The Story of One (Large) Quilt
I'm conscious of the fact that I haven't posted on this website in absolute ages! I've been re-doing my house, which has taken loads of time and I've also been doing some quilting. So that's my excuse.
I'll post more often now, showing some of the new projects I've been making. In the meantime, I'm going to post a story I wrote for The Quilter magazine last year. Readers of that magazine have asked me if I have a photo of the quilt I was writing about: here it is. The article starts below the photo.
I have just finished the largest quilt I ever made in my life (230cm/90” square). And I realized, as I sipped a glass of celebratory champagne (we are always looking for an excuse to pop the cork), that I have been working on this quilt for over seven years. That sounds like a long time, but there were some “interruptions”. Let me explain.
It all goes back to the quilt I started when my eldest daughter went off to university. I decided to make her a basket quilt — each basket containing something pertinent to her life. Here is a photo of Alysson's Baskets:
I had so much fun making Alysson's quilt that I wanted to make another basket quilt for my second daughter when her turn came to fly the nest.
Before her departure, I let Emily loose in my stash so she could pick some fabrics. She is a scientist, specialising in plants, so she chose fruit, flowers, insects, butterflies, trees—it’s incredible how fabric manufacturers cater to almost every whim.
I found a scrap from her baby quilt, and other fabrics that I knew would mean something, like golf balls to remind her of her dad and brother, and skulls to remind her of me (I have a “thing” for skulls and skeletons). I thought that an image of our dog Jack coming out of a basket would be a good touch (that block is at the top of this post), so popped him in a basket, posed his paws and took a photo. I printed that on fabric, as well as a picture of her monkey (given to her when she was born). When she was little, she embroidered an owl that I had kept (see below), and when a bit older, she punchneedle-embroidered a panda (this appears later on). These were put aside to be incorporated in the quilt as well.
So, armed with these exciting textiles, I started making patchwork baskets. Around basket four, I signed a publishing contract and began writing my art quilt book. The baskets I had made hung forlornly on my design wall until I took them down to put up a publishing schedule. Three years passed and Emily graduated from university without another basket being sewn. She went to Harvard for a year and I finished my book. Back in the UK, she started her PhD and I began to work on her quilt again. All this time, she had lived in hope.
I progressed at a steady pace and when the baskets were ready to be joined Emily and I went shopping at Lady Sew & Sew in Henley to pick out fabric for the sashing, borders and back. She found a birch tree fabric for the sashing and borders. Then we looked for fabric for the back. She fell in love with a number of fruit fabrics so I told her to choose one. “Mom,” she said, “I like them all! How about a Log Cabin back?” This girl knows her quilt patterns, and knows her mother can’t say no. Reader, I bought a metre of each and began sewing. The quilt was already heavy with the patchwork on the front, and I thought that if I made a normal Log Cabin on the back we wouldn’t be able to lift it. So I made huge Log Cabins that really showed off the fabrics. But this did entail a lot more sewing, when I thought I’d only be doing a simple seam! Here's the quilt back. (It sort of looks like a Modern Quilt, doesn't it?)
You might have noticed a little lump at the top of that photo - that's my helper, Jack!
The quilt was sandwiched and basted (which took more than a day, such is its size—did I mention how big it is?). I like to start by quilting the sashing and borders, so I can later concentrate on the blocks. This I did, and because I knew it would take a long time to quilt, I also bound it. I don’t recommend this for every quilt, as sometimes the work becomes distorted after it’s fully quilted, and requires blocking. But I also knew that I didn’t want the wadding flapping around for months so it seemed like a good idea.
However, I lost the impetus once the binding was on, and the quilt languished on her bed for over a year. She slept under it when she came home for weekends and had pleasant dreams, but she let me know that she’d sleep a lot better once it was fully quilted.
Finally, the time was right to quilt, so I began. My machine quilting is always rusty at first, so I quilted the easy blocks where it wouldn’t be noticed, outlining leaves and shapes in matching threads (I love when the quilt back is a crazy melange of colour and pattern).
As my quilting improved, I tackled the blocks where it would show, making feathers, flowers, leaves and insects in appropriate places.
And now, seven years later and after about 60 hours of quilting, it’s done. I didn’t tell her I was quilting it, by the way. She’s coming home on Wednesday and it’s lying on her bed, waiting to be noticed. I wonder what she’ll say?
That's how the article ended. I'm happy to say that she loved it. When she arrived home I was sitting in the kitchen trying to be nonchalant, but my heart was pounding. After the initial greetings I said nothing, just waited for her to go to her room. She stopped in the doorway, looked inside and breathed, "It's finished." Couldn't have been a better response, except for the hug that followed!
This is a rather bad photo of the finished quilt on the floor. It really needs to be hung in order to take a better photo, but I can't get it off her bed!