March 6, 2003
After I finished the zoo baby quilt, I planned to work on a quilt for me, one of my unfinished objects. I got the blocks for that quilt out and put them all up on my felt wall to ponder whether I wanted to change some of them or just start sewing them together. What I decided to do was take them all down again and put the project aside in order to work on something more important., a friendship quilt for Ellie, a compatriot at The Usual Suspects who found out she had breast cancer only a few weeks before her first child was due to be born. I felt awful for her and wanted to do something, but was at a loss. Just typing words of commiseration and hope onto a computer screen didn’t seem like enough. Then I realized I could turn the support from the thread on the forum into something less virtual by stitching a friendship quilt. Here was something I knew how to do, something I could do long distance.
I asked for contributions from everyone who’d posted on the appropriate thread and was happy to get a great response. The variety was wonderful; some people sent handwritten notes, some did drawings, some used their computer graphics skills, some shared photos or quotations. While everyone else was working on their block ideas, I worked on the design. I needed to include enough blocks to accommodate everyone from the thread who might want to participate, and I was aiming for something lap sized, around four feet by six feet– big enough to snuggle under but not too big to carry around or display on a wall. I couldn’t just take the finished overall dimensions and divide by the number of blocks to get the size of each one, though. I knew I’d be using 8 1/2 by 11 inch sheets of printer fabric to transfer people’s contributions into sewable form, and I wanted to use those sheets efficiently. I figured doing four 3-inch by 5-inch (finished size) blocks or six 3-inch square ones would be ideal. I also knew, based on working with the stuff when I made my swag for JournalCon, that I didn’t want to sew printer fabric to printer fabric. Combining all those factors and playing around a bit, first on paper and then on the computer, I came up with this layout.
I decided on a rainbow color scheme, because it’s cheerful and because it would allow me to fit in all the different contributions and not have them clash. I was happy to find I had enough yardage of a fabric with computer monitors printed on it to make all the little blocks between the sections; that was just the perfect thing for a quilt from an online community. I had a great time picking the rainbow colors out of my stash, too. You may notice the rainbow is skewed toward purple; I have the most of that color because it’s my favorite, so I went with it. I wondered about using the black print for the sashing strips, but decided since it was printed with bright stripes it was not depressing, and it really did set off the colors of the blocks so well.
Sewing the top together went pretty smoothly, with one exception. When I’d made the swag, I skipped the steps needed to make the images colorfast, figuring if some nutty person decided to wash their magnet and the ink ran, oh well. So this was my first experience with the rinsing and ironing while wet steps, and I found the images shrank some. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice this until I’d printed a bunch of the sheets. I didn’t want to have to redo them all, so I decided to move on and fill in any unprinted areas that showed in the finished blocks with permanent fabric pens and just make sure to allow for this shrinkage in the remaining blocks to be printed. It wasn’t until I’d sewn several of the bad blocks into groups and filled in with the pens that I decided I just wasn’t happy with the result. Out came the seam ripper and I redid the offending blocks. Even though it meant the quilt didn’t get done as soon as I’d hoped, I was glad I made the change.
For the back of the quilt, I ended up combining four fabrics because I didn’t have enough of any single fabric that I thought worked with the top. It’s a little bright and wild, but that’s just fine. Because the top had so much going on in it, I stuck to a simple quilting strategy. I was a little disappointed with was how stiff the printer fabric squares were even after their cold water rinse. I knew they’d be less malleable than regular fabric, but I wasn’t prepared for what that would mean during quilting, since I hadn’t quilted the swag. The printer fabric squares got wrinkled as I moved the quilt around, and instead of the wrinkles relaxing back out like on normal fabric, they tended to stay. Ironing them out was not an option at that point because I was afraid that would melt the batting together. I’m hoping that with handling over time the printed squares will soften up a bit. Maybe I’ll experiment with other photo transfer methods if I do another image-rich project. In the interest of getting the quilt to Ellie before she finished her chemotherapy, I decided to bring the backing around to the front to finish the edges instead of doing a separate binding. I know there are factions within the quilting police who do not approve, but it’s a perfectly legitimate method with historical precedents.
I put the last stitches in on Tuesday night and the next morning packed and shipped it.
I decided to send it Express Mail, figuring the less time the quilt spent in transit, the less time I’d have to worry about it getting safely to its destination. I think next time I might go with UPS, though, because the Post Office tracking information is less detailed, less frequently updated, and therefore less reassuring. I was happy to hear from Ellie today that she got the quilt and that she liked it. I hope it will remind her that she’s got people around the world pulling for her and we all know she’s going to be just fine.
Q is for Quilt