I’ve always known that I like hand work–I love to bind quilts, I knit and embroider a little–but I really had no idea how much I would love hand piecing. When I started this crazy idea, I wasn’t at all sure that I would be able to see it through. About halfway through my first block I thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” But I pushed through, and now, a mere three months into this project, I can very clearly see my progress.
The actual motion of hand piecing is becoming second nature, and it feels so good to just slow down. I tend to do things very quickly–I walk fast, talk fast, and do most tasks as if I am getting a medal for speed. I’ve made a big effort this last year to slow down my machine sewing as well. I am always working on improving my accuracy, and slowing down is a big part of that for me. I hear about these sewing machines that sew 1500 stitches a minute and wonder how in the world someone can sew that fast without careening out of control.
Hand sewing takes time–something that always feels in short supply these days. I do all my prep work up front–I cut out all six blocks for the Patchwork Quilt Along and then mark the stitching lines on the back of them (I wrote about my favorite hand piecing tools here). This takes a good evening or two–usually while listening to a podcast or watching Netflix. Then I just keep everything I need to hand sew in a basket.
I drag this basket from room to room–or even in the car, using found moments to sew a seam or two. I think that this is one of the most unexpected parts about hand sewing–all the memories that are being sewn into this quilt. I will always remember that I worked on it in the car as we drove up to do a college tour for Jonah, that I binge-watched and cried my way through the entire season of This is Us, and that I worked on it pretty much every night when we gather as a family to share a TV show together before bed.
At first hand sewing a whole quilt seemed a little daunting, but now I realize that just like everything else–it is so much more doable when you break it down into small chunks. In this case, six blocks a month. I seem to need to be reminded of this over and over again–break it down and tackle it one bit at a time.
First let me say how much I love this pattern–the strong criss-cross elements, the secondary patterns that emerge, and the interplay of the fabrics.
Let’s start with the fabrics. I used the Playground line by Amy Sinibaldi for Art Gallery Fabrics–plus some AFG denim and Pure Elements solid in Linen. Have you ever felt fabric from AFG? It has a lovely silky smooth, delicate feel and a beautiful drape. It feels quite different from standard quilting cotton–in a very good way.
And when I say denim, I don’t mean heavy denim like jeans. It has the awesome look of denim, but with the same wonderful lightweight feel as the other AGF fabrics. And the denim fabric has the wonderful quality that it goes with everything! Just like your favorite jeans, you can dress it up or dress it down. I am in love with the way it works with the Playground fabrics, especially the pinks and golds. This quilt has a light-weight, silky feel that I know is going make it favorite to grab and curl up with on the sofa in our house.
The Filigree Pattern
Whenever I start a new quilt pattern I first like to make a couple of blocks to make sure that the pattern is working as expected before I cut all the fabric. I would rather experience my learning curve on a couple of blocks than finding out I made a cutting mistake after I cut out all the fabric (don’t ask me how I came to this realization) . In this case it paid off in that I realized I I wanted to spend a little extra time fussy cutting one of the fabrics to get the most out of the print.
I was also reminded that I don’t like to use steam when pressing triangles–they get stretched out so easily. And speaking of pressing–this pattern includes pressing instructions, and if you pay attention to them it really pays off in the final construction. All your seams nest like a dream, which really helps keep your points sharp and the quilt top to lay nice and flat.
Obviously this is a quilt where you want your points to match. At least I do. It was the first time I have put together a quilt where the nested seam allowances were coming in on a diagonal. Pinning wasn’t really working for me to keep things in place. So I started stitch basting.
I haven’t done much of this in past–but now I know I will do it all the time in the future. Let me explain: after I nested my seams, instead of pinning them to keep them in place, I would slip it under the machine and just sew a 1/2″ seam right over that area with a 3.0 stitch length. Then I would slide the block to the next seam intersection, nest the seams and baste that intersection in place, and so on. At first I thought that this was going to be very time consuming. But in short order I got my rhythm going and I think it may actually be faster than pinning. And the results are amazing! Every intersection is so firmly held in place with perfect points and no slipping, which I find happens sometimes with pinning. I am glad to have that l technique up my sleeve for future quilts.
The construction of the quilt was pure fun–lots of chain piecing and simple block construction. FQS created a wonderful video tutorial if you want to check it out for some helpful tips. It went together beautifully. I quilted it using my favorite Warm and Natural batting and some simple, straight line quilting with a sweet pale pink thread (Auriful 2410). I love the pale pink against the denim and it is perfect for the Playground fabrics as well. I was tempted to quilt it a little more densely, but I really love how soft and snuggly it is being rather lightly quilting.
The blocks are oversized and then trimmed down to perfection–which is my favorite way to make a quilt. Trimming blocks before sewing them together really improves the accuracy and makes it so easy to do things like match up seams. I used the Creative Grids 7.5″ square ruler to trim up the blocks. I tried to use a ruler that I already had to do this, and it is probably possible–but the correct ruler made the task so much more enjoyable that I was glad that I made the investment. I’ve never used a Creative Grids ruler before, but I have to say that I am a convert! They have these little spots on the bottom that prevent them from slipping and lines are nice and narrow, which really helps with accurate cutting.
The first block in the quilt-a-long is the Dragonfly Block. Not gonna lie–this one has a lot of pieces! I waffled on the background fabric. I had originally planned on the light gray dots, but when I saw how many pieces the block had, I was afraid that the dots would look too disrupted. So I bought some white fabric from the Fat Quarter Shop. While I was waiting, Erin posted her block and all of a sudden, I knew it would be alright. Yay! (You can never have too much white fabric, right? So no problem on my FQS order. Psst–I also bought some Little Ruby).
I sewed this block carefully and did some ripping out when things didn’t match up as well as I wanted them to. Then the whole block came out 1/4″ too big! (Not a big deal, I can trim up the sashing around it.) But, I wanted to figure out why.
I purchased a new 1/4″ foot for my Babylock sewing machine at QuiltCon this year. I have been thinking that it was sewing TOO scant of a 1/4″, but my HST quilt was working out, so I dismissed the thought. But after playing around with it a bit, and running some tests–it’s quite a bit less than 1/4″. I’m going to take it and my machine back to the dealer and show them.
In the meantime, I looked up a few YouTube videos and went old school. I measured out a scant 1/4″ from my needle and built up a stack of painters tape to slide my fabric along. I ran a lot of tests–measuring the fabric, sewing a seam, pressing it open, and measuring it again, until I got it right. I think I might add a few more layers of tape to make it the stack a little taller.
Things seem to be more accurate now, and Block 2: Bows, is coming together easily.
Are you sewing along? How did your Dragonfly block come out?