Every stitch by hand………the journey of two little star quilts.

finished arrangement

 

I wanted to write a round up piece about the two quilts I’ve recently finished making…a little journey of Peggy and Pearl’s quilts…….I’ve put in links to where I’ve waffled on about a particular part of the quilt before so I’m hoping I won’t be repeating myself too much.

The quilts were a commission by a very proud dad for his beautiful twin daughters Peggy and Pearl.  The hardest part of the commission was planning the design and overall feel of the two quilts….the design brief was one of those oh it sounds so simple until you try it kind of things…the quilts needed to be different but also similar (the girls will be sharing a bedroom so the quilts needed to compliment rather than clash).  I’d also made big sister Olive a quilt the other year and I needed to bring in a design element from her quilt too……

 

finished composition

 

After lots and lots of pots of tea, and many hours spent drafting out designs and colouring them in (even going so far as to paint up papers to create my own little paper patchworks to help with giving the work a sense of the fabrics) I arrived at two designs which I felt happy with….this was in fact helped by a few text messages with their awesome Aunty Ally who said their mum liked stars.  So I played around with different star blocks and incorporated one of the star designs with large squares to tie in with the quilt I’d made Olive.

 

fabric from Pretty Fabrics and Trims....

 

Then I set about choosing fabric.  I had a good idea of the sort of prints I was after, but I was seeing so many that I just couldn’t keep track so I made a pinterest board of all the fabrics I thought suitable….once I felt I had a really good selection of designs and colours, I went back through the boards and picked out particular favourites.

I also tried to limit myself to the amount of shops I was going to be purchasing from…it wasn’t an easy task and sadly I had to miss out a few gorgeous prints because perhaps that shop only had one print I liked, or only sold it by the half metre.  (Because I wanted to use lots of different fabrics I had to limit myself to only buying fat quarters)…..Anyway I whittled down some hundred different prints to about 20 that made my heart leap from three different shops.

 

fabrics from Sew and Quilt

 

I never stick to just one designer or company, (though Whistler Studios at Windham fabrics is a firm favorite of mine, and the Aunt Grace range from Marcus Brothers is very nice too)….I just prefer to really mix up the prints and colours for a better contrast.

I also ordered prints in different colour combinations as I always think that seeing the same print but in a different colourway adds extra interest to the overall look of the patchwork.

Once the fabric arrived it was all hand washed and hung on the line to dry. (I wash all my patchwork fabric, it still wrinkles and looks lovely and “antiquey” when it’s been quilted, but it’s also much easier to hand piece together when it’s had a wash first.)

 

lecien blue print star block

 

Then I spent a while combining the prints together to see which worked together the best.  This is a lot of fun because it means I get to spread out fabric everywhere, and can spend a coupe of days adjusting and moving prints back and forth until I’m happy and I feel the colours really sing. (this blue and pink combination is a real favourite)

I made a note of the fabrics which were being used and pinned tiny swatches to a work board so I could keep track of what was being used where.  Then the blocks were cut and I began to piece them together.

 

pinned star point pieces

 

All the patchwork was sewn together by hand, it’s my preferred method of working as it means whatever I’m sewing is nice and portable so if it’s sunny I can move my work basket out of doors, and it’s quiet so I can listen to music.

Once the stars for the first quilt were sewn I then set about pinning them together and joining them up to make the first patchwork top.

 

early moning shadows

 

The clocks changing and the sunshiney weather made a big difference to the light in my work room, several times I was treated to beautiful shadows dappled across the patchwork while the small squares were pinned on to a design board.

Once the “evening star” blocks were finished for the second quilt, I then had the challenge of arranging them so the prints and colours would sing and compliment rather than sit uneasily and grump. (trust me, if fabric isn’t sitting happy then it looks proper grumpy)

 

finished patchwork for quilt one

 

When the joined blocks are all finished it feels lovely….and I can begin to see the patchwork tops as quilts…I really think all the time spent playing with papers and painting them up to make the little paper patchworks paid off.   When I’ve explained to friends what I’ve been doing I could see them thinking “she’s off her rocker” but it was hard to imagine how the patchwork would look when you only use a solid colour…..the finished patchwork has come out just right, and captures for me…. sunny days, ice creams and lollies, day trips to the sea side…..an overwhelming feel of happiness and smiles.

 

all ready to quilt

 

I’d bought just enough of the back fabric to be able to use it as a border for the front of both quilts, this was carefully cut (one of the only times I used a rotary cutter while making the quilts…the other time was when I was making the binding)…and then pinned and sewed around the tops and sides.

Once the binding is in place, it’s time to baste the quilt. It’s a bit like making a huge quilt sandwich but instead of using bread you’re using fabric with the wadding as a soft and puffy filling.  I like to do this on our carpet and I also like to thread baste my quilts as I find this holds the layers together more securely. A quilt this size takes a few hours to baste securely, so it’s not too bad, though you might want to get up and have a shake about every 15 minutes or so as it’s a bit hard going on your knees and back.

I also sew some spare fabric (old calico or American muslin or curtain lining) round the corner sides and edges where the quilt doesn’t really have a lot of room to fit in the hoop.  I find it much easier (and get a nicer quilting stitch too) if the section of my quilt I’m quilting is sitting in the middle of the hoop rather than right at the edge.  Sewing the extra fabric round means you have a bit more room to move your hoop about, and it makes sewing those stitches easier as the needle isn’t being forced in a cramped little space.

Once you’ve basted your fabric layers together, your patchwork top suddenly changes…you’re now holding a quilt, okay the basting stitches are rather big and unsightly, but it’s definitely quilty looking.

 

needles in action

 

There are different ways to mark up your quilt, it depends a bit on the pattern you’re wanting to stitch.  For these quilts I thought a baptist fan pattern would help soften the edges and seams of the fabrics and different blocks.

In the past I’ve used silver quilter’s pencils and ordinary hb pencils.  I’ve used a water erasable blue pen for these quilts as I knew they were going to be quilted relatively quickly and the pen wouldn’t be on the fabric for a long time.

When I’m quilting the baptist fan I like to thread up a load of quilting needles all at once and then i can just keep quilting rather than keep stopping and starting threading up needles…also I find working a curve with several needles on the go at any one time helps give the arc of the fan a nicer, more even curve.

 

translucent patchwork and quilting

 

When the quilting was completed, I lightly spray the patchwork top with water to remove the blue pen, and allow them an hour or so to dry in the sunshine outside….I loved how translucent the patchwork looks, and the quilting is just ghostly and barely noticeable.

Finishing a quilt always makes me sad….something that has been a big part of my life for the past some weeks (or more often years) is coming to an end.

 

then continue slip stitching along the rest of the binding

 

I prefer to make my own binding, it allows me to chose exactly which print or fabric I want, and not rely on what a shop stocks. Sewing the binding to the front, carefully joining the edges, rolling the binding over and sewing it to the back and then mitring the corners…tiny stitches all by hand…..

Slowly sewing the binding around the edges allows me my goodbyes, and generally I get a bit teary which I know is really daft.  It’s very hard to actually present someone with the quilt when it’s completed…so much of yourself has gone into it….you hope good things for it…to be held tight by sticky warm hands …to be loved and snuggled and cuddled ….night time reads when it’s made into a tent and books are quietly read by torchlight…poorly beds on the sofa where it helps someone feel better……maybe it will be wrapped round favourite bears and dolls when they need their “nap time”……off on it’s adventures…a reminder of home and family……one day looked at and a voice asking “did someone really sew this all by hand?”…………………

 

pinned into place and slip stitching along the edge

 

If you would like to commission one for yourself or someone precious then both quilt designs are now listed in my folksy shop or you can contact me directly if you would like something even more bespoke.

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12 thoughts on “Every stitch by hand………the journey of two little star quilts.

  1. I love that your two new quilts go well with the older child’s quilt. And I learned two new tips today. Pre-loading multiple needles so one doesn’t have to rethread the one needle repeatedly, (I guess I had heard of that for needle turn appliqué, just hadn’t made the jump to hand quilting), and working multiple needles at once to keep a pattern smooth. Thanks for the tips!

    1. My pleasure xx I also like to thread up a few quilting needles in different sizes so if I’m quilting areas with no patchwork seams I can use a teensy weensy needle but if I’m sewing where there is a lot of patchwork seams then I use a slightly larger and chubbier one x

      1. I also will set a timer for 60 minutes so that way I’m reminded to get up and have a good shake out so I don’t get all crampy. If I’m feeling energetic I’ll do a Mr Motivator 5 minute workout but sometimes just my special dance to the Cagney and Lacey theme tune helps me loosen up x

      2. He used to be on breakfast tv,and is good for making you exercise and laugh as well.
        I wish there was a workout designed for quilters as I’m rapidly developing “quilter’s bottom” although I have fingertips of steel!

  2. Hey Erica
    I have followed all your posts about these quilts with great interest. .what a fantastic job you have done on them…I love hand piecing and hand quilting and have picked up loads of tips from you so thanks for letting me watch you at work. ..I hope Peggy and Pearl love them as much as I do!!!
    Sue…

    1. Hi Sue, thank you. Have been told that mum loved them, the girls are just a couple of months old so too tiny to give a proper response (though I saw a little video with Olive cuddling her quilt…it made me so happy)…..Hoorah for hand sewers, and I’m glad you’ve liked the tips.

    1. Thank you so much, I’ve got a book called Star Quilts by Mary Elizabeth Johnson (published by The Quilt Digest Press) which is a good resource book for star lovers.

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