I find the most fun part of quilting to be the planning stage. My mother refers to it as “projecting” (like project, the noun, plus -ing, not projecting like to display something to speak loudly when on stage).
Anyway, I like figuring out how a quilt can go together; what measurements to make each piece in order to create a finished product that will fit with the batting that I probably already bought. I do way more math than is necessary but that is part of the fun – apparently I miss doing basic geometry. It’s kind of ridiculous that despite all this preparation and calculation, I inevitably end up with a quilt with mismatched corners. The reason for that, however, is not a lack of planning, but a lack of care when it comes to execution.
I use a mat and rotary cutter to slice up the fabric and while I do my best to hold everything steady and cut neatly, I cannot honestly say that my strips or squares (or whatever) always come out right. Also, I tend to sew fast and while watching TV so I do not always keep my seams even and consistent. Still, I consider my finished products to generally be close enough for jazz (so to speak) and even my mother who makes excellent quilts slowly says it is better to be done than perfect, so I’ll take it.
Anyway, my cousin had a baby (well, his wife did) in April and I decided to make him a quilt. I like the concept of the Attic Windows design and decided to go with that, putting characters in the windows by fussy-cutting novelty fabrics. In retrospect, I should have narrowed the sashing because the windows don’t look quite right although I am still pleased with the result overall. The character content should be bigger compared to the more plain elements. I went with 2 1/2″ strips (and 2 7/8″ squares cut diagonally) for all of the border-type fabrics and 4 1/2″ squares for the mostly licensed character fabrics. This allowed me a pretty standard 1/4″ seam allowance all around.
One of my problems with keeping a nice 1/4″ seam is the fact that I used my sub-par sewing machine. I inherited an extremely heavy sewing machine from my mother (when she upgraded decades ago, she is still alive and sewing) which is more furniture than crafting supply, really. It is a Sears Kenmore from the early seventies and while it is, of course, electric, it is not computerized. The bobbin winder does not work well anymore (it actually works fine but then the machine doesn’t want to sew anymore after it is used – something about the clutch, I am told) but that is really its only problem other than its bulk. In the past year, however, I purchased a secondhand (but very lightly used) Brother CS6000i. This machine has a drop in bobbin, is super easy to thread, and is very light. On the other hand, the stitch quality is not as good and the markings for seam allowance are harder to follow. Anyway, my nice (if old) machine was folded up in its cabinet and had stuff on top of it, so I decided to use the other machine. I don’t know that I regret it, exactly, but it may not have been the best idea.
Yes, based on these photographs, it is obvious that my apartment is a giant mess but every photo I take shows that, so it is hardly news. Anyway, I pieced the quilt over the course of a few months, stopping periodically to buy more fabric then having to wait until I went to my grandmother’s house on Friday in order to wash said fabric before I could cut it. Late in the summer, I bought a panel that had postage stamps for eight Texas cities; something I would normally never purchase but the baby this is meant for lives in Texas so I decided to go for it. Anyway, I finally finished piecing the quilt, made a sandwich with the batting and flannel back (I like flannel backing especially for baby quilts, it is soft and fuzzy) and then got sad that I actually had to quilt it.
A baby quilt is not very big, this one was around 42″ x 58″, narrow enough to use regular width fabric on the back, but I am not good at quilting; worse even than I am at piecing. I think my Brother may have come with a walking foot but I don’t know where it is (or whether I actually even own it) so I just went with the one foot I keep installed and picked a decorative stitch. It did not go very well. The problem is that I do not keep even movement through the machine. If I let the feed dogs do all the work, the stitches are way too close together because of the material thickness but if I pull it through, the stitches are way too far apart. A decorative stitch really shows off the variation far more than a straight stitch; a lesson I learned too late (although it is obvious in retrospect). I might have mitigated this affect by doing a free-motion type of thing where the stitching meandered around the quilt but I decided to go in straight lines. Additionally, I picked a different decorative stitch to go length-wise than I did width-wise so the whole thing is a little bit of a clusterfuck.
Finally, I was done quilting (although I had to stop partway through to buy more thread, unfortunately a poor match for the original which I got from my mother but that is a whole separate issue). I went to JoAnn to purchase bias tape with which to bind the quilt. I had decided on orange to pick up the accent in the most prevalent border fabric but did not like the shade choices available to me. Also, I decided that I should go with 100% cotton instead of the blend available for purchase so I decided to make my own bias tape. I consulted the internet regarding how much fabric to buy (I decided on one yard) and instructions on how to proceed. Most tutorials instructed me to use a bias tape maker. A smarter person would have purchased a basic one – they are not too expensive but no, I thought “I don’t need that, I have an iron” or something equally cocky and just bought the fabric.
I cut 2 1/2″ strips (for 5/8″ double fold bias tape) at a 45° angle from my fabric. It is hard to say for sure, since I stuffed the extra into my scrap bin instead of measuring it, but I think I used about half of the yard I bought. I sewed the strips together using a 1/4″ seam (approximately), which I then trimmed and pressed open. I folded the now long strip in half and pressed that seam. It took [what felt like] forever to press all six yards or so of fabric which I now had connected. I tried to make sure that the seams stayed flat when ironing to prevent lumps but I cannot be really sure about that due to laziness and boredom. The now 1 1/4″ wide strip piled up on the floor next to my ironing board as I worked. The next step, of course, was to flip the right side down and bring in the edges so that they would be hidden on the final product. This is where a bias tape maker would have been very helpful. I had to go inch by inch and line up the edges with the center line without going over it at all. This was not hard but was time-consuming. Eventually, I finished that and folded the bias tape in half along the original line, ironing it again to make the crease obvious and sharp.
With my bias tape made, it was time to start binding my quilt. I pinned it all along one edge, lining up the edge of the tape with the edge of the (trimmed) quilt sandwich. If I had thought this through better, I would have left a section unsewn at the beginning so that I could overlap it with a folded edge but I rarely think things through so I just started sewing and had to improvise later. I sewed along the first fold, about 5/8″ from the edge and stopped 5/8″ away from the corner. I am actually glad that I did not prepare the corners in advance because I did not do the best job of pinning the bias tape in place and had a little ripple that I was able to get rid of when I worked the corner, starting over with pinning along the next edge. I backstitched where I stopped and cut the threads, pulling my work off of the machine to fold up the corner. Basically, I created a right angle and folded the excess fabric over the line of stitching I had already made then I pinned the rest of the side in place and started sewing 5/8″ from the edge, being careful not to sew over that folded bit. I treated the other corners in the same way and trimmed the excess bias tape when I got to the end, leaving a couple of inches to overlap and fold the edge under before sewing.
Then, I did something stupid. Well, not right then, first I folded the corners over neatly and pressed them into place, that looked pretty good but then I decided that I wanted to machine stitch the binding in place in order to hold it more firmly so that it can stand up to machine washing. Plus, I remembered that I am lazy and hand stitching invisibly is hard. Of course, I saved no time because I decided to baste the binding in place before sewing it in order to make sure I captured the back edge – I totally failed to achieve this goal. I tacked it in place which did take less time than careful invisible stitches would have but then, I went to sew the binding on, planning to “stitch in the ditch” on the front and just sew the edge of the bias tape in the back. In several places, I missed the tape on the back altogether and, being lazy / sloppy as I am, I sometimes missed the ditch in the front. For the former, I had to rip out the non-helpful line of stitching and re-make it in a way that would actually hold everything together. This took long enough that it made me realize I had saved no time whatsoever. Next time, I will hand stitch the binding as I have been taught to do. Eventually, I did finish and found my work to be satisfactory if not ideal. I briefly considered doing something like a zig-zag stitch all along the place where the quilt and binding meet in an attempt to hid my sins (so to speak) but that seemed excessive, plus it would really show how poorly my orange thread matches my orange fabric, so I decided to let it go. Finally, I decided I was done. I ironed on my tag (I know I have more but they have gone missing somewhere) and decided to take a photo and pack it up.
In the meantime (after I finished the top but before I got around to buying and washing the fabric for the bias tape) I decided to make a matching pillowcase. My reasons for this were twofold: I had extra blocks that did not make it into the quilt and the Texas fabric had come with a large central panel that I was never going to use for anything else. I actually still have blocks left over but they are the ones that I consider sub-par and do not mind not using. Anyway, I measured a pillowcase I already had and started putting the thing together. The pillowcase is not ideal – it is sort of a mish-mash of ideas held together with what scraps of fabric I had that matched the quilt. Still, I think it turned out (mostly) okay if not great and I sent it along with the quilt when I mailed it to Texas last week.
So, as a conclusion, I think I will make my own bias tape again but first I will invest in an inexpensive bias tape maker to do the folding for me! Also, I will make my next quilt on my Sears Kenmore and see how much that improves my ability to keep to a particular seam allowance.