My New Favorite Quilt Is the One I Just Finished: A Tale of Plaids, Stripes, and Minky
I'm feeling particularly happy this week because I have an actual finished quilt to share!
From first cut of fabric to last stitch on the binding took just about three months. That's a pretty quick turnaround for me. Just like Laura wrote last week, I, too, have a stack of Unfinished Opportunities waiting patiently in my sewing room. In general, I prefer making quilt tops more than actually quilting. Every once in a while, though, I see a quilt all the way from start to finish without letting it sit.
A couple of months ago, a quilting friend, Tracy Allen, offered me her stash of plaids and stripes -- some yardage, some repurposed shirts and blouses. She had done what she wanted to do with them, and they were taking up physical and mental space she was ready to clear out. She came to my house and delivered four large bags of fabric; just sitting on the floor looking through them and sorting them into piles was entertaining and inspiring.
Design and Piecing
I decided a simple quilt block would work well with the riot of colors I was drawn to, so I chose a rail fence design to start. I cut two-inch strips from a bunch of fabrics I thought worked well together, then arranged them on my work surface by value. Each block is made from four strips, arranged from light to dark. I sewed together strips I thought looked good together, making sure I could see a value gradation in each set. I used whatever length strips I had, then cut 6 1/2 inch lengths to make blocks. Sometimes I would get two complete blocks from a set, and then have just a strip pair left, so I'd choose two more strips of appropriate value, add those, and cut more blocks.
Once I used up most of the strips I had cut, I sorted and counted the blocks I had made.
I figured out how many more I wanted to make to get to a decent cuddle-on-the-couch size, then looked at what colors and values I needed to balance what I had already made.
I laid out the blocks (my design "wall" is actually the hallway floor) with the darkest ones in the center and the lightest on the outside edges. Then I switched some of the colors around a bit to have the greenest ones all on one half. I kept the position of the darkest strip constant, which makes a kind of stair-step pattern, and is another way to keep some order within the chaos of color and pattern.
Once I decided on a layout, I marked the blocks with labels.
Because I can't leave the blocks out for the duration of the time it takes to sew the top together, I need a way to keep track of which block goes where, and which end is up. I use painter's masking tape marked with row/column designation -- 1a, 1b, ... 10g, 10h, etc. That way I can do chain piecing and still keep all the blocks in order.
I try to avoid ironing the tape directly; I don't like when it gets on the iron. But the tape doesn't seem to leave a residue on the fabric even when it does get pressed. When I'm done piecing the top, I take the stickers off and put them back in their "storage spot" on the wall.
I was having so much fun hanging out with this fabric that I wanted to quilt and finish it right away. For the back, I found a beautifully rich turquoise 90-inch wide minky at Bay Quilts, and for the batting I chose an 80/20 blend. I found a great yellow/green/purple variegated thread for the quilting at Bay Quilts, too.
I have found that spray basting (I use Odif's 505 Spray) makes stretchy fabrics like minky and fleece less likely to move around and bunch up during quilting. Just like I have a makeshift "design wall," I have a makeshift basting area, as well. I move some furniture, break out the broom and the mop, and then set up on the floor of the living room.
I start by spreading the backing fabric right-side-down on the floor. I use the grooves in the wood floor to help make sure things are straight and square, and I use painter's tape to lightly secure the backing to the floor. I spread the batting on top of the back, and the top, right-side-up, on top of the batting to make sure everything fits right.
Before I spray, I spread wide pieces of old sheets around the edges to protect the floor from sticky overspray. I take the quilt top off and fold the batting halfway back so that I can start the basting in the center. I spray a bit onto the backing, then smooth the batting on the sticky area, working slowly from the center out to the edge on one half of the quilt.
The spray is repositionable, but I like to avoid pulling and stretching the backing as much as possible. When I'm done with one half of the batting, I switch to the other half. Once the batting is done, I repeat the half-and-half process with the quilt top, taking care to ensure the seams stay as flat and straight as possible.
I'm most comfortable with walking-foot quilting when I use my home machine. With all the straight lines in this quilt, though, I wanted to add some element of curves. I've also found that quilting that's less dense often makes a quilt that's less stiff. Those parameters led me to try one huge spiral as the quilting design. I traced around a saucer with chalk to create a guide for the beginning of the spiral. Then I used a pin to help measure and maintain a relatively consistent width as I continued around and around.
The first parts of the spiral were the hardest -- lots of moving the fabric around to sew the tighter circles. By the outer edges, the lines seemed *almost* straight as I sewed them. Because I used basting spray, I didn't have to worry about pins while I quilted.
My choice of binding fabric was informed by what was available -- there was one fabric I would have liked to use, but I didn't have nearly enough. There was so much going on in the quilt already that I didn't want to use a scrappy look for the binding. I was glad to find I had enough of the pink, purple, and orange stripe to make it all the way around.