One of the best sewing decisions I ever made was to join the Possum Magic round robin group (another was to join my local sewing group, but that is a story for another day). I have met wonderful sewers – Jo and Serena – in person and other equally wonderful sewers – Jane, Rebecca, Wendy, Sharon and of Alice – from afar. We have a collegial and supportive group, and I feel very lucky. I have had a great deal of fun and been challenged to try things out of my comfort zone, like sewing with purple.
There is, however, occasionally a tricky side to group projects: the wonky factor. With so many hands involved, things can shift out of alignment. I think anyone who has ever been part of a quilt bee can testify to this: blocks arrive too big or too small, seam allowances vary from one- to three-eighths of an inch, and points fail to line up.
Often, a little wonkiness does not matter so much. A seam can be touched up or a little extra fabric can be eased in. However, borders added to a central medallion can be more difficult. If one border is significantly out, it can affect later borders or alter the way the centre sits. It can make calculations and measurements for later borders a nightmare.
With Rebecca’s Possum Magic quilt, concern was growing. At an earlier handover, Jo had mentioned that it was tricky to make the quilt top sit flat. Serena was also concerned while she worked on it, and, when it came time for Serena to hand it over to me, she shared her concerns. It was impossible to smooth out flat and was obviously bulging in the middle – and the bulge had far more fabric in it than could be ‘quilted out’. It had a distortion, not unlike a bra-cup shape (only an A or a B cup, not a double G), in the middle, even though this fault was carefully concealed in Serena’s photos.
Serena and I looked at it closely, had a long discussion and decided that we could fix it. Moreover, because Rebecca has been such an amazing contributor to the group and is an all-round amazing woman, we felt we should try to fix it. We wanted her to receive a quilt top she would treasure, not one that she would be disappointed with or that would be impossible to quilt without puckers. She has done nothing less than amazing work on everyone’s quilt tops; she deserved nothing less than amazing work in return.
So, we measured and we checked and we planned. I drew scale diagrams and made a spreadsheet (because that is how I roll). Then, we met up at Serena’s house and, after a fortifying George Clooney coffee and cupcakes, we started to unpick. We could not identify the exact source of the problem, so we started in the middle and worked our way out. The plan was to measure each border, unpick, square up and reassemble, while keeping the look of everyone’s borders the same as best we could.
The two things that saved us in this quilt were the white borders and teamwork. We found by substituting fresh white for the white we unpicked, the look stayed the same but we had some flexibility with repairs. If the background had been entirely patterned or made up of complex piecing, it might have been a trickier exercise. Also, I do not think either of us would have been brave enough to unpick so many borders without the supervision and moral support of the other. By working together, neither Serena nor I felt overburdened by the responsibility of it all. What if we screwed it up? What if we made it worse? Jo joined us on the second day and reassured us; she could see that we had made it much flatter and squarer.
It took us two sewing days of unpicking and resewing to repair several borders – not an insignificant exercise – but I think we learned something very important from those two days: never be afraid to fix a problem. Having to unpick a friend’s work is awful, but so is handing over a quilt top that needs major repairs. We have ended up with a quilt top that looks almost the same as when we started, but it no longer bags out in the middle like the knees of tracksuit pants. Also, all of the seams now have a respectable quarter-inch seam allowance as we resewed any that were one-eighth of an inch or less and just hanging on by a thread. Not only was the top bulging, but it had some weak points that would have come apart in the quilt’s first wash.
The only significant change we made to the look of the quilt was to add a narrow strip of fabric around Rebecca’s centre block to bring it back up to size. I wanted to add a bright colour, such as red, as a frame, but Serena talked me out of it, quite rightly, pointing out that we needed to stick with the look of what was there before. We were repairing, not reinventing.
Now, I can carry on and add my border before sending it to Jane to work her magic on the final border. The quilt top still has its original character, but it is square and flat, and Rebecca will easily be able to quilt out any minor wobbles.
This is not the first time I have had to unpick and resew part of a group project. Personally, I think the best thing to do if you see a problem is to catch it early and work with the person whose contribution is crooked to straighten it out. No one deliberately sews a wonky border; we all do our best. Often, we just need a hand or an extra head to help with the calculations.
I should also point out that many group projects have no problems at all. This is only the second Possum Magic quilt that I have had to repair before starting my border, and my local round robin quilt came back to me without a point out of place – and it has a lot of pointy flying geese – after eight other pairs of hands had worked on it.
In spite of the occasional need to pause and repair, I would still never let wonkiness put me off joining in on group projects. They are such fun and totally worth doing.
Have you been part of a sewing group and faced a dilemma like this? Have you had to unpick and repair another’s work in a group project? Has anyone ever unpicked your work? Have you been offended or thankful that they managed to repair something that was bothering you?