Shortly after I got back from travelling, in the middle of a bloody freezing March 2013, I decided to pick up where I left off with some my craft hobbies.
Long before I set off on my epic train trip, I’d declared an intention to make a wedding quilt for my sister and her husband (who got married in 2011 – better late than never?), but realised that the one basic patchwork class I’d been to way back in 2005 was unlikely to be sufficient training for such an undertaking. I had a collection of assorted fabric (I LOVE fabric), including a strip roll, and decided to start a “practice” quilt – a generously sized Bargello in a dizzying rainbow of colours, on the basis that the best way to achieve good 1/4 inch seams would be to do a LOT of them. I dedicated a number of evenings and weekends to sewing my rainbow together, carefully alternating the sewing direction for each strip to avoid the dreaded “banana effect” – one of the few things I remembered from that class of ’05. Eventually I got my Bargello strips prepped and cut and started sewing them together, but kept finding that the fabric walked and crept and generally refused to stay lined up along the whole length. I could see I was not doing it right, but did not know how to correct myself. After 7-8 wonky strips, I gave up and concentrated on packing up life as I knew it and getting ready to go travelling.
Once I was back home, I determined that my best course of action would be to find someone to give me the pointers I needed so that I could finish my Bargello and perhaps find the courage to start Sian and Neil’s quilt. After some investigative Googling and a few telephone calls (one of which was to the profoundly unhelpful and dismissive quilting group in Narbeth), I found a quilt club run twice a month by Stefani Flower, who was positive and enthusiastic and not a million miles away (an important consideration when you live in the middle of nowhere). It sounded perfect, so along I went. It WAS perfect. Stefani and the other quilters were friendly and helpful and there was lunch and sewing and I was gently instructed in where I was going wrong with my rainbow. (In case you were wondering – pin from the middle, align the seams! Seems bloody obvious, really.) In the few days that followed Quilt Club, I made more progress than I could ever have imagined I would with my rainbow, getting it almost finished except for the last two or three strips. Then I was diagnosed with pernicious anaemia, and didn’t get back to sewing or much of anything else for several months. Finally, however, I finished my glorious Bargello rainbow:
Unfortunately, because of the wonky section that I’d done by myself, it needed trimming to make it vaguely square and I was scared to get it wrong, so it languished like this for some time. (I also got distracted by other projects, as you do.)
Last Quilt Club, however, was a bit of a catch-up and ideas session for the Attic Window project we’re all planning to tackle next, so I decided that I would use the time to trim my Bargello under instruction and get a border on it, prior to backing, basting and quilting the damn thing. The fabric I’ve chosen for the border and backing is navy blue with tiny cream stars all over it, and was about the only fabric I found that could get along with all the colours in the Bargello. The final width of the border is 6″ and it’s amazing to see how it’s framed and tamed all those colours.
(You can see how wonky it is, poor thing. But given it’s the first quilt top I ever pieced, I’m pretty proud of it in general.)
But. (Isn’t there always a but?) After I’d trimmed down my Bargello and attached the borders, I ran into a problem. I’d bought quite a lot of the navy star fabric, but I’d had to buy it by guess-timate because the quilt hadn’t yet been trimmed or bordered. Apparently my guess-timate was off by a small but significant amount, leaving me with the challenge of trying to fit less fabric than I needed to the back of my quilt. The Bargello alone had ended up wider (47″, 59″ with borders) than the width of the fabric (44″), so I’d already realised that I would need to cut the remaining fabric in half across the width and then attach the two pieces together to cover the length of the quilt. Stupidly, I had assumed that the length would be sufficient to cover the width of the top, but when I tried lining up my folded fabric with the quilt top, I realised that the fabric was too short by at least 6″ for each half. Ooops.
However, all was not yet lost. I’d watched a fellow Quilt Clubber piece strips of squares for the back of her lovely blue-and-white throw quilt and had been really taken with the idea of a “two-faced” patchwork quilt, so I’d already planned to piece up something to put between the two halves of the backing. And I really didn’t want to follow mum’s suggestion of just buying more navy stars – it seemed like a cop-out. The final length of the top (79″) was less than the sum of two widths of fabric (88″) and I would have even more left if I added a strip of something between the two pieces, so I figured that I could use that surplus to “find” the extra inches I needed to cover the width of the quilt top. Mum had given me a book on patchwork, quilting and applique techniques for Christmas and I’d skimmed through and been quite taken by the Seminole strip ideas. I don’t have a huge fabric stash compared to many people, but I did have three fat quarters of striking ombre-style colour gradients in shades of red, orange, pink and purple (it does work, I promise!) that I decided made a good contrast with the navy stars and sort of connected with the Bargello on the top. I had two of one type of gradient and one of another, so I joined strips of 3″:1″:3″:1″:3″ of gradient 1/stars/gradient 2/stars/gradient 1 (cut size, not finished size), then cut sections 3″ wide, attached another 1″ strip of stars on one side, set them at a pleasing angle and joined them into a Seminole strip long enough to go across the width of the top. I was extremely pleased to find that, on trimming the surplus fabric from the edges, my Seminole strip was 6 1/2″ exactly. I don’t know if I could have done that if I’d tried! There were quite a few Seminole sections left over so I decided to use them, plus some more left-over navy stars, to create a lengthwise strip too to fill in that deficit. That done, I re-measured and re-calculated and decided that I was *still* a few inches short on the width. With the very last scraps of gradients and navy stars, I created more filler strips made up of 4 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ strips of all three fabrics sewn across the bias to give diagonal joins. Then the whole lot was cobbled together, with more oopses along the way.
Ok. That’s a lot of waffle. Perhaps a picture would be better?
Yes, much better. (Though the flash really shows up the seams.) For such an evolved solution, I’m quite pleased with it (it’s probably better pieced than the top, honestly!). Now I just have to hope that it’s big enough (and that I have enough wadding), which will have to wait until next Quilt Club because we simply don’t have the floor space here for me to lay it all out properly. And I need to buy my own basting pins and walking foot, too.