What follows is a mini-saga of knowledge assumed, mistakes made and lessons learned, all thanks to the love for three small quilts.
At first, I was only planning to make one small quilt, a 15″ road to California quilt block done with novelty fabrics as a “Bon Voyage” gift for a friend who was moving with her family to Southern California last July. I was able to finish the quilt block quickly but I didn’t have it quilted before they finished packing up the truck and headed west on I-70. At that point, I figured I couldn’t (or shouldn’t) very well make a little quilt for the mom without making doll quilts for the kids. My plan was to finish them up quickly and send all three together.
I knew the 5-year-old boy had equal affection for construction equipment and his stuffed animals, so I dug out samples of the On the Job collection from Blank Quilting I’d gotten in a QN staff fabric grab to make half-square triangle blocks for a little chevron quilt. Again, the piecing came together quickly, and then the top was put away while I turned my attention to a quilt for the 3-year-old girl.
Because this is a family that loves gardening and the outdoors but had temporarily moved to an apartment, for the girl’s quilt I decided to use some small pieces of a pretty floral collection I’d gotten in a fabric grab. I was determined to use them up and not let any back into my scrap bin. I admit, it took way more time for me to ‘design’ this quilt than it should have, but as I said, I was trying to get as much mileage out of the scraps as I could. This is what I ended up with.
I finished the piecing and straight-line quilting months ago, but then I put it aside while I worked on other projects, with the plan that I would practice a little free-motion quilting in the piano key borders. And I did try, honest I did. But I hadn’t done any free-motion in quite a while and I didn’t bother to practice on a sample before finally putting this quilt in my machine, and well, the results spoke for themselves. That is, until I got my seam ripper out. So when I determined it was time to finish that puppy — prompted by our friends’ move back to Colorado after the job transfer didn’t pan out as promised — I decided to leave well enough alone and just bind it already. The solid turquoise I pulled from my stash made me happy, and I thought I’d be able to quickly bind it during my toddler’s naptime and move on to a project I had committed to make for an upcoming QN special issue.
Let’s just say that trying to zip through the binding (the first one I’d done in about six months) on autopilot ended up costing me more time in the end. It took four attempts—yes, four—to successfully join the ends of the binding strips. It was frustrating and more than a little embarrassing to have so much trouble trying to figure out why the binding kept looking like a Mobius strip. My mistake was that, once I had positioned the ends of the two strips perpendicular to one another with right sides together, I was stitching across the wrong diagonal. Do not do this unless you want a quilt binding that looks like it belongs in a quilt made by M.C. Escher. When I vented to my husband, he said, “Don’t you have something you need to sew for work? Why are you spending so much time on this?” “It wasn’t supposed to take this long,” I grumbled under my breath.
But I eventually figured out my mistake, got the quilt binding completed, put the quilt in the wash and was able to focus on my QN project.
Lesson Learned #1: Think about how and why you’re doing things, not just about what you’re doing.
Lesson Learned #1A: Finish more than one project a year so you don’t forget how to bind a quilt.
A few days later, with a date to see our friends on the calendar, I decided to finish the boy’s quilt.
I used part of an old flannel receiving blanket for the batting and a Sulky variegated rayon thread for the machine quilting—my first time ever quilting with rayon or using a variegated thread!—and I love how it turned out. While I don’t think I’d use rayon for a regular utilitarian quilt that might get a lot of wear and tear over many years, I have no problem using it for a doll quilt. I may end up making doll quilts just for the heck of it so I have an excuse to use rayon thread more often. I also really like how the variegated primary colors play up the dark blues and reds of the fabric, giving the whole thing more visual energy.
The morning of the playdate I dug out a long scrap left over from vertical borders I’d once cut for a bed quilt. “Hmmm, this should be long enough to bind a doll quilt, don’t you think?” I asked of no one in particular. I wish I’d asked someone who could have encouraged me to measure it instead of assuming it would be long enough. Because it wasn’t. With each corner I turned as I was joining it to the quilt, I realized I would be cutting it close. Make that very close. When I turned that fourth corner, I saw that it would be too close for comfort. I ended up trying to tuck one raw end under the other and then just zigzag stitched directly across the seam to secure it. (This is only something I would do on a doll quilt that I wanted to complete, wash and hand over to the recipient in a couple hours’ time.) I’m happy to report that later that afternoon, as soon as he unfolded it, the boy laid down on the floor and tried to cover himself with the quilt. So at least he knew what it was and liked it, even though I had to explain it was for his stuffed animals.
Lesson Learned #2: Using new threads can be fun!
Lesson Learned #2A: Always do the math. Always.
Since I still had my walking foot on my machine after the playdate, I figured I might as well finish up the little quilt that got me into all of this in the first place, the road to California block with themed novelty fabrics. Riding the success of quilting with non-cotton thread for the first time, and with the variegated rayon still in the bobbin, I pulled out some other synthetic threads I’d never used before: a couple shades of orange, including a variegated orange thread, and even gold metallic (all Sulky, for the record). What can I say — it was time to take a walk on the wild side.
I’ve always liked the look of closely spaced straight-line quilting, so for this, I decided to stitch lines 1/2″ apart, going northeast (Colorado) to southwest (California). I started with a few lines of the gold metallic, then switched to orange rayon, then to the variegated and back to gold toward the outer corners. It wasn’t until after I’d gotten started I decided to add a little jog around two corners (maybe heading up through Salt Lake City or down through Santa Fe?). Then I spaced a few lines 3/4″ apart and finally 1″ apart, by which point the corners had gotten a little improvisational-looking, which I ended up liking.
I auditioned a few different colors for the binding, but nothing worked until I pulled out the black fabric — it provided the perfect frame. Taking into consideration the machine-finished bindings I’d done on the two doll quilts, I decided to cut the binding strips at 2″ instead of my typical 2.25″. With the doll quilts, and in fact with every binding I’ve finished on the front of the quilt by machine, I found it challenging to get the stitching lined up on both the front and back. By working with a slightly narrower binding, my straight stitch just inside the fold on the front resulted in a fairly consistent stitch-in-the-ditch on the back. Bonus: I didn’t cut off any points in my piecing on the front.
Lesson Learned #3: Cut binding strips 2″ wide for machine-finished bindings from now on.
Lesson Learned #3A: Don’t be afraid to decide to try something different even after you’ve already started the quilting.
Because I finished these three small quilts within in a week of each other, that means I bound 12 corners in a short period of time. I used the technique that Patrick Lose demonstrated in an episode of Quilters Newsletter TV: The Quilters’ Community and was able to get comfortable with it. The corners, particularly on the road to California quilt, are good and flat and the miters turned nicely. The results have me energized to finish another project soon now that I’ve checked those small UFOs off my quilting to-do list! There’s nothing like a finish to spur you on to your next quilt.