Tuesday, February 25, 2014

a quilt for Henry

The second of our three grandchildren was born right on his due date February 20. Henry Bennett arrived in fine form, we are so grateful. (The third, a girl, is due March 12. Her quilt is finished and posted here.)

I was relieved to be able to finish his quilt the weekend before he arrived, well actually on Monday. I pieced it Saturday, quilted Sunday, then sewed on the binding Monday. He arrived Thursday. Phew!

This quilt is full of my brother Bennett, who passed away in 1996 at age 47. He and I were close. I used a linen table cloth of his for years after he died, and it began to get threadbare.

Bennett's table cloth from India

Because Henry was to have his name, I used that cloth in the quilt (the parts that were not threadbare, of course) and paired all the fabrics around it. I also wanted it to be a "hippie" quilt. Although Bennett wasn't a true hippie, much of his outlook was shaped that way. He wore a black arm band at his 1970 college graduation to protest the Vietnam War. He was non-materialistic, and his taste in music shaped my own. (CSNY, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, James Taylor, so many more) He wore soft, worn chambray or flannel shirts.

Bennett's table cloth linen is the floral one
and also the border with red;
I'm sure this was made in India

I decided I wanted to design a free-form quilt, and this was not easy. I cut the pieces at the beginning to place them in a composition I liked. And then as I began to piece it, I adjusted the pieces to fit into each other. I wanted it to be more folk art than precision pieces. This process was organic for me and felt just right as I connected with Bennett.

I really love linen, and I ordered a second special one from Australia, with cats, birds and trees. Bennett loved nature, as do I, and I wanted to introduce Henry to this love.

I tried to use the new walking foot, but I could not get it to align with the needle when I installed it. So I used the regular foot. Since finishing, I found a helpful piece of advice at a quilting blog to simply push the foot to the side until it aligns. It sounds intuitive, but when you're working with it, you'd think that would break it. I will try it before starting the next.

Henry and I had a little photo shoot yesterday on his quilt. He seemed to like it just fine. He already rolls from side to side.

Henry Bennett, age 4 days

In this picture, Henry looks like his brother James, who is now 2

Monday, February 10, 2014

James's birds of the air quilt finished

The quilt that tops this blog is one I began for my grandson James shortly after learning that our daughter was pregnant, before I even knew if he was a boy or girl, which was about two and a half years ago. I pieced it by machine with fabric I had on hand in my stash and some I bought in the colors Lesley planned for his room: robin's egg blue and tan. Then I began the quilting stitches by hand.

hand stitches

I love how hand stitching looks, and I love doing it. I got almost half way done with it, using a heart template. I marked the pattern on the quilt with the blue pen, which disappears after a few days or with washing.

heart template for quilting

But I have had carpal tunnel syndrome, and then arthritis, and so hand quilting became too much. The quilt sat in my room where I could touch and admire the colors and patterns, but not finish it. I was opposed to machine quilting. This was because I didn't think it looked as nice as hand stitches, and because I knew there were issues with the fabric bunching. I also have an old fashioned sense of time, believing that the longer something takes, the greater its value.

Eventually, after James turned two in January, and his brother's arrival approached (due February 20), I felt the need to complete James's quilt before starting one for his brother. I ordered a free motion sewing foot and practiced on scraps with top, batting and back, and felt ready to finish James's flying geese quilt with the machine.

The machine stitches are far from perfect. But when you look at the quilt from a distance, you really can't tell the difference. I hope I'll improve with practice.

In the photo below you can see the hand stitches on the right and the machine stitches on the left. I tried to follow hearts at least abstractly, not taking time to draw the template on the rest of the quilt, since I didn't know how easy it would be to follow the lines anyway!

machine stitches on the left, hand stitches on the right

I made continuous bias tape (instructions here) with one of the fabrics in the quilt. I made far more than I needed.

I sewed the binding first onto the back side of the quilt. Then I carefully folded over the edge and sewed it from the front, staying close to the original row of stitches on the back. There is a wonderful YouTube tutorial for sewing binding onto a quilt here.

In the photo above, you can see the variations in stitch length using the free motion quilt. If you go too slow, the stitches are too long. If you go too fast, the stitches are too short. You can also see here where I caught the fabric twice and bunched it with the machine! This is the only place I did this on the front, though there is a rather egregious instance of bunching on the back. I couldn't bear to take it out, which would have taken hours. When I told James's mommy about it, she told me that in art school, her weaving instructor told her that Native Americans said that mistakes in their crafts are where the soul resides. O! I do like thinking of my soul residing in that bunched up fabric in James's quilt.

By the way, I wore garden gloves to control the fabric, otherwise my fingers would have just slipped and slid along. I had to wash them first.

The whole quilt measures about 62 x 42". Though this photo is not straight, the quilt is.

I call it "birds of the air"
but it is traditionally called "flying geese"
James really likes it. When I gave it to him yesterday, he kept lying down on it, saying "James sleep."

James being held by grammy's love

The thing is, I still prefer hand stitched quilting. But the quilt is done! And James can enjoy it now.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014