Several months ago, I completed a throw quilt for the friend who officiated at our wedding. It is the biggest quilt I’ve ever made as a gift (previously I’d only given baby quilts).
The piecing is very simple, if not quite improvisational. I knew that I had a lot of the dark blue print that forms the four vertical stripes on the front of the quilt above, so I wanted it to be the most prevalent fabric in the quilt. Then, I sorted through my scrap collection for fabrics that would work well with it. Most of these were leftover from making Christmas presents last December. There was quilting cotton (the bridges, Michael Miller Bridgetown: Waterfront Park in navy), flannel (dusty solid blue, blue-on-blue check), cotton-silk blend (the shiny aqua, Robert Kaufman Radiance in slate), and some double gauze (gray-green and blue left over from the blankets at the bottom of this post, plus Kobayashi triangle polar bear print like this). I cut these scraps to equal widths (about 10″, I think) and then played around with various arrangements before piecing them together. For the back of the quilt, I didn’t have quite enough of the dark print, so I pieced solid Dutch blue strips on the top and the bottom.
In addition to being one of the larger quilts I’ve made, this was also the first one I quilted with a walking foot. Once the two sides of a quilt are pieced, the next step is to stack them into a “quilt sandwich,” with a layer of soft lofty batting between them. (I like Warm & Natural.) Then, you sew through all the layers of the sandwich, effectively transforming it into a single flexible layer (think lamination, but with thread rather than heat). Any sewing machine can do this, especially if the stack of layers is thin. They are built, after all, the join multiple layers of fabric.
However, the feed dogs that move the stack of fabrics through the machine have a tough time with stacks that are tall, many-layered, or slippery. On most home machines, they grab the stack from the bottom and pull it backward. If it’s tall, the weight of the presser foot is too much, and the stack will move slowly, if at all. That makes all the stitches end up in one part of the fabric, which makes a knot rather than a line of quilting. With many-layered or slippery stacks, the feed dogs will pull the bottom layers faster than the top ones, so the wrong parts of the sandwich will get sewn together. When you reach the edge of the sandwich, the layers won’t line up evenly anymore. In the past, I tried to prevent this by used a lot of pins to hold the layers together and pulling a bit on the upper layers of the stack while sewing. Going slowly also helped. A walking foot adds another set of feed dogs at the top of the stack, so the machine is able to pull the stack much more evenly. This makes quilting a lot easier. I have to say I’m getting better results now. For this quilt, I quilted “vertical” lines along all the edges of the dark blue strips.
I finished the quilt by binding the edges with 3/4″ bias binding made from the same dark blue print. Then, I popped it in the wash. This is always a scary thing to do, but I like to do it before giving a quilt as a gift. I plan my quilts to be machine washable, and if something goes wrong (a color runs, stitches come undone) I’d rather that happen while I still have a chance to fix it.
In this case, it was a good thing I did. Two piecing seams came apart, both in places where the lightweight Radiance was joined to a heavier flannel. The Radiance had frayed in the seam allowance, coming out of the seam entirely. I fixed these seams with machine-quilted patches. I took pieces of the dark blue print, ironed the raw edges under, and top-stitched them onto the rips, stitching through the entire quilt. The two extra quilting rectangles are not particularly noticeable on the back, and I actually think it improves the front, where the contrast of the navy blue bridges had been a bit harsh. To prevent this if I quilt with Radiance again in the future, I’ll probably use a wider seam allowance (I used 1/4″ this time) and denser quilting (ideally on every Radiance seam).