Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Wedding Quilt

Lance on the Wedding Quilt
Novelist Jennifer Chiaverini has written a series commonly called the Elm Creek Quilt books, one of which was The Wedding Quilt.  It tells the story of how a family of women work together to create a beautiful quilt as a wedding gift for a young relative who is moving out West with her new husband, and how that quilt becomes a treasured possession that reminds her home. A generation later, the quilt is discovered at a museum, and the protagonist immediately recognizes it as the gift for her long-lost cousin.

When my son told us that he was planning to propose to his girlfriend, I began thinking about making them a Wedding Quilt -- something special that would represent the two of them.  My hope (as with all of the quilts I give as gifts) is that it will become a treasured part of their lives together.

I began by looking through my binder of quilting ideas -- mostly articles and photos that I've cut from magazines.  The inspiration for the quilt came from the unlikeliest of places:  a free project instruction sheet distributed by Wal-Mart.  "Quilter's Collectibles" flyers highlighted different fabric groups available for sale in the Wal-Mart sewing department.  In February 2007, "Bric-a-Brac" was the name of the quilt on a flyer that featured five colors of calico prints, plus black.

Rows of 'bricks' are not new to quilting.  I liked the general look of the design, but wanted to make it my own. The first thing I changed was the brick size.  The instructions called for 3" x 5 1/2" bricks; I cut mine 3 1/2" x 7".  The quilt instructions were for a full bed-sized quilt; this one needed to be a queen-sized quilt, so I lengthened each row.  The original pattern called for a border of bricks separated by 3" squares; I eliminated that element.  And finally, instead of using five colors of fabric (plus black), I decided that each row would be a different fabric.

My son is an engineer, and using 'bricks' on a quilt for him seemed like the thing to do.  My daughter-in-law, Mary, loves the colors teal and purple, so I decided to select fabrics on the cool side of the color wheel, starting with yellow-green and working through the spectrum to the deepest shade of violet. Once I had a general plan, the search for fabrics followed.

The first stop was my stash.  I had plenty of greens (see my post about the Irish quilt).  An American Sewing Guild (ASG) friend had passed away about a year before, and I had inherited several different quilting cottons from her.  I also put out the word to many sewing buddies and my sisters, hoping they would have some fabric in their stash I could use.  I had to purchase about 10 fabrics to complete the 'rainbow' effect.  Ultimately, the quilt ended up with 30 different fabrics, plus the tone-on-tone 'black.'  (I could have gone with a tone-on-tone beige or white, but decided black was more masculine).
I started by cutting strips 3 1/2" by the width of the fabric, then cutting the strips into 7" blocks.  I also needed a half-rectangle of black to begin or end each row.  Once cut, the rows went together quickly.
I used a quarter-inch presser foot on my machine to keep the seam allowances a uniform width.
Laying out the rows took a bit of time.  The transition between colors, say from green to teal to blue, created a bit of a challenge, and I moved some rows around until I was pleased with the overall look.  Then I began the task of sewing the rows together.

It helped to have a queen-sized bed to lay out the rows for the correct color placement.
With many quilt designs, there are seams that need to line up correctly for the block pattern to work out right.  With 'bricks,' however, the seams between rows don't meet at all -- they are off-set half-way.  I discovered early on that the quilt could get 'skewed' if I wasn't careful when sewing the rows together.  What it meant was that I needed to measure and pin every row to the preceding row to be sure that the 'bricks' would stack up correctly.

I measured and carefully pinned the rows in place before stitching, so the bricks would stack up!
I stitched together units of four or five rows,  pressing with the iron as I went, then attached one unit to the next unit. Not too long into the process I made a mistake.  I had attached four rows to the next set upside down, and the bricks and color progression was wrong.  I spent the next two hours ripping everything apart and sewing it together again, the correct way this time!

Sewing in units and adding one to the next kept the quilt from getting too unwieldy at the machine.  
The bulk of the quilt top assembly was finished at the two sewing camps I attended in the spring.  The day before I planned to take the top to the long-arm quilter, I discovered that I had not purchased enough fabric to back a queen-sized quilt, so I had to make another run to the fabric store.  I pieced the backing and cut the bias binding, then made the drop-off to the quilter.

Susie is the long-arm quilter that I have used for the past few years.  She is a great resource and really takes the time to help me select the best quilting pattern and thread color.  We decided to use a 'bubble' pattern of various sized circles, with black thread, for the overall quilt pattern.
I love how the quilting shows up on the lighter fabrics!
I liked the juxtaposition of the circles over the rectangles, and the black thread really popped.  Susie is very fast...I think she called me to pick up the finished project about five days after I dropped it off!

I use bias binding as often as possible to finish the edges of the quilts I make (see the blog entry about the Irish quilt for more details on bias binding).  My hope was to have the quilt finished and wrapped up before the wedding, but with other projects to complete (including my dress!), I didn't have time to sit and hand-stitch the binding down until the wedding was over.  Ryan and Mary's honeymoon gave me the all the time I needed to complete the project, and it was ready for them when they joined us for dinner the day after their return.

Oh, one more thing -- a quilt is not complete unless it is signed.  I purchased a new Bernina Artista 635 last year, which comes with an embroidery attachment, but I'm not very good at embroidery yet.  I was able to create a label to sew onto the back of the quilt, so it's signed and dated, like any valuable piece of artwork.  

Mary loved the colors in the quilt, and Ryan appreciates the time and care that went into making it.  (I was told the he was 'bragging' that I made my dress for his wedding!)  I hope that it turns into the treasured keepsake that I had in mind for the past year!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Dress -- Finally!

I was hoping to work on this post before the wedding and have it ready to go on June 30, but alas, having a house full of guests prevented me from doing anything other than cooking and entertaining!  After many mentions, here is the post about my 'mother-of-the-groom' dress.

Dressed and ready to go!
I have been sewing for over 30 years.  I took Clothing I and II in high school, and was lucky enough to have a mother who was an excellent sewist as a mentor.  When it came time to consider what I was going to wear to my son's wedding, my natural inclination was to make my own dress.  I have the was time to put them to use.

Simplicity 2247 and 1754 - both under consideration.
I had perused the pattern catalogs and found two that I thought could work. Both had princess seams -- the style that has a seam over the bust and down the side of the dress.  I knew from experience that this type of garment is easier to adjust for fit than a dress with a style with bust darts and no seam down the front.

While in Missouri in April, my sister's American Sewing Guild (ASG) neighborhood group was having a 'sew -in' and I decided to go.  My plan was to do a sample dress of each pattern in muslin and work on the fit.  When making a muslin, you learn about how the garment is constructed and you can add extra fabric to the seam allowance around each piece to allow for fitting.  One of the biggest frustrations for novice sewers is cutting out a garment and sewing it together, only to have it not fit right.  Creating a muslin is especially important to do if your finished garment is made with expensive fabric  -- making a muslin (using inexpensive fabric) prevents costly errors.

Denise and I work on adjusting a pattern.
It helps to have another experienced sewer in the room when you try on a muslin...she can help determine where you need to let it out or take it in for the best fit.  I got lucky because my sister's friend, Denise, was at the 'sew-in.'  She teaches Home Economics in the St. Louis School District, including clothing construction.  She was generous with her time and knowledge, and helped me understand how to alter a pattern to fit my body.  Most commercial patterns are designed for tall, slim women, and I am neither.  You can imagine that I had a lot of fitting work to do.

After cutting out two dresses and stitching them up, I tried them on, inside-out, for Denise to inspect.  She helped me isolate the problem areas and she showed me how to alter the paper pattern to allow for a better fit in those areas.  I went back to the sewing machine and made the alterations until the garment hung properly from my body -- no pulling across my stomach, no gaps in the bustline, and the seams on the sides hung straight.  After transferring the changes to the paper pattern, I knew that I could cut the dresses out of fashion fabric with the confidence that they would fit me well.

Upon returning to Philadelphia, I set the project aside for a few weeks.  Just before leaving for Sewing Camp with my ASG chapter, I was looking through my patterns for something else and discovered another dress pattern that I had purchased some time ago.  This too was a Simplicity pattern with princess seam lines.  I took it along, planning to make another muslin before deciding which dress to create for the wedding.   Again, having a room full of experienced sewers helped me adjust the fit for the third time, and I decided to go with Simplicity 0395 for my dress.

At this point, I had not yet shopped for fabric. I took one precious day of Camp (generally reserved for sewing) to go shopping, and ended up at Fabric Row in South Philadelphia.  I found what I was looking for at Maxie's Daughter.  The bridesmaids were wearing purple, and I selected a teal satin with matching teal lace, hoping that it would look good with the rest of the wedding party.  (What was I thinking??  I didn't have a single photo taken with the entire wedding party, but I did have one family picture, which included my daughter in the purple dress!!  Ha!)

Pre-washing fabric before cutting is something I was taught long ago, although it did give me a bit of a pause to wash the lace.  However, both fabrics laundered fine (with Ivory Snow -- regular detergent leaves marks on the satin), and I cut out the garment while I was still at Sewing Camp.

Each pattern piece was cut from satin and lace,
then stitched together
I spent a couple of hours stitching the lace to the under-dress fabric, planning to treat it as one fabric.  I folded it up neatly and brought it home with me to sew in the comfort of my own space, with all of my tools close at hand.

Having made the dress (in inexpensive fabric) ahead of time, it literally flew together.  I was nervous to try an invisible zipper, having never done one before.  It was so easy (with the proper presser foot on my Bernina) that I don't know if I'll every do a lapped or centered zipper again!
My first invisible zipper insertion!  Yea!

After the side seams were sewn, I tried it on for my daughter, and was happy to find that it needed to be taken in a bit.  Once I took care of that, all that was left were the sleeves to set in and the hem.  The sleeves did give me a bit of trouble...I ended up cutting them shorter, and in retrospect, I think that I made one adjustment too many on the armscye (the opening for your arm to go through).  If I ever want to wear it again, I may have to take the sleeves out and trim away a bit more fabric for wearing ease, then re-set the sleeves.  It didn't look bad, it just was a bit uncomfortable that day.

So, how long did it take?  Well, if you don't count the time invested in making and adjusting muslins (and the 30 years of experience!), the actual sewing took about 6 hours.  Yes, that's all -- 6 hours to complete a semi-formal dress.

There are three reasons to sew it yourself -- first, the fabric, pattern, zipper and thread cost me only about $50, a fraction of what I would have spent in a bridal salon.  Second, I could adjust the fit so it was comfortable on my body -- something you have to pay dearly for when purchasing ready-to-wear that needs alterations.  Third, no one else will ever have the same dress.  I had many compliments that day, and people came back to me a second time when they learned that I had made it myself, to tell me how impressed they were.  (I take that to mean it didn't look 'homemade', but 'custom made!)

My d.h. and me, after the ceremony -- one down, three to go!
I have more wedding preparation photos to post...check back later to see what else kept me busy in June!

Happy sewing!