Monday, May 7, 2012

The Quilt Story, Part 3

Wow, it’s been over a month since I last posted! What can I say? Life got in the way. Work was extremely busy, and I was actually pretty productive with my sewing/embroidery in the interim. I just didn’t have time to write about it!

So, back to the story of my first quilt. Thanks to the meticulously detailed quilt pattern I bought from Oh, Fransson!, the construction went along fairly smoothly. (My boss recommended this pattern specifically because it walks you through every step.) I was very nervous cutting into my expensive fabric. I’m sure some psychologists could do a study on what goes through one’s mind when forced to slice up something one has grown attached to. It’s not pretty.

This pattern required fabric cuts in various sizes. Then, the pieces were matched up with other pieces from their pattern “pair” to form blocks that were all the same size. It wasn’t until I started making these blocks that I noticed how crooked some of my cutting was. Thankfully, the seam allowances seemed to cover up most of my mistakes.

Sewing the blocks took a few weeks in itself. I kept them organized through Post-It notes. I laid out all of the blocks per the pattern instructions, but found myself completely rearranging them as I started piecing together the rows. I also didn’t really follow the directions when it came to the directions of the blocks. I was supposed to alternate the ways the blocks faced, but this didn’t work so well with my directional bird prints. I wanted all of them to go the same way. So, I broke the rules and did my own thing. I think it was the right decision.

There is a lot of ironing involved in quilting. It’s actually considered “pressing” since you aren’t supposed to move the iron back and forth (though I sometimes do). I don’t like this. I avoid ironing at all costs. I would rather be seen in a crumpled, wrinkly shirt than have to break out the ironing board. So, this is an adjustment for me. But I followed the directions and pressed all of the seams. This helped quite a bit when it came to attaching the sashing between rows. Everything seemed to line up better than it would have otherwise.

There were many pins involved with this part, too. Pinning is a good practice to get into. It’s generally better to have too many pins than not enough. Fabric has a tendency to bunch up or form gaps when you’re not looking. (It’s sneaky like that!)

quilt top, in progress

For the back of the quilt, I used two large pieces of fabric, two strips of the sashing fabric, and one long row of scraps from the fabric I used on the front. I tried to center the row, which didn’t go exactly as planned, but I like the way it ended up.

After lots of ironing and pinning and stitching and rogue thread snipping, I was ready to make my “quilt sandwich” and “baste.” (These are terms that make me hungry.) I used an all-natural cotton batting (low loft) in the middle, which was fairly thin and easy to work with. The fancy basting pins in the craft store were quite pricy, so I just used some regular old safety pins. They did the trick. I brought all of my quilting necessities (including my sewing machine) to my dad’s house for this part, so that I could spread out a bit more. (My apartment is pretty small, and I would have to move furniture to do it there!)

I used masking tape to carefully line up each layer on the floor. I followed all of the advice I found and trimmed the backing and batting to be a little larger than the quilt top, since everything shifts while quilting. (I used my rotary cutter and cutting mat, which were not nearly large enough for the task, so I had to keep crawling around the quilt to trim it. Must have been a sight.) Starting from the center, I used about a million pins to keep my three layers together. It took me about an hour just to pin the quilt!

Next was the most intimidating part, apart from cutting the fabric: the actual quilting. I didn’t want to get this far and mess up here, so I took the simplest approach possible – quilting straight lines a little bit outsides of the blocks. This is called “shadowing” or “echoing,” as I later found out. I didn’t know how to deal with the bulk of the quilt as I ran it through the sewing machine. A few blogs I read advised to roll it and keep adjusting it as you go. There’s really no other way to do it! Since my quilt was pretty thin, I didn’t have too much trouble. It’s just more awkward than anything. But since you start in the middle and work your way out, it gets easier as you go.

I have to say that quilting is my least favorite part of the whole “making a quilt” process. It’s kind of tedious and plenty can go wrong. At this point, I just wanted it to be done! I used my walking foot for this part, along with a special quilting needle, which made the job easier. I kept the presser foot along the edge of the blocks, so the lines were stitched about 3/8 inch away from each block. Some of my lines aren’t completely straight, and the quilting emphasized some minor variations in the sizes of the blocks. But I maintain that this gives the quilt character. After the quilting was done, I trimmed the excess batting and backing off, using my handy-dandy rotary cutter.

quilting close-up

Last, but not least was the binding, which covers up the raw edges of the quilt to finish it off. I was a little confused about this part, so I went to a few different sources. The most helpful binding tutorial is on Diary of a Quilter. Amy’s instructions are superb. Her method involves machine sewing the binding to the back, then hand sewing the front. It seems like a long, thankless task at first, but is actually fairly relaxing, especially when there is TV involved. It only took a few hours for me to tack the binding on. The mitred corners didn’t come out wonderfully, but they serve the purpose (and I do feel like I’ve improved on subsequent projects). 
binding with wonky mitred corners

I felt like doing a victory dance when I was finished!

 Here’s the end result, held up by my lovely best friend, Drea:

the front

the back
(Ignore the shadows. As I've said, lighting in my apartment isn't great! I also took this picture on a bit of an angle. The back really isn't that crooked!)

And that's the (long) story of how I made my first quilt. It's been living happily on my bed for almost two months and I love it. I don't think I could have asked for a better first quilting project! I'm very pleased with the size, too. It's great for those times when my duvet is too heavy, but a sheet is too light.

I've made two more quilts since this one, which I will post about soon. Just don't take the "soon" part too literally. :)