Thursday, May 10, 2012

My First Quilt

Scrappy Squares, 1989
Well, here it is.  The very first quilt I ever made.  I don't remember exactly when I started it or how long it took me to make, but I do know that I finished it in 1989 -- the same year I graduated from high school.
I was inspired by the children's book The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Fluornoy, which was featured on the PBS show "Reading Rainbow."  It is a story about an African American girl and her family.  The little girl's 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 completed, 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!

The overall size of this quilt is approximately 52.5" x 85".  Each square is 4" (finished) and hand-cut by me using a pair of scissors and a cardboard template that I made.  This was before the advent of rotary cutters and rulers (at least before I knew about their existence).
Notice my attempt at a border -- I alternated the same two fabrics all the way around.  The only fabric I purchased for this quilt was the backing (which was an inexpensive sheet I bought at K-Mart -- something I would NEVER do today).
All of the fabrics on the top came from a 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.
Germaine, 1914
Here is my great-grandmother, 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 Belgium in 1895.  This was around the time she immigrated to Boston in 1914 (I think?).

And here she is in a fancier outfit.  Her name was Germaine (my mother's maternal grandmother).  She lived to the age of 93, passing away in February, 1989.  She was always a very sweet and loving great-grandmother to me and my siblings.
Below, are two close-ups of my quilting and proof positive that I had no idea what I was doing.  The purpose of the quilting stitches is to keep the three layers of the quilt together -- the top, batting, and backing -- and to keep the batting from clumping and shifting as the quilt is used and washed.  I understood all of that, but what perplexed me was how to accomplish all this quilting without having 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 go ahead and do all the quilting with the knots showing on the back.  Then add a second layer of backing to cover all the knots.  I kept this additional layer in place by tying knots with embroidery thread in each corner of the squares.
If you look at these pictures, you should be able to 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 (barely visible) in the corners of each square.  The blue knots go all the way through the top, batting, first backing and second backing.
I used the "punch and stab" method, 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 -- very tedious and not all that efficient.
I also didn't know much about 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.

This is the cat fabric that my mother had chosen as a girl for Gram to make her a dress out of.  For one reason or another, the dress was never made, and I have now inherited about two yards of this fabric.
 Yes, that's a guy on a trapeze and Christmas ornaments to the bottom left of him!  Notice that not only are there no borders on this quilt, but there is also no binding.  For any non-quilters reading this, the binding is supposed to go around the entire edge to finish off the quilt.  
When I sewed that second back on, I simply 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!

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