Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Grandma Sue Quilt

74" x 74"
Designed and made by Jamie

The first quilt I ever made came about as a suggestion from this lovely woman, Sue Stimpson. She is my maternal grandmother and I have so many fond memories of creating projects with her, from sewing to art to baking. She is a skilled oil painter too, and I think the artistic genes run in this side of the family.

This is my mother, Shawn Glenn, and me. Family resemblance, much? My mom is also crafty and artsy; she ran an impressive country wood craft pattern business from our home for about 15 years, and was the first person to sit down at a sewing machine with me and show me the ropes. I am so grateful she did!

So, back to my first quilt. On one of my many yearly summer visit to Grandma and Grandpa Stimpson's house in Wapato, WA, my grandma took me aside and told me I could make a quilt if I wanted to, with any of the fabric I could find in her sewing room. I jumped on it! As closely as I can guess, I was about 14 years old. I found a stack of fabrics I liked, pulled them out into another room and began cutting. It was so long ago, I don't even remember how I cut them. Were rotary cutters standard back then? Beats me. The fabrics I had chosen were remnants of varying sizes, so I got a different number of squares from each fabric. With a stack of assorted squares in my suitcase, I returned home to good ol' American Canyon, CA, counted up all my squares and began composing the pattern.

The squares I had the most of formed the border as well as a grid running vertically and horizontally through the center. The rest were arranged inside that grid until I was happy with the pattern. I laid them out on the carpet in my house at the bottom of the landing of our staircase, and would walk upstairs to see it from a distance. I made a lot of trips up and down those stairs during that project! If I remember correctly, I took all the rows and stacked the squares on top of each other from left to right, and carried them to the sewing machine to be sewn into rows. I then had 18 rows of 18 squares which I joined together, from top to bottom.

I had no idea about the quilting industry, the rich history of quilters and quilting, or any time-saving tricks. In fact, at this point in my teenage life, I didn't even know about machine or hand quilting. The only method of quilting I had done was tying, so that's what I used for this quilt. I also didn't know about techniques for binding my quilt. I did things a little backward on my first few attempts, relying solely on my own sewing knowledge up to that point. After piecing the top, I added some strips of my backing around the outside as a border. Next, I cut my batting to the same size, and put my backing material (an old sheet!) on top of the quilt top, right sides together. I sewed the three layers together, which wasn't easy as the batting kept getting caught on the presser foot, leaving an opening on the final edge, and then turned it inside out, like a pillow cover. I trimmed the excess batting in the seam allowance to help turn the corners, and closed the opening with some hand stitching. The border was finished off by stitching in the ditch all the way around the quilt where the border meets the pieced quilt top. And THEN, as the last step, I tied the quilt with some white yarn.

The whole idea behind this blog is to show my evolution as a quilter, so these first few quilts are a look back at my beginnings. I want to not only highlight the work I've done, but the things I would have done differently, or mistakes I made. Hopefully my trial and error can help others avoid some pitfalls as they are learning to quilt.
 Here is my overall assessment of this quilt, now looking back on it:

  • PROS: 
    • I liked the fabrics I chose, from what I had to work with in my grandma's sewing room.
    • The color story works well with cool shades of blues, pinks, and greens
    • The corners matched up quite well for my first patchwork attempt
    • It served its purpose and the quilt top has held up perfectly over the past 17 years
  • CONS:
    • There are a few fabrics I included that have a different sheen to them (see previous two pictures) and that is a bit of an eyesore to me now
    • I used a 1/2" seam allowance throughout. It was overkill and shrunk the overall dimensions of the quilt significantly compared with a 1/4" seam allowance
    • I didn't know whether these were all 100% cotton, or cotton blends, and I think some of the differences in thread count/texture/stretch could have accounted for some mismatched corners in my quilt top
    • Using an old sheet as a backing for my quilt was a bad move. I also don't know what type of thread I was sewing with, but I would venture to guess it was polyester thread, since that is mostly what my mom had on hand when I started sewing
      • The backing has since ripped because it started off being a bit threadbare
      • What started as a small tear in the backing became a gaping hole

The thread was stronger than my backing material, which tore directly along the seam line after a lot of use and several washings. Several of my yarn ties also tore free from the backing material with time and wear. If I were to make this quilt again, I would definitely use a good quality quilting cotton material for the backing, and would have done the binding differently.

All in all, a good first attempt to put in the books!


  1. Great job! I love that cute quilt and it's pretty impressive for your first attempt as a teenage novice. I think you're going to have a lot of fun with this blog. I love the picture at the top too. Good job!

  2. Nice job on the blog. How clueless am I that I didn't even know you made a quilt as a teenager?

    1. You were probably just playing basketball ;)

  3. So cute! Wish my first quilt looked that good! Talented lady! Look forward to seeing and reading more :)

  4. I have never attempted a quilt but the ones I've inherited from Grandma and Coy are treasures to me. Congratulations on building your own!