August 2, 2002
I finally finished the baby quilt I’ve been working on since mid-May. I guess eleven weeks is not all that long a time to take to make a quilt, but it felt like it took forever, maybe because this project came right after my successful quilt in a week experience, or maybe because I was stressing about doing it up to the standards of the baby’s mom, who, from what I’ve seen of her quilting and heard her say about other quilts, is tough. In order to get this quilt done, I had to give up the idea of meeting those standards (which may be mostly in my head; she may not be as critical as I think), hoping the mom will be able to appreciate the effort and not look too closely at the details. Still, I agonized over my choices for this quilt a lot more than usual, and did more ripping out and resewing than I’d otherwise do, too. In the end, I did the best I could without driving myself completely crazy, and I figure if the mom does notice the flaws, she can always use them as examples of what not to do when she teaches her new daughter how to make quilts.
The flaws I see are mostly construction problems. Some of the points on the flowers got cut off when they were seamed to the adjacent blocks. Some of the stems in the flower blocks are off center. Some of the quilted areas display wildly uneven stitch length; I really need to work on my free motion quilting. My stitch tension in some places is not very balanced, though that might be more a function of the machine than my skill. I really should take the poor thing in for a tune-up, but I’ve been using it so constantly that there hasn’t been a stretch of time when I felt I could do without it long enough to get it serviced. The binding width is somewhat uneven in spots; I blame this on trusting the article I read on the technique I used, which said the author doesn’t pin her bindings when she sews them to the back. It wasn’t until I rounded the first corner that I realized I really needed to pin before I stitched.
From a design perspective, there are some things I wish I’d done differently, too. Some of the greens used for the flower stems and leaves are too light and blend into the blue background. By the time I noticed this, the blocks were sewn, and the thought of making replacements was just too discouraging. I’m not as happy with a couple of the fabrics—the purple and yellow floral used in some of the triangles in the center and the bright stripe in the first border– now as I was when I chose them, but they don’t bother me as much as the disappearing leaves and stems. With this quilt, I didn’t lay the whole design out on the felt wall before I started sewing, which I think accounts for being surprised by how these parts I don’t like turned out.
This quilt also departed from my usual way of working in that I used patterns for parts of it. The center design of the four intertwined cats is from a pattern called Twisted Tails; it was a project made from this that the baby’s mom saw and liked at a quilt show we went to together earlier this year. The flower blocks are from patterns in Electric Quilt, the quilt design software I use. I picked two floral tops and two floral bottoms from their collection and used the built-in option to print patterns for foundation piecing to make the blocks. That’s the first time I’ve done that with EQ; I wonder what else the program does that I’ve never tried. I’ve got the new version sitting on the computer desk, still in its shrink wrap though it was delivered weeks ago. Maybe after I’ve worked through the baby quilt crunch I’ll sit down and do the install and explore.
There are some things I did in this piece that I’m sure other quilters would consider mistakes or poor judgment (because I’ve seen them on lists of don’ts in quilting magazines), but about which I’m unrepentant. I used seven colors and four types of thread for the quilting: clear monofilament, white cotton-wrapped polyester, light blue size 50/3 cotton, and fuchsia, orange, yellow, and two-tone green rayon. I like color and variety and the quilting thread gives me one more chance to add both to my work. Some people might not have used pinks and reds in the same piece, but I don’t have any problem doing that. Pink is a tint of red, after all, so I’ve never understood not using them together. I also don’t understand people who think machine quilting is wrong. It’s faster, yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s evil. If I had tried to hand quilt this piece, it would be done about the time the baby starts walking, and it wouldn’t be as durable, as my hand quilting stitches are rather large and loose compared to the machine ones.
The hardest part of this project was deciding how to quilt it. The quilting ended up being a mix of stitch in the ditch, stippling, simple egg-and-dart cables, and a heart in each of the cat blocks. I left the cat blocks for last, as I had a lot of trouble figuring out how to quilt them. I didn’t want to quilt them too heavily, lest they sink into the stippled background, but I didn’t want to leave them unquilted, because they were large enough that that looked bad (and might lead to shifting batting when the piece was washed). A lot of people have put pictures of their Twisted Tails projects online, but I couldn’t find anyone who had a good solution to the problem. I ended up choosing a heart because the background fabric in those blocks has a heart motif, and wonder of wonders, I was able to go into my files and find the heart shapes I remembered cutting out from a magazine. One of them fit nicely in the space available, so I used that to trace the design for quilting.
The second hardest part was choosing the fabric for the binding. I really wanted to use the overall cats print that’s also in two of the corner blocks of the first border, but it just didn’t look right against the outer border and the backing. I auditioned a lot of pinks after that, since it’s a main color in the quilt. It turned out that I didn’t have enough of the pink that was my first choice, though. I considered using more than one fabric for the binding; I’ve done this before and like the effect, but in the end I decided to go with a pink that I was close to my first choice, but which I had more yardage of. I usually make four separate strips and bind each side of the quilt in turn, because it always seemed more manageable to do it that way. This time, I thought I’d try the more “correct” method of using one continuous strip. It worked out pretty well. Getting the last join done was rather awkward, in part because I’d never done it before and didn’t have a good feel for how much of the ends to leave free to work with. Next time I’ll remember. Or maybe next time I’ll try another method for binding that I just read about; supposedly gives the look of a continuous strip but uses the four separate strips I’m accustomed to.
So now it’s on to the next project, a group baby quilt for a coworker who had her little girl on July 14th. There are four of us contributing to the quilt. Three of the ladies did two 12-inch blocks each, and I’m doing the 4-inch setting squares. There are twelve of those, and I’d really like to get them done before Erica comes over tomorrow afternoon with her blocks to help me assemble the top. Sewing it together will require some real creativity, as only one of the four blocks I’ve received so far is the agreed-upon size. Making it harder, one is bigger and two are smaller, so they’re not even consistently off, which means there’s not one solution that will work for all of them. I’ve never done a group quilt before. I’ve done a friendship quilt, where I got a lot of people to sign blocks, but I did all the design and sewing myself. As is clear from the description of this latest quilt, I’m not all hung up on perfection, but I am somewhat hung up on control, and trusting someone else do the work is hard for me. Getting off-size blocks when the requirements were clear upfront is not helping, but I’m a clever person and will figure something out. One of the other women has volunteered to quilt it, and I’m going to let her, since I’ve got another baby who’s waiting for a quilt, too, not to mention a friend from a mailing list who sent me a CD of his music in trade for a quilt block or pillow he is still waiting for me to get started on.
This entry was so heavy with quilt-speak that I was inspired to add a glossary page to the links on my home page.