Lazy Seamstress Maude skirt

This is a bit sneaky, really, because you can’t actually buy it! But I have had *so* much fun, this weekend, testing a pattern for my wonderful friend Jeanette.  She’s been drafting patterns for a while, and sells them on her Etsy store.  I am in awe of Jeanette.  She’s been a real and a virtual friend for many, many years and she’s a creative whirl storm of a woman.  I wish I had half her imagination and vision.  Never mind her skill with fabric selection! She’s on my go-to list of people whose style and grace I hope one day to emulate!

Anyway, she recently asked on Facebook if anyone would be willing to test her new Maude skirt pattern in its final drafting stages.  So of course I said yes.  And it arrived on Friday.

This weekend, I’m supposed to be sewing a ball dress.  The ball is on 9th May, so time is running out…  I chose the fabric and the pattern and ordered online.  I’ve changed shape quite a lot, recently, and dropped from the borders of a 12/14 to the borders of an 8/10 in ready-to-wear sizes.  So I foolishly assumed that if I got a pattern in size 8-12 I’d be absolutely fine.  Rookie error!  Turns out in Butterick-land, I measure squarely to a size 14 (apart from the boobs… *dejected sigh*).

So I couldn’t make the ball dress, but instead I had some dedicated sewing time put aside to make Maude.  And she was ace! Flew together with nary a pause for head scratching; fitted a little snugly (but that’s because I didn’t resize for a waist which was, admittedly, not to standard measurements) and looked *amazing* on!   I made one minor adaptation to a straight grain, to allow the stripes on my pockets to line up properly, and a tiny bodge for waistbanding when I discovered I didn’t have any petersham.  Here she is in a slightly scruffy bedroom mirror selfie as I was getting ready for work, this morning.

I want to make this again.  This version used an old, striped denim I bought from some German website about half a century ago.  I have other varieties of German denim, but it would look good in wool, and also I figure it would work well in a lightweight cotton – perhaps with a reversible thing going on.  Anyway.  I commend her to you – you should go to Etsy periodically and see if Jeanette has finished her drafting, and buy the pattern!

Sewaholics Cordova

Earlier this week, I took Josh to the local sewing shop and pulled out some fabrics to make up a bundle of patterns I’d ordered online.  I was going to combine new fabrics with stash fabrics and whip my way through a little capsule wardrobe. 

I got a bit carried away (as one does) and bought quite a lot of fabric – just shy of £100 worth, actually.  Josh was horrified: “I thought you said sewing your own stuff was cheaper??” So on the way home, I took him into a fairly standard boutique.  I explained that I was going to make one cotton dress, one jersey dress, one wool skirt and one jacket.  I made him walk around the shop, and price those things up – his choice of garment, so he had control of the bill.  It came to just over £300.

Today, I made the jacket.  This is the Sewaholics Cordova jacket pattern, which I got from the Village Haberdashery.  I didn’t intend to make it today; I was just going to cut it out – it’s fully lined so with main fabric, lining and interfacing I figured cutting it would be enough faff for one mildly hungover Friday. 

But then I looked at the pattern, and realised there were only 16 steps.  Nothing, really!  So I got started.  Again, this is an unaltered pattern.  I measured 8 for boobs and hips and 10 for waist.  I decided to take the risk and go with the 8.  The back of this jacket is in four pieces, and each half of the front is in two, and then there’s a peplum.

The fabric I’d got is a heavyweight linen stripe.  I wasn’t really paying attention when I bought it – the stripe runs horizontally across the fabric. Not what I wanted, at all.  So I thought I’d just have a little see if I could cut it vertically across the grain, rather than along it. I was confident I could get the grain right, by being careful about running down the stripe, and matching stripes would be much easier with vertical stripes – not to mention that horizontal stripes are notoriously unflattering (see t shirt for confirmation – I was meant to be flashing you the jazzy lining, rather than my boob, in this photo but whatevs).

Anyway, by the time I’d put the jacket back and fronts together and stuck the peplum on, there was little point stopping for the day, so I soldiered on.  I’ve always found it difficult to fit linings without buggering up the overall fit of the garment, but this one went in easily enough.  And I managed the stripe matching pretty well, I thought.

So, in all, another pleasing make.  The arms are possibly a shade long, because I’m only short, but it’s a reasonably well fitted jacket which, with no requirement for effort at all from me, looks well tailored.  This is another one I will make again.  This particular version may well get worn to my thing.  

Now.  While fiddling around my sewing room this afternoon, I’ve found three lengths of rather gorgeous silk.  It so happens I need a new cocktail dress.  Can anyone recommend a pattern?!

Colette Moneta

I’m turning into a bit of a Colette groupie.  This latest make is the Moneta – a pattern designed for jersey.  I had a large piece of purple jersey that I’d bought in Sew Me Something the last time I was there, and I thought it would do this dress just nicely.

Beautiful fit!

I traced this off on Sunday evening, before I went out to a party (in my Zinnia skirt).  It’s a very straightforward pattern – two bodice pieces, two skirt pieces and a sleeve.  And a pocket if you wanted one, but it’s quite a lightweight jersey I was using, so I didn’t. 

Making it was incredibly easy, and gave me an excuse to dust off my overlocker – a piece of kit I use so rarely that 10 years down the line, I still need to refer to the threading diagrams!

The only thing I’ve never got the hang of is using elastic to shir (?) a waist seam.  All my elastic seems to lose its give once it’s been stretched into place.  I had a couple of goes before I lost my rag and simply shirred the skirt waist using shirring elastic in the bobbin of my standard machine.

Not looking like a loon

This pattern is designed with negative ease, and narrower than normal seam allowances (to compensate for the give in the jersey), so I made a small bodice and a medium skirt, to allow for my childbearing hips issue.  I made no adjustments to the bodice – lesson learnt from the Hawthorn dress, then! 

Cover hem detail

I couldn’t be more delighted with this dress.  It fits like an absolute glove.  I struggled a bit with the cover hem on my overlocker – but that’s a lack of practice issue, rather than any problem with the pattern or the fabric.  I suspect this will get worn *to death*, and will certainly be made again… and again…  Oh.  I made version 3 🙂

Photos this time are taken by Josh, whose one instruction was “don’t make me look like a loon”.  Good, then! As ever, you can click to embiggen for full lunatic effect.

Still not looking like a loon

Beat me to it!

One of my oldest friends became a grandmother, in the wee small hours of this morning.  She will be the best granny! [edit: I’d just like to point out that ‘oldest’, in this context, refers to the longevity of the friendship, NOT the age of the friend! Erk…]

I thought the occasion marked a quick and dirty tiny person quilt.  I happen to have bought a jelly roll of rainbow coloured strips from Doughtys, the last time I was visiting Penny in Hereford, and it was just perfect for a baby sized knock-up.  I used up some of the background fabric left over from the wedding quilt‘s early drafts, and backed it with a piece of flannel that’s been in my stash roughly forever.  In fact, it may well have come from a co-op organised by the new granny, since that tends to be where I bought flannel from in the olden days…

Anyway, since I don’t think the recipient will be reading this, I’m putting up photos before the parcel has been received.  Here’s my rainy Sunday, “You Beat Me To It, Granny” quilt for the new little person in that family.  I hope they all enjoy it.

Break in the clouds

We’ve had sunshine today! And the children opted to go for a walk!  
I happened to be in the Cotswolds yesterday, razzing around in a friend’s fancy car, and spotted a place called Salford, which amused me no end, because it’s a far cry from the Salford I know of old… just compare those two skylines!!
Anyway, when I got home and looked up my new local Salford, I discovered there are Neolithic standing stones nearby.  So when the children opted to go for a walk, it seemed like the obvious choice.
So, no sewing to share today.  But I wanted to show you these, instead: 

These delightful families took a keen interest in us as we walked past.  In the other Salford, you want to avoid the interest of delightful families, on the whole.  Even here, I was very pleased for the two strands of barbed wire that separated us.  But aren’t they beautiful?

The other Salford has dangerous dogs, too.  My dogs are just dangerously stoopid…

This is the Kings’ Men circle, part of the Rollright Stones.  The legend is that this is a circle of courtiers, petrified by a witch.  They say that if you count the stones in the circle, you never get the same number twice.  We counted 70, 74, 75 and 76.

The blackberries are still so sour they’ll send your ears shooting round to the back of your head, but apparently some of us like them like that!

Colette Zinnia

So, you remember I had a pile of fabric to work through, and needed some patterns?  I wrote about it in the Washi Dress post.

Yesterday, Josh and I happened to find ourselves in Witney.  Almost entirely by accident…. almost.  And I happened to stumble into the fabric shop.  Almost entirely by accident.  Which inevitably led to a bit more fabric – a wool mix (or at least, I thought it was a lightweight wool.  More on that later) for the Zinnia skirt pattern, and a heavyweight striped linen for the jacket I might need for a thing.

I bought the Zinnia pattern because it looked flexible, quick to make and easy to wear.  It was indeed quick to make – I can see myself making it again and again.

I made version 2 – the one with little pleats.  I did a very quick and dirty voile, and knew that it would fit me straight off the pattern.  No need for alterations, which is always a bonus, so I traced it off and began sewing.   As you can see, Freya didn’t take these photos – they’re all selfies.  Please excuse the unmade bed in the background.  Housekeeping is not my forte!

The fabric I chose is soft and swishy, but not terribly drapey.  So it became obvious that if I left the pleats as designed all they would do would be to considerably enhance my childbearing hips.  And nobody wants to look like Kirsty Allsop, right?!  So I extended the pleats from the 2″ affair drawn on the pattern to 8″.  The pleats are edge-stitched down, so there’s quite a flare from the bottom of them.  I was a little nervous this would mess with the fit, but actually it worked really well.

My other small, niggly criticism with this pattern is the belt loops.  As written, they’re a real fiddle – they require you to sew and turn through a tube of fabric not much wider than 3/8″.  Hideous.  Instead, I pressed the seam allowances in to the middle, folded the fabric strip in half and pressed again, and edgestitched down the open edge.  Much simpler to make.  Next time, I’ll make the strip a little longer, so that the individual loops can be a tad bit bigger, and sew them into the bottom of the waistband, so that only the top edge needs top stitching down – I think this will make for a less fiddly process, as well as a neater finish.

In all, I’m pleased with this skirt.  It reminds me a lot of things my mother used to wear in the 70s – I think she called them dirndl skirts?  And it’s reasonably flattering.  I need to find something to wear on top of it – I don’t really want to re-create the whole 70s vibe, but I do need some skirty-type tops.  Maybe that’s a task for more of my stash-busting activity!!

The fabric, as well as being not particularly drapey, creases up a storm! So I’m going to go back to the fabric shop and see what the composition actually is.  It smells and feels like wool, but creases like linen.  I wonder if it’s a wool/linen mix, therefore?? 

Washi Dress

I’m on holiday, and the sunshine’s stopped, which means I can’t do the outdoor DIY jobs I had planned.  So instead, I am working my way through a pile of fabric, but had run out of patterns.  Also, I need a jacket for a thing.

Front view

I like the look of the Deer & Doe patterns, but didn’t want to wait for one to arrive from France.  And so by a process of clicking and looping back and clicking some more, I found myself browsing the fabrics and patterns at The Village Haberdashery.

One of the bits of fabric I need to use up is a lovely, rich purple jersey which I wanted to turn into a t-shirt dress.  But I lost heart at drafting a pattern myself, and so after my success with the Hawthorn dress, I’ve ordered Colette’s Moneta pattern.  I’ve also ordered the Zinnia skirt and the Sewaholic Cordova jacket, which is for my thing.  Perhaps.  And then, just as I was about to check out, my finger slipped on the mouse and a Washi Dress pattern fell into my basket.  Along with the fabric to make it up.

The postman looked slightly askance, this morning, as he handed me my beautifully wrapped spotty package (which included three free fat quarters! Bliss!!) and I tore into the sewing room, and then the packet, and chose to make the Washi dress first.

I did something virtually unheard of, for me, and made a toile of the bodice out of some cheesecloth that’s been lying around for a bit. It fitted beautifully, straight out the packet.  So I made the whole thing.  It was beautifully easy to put together, and fits like a dream. 

Pretty neckline

The bodice is very simple – darted, with a U-cut in the neckline.  The instructions for putting it together were really clear, and you could easily make it round necked if the U gave you the shivers.  I added some topstitch detail, too, which I hope will help keep the corners in line (though I suspect the success of this strategy will depend somewhat on which bra I choose to put underneath it!).

Back view, with shirring

The back is a single, largely unshaped piece, with 6 rows of shirring to give it shape.  It’s the first time I’ve used shirring for years, and the first time ever in this machine, but it was unproblematic.  I stopped following the instructions about half way through when I decided not to face the neck, but to use my voile as a lining for the bodice.  Even with that adaptation, it was a lovely smooth make.

Topstitch detail

I suspect this pattern will get a lot of use – I really like the fit; it’s a quick and easy make, and I think fairly flattering.  I can see it working well in needle cord and brushed cotton for the winter – I might try and draft some 3/4 length sleeves for it, to make it a bit more cold weather friendly.  But even as it is, with a long sleeved T shirt, tights, and boots I think it’s a winner!

Oh.  Freya wants me to mention that she took some of the pictures (which you can embiggen by clicking on them, incidentally).  And I totally would give her the credit, apart from this conversation which happened just after the optician had declared her eyesight perfect, this afternoon:

Freya: Josh….. MUM! I mean Mum!! Bwahahahahaha!! I called you Josh!!!
Me: Is it because of my slim, boyish figure?
F:……..
Me: No. It’s because of my youthful good looks, isn’t it?
F: ……….
Me: It’s because I’m young and gorgeous, isn’t it?!
F:  No, it’s because of your beard.

So she can go whistle for her photo credits.

Colette Hawthorn

Sewing. In my pyjamas.

Well.  One of my very favourite sewists, Lazy Seamstress (who’s now famous! But I knew her first, so there!) raves about the Colette Hawthorn pattern, and made herself a very pretty version…  And so when she did, I thought “hmmm… shirtwaister. I could make me one of those” and bought the pattern.

Now.  I am a size 10 on top, with good old fashioned child-bearing hips and a plenty-of-children-borne tummy.  Which makes me something between a 12 and 14 from the waist down, despite my frequent, more fidgetty than dedicated best efforts.  So I knew this pattern would need some redrafting, but no matter.

The pattern calls for cotton or linen, or similar light and floaty fabric, and I found a lovely, retro-ish linen in my local fabric store.

I find it really difficult to fit to my own body.  Obviously.  It’s kind of tough to look, measure and pin behind your own back.  But I have a kind of semi-functional tailor’s dummy, and I have some pattern drafting fabric, and I haven’t made any clothes in well over a year, and what the fuck can go wrong, right?  Right.

So I measured.  With the help of teenagers.  You’ll notice the lack of the adjective ‘willing’ in the previous sentence.  Don’t forget that…  And I drafted.  And I worked out how to flare the bodice so that what I ended up with would fit around my hips, and I almost completely forgot to take account of the fact that my waist is high, and my tummy prominent and yet despite those two things, my hips are just where you’d expect them to be, and anyway.  Half circle skirt.  Not much need for additional ease in the hip department, sistah.

Proper cuffs!

And then I put it together, and it flew together like a dream.  The pattern is well drafted, the instructions are clear and it all went beautifully smoothly.  I love doing shirty things – collars and proper cuffs and fitting around awkwardly shaped torsos.  It feels like a real skill, and it pleases me greatly.

Sewing, for me, isn’t a quiet exercise.  It’s not a head down, breath quiet, concentrate and get on with it thing.  Not at all.  When it goes well, I hum distractedly to myself.  Or sing along with the radio, whether or not I know the words.  Kids and dogs lie low in a mildly embarrassed, despairing manner.  When it goes badly I swear.  Volubly and in fluent Anglo Saxon.  Kids and dogs hide, from sheer self preservation.

This was definitely a singing along with the radio day.  And besides, I was kept in good company on my bing-bong email, and for most of the day the sun kept Hurricane Bertha at bay, and the chickens clucked contentedly and it was verily the epitome of domestic bliss.

Beautifully fitting dummy

When I’d constructed the bodice, I tried it on.  It fit beautifully across my shoulders (well done, teenagers!) and boobs (well done, me!) and sat nicely in the small of my back.  Obviously, it’s difficult to gauge the final fit until all the parts are together, but early indications were that there was nothing to worry about.  A pattern re-drafting triumph.

I whizzed up the skirt, and stuck it onto the bodice, and put the whole onto the dummy.  All good.

It turns out that when you’re a little stumpy person with good old fashioned child-bearing hips and a plenty-of-children-borne tummy, what you really need is a dressmaker’s dummy with an adjustable back waist length.  Mine doesn’t have one of those.  And the dress fitted her beautifully.

So I carried on flying it together, and did the magic buttonhole thing, and sewed on the buttons and turned up the hem and BADA BING!  All done.

And then I put it on.  Not on the dummy. On me.

And lo! It was too long in the back waist, and not really all that brilliant around the actual waist, and generally made me look like a sack of spuds.  So I decided, for the safety of all concerned, that I’d leave it till another day, but I would fix it.  I.  Would.  Fix.  It.  If it killed me.

This morning, I got up LIKE A BOSS (which is lucky) and took the skirt off the bodice, and unpicked a buttonhole.  I opened out the facings, and unpicked the top stitching.  I took off two buttons, and an inch off the back waist.  And then I put it all together again.  And it was better.

Better, but not good.  I could lose another inch from the back waist, I think – bringing the actual waist up to the bottom of my rib cage.  And I could fit the back better, with larger rear darts.  It fits well – even really well – across my shoulders and boobs, though.  Well done, teenagers! Well done, me!

I have looked carefully in every mirror I’ve passed, today.  And I have concluded that (a) I didn’t really need to re-draft the bodice; (b)  I could have cut gores in the skirt pattern, and made the skirt wider (and that mightn’t have been a bad thing) but (c) really the problem with the fit on this is that it calls for a light fabric, and much of the weight of the garment is in the skirt.  So no matter how well you draft and fit the bodice, it will be pulled out of shape by the weight of the skirt, a bit.

I might try silk, next time.  Silk and a higher waist.  And perhaps a lined, stronger bodice.  I might even buy a proper tailor’s dummy.

Beating the deadline…

When I say beating the deadline, you have to understand I mean it very much in the “deadline passed, this is the new deadline” kind of way…. But I have finished the wedding quilt!!

This quilt is my sister’s wedding present.  My sister’s wedding is 3rd July, so you see how the deadline reference creeps in.  However, I am not blogging the quilt from the wedding reception. Oh no, that would be rude!  My sister’s wedding is (was) 3rd July 2004.  (Not that I behaved entirely impeccably at her wedding reception anyway, but that’s a *whole* other story….)  So I’ve beaten the 10 year deadline.  Just…

There is, of course, a story which explains perfectly why this quilt has taken so long.  In fact, there are several stories.  May I give you some tasters?  No spoilers.  Just snippets.

Sissy and her lovely husband got engaged in New York.  So when I set out to make the quilt, I thought it would be good to make one which combined a double wedding ring design with a New York Beauty design.  In 2004, this wasn’t an *entirely* stupid idea.  Mostly, but not entirely.  I had spent the last 4 years being a stay at home mummy, and I was used to having the time to implement my technically complex, ambitious ideas.  However, in January of 2004 my marriage had ended, and in May I began working full time again.  Which made the idea *almost* entirely stupid.  Because these are both technically difficult, time consuming blocks.

Not one to acknowledge my own stupidity, I ploughed on for a couple of years, trying to get New York Beauties to work.  Trying to integrate them with Double Wedding Rings.  I must have cut up, stitched together, and thrown away about £200 worth of fabric, trying to get my almost entirely stupid idea to work.  Eventually, my then boyfriend went to work and made me some templates.  It just so happened that my then boyfriend worked at Bentley.  So the templates were cut from steel left over from making Bentleys.  Kind of the Rolls Royce of quilt templates, then.  Except, more the Bentley of quilt templates.  And so, eventually, I made a successful New York Beauty.  And there it is, on the right.

Unfortunately, by this time, I had done two things.  The first was to run out of the fabrics I had intended to make the quilt out of.  Still… I’ve never been one to let a small thing like that defeat me! So I spent almost the entire holiday one Christmas, tracking down the world’s last remaining fat quarter of one particular Michael Millar grape coloured fabric.  It was in some remote and Christian part of the US, and it wouldn’t ship for almost eleventy billion weeks, but it meant I could carry on with my New York Beauties.  So I bought it, and paid over a kidney and two small children in shipping, and waited…

The second thing I had achieved in all this time (about 4 years) was to recognise that I would never have the time in my new life to make a quilt out of New York Beauties and Double Wedding Rings.  Still, I thought I could use the NYBs I had already made.  Singular.  NYB.  I wasn’t sure how, but I knew I could.

So I thought about it for a couple of years.
 
And a bit longer.

I might even have made another couple of New York Beauties.  Maybe.

But they wouldn’t ever fit together quite right, and I couldn’t make a coherent narrative out of them.  So eventually I abandoned that plan, rare fabrics and all.

Then I decided to return to triangles.  I hadn’t made a triangle quilt since the decidedly leary quilt I made my mother, right at the beginning.  So I made the granny quilt, and then thought I’d try a traditional triangle block.  I wondered about flying geese, and I began experimenting.  If you scroll back to 1 January 2013, you can see the story unfolding…

Anyway, I came up with a flying geese design, and built it around a theme of cream on white roses which echoed Sissy’s wedding theme quite well.  And piece by piece, block by block, it began to take shape.

Once I’d finished the top, I needed to get some backing fabric.  I found some in Hereford, on a visit to my lovely friend Penny.  And then I had no more excuses, so I basted the quilt.  And then it sat around for a month or two.  Which, in the great scheme of the journey this quilt has been on, was virtually no time at all!

This weekend, conscious of the looming deadline, I sat down to quilt it.  This quilt is 8′ long by 7′ wide.  Ish.  It’s big and it’s heavy and it was bastard hard to manipulate through the throat of a sewing machine.  But goddamit! I had a deadline!

I wanted to free machine an excerpt from the reading I read at the wedding.  It’s a beautiful reading – an American Indian blessing – which, because of my own recent separation, I found ridiculously hard to read, on the day.  The whole blessing reads:

“Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other. Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other. Now there will be no loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other. Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before you. May happiness be your companion and may your days be good and long upon the earth.”

Obviously, I couldn’t get all of that on the face of the quilt, so I chose selectively…

After I’d wrangled that through the machine, my back and shoulders and hands were tense and sore, and I wasn’t wild about the idea of doing much creative wrangling, so I finished the quilting in a stitch in the ditch grid, across the sashings of the flying geese blocks.

And then, dear reader, THEN I discovered I’d run out of that lovely Everton blue, and couldn’t do the binding.

Buggery bollocks.

So I traipsed all the way round Oxford (via Google) and I found Masons in Abingdon (which I had found before via said famous Penny) and I found a blue fabric of very nearly the same shade and type.  Very nearly, but NOT BLOODY QUITE.  So I bought an elegant sufficiency and took it home, to work out what in the name of all that was holy I was going to do next.

I hit upon a very elegant solution, if I say so myself.  A very elegant solution indeed.  I bound the quilt entirely on the reverse, as you can see here if you squint very carefully.  Here I am, demonstrating the reverse of the quilt in the grounds of my very lovely workplace, and coincidentally pointing to the reverse binding.  And the New York Beauty.  Both of which are worthy of your attention.

So I took an emergency afternoon off work, and I stitched the binding on, on the 1st July.  And here I am, still in the very elegant grounds of my very lovely workplace, showing you the front, with it’s eternity-pool style, unbound edges (and I shoe-horned the ‘eternity’ word in there because although you can’t see him, the quilt is being held aloft by an extremely accommodating Professor of Mathematics who is the tallest person in the world and who doesn’t believe in numbers.  Particularly big ones, and double particularly eternity).  If you look carefully, you can just see his red shoe poking out from the bottom of the quilt.

Then, on 2nd July, I bundled quilt, children and all into my car and I drove like a demon to my sister’s house, and I handed over the wedding quilt.  And Sissy duly shed a tear, and the children played football with their small cousins in the garden, and we went to Wagamama for dinner, and later in the evening, my sister sent me a picture of her wedding present, in its new home.  (I say she sent it to me.  Really, she posted it on her Facebook and I have stolen it from there…)

And that, dear readers, is the gripping tale of how I delivered my sister’s wedding present in less than 10 years.  Comprehensively beating the deadline, as I’m sure you’ll agree. 

The moral of this story is: never let over-ambition and the unattainability of your goals prevent you from spinning a good yarn to explain away your own persistent crapness.  It’ll all come right in the end!

The brutality of basting…

So. Today I have basted the wedding quilt.  This, you remember, is the quilt I’m making my sister as a wedding present.  It’s taken a little while to do, but I’m confident of having it finished by her tenth anniversary.  Which is in June…

Basting is a brutal exercise on many levels.  For one thing, you need a space that’s big enough.  This is part of the wedding quilt’s problem.  It’s 8ft x 6ft, so it’s really quite big, and in the old house there wasn’t a bit of floor large enough to spread it flat.  Here, I could do it in the living room.  I had to take the rug up and move half of the furniture, though, so it had to be done in a day.

The back, all taped down

Once you’ve got the space, it’s quite physical work.  First, you spread the back of the quilt, right side to the floor and smooth it flat.  Then you tape it down at the edges so it stays put.  Then you lay the batting (quilt wadding) on top, so that the edges more or less match, and then you smooth that out.  On such a large surface, the smoothing is quite difficult to achieve, as you have to crawl over the piece in order to make sure there are no wrinkles or crinkles. Wrinkles will be exaggerated in the quilting process, so it’s worth taking some time to get this right.

When you have the first two layers laid out, and flat, you need to put the quilt top on.  Because (as usual in my quilts) the back of this quilt is partly pieced, I needed to match the centres and make sure the top edges were aligned.  Centres were simply pin more-or-less matched, and the top laid on top of the other two layers, and smoothed out.  Again, this is difficult to do while crawling over the assembled layers, and so it’s best to start from the middle and gently smooth towards the corners and outer edges.

Pushing the needle in and catching it – surprisingly physical

Then you begin to sew.  Basting works from the centre of the quilt, with a very large needle taking huge running stitches through all three layers.  You work from the middle out, so you only sew half a horizontal or vertical length at a time.  The needle needs to be sharp, to get through all layers, and thin, and you rock it through the fabric, against the floor, and up again.  Obviously, your bottom layer is taped down, so you can’t get any lift on the fabric at all, so getting the needle back to the top layer really does depend on the rocking motion.

The problem is, the needle is sharp and thin, and specially designed to pierce multiple layers of things.  And *it* doesn’t know the difference between quilts and skin.  So it’s a good idea to wear a thimble on your pushing finger, because the eye end is almost as sharp as the piercing end.  For me, the pushing finger is the middle finger of my right hand.  But then as you rock the needle up, you need to ‘catch’ the sharp end with the forefinger of your other hand, so it’s a good idea to have some kind of protection on this finger, too.  For me, a thimble on the ‘catching’ finger is too clumsy.  It gets in the way, and on those occasions when I have to grip the needle between finger and thumb and pull it through, the thimble prohibits that.  So I have a little metal circle that I glue to the very tip of my ‘catching’ forefinger, just over the top end of the nail.  So that’s a thimble on the middle finger of one hand, and metal disc on the forefinger of the other hand.  Once the needle is ‘caught’ on the metal disc, you grip it between thumb and forefinger of the pushing hand, and pull it through. You can use a rubber disc to help you get a better grip of the needle here but, while I always have a couple of discs handy, I prefer just to use my fingers. 

Getting to the end of the grid

Working from the centre, you stitch enormous, rocking stitches up the vertical and across the horizontal centre lines.  From the middle to the top edge.  Back to the middle, down to the bottom edge.  Back to the middle, over to the left.  Back to the middle, out to the right.  You work from the middle because you’re pushing the layers in the direction your needle travels, and you want to smooth out any wrinkles you create, not work them *in*.   Having made a big cross through the centre of the quilt, you go back to the middle and begin working the diagonals – from the middle and up to each corner in turn.  And that’s your basic foundation baste: a big union jack shaped star across the front of your quilt.  You can just make it out in the photo below – radiating out from all the little knots of thread in the centre of the blue square.

Working from the middle

Once the foundation baste is in, you begin to work a 6″ grid vertically and horizontally across the quilt, working from the mid-point of whatever line you’re stitching, out to the edges.  This quilt top is conveniently organised into a grid, so I simply quilted through the centre of each sashing strip.  Then, once that’s done, you work the edges of the quilt, from the middle of each edge to the corner.

In total, it’s difficult to get this job done in much less than four hours, and often it takes more like six. It’s physically hard work – despite the thimbles and the accoutrements designed to make it easier, this method takes it out of your fingers.  The forefinger on my pushing hand is blistered and tender, and I won’t be able to put pressure on it for a day or two.  The forefinger on my catching hand, despite the metal disc, is stabbed and a bit raw, and missing a layer of skin from where the glue patch pulled off.  I’ve snagged and torn a couple of fingernails on the thread.  My knees are bruised, and my back is hunched and aching.  I feel about 20 years older than my actual age…

Once the basting’s done, you need to trim the backing and batting to about 1″ outside the quilt top – you don’t want to trim them even with the top’s edges – you might find that the actual quilting “shrinks” them in a bit, and you need the play; particularly if you’re planning to quilt densely.  Then remove the tape from the back, pick the whole thing up and you’re DONE!

Here it is – slightly blurry, but all ready for quilting.  Finally!