Monday, October 21, 2013

Quilt It

Because I went to college for fashion, everyone always assumes I can sew. Well, I can sew, actually, but I'm not as good at it as everyone expects, and I don't enjoy it as much as you might think. It's not to say that my five years of higher education was a waste, I just didn't graduate with a passion for pattern making, or a knack for draping. It turns out I'm more of a trend forecasting and fashion marketing kind of girl. 

I do still like to do the occasional sewing project, but I try to keep things on the simple side, so that I don't end up with mounds of materials and a dining room table that's out of commission for months. I struggle sometimes because my first thought when I see any type of art, project, craft, or inspiration, is "I could make that". Problem; the first: No. I probably can't. And if I can, it'll likely take me 95 times as long as I expect, and cost at least twice as much in supplies as just buying the item outright. Problem; the second: I usually like the idea of saying I made the thing, more than actually making the thing. I get knee deep in a craft (sometimes literally) and I realize the process isn't always that fun for me. I'm just too cheap to invest in what I want, so I force myself down a DIY path that isn't really my passion. Not a huge deal maybe, but at this point I'm realizing life is too short to spend it doing crafts you don't enjoy. Even if they end up super cute and you can post pictures on your blog to brag about them. Yep. That's my motto. Someone embroider that on a pillow. 

When I get a bee in my bonnet about wanting to make all the things, my mom always asks if I have more time, or money. The answer is technically neither, but recently money has come out on top (mostly because on the list of things that are plentiful in my life, time is on there somewhere just above sleep, and below energy). So while I can make most things, the lack of time (and lack of effort) means I'll never be the mom that makes all of her kids' clothes (or any of them really) and I'm fine with it. I figure someone needs to help keep the fine people of etsy busy. 

But sometimes. Sometimes, hand-bought just won't do, it has to be handmade. And possibly the best example of this is a baby quilt. When I was pregnant with Piper, my dear friend Sarah, made me the most fabulous quilt (she was a biology major, but somehow ended up a better seamstress than I am.) And though I don't actually let Piper use it (too pretty!) I love that our baby had something so special that someone put so much effort and love into for her. 

So when I found I was expecting Fin, I knew I wanted her to have a special quilt of her own. Afterall, just because you're the second kid, doesn't mean everything should have to be a hand-me-down. I fell in love with a quilt I saw on Pinterest (How did I even start pinning quilts? Who knows….that site is a rabbit hole…) and got my heart set on making one. I emailed Sarah to get me up to speed on the basics of quilting, and she humored me for awhile, but probably three emails and 1 million questions later she finally broke, calling me out: "Didn't you go to school for fashion? ;) This is just cutting strips of fabric and sewing straight lines, it really is simple!" 

Yeah. I over think things sometimes. Touché.

I even sent her some digital mockups of the versions I was contemplating to get her opinion on fabrics and layouts:

A big fat messy work in process…

 A bit closer to the end result…

Despite the teasing, she really was super helpful. She led me to a few great sources for fabric (If you're wondering, she recommends Fat Quarter Shop, and Cedar House Fabrics) and a couple of tutorials for details. It took me forever to choose what fabrics I wanted to use (there is WAY too much beautiful stuff out there, and I now see how people become fabric stash hoarders), but once I got all of my materials I figured it would be relatively easy to knock this project out. OH how wrong I was. I had about a month left in my pregnancy, which is easily 30 times the amount of time you'd realistically need to make a quilt this simplistic. But if the "you" is actually "me", and that "me" is giant, tired, and burdened with about a million other things, it turns out one month is not nearly long enough. So I only managed to cut the pieces, and sew the front and back panels, before tapping out to go have a baby. 

Fast forward three months and my quilt still lay in pieces, waiting for someone to have the time and energy to finally finish it up. I did make a little progress, but a few minutes during naps wasn't cutting it.

Plus, this was my first foray into quilting, so every step in the process was a little more time consuming than it would be for a more seasoned professional. I mean, I even had to break out the instruction manual!

But finally, a mere half of a year after I began the entire process, I have climbed my Everest. The quilt is done, and I'm ecstatic. 

Here she is: 

Love it?
Not bad if I do say so myself.

Here's the nitty gritty for those of you quilters, or wanna-bes in the bunch:

Fabric choices:
I fell in love with the blue patterned fabric, and of course the grey stripes, and worked the rest of it out from there. The solids were actually pretty hard to choose. I used the colors in the print as a starting point, and knew that purple would be my basis (so it would coordinate with Fin's room). I was worried that the mix of purple + teal + seafoam (yes, seafoam) would make it feel a little 90's, and maybe it does, but I think the modern prints help keep it current. 

The original inspiration had a plain backer, with all the quilting pieces on the front, but when I laid mine out, it just looked more interesting to have a stripe of "interest" on both sides. So one side got all blue with purple solids and a striped square, while the other side is solid purple and grey stripes, split with blue/green and a square of the blue print. The simple design meant I didn't have to spend hours upon hours cutting out pieces, and it only required a few (very) simple seams to piece it all together. Clearly this was all enough of a challenge for my first quilt. I'm glad I started small.

For the actual "quilting" of it all, I also went with the easiest method possible- just straight lines down the length of it, spaced around 1.5" apart. I debated horizontal or vertical placement, and light or dark stitches for forever, and eventually chose to have dark purple run opposite the seamlines of my pieces. The purple blends in well with most of the fabrics, so any of my mistakes don't stand out, and having them run perpendicular to the lines in the stripes keeps them from competing with each other visually.

I kept the quilt relatively small, so that I could just use one solid yard of fabric for the backer (it ends up being 36", x however wide your fabric is). It's a win-win because it keeps the cost down, there's not much waste, and the finished product is perfect for a baby, or even a toddler. 

I used spray basting and cotton batting for the core, and to finish it, I made my own binding (not at all as complicated or impressive as it sounds) and opted to machine stitch it on. I used this tutorial to learn how to do machine binding. I may be crazy, but even I know I don't have time for hand stitching

From a distance I have to say it looks pretty professional. Upon further inspection though, my rookie mistakes are evident. There are crooked seams, places I didn't get my tension right on my machine, spots I could have lined my fabric up better, and the binding in general tends towards "hot mess" in certain areas.

But honestly, it doesn't bother me. I'm sure there's a "beauty in imperfections" lesson to be learned there, and if I tried hard enough, I could spin this whole thing into a metaphor about motherhood. (I'll spare you the melodrama, but the outline would go a little something like: planning, patience, research, hard work, mistakes, beauty, warmth, love.)

I can't wait to wrap my sweet Fin up in my handiwork...Ok, I didn't wait. But I'm looking forward to more quilt-y snuggles to come. 

And now...I have the quilting bug (or is it quilter's bee?). I've been pinning up a storm, and already have the itch to try another project. I'm trying to rein it in so I don't end up spending too much money and time (that I don't have). But I gotta say, pretty fabrics + fun designs + BABIES, is a pretty irresistible combination.

So along those lines..I have an idea. I got it in my head that it would be fun to form a quilt club. Like a book club, where we pick a theme, and all work on individual quilts inspired by a common idea. After I couldn't get that little bug out of my brain, I texted Sarah, who first responded with maniacal laughter (she sucked me into her evil craft circle!) but then went back and forth with me on the details. It turns out, I didn't invent teh idea of a quilting club (imagine that!) and the idea I had actually already has a name: A Quiltalong. (Let me break the bad news doesn't involve singing. Unless you reaaaaaally want it to. Kumbayah!) 

And in true Courtney fashion, I'm jumping in with both feet, and going from a quilting novice, to a Quiltalong Coordinator. Because I can't just make a quilt. I have to make a quilting movement. With fanfare. And sign ups. And themes. Such is my life. 

I present to you.......

What's a quilt-along? Basically, it's a club of sorts, where we each agree to make a quilt, and share our progress and encourage each other along the way. Here are the details:
  • We'll pick a theme, and each person makes a quilt based on that. (it's pretty loosey-goosey...we'll get to that in a minute).
  • Anyone is welcome. Beginner to master. I'll try not to be too jealous when you're all better than me.
  • If you're interested, leave a comment here (including your email address when you do) by Friday 11/ don't have to start that early, it just gives us an idea of who is participating. (And don't worry, if you decide you want to join later, that's fine too. Just let me know and we'll add you!) (and if you're having trouble commenting- because blogger is the worst can also email me at cjsbowden at gmail dot com)
  • Depending on the group, I'll either set up a Facebook group or an email thread where we can ask questions, swap tips, etc.
  • Participants can share progress and pics on social media using the hashtag: #stitchittogether
  • Deadline for finishing your quilt is end of January. It's a pretty long time, but leaving it open will hopefully keep it stress free and low pressure. (not my strong suit..but I'll try if you will!)
  • Oh, and wrapping your quilt around a snuggly baby is optional (but awesome). We'll accept quilts designed for puppies, grandmas, siblings, or even just your own two feet. 
  • And the more the merrier. Feel free to grab a button, post on your blog, pinterest, tweet it, instagram it, email your friends. Let's make it a party!
As for the theme...for our first QAL, we're going with:

Something New

Since this was my first quilt, and the whole quilt-along is an experiment, we thought it would be best to keep it pretty open ended with the theme. Only requirement to participate is that you try something new with your quilt. For some of you, that may be attempting this project in the first place, and that's ok! But for you more experienced sewers, it could be a new technique (paper piecing, hand applique etc.), quilting it yourself, making your own binding...anything you want to try! "Master" quilters might have to think harder about coming up with something you've never tried before- but don't stress (that's the unofficial theme...serenity through stitching!)- we're not sticklers for rules. The theme is just supposed to be a general guideline to get the creative juices flowing. It'll be fun to see what everyone comes up with, and how each project varies. 

Sound fun? Yes!
I'd love to have you join us. And if you want to try, but are too scared...please give it a shot! Seriously, I have no clue what I'm doing, so don't be intimidated. Hopefully we'll have some laughs, make some messes, and maybe have something halfway decent to show for it at the end.  
Now go! Comment! (make sure to include your email address when prompted) Tell us you're joining! I can't wait to be inspired by you all! Exclamation points!!


  1. I want to join! I don't have a blog, or facebook, does that make it difficult to join? (I do have Instagram and Twitter) I have been wanting to make a quilt for my son (5 months), but have been intimidated to do it. This is the motivation I need!

    1. No need to blog or FB it. instagram and twitter will be perfect for following along with the hashtag, and I'll set up an email thread for us to email questions etc. Just send me your email address and I'll add you to the list!

  2. Yay! I love that I'll have some other quilting newbies in the bunch with me!

  3. I'm in, of course! I think my something new will be the quilting, since I've never actually done that myself-- you've inspired me!

    1. That is so backwards considering you're the only reason I'm attempting this in the first place...But I'll take it!

  4. Courtney -- I really want to give this a try but I'm so nervous - nervous to begin a project I'm not sure I could do or finish! But, I think I need to do it with other people if I'm ever going to do it. Count me in, friend. I'm going to need some cheerleading! :)

  5. Oh whoops. In my head I committed to this, but apparently didn't commit virtually. But I'm in! And I thought about doing a t-shirt quilt for a minute, but it turns out all my old t-shirts are ugly and I've been saving them for years for no reason. Bummer. But now I just get to make a really cute quilt without trying to incorporate old shirts from the years when I didn't understand how to color block yet.

  6. I'll think about it. and you'll need to remind me. i have a) oodles of fabric b) quilting supplies c) already begun quilt squares

    what I do not have.... any finished quilts.

    SOOOOO my something new would be a finished quilt! BUT, and that is ONE BIG BUT.... I have nil to the tenth degree on time of late and so, if this happens whoa. it will be miraculous. but I'm kinda game and giddy all at once, so we'll see.

  7. Court~ Your mom and Tia' are IN! (your aunt was on the fence this morning but I just signed her up) Tia says "How hard is a quilt, you can do it in a day? right!" Can't wait to see hers made on Jan 31st! I'll buy the kit at Wallmart hanging on the endcap in a baggie and work for 3 months! Can't wait!!