Thursday, September 8, 2016

Lemons and lemonade

Back in June, I signed up to be a quilt top piecer for Heart Builders, the charity arm of Stash Builder Box (SBB). They send out a batch of fabric for free, the piecers sew a top and ship it back. The tops are then sent out to long arm quilters who finish the quilts and send them back. The quilts are then donated to various charities that serve needy children.

Piecers are encouraged to creatively use the free fabric and/or fabric from their own stash in any pattern or style quilt. I thought using the mystery fabrics would be an interesting change, a bit of a challenge. My main concern up front was the requirement that the tops be returned within 4-6 weeks, given how irregularly we receive our mail. But Stash Builder Box assured me that I could request fabric whenever I was ready and had a good address.

So in July, I requested my first batch of fabric. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. Our mail forwarding service scans each piece of mail as it arrives, so I dutifully checked each day for something from SBB. Finally, in August, I got an email with an explanation. Apparently they were overwhelmed with volunteers to piece tops, and had fallen behind. For a charity, that's a great problem to have! Knowing that they weren't biting their nails waiting for my top, I stopped worrying.

On Tuesday, my fabric finally arrived, hooray! I ripped open the bag to find...nine fat eighths of the weirdest, ugliest, non-quilting cottons. Three jacquards, two woven plaids, two shiny woven metallics, and two very loosely woven pieces that I don't even know how to describe. Kind of a thin, easily snagged scarf material. Wha? The color selection was odd, too: fluorescent yellow, pale purple, blues and greens, and a muted orange/gray/turquoise mix. Hmm.

I knew I was going to have to add fabric from my own stash just to end up with a child sized blanket, but what on earth was going to make this mish mash into something *appealing* to a kid? It turns out that buried in the back of my collection of panels, I had one just odd enough to be the perfect match.

I ordered the panel over a year ago, based on photos of just a couple of the individual blocks. The panel was made by Studio E, which uses lovely cotton with a wonderful smooth, soft hand. When the panel arrived, it was indeed gorgeous base cotton, but I just couldn't get excited about using it. For one thing, the eight different block motifs seemed to have nothing in common: a flower garden, a car, a peacock, a hippo, a mermaid with yellow submarine, an owl, a patchwork puppy dog, and a spaceship with alien. And such odd colors: bright yellow, pale purple, blues and greens, and a muted orange...hey, wait! This might just work.

I sewed each of the weird donation fabrics into a nine patch with neutral, creamy white and laid those out in a 4x5 grid with the Studio E panel blocks. I think it actually turned out pretty cute. Perhaps some child's imagination will create a story to put all those odd elements together. Owl and Mermaid Explore Space! Peacock Gets Her First Driver's License!

Lessons learned:

1. I don't like using fabric that someone else chose. I thought the challenge would be fun, but I actually found it pretty frustrating.

2. There is definitely some truth in the saying, "If a fabric is ugly, it just means you haven't cut it up small enough yet." As I created the nine patches, the fabrics became more appealing to me.

3. Never underestimate the power of a consistent background and block design. Those simple nine patches created harmony and cohesion that really surprised me.

4. I'm really picky about what I consider cute and appropriate children's fabric. I spend many, many hours poring over online listings to find what I want, so it shouldn't have surprised me that a random collection of fabric wouldn't float my boat. After all, I vigorously reject random collections all the time as not fitting into my design aesthetic.

5. This project feels unfinished to me. I kind of want to quilt it up myself, but I have a backlog of other UFOs so it makes sense to put it into SBB's system to get it quilted. It's good to know that they accept donations of tops, even if they don't send the initial fabrics. In the future I could potentially send SBB my own stash-created pieces if I decide not to do the quilting myself.

6. The shipping schedule for receiving fabrics from SBB probably isn't going to work for me. I'm going to ship this completed top to them, call this an interesting experiment, and be glad that they have plenty of other piecers. 


  1. Wow, Louise! I love the quilt and you sure have a great imagination to put all that fabric together cohesively! This package you received reminds me of when we had the Traveling Stash take fabric or whatever out of the box and replace it with an equal amount. It was repeated over and over that the box was not a repository for all the fabric you wanted to get rid of but many people didn't follow that rule. Several times when I got the box it was full of to be nice, I will call it "stuff"! So I would take out all of ugly, non-cotton and replace it with good fabric. Thus I collected some of the weirdest, ugliest cloth you can imagine! Funny thing was, if I was working on something and dug through all of the jumble I had collected something would jump out at me and work perfectly. That was a fun experience, let me tell you. It is a little surprising that the group sending out the fabric knows it is for children and still sent you fabric like they did. But it is great that you are considering making tops from your own stash and sending them another top. I love your attitude!!!!

  2. The fabric they sent you, if it's all the same as your top photo, is a selection from Loominous, I have a collection of fat quarters ready to go (soon) into cushions. Not everyones choice I know, but I rather like it. Having said that I certainly wouldn't think of using it for quilts to be given to children, not sturdy enough. However I do like how you've used it with the panels, lovely.

  3. What a great story! How amazing that you had the perfect things to use with this mish mash. I think it turned out really cute! I hope they put something nice and soft on the back of it. Great post, Louise!

  4. That does seem like a weird collection to send you, but I think it came out nicely with the addition of the panel! Excellent lemonade. ;)

  5. Your quilt came out fabulous, despite the fabric. It wouldn't be my choice when purchasing, either, but you certainly did it justice! Guess that's what stepping outside of the box is all about. And good stick-to-it-iveness! XO

  6. The bottom line is that you were able to create a darling quilt top, and used something from your stash you might not have used for a very long time. It's completely random what shows up. I had two large pieces, but they didn't go together at all. And you can make tops from your own scraps of fabric, so I sent back one with mine and one with theirs. I sew so often with donated materials and blocks that it doesn't bother me anymore, though the fabric content of your pieces sounds like the real challenge. I like the way you listed what you learned from this experiment. I expect there will be many people who are one and done. =) Some child is going to LOVE what you did, though!


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