Retrospective: 1988-1990 Autumn Mood

Welcome to the second in my series of posts showing quilts I completed in years gone by.

Quilt in dark green and brown, 80 by 80 inches

Size: 203 x 203 cm (80″ x 80″)
Design: traditional Duck and Ducklings and Shoo-Fly blocks in my own arrangement
Fabric: cotton
Batting: polyester high loft (from a roll, unknown brand)
Backing: cotton
Pieced: by machine (Janome Combi) May 1988
Quilted: by hand 1989/90
Bound: September 1990

This was the second top I pieced, and the first quilt I finished (for a rather odd definition of finished).

In 1988 I decided to have a second attempt at machine piecing. I chose the Duck and Duckling pattern, made cardboard templates and cut out all the pieces with scissors. I made 13 brown blocks, sewing them together using the presser foot of my sewing machine as a guide. The green blocks were supposed to be Duck and Duckling as well, but I didn’t like cutting out and sewing all those small triangles so used the simpler Shoo-Fly block instead.

Unfortunately, I still hadn’t worked out that the presser foot on my Janome Combi was approximately 5/16″ from the needle (and the needle position was not adjustable on that machine). Consequently, when it came to setting all the blocks together with sashing, it was extremely difficult, since the block edges were short by quite a lot in the corners. Not wanting to trim the blocks and lose my triangle points, I adjusted the seam allowance instead, from 1/4″ at the centre of each edge down to around 1/16″ at the corners (I reinforced them with nail polish). Despite this problem, I finished the top and it doesn’t look too bad, though some of the triangle points still aren’t where they are supposed to be.

I was living in southern Victoria at the time, in an old and poorly heated building, so of course I wanted the quilt to be warm. I bought the thickest off-the-roll polyester batting I could find, not realising that batting this thick is supposed to be tied, not quilted. I basted the three layers together and started to hand-quilt, in a bastard cross between in-the-ditch and outline. The thickness of the batting meant that I got only three stitches to the inch. By the time I had finished quilting the blocks I was exhausted and had no energy to contemplate quilting the borders. I bound the edges, put safety pins in the border and used it like that for the next twenty-five years (obviously it was never washed during that period).

Some of the seams are starting to give way, and some of the hand quilting is coming undone. I’ll get around to repairing it one day.

Lessons learned:
1. Know your equipment!!
2. Know what techniques are suited to each type of batting.
3. Quilts are very resilient even when shoddily made.

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My First Ever String Blocks!

I’m not one to do more work than I need to, so I’ve never seen the need to create a block from five fabrics when one patterned fabric will do. However, I ended up needing them this week for my current Aussie Hero Quilt.

The request was for a landscape, and I decided on a pixelated design rather than trying to make it look realistic. All Aussie Hero quilts are around 42″ x 70″ (bunk size, plus it means only one length of backing fabric) so I tried a couple of grids to see what the optimal size would be for my pixels — the smaller the pixel square, the better the landscape detail, but also the more work it will take. I ended up deciding on a 3″ square as the base. While squares are fine for most of the picture (grass and trees) with some half-square triangles for the boundaries, I needed finer striations to represent mountain rocks, and I found that most of my darkish blue fabrics (for water) were solids. String blocks were a necessity for the mountain, and I figured I might as well make some for the sea, so I set to work, using an old Ikea instruction sheet as my base paper.* I only did six in each group, and combined with busier fabrics, HSTs and maybe even a few Y-squares or QST, there should be enough variety to please the eye.

3-inch string blocks for mountains
Mountain Blocks
3-inch string blocks for sea
Sea Blocks

*I know Bonnie Hunter recommends phone book paper but
a. Telstra stopped issuing phone books here about three years ago;
b. Our phone books definitely had smudgey ink; and
c. I buy so much from Ikea that I have multiple copies of each instruction guide and the paper is soft.

Three Workshop Minis

I finally got around to binding the other mini which was part of my personal goal for January, so here is the story that goes with them. They are very old UFOs, dating back to the mid-1990s when I did a lot of workshops and classes. These three are notable because they are all two-fers — that is, they served twice, first as piecing samples and then as machine quilting samples.

Miniature Rail Fence in green and pink
Miniature Rail Fence

The rail fence was from a strip piecing class. As usual, my fabric choices were mediocre but my piecing was quite good. In the quilting class this was used for free-form walking-foot quilting on cotton batting. It lay very flat, which I liked, so I bound it soon after the class and used it as a table topper for several years. Dimensions: 21″ x 30″ (53 cm x 76 cm)

small nine-patch quilt in orange and brown, with a green border
Brown 9-patch mini

The nine-patch/single Irish chain was another strip-piecing sample. It was quilted in straight diagonal lines with the walking foot, on wool batting. It was a little wavy and sat in a box until I decided in January to bind it and use it as a pet bed. Obviously I had none of the original fabrics left (I had used up all my ditsies in a couple of scrap projects in 1998-2000) and I had no solids that were compatible, so I chose a brown floral with a background shade very close to the dark brown in the nine-patches. Dimensions: 18″ (46 cm) square.

Miniature quilt exploded square design, in magenta and plum
Magenta mini

The magenta economy block was a foundation piecing sample. I was very pleased with the way the blocks turned out, and, as you can see, my fabric selection was much better than previous efforts (some of you may recognise the Rainbow Connection and Jinny Beyer fabrics). It was quilted in the ditch using monofilament thread on polyester batting. There are a few snarls on the back but they don’t show from the front. This also languished in a box, and when I was sorting through projects I noted that the batting was becoming very tattered from handling, which contributed to my decision to bind it and the accompanying nine-patch. I confess that I was rather surprised to note that condition of the polyester was so much worse than the wool, since they had been quilted on the same day and handling had been pretty much the same for both projects.

Magenta mini, showing cut in backing fabric
magenta mini tape
Magenta mini, showing repaired cut
magenta mini repaired
magenta mini, showing backing turned to front
magenta mini backing

This was almost a three-fer because I wanted to try bringing the backing over to use as binding. As I was trimming the front I noted two cuts in the backing fabric — I repaired them with fusible webbing and a scrap of cotton voile, but when I turned the backing to the front the colour clashed violently with the top so instead I trimmed it all off and chose a plum tone-on-tone to do a traditional binding. It’s a little narrower on the front than I normally do, but then the top is so small that my usual 3/8″ or 1/2″ binding would have looked much too big. In retrospect I should have used single layer binding rather than folded, but I guess that’s another learning opportunity (and I’m certainly not going to take it all off and replace it). Dimensions: 15″ (38 cm) square.

Lessons learned:
1. Finished is better than perfect, and definitely better than sitting in a project box.
2. Walking foot quilting doesn’t have to be all straight lines.
3. Cotton batting lies flattest.
4. Wool batting appears to be more resilient than polyester.
5. Minis may look better with single-layer binding rather than double.

January’s Achievements and February’s Goals

A cold front came through last night and the temperature is delightfully cool today. If it were winter I’d be thinking of putting on a light jumper or cardigan but I’m enjoying the novelty of being slight too cold (it’s 22° C inside, if you’re wondering what feels cold to this Aussie). I hadn’t realised how poorly I was sleeping when it was hot, but I certainly feel a lot brighter and more rested today.

January’s achievements:

AHQ goal: I finished the bag and quilt and sent them off to the Middle East. With luck they might have arrived now.

small nine-patch quilt in orange and brown, with a green border
Brown 9-patch mini

Personal goal: this was to bind two minis leftover from workshops I did a long time ago. I finished one, shown above, but not the other — I should get the second one done soon and then I’ll talk about them both later in the month.

The heat prevented me from sewing as much as I usually do, but I did get a head start on my February AHQ goal, which is to finish quilting and add binding to some ex-demo quilts.

Oriental fabrics cut for a stained glass quilt
oriental fabrics

I also cut up a lot of my oriental fabric stash in preparation for a stained glass quilt. Once I’ve cut the black sashing strips I’ll be able to start putting blocks together. Somehow, I thought that this would use up a much higher proportion of the oriental stash than it did … Silly me, I should have known better. I guess I’ll just have to make a few more quilts!

Finally, I finished the SID quilting on the tumbling blocks quilt that is my Finish-A-Long Q1 goal. I should be able to get the ruler work portion done this month.

In hand work (which barely qualifies as work because it’s so relaxing) I’m still piecing the Flame Rose quilt. I’m up to the third level of the design which requires 365 diamonds so that will take me a while. I estimate that I’ll finish this section around the time that the weather changes in April, and then I’ll be able to start quilting Pentastic (the quilt in the header).

February’s goals:

AHQ: bind three ex-demo quilts.
Personal: cut black sashing for the stained glass quilt; put borders on another quilt top.
FAL: ruler work quilting on the tumbling blocks mini.