Plane Baby Quilt
February 22, 2004
If quilts had subtitles, this one’s would be “just in time”. It’s one of the two baby quilts I got a commission for earlier this year. It was going to be the second one because we were waiting to see if that baby’s gender would be revealed in an ultrasound; the woman I made this for wanted an airplane theme because the father to be is a flight instructor, and the best plane fabrics I found were blue, which she didn’t want a lot of in the quilt if the baby wasn’t a boy. In the meantime, I started on the other quilt, which was definitely for a girl. While I was working on that, I got my latest issue of Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine which had a pattern for an airplane block would be perfect for the second quilt, so I was glad the order had worked out the way it had. I was close to finishing the top for the first quilt when I got the news that the plane baby was a boy, so I ordered three yards of cute blue fabric with flying machines on it and went back to sewing on the pinks and pastels. About a week later, on January 28th, I heard from my customer again: was there any way I could get the plane quilt done in time for her to take it to a shower in Arizona on February 22nd because her sister had surprised her by giving her a ticket to fly there and it would be so nice to have the quilt to give. It wasn’t a demand but a wish, and I really wanted to fulfill that for her if I could. It would be a challenge, since I didn’t have a design worked out or the focus fabric on hand, and also I was going to be gone two of the three weekends between when she asked and when I had to deliver. Still, I had to give it a try.
On Friday, January 30th, the UPS tracking information told me that the expected delivery date of the focus fabric was the following Monday, which meant I wouldn’t have it in time to pull fabrics for the rest of the quilt. Okay, I’d adapt. I printed a picture of a swatch and used that to select fabrics, figuring if the plane fabric arrived and didn’t quite match the .jpg I’d only use it on the back. I found the plane block online, imported it into Electric Quilt, and soon had a design that seemed like it would work. I found fabrics in my stash for all the planes, but didn’t have enough of any one for the background. That Saturday, I was going out to Denise’s to pick up the scrapbook supplies I’d ordered from her, so I swung by the quilt shop in her town and found the perfect sky fabric for the background. I was pleased as could be; I’d really expected I’d have to compromise on something that was not what I’d envisioned.
I sewed and sewed all that weekend and by Sunday night had the quilt as far I could without having the focus fabric. I’d intended to paper foundation piece the blocks, with their odd angles and smallish pieces, but accidentally printed all the foundations backwards because EQ’s default is not what I need for the method I like and I don’t use that feature often enough to remember that. I tried to use them anyway, but when I started the first block, it became clear that the seam allowances were not going to fall the way I wanted them. Sure, I could have ignored that; I’m probably the only one who’d notice, but I really wanted the planes to stand out from the background and managing the seam allowances was important to achieve that. So I decided to use freezer paper piecing instead, which mean cutting sheets of freezer paper off the roll (no time to explore if there’s a ready made product for this now) and feeding them through the printer. I hadn’t done this since we got our new printer, and it doesn’t like freezer paper. I tried lightly fusing the freezer paper to the incorrect foundation sheets I’d printed and the combination went through the printer just fine.
Piecing was a little tricky because I had to keep the clouds all oriented the correct way in addition to dealing with the irregular shapes, but I only had to unsew a few seams along the way. I tried to keep light sky pieces next to light sky pieces and darks by darks but when chain piecing the blocks I’m sure some got out of place. If I do a project like this again, I’m planning to mark the templates for each block with a different color so I can get them back together as intended. I mixed up a few of the planes when sewing the blocks together but since the colors were still distributed the way I wanted them I left it that way. I was happy with how using different fabrics for the wings and tail worked out; that added more variety and also prevented jarring mismatches of prints where the pieces joined. That hadn’t been in the original design but was something that occurred to me when pulling the fabrics.
The focus fabric arrived Monday, February 2nd, and I washed it and cut it up that night. I had just enough for the back and borders. It almost looked like I’d planned it out ahead of time I had so few scraps left. I ended up going with two uneven borders, deviating from my original plan again. I put a narrow border of sky around the planes to separate them from the busy plane print on the outside. Both borders are narrower on top and bottom and wider on the sides to bring the overall proportions to something that looked better to my eye.
By the time we left for Seattle on Saturday the 7th, I had the borders on, the basting done, and the quilting started. I outlined each plane with rayon thread that matched its color and used invisible monofilament in the ditch between the two borders. When we got back, I stippled the background with a two-tone rayon twist and just did a straight line with royal blue rayon in the outer border. (There’s a detail picture here that shows some of this stuff.) This past Friday night, I brought the back to the front for binding and attached the label. I had to violate my “no sewing after nine o’clock” rule to get it done, but nothing disastrous happened. I got it to my customer yesterday morning in plenty of time for her to make her flight. She was really happy with it, and that made me feel good. I brought the second top with me for her to see, and she liked that, too. Now I just need to baste, quilt, bind, and label that one. No problem.