If you wait until you are finally READY, you will be waiting all your life...
Two years ago, I got a long arm quilting machine and frame...an A-1. A few years prior, I had purchased a Handi-Quilter Frame to use with a domestic machine and had made several quilts using that, but I was limited in the size of the quilt designs that were possible...I needed a longer throat on the machine to do larger, more sweeping designs. So, my dear husband agreed to the purchase of the larger machine.
My husband liked the idea of quilting for other people (and earning money!) but I was hesitant...firstly, I didn't have the skills yet. I would wait until I was ready. And secondly, I was NOT going to 'market' myself...if anyone ASKED me to quilt for them, I would do it, but I wasn't comfortable putting myself out there. But more importantly, I really just wanted the machine to enable me to complete the art quilts which I loved making.
I knew I would gain skills as I quilted each quilt, but as it turns out, I cannot make quilts fast enough to get as much quilting practice as I wanted! I did bring home a 'hospice' quilt from the local guild to quilt and I did an all-over design on it. But I had not done any quilts that had definite 'blocks' and sashing and borders and stuff. No traditional quilts.
Enter Grandma's quilt.
This was a flimsy top that was hand-pieced by Grandma Grace, my husband's now-deceased maternal grandmother. His sister, Julie, had it and was more than willing to let me take it home to quilt it. Grandma had used whatever fabrics were available to her in her small town...perhaps from Sears or Wal-Mart. She used muslin for the background...the kind with tiny dark bits of the cotton plant stuck in the weave...and pieced and appliqued a two-fabric Dresden plate design onto the muslin. She used a solid avocado green that is surely a poly-cotton blend, as well as a green floral print, which seems to be a cotton fabric. She also sewed a strip of the solid green to one side of each block before piecing them all together, so there is a strip of green between rows of the plates.
Well, her seam allowances varied, as did the block sizes and the widths of the solid strips. The outer edge of the quilt top was not even...some blocks jutted out more than others. Plus, Julie had washed this flimsy after bringing it home. That meant that the muslin had shrunk, but we all know that poly-cotton doesn't shrink, so the plates were a bit 'proud' of the muslin...they were blousy.
The raw edges of the poly-cotton fabric were resistant to staying turned under and wanted to 'peak out' between the hand stitches every here and there. Grandma's stitches were large, too...I wondered what kind of thread was used and how strong it was? I felt like I needed to 'nail down' every seam with my quilting!
Does it sound like I am making excuses? grin.
I have had this quilt top in my possession for nearly two years...I brought it home in the fall of 2011. I decided it was TIME to get this one done.
The quilt top came to me with several yards of the green poly-cotton, which was (we think) intended to be used as the backing for the quilt. Too bad there wasn't quite enough.
After much ironing to force the seam allowances to behave (where possible, sometimes they were sewn down in the wrong direction so could not be forced!), I finally added borders around all edges of the quilt top (borders that I cut from the green fabric) then loaded it on the frame and set to work. I bought some natural colored cotton sateen to use as the backing...120 inches wide, 320 thread count. Nicer than anything used on the top!
After basting the edges and stitching in the ditches, I came up with a design for the 'plates' and began there, although I still didn't yet see the big picture in my head. As I stitched the plates, I began to think of them as lily pads...YES! I decided to do 'frog eggs' in the long sashing strips...coupled with a wavy stitching pattern, I could perhaps disguise the mismatched widths and crooked stripes.
I used chalk to mark the quilt, giving me guidelines so I could keep all the swirls going in the same direction, as well as create' targets' for the scalloped outline that would jump on and off the edge of the plates...er, lily pads.
I began to think of this quilt as a pond...after all, it had lily pads and frog eggs! I felt like the background stitching would need to be done in blue thread and perhaps done in a style that would give the impression of water. Ideas were percolating...
But just before I started the blue stitching, I decided...what if...what if I put a few water lilies in there? I could do some triangular feathers at the block intersections that would a) help nail down those seams and b) break up the background stitching. So I drew out a design and added the feathered lilies...I liked the way they looked!
Too bad I hadn't thought of this design BEFORE I stitched the stripes with the wavy lines and frog eggs...I could have lessened the thread build-up that occurred. Oh well! That is why it is good to have experience...
Next, it was time to tackle the borders. I wanted to do a feather border on this one, even though it probably wasn't the BEST design for this particular quilt. But I needed the practice at doing feathers, so feathers it is!
There weren't many feathers, and by the time I felt halfway competent, I was finished. sigh.
I did the top border and TRIED to do the side borders as I rolled each section, but didn't like the thread build-up that resulted with that method. So I skipped the sides, did the bottom, then moved on to the blue background quilting. Once that was finished, I took the quilt off the frame and turned it 90 degrees then reloaded it to stitch the side borders. It made it SOOOO much easier and they looked better, too.
Once I started doing the blue background stitching, I was again reminded of my inexperience! There were areas of ballooning fabric between a few of the plates...er, lily pads. Because the blocks were stitched together willy-nilly, the excess fabric had to be dealt with somehow!
I tried stitching closely, but that still resulting in some pleating and puckering.
So I took a needle and thread and (by hand) sewed double-ended darts at a few of the seams to tuck out the excess muslin before quilting those areas. That worked!
Once the quilting was finished, I cut some bias strips from the remaining green fabric and joined them together to create the binding. After pressing it in half, I loosely wound it around an empty thread cone and put that cone on a thread holder next to my machine. This made it so much easier to control the binding as I applied it the around the edges of the quilt.
Now all that is left to do is sew the binding down by hand on the backside...I will let Julie do that! I will take this quilt to her this weekend...I wonder if she even remembers I have it!
The blue thread I chose was very faint...not the bright teal I had originally envisioned!
Probably a better choice...
This binding on the edge looks wide, but has not been wrapped to the back yet. It will finish much narrower...
Despite my wavy lines and frog eggs, the sashing strips ARE still crooked.
No miracles were performed in the making of this quilt! ;)
Using colored threads in the bobbin, too, makes the back of the quilt kind of interesting. The colors are subtle and the stitching really shows up.
And, as a side note...I now have, in my possession, my FIRST CUSTOMER QUILT!
That's right...I will be quilting for someone else...on a quilt that I didn't make...for money!
I am ready.
While my skills have improved, there is still a lot of improvement needed (duh!) but the only way to get better is to DO IT! This customer knows my work and is pleased with what she has seen me do...she is delighted that I agreed to quilt for her!
And you know that makes me feel good...