A number of years ago—in what we now think of as the late-20th century, in fact—I decided to make my first queen-sized quilt.
I don’t think I’d even finished my first lap quilt, a sampler, when I started planning the queen-sized quilt. After a lot of deliberation, I decided to make an Amish-style double nine-patch, with the blocks set on-point alternately with solid squares that would allow me to show off a lot of hand quilting. Yes, that’s right, I was going to hand quilt this baby.
This quilt is my oldest UFO. I got as far as making all 16 blocks, assembling the quilt center with alternate squares and setting triangles, and cutting and sewing some of the strip sets for the inner pieced border. I’ve packed and unpacked that UFO over the course of four moves since then, even during periods when I wasn’t doing any sewing at all. I haven’t wanted to get rid of it, nor have I been interested in trying to finish it as originally planned. It’s been a dilemma for a long time.
At the time when I was working on this quilt, my then-boyfriend and I were invited to an artists’ salon being hosted by friends of friends. The event took place in a loft in The Brewery, a well-known arts complex in downtown Los Angeles. It was a level of hipness to which I could only aspire and I felt a bit, well, dorky, what with studying classical music and still living with my parents and all.
But I have to say, everyone was very nice and open to whatever art people brought with them to share. I got into a conversation with one of the hosts, a young woman who performed a solo dance piece as I recall, and she was interested in hearing about my music studies.
“I’ve also started quilting and I’m working on making a quilt right now,” I told her.
“Really? That’s so cool!” she said. “I just made a quilt, too!”
I was not expecting that. Bear in mind that this was waaaaay back in the mid-1990s, before social media, before the rise of Modern Quilt Guilds, and when I was almost always the youngest quilter I ever saw in any shop, class or quilt show. So meeting another 20-something quilter like that in downtown L.A. was definitely a novelty.
But mostly, I wanted to know what she meant when she said she “just” made a quilt. My reaction was something along the lines of:
It sounded like her definition of a quilt was different than mine, or at least that’s what I told myself. How could she have possibly made making a quilt sound so casual and easy?
You have to understand, I was sweating every last detail with my double nine-patch (or so it felt). Simply finding a pattern and fabrics I liked took a long time. And then, because I needed for this quilt to be Unlike Any Other Double Nine-Patch Ever Made, I made sure each of the 80 small nine-patches were distinct, which meant no strip piecing.
Not only that, but I was using a pattern from the early 1980s that didn’t have rotary cutting instructions and gave template patterns instead. You see, making a double nine-patch block at 12” means that the squares in the smaller nine-patches should finish at 1-1/3” (1.33”). As you know, we quilters don’t work in thirds of inches. So what I did was cut the squares at 1-13/16” to finish at 1-5/16” (1.3125”)—no wonder this quilt took so long to sew!
This pattern gave instructions for the setting triangles that now, as a quilt pattern editor, I just don’t agree with. Instead of calling for quarter-square triangles, where the straight of grain would be along the outside edge of the quilt top, it called for half-square triangles, resulting in bias edges on all four sides. It also didn’t specify the proper seam allowances needed for half-square triangles. My notes indicate that I added ¾” seam allowances, not the 7/8” actually needed. Where I got that information I have no idea, as it certainly didn’t come from the pattern book.
By the time I added the setting triangles and assembled the quilt center, my interest in this quilt was seriously waning. I’d been working on it a long time and had a long way yet to go before it would be finished (remember: I was going to hand quilt it). In addition, my life was changing: I moved into an apartment with a roommate and no longer had much space for sewing; I was working full time and pursuing music opportunities nights and weekends; and my relationship with my boyfriend, who I had mind as I was making the quilt, eventually came to an end.
Plus, the edges of that quilt center were just a mess. I don’t think I was even aware of the challenge stitching borders to those bias edges would pose, but I certainly knew that it didn’t look pretty.
Yuck. Do you see that discrepancy in how the setting triangles are joined to the block? That’s the worst example, but it’s not the only one. None of the setting triangles were large enough to extend past the corners of the blocks the way you’d want. I could see the problem but I didn’t know how to fix it, so it left me stymied.
I also don’t think I joined the diagonal rows with an eye toward matching seams and easing in fullness where needed. These are skills I’ve picked up along the way.
For the longest time I thought I sewed with an inaccurate ¼” seam allowance and that my blocks ended the wrong size. But when I took a closer look last week, I found that my piecing was a lot more accurate than I gave myself credit for.
I mean, those squares in the small nine-patches are about as close to 1-1/3” as you can get!
So here I am, 20+ years later, and I’ve decided now is the time to finish this quilt, except that I will not (I repeat, NOT) be hand quilting it. I weighed my options against my priorities and determined that the best course of action is to finish piecing the quilt as I originally intended and not to disassemble or un-sew any of the work I’d already completed.
This means that some of the seam allowances between the quilt center and the pieced inner border are pretty uneven. It also means that all of the block corners around the outside edges are cut off.
Here’s what I did to join the pieced inner border.
- I measured the quilt through the center both horizontally and vertically and trimmed the borders to those dimensions. Surprisingly, the quilt top is square according to those measurements. Note that because I would be using nine-patch units as cornerstones, I didn’t need to add border widths to these measurements.
- I pinned the quilt center to the inner borders by matching the centers and ends, and then pinned at regular intervals to ease in any fullness needed. (There wasn’t much, which again was a surprise.)
- Because the edges of the quilt center were uneven and mostly bias, I stitched with the inner borders on the bottom against the feed dogs and with the quilt center on the top. This way I could avoid having the feed dogs stretch out the bias edges while keeping an eye on the wonky alignment, keeping the inner border aligned with the guide on my ¼” foot.
- I bit the bullet and stitched right through the corners of the blocks when they inevitably extended beyond the edges of the inner borders. I wasn’t happy about it, but I did it.
This is what the corners of the blocks look like now.
They’re all cut off. But you know what? Now that the inner borders are on, those technical flaws don’t bother me that much. Laid out on a queen mattress, half of those blocks are going to extend over the sides of the bed and not be on display anyway.
And can I just say how happy I am with my color choices from 20+ years ago? The purple and royal blue solids framing the quilt center make all the difference.
Next up is to add the outer cornerstones and border. Thankfully I have not used up the fabric I bought for this quilt and have enough to finish the top, though I may have to resort to a scrappy binding. We’ll see.
So stay tuned. The whole point of finishing this top is to get to the quilting (which, I repeat, will NOT be done by hand). I’m kind of excited by the possibilities this quilt presents, which is a fun way to feel after 20 years.
Wishing you a week of new discoveries of your own,
P.S. For you own Amish-inspired quilt adventures, take a look at this free pattern and the products below!