Tuesday, January 7, 2014

From Blankets to Quilts

I haven't made a patchwork blanket in quite a while.  I used to do it rather extensively, and pieces of my patchwork are all over the house.  One serves as a curtain in my sewing room (Dove in the Window), another is the front of a sofa pillow, and everyone in the family has had at least one blanket.  I've made:

  •  an Irish Chain, in green and white
  • a Drunkard's Path, in blue plaid and light blue pawprint print
  • a Storm at Sea, in rose, green, and tan
  • a God's Eye, in orange and tan
  • a Bright Hopes, in yellow, orange, blue, red, and tan
  • a Steps to the Altar,  in rose and green
  • a Jacob's Ladder, in green, white, and gray
  •  a whole bunch of others whose pattern names I can't remember,
  •  and numerous random nine patches or single large patch blankets.  
I've been sewing for close to 30 years and I've been making patchwork all that time, so I've had lots of opportunities to try lots of patterns.  Sadly, most of them have worn out and been replaced and I don't have pictures but I remember many of them fondly.  At some point I will hang the ones I have outside so I can take full size pictures of the entire things.

I call them blankets because all but one or two have been tied rather than quilted, and they don't always contain a batting layer.  My mother always made blankets with a heavyweight pieced top (usually denim weight) and some kind of inexpensive backing tied together at intervals with colored yarn.  I grew up in an area where the textile industry was the main employer, and rolls of 3-6 inch wide denim could be bought in outlet type stores for very good prices.  Ready made strips for strip patchwork.  Perfect.

About 10 years ago I grew dissatisfied with this technique, and instead tried backing some of my patchwork with microfiber blankets.  This worked okay, but the store bought blankets usually had to be pieced -- and they could come apart at those seams.  Very frustrating.  The Storm at Sea was one of those, and I have since re-backed it (while securing and leaving the microfiber blanket inside for insulation) and it now resides in a place of honor on Daughter's bed. 

After those relative failures, I tried backing the next patchwork with polar fleece.  And I got real ambitious and stitched in the ditch, creating my first real live quilt.  Sort of.  Since it doesn't have a batting sandwich, is it quilt?  Not sure.  But Bright Hopes is an appropriate name, isn't it?

This is also one of the few patchworks I made using fabrics bought specifically for the project -- usually I just use whatever scraps I have left over, or fabric that I bought for a project that I've abandoned.  Friends, knowing that I sew, also give me fabric.  I don't discourage them :o)

The quilt was so hard to handle, though, in my small harp sewing machine, that I went back to tying blankets.  I abandoned fleece because it pilled in record time.  I started putting a polyester batting layer in my tied blankets, which was way better than simple backing, but I still wasn't satisfied.  I finally decided there was nothing left to do but to learn how to quilt for real.

My Daughter has done some of the piecing of this quilt top and she's done a very fine job.  The pattern was originally intended to be Cogwheels (specifically chosen for its easiness, HA!) but we ended up muffing the lights and darks of the four-patch squares.  So Daughter gave it a new name: Cobblestones.

But most of the work is mine, and it's the very first super-duper careful quilt I've ever done.  I don't have a large work area, so laying out the layers and basting them all involves crawling around on a hardwood floor on one's hands and knees.  Not exactly the most comfortable of work environments.

I used Warm and Natural unbleached cotton batting and a flannel sheet for the backing.  I laid out all three layers on the floor (over and over and over again until I was finally satisfied) and took long basting stitches to secure all three layers.  Then, naturally not happy with an easy solution, I decided that free motion quilting was the way to go.  I got out my never-before-used darning foot, checked my sewing machine manual on how to perform the never-before-used action of dropping the feed dogs, and watched a few YouTube videos and how to do this never-before-attempted technique.

For those of you who read this blog before, you know I like to draw.  I do pencil sketches, water color pencil sketches, pen and ink, digital art, yadda, yadda, yadda.  Never before (there's that phrase again) have I drawn with a sewing machine.  And it's cool.  Way cool.  I can't wait to get good enough at it to do it with something elaborate.

After a couple of practice squares, I figured, "I can do this."  The quilting stitches on this quilt are pretty much straight lines with little leafy seedling things at pretty regular intervals.  Very simple.  Very basic.  But it's my first attempt, and I'm pretty proud of it.  The picture shows just the one direction of quilting stitches and the basting stitches still in.  By the time I was done with the quilting, there was rows of stitches running horizontally and rows of stitches running in both diagonal directions.  That was alot of free motion quilting.  Did I mention that my arms are still tired?

I still have to trim the edges and put on the binding, but once those are done, I'll get a picture of the whole thing.  But really, what you see in the picture up above is pretty much what you get.  Random green, red, brown, tan, orange.  A very autumn quilt.  If I'd had more skill at free motion quilting, I'd've quilted leaves all over it.  Maybe next time.

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