The $1.25 Quilt Top

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Yes, a $1.25!

I happen to work across the street from a very good thrift store.  Since I am a local government employee on a fixed income, and one who is also granted two 15-minute breaks a day, I  visit this thrift store often.  Although it can be very tempting to escape with deals every day, I do try to keep my purchasing to a minimum.  However, there are some deals that are just too priceless to ignore.

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25 squares for 25 cents

Since I frequent this store so often, I have found that I often peruse it in a certain order.  One of my first stops is always the craft/fabric section.  There is always fabric and some remnant yarn.  One (very!) lucky day I found a plastic baggy for 25 cents that contained 25 nine patch quilt blocks.  Since 25 cents gets one next to nothing these days, let alone 25 perfect quilt blocks, I could not believe my luck.  I purchased my score and stashed it for some future undetermined project; I simply could not pass up the opportunity to have 25 perfect nine patches for the cost of less than an apple.  Some time later I was again wiling away my government granted break in the fabric section and I came across a yard of fabric printed with old fashioned postage/passport stamps in French.  I knew this would be perfect for my Francophile sister whom desperately deserved a homemade quilt.  Once home in my quilt room, I pulled out the 25 pack and wondered, would it be possible to make a usable quilt top for $1.25?  The answer to this question became my new mission.

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Add another $1

I searched through some of my quilting books for a pattern but after finding nothing exciting, I decided to create something of my own.  I wanted to make a one-of-a-kind scrappy quilt using only what I had available in my stash.  I started the blocks by bulking up the size of the nine patches adding on strips to all four sides.  These strips were all free to me as I am a former member of a strip club, and as a new member I received delinquent members monthly allotments.  After my first meeting, I walked out of the shop with 3 grocery bags full of quilt strips that all these years later I am still whittling away.  Once I bulked up the blocks with a completely random selection of strips, I then made use of the vintage stamp fabric to make up the rest of the quilt.  Good job, me!  I made a quilt top for a $1.25 and it turned out pretty cute.

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Add another $2

In keeping with the frugal quilt challenge, I was able to get a couple of yards of fabric for $2 to complete the backing.  The most expensive part of the quilt was the batting which I paid full price for at my local quilt shop. (I love this shop so I have no qualms about making full priced purchases here.)  I did all of the quilting myself on the mighty Bernina.  I quilted a sort of hourglass shape over all of the nine patches and then followed it up with a lot of free form swirls around the remainder of the quilt.  I loved the challenges of this project:  creating a pattern, using what was available and quilting it by myself.  It was a big surprise for my sister on her birthday and I know that it will get a lot of love and use.

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Now that it is definitively fall here in Colorado (we had snow last night at our house), this blanket is in a good home.  Right at this moment, I imagine it is being draped over resting legs, with my dog nephew lounging nearby and a movie on the TV.  All I ever want for my gifts is for them to get good use and make another being warm and cozy.  And the person who originally made all of those perfect nine patches wanted the same; I happened to be the person to put their work to a good use.  So thank you random thrift shop donor for the perfect blocks that will now keep another Colorado being warm and cozy.

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Same Quilt, Different Fabrics

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The PBQ

Sometimes a fabric just speaks to you, other times a pattern does.  For this quilt, let’s call it Portland Baby Quilt (PBQ) because the ladies from Gee’s Bend say that every quilt must be named, the fabric called out to me.  Once I saw the Victorian outlined buildings, the rain drops and the black kitty on a red bike I knew the perfect person for the fabrics.  A very dear friend of mine from the old Portland days and her husband just welcomed their first baby boy. All of the fabrics were absolutely shouting out their names but what pattern could I use to highlight the fabrics and not the pattern.  Aha!  I could use the pattern for my very first quilt, the pea quilt, because the center blocks are huge by many quilt pattern standards at 8″.  This pattern allowed me to focus on the fabrics and see how different two quilts can be using different fabrics.

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My favorite of the three

The first fabric that really grabbed my heart has  red vintage bikes, a black kitty and tulips.  This trifecta reminds me of my dear friend:  she used to own a cute burgundy vintage bike, owns a sweet black cat and loves flowers.  The second fabric has raindrops and nothing says living in the Northwest like some raindrops, for despite what some people say it does rain a whole heck of a lot up there.  The third fabric has vintage Victorian style buildings, which is where I first met this dear friend, me as her apartment manager and she as tenant.  We used to have dinner parties in our tiny studios and eat on the floor in our slippers.   This was a simpler time in our lives and one filled with very good memories.

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The apartment building during a rare snowstorm

This simpler pattern allowed me to highlight the fabrics while still working on the ever present and technical star points.  I chose colors that appeared in the two multi-colored fabric for my star points – red and navy.  I then chose a gray background.  I went a little outside of the palette when I chose the light yellow for the interior but I really wanted to lighten up the quilt and not have it be so gray; the sun does shine in Portland!  I like the splashes of red because the quilt still has that bright kid quality to it.  It is traditional with the primary colors but modern thanks to the fun fabrics. I  used a totally different fabric for the backing of this quilt: a bright red squiggly owl print.  It has a similar color palate as the front but is definitely kid friendly.  To finish it up, I had the quilt long-armed by a talented local quilter with stippling in a variegated gray thread.

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Cute swirly owls

I really love how this quilt turned out and know that it will provide many good snuggle and fort building sessions.  It was really fun to take a familiar pattern and play with it and see it become something completely different.  This is the joy of quilting, there are always surprises to be had.

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The original pea quilt

The I Quilted This Myself Quilt

Done and ready for snuggling.

Done and ready for snuggling.

My new quilt makes the best couch fort ever!  I know this because after a dreadful Monday at the paycheck producing place, I returned home sodden and mud covered and ready to hide from the world for a little while when I took refuge from the previous 9 hours under the quilt on the couch.  It was more like a tent and it was the best medicine I could have asked for at the time.

But I digress.  This post is not about the healing power of a good blanket and the ability to just shut down.  I love blankets and like Linus, I embrace the comfort of a good wrap.  This missive is about how I, a very amateur quilter accomplished quilting a large (read twin size bed) quilt on my very own, in my small apartment with an heirloom sewing machine.

This quilt kit was a gift from my original quilting teacher and friend which now serves as a wonderful memory of the community that taught me to quilt. Due to the size of the project, I laid out all of the pieces while house sitting last summer and made up the top over time this winter.  I knew that doing the actual quilting would be a challenge given my space and time constraints.  When I found out that I was going to have the house to myself for a whole weekend, I knew that would be the optimal time to just get the project done.

Swirls up close

Swirls up close

I prepped for the big quilting weekend by stocking up on snack foods and fittingly, a bottle of bubbly.  I was so organized for the big quilt binge that I even prepped a bunch of sushi that I could snack on for breaks throughout the weekend.  Oh yeah, I was ready.  When I got home that Friday night and locked the door behind myself, I was eager to put the week behind me and just get the quilting started.  The worst part about the whole project was the preparation.  Due to space constraints at home, I had to move a bunch of furniture in order to spread the fabric out and make a quilt sandwich.  I was pinning the thing for hours on my hands and knees before I could even get ready to quilt.  It is important to get the fabric and batting taut for a smooth quilt.  Well, thank god I’m not a perfectionist because getting everything exact was not an option.  Once I accepted this reality, I could happily begin plotting the actual quilting.

What our apartment lacks in size, it more than makes up for in abundant natural light, which is awesome to work by.   Moving the kitchen table out a few feet into the middle of the space, I had the perfect sun strewn workstation.  Come Saturday morning after a breakfast fit for a day of outdoor exertion, I was ready to begin the actual quilting.  The sheer size of the blanket was intimidating as I tried to maneuver it into the regular sized machine, but I knew that over-analyzing the situation was just a glorified form of procrastination; I had to go for it and find my rhythm.  Because the quilt is free-motion, I let the music I was listening to (a mix comprised of: 90% jazz, 5% Bjork and 5% Cajun) guide me.  Once I got into it, the hours flew by punctuated only by snack and bathroom breaks.   I was in the quilting zone.

The back of the quilt.

The back of the quilt.

I found that due to the size of the quilt, my method with the swirl pattern was the best option.  And, as the quilt is very geometric, the pattern gives it a bit of softness and playfulness. I finished the quilt on Sunday around 3 and then because I still had some momentum, I was able to get the binding made and sewed on.  By the time my companion arrived back home three days after he left, I had a new blanket almost (hand stitching aside) done.

Almost covering our full-sized bed.

Almost covering our full-sized bed.

Finishing this quilt all by myself makes me happy.  It makes me confident in my ability to take on large projects despite the challenges (time, space, experience).  This quilt is a bit lumpy and I really don’t care.  When I need it, whether for warmth or because I just need a good hiding spot, I will not notice the small things that are not perfect.  Instead, what I see are all of the stitches and I know that I made each and every one of them.

Hokey Pokey. Times Two.

Completed

That’s what it’s all about!

I have a very dear friend that became a mother last year — of twin girls.  In thinking about what I would like to make them, I debated between the adorable kid-friendly fabrics available (hello, sock monkeys!) and something that was bright and would not be outgrown.  I decided on the latter mostly because my former local shop had a fantastic fabric kit full of color and texture available that I could modify into 2 similar yet different quilts.  Perfect for twin girls!

I will be honest, this Hokey Pokey pattern was not my favorite during the piecing stages.  There was a lot of keeping pieces straight between left and right and this is where I learned the value of using chalk to mark my pieces.  However, beyond getting my rights and my lefts confused which, again with the honesty, happens not just with quilting, this pattern did become quite cool once intact.

Stitch in the Ditch Quilting.

Stitch-in-the-ditch quilting.

These two quilts not only hold a place in my heart because of who they belong to, but also because they are my first quilts that I quilted (free-motion) on my own that are larger than a wall hanging size.  For the first quilt, I opted to do a modified stitch-in-the-ditch pattern with the free motion foot.  I quickly learned that this is a very tedious way to quilt a top.  I was continually stopping and starting and afterward, I had what felt like a million threads to hand sew into the top.  Despite the time consumption of this method, I am happy with the way that the individual pieces are emphasized with the stitch-in-the-ditch pattern.

See, each piece has been stitched around.

Yes, every single ditch was sewn.

After completing the first quilt top, I was less scared of an epic mess-up on the second quilt (kind of like a second child) so I decided to be bolder with the quilting.

Free-motion in action

Free-motion in action

This time around, I just went for it and was amazed at how much faster the process was then my prior quilt.  It took me about 5 hours straight to complete the top, which really didn’t feel all that exhausting.  Once I was in zone, or sewing with the flow, or whatever it is called when something just works, I felt the quilt top almost completing itself while my hands guided fabric this way and that.   This quilt certainly came out much more textured than the other.

Swirls and more swirls.

Swirls and more swirls.

These quilts are awesome because of the fabrics.  The tops are bright and bold, subtle and strong and I love the juxtaposition between all.  I found the most perfect backing for the quilts, one of those moments where a sunbeam falls upon you like a spotlight as you hoist the fabric bolt into the air in celebration.  The backing and the binding are the same on both of the quilts continuing the theme of similar and different.

Best match ever!

Best match ever!

The twin quilts were fun in many different ways to create.  There is a satisfaction in finishing the whole project yourself and not farming out of some of the work elsewhere.  Although neither of these are ready for inspection by the county fair quilt ladies with their magnifying glasses, I am sure that they will keep two little sweet peas cozy and warm for years to come.

What I Think About While I’m Making

Photo unrelated to post.  Just a nice photo of redwoods from the archive.

A nice archived photo of redwoods.

When you spend many hours, or even an hour, making something, your mind is a part of the process just as your hands.  Here are a few of the things that I think about while I’m making stuff.

1.  Nothing.

Amazingly, sometimes my mind just empties and all that runs through the typically muddled space is just serene.  When I get to this calm place it is a form of meditation.  My focus is simply on the task at hand and not distracted or worried about the past, the future or anything else .  On these blissful yet rare moments, my incessant multi-tasking mind is just employed with the one task.  When I am able to just make and not have a stream of consciousness flowing through my head, I am content and at peace.  These moments are not prolific as often I am simultaneously cooking and listening to music or I only have an allotted time to work so I am cognizant of the ticking clock. However, when I can get to this space, it is a beautiful thing.

2.  The person I’m making __________ for.

Whether I am stirring away or stitching away, when I am making something for someone I think about how much I care about them with every movement.  I think about how what I make will make someone I love smile, or fill their stomach or warm them up.  I contemplate how lucky I am to have so many amazing people in my life that I can reciprocate a token of my gratitude with something homemade.  I think about how happy I am when I receive anything made with attention and love.

3.  My problems / problems.

There are times where you just need to do something to manage the downs of life.  I suppose I could go for a run around town, but I’d rather pick up my knitting needles or start a batch of risotto.  I have long sworn by the power of stirring to really work things out.  I have solved many of my own problems simply by doing something else and channeling the troubles into construction, into something more constructive.  This is often why I pedal home at lunch to make something that will make me forget about whatever has me riled up.  Making is a great way to use my negative energy and turn it into something positive.  If even after my best attentions to divert my bad energy into something better fail, I can always fall back on either an hour-long bath followed by an early retreat to sleep or a stiff drink and some mind-numbing streaming tv on the computer.

4.  The art of making

When I am working away, I am aware of the fact that I am a member of the making class.  The making class is a group of people who enjoy the process as much as the result.  Often there are easier ways to do things these days than what makers choose to do.  We could shop, order in, or simply wonder about how something is made yet not attempt it.  Once you recognize that you are a maker you continue to try making more because the process is an enjoyable one and the results are the proverbial icing on the cake.

5.  That even if it’s not perfect, it’s still pretty awesome

I don’t agonize over what isn’t right in what I’ve made.  I see things that are not perfect and I realize that it really doesn’t matter.  It is easy to focus on the small imperfections instead of on how much of the project is right.  Rarely am I unable to fix something; even a bad loaf of bread can become croutons.  My philosophy is that if something is handmade, then it should look/taste as if handmade and not manufactured.

Here you have it, a snapshot of what fills up my headspace while my hands are busy.  I understand that making stuff is both my salve and my salvation.

A Job Well Done

Trusty Bernina and English Cider

Trusty Bernina and English Cider

When you spend your working days not working with your hands (sorry but typing doesn’t really count although it does lead to repetitive stress syndrome and carpel tunnel troubles), you crave your time off to use your body and to craft.  At least I do.  This leads to a lot of what other people may classify as work in my spare time, although I consider this relaxing and sanity saving.

Today was a rainy day,  by southwest Colorado standards, which was perfect for getting sh*t done around the house.  I’m not talking laundry or cleaning or organizing, all of which definitely need to happen but never will during my precious weekend hours.  I am talking about tackling projects that need to get finished and out of the house into the hands of recipients.

At 5 p.m. this afternoon, after countless hours of crafting (side note:  I suggest that you never keep track of the actual hours expended during time intensive crafts otherwise you will start calculating your time and start convincing yourself that the manufactured item you saw at ___________ big box store is actually a good investment) I finished up my very first free motion quilt top.  Hooray for me, the first learning experiment is done!  There are still (many) threads to hide, binding to make, binding to sew, oh and a second matching quilt to quilt, bind, etc. but the relief in the accomplishment is still there.  There is such sincere satisfaction in a job completed when you actually get to see your work materialize (pun intended) in front of you.

It is the weekend, a time when we are supposed to relax and unwind from the rest of the week.  If I’m not camping then I’m working away on projects that I want to do, that relaxes me and instills me with a sense of purpose.  As I enjoy the remaining drops of my cider, I am thankful for the slight ache of my neck and my tired eyes from hours of fulfilling hard work.  And knowing that my effort will be passed along to loved ones makes the satisfaction even more precious.

35,112 Stitches Makes . . .

Draped on the Couch

Draped on the Couch

A Bronco Blue Baby Blanket!

Living in (Denver) Bronco territory yields loads of options when crafting something for even the littlest Bronco fans.  Behold a tasteful blanket that shows team spirit while not being too overtly Bronco (not that it is necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes — and some in my family will disagree with me — it is nice to tone down the pride to a more subtle level).

Baby E. W. F. was born a few months back and although I have yet to give him a snuggle in person, I want him to experience a bit of my love from afar in the form of a cozy blanket.  He will be a Bronco fan because he was born into a Bronco fam and this yarn is a perfect Bronco blue to complement his blue eyes.  The pattern (Free Sunny Baby Blanket Knitting Pattern on ravelry.com) created a fun checkered pattern texture while being simple enough to knit while zoning out to a movie or a podcast.  The pattern is done in rows of 18 so a click row counter is a great help, although the old method of pen and scratch paper works well too.  At only 5 1/2 skeins of good washable yarn, this blanket was affordable to make as well.  I was able to work on the blanket during many lunch hours and chill out sessions at night.  With a glass of wine and my yarn skein, I am a relaxed being.

I enjoyed this project so much that I am making a larger version for my nephew in a different shade of blue for a rival football team.  I am expandeding the pattern to be bigger and will detail that adventure at a later date.  Right now, my cozy chair, pea quilt, new project and a glass of pinot are calling my name.  Knit on!

Modeling the Blanket -- Our Childhood Stuffed Animals!

Modeling the Blanket — Our Childhood Stuffed Animals!