Friday, April 12, 2013

Quilt As You Go--My Way

I have to do everything my own way.  I can follow directions, but I don't always want to.  My grandmother used to say I was as independent as a hog on ice.  I don't think she meant that as a compliment.
In 1985, I took my first quilting class.  I had been bumbling along for 9 years on my own, and I really needed some instruction.  Plus I had three little kids underfoot all day.  I couldn't wait to get out of the house by myself.
 This is the kind of quilt we learned to make in that class.  (The colors look weird now, don't they?)  We made sampler blocks from all different patterns, but in the same size, so we could learn how to piece and applique.  All of the applique and almost all of the piecing was done by hand.   We made cardboard or plastic templates, traced around them, cut the pieces out, and hand sewed them together.  Our teacher reluctantly showed us how to piece by machine for some of the simpler blocks, after we had learned to piece by hand. She did show us this new thing called a rotary cutter for cutting the sashes and borders.
 Do you see the double sashings?  Each block had sashings and cornerstones around them.  If you see these on a quilt, you can pretty much figure it's a quilt as you go quilt from this time period.
After we finished making each block, we were supposed to layer it with backing and batting, and quilt it by hand.  It was kind of like homework.  I bought a little miniature frame from an ad in Quilters Newsletter, meant just for doing this.  It had stretcher bars with cloth stapled to them, just like a big frame.  I set it on the counter in my kitchen, and quilted while I cooked supper.  I enjoyed it, but I did get behind (did I mention the 3 little kids?)  By the time I had finished all the blocks, the class was over.
If you've ever done quilt as you go, you know the fun part is making and quilting the blocks.  Eventually, you have to set everything together.  We did it just the way Georgia Bonesteel showed on TV and in her books:  we sewed the blocks together on the front, whipstitched the batting  pieces together by hand, and sewed the backing seam by hand.  It was, well, tedious.  And my hand stitches were nothing to write home about.  You might be able to see these toe-catchers in the picture below.
 I had no idea what to do about the borders.  I knew I wanted some, and I had cut them when I first started the class (or rather, the teacher had cut them for me).  I searched through books (no internet then) and asked people, and eventually put them on.  I finished the quilting on a big floor frame.  The quilt wasn't done until 1989.
And like a lot of quilters from that time, I decided that was the end of quilt as you go for me.  If I was going to have to end up on a frame anyway, I might as well not have all that hand work on the back.

Well, time passed (a LOT of it).  I hand quilted a few more quilts, and pieced a lot of tops and blocks.  I started machine quilting them with a walking foot on my sewing machine.  I wished I could quilt like Harriet Hargrave, but that was beyond my skills.
I made traditional quilts, sometimes from old blocks, and I wanted to quilt them the way they would have been quilted by hand, with lots of quilting.  I liked the look of outline quilting, done 1/4 in. from the seams, but this was next to impossible with the walking foot without constantly turning the quilt.
So I came back to quilt as you go, to see if I could make it work for me.
Instead of quilting each block separately, I tried breaking the quilts into sections.
 I made this fan quilt in three sections.  It was much easier to turn the quilt to echo the curve of the fan.  When the quilting was finished, I joined the sections with machine seams on the front and hand seams on the back.  Only two seams, the width of the quilt.
I didn't have to do any handwork to attach the borders, which was good.  I layered the border (right side down), the quilt (right side up) and the border backing (right side up) and sewed the whole seam at once.  It worked, but I still had a problem.  The scissors are pointing at the border seam, which is lumpy and obvious on the back. 
 I tried making this quilt in two sections, which meant I had only one seam to do by hand on the back. (Below)  This was okay, but the large pieces were very bulky for quilting.  On this quilt, I attached the borders to the sections, quilted the sections, and then sewed the sections together.  So no bulky border seam.
 The star quilt and the tulip quilt were done in 3 sections, with borders added after the sections were joined.  This works, but again I had bulky border seams.

I felt like I was on the right track.  Quilting the sections went smoothly.  I even enjoyed it.  But I still hated adding the borders.
 For this quilt, finished last fall, I went back to adding the borders to the sections.  This is my President Obama quilt, the first political quilt I have ever made.  There are 5 rows of stars.  The top section was two rows, plus the borders, the middle section was one row, plus borders on the sides, and the bottom section was two rows plus the borders.
 Above, you can see the printed Obama border, plus the star border.  Both were added to this section before it was quilted.

 When you break up the sections this way, you have seams in the borders where the sections come together.  I quilted the borders after I joined the sections together, which helps to make the seam a little less obvious.
 This is the bottom left corner of the quilt.  I quilted the crossways borders when I quilted the section, and the lengthwise borders when all the sections were joined.
 Here is one of the two hand sewn seams on the back.

This is now my favorite way to do quilt as you go.  I have tried a couple of other ways that promise no hand work, but have not been as satisfied with them.  I don't mind doing this amount of hand work.  I just lay the quilt out on the kitchen table and sew.

Here's the new quilt on my Pick Six list, and the reason why I wrote all this long-winded stuff about quilt as you go.

 I started to make this quilt from the wonderful book below, Simple Comforts by Kim Diehl, which I bought at the Sun Prairie quilt show a couple of years ago.  (I can't give you the pattern, but I would recommend the book.)

  After making 50 of the little blocks, I decided not to follow the pattern in the book, but to do something different with them.  So I made 50 more.  (They were fun to make, and all the pieces came from my scrap drawers.  Most are Civil War reproductions.)  I set them into 20 large blocks with the yellow print.  Then I made the same kind of sections I made for my Obama quilt--two rows plus the borders at top and bottom, and one row plus side borders in the center. 

This is how I will quilt them.  I'll layer them up with batting and backing either tonight or Sunday, and get started.  I'm planning to take pictures along the way.
So do you quilt as you go?  If so, what's your way?


  1. Oh, yes, I remember those 1980 sampler quilts and teaching new quiltmakers to piece by both hand and machine. I made one quilt-as-you-go sampler quilt, hand quilted one 12-inch block at a time, put them together, and then spent two days just getting the borders put on. I didn't enjoy it either. While I have considered quilting a larger quilt in halves or thirds, so far I'm doing the entire quilt because of the detail I love to quilt in the borders.

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    2. Hi, Dora! I have your blog bookmarked (if it's Dora the Quilter?). Your quilts are amazing!


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