quilted sunshine – a play in two acts

[ please note, this tutorial (instructions and pattern) is for personal use only, thankyou ]

:: Setting ::

A little sewing shed, tucked away among the trees in a Melbourne back garden.  It is a spring weekend.  However, the weather has turned blustery and bleak.  Golden light spills from the open sewing shed door.  Inside is cluttered and cheery with fabrics and colour.  From a laptop, the tinkling sounds of Lisa Mitchell compete with the clatter of a sewing machine.

A woman is stitching a quilt – straight onto a blanket.  She is singing along to the music and every few moments, jumps to her feet to add more notes to her latop, and press the long strips of fabric she is adding to her quilt.

Do come in! Pull up a chair and a cup of tea and watch what happens!

:: Introduction ::

Here it is!  A recipe for making your own quilted blanket.

Beautiful pure wool vintage blankets are not impossible to find at thrift stores. If I don’t see any, I always ask – sometimes they don’t put them out because they are not considered popular! Often they have holes or marks but I’m not precious about that.  I wash them in my machine, on warm, with wool wash, dry them on the garden line and away I go.  I rarely use them whole – this makes it easier to avoid holes and stains – you just fussy cut.

And there’s always things to do with the scraps.  They make lovely banners, runner backings, placemat backings, tote bag linings, slippers, little wheat and lavendar bags – their use is only limited by your imagination.  In fact, over at Myrtle and Eunice you will find a gorgeous dress for your little one made from a vintage blanket!

So let’s begin …

:: Act 1, Scene 1 ::

In which we trim the blanket to our desired size and choose our centrepiece and fabrics.

Remember, this is a quilt recipe!  Not the pattern for a heirloom quality, precision made quilt :-)

Oh hang on!  Should add here, we have washed our picnic quilt many, many times and dragged it around with us for over 2 years and it is immaculate – a quality wool blanket and good stitching will make a quilted blanket that will give you years of warmth!

Nevertheless, it is a relaxed and easy to put together quilt.  So … find your blanket, wash it and dry it.

First we cut it into a square.  I do this rather haphazardly.  I spread the blanket out on the floor as smoothly as possible (sometimes furniture gets in the way – oh well) and then take one corner and fold it over on a 90 degree angle to get the square length I want.  Smooth it out well, and measure to make sure it is reasonably straight.  Checked blankets are brilliant for this – I just line it up with the lines on the blanket!

Cut – and save the pieces left over for other projects.  Now fold the square piece of blanket in half and then in half again.  The folded point you wind up with is your middle – you probably knew that ;-) – place a pin in the fold of the middle.  Open your blanket back out.

Now you will need a centrepiece – I’m using a pieced block that I found in a box.  btw – all those little lines in the yellow triangles – they are pieced – I musn’t have had enough of that lovely yellow and white print to cut full half square triangles so pieced them!  In the past I have used a plain piece of fabric or a nice panel of something pretty.

Doesn’t matter how big it is but it should be square.  If you have a wonderful print – cut a nice big square so you can see plenty of its lovely picture, like here.  Or you can piece a block especially, like here and here.  Or if it is simply a starting point, you can keep it small.  This will work especially well if you have lots of shorter strips of lovely fabric that you would like to start your borders with.  That is, a smaller square to start with, will have shorter borders to start with.

This can be positioned straight or on point.  I have done both – straight – on point.  Today I’m using on point.  I’m in a bit of an on point mood and it does look very striking when finished.  Fold your centrepiece in half diagonally and line up with the centre point of your blanket.  Smooth it out and pin securely.  This will provide the foundation for the rest of your quilting so you want it smooth and straight.

Choose your border fabrics – this will depend on what you have available – ’cause really, after you’ve added your centrepiece, the rest of the fabrics are just borders.  Kind of like a simple medallion quilt.  You might want to buy something specially – which I did for the picnic quilt (all the fabrics were on sale at Allegro Fabrics – very cheap) or use scraps – which I did for this one.  For today’s quilted blanket, I’m using mostly scraps with some nice bigger pieces that I either found in boxes that had not been touched for over 2 years, or bought at Amitie.  And I’m sticking to yellows with a bit of green because it will be my “Quilted Sunshine”.  Good scraps will be long, full width pieces – the quilt gets big quickly.

You can lay them out to see how they work together … or you can just plonk them on higgledy-piggledy for a really scrappy look.  Even in this instance, I do think about it as I go – I wouldn’t mindlessly put three reds and pinks in a row – I think a bit of contrast works.

With these yellows, I shifted them around a bit, added different fabrics and took some away until I got it right.  Now – width.  I am using a variety of widths for my strips.  The narrowest I would use is 1 1/2 inch finished and the widest is 4 inch finished – wider than 4 inches and I think it looks a bit clumsy.  And I’m not following a particular order with the width – in and out and in and out!

:: Act 1, Scene 2 ::

In which we start to add our borders, straight onto the blanket.

Tips before we start …

All stitching on your quilted blanket is done with a walking foot.

At the risk of sounding nerdy, I really recommend regularly changing your rotary cutter blade and even indulging in a new ruler.  I did both yesterday and I cannot describe how much easier it is!  The blade slices through the fabric like butter (as opposed to using every muscle in my upper body and still having to go through a couple of times) and I can actually read the markings on the ruler.  Amazing!

Use thread you want to see because you will be quilting your borders as you go and it would be a royal pain in the bum to have to keep changing your thread.  For the bobbin – use a thread that will blend nicely into the blanket.  I am using Guterman Sulky on the bobbin and have a lovely pale lemon King Tut for the top.

Stitch length – you will need a bigger stitch than you would use for piecing – much bigger!  Will depend on the thickness of your blanket – my blanket today is pretty thick so I’m using a 4.

Have your iron set to cotton (despite the fact that we are ironing on wool – I find the sturdiness of a blanket stands up to the cotton setting just fine) and plenty of steam.  You will be ironing at the end of each seam you sew, so keep it close.

I put joins in my borders if needs require.  To just keep cutting a fresh strip each time is wasteful and patchwork is all about making do :-)  Just remember to turn your dial back to 2 for your piecing and then back to 4 for your quilting.  You’ll soon realise if you haven’t – your piecing will fall apart and your quilting will resemble mincing and take forever to get 2 inches.

And as my borders become long, I measure with a tape measure, firmly hold the tape in place with my left pointer finger, slide my little ruler under the tape, double check it, move the tape, and cut using the little ruler.

The order in which I add the borders … I’m starting on the right hand down side of my on point block and then working my round clockwise.  But you can do it anyway you like – log cabin style where you keep different shades to different sides, or courthouse steps style like this.

Okay … here we go.

Measure the first edge of your centre block.  Cut the first border to the same length (I have included the measurements I have used below).

Line up your raw edges well – you want to be able to just see the underneath edge all the way along otherwise it may not be properly caught.  Pin, pin, pin.  I know it is only a straight line, but you need to pin to counteract the dynamics of sewing … the fabric on top will always stretch a little – especially in this instance where the fabric on top is lighter.  You won’t be able to avoid all movement, but that’s okay, because this is a quilt recipe remember!

Start stitching just before the piece – anchors it well – and stitch just past it.

Press it back – pin it in place.  I keep the pins in as I add the next strip on – helps keep it in place.  Add next strip –  Now remember, the previous strip may have travelled a little past the edge of the block – so we will line the next border up with the block and allow for the this on the edge of the previous strip, as below …

You continue in this way – measure the length required.  Cut your border fabric to match.  Pin it in place.  Stitch.  Press back.  Pin.  Add next border on.

Now, as you make your way out, border after border, you might find that you need to add joins to your strips of fabric.  As mentioned in the tips, this is A-OK with me and true to the spirit of patchwork, but there are some things I keep in mind – and try to follow.  Don’t centre your join – looks glaringly obvious when it’s smack bang in the middle of a border.  And if you need an extra 2 inches at the end, don’t have your join there – it looks like a daft mistake.  Position your join about 2/3s of the way along the edge.  Then measure it (to ensure you haven’t stretched or bunched it), chop off each long end, and stitch.

You can mitre the join if the fancy takes you – if I’m using patterned fabric I don’t – a busy pattern will usually disguise a join anyway.  If I’m using a plain fabric, then I do mitre it.  Don’t know why really – it still stands out – but it seems to say, “I know how to do this properly!”  On this quilt, all the joins are straight.  No mitres to be found.  But again, you do what you like best.

:: Act 1, Scene 3 :: We Quilt

In which we admire the three borders we have added, pause for a sip of tea, then quilt what we have done.

I usually add a few borders and then quilt/top stitch around.  In this instance, I’m quilting a quarter inch from the seam then around again another quarter inch away from that.

I may very well add more lines of quilting once it is done – depends what time of day it is! – and I am handquilting around the centre star with perle cotton.  Should mention here – when I’m starting and stopping the quilting, I take a few steps forward, then back, then forward again.  I’m not fond of tying off the ends :-)

Whilst you are quilting – and adding borders for that matter – keep the blanket and fabric all nice and flat and straight whilst you’re quilting – stop and readjust as often as you need – and make sure the blanket is smooth and moderately taut under the foot – this will keep it straight.  And do not let the blanket drag or droop – this will pull on your stitching and warp it.

:: Intermission ::

Okay – I had hoped to finish the quilt today, but alas, family time and the coming of night defeated me :-)  I have finished all four sides all the way to the outer edge …

and then as the garden grew dark, in a burst of enthusiasm and desperation to see all the fabrics on and how they worked, I added all the borders on one corner …

I’m a bit impatient like that.  So!  Come back tomorrow to see how you cope with reaching the outer edges, how to finish your corners, and then add your binding.  Oh, and I shall get Abby to draw up a diagram of the quilt in Omnigraffle with the measurements (below) – we’ll save it as a pdf and you can print it out if it’s helpful.

Well, this will hopefully get you well and truly going!  See you tomorrow!

Exact measurements for Quilted Sunshine thus far …

Started with 12 1/2 inch block

Strip 1. 3 1/2 x 12 1/2 inches

Strip 2. 3 1/2 x 15 1/2 inches

3. 3 1/2 by 15 1/2 inches

4. 3 1/2 x 18 1/2 inches

5. 3 x 18 1/4 inches

6. 3 x 21 inches

7. 3 x 21 inches

8. 3 x 23 1/4 inches

9. 2 1/2 x 23 1/4 inches

10. 2 1/2 x 25 1/4 inches

11. 2 1/2 x 25 1/4 inches

12. 2 1/2 x 26 3/4 inches

13. 4 x 27 inches

14. 4 x 30 x 1/2 inches

15. 4 x 30 1/2 inches

16. 4 x 33 3/4 inches

17. 3 1/2 x 33 3/4 inches

18. 3 1/2 x 36 1/2 inches

19. 3 1/2 x 36 1/2 inches

20 3 1/2 x 39 1/2 inches

A-Bunting we will go – Act 4

In which Miss Lily puts those dangly bits away and claps her hands with glee – you can never have too much bunting!

Okay – I know this Christmas folly has gone on and on a bit – I was always the student who could never keep to the word limit :-) – but this final act is short and sweet!

Tie the dangly bits off in a knot that is flush with the point of the triangle.

Thread the dangly bit onto a relatively fine needle – clearly you don’t want it fat ’cause it will be a major pain to run through the two layers of fabric, but I have shaky fingers so cannot use those hair-like needles.  Use whatever feels good is my mantra!

Slide the needle into the bottom of the point, up between the layers and out an inch or so up.  (Gosh, you can barely see the needle in this photo – very useful photo!)

Trim the end off flush with the fabric.  Of course, my mate Pete reckons the dangly bits are a feature and thinks I should leave them on last week’s Halloween bunting.  Maybe it’s a boy thing.  But if time is sparse, feature they can be!

Give the bunting a good press with the iron and … (gleeful grinning and hand clapping going on here!)

Yum!  Christmas bunting.  This batch is for Nanny for her 83rd birthday – but there are plenty more triangles waiting!

Hope you found A-Bunting we will go useful :-)  If you would like any clarification of any of the steps, drop me an email!

A-Bunting we will go – Act 3

In which Miss Lily stitches binding, folds binding, irons binding, and then finally, attaches the binding to the triangles.

Okay – the binding.  I make my bunting in approximately 2.2 metre lengths – this is two widths of a standard piece of fabric.  So I cut two 2 1/2 inch widths, trim off the selvedges and stitch them together with a quarter inch seam.

Iron the long strip of binding in half, long raw edges together, wrong sides together.

Pin the raw edges of the triangles to the raw edges of the binding, leaving a 1 inch gap between the top of each triangle – and a 3 inch tail at each end – I don’t measure each of these, just use my eye.

I turn up the triangles’ tails as I go so that I can check the pattern on the reverse.

Stitch triangles in place with a quarter inch seam.

Before ironing over the binding, I finish off the ends.  Iron the end in at a 90 degree angle – I often stuff this bit up – you want the folded edge to be the longer edge.  Now, turning the fabric so that the RIGHT sides are together, stitch along the ironed crease and then trim the seam to a scant 1/4 inch.

Turn back out the right way –  I use a knitting needle to push out the point – never brilliantly I might add!

Now, iron the binding so that the fold is standing above the raw edges of the triangle and the binding.

Iron the folded edge of the binding over the raw edges so that it sits just on the stitch line – you don’t want to see the stitch line, but you don’t want to go over it because then the top stitching will be offline.

Stitch as close to the edge as possible.  I use the walking foot on my Mega Quilter for this – it makes such lovely strong, even stitches, no matter how many layers of fabric there are and never ever falls off the edge – it can stitch right to the end of the narrow binding tail effortlessly – marvellous stuff! :-)

And doing the binding this way makes a lovely sturdy and straight edge – it has beautiful structural integrity! :-) (a phrase that has stuck in my mind since university days when a structural engineering student questioned the reliability of the 100 year old wooden floorboards under my heavy piano – I haven’t stopped finding structural integrity issues since – I’m always waiting for the kitchen cupboards to fall off the walls!)

A-Bunting we will go – Act 2

In which Miss Lily matches points, zigzags edges and performs delicate manoeuveres with dangly bits of thread.

Match up your triangles – one individual piece with one backing piece.  (As you might notice above, I had to use 2 backing fabrics for this batch of bunting as I didn’t have enough of either to make the required 44 triangles!  Never mind, it will just make the repeating pattern a little more complex!)  The triangles are placed BACK TO BACK and it is important that the bottom point matches as precisely as possible.  The sides should also be aligned neatly as I will need to catch both with my zigzag stitch.

As I zig zag down each long edge of the matched triangles, I make sure I keep the raw edges lined up with the middle of the foot.  This makes the most attractive zigzag stitch – too much to the right and the fabric edge crumples, too much to the left and the stitch is too small.  Oh, I also make the stitch quite long but keep the width narrow.

And I use a thread colour that will look nice on every triangle colourway.  I don’t switch colours according to the colours of the different triangles or a different colour in the bobbin  – this just makes things look a little messy and busy – using the one colour keeps it neat and the eye is drawn to the fabric not the thread.  For this Christmas bunting, I used a Christmas red.

I don’t pin the triangles together – the pins make the fabric bulk up and distort.  However, if I find the fabric moving as I near the bottom point, I use a pin to hold the points together – with my left hand, I simply stab the pin into the point and hold it there as I sew towards it.

Now here’s the delicate bit!  When I get to the point, I raise the needle and foot, and pull the triangle away until the threads are about 4 inches long.   DO NOT CUT! :-)

Then I position the triangle ready to sew back up the second side, put the needle and foot down, and holding the 4 inch loop of thread out the back – I pull it back gently with my finger in the loop – I zigzag up the second side.

Why so much effort?  Well I like to hang the bunting across doorways and windows so I want it reversible.  But I definitely do not want to sew the triangles together face to face and turn them out – this is amazingly time consuming and fiddly and the bottom point rarely looks any good.  But I do want the bunting to be long lasting and washable.  So I zigzag.

But!  If I try to turn the corner at the point, the point just disappears down the feed dogs and by the time I get it out – there’s no point at all!  So I pull the threads way out and form a loop with them – this gives me a handle to hold onto whilst I stitch neatly up the second side, and when I’m finished I can thread the looped ends onto a needle, slip them between the two triangles and they are neatly finished off, point intact.

Oh – and I don’t have an overlocker/serger! :-)  I guess if you have one of these, you could just go zip, zip and done :-)

I usually chain piece, but just watch for the drag – the weight of a bundle of triangles can sometimes pull the points skew-if.

Oh – and I don’t stitch across the top, and I don’t worry if it doesn’t match exactly – the binding in Act 3 takes care of this!