Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My First Quilt

My First Quilt, 1989
Well, here it is! The very first quilt I ever made! I made this quilt in 1989 (at least, that's when I finished it). I don't remember exactly when I started it or how long it took.

I was inspired by a book I saw featured on the PBS show "Reading Rainbow." The title of the book is "The Patchwork Quilt" and it is a story about an African American girl and her family. Her grandmother lives with them and teaches her how to make a quilt using all sorts of scraps from their old clothes. It takes the little girl, her grandmother, and her mother an entire year to make the quilt. When it is done, the whole family reflects on the year gone by and the memories that each patch holds for each family member.

This is what sparked my interest and made me dig out a box of scrap fabrics and start sorting it out, cutting it up, and stitching it together.

As you can see, the entire quilt top is made up of squares. Each square is 4" (finished) and hand-cut by me using a cardboard template that I made. This was before the days of rotary cutters! And, yes, that IS a man on the flying trapese in that black square on the bottom left!

The overall size of this quilt is approximately 52.5" x 85".

Notice my attempt at a border (look at first picture again) -- I alternated the same two fabrics all the way around. The only fabric I purchased for this quilt was the backing (which was a really inexpensive sheet I bought at K-Mart). All of the fabrics you see on the top came from my hand-me-down fabric stash. This was a cardboard box full of my great-grandmother's scrap fabric, plus some scrap stuff my mom had laying around the house.
Gram's favorite color was blue. Hence, the overabundance of blue in this quilt. She worked as a seamstress at a garment factory in Boston, so she had a lot of fabric laying around. Some of the flowery fabrics were still in the shape of skirt pockets when I received them -- remnants from the factory assembly line?

These fabrics always make me think of Gram, especially that darker blue one near the bottom right. It looks like flowers and blueberries. It reminds me of a dress she used to wear that was made of similar fabric.

Well, here's Gram. I'm sure she made this dress she is wearing. She was about 17 or 18 years old in this picture. She was born in Belguim in 1895. This was around the time she immigrated to Boston in 1914 (I think?).

And here she is in some fancy duds, sportin' her mink stole (I think) and fancy purse! I should probably also add that her name was Germaine and she is my mother's mother's mother. I only knew her as "Gram". She passed away in February, 1989.

So, back to the quilt....

Now we can see a close-up of my quilting and how little I really knew about it! The purpose of the quilting stitches is to keep the three layers of the quilt together -- the top, the batting, and the backing. Without quilting stitches, it simply won't hold together. The batting will also clump up after washing and be a lumpy mess. I knew that much, at least.

What perplexed me was how to do all this quilting without having all these unsightly knots showing on the back of the quilt! My solution (with some guidance from my mother who also knew very little about quilting) was to do all the quilting with the knots showing on the back. Then add a second back to cover all the unsightly knots. I kept the second back (a big sheet, basically) in place by tying knots with embroidery thread in each corner of the squares.

So, if you're totally confused by that, look at the picture here. You can see the white stitches that outline each square. I did those all by hand. Then after I added the second layer of backing, I tied the blue knots that you can see in the corners of each square. The blue knots go all the way through the top, batting, first backing and second backing.

Here is another close-up of my very first quilting. I used the "punch and stab" method of quilting, which is just what it sounds like. You punch the needle down through the top, pull it through from the back, then stab it up again from behind....over and over again....and it takes forever to do it this way. But, I was just starting out and didn't know any other way to do it! : )

I also didn't know a thing about quilting thread either. My mom had told me that quilting thread is thicker than regular thread. So, I went to the store and bought this thread that is actually intended for crocheting! You can probably tell by looking at the picture that it was pretty thick. I had to use a really large-eye needle to even get it threaded. Ah, live and learn....

This is the cat fabric that my mother still had from when she was a young girl (I don't know exactly how old she was). She had picked this out and Gram (her grandmother) was suppose to make her a dress out of it. Well, it never happened and I now have about two yards of this fabric (minus the square I cut off to put in this quilt).

Ah, one of those trapeze guys and some Christmas ornaments to the bottom left of him! Notice that not only are there no borders, but there is also no binding. The binding is suppose to go around the entire edge to close up all three layers of the quilt. When I sewed that second back on, I put it right sides together with the top, sewing all the way around and leaving a small opening to "turn" it right side out. Then I stitched the opening closed by hand. Not an entirely unusual way to finish a quilt but certainly not the preferred method by most quilters.

So, lots of mistakes, but you have to start somewhere....At least I knew, even back then, how important it is to sign and date your work! Why I didn't capitalize my name, I have no idea. But here's a "Fun Fact": 1989 was the year I graduated high school!

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