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!

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