(photo-heavy post today… even more than the last two!)
Today is Alice’s 9th birthday, so I thought it would be a good day to post about the making of her new bedquilt.
When I repainted her bedroom periwinkle a few years ago, her original quilt didn’t match as well. It still looked fine, but it didn’t look like it had been made for that room, if that makes any sense. I saw Swoon blocks popping up all the time on Flickr, so I grabbed a piece of graph paper and drew out the block pattern. The pattern I linked to has 24″ finished blocks and uses fat quarters of fabric, but I wanted to be able to use my batik charm squares (I had probably close to 500 of those 5″ squares to choose from) and 2.5″ strips of natural fabric (I had most of two jelly rolls of natural batiks), so I had to resize the block to 16″ to use what I had. I really didn’t want to go out and purchase new stuff for this, partly because of the financial implications of doing that and partly because I’m discovering that I really like a scrappy look for my quilts.
I scribbled out calculations and measurements on a scrap of envelope that stayed next to my sewing machine for a long time as I assembled all of the blocks. I wish I still had that scrap of paper because it was kind of cool how I did it, but I think I threw it out after the fire since the quilt top was totally assembled by then.
Anyway… I figured out that I needed 2 different contrasting colors for the blocks themselves (8 charms of one color and 7 of the other to get the full block), plus the 2.5″ strips of natural batiks. I went through my batik charms stash and sorted them all by color. Then I found groupings of 8 and 7 of the same color and value that could work together in a single block. I paired the groupings to get a good balance of colors, and started cutting them and prepping the blocks.
(All of this busywork was occurring while I discovered “Downton Abbey,” by the way, so this quilt will be forever tethered to that show for me. I made the quilt top as I watched the first two seasons, and quilted it while thinking about the third season between episodes: there’s no TV in my sewing room anymore.)
So. Here’s several blocks prepped and pinned together, ready for a chain-piecing marathon back in February of 2012:
I made a few blocks to see if I liked them done scrappy, and I did! Each block has 81 pieces of fabric in it after I cut all of the required elements.
So I kept going. At this point I wasn’t making the quilt for Alice yet, but as it grew she got attached to it and wanted it for her room, especially after I made a periwinkle block.
Occasionally I would make a block with really bizarre color combinations, just to see how it would come out. This one ultimately ended up being my absolute favorite block in the quilt, so I put it in the center so that it will show no matter how she makes her bed. I will definitely explore more quilts with this color combination — very striking.
So it grew…
And the more blocks I made the more obsessed with this quilt I got. I couldn’t stop! Luckily I wasn’t finished watching the first two seasons of Downton yet, so I had plenty of TV to entertain me while I cut and cut and cut and pinned and pinned and pinned and pressed and pressed and pressed… The blocks are really cool, but I won’t lie: they’re quite tedious to make.
And it still grew…
I ended up making a total of 23 blocks so I’d be able to choose the best ones for Alice’s room that would give the best balance to the quilt. I’m very glad I did that, rather than forcing the red and gray one to be in it, and another green and black one… And I had one more that was kind of a repeat of one I had already made and I didn’t notice until it was done, so it was also eliminated from the final quilt.
This photo was taken on February 27, 2012, when I finally had the whole top sewn together:
There are 1699 fabric pieces in the top, including all 20 blocks, all of the cornerstones, and all of the sashing pieces. Yes, I counted them. This is what I do to entertain myself when I’m machine quilting. My mind wanders, and usually goes to math. It’s a sickness.
And I had all of these little 2″x2.5″ cuttings left over from the batik charms, so I assembled those into little strip sets while I was at it:
And made a Dresden Plate out of them:
Which I assembled into a pillow for a swap that I was in on Flickr:
(The one on the left is the pillow I received in the same swap — I thought they looked really cool together.)
The above photo was taken on March 10, 2012. This photo was taken a month before, while I was working on the Swoon quilt, but other things were on the design wall at the time. The TV was at the other end of the room, so if I was standing at the cutting table or ironing, I could see it. I’d pause Downton, go chain piece, and then stand up and watch until I was prepped and ready to sew again.
Around the 15th of March, I put the Swoon quilt back up on the wall (I had to have something up at low levels all the time to protect the design wall from the cats, who would claw it if the soft batting was exposed). I left on the morning of the 18th for my trip to Nashville with the Randolph kids. Then the frantic phone call from our house/petsitter Christa and the next morning I came home to this in my husband’s office upstairs:
(PSA: please check your smoke detectors. If ours hadn’t gone off and alerted Christa, the fire would have jumped to the attic, shot across the house, and we would have lost everything. We lost a tremendous amount, but we didn’t lose everything. If not for the smoke detectors and Christa’s quick thinking, I’d be telling a very different story now.)
Back to Alice’s quilt.
It was on the design wall when the house filled with smoke. I carefully pulled it down, and my friend Claire washed it for me in her bathtub and laid it out on her back patio, smoothing the seams as much as possible. When I was ready to face it again, in late summer of last year, I re-pressed all gazillion seams and starched it smooth again, so that I could layer it and prepare it for quilting.
Emily helped me baste the quilt, as always:
and kept getting in the way, also as always:
Those photos were taken August 13 of last year in the rental house, about 5 weeks before Emily died of kidney failure. I have a audionote of her talking to me that night that I’ll treasure. I knew we were nearing the end with her because she was starting to get obsessed with water.
I wanted to start quilting it, but life got in the way…
My husband did this to himself:
And then Emily died, and then we moved, and then school got really busy, so time got away from me during first semester. And then I was scared of it because I didn’t want to mess it up. But finally, FINALLY, in January, after finishing three other quilts the first 2 weeks of January, I worked up my nerve:
I quilted the swoon blocks simply, and then had a blast in the negative space. I got a lot better at feathers in odd spaces, and I figured out how to quilt a double helix!
And then I finished it! Binding took a while… it’s big. And I had a lot of interference.
And Alice LOVES it!
It took around 40 hours to machine quilt the whole thing. I’m very glad I took my time and waited until I was truly ready to quilt this one, rather than rushing it to get it done. I’m finding a lot of pleasure in custom quilting my quilts these days, so it’s hugely satisfying when I finish one.
I’m hoping she’ll let me borrow it to enter it in the local quilt show this fall. She may not. We shall see.
One thought on “Alice by the numbers”
Wow! This quilt is perfection and the story reads like a good quilting movie. So happy you were able to save and complete this beauty. The design and construction is wonderful. And the quilting is amazing. Thanks for sharing the whole story.