Creating a Quilt: Part 5 – Backing and Basting a Quilt

To piece a backing or not to piece a backing? Many people don’t realize that Shakespeare’s original idea for Hamlet was about a young quilter being driven mad by the various design decisions one must make during the quilting process, but the queen ordered him to go in a different direction. Alas. But seriously, this is one of the many questions we must ask ourselves as we’re getting ready to put together our quilt sandwich.

I am always very impressed with the Instagram posts I see of quilts with beautifully pieced backings, while at the same time thinking, “That is an awful lot of work for something that will rarely be seen.” By the time I’ve put together the quilt top, I generally want to take as little time as possible putting everything together because I really want to get to the quilting. That means I usually opt for a simple whole cloth backing.

However, for this particular quilt, I had a bit of a dilemma. By the time I had finished piecing my quilt top, I still had a good amount of yardage left over of the pear fabric. I thought it would be fun to use that for the backing, so I went ahead and pinned my completed quilt top to my design wall and taped an outline around it so I could make sure I had enough fabric to use as the backing.

Surprise, surprise — it wasn’t quite enough fabric, which meant I either had to go out and buy more, or I could take my scraps and piece together a back. I opted for the fiscally responsible choice. My first idea was to make a super scrappy section of the backing, which would have been totally fun but was going to take way more time than I wanted to spend on it. Then I realized I had a nice long strip of the pear fabric that could be used as the centerpiece. I went ahead and surrounded that by some long strips of the gray and black I had left over, and — voilĂ ! — I suddenly had a very cool-looking, contemporary quilt back to complement my very cool-looking, contemporary quilt top (I mean, very cool looking in my opinion at least).

Once the backing was complete, it was time to make the quilt sandwich. Just as a reminder, a quilt generally consists of the top and the backing with the batting in between. Because this quilt wasn’t terribly large, I was able to clear out a space on my apartment floor and tape the backing down. I put a safety pin in the very middle of the backing so that I could line up the batting and quilt top, ensuring everything was perfectly centered.

You may also notice that my batting looks a little wonky. That’s because I am a firm believer in using every scrap of batting I have before opening a new package. That means using the zigzag stitch on my sewing machine and “Frankenstein-ing” all my batting scraps together.

Once everything was laid out, I pin basted all three layers together. Pin basting is how I originally learned to baste, and it’s really my preferred method at this point. I am very reticent to use any sort of adhesive with any part of my quilting process, so I plan on sticking with pin basting until my body forces me to pick another way to keep my quilt sandwich together. By the way, for those of you who might not know, basting a quilt sandwich is how you keep all three layers together during the quilting process. If you didn’t baste the layers together, they would shift all over the place while you’re quilting them, and your end result would be quite a mess.

Now that everything is pin basted together, it’s time to start thinking about the overall quilting design, but I will save those ponderings for a later date. Going back to the original question at the top of this post, how do you feel about pieced backings? If you do piece your backings, is it for artistic reasons or is it because you don’t want to waste any fabric? I’d love to hear the stories about your own process, so please share them with all of us in the Comments section below! Happy crafting!

Creating a Quilt: Part 4 – Construction and Layout of Quilt Top

Come up with an idea – check! Make some prototypes and confirm that my idea is a good one – check! Decide on the color scheme – check! Now it’s time to start putting it all together! Yay!! While most of the steps of creating a quilt are exciting, this is where I really start to have fun. This is also the point in the process where I might deviate a little from some other makers because I prefer to fly by the seat of my pants a bit more than is comfortable for many people.

This particular quilt is very much improv based. The only parameters I set for myself were the finished size of each block and the color scheme. I did make prototype blocks for several of my designs, but I was getting very bored with that so I decided it was time to start in with the real fabric and just see what happens. I always get way more excited when I work with my real fabric and colors knowing that I’m actually creating the final quilt.

I started with the blocks I had already experimented with when I was making prototypes. And even though I had already worked on the designs in the prototype phase, some of my blocks still did not work the way I wanted, so that meant redesigning or scrapping the idea all together.

I did not have a set number of blocks in mind when I started thinking about putting this quilt together, but I did know I wanted it to be a wall hanging. And as someone who lives in an apartment with relatively small walls, that meant the quilt wasn’t going to be too big. As I made more and more blocks, I realized that my final number of blocks was most likely going to be 20. Once I had that number in mind, I suddenly felt like this whole thing was much more achievable.

After creating my 20 blocks, it was time to slap them up on the design wall and decide on the overall quilt layout. Because I had framed each of the blocks in the pear fabric, I already knew I wanted to have sashing in between all of the blocks to keep the bright pear color from overwhelming the overall quilt. (For those who don’t know what sashing is, think of it as the inner borders of a quilt that surround each block.) Once all of the blocks were on the design wall, I was able to rearrange them into an order that felt balanced and also start thinking about how wide I wanted the sashing to be in between each block.

Then I needed to decide what color I wanted to use for the sashing. I pretty quickly decided gray was the way to go, but I was starting to think the pear borders around each block were too strong. Did the blocks need another border of black around them? Then I remembered seeing a bunch of Instagram posts of quilt blocks with a shadow effect that I thought was super cool, and I decided that was going to work really well with this particular quilt.

Once I made those design decisions, I started cutting and piecing everything together. After I had pieced all of the blocks together with sashing, I decided the outer border needed to be a bit thicker and that I wanted a second border to frame the whole thing. But should I add another border of pear? I love the color so much, so maybe I should add just a bit more? Ultimately, I decided there was more than enough pear already, so I committed to a simple black border around the entire quilt. I felt like that was the best design choice to complete the overall graphic look I was trying to achieve.

The next steps will be deciding on my backing and making the quilt sandwich, so stay tuned for my next post about this quilt. I’d love to hear about your creation process. Do you like to fly by the seat of your pants? Or do you prefer having a pretty set design plan in mind before putting everything together? Please share your stories in the Comments section below so we can all learn from each other! Happy crafting!!

How Will It Turn Out?: My First (and probably last) Mystery Quilt

I was probably about nine months into my quilting journey before I heard the term “mystery quilt.” For those of you who don’t know, a mystery quilt is designed by a person or group, and the instructions for each quilt block are handed out to the participants at periodic intervals. The participants don’t know what the overall quilt is going to look like until they receive the final set of instructions telling them how to put all of the blocks together.

It’s a very fun concept, and it’s a way for people all over the world to share an experience together at the same time. Most mystery quilt challenges have a Facebook page or an Instagram hashtag that participants use to post progress photos, and you get to see the different color choices everyone made while you also guess about what the overall design is going to turn out to be.

I decided to sign up for the National Quilters Circle mystery quilt challenge in the fall of 2018. It was designed by Toby Lischko, and we received new instructions once a week for about nine or ten weeks. I signed up because I wanted to find out just how a mystery quilt worked, because I thought it would be a great way to use up some of my stash, and because this particular one was free. Yay!

Our first set of instructions told us that the quilt was going to be a medallion quilt, meaning you start with one large block in the middle and then piece a variety of borders around it for the rest of the quilt. I had never done a medallion quilt before, so I got excited about that. The instructions also gave us yardage amounts and a very general color guide — so many yards of a dark color, so many yards of a complementary light color, so many yards of a neutral, etc.

I decided right at the start that I was going to try to only use my stash if at all possible. The tricky part was that most of my stash consists of fat quarters and a few half-yard packs, so I wasn’t going to have enough of any one particular fabric to use it throughout the entire quilt. So that meant I was going to have to get really creative about the colors I used. On the one hand, I always love thinking outside the box, especially when it comes to color. On the other hand, by the time the quilt was finished, I definitely would have made some different color choices had I known how the blocks were going to end up being placed.

I really enjoyed the overall process of the mystery quilt challenge. This particular quilt is filled with stars and really forced me to get serious about keeping my points. I learned so many new techniques with all of these blocks.

However, the reason why I probably won’t do another mystery quilt challenge again is because I had a bit of an epiphany once I put the top together. This was something that had been simmering in my subconscious for a while, but it really hit home with this quilt. As much fun as I had putting the top together, the prospect of putting it all together as a quilt sandwich and quilting it did not excite me in the least because it wasn’t my design. I realized that at this point in my quilting journey, I only get true satisfaction from quilting when it’s my creation from beginning to end. Maybe that will change over the years, but for now it’s just the way it is.

Even though I made that realization and even though I dragged my feet a bit, there is a larger part of my personality that cannot keep a project unfinished. So I did eventually put it all together and quilt it. This was by far the largest quilt I’ve ever made, and the fact that I was able to free-motion quilt it all on my little Janome DC2012 made me realize I could really do anything on this baby.

Once I finished quilting it, I kind of had no idea what I was going to do with it. I finally decided to gift it to my grandma for her 94th birthday. I’m hoping the bright colors will brighten up the upcoming gray days of winter. So while I have no intention of participating in a mystery challenge anytime soon, I am very happy I completed this one.

Have any of you participated in mystery challenges? What are your favorite kinds of quilt challenges? Do you prefer working from someone else’s design or creating something completely on your own? We all work differently and I’d love to hear your stories. Happy crafting!

Fun with FMQ!

I LOVE free-motion quilting — or FMQ, as the cool kids call it!! If you’ve scrolled through my quilt gallery, you’ve probably noticed that I pretty much free-motion quilt almost all of my quilts. I love how versatile and creative it allows me to be when creating the quilting design of my projects. In today’s post, I’m going to take you on a little journey through my FMQ history. Enjoy!

When I quilted my very first quilt, I used a walking foot and straight-line quilting. I did not enjoy the process. at. all. I had to keep turning the quilt over and over through my tiny, little machine, and by the time I was finished I didn’t think I would ever quilt again.

But while I was obsessively trying to find out as much about quilting as I could, I ran across this crazy thing called free-motion quilting. Suddenly I was eager to try my hand at it which meant making another quilt. Yay! I chose a 20-block sampler quilt designed by Amy Gibson for Craftsy, and I paired that with Leah Day’s free-motion quilting class which was specifically designed to help you quilt Amy Gibson’s sampler quilt.

Because I was brand new at FMQ, I decided to use the quilt-as-you-go method so I could just concentrate on one 10″ x 10″ block at a time. It only took a couple blocks to realize that FMQ was a game changer for me. The actual quilting process became my favorite part of making a quilt!

Once I discovered FMQ, there was no turning back. I started free-motion quilting all of my projects. Here are a few of my favorites. For “Beyond the Machine,” I quilted mostly straight lines, but I still used the free-motion quilting technique instead of a walking foot because I wanted the freedom of moving the quilt in any direction without turning the whole thing around.

I specifically designed “Verdant Promises” with eight all-white Ohio Star blocks so that I had tons of negative space to quilt in as well as natural borders to help contain the different designs.

The blocks for “Caged Cacophony” are one of six colors, so I decided to give each color a specific FMQ motif. Then I had fun with the borders.

“Urban Collective I” was my first foray into graffiti-style FMQ. The blocks are just quilted in the ditch, but the sashing and borders are filled with quilting. I love the contrast of modern quilting with the traditional blocks.

This next quilt is just a solid fat quarter that I used for practice. I started with a specific design idea for the center, but then I just let the quilting take me where it wanted to go. This was my first whole cloth experience, albeit a very small whole cloth. I hope to do a wall-sized whole cloth quilt someday.

Because “Baby’s First Chevron” has such a modern look, I wanted the quilting to maintain that feel. So instead of filling up all of that negative space with tons of FMQ motifs, I simply used straight lines to extend the chevron pattern throughout the quilt but in different directions that keep the eye moving. Even though these are straight lines, I still used the FMQ presser foot and technique because a walking foot would have been too cumbersome with so many changes in direction.

“Greener Pastures” shows my basic FMQ design approach when I don’t have anything specific in mind. I try to decide if I want the design to be more geometric with sharp, straight lines and angles or something more organic with curves. I decided to alternate between the two for the different strips in this Fence Rail quilt.

My most recent FMQ project was “We Only Got One, Folks,” where each of the inset circles represents an important aspect of conservation — earth/plants, water, air, and endangered species. I chose FMQ motifs within the circles to enhance the individual designs. Then I “wrote” in cursive around each of the circles, using words and phrases representing each of the conservation aspects, something that would be impossible with a walking foot.

I really love how FMQ gives me so much freedom when it comes to the quilt design of all of my projects. I can choose to do simple straight lines if I really want the quilt top pattern to stand out. Or I can go crazy with the quilting if that’s the wow factor I’m looking for. Do any of you free-motion quilt? Do you love it as much as I do? If you don’t FMQ yet, what are you waiting for? I bet you’ll fall in love with it as deeply as I have once you give it a chance. Let me know what you think, and happy crafting!!

Improv Piecing: Oh, the Possibilities!

The first few quilts I made were all about learning how to follow a pattern, learning basic quilting techniques and blocks, and getting comfortable with using my sewing machine and tools. Then I bought a Craftsy class taught by Joe Cunningham a.k.a. Joe the Quilter. The class was called “Pattern-free Quiltmaking.” I suddenly realized I could just take pieces of fabric, sew them together, and make beautiful blocks without any plan! This was so exciting!

Those of you reading this who are more experienced quiltmakers will know that this is not a new concept. “Crazy quilts” have been around for a couple centuries, but I had no idea at the time. As I began experimenting on my own as well as doing a little online research, I realized just how much freedom improv piecing can give you. Also, what a great way to use your scraps! (The image below is NOT MY WORK.)

My first real attempt to create something completely through improv piecing was a wine bottle holder. I had a bunch of Christmas-themed fabric scraps that I didn’t want to just throw away, and I had a Secret Santa party coming up. So I just started sewing, cutting, sewing, cutting, over and over until I came up with enough fabric to create the bottle holder. I loved the process and I loved the result!

I then decided to try an approach that combined a bit of a plan with improv piecing. I selected three fat quarters that were different shades of the same hue, cut them into strips, pieced the strips together, and then started randomly cutting and sewing them all back together. I then squared them off until I had enough to create a queen-sized quilt. My favorite discovery during this process was that I could take all of the scraps and put those together into rainbow strips which I used as partial inner borders for the quilt. This is one of my very favorite creations and it is proudly displayed on our bed.

My latest discovery that amped up my improv piecing was from reading Victoria Findlay Wolfe’s book Modern Quilt Magic. One of the chapters is about the kind of improv piecing I’d already been doing, but then she goes into free-form curves. Gasp!! I could improv piece curves??!! This blew my mind and it has opened up a whole new slew of possibilities for my improv piecing game.

While I still like just sitting down and randomly picking out scraps and sewing them together for a “crazy quilt” type style, what I really enjoy doing is combining sketched out ideas with improv piecing to come up with truly unique blocks that will never be completely replicated. That’s what I’m working on right now with my current quilt. Sometimes the process is frustrating because the improv just doesn’t work out the way I want it to. But for the most part, I find myself so fulfilled by this process.

Have any of you tried any sort of improv piecing? I’d love to hear from you. I find it meditative, but maybe some of you find it frustrating? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below and happy crafting!!