Thursday, October 22, 2009
Finished my first quilt!
Yesterday I finished the first quilt I've ever made. Bold patterns in black, white and red cloth interest newborns the most, which is why I chose them. It took me a few weeks to find cloth in enough different patterns to make it. Some I bought online through etsy, most are from JoAnn's and a few .. are from Walfart. Each of the 20 squares is different. They are a little over 5 inches square so the entire quilt is not very big, but just big enough for BFN to squirm around and eventually crawl on.
Making a quilt can seem daunting, but it isn't hard — at least not for an easy pattern like this one. I finished it in 3 days, working a few hours at a time and never for more than about three hours at a time thanks to having a very hungry baby around. I broke it into 4 parts:
* cutting the cloth pieces
* pinning pieces and sewing them together as I went
* free motion stitching the top and bottom together
* sewing the binding on
Cutting the cloth pieces was made easy by a cutting mat, rotary cutter and clear plastic ruler/straight edge. This was probably the easiest step. Pinning was tedious, but I pinned and sewed one strip at a time, so the monotony of it was broken up. I pinned and sewed horizontal rows first, alternating short vertical strips of white cloth between patterned blocks. Then I sewed long strips of white cloth between each row.
Before I started pinning I took a snapshot of the patterned blocks that I had arranged on the floor so that I had something to reference just in case I were to jumble it once I started pinning. I never needed it, but I am glad I took it just in case. I really thought about how I wanted the blocks arranged and spent about 20 minutes arranging and rearranging them until they looked right to me. I wanted to keep similar patterns and colors away from each other and also keep a balance of light and dark.
After pinning and sewing came the worst part: laying down and pinning the batting between the top and bottom (black cloth with small Chinese characters in white). There has got to be a better way to do this but I don't know what it is. The first time I pinned them, I ended up with the top taut but the bottom piece wasn't. It looked awful so I unpinned it all except for along the top and then used that as an anchor and smoothed the cloth from the top and bottom as I pinned. It was a pain in the butt but by the time I was done, both top and bottom were equally taut.
I really had no idea what I was doing. I've never taken a quilting class and the last class I had on sewing was during some class resembling 'home ec" that I "took" during high school because it was either that or typing. I think I skipped out on much of it simply because I could get away with it. Home ec was just not my speed; I was always way more interested in math and science. It's amusing that now I would be sewing like crazy! In any case, I think a quilting class or two would probably help. My quilt has flaws, but as Mr. Field Notes reminded me, no one is going to notice but me. The flaws? They have to do with the layers not lining up just right, I think. But, it could also be I missed doing some crucial thing during the next step: free motion stitching.
To help nail down the top and bottom layers, quilters can use a special presser foot. It appears to be spring loaded and doesn't press down as hard on the fabric so there is a lot of movement to it. The trick is to move the fabric around in whichever direction you want. You can go forward, side to side and even backward, easily. But, as I was told when I bought it at a quilting shop, "It takes some practice." Ha! Does it ever!
At first I set my machine to the slowest possible speed setting because anything higher and I felt like the fabric was flying all over the place and I couldn't control where the stitches went, but then as I got more comfortable with how it moved and how I could move the fabric, I found the slowest setting wasn't optimal and settled on the middle speed. Even so, it took a lot of concentration to control where the stitches went even though the stitches were free form and not in any particular pattern — just random, wavy lines. This part was definitely the hardest, I thought, and made me think twice about whether to make another quilt.
After free motion quilting the top and bottom pieces, I prepped the binding. I suppose I could have sewn the binding onto the bottom of the quilt and then folded it over and sewed it to the top, but I didn't. Instead, I cut long narrow strips of red cloth and folded it over about 1/4 inch on both long sides and ironed it so it would stay folded. Then I ironed it in half lengthwise so I could tuck the whole piece over the edge of the quilt. I knew I would have some places where the top and bottom binding edges wouldn't match up perfectly and I was fine with having to re-sew or stitch those by hand. In the end, that only happened over about 20 percent of the edge and was easily fixed by gently tugging the part that wasn't sewn down and repinning and resewing. The binding went quickly.
All in all, this quilt took a lot, lot less time than I thought it would. I estimated it would take at least 2 weeks, but I had it finished basically over one weekend and despite numerous interruptions. I am already looking forward to the next one.