Saturday, December 8, 2012

Quilting Bee

In May when Rebecca returned from school in Santa Fe, we decided to hand make a wedding quilt for each of her brothers and their brides. Now that the projects are no longer a secret, I can post about the process.

The first step is to find patterns and fabric. We settle on using 1930s and 1940s reproduction prints that remind us of those used in my grandmother's quilt. A simple quilt pattern is needed to show off the colorful fabric designs. Our first thought, the classic double wedding ring, is vetoed after research reveals it to be among the most complicated. We are both accomplished at sewing, but neither one of us has ever made a quilt. On a trip to the Mill Ends Store we find a great book of contemporary patterns called Sunday Morning Quilts.

The pattern for Aaron and Elizabeth, called "Sunday Morning," is made up of ten inch blocks with five colored strips and one white strip in each block.

"Checkerboard," for Gary and Elise, alternates white and colored three inch squares. The fabrics are the same in each quilt. 

Calculating the number of fabrics to buy and the yardage requires diagrams and higher math. Five visits to three stores results in a pile of twenty colored prints and five white on white prints. My friend Alice hears about the project and donates three of her husband's old Armani shirts to use along with the other whites.

Buying the fabric is the easy part. Now we have to cut little pieces out of big pieces so we can sew them back together into blocks to make 72" x 90" quilt tops. We set up tape lines on the work table in the studio and go to work cutting strips. It takes several hours over three days. With the strips cut, Rebecca starts piecing the "Sunday Morning" quilt top for Aaron and Elizabeth, the first bridal couple.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this I start to think ahead to the actual hand quilting and realize we need a quilting frame. What would we do without the Internet? A beautiful oak frame pops up on Craig's List. Just one problem - the seller is a two hour drive away in Philomath and we need a truck to hold the 96" long frame. Alice saves the day with her truck. Off we go in the pouring rain.

The first quilt top is ready to be mounted on the frame set up in the basement "party room" by the middle of August. The top and batting are mounted on the back roller, the backing on the middle roller, and all three parts come together on the front roller. We are ready to quilt.

The first few blocks are slow going and my stitches are anything but straight. After a while I fall into a rhythm and find the hand quilting meditative. Good thing - my co-quilter, Rebecca, is ready to return to fall semester in Santa Fe - I'm on my own.

It is now December - between a trip to New Orleans for the second wedding and an eight week writing class not much quilting has happened in the last month and a half. The hand stitching is about two-thirds complete on the first quilt. Another month and it should be finished. Then the second quilt goes on the frame and we start all over. Rebecca will be home in another week. Two can quilt faster than one.

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