My first quilt – Part 2

Ah, my first quilt, what do I consider my first? I should remember my first quilt like my first kiss, right? And, I do remember how my life as a quilter started, but, of course, life isn’t always that simple is it?

Was it the first quilt I started? The first quilt I sewed together, or the first quilt I actually quilted? Hmm… maybe I will have decided by the end of this post…

Was it the 12 embroidered blocks I started in the 70’s while I was in high school, finished all but half of one block a year after graduation, gave to my Mom as I left for Texas in 1981 to finish embroidery, find fabric, piece and quilt or have quilted for me? After the first couple years, I didn’t ask Mom anymore how the quilt was coming. Now, I can see that maybe she might have needed that little nudge. I just felt after the first few times, she would complete it in her own time, and someday, she would present it to me as a Christmas gift or perhaps a birthday present. But, years went by, and I can’t even tell you now if she ever showed me the fabric she picked for it, or if she did, when that was.

When Mom passed in 2008, I found this quilt on a hanger, in two halves, with all of the sashing in place, but no borders, backing, batting or quilting! Twenty-seven years later, and it was still a WIP (work-in-progress). When I saw it on the hanger while cleaning at Dad’s house, on my old bedroom door, facing into the living room, I simply said “Oh, there it is.” No fanfare. No processional. Just “Oh. . ., there it is.”

Naturally, I thought, “I’m taking this, it’s mine.” So, I brought it home and proceeded to hang it on my bedroom door, not even sure if I wanted to finish it. Four more years passed before events transpired that gave me the motivation or desire to complete it myself, in August of 2012. Looks pretty good, yes?

My embroidered quilt

But, was that it, “the first”? You could say it was the cheater cloth lap blankets I made from Mom’s stash of fabrics I sort of inherited, sort of claimed four years after her passing, because no one else was interested in learning how to quilt. I wasn’t going to be a “quilter”. I just wanted to complete some of her unfinished projects, her WIPs.

Once I decided to become a momentary quilter, I quilted several 18 inch swatches of “quilt sandwiches”, my first attempt at free motion quilting, because after trying hand quilting (that’s another story), like my mother and grandmother both were, I realized it would take me a year just to do one quilt! I made two lap blankets to test and learn free-motion skills, sketchy at first, but, I wasn’t going to start with a queen size quilt!

Autumn lap blanket

Kitty lap blanket

Or maybe, it Was it my daughter’s high school choir and theater t-shirt quilt I pieced together like a puzzle to fit all of her shirt fronts and backs on the front of a queen size quilt and then had quilted on a long-arm at the local quilt shop in July of 2012? It was the first bed size, or should I say queen size, quilt that I sewed together all by myself, though I didn’t quilt it.

When my daughter gave me the t-shirts in the fall of 2004, was I excited, my first quilt design? Maybe I’ll become a quilter yet? And, carry on the family tradition. I don’t remember if there was hesitancy in my voice when, as we sat on the floor, looking over these t-shirts that particular evening in a dimly lit living room, as I said “Sure, I can do that.” Maybe it was dark enough that she couldn’t see the doubt on my face?

First things first. The next day, I called my Mom to ask her how big a full size quilt was (my daughter’s bed size at the time), and in true doubting child fashion, still looked up the dimensions on the internet. My daughter and I, the next morning, figured (guesstimated) how much material we would need for around the blocks, backing and binding. Excited, we rushed off to JoAnn’s to purchase batting and material.

At the fabric store, my brain started whirring calculating inches and yards as we looked at wide width fabrics and the typical 44” wide solids. I didn’t know then about shrinkage and binding, but somehow I knew, when in doubt, buy more than you think you will need! That way you won’t run out, because you don’t know how long the project will take and if you have to come back, the fabric may no longer be in stock. And, of course, scraps make even more quilts! I wondered if it was something I picked up from conversations Mom and Grandma had about quilts that I wasn’t actually listening to, but somehow I just knew then, many years later. Was it quilter’s osmosis?

We looked at knits. We looked at fleece. We looked at flannel. But, I had explained to my daughter that typically, cotton was the fabric of choice for quilts. Therefore, in our minds, a “real” quilt was made of cotton. The store was ever so helpful, by labeling those wide cotton solids as “quilter’s solids”? So, she insisted on a nice baby blue cotton solid for the back and just plain old white cotton for the sashing. We purchased the fabrics, and even with a 40% off coupon in hand, we were a bit shocked at the final total. I always thought quilting was thrifty and frugal because my grandma always made scrap quilts. After this purchase, though, We deduced, quilting can be expensive! She paid for it, or did I, too much time has passed to remember that small detail. We drove back home, she went back to Chicago, and I sat down to start figuring out the design.

Little did I know, this would be no easy task. I measured each t-shirt’s design meticulously, exact width and height, knowing I could cut it bigger if needed. Then, I sat down with some graph paper and started the process of figuring out where to place each piece so they all fit on a full size quilt. I mean, how difficult could it be? I took geometry in high school. They were all squares or rectangles.

I struggled with it for days, and no matter how I tried, those pieces just would not fit in a full size quilt! I called my daughter and asked her if it could be bigger. “No”, she replied, she really wanted it for her full size bed. Frustrated, I gave up and set it aside for a while. A while turned into years.

Of course, a couple of times while cleaning or moving things around, I’d find that graph paper with the block dimensions and the sketched out potential quilt design, and once again, try to finagle and squeeze, and measure away the inches that just wouldn’t fit into a full size, only to give up again, and set it aside for a while more. I’d run across the t-shirts, all tucked away in a bin by the washing machine in a plastic bag, which was several times covered with a hefty layer of dust.

What’s that you ask? What was the miraculous event that transpired and allowed me the gumption to finish this quilt? What finally clicked inside me to be able to complete this WIP, or using the present day term, unfinished object (UFO)? I didn’t even know what UFO meant back then. I thought it was an unidentified flying object. I didn’t know that term, UFO, scary as it could be to those who believe they have been abducted by aliens, could become the bane of my existence, like many other crafters before me.

In fact, as if you haven’t already guessed by now, that, too, is a WIP, a complex tale for another post. Aww… don’t fret. It’s already partially written, just needs a few tweaks. It won’t be a long wait for the conclusion of the story.

I would, however, like to share another tip. I think it will be the connecting thread (get it) to all my posts. My brain produced, the other night, a potential flash of minor brilliance. Since these are quilting tips, I thought, “Oh, Q-Tips!”

Q-Tip #2: Always close your rotary cutter after use and be very careful while cutting.

Rotary cutters are extremely sharp and may be more dangerous than razors, kitchen knives, and even guns. Yes, I learned the hard way. Though, so far, none of my quilts have blood stains and I still have all of my fingers, there have been a few close calls. Luckily, the wounds were not deep, and the bathroom with bandaids and antibiotic gel is a few steps from my cutting table.

Tune in next post for the conclusion of this WIP.