Finished this quilt today. That’s one UFO off the list and some decent practice refreshing my machine quilting skills, and boy oh boy were they rusty! I’d never attempted a freehand free-motion feather border before. Will be doing more of that. On to the next UFO + Stash-busting project, a top I cut out a few months ago.
This project was put on hold indefinitely for a few reasons. In the meantime, smaller projects have been finished on the frame and the problems/reasons for not working on this beast have been resolved. Namely, there is now space for the frame with this over-size quilt on it and I have learned to discipline myself to no more than one hour of hand quilting per day to avoid repetitive stress injuries.
What a happy surprise when I uncovered this quilt I hadn’t seen in ages. Why, it’s lovely! This project began as a case of “careful what you wish for.” Rarely do I win anything in a lottery-style drawing, but I had my heart set on winning these Block-of-the-Month entries back when I was a card-carrying member of our local quilt guild, Country Crossroads Quilters. It was an unusual project in that everyone had a small piece of the same theme fabric and each quilter was to add companion fabrics and use a block design of her own choosing. Those of you familiar with these types of activities know that generally participants are given a general color scheme and/or one theme fabric and a designated block design. So the winner gets a number of blocks that generally coordinate color-wise and are all the same design and she sews them together and has an instant quilt top. That’s the general theory.
Giving people carte blanche on the design of the blocks made for an interesting assortment and giving a theme fabric with so many colors meant that there wasn’t even really a consistent color theme as some quilters opted to bring out the Christmas theme of the fabric and others opted to showcase the purple.
So for once in my life, I did win the drawing. It may have been rigged by my friends in the group who knew I wanted these blocks and knew I had been a faithful participant in the Block of the Month project for ages and had never won the blocks whilst some had won multiple times or worse, some had won the single time they threw a block in the mix. Or, it may have been the universe out to teach me that careful what you wish for lesson. Either way, I “won” the oddest assortment of blocks. In the end, there were only 13 that were really useable. Yes, 13. Hmmm. So I took the 5 that went together the best (accent on Christmas, no additional purple) and made a medallion out of those, which you can see in the middle of the photo above. I confess I did add the Celtic Applique myself to the otherwise perfectly serviceable 9-patch block that just needed a bit of a lift and a shift of scale to be placed center front and play well with the rest of the Christmas themed blocks that had lots of white. The rest of the blocks were used “as is.” There were a few more that would not play well with the group no matter how I tried to make them settle in. I waited to set these blocks until the makers of the unused ones were no longer around to see that their blocks were not included. That took a while. And the quilting has taken even longer. Because of the medallion setting, the quilt got huge. It’s the largest I’ve ever made. Also because of the medallion setting, there is a lot of design space that cried out for hand quilting, although in retrospect, sending this off for custom machine quilting probably would have been the wiser choice. (Close-up below showing the block I contributed and some of the designs I adapted.) I am determined to finish this before my hands and/or eyes fail me. I’m currently more than half-way and it’s only taken me 15 years or so. And when I’m done I’ll have a HUGE Christmas themed quilt. But it will be gorgeous.
When I made my first quilt many moon ago, I found a pattern in a craft magazine for an Amish Roman Stripe quilt and I thought the instructions looked simple enough, so I bought fabric and dove in with both feet armed with plenty of garment construction experience and youthful enthusiasm. This was back in the day before rotary cutters, so I cut everything with scissors! Did I mention I was much younger back then???
The top went together fairly well for a first attempt and I was so pleased with it I was ready to tackle what I thought was going to be a quick finish to the project. Since I was nearly at the end of the instructions, I figured I was nearly at the end of the work and would soon be wrapping my baby in a soft and warm quilt until I read on and all that was remaining of the instructions was, “Now quilt and bind it.” Wait, wait, there must be another page, I thought. Nope. Nice top you’ve got there. Now quilt it. Then bind it. Huh. Well, I’d purchased the batting and backing fabric because that was indicated at the beginning of the instructions. So, I decided I would just put the batting between the top and bottom, pin them together and then stitch them on my sewing machine. I knew this probably wasn’t what was really expected, but I also knew from my sewing experience that it would work and I would have a usable quilt. So I stretched everything out on the floor and placed straight pins at every block junction on the top and went to the machine.
You might guess where this is going. All those straight pins were a nightmare. They did the job of holding the quilt together well enough…when they didn’t fall out…but I had bloody scratches up and down my arms and even some on my legs from when the quilt rested on my lap. I might as well have been wrangling wildcats as sewing up a quilt. I just thought I’d made a silly mistake by using straight pins and went off to learn how REAL quilters did things, which in this instance for machine quilting, was with safety pins, duh.
Now here it is all these years later and I find out (on Craftsy, but more about that later) that the most up-to-date millennial quilters baste for machine quilting with, you guessed it, plain old STRAIGHT PINS, and one very clever person has created the product I needed all those years ago: Pinmoor, colorful, re-usable, easy on, easy off little silicone caps to cover the end of the pins and prevent them from falling out and from piercing your skin as you maneuver the quilt around. So those look really good, but awfully expensive and only available via mail order.
A little more scooting around the ‘Net reveals that someone else uses Caulk Backer Rod from the hardware store for the same purpose at approximately 1/10 cost. Well, I ran out to get some of that caulk backer rod today and have basted up this batik fabric to make a small whole cloth table topper and the backer rod works fine.
My hands are sure happy they don’t have to open and close all those safety pins, my arms are happy they don’t have to endure all those painful scratches, my pocketbook is happy I spent less than $4, and my psyche is happy I was on to something all those years ago by basting with straight pins and my solution wasn’t a mistake, it was just a product waiting to be born.
It’s been a while since hand applique was on the front burner so when I wanted to drag out an old project and finish it up, I decided to look around and see what was new in the applique world. I found the excellent Craftsy.com class called Machine-Finished Hand Applique taught by Beth Ferrier and took a look. Oh my, glue basting applique pieces is an amazing step forward from either needle-turn or turn-and-baste over freezer paper! Beth suggests using regular office supply glue sticks as they are cheaper, readily available and she likes the squishy tackiness they give, but I did like this more expensive fabric glue pen by Sewline better than either the Elmer’s purple or standard office supply water soluble glue stick.
I also found the “Purple Thang” stick a bit more responsive than the cuticle stick recommended in the class for pushing and turning fabric. Yes, again, it’s more expensive and only available from quilt notions suppliers while cuticle sticks are cheap and easy to find, but it really did work better for me and so was well worth the price. Actually, I use both tools at the same time for these very small circles, one in each hand. My fingers are too clumsy by half.
Those little scissors with the green handles are by someone named Karen Kay Buckley and she calls them Perfect Scissors. The clerk at my favorite quilt shop insisted that if I was doing applique, I should have these little scissors and I should trust her on this. They are nice. Supposedly, their micro-serration prevents fraying and they do cut right to the tips and are very maneuverable to cut around complex shapes. I can’t speak to whether they prevent fraying since with this technique, the glue accomplishes that nicely. Sometimes you just have to trust.
You can see above and below how nice and round my circles are using these new techniques, even though I used a slight variation on Beth’s instructions by putting adhesive dots on top of the fabric as a turning guide rather than freezer paper on the inside. Will all that glue wash out you ask? Well, once more I’m going to trust and not worry about it. Better to have a finished project with a little glue left in it after washing than a glue-free never-finished top lurking in a drawer.
Look at those pretty little circles! Bring on the applique berries! Thank-you Beth!