To be a bit cliché, this shoemaker is a professional Web Developer and her child is this blog, but it was past time to launch what I have of a new design. All the content is still here, everything else is a work in progress (kind of like most of my sewing projects)!
There are days I’m incredibly grateful that my first attempts at quilting didn’t scare me off forever. Case in point, my very first ever quilt project. I decided to make up my own bed-sized pattern using two different versions of the Altar Steps block that are both pretty fiddly (one had set-in seams, people. I don’t even like those now!), using fabric purchased from a box-store that shifted all over the place. It was a recipe for disaster.
Somehow, I managed to complete 10 blocks (nine of one, one of the other), although there’s about a 1″ difference in size between them all. I clearly hadn’t read about chain piecing, judging by thread tails. I cut things incorrectly but still used them. I really have no idea what I was thinking. At some point, I came to my senses and moved on to a different project.
In my effort to clear out old works in progress (for fear of being that quilter who has 20-year-old unfinished projects hoarded away in corners of their home—not that there’s anything wrong with that if you’re so inclined, it’s just not a good thing for me, personally—, I pulled out the blocks and decided to do something with it all. My self-imposed restraints: use up as much of the uncut yardage as possible, use all ten blocks, and don’t purchase any new supplies (no quilting thread, no batting, no backing—all stash).
I knew from the start that there was no way I’d actually make the originally planned quilt—not with these cheap, poorly cut, questionably coordinating fabrics. I also knew that I wanted to do something fast so that I could move on to a project I was in love with, not just in love with the idea of getting out of my sewing and head space.
With wide sashing and overly large borders, I managed to use up most of the yardage, a small chunk of pieces that had been cut out (mostly the flowered 5″ squares and yellow strips), and nine of the blocks. The remaining yardage, block, and a few additional scraps made it onto the back and into the binding. The quilt finished at 54″ x 68″—a very respectable throw size, considering what I was working with.
I backed it with the second sheet of the set I used when making the Bird’s Nest quilt, plus a strip of piecing. I used 80/20 batting, since that’s what would work from my stash (I only had to piece it once). This is the first time I’ve gone directly from quilting 100% cotton to 80/20 the next day, and I did notice a pretty clear difference in loft while quilting: the 80/20 is not nearly as flat. I think I would have preferred 100% cotton for this particular quilt, but it washed up beautifully in the end.
It’s quilted using a blown-up, much less well-controlled version of the “Flourish” design from the book Step-by-Step Free Motion Quilting by Christina Cameli (thanks Mom). The center is quilted using two similar light yellow cotton threads (because I didn’t have enough of one for the whole thing), while the borders (roughly) are quilted using a light blue (I had about 18″ left on the spool when I finished—talk about cutting it close). The bobbins are a mix of yellow and whatever light beige I had on hand in quantity. I used up the last of the yellow blender and a few more cut pieces as binding, finished by machine.
Five years and 36 other quilts later, it feels great to have a finished project made from those very first blocks along with a stash that is three yards of fabric (that aren’t my style) and a sheet lighter. A part of me looks at this and asks “could I have done something more edgy, more modern, more creative, more my style,” but another part is happy to have something that went from boxed in pieces to pieced and basted in under a week. There will always be another project to be more innovative with.
Now to decide if the quilt needs a home or should stay at mine.
Wide borders and large sashing are easy ways to eat up fabric and make a larger quilt out of just a few blocks. Sashing can also help even out slightly different block sizes, such as was the case with my Altar Step blocks.
I like how this is turning out much more than I expected to.
More importantly than how the project is turning out, I want to take a minute to provide sponsor-free praise of Mary Ellen’s Best Press. I avoided buying it for many years, thinking cheaper box-store spray starch or sizing was perfectly fine. Curiosity got the best of me recently, and I’m convinced I’ll never buy anything else again.
Piecing these slightly wonky, flimsy fabric-made blocks has been amazingly painless after using Best Press. It really does make an incredible amount of difference. I don’t want to say it will magically solve all problems—such as the poor technique of a beginning quilter—but let’s just say it’s well on its way to being a scientific theory from this data set of one.
Once upon a time (circa 2010), a young woman decided that she should start quilting. Rather than design a simple project—or better yet, follow a simple pattern—she went a little crazy and pronounced that she would make a huge quilt in the span of a few months as a wedding present to a cousin. It was a dismal plan all around, and needless to say, that first project is still unfinished.
In the present time, a slightly less young woman has grown wiser with age and is tired of half-finished (or less) projects cluttering up her studio-cum-master-closet (and asking “what on Earth were you thinking, younger self!?!?”).
That wiser woman knows finishing it to the original vision is never going to happen, nor does she want to even try.
So, while she ponders what to do with ten blocks, a million little cut-out pieces, and three uncut yards of coordinating fabric, you’re left reading a blog post written about herself in the third person, all for the purpose of describing one photo that should have just gone on Instagram.
It’s dangerous work, delving into the dark recesses of the unfinished object pile.
Anyone want a bunch of tiny squares and trapezoids of questionable-quality fabric, possibly pre-washed?
I’m working on a bucket list for quilting, more for my sanity to get it down on paper and out of my brain than for public consumption. The #1 item is to finish the myriad projects I’m already working on. Some are whiling away in boxes, some I am actively working on. It’s gotten a little out of control; I have eight!
I’ve never quilted before. Ok good, just so we’re clear on that.
I already had it in my head to start quilting before this project; the goal was to make a crib quilt for my best friend in the world’s bun-in-the-oven. That sounds pretty easy, since it’s a relatively small quilt. But then I got an invitation to my little cousin’s wedding. I thought a homemade quilt would be the perfect wedding gift, and considering that the baby isn’t due until Nov. I have plenty of time to fit in another quilt first. [visualize some suspenseful music here, if you don’t mind]
I began the task of looking at a million different quilt block patterns and quilts. So many of them looked interesting, and of varying degrees of complexity, but I wanted one with meaning. So I after a long search, I decided to use the Altar Steps block I found on Quilter’s Cache. The site creator’s comment aside, I thought it was an interesting design and would be good for the occasion of a wedding. But, I wanted to learn more about the block itself, so I started searching around for more info. Unfortunately, there seems to be nothing out there about it. I couldn’t even find that particular block on any other websites. There was a variation to be found in a few places however. Soldiering on, I decided to make a quilt pattern using both variations I found with some sashing in between, and the (un)creative title Sashaying the Altar Steps. I’ll show you the blocks for now, but I’ll leave the full pattern for later, just in case my cousin or his fiancée stumbles across this. (Ahem, dear cousin and future cousin-in-law: please stop reading for the next month if this is true.)
Here are the individual blocks:
And here are the fabrics:
More info about Altar Steps
Aside from the sources I mentioned above, I have found very little information about this block. The Quilter’s Album of Patchwork Patterns has a single mention of a block called Altar Steps, but the pictured pattern is Steps to the Altar—very different.
5,500 Quilt Block Designs has an Altar Blocks entry that is similar to the Block Central design. It cites the block as being published by Prudence Penny. Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns also lists this block and attribution, adding the date—1920. These are both laid out on a different grid than the Block Central block (and each other), and are missing one of the trapezoids in each corner in favor of a larger central octagon.
Both books list one block (published in 1897, per The Quilter’s Album) that is similar to the Quilter’s Cache block, called Dove in the Window, but it lacks the trapezoids in each corner in favor of squares and triangles (see below). Two additional patterns, West Wind and Sailboat, date from the mid 1930s and resemble variations of the corner motives from Dove in the Window, from which Altar Steps could have evolved (or evolved concurrently with Altar Steps).
For now I still have no clue about the origin of the Quilter’s Cache block or when it first appeared. It could be a lazy-machine-piecing evolution to the other block, removing the octagon and its required set-in seams, but that’s just a supposition on my part.
I welcome any additional info you might have about this block—either variation. If you know more, please comment. In the mean time, stay tuned for more updates as I begin sewing the blocks together.
Another variation similar to the Prudence Penny one (with yet another trapezoid) appears in the book Book Math by Cindi Mitchell, published in 2003 by Scholastic Inc.
5,500 Quilt Block Designs by Maggie Malone, published in 2005 by Sterling. Preview on Google Books Last accessed 6 Jul 2010.
The Quilter’s Album of Patchwork Patterns: 4050 Pieced Blocks for Quilters by Jinny Beyer, published in 2009 by Breckling Press. [The best research I’ve found so far. I’d love to own a copy of this book. For now, I must be content with the one I borrowed from the library.]
Encyclopedia Of Pieced Quilt Patterns by Barbara Brackman, published in 1993 by American Quilter’s Society. [Almost as good as Beyer’s book, but no color.]