Wednesday, 27 April 2011

On quilting, and appearing in the press, with a few pointers on fashion

You'll have to read to the end for my fashion hints, and the wonders that modern photography can achieve, but first to the important things like sewing. I have enjoyed a flirtation with patchwork for many years now, in fact more than I care to remember, and have accumulated quite a handy little stash of fabrics, all waiting for when I actually might get round to making quilts proper, rather than admiring them in the books I have collected, which also stand helpfully to attention on my shelf, ready for me to become a practical quilter rather than a wishful-thinking, imaginary one.

But now I have an announcement to make: I have just made my first patchwork quilt for a sweet little baby (not mine, I hasten to add - although, long in the tooth as I am, I do still have yearnings for a little baby to cuddle, but preferably one which sleeps all the time and doesn't need too much attention when I am busy).

So as I said, I have imagined myself creating quilts for some time - I have even cut out pieces, then become overwhelmed by the thought of producing 244 squares (or some such frighteningly large number), and keep finding 30 or so starters carefully tidied away at the bottom of one of my to-do drawers. I have puzzled over those rather prettily-coloured geometric diagrams in quilting books, and quailed at the thought of making the corners of triangles fit in the face of finger-wagging threats of the dire consequences of inaccuracy.

I went on a patchwork training day (it felt like training, even if it was billed as fun), and there was more finger-wagging because I had not read the instructions and came with my fabric unwashed, no matching thread, and favoured colours which did not have enough contrast between my 'darks' and my 'lights'. And there was I imagining a lovely cottagey, washed-out, grandmothery effect ... traumatized, I felt that an undisciplined nature such as mine was not suitable for such a skilled craft, and retreated back to the knitting corner.

And then came one of those fortuitous concatenations of circumstance which propel one into a whole new world of making and creating: a friend had a baby, the first in a long line due this year, and I thought that I couldn't possibly knit for them all, so I had the idea of sewing a present. For some reason, sewing always seems speedier to me than knitting, probably because a sewing machine seems to whizz along far faster than I can knit.

The baby was boy, and I have rather an embarrassment of florals in my stash, but as I sat making a lavender bag for Mothering Sunday, it occurred to me that the fabric was green and geometric - surely that would work for a boy? I looked in the stash for anything vaguely not pink and flowery, and came up with a series of blue-green turquoise variations which seemed to work, and I thought of Laurie Lee's poem, 'April Rise', which talks of  'soapy green', 'Blown bubble-film of blue', and the 'emerald sun'. Perfect for the little spring 'blessing in the air' who had just arrived in the world.

And then the final loosening of the creative block came with Jane Brocket's book, The Gentle Art of Quilting, which demystifies the practicalities of quilting, and emphasizes colour and inspiration. Jane's book seems to me more about the inherent creativity of playing with colour and pattern, and less about complicated geometry and skilled cutwork. It seemed to give me permission to do my own thing, and not worry about whether I was making something in the right or wrong way - and, in my haste, I still forgot to wash everything first, but I quite like the idea of a slightly crinkly, timeworn look.

I don't think that I would pass any examinations with this quilt, but I made sure I stitched it full of love and happy thoughts, I think it will keep a baby cosy, and it looks pretty (and not too flowery, I hope). The fabrics were Jennifer Paganelli's Dance with Me for Freespirit (JP27 Grass and Green, JP27 Teal), Swell by Urban Chiks for Moda (31030-15) and Heather Bailey's Bijoux Tile (HB101 Ice) for Freespirit - all from stash, thrifty old me (just don't ask me how they got there, as that might not have been quite so thrifty).

For anyone who wants to make one, here's how to make your first baby quilt after years of thinking about it. The technical details are quite simple. I cut 5.5in squares (using a cutting mat and ruler, which really does make life easier), for a 5in finished size. The quilt is 5 squares by 6, so you only need to cut 30.

I then arranged the squares in a slightly random way, mainly because I had unequal amounts of fabric, and roughly alternating lighter and darker, although I don't think the contrast would pass a strict test. I worked with four different fabrics, although five or six would have made it easier.

Then make the 6 crossways strips by stitching 5 squares together in a row, with quarter-inch seams, ironing the seam to the darker side.

I then joined the strips together - if you have been reasonably accurate with cutting and stitching then the seams will line up, but don't beat yourself up if some don't, as I think a bit of unevenness just demonstrates the lovely handmade nature of the work. The edge binding will cover any imperfections anyway. However, it is worth taking a bit of care to 'nest' the seams together and think about which way to iron them to avoid lumpiness.

I then hand-quilted with a light bluish-grey quilting thread as I don't have a walking foot on my machine - Jane Brocket hand-quilts her creations, so I feel that I am in illustrious company. I just used a very small running stitch along all the seam lines, which was enjoyable to do, and not at all difficult.

I made the backing of two different fabrics, sewn together across the width - I quite like the backing to be made of more than one fabric - somehow it makes it more interesting. I made sure I had plenty of extra all round so that I could double-fold it to the front to make a self-binding, rather than attach a separate one. Measurements were not crucial here, I just did it by eye, but it was about 1.5cm finished width. I then slip-stitched all the way round - corners were squared off, not mitred - easier to do, and also I rather like the homespun look.

I am not going to say that you could do this in an afternoon, or even a weekend - I find that sort of target just depresses me at my lack of productivity. Let's just say that the baby was a month old when he received the quilt, but I was doing other things as well ...

And to those of you who saw us in the Sunday Telegraph at the weekend and very kindly said that I looked glamorous - I want to thank you wholeheartedly (I know one compliment came from my mamma, but truly, she has never called me glamorous before, and I think I am still in a state of shock, and she certainly sounded distinctly surprised when she rang me at 8am on Sunday to convey her opinion to me). Me - glamorous? I have never aspired to such an elevated state, as I have always had rather a crumpled air, and am definitely not shiny enough. I am still basking in the glow and am considering myself in quite a new light as I inspect my grimy fingernails and mud-streaked jeans, and debate whether I can put off washing my hair for another day. And for those of you interested in sartorial detail, my cardi was third-hand, and my frock came from a charity shop, although my wellies were not preowned. There's hope for me yet ...


Amy said...

Congratulations! I love those soft, beautiful colors! What a lucky baby boy.

Little Blue Mouse said...

The years of thinking about making a quilt have certainly paid off - it's gorgeous. I love the colours, although you could have had better contrast between your 'darks' and 'lights'. Only joking! (I hope that's not too forward on a first comment but the way you write makes it so easy to think I already know you).

...Miss...Maddie's... said...

Your quilt is truly a gift from the heart...
As for the fashion hints, sounds a perfect outfit to me. We'll leave those iconic looks to the likes of Kate (the new soon to be princess)and all the others that need not muddy their hands, kneel in the manure or chase the chickens about.
Have a great weekend.
Susan x

taylorsoutback said...

So happy to hear you persevered and came out with a wonderful baby quilt. This precious little one will be wrapped in the best kind of quilt...made with love.
Your quilting instructor may have been somewhat intimidating...?? A good teacher will gently lead with well-appointed "you might try this" suggestions. In all honesty, I usually do much better in my own sewing room, trying new things, making mistakes and moving ahead.
Thank you so much for dropping by earlier and hope you will visit often.

pebbledash said...

Lovely lovely quilt - gorgeous aqua colours remind me of the sea.

Well done on the Telegraph - which bit were you in (so I can ring my Dad and ask him to send it to me!!).

Diana x

Frances said...

I think that little baby boy is very lucky to have received your lovely quilt. The hand quilting is much nicer (in my opinion!) than doing it via machine stitching.

I have been searching for that Telegraph article, but have not quite found it yet. Though, I have found lots of other interesting know how it can be when you start clicking on a site.

Best wishes, and thank you for your visit. xo

Gina said...

That sounds like my sort of quilter... with stunning results!

Isobel said...

That is a super cute quilt! The colours are so fresh!
:) xx

The Weaver of Grass said...

We shall all be sending for your autograph at this rate.

VintageVicki said...

Drat we don't get a Sunday Telegraph - any chance of posting a pic???

Love the quilt. Mine are never that well thought through - I just cut & stitch random squares together - but it seems to work!!

Lola Nova said...

Oh it's beautiful! And hooray for you for giving in to the quilting desire.
How wonderful to be called glamorous, wish I could have seen the photo!

Poppy said...

Well done it looks beautiful! I would love to make one, but I can't even finish my blanket off. I will add it to my very, very, long list.

Lou xxx

Anonymous said...

I find it a great source of frustration that so many people feel bound to make things perfectly or follow patterns to the letter - I say go with what you feel is right for you, don't stress yourself silly that it MUST be perfect - if you make a mistake, who cares? Mistakes are THE best way to learn.

For me personally, a handmade item HAS to have a little flaw somewhere (but the item is full of love no less) That's what makes it handmade and THAT'S what makes it special!

Ruth xx

andamento said...

A very nice quilt indeed. I've been doing a little secret patchwork piecing - all will be revealed once the baby (not mine either!) arrives as it's to be a surprise. Perhaps one day I'll manage to make a whole quilt, I've been saving the childrens' dresses and shirts just incase.
You're being a big tease about the Sunday Telegraph article, I too have tried in vain to find it. We need more clues please!

Anonymous said...

gorgeous little quilt :)

i'm a make-it-up-as-i-go sort of sewer myself! seeing as i didn't know there were rules when i began to teach myself to sew, i've never really liked discovering they exist.

i really like the binding effect you did. is this something else i should already know about?! would you mind sharing briefly how to do it?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for visiting my blog.
I laughed out loud reading this post because I have several books on patchworking but have never got around to actually doing any. Your first quilt looks mighty impressive to me!

Caroline Lovis said...

Thank you so much for the kind comment you left on my blog, I'm thrilled it led me to yours. I love your idea for recycling shirts into hankies - ingenious. My hub is definitely a 'shirt' man and has also now become a source for fabric - marvellous. Patchwork quilt is lovely.

this is my patch said...

No I didn't get to see you in the Sunday Telegraph. It all sounds good though. I don't buy papers as I don't get the time to read them, or even look at the pictures! x

Indigo Blue said...

It really disappoints me as a teacher that there are those who are lucky enough to teach adults and can not do it right!! Pity you do not live nearer, I am not an expert but I could have got you started and had a laugh at the same time. Please, more info on the telegraph article, I do not buy that paper.
Best wishes and good to have you back.

Indigo Blue said...

Oh, commented too quickly, lovely colours for a baby quilt. He is bound to treasure it for years, an heirloom. My daughter loves her that I made a couple fo years ago.

elizabethm said...

I know exactly what you mean about quilting. I have loved the idea for years and last year got totally carried away and bought the material for a quilt for the holiday cottage. It's a kingsize. I should have started with a baby quilt. I steamed on for a couple of weeks, had to put it away when my FIL came to live with us and am too terrified to take it out again. When will I ever learn. Glamourous is the word. I thought so too.

Cottage Garden said...

I missed the article Pomona but I shall check it out on-line. Congratulations and also for your new (?) venture.

I was reading about Francine's new garden on her blog diary today - she will have it looking wonderful in no time.


andrea creates said...

what a great quilt! i have never gotten around to making one yet.
thanks for stopping by :)

Frances said...

Thanks for giving us that link to the Telegraph article! I really enjoyed reading it, and thinking about all the ideas that it "plants" for us to contemplate.

As a city dweller, I have my own ways of trying to be kind to our earth. No car, I use buses and subway trains. I try to not buy more than I truly need, and stay away from excess packaging. My aim is to have very little refuse that cannot be recycled.

It's funny to try for a simple life in a big sophisticated place like New York, where so many folks want to tempt you to excessive consumption!

Rifleman Cottage looks lovely. I am making a note that perhaps someday I might return to the UK and see it close up.

And, yes, there is much true glamour in that portrait photo.


Jooles said...

Your quilt is gorgeous! well done.
it was my new years resolution to earn to quilt this year, fingers crossed.
j x

silverpebble said...

That quilt is muted and beautiful Pomona - absolutely stunning. I'm certain my first attempt at quilting would not look so professonal.

What was the article? Perhaps I have missed the link? Could you send it through? Many thanks.

Jenny said...

I have nothing but admiration for patchworkers, I think a quilt you made yourself must be such a comfort. Lovely that the first one you have made is for someone else.

Alicia@ eco friendly homemaking said...

Congratulations!! What beautiful colors in the quilt.You are really talented!!

momof3girls said...

I just found your blog and I absolutely love it! I can't wait to read more.


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