I started my first quilt back in high school – year 8 I think it was. It became quite an endeavour. I didn’t finish it until the middle of my university degree. Yes, it took me approximately 6 years to complete. Shocking I know. To my defence it was not 6 years of continuous sewing – rather I picked it up on and off. I never became bored with quilting; my studies just seemed to take over so many times. But every time a holiday came around the first thing I would pull out were my patches of fabric.
As I mentioned in an earlier post my love of quilting, specifically, started after watching “How to Make an American Quilt”. I absolutely loved that film as a child (still do) and was so inspired by all the stories revolving around sewing, fabric and quilting. Luckily one Christmas my mother bought me a little sampler quilting pack, a pattern for a quilt (which became my firt quilt) and some beginner hand patching lessons at a local store.
When I walked into Patchwork on Central Park for my first class I fell in love. I had admired the store for years – every time I drove past there was a new quilt in the window. In the store everything was so organised and beautiful. All the fabrics arranged by colour, the threads neatly lined up, the huge wooden table in the middle room with fabrics stacked on it waiting to be but, the baskets of sampler fabrics packs. It was just heaven.
I was excited for my first class but also a little nervous. I didn’t expect there to be any other 14 year olds there. And I was right. The teacher was thrilled to have some young blood, but most of my classmates where just surprised and fascinated as to why I was there. We began by learning how to cut templates for patches, how to mark them out on the fabric, to leave a quarter-inch seam, to cut, to piece the patches together and then how to hand stitch. I loved the whole process. The precisions and concentration it required made it such a rewarding activity. I found the hand patch working a very relaxing process and thoroughly enjoyed making my first sampler square. While they lasted those Wednesday night classes were the absolute highlight of my week. I loved learning new techniques, making a new sample square and chatting with all the ladies, mostly about their children…
Following the classes I decided I was ready to begin my first quilt. I went back to the store with my mum, pattern in hand; ready to pick out my fabrics. I strolled around the shop soaking up all my options and possibilities. My eye was immediately drawn to the soft pinks, and greens of the shabby-chic range. The soft little roses and flower illustrations were darling. Of course I ended up picking some of the most expensive fabrics in the store but I balanced it out with some more versatile ginghams and stripes.
I had no idea how much fabric I would need, that math was far too complicated for me then (I still struggle with it now) so the store owner read my pattern and just cut for me enough fabric from each of my carefully selected prints. I also bought a few more tools: lots of cotton thread, cream quilting thread (it would be years before I would use it but who could resist), sand board for penciling shapes onto fabric, excellent fabric scissors, quarter-inch tape and a quarter-inch stick.
I was ready to go. First thing I made was the plastic templates for the squares and rectangles. I knew how important it was that these be precise. Then I analysed the pattern. It was quite a simple design using 1 basic square that was repeated to get the desired width and height for the quilt. The square was made up of 9 small inner squares and bordered with 4 rectangles. I made mine so it fit a king single bed: 6 squares across and 8 squares down: 48 squares all up. I decided to hand stitch them all.
I spent that whole weekend drawing stencils and cutting squares. I laid out all my fabrics to make the desired colour combinations for each square and then just began cutting: 240 squares, 96 small rectangles, 96 large rectangles for a total of 432 pieces – it was a lot of cutting but I figured it would be quicker later having everything pre-cut. My hands were sore though…
Then the hand piecing began. This is what took its time. By the time I got into the swing of things piecing together one square took me around 4-5 hours. At first I carried by squares, needle and thread everywhere. I was so keen to start seeing my quilt take shape. However school and such things began to take over. I simply didn’t have the time to be vigorously sewing. The sewing stopped for a while.
On and off I would pick it up again but goodness it dragged out. For years I kept a little sheet of paper with my entire quilt drawn on it and every time I would finish a square I would cross one square out on the paper. Eventually I finished all the pieces – I was in year 11 by then. All 48 hand pieced with love and care. Now came the fun part, laying them all out so the squares would complement one another. I enjoyed placing the squares in different orders to get different results. I finally settled on a design, numbered every square and began sewing them together, yes by hand. This didn’t take as long as I suspected, perhaps because I was so eager to finish the face of my quilt I worked hard to get it done.
So now it was time for a new class: quilting. Again I strolled into the class eager to learn this skill. Hand quilting is so relaxing but it is again a very time-consuming endeavour. After the lesson I was ready to begin the quilting process but before I could do this I needed to find a backing for my quilt (I settled on lemon stripes), select the batting and then baste the whole thing. I found the basting of the quilt hardest to do. It would pucker a lot and I really wanted to get it as precise as possible. I struggled but got there in the end.
I was happy when I could begin the quilting. I decided to quilt my quilt my outlining each square with a quarter-inch seam in a cream colour to just give the illusion of a quilted square. Again started a very long process. The quilt was very large now and quite cumbersome to work with. I started in the middle and quilted my way out (as instructed so to avoid puckering) but it was so tricky getting comfortable with the angle of the quilt and the needle. I would outline every square with quarter-inch tape (I went through a lot) and then thread neat little stitches across the line. On average each square took 3 hours to hand sew. It was no longer a portable hobby so I couldn’t take it with me everywhere I went like my patches, but I persisted on weekend’s holidays.
When I completed my final year of high school I utilised the long break before I started university to quilt squares like a mad person. I recall sitting with my Harry Potter audio cds (I listened to the whole series) while quilting the days away. It was just bliss and finally I finished. Nothing was more rewarding than pulling out those thick blue basting stiches. The quilt looked so lovely (albeit a little wonky) but I was so proud it was almost done. 100% hand sewn and hand quilted.
I was scared of binding my quilt. It looked so complicated and tricky. I had taken I binding class around the same time I took the quilting class but I could not remember how it was done. I was going to take another class but on a hunch I decided to see if I could find some resources on the web. There were so many! Countless videos on how to bind your quilt which displayed so much information and detail. They explained just how much binding fabric I would need, how to prepare the edge and how to sew on the binding. I was stunned. Those resources were not prevalent when I first started quilting and now I find the internet to be a huge help, perhaps because with hand crafts I learn quickest by seeing and copying the actions of others (a big thank you to all the people who take the time to make such excellent audio-visual resources).
So after watching the videos many times I began to prepare the binding (I had picked a brighter green) and sewed it onto my quilt. Surprisingly binding became one of my most favourite parts of the quilting process. I loved the fact you are so close to the end and that binding doesn’t take too long. I used the mitered edge which seemed complicated but it so simple when you get it right and leaves such a perfect neat corner. You can also really change the face of your quilt by picking out an awesome edging. One of the most soothing parts of making that quilt was when I had to do the reverse side of the binding – just quietly sitting and blindstiching to create this perfect edging for my quilt was very rewarding.
By the time I was mid-way through university I had finished my first quilt. As I said it was quite an endeavour. Years were spent on it and I was thrilled when it was complete. I will admit it is a little wonky and not as perfect as I was hoping, but not too bad for a first completely hand finished quilt. Funnily enough by the time I finished it I had somewhat outgrown the final colour scheme and design – probably a little to young girly for me now. But I still love what it represents and hopefully I can pass it onto my daughter one day – it would look so lovely in a little girls room as it is a very soft and happy quilt.
For the next one I used the machine!
Tell me what was your first quilt or crafting project? What was your experience like? I’d love to hear how people grew into their favourite hobbies and how you have grown since your first project…