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.

Out of the Box Quilt

Sometimes, in a way, a quilt makes itself, as much as I make it. Sometimes I just feel like the the hands, and my quilt has a mind of its own, leading me step by step.
About a year ago, I started making these log cabins for my bed. And then when I laid them out on my bed, I felt completely overwhelmed with noise, and used only 4 big blocks with massive sashing to quieten it a bit. One day I will finish hand-quilting that quilt (It's already bound and on my bed) and show it here. One day. 

It was February when I put that quilt on my bed. I was hot. And eight months pregnant. I put the remaining 20 quarter-square blocks in the WIP box, promising myself that one day, when it was cooler, I would make up a smaller version of my original idea.
This week, going through that box again, feeling a bit lost and between projects, I was struck by a motivational idea. I could use 'quilt-as-you-go'! I could use this quilt as a way to eat into some of my leftover wadding that was starting to flood my sewing room.
I quilted them in diagonal lines, patting myself on the back, because getting the overall quilting design I wanted proved much easier quilting by eye on small(ish) blocks than marking it out on a full size quilt.

I chose Anna Maria Horner's Aloe Vera print for the back. I had a few yards of it because I really liked her "Hot House Flowers" quilt and bought it on a whim. And then I lost inspiration. But I love it with this. It seems to bring out all the light Spring colours. And in a way, it's like crossing two projects off the list because we all know how much those 'to do' quilts feel just as much like works in progress sometimes.
After attaching the backing, I realised I was perfectly situated to use the overhanging backing as the binding, because the rest of the quilt was already trimmed. Saving that much fabric and ironing and sewing, and finishing up the quilt before the light fades? Any resistance I may have had about colour matching was futile. And thankfully! The light citrusy colours of the aloe make me feel like the whole quilt sparkles and dances. I've been smiling about it all afternoon. 

I can't tell you how much I love the way quilts seem to do that. Do I sound like a 30something, stay-at-home mum when I say the adventure of it keeps me coming back? The ideas, the risk of pushing through, or changing mid-way, when it's not looking like what you had in mind, or when you simply want to finish it by 4pm. The delight when you pull it off. I love that it's not quite in my control. Which I think is why I couldn't make the Hot House Flowers quilt. I already knew how it would turn out. And where's the fun in that?

I was thinking just today that I've been sewing seriously for over three years now, and I've entirely abandoned garment sewing. I still get inspired by some of the prints out there, but they stay in my shopping cart, because I know, when they arrive, I just won't feel like pulling out those patterns again. For all the developing quilt ideas, and refining what I like, going back to sewing pinafores would feel like a bit of a sacrifice. Even making quilts to sell comes at a cost. For now, this place where I am, where I can take risks, play, cut corners, or take my time, I've found a sense of identity here. I am a quilter.

Stats and Credit:
I got the idea for the blocks from the book Sunday Morning Quilts.
I use Maureen Cracknell's Quilt as you go tutorial whenever I have an abundance of scrap wadding!
I used Cluck Cluck Sew's Backing as Binding tutorial to finish it off.