Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fall Colors Quilt

Here is my finished quilt, which I have called "Fall Colors" on all the lists of unfinished quilts I've written over the last twenty years. The previous post describes some of its construction. It is a queen sized quilt, about 86" x 94".

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fall Colors Quilt Construction

I am making a two-sided quilt using a quilt-as-you-go method that I dreamed up almost 20 years ago. The top consists of six inch appliqu├ęd blocks that represent the mountains of New Hampshire in the fall, separated by two inch sashing. The back consists of six inch squares of winter colored fabric, separated by dark blue sashing. This picture shows the first four rows of the project completed, plus the back of the next six rows (the front rows are hiding underneath). Read more and you will understand why I put this project off for so long.
In order to keep myself from running away screaming, I'm putting together a little top in between seams using the leaders and enders method. (Read about this on the Quiltville web site.) I had marked some solid squares on the diagonal to make into half-square triangles, also quite a few years ago. The squares sat in a box labelled "cut projects to piece" for a long time. I don't know what I had in mind back then, but once I heard about the leaders and enders method, I started putting them together and ended up with enough squares to make two wall hangings with nine eccentric stars in each one.
I am sewing strips of six inch blocks, joined by two inch sashing, to strips of batting. I will sew the top and back strips to the batting along each seam, front and back, at the same time. Here are the batting strips, cut as precisely as I could manage, folded and labeled on my cutting table.
Here is my diversion, waiting to be trimmed so I can continue piecing the eccentric stars as I go along.
In this picture, I fold back the back strip, smooth it down and pin it to the batting. I have already joined the front and back strips to the batting on the left side - that was the first step, and it's not shown. The strip is upside-down in this picture.
Here I turn the strip over and line up the top strip as best I can. The batting doesn't shift and the blocks are the same size, so this usually works out pretty well. Notice that the seams are already sewn together. When I first started putting this quilt together, I tried putting the loose squares and sashing strips onto the batting, and sewing them all together at once. This did not work at all. So I took everything apart and pieced all the rows first.
I have a "leader" in the machine already... that I will not have loose threads at the start of the seam.
Now I add the "ender" which will stay in the machine and become the leader for the next seam. Note there is a bit of extra batting at the bottom of the strip. That is for the long strip of sashing between rows.
When I remove the strip, I cut off the "leader" and put it aside.
I repeat this step once for each seam - 18 times total including left and right sides. Here is a finished row.
When I finished this row, I could not resist feeding the rest of my leader/ender pairs through the machine so that I could iron them and get them ready to finish.
I will have nine eccentric star blocks when I make the next row.
Now I attach the sashing where this row will join to the next. I attach the front first, and then the back (I didn't show this step).
Because I sew the seams with the front on top, the front scootches down about 1/8 inch. I don't want to use the walking foot, so I just live with this. It actually works out well. But the double seam at the top comes from the fact that when I sew the long sashing to the back side, the seam comes out in a different place. So the top sashing will end up shorter than two inches. Because of this I have to trim the top sashing to make sure it's straight, and I have to trim 1/8 inch off of the batting too. It sounds like extra work, but it seems to me that it's inevitable. The nature of this process causes the work to shift some, and this is the step where I have to make some corrections.
In the picture above I've also made marks on the long sashing, using a blue water-removing marking pen, that will help me line up the vertical sashing with the next strip. This is very important. I didn't do this between strips one and two, and I think I will have to pick it out and do it over.
Now I am ready to quilt. I pin the sashing together so it doesn't get caught in the machine.
Originally I was going to do some very decorative machine quilting. I was going to do different colored random paths in each colored section, and free-motion leaves on the sashing. I actually did two strips this way at some point. I might have gone on like that but the batting deteriorated and I had to take everything apart. Now that I have only a month to finish this, I decided to use the decorative stitches that my old machine can do and just make a line of variable zig-zag along the tops of each "mountain." The mountains were supposed to be continuous from one block to the next, and this choice of quilting really brings that out. Plus it only takes about ten minutes, and it's easy. Necessity is the mother of invention. I am not quilting the sashing. Because I sew the front and back to the batting along all seams, there is already some quilting done in that step. It is good firm batting, so there won't be any problem. I can probably even wash and iron the thing when it's done.
I have just sewn the long sashing on the bottom front of the previous row to the top of this row. I didn't show that step. Now I've turned the whole quilt over and I'm joining the batting with a herringbone stitch. I just catch the battings from behind, alternating on each side.
The final step is to fold the back sashing over and tack it down with a blindstitch. This is somewhat time-consuming, but it looks great.
So now I have five rows done! There are ten rows in all, plus borders - I should be done in a week, in time for the June 30th deadline. I plan to finish one row per day except Wednesday and then the borders next Sunday.

One final note - After I finished row five, I was so eager to piece my eccentric stars, that I got a head start on row six. All I need to do now is quilt it and attach it to row five.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"What is a hobby anyway?"

I just read this in Aldo Leopold's book A Sand County Almanac.

"What is a hobby anyway? Where is the line of demarcation between hobbies and ordinary normal pursuits? I have been unable to answer this question to my own satisfaction. At first blush I am tempted to conclude that a satisfactory hobby must be in large degree useless, inefficient, laborious, or irrelevant. Certainly many of our most satisfying avocations today consist of making something by hand which machines can usually make more quickly and cheaply, and sometimes better. Nevertheless I must in fairness admit that in a different age the mere fashioning of a machine might have been an excellent hobby. Galileo, I fancy, derived a real and personal satisfaction when he set the ecclesiastical world on its ear by embodying in a new catapult some natural law that St. Peter had inadvertently omitted to catalogue. Today the invention of a new machine, however noteworthy to industry, would, as a hobby, be trite stuff. Perhaps we have here the real inwardness of our question: A hobby is a defiance of the contemporary. It is an assertion of those permanent values which the momentary eddies of social evolution have contravened or overlooked. If this is true, then we may also say that every hobbyist is inherently a radical, and that [her] tribe is inherently a minority."

I write this because when I described Project Linus to a friend, she wondered why the money and time we spent on knitting blankets by hand couldn't be used to buy a much greater number of manufactured blankets. This statement completely misses the essence of the work: that the good of devotion, whereby a person has spent a significant amount of time crafting a blanket in the hope of comforting a stranger, is a fundamental emotional value.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Project Linus

I joined a knitting group at church this year. We're knitting blankets and caps for the Greater Boston Project Linus, which gives blankets to premature infants and other children in need of comfort. Our church has a quilting project too, for cancer patients. The baby quilts that are made by this project are handed off to Project Linus. Last week, some of our group went on a field trip to The Yarn Shop in Uxbridge, MA where we heard heartwarming stories of how Project Linus made a direct difference in the lives of some of the staff. We have a new stash of yarn, and the store set up a photo shoot for some of the work we've done so far. I knitted the blanket that looks like an Amish quilt and a plain pink blanket, and I quilted the baby blanket at the bottom of the picture (it appears elsewhere on this site).
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