to quilt or not?

Today’s project is a vintage quilt top, maybe found in a garage sale in Florida. It’s big–96×96–and two colors. A lovely 8-sided star pattern with two fabrics: a small print of navy blue & off-white, and a larger print that’s cream with pale khaki leaves.

pale khaki fabric

pale khaki fabric

The stars are huge, and set on point they’re 21″ from top tip to bottom point. Half star blocks fill in the triangles along the sides and top.

I can tell that it’s been laundered–and really, no harm done. As I press, it becomes clear that there are some bubbles in the squares. Wonkiness, caused by the quilter being humanoid.

wonki-ness

wonki-ness

Does this top deserve quilting? For one reason or another the original seamstress chose to put it away, unquilted. Maybe she wasn’t satisfied with her work, or wished she’d chosen different fabrics. Maybe she was planning to use it as a “summer quilt”.

Maybe she didn’t get the perspective she needed to see her top as quilt-worthy.

I remember making a quilt with my girlfriends, the ya-ya’s, a gift for one of us. A wedding gift, but not a “wedding quilt” (sheesh!).  She had chosen the fabrics: browns, orange, red, green, and with a brown paisley-patterned flannel backing, it would be a perfect snuggle at her lakefront cabin.

Whose idea this gift quilt was, I don’t remember. Surely not mine, because only two of us were quilters and sure as shootin’, I’d be the one to lead the project. It was probably the redhead’s idea–she was the only one who did not live in the same city. She had even left the state. Would she have suggested it, assuming I’d to take the lead? She is the bossy one; when we are together, she has a plan and makes us stick to it. Otherwise, it would be noon and we’d still be sitting around in pj’s, picking at breakfast and musing over whether to make another pot of coffee. She doesn’t drink coffee, which may be part of the problem.

It may have been my mother-in-law’s idea–she is responsible for my first quilt, which only took 15 years to finish. She knows all of the ya-ya’s, and it was on a visit to her house that we all ended up at the quilt shop with one of her quilting buddies, picking out fabric. And, this friend is known as the QBPP (Queen Bee of Paper-Piecing). The plot thickens.

So now there are 6 of us, each doing 2 squares. Paper-pieced stars. From a book of 50 paper-piece star patterns, one for each state in the Union. We each chose states that held meaning for us: Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, New York, Pennsylvania, etc. Weeks and weeks of quilting (at my house) followed. Not everyone could make it every time, so we set up a couple sewing machines and whenever there was time,  twisted our brains around small scraps of fabric and paper until the paper-piecing process made sense. We made a few mistakes, had a few laughs and not nearly enough drinks, but eventually we ended up with 12 star blocks.

On one day, we got together to decide how to arrange the blocks into a top. The thing is, once a critical mass of moms is gathered in one spot, their children suddenly realize that they cannot live one minute longer out of their mothers’ presence. In a remarkably short period of time, they all converged on us and a little celebration broke out. The ya-ya’s had decided how to sort out the paper-piece galaxy, and we also discovered that the quilting bug had bitten. twice. in the same family. Our Georgia Peach had started a top of off-white squares, and her younger son had caught the fever and was making a blue, red and flame version.

Peach and I got together the next week and started putting the blocks together to form the top. Even though we had all agreed on the layout, and we all loved every individual block, we weren’t in love with the top we had laid out on the floor and photographed “for the record”. As each block was joined to the become a row, and rows were joined together, Peach and I found ourselves feeling a little better about the top. “you know, this one looks really good next to that one”; “this one is amazingly complex–MB did a great job”. Finally, all of the blocks were joined. I held it up for her to see from across the room.  Her surprised response: “hey, it looks really good!”  We called MB, and told her to look out the window. From across the street, she thought it looked pretty good, too.

paper-pieced stars

paper-pieced stars

We added borders and the top became a quilt, which became a gift, which is now a way for Pez to remember all of us, every time she snuggles up in it.

It’s all about perspective, I guess.

perspective : the big picture

perspective : the big picture

Back to today’s top.  It’s so big that it’s difficult to see the lovely pattern unless you put some distance on it. I decided on a muslin backing because it’s a vintage piece and the fabrics in the top have a little roughness themselves. Hobbs 80% cotton/20% poly for the batting–it has a nice hand, and more loft than 100% cotton. The block patterns are twined leaves; they fit perfectly into the top’s large diamonds and triangles and have a matching border pattern. The patterns are not too complex; they’ll give the quilt a textured dimension without leaving it too stiff.  I chose thread in antique cream, which gives some contrast to the blue borders but won’t distract the eye from the fabulous star pattern in the main field of the quilt.  It’s not an easy top to quilt–it will take the better part of two days to finish, and I hold my breath a lot when working on vintage quilts. It feels a little like my grandmother is watching me quilt.

quilted--at last!

quilted--at last!

The wonkiness is mostly smoothed out by the quilting, but in one or two places there is some extra poufiness, or a small tuck. That’s how you know it was made by human hands.  I wish I knew more about the seamstress who put together the top. I’d love her to know how beautiful it turned out, and applaud her handiwork.

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1 Comment

  1. beckybroberg

    I love how you spoke about us in code. Love the quilt.

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