I deviated this month from making quilts for my friends with new babies, to making a birthday quilt. Happy Seventieth Birthday, Mom! The pictures above are of Mom under an apple tree in Maine on her birthday, soon after she received the quilt. (Pictures courtesy of my Dad.)
My mother has worn so many hats over the years that designing a quilt for her posed somewhat of a challenge, but once again, there I was at a fabric store looking for something very specific for another project, and that incredible purple batik just about jumped into my arms (she likes purple). About-face! I left with a yard of it and a plan to make a small eggplant quilt (she's a gardener and likes eggplants—there have been multiple eggplant-related gifts over the years). I thought that I'd use some of the funky, swirly green fabric I had left over from the Ripley quilt to make some leaves and the letters for s-e-v-e-n-t-y and then use my leftover crazy-green thread to experiment with some quilting ideas I've been testing out in my journal and wanted to try in real life. I imagined a solid purple quilt with the leaves and letters in green, and then with really complicated and detailed quilted green thread patterns all over it. So here's what I started with, fully expecting to be able to do this over a weekend. Ha!
But when I got it home, I started sketching out eggplant shapes and wasn't satisfied with anything smaller than using the whole yard for one side of the quilt. I knew right then that I might be in trouble. I only have so much space to work with in the Airstream—a single 36-inch by 40-inch table—and this yard of fabric was larger than my available area. Here it was once I cut out the final shape. It's just about crawling into my work files. Hummm ...
I tried any number of ways to make the green letters, but was not happy with any of them. In the meantime, the amount of green fabric I had was dwindling as I scrapped experiment after experiment. Finally though, I tried using fusible web—something my friend Grisel had suggested that I might have used on the Pink-haired Fisherman's Wife quilt to make that an easier project. As it turns out, she was right. I'm new to this quilting thing and wasn't aware of such a product. It's awesome! Thanks Grisel—you saved my butt!
First, I found a simple font and printed out the letters I needed, carefully cut them out, used those forms as tracing templates to copy into bits of the web, and ironed those onto the back of the green fabric.
A crazy amount of finicky time was then spent cutting and folding the edges of the fabric around the letters.
I made a big mess and almost ruined my iron, but in the end, I had completed the seven letters. They were carefully placed (a couple dozen times) and finally pinned down. What followed was some assiduous sewing as I held my breath and attached them to the purple fabric.
Not so bad for a first go-round. I was quite pleased with the result.
I should mention that I discovered another cool product during the time I worked on this quilt: an ironing mat (you can see it in the letter cut-out pictures above). Now, if I lived in a house, I'd have a proper ironing board and an iron. However, as I actually loathe ironing (who can ever actually make those creases perfect?), I was happy to give those away when we moved—nope, I didn't even put them in storage, I gave them away. Phew! But since I've been sewing and quilting in the Airstream, I have been making do with my remaining tiny craft iron (which is fine), and one of my husband's bar towels. Not really a particularly permanent solution on any level. I really needed to have a proper ironing board solution.
Again, I'm working with a small amount of space here, so it needed to be easily tucked away, not look stupid when it was out, and really work for its purpose. I really don't like buying new things—I'd much rather find something used at a junk store or antique mall—but I knew I'd need to buy this new ... but I wasn't sure if what I had in mind even existed. I even thought I might have the materials to make my own. But in the end, there were in fact multiple options to choose from, and I found exactly what I was looking for. Here's what I bought:
And get this, I can turn the kitchen (husband is a ship person so he says galley) into an ironing space in just a few minutes! Here's what the Airstream's kitchen usually looks like:
If I stow the kettle and the water pitcher and flip down the stove cover, it looks like this:
And then, get this: my new ironing mat fits atop the metal stove cover perfectly! Plug in the iron and off we go.
So, back to the quilt ... one of the other things many people know about my mother is that she plays Scrabble and Clabbers (Clabbers is Scrabble played with reanagrammable anagrams—welcome to crazy-town; but hey, someone's got to live there). So it came to me at some point that maybe I should make a partial Scrabble board for the other side. I had been thinking that maybe I would make the back side of the quilt an off-white color to represent an eggplant that had been cut open, and I had in fact purchased a yard of a fantastic print that would work perfectly for that ... but it ended up getting cut up to make the Scrabble board that ultimately became the back.
I said that "at some point" it had come to me to design a Scrabble board. In fact, it was in the morning of August first, as I sat at Victrola Coffee Roastery in Seattle, sipping an americano and writing in my journal. [Insert husband's voice: "Crazy freaking Mushroom."]
Also during in that journal entry I diagrammed out a Scrabble board and how many of each color I'd need to make this work. Here's the breakdown for a Scrabble board which is 15 by 15 squares for a total of 225 squares:
8 dark pink
12 dark blue
25 light blue
164 light brown
I hit the fabric store again as I needed to find fabric for both types of blue squares, washed everything up, ironed it all out (on my nifty new mat!), and started cutting squares—all 225 of them! This photo does not show the depths of the piles of light brown. Sigh.
Another problem arose. My table wouldn't actually hold a whole 15-wide line across without overlapping the squares, and there was no way I could fit the whole board on the table. So I did it in two sections. And yes, that's my trusted original iPad in its black case that I have used literally almost every day for more than three years. #bestelectronicpurchaseever
Do yourself a favor if you plan on making a quilt like this: make short stacks of the 15 squares for each line in careful order so that you can just sit at the machine and sew them together without having to double- and triple-check yourself (or in my case, quadruple-check).
And when you start sewing a stack if 15, indicate somehow to yourself which end is the wrong end to sew onto. I put a safety pin on the wrong end of the first square and I didn't mess up even once on all 225 squares! And that's a lot of small bits of sewing—tons of opportunity for screwing up.
See all those little stacks to the right?
I have discovered—as I imagine anyone who quilts for even a single day discovers—it's all about the ironing/pressing! If you press diligently, things are really so much easier and they line up so much better!
Ironed/pressed strips, ready for hook-ups!
Once all of the strips were sewn together, the whole board finally fit on my work space—just barely, but hey, it fit! (Gots to love how much things shrink when you account for seam allowances!)
Then I overlaid the board against the back of the eggplant shape to figured out how the board was going to sit, where an edge of the board would need to be sewn in, and created strips to do that.
I looked at how much pink and blue material I had left over and realized that no one piece was large enough to fill in the largest of the three places where there was a span between the board and the top of the eggplant. So I decided to cut the pieces up into random long triangle shapes and fill the gaps with strips that I sewed together.
It may not have looked pretty to begin ...
But then check it out (and check out my awesome ironing mat being deployed happily on the table, too!):
And here's what it looked like with all three "patches" in place and the whole thing clipped together to give me an idea of where I was at with it. Those clips were also new to me with this project and I love them! They make things so much easier.
Then I finally got the batting out and discovered that the piece I had was actually going to fit perfectly! I haven't had to merge two pieces together for a quilt yet—I have always had just the right amount on hand. #magical
And then I anchored it down the middle, hoping that it wouldn't shift too much once I began quilting the layers together.
And then I started cutting away the selvage ... all that work that I had done needed to get done, but in the end, it just ended up as compost.
And here was the sandwich.
More was cut away once the quilting was complete ...
And here it was, ready for the binding to be created and attached.
Now, the binding ... I decided that I would make the binding out of the fabric that was left over from the eggplant side. There wasn't a lot left, and I needed a very long piece of binding.
But in the end I managed to cut out a whole bunch of strips that I sewed together to make one very long ribbon. Here are four of the strips.
And here's the resulting one long strip, ready for ironing.
I found yet another new tool during this project that made me so happy. It's such a simple device, and they've probably been around forever, but the concept was new to me. Brilliance! Here it is in all its glory:
Basically, all you do it cut strips that are twice the size in width as the tool. In this case, she's 25 millimeters wide (which is an inch), so I cut strips that were two-inches wide. You feed one end through the tool and just keep pulling as you press what's coming out the other side. Honestly, I had very little faith that this guy was going to do a bang-up job, but OMG—brilliant! Just pull and press your way to miles and miles of perfect homemade binding.
Not much later, I had all this perfectly folded binding.
I think I ended up making just shy of 100 inches of binding for this quilt, and it probably took a tenth of the time that it would have taken me using my old method. Epic WIN!
Here it is folded over and pressed a second time so what you see is now a half-inch wide strip that is ready for attaching.
Then, I used my new—and already totally beloved—clips to temporarily attach the binding.
And sewed it on!
I used most of the remaining green fabric to create some leaves for the top of the eggplant and sewed those on.
And here it is ... the completed quilt.