Thursday 3 January 2019

Making a Patchwork Quilt: the hand-quilting is FINISHED!

Remember my patchwork quilt?

This quilt is officially my longest running work in progress: I started it way back when I was a teen, which is so long ago that if the quilt was a person it would now be a teenager itself, definitely old enough to drive a car and maybe technically an adult by now (yikes). 

After a flurry of quilt-making enthusiasm when I was a student, I put the part-finished quilt top away in a cupboard for years. When I rediscovered it in a box in 2012, I thought about just getting rid of it but that felt a bit wrong so when my mum said she liked it I decided to try and finish it as a gift for her. I got the quilt top finished by 2014... then put it in a box again and didn't look at it for another four years.

Last year I was full of enthusiasm for Finally Finishing long-running projects (including a patchwork blanket and another quilt), so in the spring I bought wadding, white backing fabric and white quilting thread ready to complete the quilt.

I washed and ironed the fabric and put the quilt sandwich together (if you're not familiar with quilting, this is the step when you put all the layers together ready to sew them) then started the hand quilting in the summer.

Now, I don't know if you've ever done any hand quilting but it's a seriously labour intensive process and a very repetitive one! It's also not exactly the ideal project to work on during the hot summer months (and last summer really was hot). So, after making a start I ended up taking a break for a couple of months... but I did a big push this autumn to put the hours in and managed to finish the quilting at the end of November. Woohoo!

I thought the Christmas quilt I made my sister took a long time, but this one is a bigger quilt and made up of smaller squares so I had a lot more (and longer) lines to stitch so there were waaaaay more hours of stitching to put into this quilt.

The Christmas quilt was also a lot neater than this one: I'd used a proper block for marking out the squares for the Christmas quilt and cut and sewed them super neatly. The squares for the old patchwork quilt were a lot more randomly sized - and sewn together rather wonkily, too! I started out the hand quilting using my previous method of using masking tape as a guide line to stitch along... but I soon abandoned this to stitch freehand, following the not remotely straight lines of the "squares". So, all the quilted lines on this quilt are pretty wobbly (and my stitching isn't that neat to begin with, I have so much respect for people who manage to do neat hand quilting because mine all turned out so messy!) but hopefully this just adds to the quilt's handmade charm rather than detracting from it.

I'd originally hoped to keep the fact that I was finishing this quilt a secret from my mum (so it would be a big surprise when it was done) but I soon realised that this was going to be impossible, simply because of logistics of hiding something that big. So I told her about it and we've spent many happy hours sitting watching TV and movies together in her living room while I stitched and stitched and stitched. Sometimes this fella kept us company, too.

I've mostly kept the quilt stashed in her spare bedroom, working on it in bits and pieces when I went round to visit. I took it back to my flat a couple of times thinking I'd be able to really focus on it and push the project forwards but this turned out to be a terrible strategy because I'd spend the whole evening hunched over the quilt, stitching away happily while listening to podcasts or audiobooks and the next day my neck and back would be very angry with me!

For the Christmas quilt I stitched pairs of lines at a time, working steadily outwards and marking off each pair on a neat little chart as I went. For this one I worked a bit more haphazardly, sewing out from the centre but stitching several lines at once. I didn't make a chart to track my progress this time, just laid the quilt upside down on the floor at regular intervals to get an overview of how much stitching was left (the stitched lines are much more visible on the back than the front as they stand out against the plain white instead of getting lost in all that colour and pattern).

By November 20th, I'd stitched out to the first two corners of the quilt. It was amazing what a difference finishing that first corner made: it suddenly started to feel like an actual quilt instead of just a big bundle of fabric.

Excited by the prospect of finally getting this baby FINISHED, I devoted the next few evenings to quilting. I got the third corner finished on the 22nd...

... then started on the fourth and final corner. I couldn't resist laying it out to take a few more "in progress" photos before the quilting was finished.

Having the end in sight felt great!

Sewing these final few lines was definitely the most enjoyable bit of the quilting process (hand quilting is so boring, you guys! oh my goodness!!), and I was full of glee when I tied off the last stitch that weekend.

Even though it's now been over a month since I finished the quilting, I still haven't taken any photos of it "finished" and ready for the binding.

I have trimmed off most of the excess wadding and backing fabric (another step that's made it look much more like a real quilt), bought a fabric sample card so my mum can choose the perfect colour for the binding fabric (this important decision is still in progress but she's currently leaning towards blue), and sold the quilting hoop to a friend (because frankly, I plan on never hand-sewing another quilt as long as I live!!!).

Once my mum has decided which colour she wants for the binding, I'll measure the quilt and order enough fabric plus some matching thread. Then it'll be time to get started on the final stage! Maybe this time round I'll actually follow the instructions properly (unlike last time)? Watch This Space.


Jennifer said...

All that color! It is so lovely.

Littlelamb said...

That looks amazing and I am sure your mum will love it and really appreciate all the hard work you have put into it.

Bugs and Fishes said...

Thanks, guys! It is hugely satisfying getting to this stage, I'm really looking forward to making a start on the binding :)

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness! Your lucky mum. It is beautiful.

Kay said...

Well done for getting it finished. I have recently finished an orange peel quilt as a 50th birthday present for a friend. I decided to hand quilt it and absolutely loathed the process. I really struggled with it and would never consider doing it again. I simply couldn't get it to look how I wanted, anyway, done is better than not done. x

Aurelia Eglantine said...

Amazing work! I think it's awesome that you stuck with this so long and made the push to finish it - and I think it will be lovely when it's finished :) I've always been interesting in quilting by hand but I don't think I'd have the patience. Good luck with the binding!

bairozan said...

Hooray for finishing old projects, especially this BIG one! It looks so beautiful and cozy!

Bugs and Fishes said...

Anon - thank you! I don't like this at ALL now but luckily my mum loves it! :)

Kay - "done is better than not done" YES this is how I feel about this quilt! It's deeply imperfect, I disliked a lot of things about making it but it's almost an actual quilt now and when it's finally finished I will CELEBRATE.

Aurelia Eglantine - hand quilting definitely takes a lot of patience!! I do a lot of hand sewing but the repetitive nature of this project (plus the size of it) was just too much

bairozan - thank you! Having spent many hours sitting under this stitching it I can definitely testify to its cosiness :)

Lily said...

Big long term projects require commitment and patience (good qualities) and I keep thinking one should be mindful of what energy goes into it, cos that's how the creation will be charged,having sort of soul of its own.
I often hear how even machine piecers and quilters experience a lot of frustration... And I think of Amish quilters who do everything by hand... I doubt they feel that way as much.
Anyway, it's sad you're put off from quilting even though you found it was very satisfying, and that you ''happily stitched away'' for hours...

Lily said...

PS. By the way ,your squares look pretty good. there must be a story behind every print...
You can choose to quilt less densely, or just tie intersections. and have fun.

Bugs and Fishes said...

Oh, I'm used to making things by hand, and even working on big repetitive projects (like my many knitted blankets) but I think hand quilting and me are just not a good fit. It's great having tried it, though, and I'm very pleased with the end results :)