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Finally!

January 4, 2009

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Last night I finally finished my first quilt. I started it in October but let it sit on touched for a couple weeks while traveling. Then at Christmas I kicked it into high gear and finished the hand quilting and binding in a week. It was a combination of time off and house guests. I love having family over but it can get stressful, hand quilting is almost meditative. I found myself sitting for a couple hours each night letting the conversation ebb and flow around me as I stitched along. I even inspired my mother in law to pick up a book and a kit for a small table runner while they were visiting. J.’s parents are school teachers who spend their summers on the highway with their RV. They plan on retiring in the next couple years and plan on traveling the majority of the year. Hand quilting is certainly easier to take with you then machine quilting so I hope my MIL likes it.

I learned quite a bit from my first quilt and I would recommend that anyone looking to try it for the first time take class or get a kit. I would even recommend you try a large project like a baby quilt versus something smaller. The process is not hard but it is challenging. It can be easy to get frustrated and with a small project it’s easy to write the whole thing off. I was a lot more emotionally vested in finishing a baby quilt and that kept me at it even when it felt like I would never finish. I didn’t read the directions from start to finish instead I took each phase (cutting, piecing, sandwiching, basting, quilting, and binding) in course. That way I wasn’t too overwhelmed to start and felt a level of accomplishment as each phase brought me closer to completion.

With all said and done I definitely want to do it again with some modifications. I went into this a total novice. I had the instructions that came with the quilt and a couple of quilt blogs I found online. I didn’t take a class and I didn’t read a book so I was lost in the woods when I went to the “quilting notions” section for the first time. I ended up with the wrong thread, a flimsy and small embroidery hoop, not great needles, and a marking pencil that I hated.

I learned thread matters. The first thing I grabbed was all purpose thread and it was pretty much the worst thing ever. I couldn’t even piece with it. I switched to cotton wrapped polyester thread that was designed for hand quilting and it was okay but the best thing was the 100% cotton thread for hand quilting. It was a frustrating process. Most quilting shops don’t cater to hand quilters so you won’t find a large color selection (if you find thread at all), I’ve found Johann’s Fabric has more options but it’s still disappointing in comparison to the rainbow of machine threads that are easily found.

My cheapo embroidery hoop wasn’t bad but it did start cracking when I was 2/3 through the project. I fixed it with some glue and duct tape but if you are going to take up quilting seriously you should probably invest in something larger and sturdier.

I picked a blue pencil to mark my pattern for the border (I stitched in the ditch for the middle) but it was hard to see the blue, the line was fat and imprecise and it kept needing to be sharpened. I chose it because it was the least plastic option at the store- not the best method by the way. For my next quilt I’m trying chalk, I’ll let you know how it goes.

My not great needles worked once I found my favorite size. Most quilters it seems use between 9-11, I used a 10. Some purists will say you should throw your needle out after 8-10 hours. Needles may not be expensive but I’m not going to chuck something out that still works. This is probably a good practice for a show piece or competition but for general quilting one need can complete a project (unless it gets bent). I had one needle get bent while binding but it had already made it through every other step of the project and 3/4 of the binding before I had to give up on it.

Looking back I should have at least read up on quilting techniques online or at the library. I recently checked out That Perfect Stitch. I was an easy read and offered some good information but I wouldn’t buy it. I plan on taking notes on the material recommendations before returning it to the library. If you do get this book keep in mind that many of the materials the author suggests are one’s that she sells. I’m not saying they are better or worse since I haven’t used them but I’m always a little leery of that kind of bias.

Now I can say I’ve learned a new skill, perhaps not the most practical but certainly useful. I want to continue to hand quilt but would prefer to use a machine for piecing and binding. It would speed up the process and allow me to focus my hand stitches where it really matters. I don’t own a sewing machine (I’ve mentioned before they scare me) but I’m interested in getting one. I checked some out this weekend at big box stores but I’m really interested in buying a used model. That way I’m keeping something out of a landfill and I can get more for my money. But I don’t have that kind of money lying around so I’ve decided to see how much I can raise by selling even more stuff from our basement. I got a huge chunk or sorting done yesterday, motivated by my desire to see what I could sell. That seems to be the best motivation for me otherwise the half sorted boxes would simply sit in our basement. This way I can get rid of what we don’t need and in essence trade in for something that we could put to practical use.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 4, 2009 4:34 pm

    Looks great! Congrats on a beautiful job!

  2. Linda Stolee permalink
    January 4, 2009 8:45 pm

    Ivory soap chips are a great alternative! Ivory hand soap has no oil in it so the oil won’t stay on the quilt. By the time you’ve used it down to a nub, it can be as sharp as a sliver and creates great lines!

  3. January 4, 2009 10:32 pm

    It looks great for your first quilt. I have quilted a long time, and I like it when my needle gets the bend in it, I can get smaller and more uniform stitches that way.

    Oh and I love my 50’s Singer machine, it is metal, and will last my lifetime. I have sewed miles of thread with it, and it is still like new, even though I purchased it second or third hand!

  4. January 5, 2009 3:57 am

    Great job!

  5. January 5, 2009 4:45 am

    A beautiful quilt! I’d say you started in exactly the right way; using cheap gear untill you found out if quilting was something you were interested in. Even if you had to change something during the work you didn’t fall into the gadgeteer trap (which means you buy all the expensive “right” stuff in the beginning and then promptly loose interest in the skill).

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