A Bag Maker's Journey into the World of Quilting
After reading the pattern instructions for the very ambitious (for my quilting skill level) quilt that I am still dreaming of making, I decided I needed at least one small and simple finished quilt under my belt first.
Sew what to make? I am mostly a pattern sewist and while I tend to modify patterns to suit my needs, I like to work from a set of instructions. Knowing all of this, I picked up Kaffe Fassett's 5" Charm Pack in Prism and felt that I had to sew something with it! I love rainbows and gradients, they make me smile every time I look at them!
Having played with half square triangles (HST's) when I sewed the Jacob's Ladder block (read the blog post here), I decided to pair the charm pack with a black blender (Northcott's Toscana in Ebony) and make a whole bunch of HST's and figure out where to go from there.
This quilt took one 5" charm pack and 3 yards of the Toscana plus one package of crib sized batting.
The combination of rainbow colours on black always reminds me a little bit of stained glass! Moving full speed ahead without any sort of real plan, I marked the blocks for sewing and away we went to chain piece, remembering my lesson learned about the scant 1/4" seam.
The Quilt Top
I think chain piecing is awesome! I do it for production sewing as well, not only does it save on thread, it saves some time on the other end with only having one snip per block. Add in this handy little tool that I brought in for the shop, the Blade Saver Thread Cutter, and snipping those little blocks apart is super quick and it makes a satisfying little "pop" as you go. Check out this little video I made or the product review here.
Time to cut the blocks in half, press and trim! Using all of the toys-- I mean tools at my disposal, I used my rotating cutting mat and wool pressing pad to make this process a little easier and more enjoyable. Doesn't that stack of triangles look cute?
All right, time to decide what to do with these little blocks I made without a plan. After trying a few configurations, I quickly settled on diamond blocks that included all of the rainbow colours in each! I ended up with 4 each of the 5 block combinations.
After sewing the diamond blocks together, being mindful of which way I was pressing my seams, I had my next layout conundrum. Should I randomly place my blocks or should I have some sort of order to them?
Well, I can only do so much with random and I like everything to have some sort of order to it, so I fiddled with position such that there is a progression of the blocks and each vertical row shifted that progression by one position. The colour progression within the blocks was also positioned such that the purple/blues were the "top".
After sewing the blocks into rows and the rows together, I ended up with a mostly finished quilt top!
I paused for a moment to poll the wonderful members of the Quilting & Sewing in Ontario, Canada Facebook group about whether or not I should add a border to the top. My worry was the binding cutting the points of the diamonds along the edges. After many wonderful suggestions and lots of supportive messages, I decided to add a simple border half the width of a single block (2.5") in the black Toscana.
Awesome! I just finished my first quilt top!
After taking a few minutes to feel very satisfied with my efforts and feeling like I finished something, I started thinking about all of the other steps to put a quilt together that I had no experience with. Sewing and piecing things together were well within my skill set, just in a different manner.
Backing, Batting and the Quilt Sandwich
I went with the matching black Toscana for the backing and I decided to be super thrifty with my backing as this was a practice project and used some of the selvedge to maximize my use of fabric. So I managed to squeeze my quilt top on its longest edge from selvedge to selvedge.
At this point I was solidly under the impression that my binding would cover 1/2" on both sides of the quilt.. it was close! (I was able to stitch my binding on so that only a smidge of white is peeking out of the corner)
There are so many batting choices out there! I chose to try one of the options that my notions supplier offers, Pellon 80/20 Cotton/Polyester in a pre-sized package that allowed me enough extra to have a trial quilt sandwich. After reading the package right as I wanted to start on the sandwiching, I noted that it recommended soaking the batting before using. Ugh. Not knowing how it would affect things, I decided to play it safe and follow the instructions.
After laying the batting out to dry, I posted my quilt top to the shop's Instagram stories asking our followers if they had any tips to share on the sandwiching process and I received some excellent advice! Amazon Prime and Wawak to the rescue and by the time I was ready to sandwich, I had some heavy duty clamps, bent safety pins and a kwik klip tool. (Thank you Heather!)
Having moved my personal sewing area out of the shop and having much less room than before, I decided the shop's cutting table would be a great spot to pin baste the quilt.
Clamps deployed and many pins later, I felt that while not perfect, it was good enough to move forward with the quilting.
I'm sure some of the more experienced quilter's might realize the trap that I was falling into unwittingly at this point, but as I was still without a plan and going from memory of all of the research that I had done, I had no idea..
One of my lessons learned from this is this: Have a quilting plan before pin basting your quilt. This will help you with pin placement that wont get in the way of your quilting!
Had I done my practice sandwich first before jumping in and basting away, I might have had a better idea!
The Practice Sandwich
I had four HST blocks leftover that I didn't use in the quilt top and made a small diamond block to practice on first. I wasn't sure how I wanted to quilt this yet and what thread I wanted to use. My options were black or rainbow (or some combination of each). I really really wanted to use my rainbow thread (have I mentioned I love rainbows enough yet?) but I had also never quilted anything before. This felt like a very very bold and risky choice.
I quilted my sandwich far more densely than I was planning on doing the quilt as I wanted to see how the rainbow thread would look over various lengths, I also used it as practice with my walking foot. That handy foot that they recommend for lots of things, but one that intimidated me to use as it wasn't simply a snap on and go process.
I like to take a picture of my machine settings for future reference as I often have interruptions while I work and I ended up with lots of 1/4" quilting lines as that's fairly auto pilot.
Never doing anything the easy way, I decided that I loved the rainbow thread on the black enough to take the risk of my stitches standing out. Being a perfectionist is tough, but I was willing to risk this choice as this quilt was solidly a practice project in my books! I also figured I wouldn't be quilting as densely so the rainbow on the coloured blocks shouldn't be too obnoxious!
After finishing with the practice sandwich, it was now time to actually quilt my project! This was both exciting and terrifying all at the same time. After a basic google search on quilting tips knowing that I wanted straight lines and something that worked with my very geometric design, I thought that I would stitch in the ditch on the top and have a lovely diamond design on the back.
Six inches into my first quilting pass for an anchoring line, I ditched (ha ha) that plan. It didn't take long for me to discover I didn't like that method at all. I ended up stitching a quarter inch on either side of my diagonal seams. My research suggested for diagonal quilting, I should lay down an anchoring line from the corners in both directions.
My second anchoring line earned me a small tuck on the back of the quilt, but at this point I decided that I would live with that and continue onwards. After a few passes, this is what was starting to shape up.
The lines aren't perfectly straight, but they are pretty good, and I figured some of those ripples would blend in with any wrinkling that may occur. I went very slowly with the quilting as my machine was not super pleased with the weight of the quilt, even with rolling it and using a makeshift extension table. I alternated quilting diagonals until I had enough stitches in place to finish each corner separately.
After stitching on either side of each diamond and on either side of a line drawn through the middle, I ended up with a lovely diamond pattern on the backside of the quilt that looked great (in my opinion) from both sides. Yay!
I briefly considered adding an additional line in the large spaces between, but decided to leave well enough alone and proceed to trimming up my quilt for binding.
Having seen a few people comment on using their serger to trim their quilts up, I decided I was going to serge the edges of my quilt to catch all of my quilting lines and trim my quilt in one step. The edges looked fantastic!
I use double fold binding for my mask edges so that I can loop something through it, so over the past 18 months, I can almost iron this in my sleep. So away I went after figuring out the perimeter of my quilt and adding some extra for fiddling and pressed away figuring it would be applied to the edges of the quilt in the same way.
I didn't need to research this part of the project, right? Sure, go ahead and have a giggle right now if you know what I am going to say next.
Yup, I ended up pressing my 200" of binding back flat again to only press it in half the second time around.
After attempting to apply the binding to my practice sandwich the way I normally would left something to be desired, I went to look for a good binding tutorial to pick up some of the tips and tricks that I knew I was missing.
Turns out, most of the binding tutorials suggest applying the binding that is only ironed in half (not into the double fold). While I wasn't sure I was going to like the quarter inch on one side and half on the back, I decided to try it this way for this project since that seemed to be the prevailing advice for binding.
So away I went with applying the one side of the binding by machine and then clipping it for hand stitching the backside of the binding in front of the TV. I rarely hand stitch anything and consequently my skill set is weak there as well. Black thread on black binding should hide itself well, but its also incredibly difficult to see well. It's like knitting with black yarn, something that I also try to avoid! It's probably a good thing my senior quality control schnauzer was on duty while I was working!
Slow and steady wins the race though and once I started, I really wanted to be finished! At about 2:30 am when I finally finished that last stitch, I took a few minutes to just stare at the pretty quilt that I made and went to sleep happy!
The next day I took a few photos of the finished project in the shop and I couldn't be happier! Since these photos, the quilt has had its first bath and after plucking the little floofs that poked out, I can see why darker batting might be preferable on dark backing!
Front folded up to see back at the same time:
I always like to look back after finishing a project and reflect on some of the lessons that I learned along the way.
- Read the batting instructions in advance - nothing worse that realizing you need to add an extra step in there and having to wait while it dries!
- Match the batting colour - After pulling off lots of little floofs, I could see how using a darker batting colour with black backing would be helpful
- Plan your quilting before basting - I don't know how many pins I took out while quilting to move to another location because it crossed the line I wanted to quilt.
- Read the instructions first - this necessitates having instructions! :)
- Find a good long armer - I know this is only the tip of the iceberg for me for quilting, but I already know that I don't like quilting on my domestic combined with my back, shoulder and neck problems. Good thing the Canadian Modern Quilt Collective does tons of features on the local (and not so local) long armers and maintains a directory! (Did you know that you can receive a 10% code to our shop with a membership to the CMQC?)
Thank you for taking the time to hear about my first quilt project! I would love to hear about yours or how you got into quilting!