, and Union Square; and Connecticut, State of Georgia, and Road to the White House.
Although the layout eluded me, I knew I wanted to riff off the idea of road trips and asphalt. I gathered additional fabric for the quilt as I traveled that year, picking up the grey texture from Downtown (Windham Fabrics) along with white and yellow batiks to fit the road markings and asphalt idea. I realized later that there wasn’t nearly enough of the grey texture, so I purchased a length of Crackle (also Windham Fabrics).
The final layout mixes those two grays and a third mottled gray fat quarter from my stash in an arbitrary arrangement pieced to get the lengths needed from the fabric I had on hand. The chunks of different shades remind me of the patched roads in central Missouri that I spent so many hours on during summers of my childhood. While some kids played the “don’t step on the black tiles of checkerboard floors” game, I played the “don’t let my feet touch the floorboard over the clay-red road sections” game to amuse myself when the four of us were packed in the back seat of a Honda Prelude en route from Kansas City to the Lake of the Ozarks.
It took another few months before I had a chance to quilt it. The quilting is a mix of stitch in the ditch and free motion. I took inspiration from rumble strips for the road markings, tire tracks in the open spaces, some filler “cracks”, and free-motioned lines to fill in the rest of the space. The blocks are stitched in the ditch to not obscure the colors with the dark gray quilting thread (don’t look closely at my attempts to free motion stitch in the ditch with contrast thread, please!). Fairfield Quilters 80/20 batting provided a good quilting surface (and was the only thing I had to go out and purchase in 2014 to complete the quilt).
The backing started life as an XL twin duvet cover that I bought on clearance at Target a few years ago. I was disappointed when I unpackaged it and found that it had a gray back rather than the print on both sides. Even with the accompanying sham, there wasn’t enough printed fabric to piece the full back, so I left one of the seams in the duvet and called it good enough. Its origin seems quite fitting to the theme considering that I now have to road trip to shop there (oh how I miss thee, my clean, organized, red and white homie). Of course, the print fits too, considering the reliance on cassette tapes if one planned to have any music on those central MO trips.
It’s bound in a white batik that I bought intending to use in one of the other possible top layouts. I tried a new method of machine binding (sew to back, flip to front, secure), and am insanely happy with how it turned out. It’s almost perfect.
The final piece was a custom label I designed as we worked on the blocks and printed on one of my Spoonflower label orders last year. Throughout the course of the sampler, I found the community of quilters in Utica that I was so sad to leave. I hope I can find one here in Burlington soon. Just don’t tell them that the duvet cover backing is polyester (another thing I didn’t realize when I purchased it). That should stay our little secret.
Our seventh anniversary was at the end of August. Usually, we take a trip over Labor Day weekend to somewhere we haven’t yet been. This year, it turned into a honeymoon the week before.
I’m very glad it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event—I’m not an event planner, that’s for sure. Now I have time to get back to fun sewing and updating!