Friday, October 28, 2011

A quilt for Aileen Ruth

I've been calling this quilt "Anne's quilt" over the last few months of working on it, because my dear friend from law school, Anne, was having a baby girl.  Well, I just heard from Anne that said baby girl arrived yesterday, so I can now retitle this quilt "Aileen's quilt". 

(Forgive the strangeness of the picture - I had it turned sideways when we took the picture on Monday night, but through the power of photo-editing, it is now the "correct" orientation!)

I am so incredibly happy for Anne and Cillian on the beginning of their family, and I'm very happy to have been able to be a tiny part of the nesting experience!  Congratulations, y'all!

Anne is one of the first people whom I taught to quilt.  It's hard to believe, but that's been almost 6 years ago now.  Anne wanted to make something for Cillian's sister, Clodagh, for her new baby, and I confidently told Anne that we could finish a quilt in a weekend, no problem!  :)  OK, well, we did get the fabric purchased and the top pieced in a very long day, but I might have underestimated the time it would take to make.  I'm so glad, though, that Anne got hooked, because she has become my faithful quilting buddy, and I think at this point that she's probably finished as many quilts as I have, which is especially awesome since she hand-quilts them.  I love hand quilting, but having finished a huge batik sampler that was hand-quilted over multiple years, I've been sticking to a combination of machine and hand-quilting on most of my recent quilts.

Of course, one thing that also really slows me down is that I like having pieced backs, too.  This quilt, though, took the concept to the extreme.

I had a nice 2 yard piece of the white background flower print that I bought with Anne in mind quite awhile ago, since I knew she liked those shades of pink and green.  (Part of the hint was a great large bag that she made for me out of those colors to haul around my quilting stuff in several years ago!)  But, I really wanted to save that yardage for a coordinating crib sheet, so I was determined that I could make the back using up scraps from the front and the extra fabric we had leftover from making the crib skirt and cushion covers for the nursery.  I came up with this design based largely on what fabric I had left, and I actually like the back just as much (maybe even more) than the front.

In this picture, you can see a bit more of the nursery.  We made the crib skirt together (and I made it way more complicated than it needed to be, but it is awesome - the pattern continues around the ends, even though it is from a separate piece that overlaps to go around the crib hardware!).  I helped a bit with the rocking chair cushion covers, though re-covering an oddly shaped cushion and trying to put batting underneath to block out the former gray cover was way more challenging than I would have expected (or I was having a really off day!).  Anne, though, managed to figure out the bottom cushion while I was throwing my hands up and losing all self-confidence, so there you go!  And Anne made the incredibly cute pillow all on her own - I love it!  She also made a sweet valance that isn't pictured.

These two pictures show a little more detail of the quilting - I did a combination of machine quilting and hand quilting.

I didn't measure the finished size with the binding, but I think it was around 48" square.

The design on the front of the quilt is inspired by Hyacinth Design's Garden Fence, which I first saw in quilt form through Elizabeth Dackson's blog, Don't Call Me Betsy.  I'm so happy that both of these quilters shared their work on the Internet, because I just love the design and plan to make several more in a similar fashion.  I've changed the measurements slightly to accommodate charm packs and "dessert rolls" (5" by width of fabric strips), and I've been playing with ways to make the piecing more efficient.

Most of the fabric was the gypsy rose colorway of the Gypsy Bandana collection by Pillow & Maxfield for Michael Miller Fabrics.  I bought a collection of 12 fat quarters from Hancock's of Paducah for $19.98, and I had a white-on-white star print in my collection that I bought on one of the drives between home and law school 7-8 years ago at Mary Jo's in North Carolina.  I used Guterman 100% cotton white thread for piecing and their quilting weight cotton thread for the machine quilting.  I did my hand-quilting with a pink thread from Mettler.  I used bamboo batting, which Anne and I both love, though I seriously considered a higher loft polyester so that all of those many lines of quilting would show up better.  In the end, though, I wanted the breath-ability of the bamboo so that little Aileen wouldn't overheat!  I used my walking foot to go 1/4 inch from either side of all of the sashing, starting in the middle and working outward.  This would have been so much easier if I were more comfortable with free-motion straight-line quilting, because each 90 degree turn required a pretty major re-shift of the quilt.  If I were doing anything larger, I would use a different design (though I really like how the overlapping stitches worked out at various corners).

I'd been reading in Elizabeth Hartman's book The Practical Guide to Patchwork that she (and a lot of other folks in the modern quilt guilds, like Jacquie Gering of Tallgrass Priarie Studio) are proponents of ironing the seams open, so I tried that, because, well, I am really impressed by both of their work, and I'm always looking for a way to improve my techniques.  I was really happy as I was piecing the top because it seemed very flat, crisp, and accurate.  Indeed, I thought I was going to be a convert (and may still be), but I found I had a hard time when it came time to make the quilt sandwich.  I very carefully pressed my top and back (and I had been pressing my seams as I went along, of course), but when I laid my top on my batting and started trying to smooth and position it, I found that some of my seams were flipping around and being wonky.  I guess maybe that happens no matter how you press them, but because the piecing was so flat otherwise, it made it more obvious?  Also, I missed having the ditch to stitch in - I like how that looks so much, and for a design like this, I think it would be very effective, since there is so much already going on with the fabrics that the quilting was a less important design element.  If I were doing an all-over free-motion quilt design, though, I can see where the pressed open seams would be a real advantage.  More experimentation needed, clearly!

For the binding, I used an incredibly helpful tutorial from Shelley Rodgers that I must have seen a reference to on someone's blog (I'm sorry that I don't remember which one!).  I have always used straight-grain binding before and hand-sewn it onto the back using a blind hem stitch, but I think this quilt will get lots of use and love, so I wanted it to be more durable, and Shelley's arguments about bias binding made a lot of sense to me.  Her method is pretty awesome, plus I like doing math, and using her formulas and knowing how much binding I needed and how much of my oddly-sized piece I had left allowed me to cut off the perfect amount and conserve the rest!

I read several tutorials on machine binding, and I am still working on it.  I attached the binding to the front first, and I thought I'd be able to sew it from the top without being able to see that I was catching the binding on the back, but luckily I figured out on the first side that this wasn't a good method, so I flipped it over and sewed it from the back.  Luckily, the white border makes it fairly unnoticeable on the front, and I was able to fix the couple of places that weren't caught in the first seamline easily.

Of course, I still have some leftovers, so I'm working on a smaller quilt, too, for the car seat or stroller!  It's amazing how many quilts can be made out of a fat-quarter bundle and a little yardage leftover from other sewing projects!  I'm hoping I can get a good portion of it pieced tonight while my sweetie is at a concert.  We'll see if the cat lets me...she'd rather me sit and watch Project Runway so that I can provide a warm lap!

Anne bought some fabric for quilting, too, and she's got a fantastic top put together, too, which I'm sure will be done in no time - Anne is a pretty fast hand-quilter!  Be sure to check it out!

Finally, since this is one of my first big projects since I started the blog that I actually have pictures of (thanks Anne!), I'm going to try linking up to the Blogger's Quilt Festival, as well as Finish it Up Friday!


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Blast from the past...a tribute to Carol!

I will be the first to admit that this whole blogging concept is rather new to me. I don't really know how it works, or how to set it up to let me know when I have comments. And so, just a few minutes ago, as I was about to start working on a post about Anne's finished quilt, I discovered a comment on another post from June from CAROL - my friend who I babysat for for several years when I was in my tweens/teens. I can't tell you how happy this made me! I don't even know how she found me on here, but I'm so glad that she did!

My brother, Rob, first babysat for Carol's older son, Frankie, but as my brother got older and more involved in high school activities, I inherited the role. Frankie was a great kid, but he was a kid, not a baby, and he could really wear me out trying to keep up with him (and yes, thinking of that makes me scared as we contemplate starting a family)! If I couldn't keep up with a 3-year old then, what makes me think I'll be able to at 39 or 40!? Of course, Carol is the answer to that question, too, since she had a great career as a businesswoman with a copier company, as I recall, before/during her kids early years.

When Carol had Michael in her late 30s (38?), I absolutely fell in love with this adorable little baby. I didn't even mind that I had to have a special outfit (called my "Michael" outfit...this fabulous knit shirt and shorts from Banana Republic) that I always wore because, without fail, he always spit up all over me at some point in my visit. It didn't matter...I could hold and rock and coo at Michael for hours (even if he fell asleep in my arms!). It was Carol who taught me all the early things I needed to know about taking care of children, and she really boosted my self-confidence/self-esteem by giving me a lot of responsibility for helping with him.

I remember once...I guess Frankie must have been somewhere else (pre-school or with his dad), and Carol and I took Michael to the grocery store. I carried him around while we shopped, and as we were checking out, the clerk made some comment to me about "how cute my baby was". I think I was maybe 12 or 13 at the time, so I was slightly appalled that anyone thought I was already having babies, but I was also very tall (at least 5'8" at that point...though I don't think I'd hit my final growth spurt to get me up to my current 5'11"+), and I doted on Michael like he was my baby, so it made sense. (This was in that strange time before MTV had shows about being "13 and Pregnant", so the concept was foreign to me, but I think I did like pretending that I was his mom!)

Of course, Carol taught me all sorts of things besides baby care. I loved all things "crafty", and my mom really was the opposite of crafty/artsy-fartsy (hysterical now that she runs an art gallery and makes fussy polymer clay jewelry and filgree work), so Carol was my substitute craft-mom. I remember us working on Halloween costumes for the kids, and we tried sewing clothes...a pair of shorts has been a source of quite a bit of laughter over the years, since I kept sewing them time they looked like a skirt with an upside down "U" in the front and back. (Carol, I'm still not great at sewing clothes, though still trying occasionally!) I actually still have some of the early outfits we sewed at my parents' house, I think. Looking back on it now, I think that both Carol and my other babysitting customer (next door neighbor Cathy) probably liked having a girl to do girly stuff with, since they both had sons, plus I was a very eager and interested sponge for anything related to home-making/crafts. I was also a pretty mature kid, I think, perhaps because many of my friends from my childhood were neighborhood ladies or the wives of my dad's work colleagues. (When I was in second grade and living in Alabama, I liked to visit "Ms. Sheila" because she'd let me use pledge on her furniture (a big no-no in our home) and then we'd bake cookies...yes...this thought cracks me up now! If I don't have a daughter, I totally need to find a little girl who likes to dust and will clean my house in exchange for attention, kind words, and making cookies!)

This is a long lead-in (and fun trip for me down memory lane) to the story of my first ever quilt. I wanted to make something special for Michael, and I was primarily a cross-stitcher at that point, so I cross-stitched a really cute big bunny in the middle of a large block of teal fabric, and then I made a patchwork top of squares around the central square from dark teal and light teal. I feel certain I didn't bind it properly - I'd guess I did a fold-over binding. I think it was a tied-quilt, since I don't recall knowing how to actually hand-quilt at that point. This was probably about 20 years ago. The fabric was from Jo-Anns or Hancocks, and it had a sheen to it, so I wonder now if it was even cotton. I'm sure I bought it for the color (a color that I still love today). I actually found a scrap of that fabric when I was home in August going through old stuff that my mom has been storing for forever, and I brought it back up here, so I'll have to try to see if I can figure out the fabric content!)

Anyway, in Carol's comment on that other post, she let me know that Michael still has that quilt today! I cannot express how happy that makes me! I haven't seen any of them in many, many years...I got older and had my own high school activities (perhaps even more so than my brother), and then I went off to college and my parents moved away from the old neighborhood, and I lost touch. I saw that I had a follower named Carol, and I wondered who she was because the picture is so small that I couldn't really recognize her (and wondered who this person was, since I only have a few followers!). Of course, now it all makes perfect sense! Who better to see my evolution as a crafter than my first "craft-mom"!

So, Carol, if you see this, please look at my note on the bottom of the earlier post, and please send me an e-mail (ellegtown at gmail dot com) so I can get in touch with you. Who knows, maybe I'll be able to update this post with a picture of that old quilt that must be tattered and falling apart by now! And more importantly, I'll get to catch up with an old friend whom I met when she was just a few years older than the age I am now. Wow...what a fantastic blast from the past!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Progress on Anne's quilt

Today, I managed to get the quilt sandwich put together and pinned on Anne's quilt, and I did my first two lines of quilting. I always get hung up at the quilt sandwich stage, mostly because I don't love mopping the kitchen floor and then crawling around on my hands and knees. However, the quilt sandwich fairy never seems to stop at my house in the night to do it for me so...I finally did it! Can't wait to show off the finished photos, hopefully by the end of this week/weekend! Planning to do a combo of hand and machine quilting, and I've already made a bias binding for it, so as soon as the quilting is done, I can bind that baby and send it off to Anne!

Here's an early pic when it was up on the design wall.

Bryan was quite surprised when he saw it again as a finished top...can't understand why he couldn't tell exactly what it was going to look like when he saw it on the design wall! ;)

And here it is as a quilt sandwich! I need to photograph the back, too, as it turned out to be as cool as the front, I think.
To use up the remaining small scraps, I'm planning a matching mini-quilt (car-seat sized), but as much as I want to start piecing it, I'm going to get this quilted first.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

100 Quilts for Kids

I've had so much fun learning about the quilt blogger community over the last few months, and I'm especially glad to have met Katie from Swim, Bike, Quilt. Katie is also a member of the DC Modern Quilt Guild, and for the second year in a row, she's put together a charity event called 100 Quilts for Kids to encourage quilters to make charity quilts for children.
Swim, Bike, Quilt

I'm totally inspired by this and have lots of quilts in the works for it, but I only managed to finish one by the actual deadline (today), thanks to being sick and working on my friend Anne's quilt over the last month, since her baby is due in a week, and my friend Talia's storm at sea quilt, which I hoped to present on her 2nd anniversary, but alas...that was last week! (So many quilts, so little time, but lots of big finishes soon to report to all 5 of my followers!!!)

I went to my first DC Modern Quilt Guild Event in September, and it was a charity quilt sew-in on a Friday night. Although I did manage to get lost getting there, it was a really fun event with a lot of really nice women who were all there to help in one way or another with this awesome effort.
I pieced this top that evening with fabric I bought from Connecting Threads, though I still have to put together a back and get it quilted/finished. (This isn't just procrastination - I've got a neat plan for another quilt out of a jelly roll from the same fabric, and I want to use the remaining part of the jelly roll, along with the bit of yardage I bought, to make the pieced backs for both quilts.) I'm still learning about how to use blogger and how to photograph quilts. The first photo is the outside picture taken by my lovely assistant, Bryan! (If he reads this, it may be his last time being my lovely assistant!) The second one is from my "design wall" (aka a large piece of flannel tacked onto the wall of my sewing room!). I think I might like the inside picture better...especially because my legs aren't showing!

For the sew-in, Katie had received lots of great donated fabric from shops, other quilters, and her own stash, and when I saw this Eric Carle "Very Hungry Caterpillar" fabric, I knew I had to make a quilt for a child in need out of it. I love the "cheater print" in the center. I added the columns of color around it, and I like the way it came out.
I had originally planned to make a solid back, but then I wouldn't have been rushed, and that's no fun, so I pieced the back as well as the front. I managed to use up just about every scrap from the front, and I have some of the "Very Hungry Caterpillar" print leftover to send back to Katie for someone else to use for the rest of the prints that she had.
I kept the quilting very simple, and I decided to just use nice white cotton flannel for the batting so that it would be lightweight enough to be a "blankie" that a child can carry around all year. With such bright colors, it is as much about mental comfort as physical comfort! I decided to try a machine binding, so that it will hold up to years of washing, and I discovered that I like it.
I got to try out my new binding clips that I ordered from Hancock's of Paducah, and I love them! They will definitely save me some tired hands when I hand-finish my next binding, too!

I've been trying to decide where I wanted to donate this quilt, since there are so many worthy causes. At long last, I decided on "My Very Own Blanket" out of Westerville, Ohio, which, incidentally, is the town one of my dear friends grew up in. As she has been working with kids for a number of years after teaching in DC through Americorps, I thought it would be a nice tribute to her, as well as a great organization and a great cause. Having known a couple of people who grew up in foster care and had some pretty horrendous stories to tell, I like the idea of helping a child in foster care have something that is his or her very own.

A big thanks, once again, to Katie for putting this great event together. She made it happen, and the goal will be met (especially because I have 6 other charity quilts in the works in one form or another), so that is pretty incredible. Also, I want to give a big thanks to her sponsors, especially Pam at Del Ray Fabrics for the great donations and for a discount for fabric for charity quilts. I bought the red solid from her that I used in this quilt (and it will be featured in another charity quilt in much greater amounts!).

Finally, I can't end this post without a picture of my little helper. She is a very patient kitty, considering that she has really wanted to be in my lap throughout the time I've been working on this quilt. I keep trying to figure out how I can teach her to sew, but alas...I don't think there are enough treats to teach her to do that! For now, I'll just be happy if she'll quit trying to lay on my newly stacked fabric as I attempt to redo the sewing room and organize my fabric!

Thanks for reading! I hope to post some tutorials on my methods for making some cool quilts in the next few months, along with more pictures of quilts that are about to be finished (and someday I'll even post pics of the t-shirt quilt I made for my aunts...I realized that until this quilt, that is the only other quilt I've finished this year!) I'll have to remedy that soon!