The Orphanage Quilt

If old WIPs make a satisfying finish, imagine all the good feelings brought on by finishing six at once! This quilt has been on my mind for along time, back when I asked my Do Good Stitches bee back in February to send me some scrappy improvised blocks. And then as they arrived, I added them to my orphan block pile, wondering when I was finally going to take the plunge and sew this thing together. To say it made me nervous was an understatement. This is not usually how I quilt. It's not a pile of squares sitting next to the machine and sewn together at random and it's not carefully laid out blocks that need concentration and working out. It sits somewhere in the middle, not in a happy medium kind of way, but in a road-less-travelled, throw-the-rule-book kind of way.

My orphan block box is a scraggly mix of leftovers from finished projects and abandoned quilts that started with a bright future but quickly resulted in disillusionment. It is a place of discomfort and guilt, bereft of inspiration.What else do you do with leftover blocks? It's times like this I realise that in my quilting life, more than anywhere else, I am a hoarder.

And it's a good thing I am, don't you think? I used only about half of my leftovers, but with the ones that made their way back to the box, I now feel a sense of peace and purpose. One day I'll do this again. Maybe it can be a yearly ritual. Like a jubilee. Setting those old expectations and dreams and "I don't know what to do with this so you can go here" into a quilt to start afresh with new projects and a little less guilt.

As I was showing my progress on Instagram, a few folks asked me to explain my progress, so I took lots of photos to give you an idea here. Like I said, there's no rules in improvisation. I went mostly by feel.

There's no way I could have achieved this without my design wall. I laid out the blocks, keeping in mind that I want to sew them together without going around corners. So I made them into bigger blocks of 2-4 pieces. Coincidentally, most of these were divisible by 3. That means they were 3", 6", 9", 12", etc, so a little mindful arranging made them fit together easily. When they didn't, I had strips and strips of leftover half-rectangle triangles from my Tent City quilt that I added to anything that was too small, and then trimmed back down if I needed to without worrying about keeping my points intact.

I sewed those bigger blocks into 3 large slabs and was almost going to sew those together when I realised I was out of wadding. This actually felt a lot like providence because I did have long, wide strips of wadding, leftover from other quilts mostly the perfect size for my slabs. The one that was too narrow, I sewed to another and pressed the seams open so it would fit.

I used a Quilt-as-you-go method I first came across on Maureen's blog, which I had only ever used with smaller blocks. I spray basted the quilt top slab to one side of the wadding and then quilted lightly over the two layers. Then I trimmed all the way around the excess wadding. And then I did the same with the other two slabs.

I trimmed the whole quilt a little again, just where there was uneven edges. Then using a 1/4" and my walking foot, I sewed the quilted slabs right sides together. I lay out my backing fabric and taped it to the floor so it would stay taut, sprayed and laid out the quilted top.

I then went back to my machine and first quilted either side of the thick seams to hold them down. Then I used a straight, meandering stitch, basically zig-zagging my way around the quilt. I wanted to try something different and more improvised than straight line quilting, but now that I'm done, I wish I'd stuck with my favourite! I used a mix of hand-quilting, thick variegated Aurifil thread, and my go-to white. It was a fun experiment, trying to keep with the improv theme, but I think simple, horizontal lines would have held it together more.

Undoubtedly, the very best part of quilt-as-you-go is when you suddenly remember that you can use you backing as your binding! I simply trimmed around the backing 1" from the quilt top edge. I then folded it in half towards the quilt, then over the edge of the quilt again, and top stitched. When I came to a corner, I folded the overhanging pieces to the left to make a little triangle. The I folded the same method, folding the fabric in half and then over again to make a neat mitered corner.

I'm not sure if I would usually use a binding this dark, I generally pick out a colour somewhere in the middle, but I love how this all hangs together. In a quilt with a lot more low volume than I usually try in scrappy quilts, I think it makes the darker tones shout out happily.

There is much joy in this quilt, in the trying something new, using something old, freeing myself of quilts hanging over my head, some for years. Some were hard to let go, like my Penny Sampler. I would love to make that quilt again someday! But for now, the colours stumped me, I was never sure about them. Other blocks were a relief to use, like the Ohio Stars and the leaves. The leaves were generously made for me by an old bee and the colours just didn't go together like I hoped. Oh, it's good to see how much I've learned about colour over the last five years! I also love the contrast and interest the lovely flowers add, but I was sad when they arrived late, lost in transit for weeks before getting here. I'm glad they finally have a home!

All in all, this quilt was made by about 20 people from about 15 old quilts! Because half were for do. Good Stitches, it'll be heading to a charity next. A quilt of previously hope-less blocks for someone struggling for hope. Gosh I love long-coming finishes! I love new starts, renewed confidence, and stories with happy endings.

Blocks and Bees

When my friend Helen asked if I wanted to be part of an online quilting bee, I knew I would be terrible at it. I am not one of those ordered, organised types.  But I said yes, hoping I would prove myself wrong. It did sound like fun, it included members with blogs I already followed, and it only involved one block a month. As someone prone to procrastination, I couldn't get that far behind with that little work, right? Wrong. In almost 12 months, I think I've made, umm, four.
So now that I've finished up at the shop, I'm aiming to correct that.

I decided to start with Lucy's Feather block. It was one I'd wanted to do for a while. I thought I'd make 2 for Lucy (with one side of each feather a whole print), and 3 for me, which I thought I would then appliqué on to linen to make a wrap skirt. Helen had warned me that she made a mistake about 4 times with this block, getting the direction of the feathers mixed up. I thought, "Yep, noted. Cut one side one way, and flip the paper pattern over for the other. Easy."
This is what I got:

Oh, Ok. Gotcha. So I discarded the side that had the lines going the wrong way and made an opposite side from this scrap of Garden Party.

Now time to cut the white bits. I have quite a few shades of white scraps, so I brought my feather shapes over to the ironing board to compare in natural light which would look nicest. (I love that this bee doesn't require you have certain shades of solids.) I chose a cream that I think looked best, started to cut around the pattern and made the ultimate boo boo.

I cut into my feather. Ugh. (And somewhere along the line I have ironed my scissors. I never noticed until now!)
I was not going to be swayed from my goal of getting this done before the refrigerator repair guy came. I went back to my scrap of strips left over, added some more strips and cut out another feather piece, this time making sure the lines were heading the right way.

I cut it at slightly the wrong angle. But by this stage the fridge man was due any minute so I sent off a little "Hope this is ok, Lucy!" into the air and continued on.

Here is is finished. One block, not 5, a little wonky and 6 months late. :)
I actually found all the other template pieces too small. I don't know if that's because the printer got it funny, printing to Aussie dimension paper (A4) or because the strips end up on the bias and you need to be careful when piecing the rest of the block. But next time I would make them all too long, then trim to the right block size. In the end this one was about an inch smaller than Lucy specified, but when I went to the Flickr discussion about the block, many others had had the same experience, and Lucy didn't mind getting them as they came and trimming or adding. Go Lucy!

I really like the strong contrast of black and white with the scrappy colours, don't you? I have never used black in quilts before, ever. The only reason I had this piece is because it was leftover from a custom cushion order.And I love how BIG the feather is. (This block is 17" long) You don't get that impression from the pictures in the pattern. It makes me want to make a baby quilt from it. Though maybe not this morning! :)

I really appreciated this post from Lily's Quilts about virtual quilting bees a while ago. And while I hate being that person she talked about in the 'cons', I'm also very thankful for a very relaxed and understanding bee. I have had to unpick and start over nearly every block I have managed to finish, usually due to it not being the right size. So it's a very different sewing experience than what I usually enjoy. But the finished block always makes me glad I gave it a go.

Are you part of a quilting bee? What's your experience been like? Do you think they're only suited to certain personality types? I'd love to hear your thoughts!