I’ve always enjoyed sewing. Even when I was a kid I liked nothing better than taking old bedsheets apart and sewing something from it, or making alterations in my clothes. And I’ve always admired the art of quilting. But I thought that to actually try to make a quilt of my own would be a step too far. Quilts just look too darn complicated. But then I joined a book club and the book we were reading was Tracy Chevalier’s The Last Runaway. It’s quite a good read and quilting is a major plotline. And, being of an impressionable nature, I thought to myself…. ‘Hmmmm, why not give it a go?’ … and combine quilting with the other great obsession of mine, upcycling.
So, I bought four cotton shirts and cotton bedclothes from charity shops.
There are several basic techniques of making up the patchwork that forms the ‘pretty’ side of the quilt: I used the English Paper Piecing (EPP) technique, partly because that’s what the heroine in the book uses, and partly because I can work on the sofa with my little dog on my lap rather than being sat at a table with a sewing machine and having to leave a sad, lonely dog on the sofa by himself. The technique is really quite easy: you cut out paper templates of the shapes you want your patchwork to be made out of and baste the fabric to the template.
Another reason I found this technique congenial is because I could cut out the pieces any old how. No need for precision here… As you can see I took some care to baste the fabric to the template and boy did I rue that afterwards. More anon.
When you’ve done all (or most of) your pieces, it’s time to play around with them to create the most pleasing arrangement. I went for a random pattern – and it’s a little tricky to create the right sort of random! It definitely pays to lay out the pieces beforehand (you definitely need to when creating a regular pattern) if only to see whether the colours and patterns of your fabric work well together. I marked the direction of the pattern and the place in the overall design on the back of the pieces in pencil to make sure that every piece was exactly where it should be.
And then you sew the pieces together using small whipstitches. I chose to sew blocks of pieces together because I felt that they were easier to handle than sewing each piece to an increasingly bigger piece of patchwork.
After finishing the sewing you press the patchwork with a hot iron and then remove the paper templates. It took hours! Next time I’ll definitely not use so many small basting stitches to secure the fabric to the template!
After that it was time to move to the sewing machine. I decided to create a border from the bedclothes-fabric.
And then the most exciting bit: making the quilt sandwich. The quilt sandwich is made up of three layers: backing (in my case made from my bedclothes), batting (the soft, fluffy stuff in a quilt), and front. It can be tricky to get the layers to fit together, but I didn’t find it too problematic. Then you secure the three layers together either with pins or by basting them together.
And then the quilting can begin. ‘Quilting’ actually refers to the stitching that secures the three layers together, so that the batting doesn’t move around. Quilting books usually simply say: ‘Quilt as desired.’ There are many ways to quilt a – er – quilt: from simple lines to free-motion quilting. I chose to follow the lines created by the shape of the hexagons.
The final step is to sew binding around the quilt to secure the edges. It is usually made from the same fabric as the backing or the front.
And here it is!
What I learnt from this first quilting project is that it is far easier than it looks. I also learnt that one needs to take one’s time to get the quilting just right. Mine is a little wonky in places – partly due to the fact that my sewing machine is new and I was learning to use it as I was using it for this project. It does pay to mark quilting lines on the fabric if one can or to use another tool that helps one to get the stitches just right.
I made the quilt for the dogs, as their present doggy blanket on the sofa is showing its age… And it seems at least one of the dogs approves:
It’s also amazingly cwtshy…