Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Owen's Quilt

48" x 60"
Rail Fence Pattern 
Made by Jamie

In 2012, I decided to sign up for a quilting class at my local quilt shop, Quilter's Corner, in Grand Junction, CO. At that point in my life, I had two kids, ages 2 and 6 months. I was in serious need of some time away from the daily grind of motherhood! This quilting class opened my eyes to things I didn't even realize I didn't know. It was called Intro to Piecing and was a two week class which met three days a week for about 6 hours. I was the youngest person in the class by far, which was similar to the trend I'd see whenever I took water aerobics classes at the gym. I loved having the more mature women in the class for the camaraderie as well as the wealth of knowledge they offered from their experience as quilters. Yes, even experienced quilters were taking the Intro to Piecing class. I was promised that I would learn a lot of new things, even if I considered myself to be an experienced quilter. This was the first actual class I had taken in quilting, and the first time I had tried to research quilting techniques in any way. I was SO EXCITED, and much to my surprise (I was a little cocky and very naive as to my sewing knowledge,) I came away with a TON of new information! Not only did I learn a great deal, I learned how much I still didn't know. Needless to say, this was a turning point in my quilting career and ignited my passion for quilting which has only grown since.

One of the owners of Quilter's Corner, Johnna Keith, taught our class. She was so knowledgeable and had a fun, fast-paced teaching style. We were given supply lists and showed up on day one with our sewing machines, fabric, rotary cutters, mats, and notepads to a classroom filled with tables, chatty women, and electrical outlets. I felt so at home! I furiously took notes while Johnna spoke, and still have those notes today! As I continue this blog, I will definitely be giving her a few mentions for things she taught me in that class that I have been able to apply in future quilts.

The two projects we did during that two week course were a rail fence quilt and a log cabin quilt. Owen's quilt is a rail fence pattern, with 6 strips, cut at 1.5" and finished at 1" wide. The rail fence and log cabin patterns are great for beginners because you get to practice LOTS of straight seams, and the finished products look much more complicated than they actually are to assemble. Johnna told us that if we chose two similar colors for the lightest strips, a continuous zigzag pattern would emerge, which I liked, so I did that with the two white strips. The cool thing a beginner like me wouldn't realize, is that with a rail fence pattern, you don't cut the strips to the length of the blocks. You sew the strips along the entire width of fabric (WOF) and then cut your blocks to size. Here is a picture of my six strips, with the two on the left (the two lightest prints) already sewn together. This class also happened to be where I learned the importance of PRESSING your seams! Johnna is a little bit of a perfectionist and she taught us multiple methods for precise cutting and precise piecing to create a pristine finished product. One of those methods is diligently pressing each seam before joining an additional strip. Even the direction of the iron moving over the fabric can affect the precision. She was a detail-oriented teacher! She recommended pressing the seams to one side, for most projects, including this one, so I have adopted that philosophy as well.

After sewing the two lightest shades together in strips along the WOF, I sewed the two medium shades (blues) to each other, and the two dark shades (browns) to each other. I pressed all the seams at that point and joined the blues to the whites. Pressed. Joined the browns to the blues-and-whites. Pressed. Now I had all six rows sewn together in about 42" long strips. After pressing flat, I took these to my cutting mat and created 6.5" blocks. Schnazzy, huh? I love saving time! This is called strip piecing, and is a method that can be used to create all kinds of quilt blocks.

Then, using a technique called chain piecing, I sewed all of my pairs of two blocks together in mass production style. Chain piecing saves time and thread, and is just all around pretty slick. A great fundamental tool for a quilter. Here is a picture of my super long strand of chain pieced blocks. They reminded me a bit of prayer flags like you see on Mount Everest.

After pressing all of those seams to one side, I sewed pairs of blocks together to create a 4-block square. These were joined into rows and columns and then borders were added and I had a whole quilt top! Voila!

 You might notice that in my first three quilts, I had regrets or things I would have done differently. This was the first quilt that I assembled and designed carefully from start to finish and was completely happy with the finished product. Look at these beautiful, uniform 1/4" seams! I cut, sewed, and pressed my blocks so carefully, that I never even had to trim or square up my blocks! They were still perfect squares after having the six rows sewn together! I never dreamed I could have that kind of accuracy, but I did, and you can too.

This was also the first quilt that I machine quilted. I borrowed a friend's sewing machine that had a walking foot and did a sort of plaid quilting design that ran through and connected the points of all the zigzags. My precise cutting, precise piecing, and precise pressing made my quilt come out to the exact dimensions I planned it to be: 48" x 60". And yes, Johnna did recommend to buy a small amount of extra fabric in case of cutting or piecing mistakes, so I did. I made a few mistakes during cutting where my ruler slid and the rotary cutter missed its mark, but I was able to cut new pieces in that case. I never once had to use my seam ripper, though! I used neutral colors because I wasn't sure if this would end up being for a boy or girl, but Liz, my sister-in-law, ended up having a baby boy and this became a gift for him.

Here is a shot of part of the back of the quilt, and the binding. This class at Quilter's Corner also taught me how to do a binding that looked clean, uniform, and beautiful. My corners were even mitered! Such an improvement over my previous haphazard backing and bindings.

Now all I need is a picture of Owen with his quilt... Liz? (wink, wink)

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