Monday, September 7, 2015

Changing my quilting course

It's quilt update time! I know you've all been waiting with bated breath to see my next batch of projects. No? Well, at least this will be a change of pace from photos of lighthouses. However, there seems to be a preponderance of pictures of Sean's nose and kneecaps in this post. You've been warned.

This first piece is called "Jade Star," and it was a gift for my stepmother and father. The pattern is called Star Surround, and most of the fabrics are from a line of pretty Asian-inspired designs by Hoffman. Many of them have metallic accents. I started it last summer as their 35th wedding anniversary gift; jade is a traditional gift for that celebration. It took me almost a full year to finish it, but I squeaked through barely a month before their 36th anniversary!

I'm usually pretty good about finishing projects, but this one was put away, out of sight, out of mind, for a long time. All the fabric was cut and the four big stars sewn together while we were in the yard in Deltaville last summer. At one point during the yard work, I came down into the staterooms to find a yard worker grinding away in a bilge without sufficient drop cloths. To my horror, a thin layer of brown dust was on everything including all my unfinished quilt bits! My worst fear was that the dust was actually tiny bits of steel, which would rust and stain the fabric when it got wet. 

While large uncut pieces of fabric can be prewashed before starting a quilt, once the little squares and triangles are cut washing is a very bad idea as they will shrink and distort. Only a finished quilt can be safely run through the washing machine. So there was no way to find out if the quilt was ruined except to continue to put many more hours into it and then wash it. At the time, I just didn't have the heart to continue. I shook the dust off as best I could, put all the partially sewn pieces into a plastic tub with desiccant gel packs, and sealed it up.

After working on lots of other projects for six or seven months, and in the peaceful calm mental state induced by blue Bahamian waters, I opened up the tub to finish the lap quilt. It didn't start to darken or stain in that high humidity environment, so I started to have some hope that the brown dust was actually bits of brown paint and not rust. Sure enough, when I finally washed it, it cleaned up beautifully. I packed it off to my parents and breathed a sigh of relief.

This summer, we visited our dear friends the Feldis family on Long Island. I have been "Auntie Louise" to their two daughters since the girls were born and now they are growing up so fast! The younger girl has started her freshman year in college this fall and the top pillow in the above photo shows the fun purple bedding she chose for her dorm room. When she asked me to make some matching throw pillow covers, I was quite touched. I tried a technique called "Cathedral Windows" to create the diamond shapes in the two smaller pillows. It mimics the curved diamond shapes in the main bedding. She sent me photos of her dorm room with the pillows proudly displayed, and this old auntie got a little teary.

Here's a strangely lit photo of a table runner I made for the matriarch of the Feldis clan. We've visited her Long Island summer home three times now, and she's always been so welcoming and gracious that I wanted to thank her with something beach-themed for the house. The fabrics are all muted golds and purples, with sea shells, plovers, stars, and pebbles to represent the rocky Long Island Sound shoreline.

This lap quilt was a gift for my friend Alfred. The pattern is Bonneville, modified to minimize the waste when cutting from a layer cake (a precut fabric product; basically, 10" squares of each fabric.) The fabrics are a line of coordinating batiks in black, brown, gray, and blue. They reminded me of the rocks and sky in the deserts of the American southwest, where he spends much of his time camping. 

Sean mentioned in his last post that I had a quilt adventure while in Boston. Our friends Erin and Chris generously allowed us to fill their foyer with forwarded mail boxes. The two photos above show only a portion of the fabric delivered to their door. As we unpacked the boxes to discard the cardboard, Erin learned I was a quilter. She darted into their bedroom and returned with a pile of absolutely gorgeous antique quilt tops. All had been hand pieced by her great grandmother Mary around 1910, but had never been finished into quilts. She asked me what I thought could be done with them, and I told her about professional quilt restoration experts. She had four bed tops and thought she could have them finished for herself and her sisters. 

She also showed me 23 orphaned quilt blocks, and I admired great grandma Mary's meticulous handwork. The 100 year old fabric seemed to be in great shape, with very little fading or staining. Lovely!

I didn't know much about antique quilts, so I started doing some research. The next time we saw Chris and Erin, I asked her if I could try piecing together the orphan blocks into a small lap quilt. I couldn't promise that it would turn out, but at least she would still have the four large pieces and maybe we would learn something about how the fabric withstood being sewn and then washed after all these years. She eagerly agreed, and I plunged in.

Most of my fabric is fairly bright colors, but I did have a few muted dark blues, ochres and oranges that coordinated well with the older blocks. 20 out of the 23 pieces were close in size so I made a 4x5 arrangement with navy blue star sashing in between. Between my stars and the red and white stripes in some of Mary's blocks, I felt like Betsy Ross.

And here is the finished quilt. Each block is a different pair of fabrics, sewn into half square triangles. This design is still used today; a true classic. I like the "oddball" ones, with the blue and gray chambray triangles instead of white or cream.

I put the three remaining blocks on the back, since they were not the same size as the ones on the front and wouldn't fit into the rectangular grid easily. The other fabrics on the back are all modern, as is the cotton batting in the middle. Sewing all the layers together was a challenge; Mary's blocks were heavily starched and bent two of my sewing machine needles. But the quilting process started to soften them up and the quilt finished quite pliable.

Erin was absolutely thrilled with the quilt and I had a blast making it! We could have left it like that, but we both decided that it really needed to be washed. Between the musty smell, and the way old starch can attract bugs, we decided together to run it through her washing machine and hope the red dyes wouldn't run. 

Most of my research into quilt restoration indicated that washing your antique quilt would RUIN IT BEYOND ALL RECOVERY. If you must clean it, soak it gently in the tub overnight, squeeze out the water by hand, repeat fifteen times, then lay it flat on your dining room floor on while dabbing it with pristine lint-free tea towels. I was very discouraged at the doom and gloom (not to mention the tedious work) of all this, until I stumbled on the blog of Tim Latimer. He has purchased many, many antique quilt tops, finished them and then tossed them in his home washing machine and dryer. He uses Dawn dishwashing liquid because it bind the dye. His extensive experience shows that the new quilting strengthens and stabilizes the vintage stitching and they clean up beautifully. His photos don't lie, and as a bonus, his cute little dog Teddy poses on the quilts for most of the pictures.

So with Tim as my inspiration, we washed Erin's 100 year old quilt. It came out great: soft, sweet smelling, and not a spot of red dye migrated to any other part of the quilt. Mary may have died in 1933, but her beautiful handwork has been preserved in a way that is useful and strong. This was a neat project! I'm grateful that Erin trusted me to experiment.

These two pieces are quilt blocks, not completed quilts. A woman in Texas asked the quilting community on Instagram for 15" square blocks made out of scraps in a single color with one white accent piece. She wanted to make comforting quilts for families who lost loved ones during the floods in Texas this year. I made eight blocks altogether and mailed them in. With the help of scores of quilters, she made 51 beautiful quilts and donated them. You can see some of them here.

And speaking of donations and comforting quilts, the title of this post is "Changing my quilting course." While I will continue to sew gift quilts for friends and family, I'm heading in a new direction. (No, it isn't quilt restoration. Erin was very laid back about her family heirloom, but I can imagine how emotionally fraught that project could be with someone more, um, high strung.)

As most of you know, Sean and I were Red Cross volunteers for many years. We loved being able to give back through that respected charitable organization, and it was a great match with our skills and our mobile RV lifestyle. Now that we're on Vector full-time, that kind of volunteer work is logistically much harder. So we've been keeping ourselves open to new volunteering opportunities.

Enter Project Linus. This nationally active group donates blankets to children, to "provide love, a sense of security, warmth and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need." I have joined a PL chapter in Alameda County, CA and have started making quilts for kids. 

Why Alameda? Well, it's a bit tricky for me to attend chapter meetings since we are constantly on the move. Just getting the quilts into the right hands is often going to involve shipping them. A dear friend of my Mom's, Donna, is very active in the Alameda chapter, and she agreed to bring my quilts to the meetings there. The first time she did so, the entire chapter voted unanimously to accept me as a member, so I'm feeling very welcomed and appreciated! The plan moving forward is that I will ship batches of quilts to my Mom, who will have a chance to admire them (what mother doesn't appreciate her daughter's crafty work?) and then she'll take them to Donna. 

Making kid-friendly quilts is such a delight! We're encouraged to use bright, cheerful fabrics and designs. Blankets (not just quilts) are needed for children from preemie babies to teenagers, so a variety of sizes and styles is useful. And most of those sizes are small enough to be a good fit for making on my domestic sewing machine in a cramped boat stateroom.

Here are a few of the Project Linus quilts I've finished so far. This one is about 36" square, in cheerful purple, lime and turquoise floral fabrics. The back is blue butterflies on cream. This size is good for a baby quilt.

This one is a little larger and would be appropriate for a toddler or young child. The fabrics are all bright colored fishes and sea horses, with swirly blue ocean fabric in between. The yellow edging is satin blanket binding, the first time I've ever used that. 

This fun, bright owl blanket is a single piece of fabric printed with the cheerful birds. I sewed it to a piece of cream colored fleece for the back, and then stitched around the outside of each owl, so it is super soft and snuggly. I've started to purchase other single piece panels to take advantage of big, bold designs like this. Sean and I both wanted to keep this one!

Quilts for boys are harder to come by, since many available fabrics are a bit girly. So I set out to make a more masculine, yet fun, boy quilt. The patterned squares are all dog themed: bones, balls, frisbees, words like "Woof!" and "Here, boy!" plus dogs running, panting, and smiling. All in nice greens and browns, like the grass and trees in the dog park.

This little quilt is a pattern called "Wonky Stars." I thought the rainbow colors were so cheerful. The aqua border has tiny purple, orange, blue and green fish on it, and each fish is smiling. I hope this brings a smile to a child's face, too.

I have four or five more children's quilts in progress, but I'll wait until they are finished to share them. One is a gift for the newest member of the Hornor and Gross families, whom we are expecting to greet this fall. But the design is a secret and my lips are sealed!