Productive weekend

So when I got home from my pattern drafting, I was keen to try out my new skills.  I had enough fabric for three pairs of trousers, and some dress fabric I’ve had lying around for a while.  I had master patterns for trousers and a bodice.  And I was keen to fly solo with my new skills, and make sure I’d understood everything correctly.  So on Friday night, I cut my first pair of trousers out of a rather lovely polyester/viscose pinstripe flannel I’d got from Abakhan.  It’s lovely, soft fabric.  I cut the inner waistband and pocket bag out of some cotton left over from a quilting project, and went to bed.

When I came downstairs, I discovered that the Tailor of Gloucester was just a fairy tale, and no mice had visited in the night to sew my trousers.  Which was good, because I was looking forward to sewing them myself.  They went together quickly and fitted beautifully, as I expected.  But the waistband didn’t sit right.  In the past, this would have given rise to a tantrum and abandoning the project, but this time… oh no!  I calmly took the waistband off, re-drafted the pattern with the correct angle at the back waist, put it back together and put the new waistband on the trousers.  Bada bing! Perfect.

See how they fit at my waist?  And are delightfully loose and casual while being smart and pinstripey and perfect for work?? Perfect.

So I cut another pair from some purple cotton moleskin from Croft Mill.  These flew together without waistband troubles, and by the time I went to bed on Saturday I had two new pairs of lovely, wearable trousers.  I also had forgotten to eat anything at all, or drink any water all day.  So I was knackered and headachey, but happy.

 

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 18.52.54

On Sunday morning, I found myself browsing Pinterest, looking for ideas for simple, A Line dresses.  I wanted to see if I could work out how to extend my simple fitted bodice into a dress.  I found something I liked very much.  A simple wool-like dress with long sleeves that looked as though it could be adapted from my bodice realistically.

I thought about it while I ate my breakfast – evidence of learning, Vicki, well done – and got my dot and cross paper out.  I found the measurement I needed to take the bodice to knee length, and remembered Jules’ advice not to extend the side seams out more than about 4-5cm from the centre line, as that risks looking weird – any more flare than that would need to be added in the volume of the skirt.  And I didn’t want a waist seam.

After a bit of calculating, drawing, and measuring lines with my big ruler and dressmaker’s curve ruler, I was sure I had something with the right points of symmetry that might look credibly dress-like.  I decided to make a toile in lining fabric, on the basis that if it worked I would have a lining ready to put into an eventual dress.  Well, I made the calico and went to show Freya.  Who said something along the lines of “Did you make that??  Wow! It fits really brilliantly!”.  It did, in all the places that matter – it lay flat  across my shoulders, fitted perfectly over my bust and was exactly the right back waist length.  But the neckline needed deepening (it was a little chokey) and the sleeve head needed making a little smaller.  So I chalked the lines I wanted onto the toile while I was wearing it, and set about making the adjustments to the pattern.  A silly slip with the scissors meant I needed to actually make a fresh lining for the actual dress, but once again it flew together.  These are truly dreadful photos, because they were taken by a teenager in a hurry to leave the house, but please note that it fits well, and I did a bloody amazing job of pattern matching (which, as everybody knows, is technically a cutting skill rather than a sewing skill, but still…)

I have some learning from this dress.  I made  full lining, which was necessary for the fabric which is a very light wool, but really I should have hung the lining off a buddy facing.  Because the dress fabric is so light, it doesn’t pull at the neckline, but in a heavier weight fabric it would and the lining would be visible.  It also really needs the structure of interfacing which a buddy lining would allow me to have.  So next time I make it…  Also.  Lining fabric is sweaty as hell.  So I might consider whether the sleeves really need lining, and if they do perhaps a cotton lining might be kinder!

So that was a productive weekend… next, I want to play with trouser widths.  I want some wide legged linen pants for smart casual type use, and I’d like to figure out turn-ups.  I also want to narrow the leg for some chino type pants.  And there will be infinite dress variations to consider…

So I’m having lots of fun playing with my new skill!

Pattern Cutting course

I am currently doing a pattern cutting course at Sew Me Something, in Stratford.  I have Jules’ book, which I use as a reference often.  And I have often wished I could do something a little more sophisticated than my usual Betty Bodge approach to altering patterns.  I’ve tried to teach myself to draft patterns to fit my own measurements but…. have you ever *tried* to measure your own body rise?  It’s not easy.  And of course, it’s downright impossible take your own back measurements.  So there’s always been that.

Jules asked us to bring something we wanted to work on.  The thing I’ve never been able to make is a really well fitting pair of trousers.  My back is very hollow (I have a spinal lordosis, or ‘sway back’) and because I’m a short arse, my waist is high, and my boobs are too small (which, admittedly, doesn’t affect a trouser.  But it does make getting a pattern to fit kind of tricky…). What this means in lay terms is that I don’t go properly in at the sides, or out at the front, but oh my days! I go all the way out at the behind.  A commercial pattern just doesn’t cater for that, and I really don’t know how to alter one to make it fit better.  I mean, I can kind of bodge it, but it shows.  It looks like I’m wearing homemade trousers.

But yesterday, I learned how to draft a pattern… and lo and behold, if you take your measurements properly and do the right amount of dividing by four and adding 2cm here and there, you can translate that short, proud aft onto paper and thence onto fabric and bada bing! Trousers which have neither a saggy crotch nor a camel toe. Imagine that, if you will. But not too much. In fact, that’s probably enough imagining. Yes, you! Stop!

My Body measurements

The first thing was to take my measurements.  It turns out, when compared with measurements for commercial garment sizes, my funny little small boobed, big arsed, sway backed body is all over the bloomin’ shop.  I range from a size 6 to a size 22…  I mean, I should say we measured top arm and wrist pretty loosely.  My top arm has fairly well developed biceps, but my wrist is actually tiny.  Honestly.  Teeny tiny, stick-thin wrists.  But still.  Apparently they’re a size 22.  Go figure.  But this, my friends, is why ready-to-wear clothes (and even standard pattern-made clothes) don’t quite fit our whole bodies, and we learn to compromise with dresses whose bust post doesn’t quite meet our nipples, or skirts with saggy hips, or whatever….

Anyway, once the measurements were taken, there was some calculating to do, and I followed the instructions from Winifred Aldrich’s book to translate the measurements to a pattern block.  It turns out that this is quite intuitive once, y’know, someone explains what on earth the code means!! By the end of the day yesterday, I had an initial master pattern, and a working calico pair of trousers.  They fitted pretty well, but there was too much fabric in the back knee.  I’d used a straight waistband, which obviously didn’t work with my sway back.  So last thing yesterday, Jules re-pinned the back knee and took a couple of small tucks in the waistband.

S47v6YwrRaOUCuUsH9bz6AThis morning was mostly spent taking the calico apart, using the pinned alternations to redraft the master pattern, recalculate the angles where the side and centre seams meet the waist, and draft a curved waistband.  When I remade the calico, it was even bloody better.  Honestly amazing.

So right there was a standard pair of trousers with a fitted waistband.  But it could only be made with an invisible zip inserted in the side seam.  Which is all well and good, and I probably will make some like that.  But I also wanted the option to insert a zip fly.  So last thing I did today was to draft the fly. COmDeHQ8TzCD4z3F+xUQIQ This confused me.  I’m not good at visualising in 3D, so I needed to make a paper model to figure out how the pieces would go together.

Tomorrow, I just need to finish the master pattern piece for the front trouser and draft a curved waistband that opens at the centre front instead of the side seam.  I mean, how hard can that be??

And then, if there’s time, before the course is done I’d like to draft a bodice.  Something that allows for my flat chest and short, curvy back.  And then I figure I should be able to add a skirt and draft myself a dress, or turn the block into a simple top.

And bada bing.  There I’ll be with my very own capsule wardrobe.  In kit form…

This is my church. This is where I heal my hurt. God is a sewing machine.

I am, as ever, hugely lucky in my friends.  In times of difficulty (and this is such a time), people have rallied around and supported me, and I feel very loved.  My hugely wonderful friend Penny (who runs Rats as Big as Cats here, and here) invited me to visit her family in Hereford.  Last time I spent more than a day with them was when I began quilting the Japanese quilt.  Which, as it turns out, was over 5 years ago.  On that occasion, I ran out of time to finish the quilting, and so hastily basted what hadn’t been done and brought it home to do in my machine.

Only, that never happened.

So I took the quilt back to Hereford with me, and spent a wonderful (frustrating) day in Penny’s studio, finishing the quilting.  Wonderful, because I finished it.  Frustrating because…. oh, the thread wouldn’t run through the machine without fraying and snagging.  So we went to Doughty’s, who are conveniently just down the road, to get more thread.  I had originally been working in a Gutterman Sulky variegated thread, which worked with the whole colour scheme.  But Penny had offered a Gutterman plain embroidery thread, which worked with the sewing machine (I think I was using Penny’s own machine, five years ago).  And that had run out.  So we went to get more.  I took the empty thread bobbin with me, and they didn’t have *quite* enough.  I needed to change colour.  My eye got distracted by a lovely variegated thread.  Penny very gently suggested it was the same as the one I’d already given up on, but I was insistent.  Magpie-drawn to the pretty colours, I wouldn’t listen.  I spoke to a lady who’d never seen my quilt, or my thread, or my sewing machine.  She was a very nice lady.  She assured me the thread would work perfectly.  So I bought a lot of it.  And we took it back to the studio, and I unrolled the back roller of the quilting frame, manoeuvred the machine out of it, wound some bobbins, threaded up, manoeuvred it all back in again, rolled up the back roller and…. it was exactly the same as the thread I’d already rejected, and frayed and snapped in (predictably) exactly the same way.

I did what any rational adult human would do, and gave serious consideration to burning the whole fucking thing.  With fire.

Luckily, snuggles with Baby A are very soothing, and Penny is very gentle, and the quilt survived my stupidity.

So I got up early(ish – this is a relative concept) in the morning and headed back to Doughty’s to exchange the wrong thread for the right thread.  And whizzed back to Penny’s and repeated the whole unrolling and manoeuvring shenanigans, and set off again.  Bingo!  The right thread worked perfectly!  Within two (maybe three) hours, the quilting was done.

There were some pre-existing challenges with quilting in Penny’s frame.  I had originally, five years ago, made the quilt as a full-size double.  The frame is a queen-size.  So there was always a fit issue.  Over the past five years, the quilt has not shrunk and the frame has not grown.  So I was only able to quilt *most* of the surface.  The original plan was to finish the quilting in my machine, but I had, in the intervening years, made a couple of attempts to manoeuvre this beast by hand, and it was just too heavy to be able to do the density of free machine quilting I’d achieved in the frame.

So yesterday, when I’d done as much as I possibly could in the frame, I simply chopped off the bits the frame hadn’t reached.  So it’s a cut-down quilt.  Apart from the link above, I don’t have any images of its pre-cut-down state.  The link above has images before the borders went on.  And the borders have come off again, now.

When I got home, last night, I whizzed up some binding from the chopped-off borders, and stitched them on in front of the TV.  Then I threw the whole thing in the washing machine.  It’s not perfect – and it was once going to be a technically astounding piece (that’s how I planned it, anyway).  The backing has wrinkled by dint of being taken off the frame and then stored and then put back on the frame in a fairly approximate way.  It’s shorter and narrower than I planned it.  It’s a different quilt in practice than it was in my head.

But this is part of my healing.  Much of my life is suddenly not as I’ve been planning it, in the five years it’s taken me to finish this quilt.  It was all going to be one thing, and now it’s going to be another thing entirely.  I’m sad about the lost borders and different dimensions of my quilt, and I’m quietly devastated about the wider changes.  But the lesson this quilt delivers is twofold: first, a change of plan doesn’t render everything else useless or redundant.  You can work successfully with what’s left, and still end up with something lovely.  Secondly, the love and support of friends makes pretty much anything possible.

 

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.

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.

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!