Stash Bee: Staying cool, calm and collected

Anyone who has ever been in a quilting bee knows that they are fun but that things do not always go to plan, and my Stash Bee last year was no exception. Do not get me wrong – I had a great bunch of hive mates, but my quilt had a few hiccups along the way. It almost seems as if anything that could go wrong did!

I asked for pale, washed-out 16-patch blocks with occasional pops of colour in randomly placed pinwheels. My colour scheme included pale blue, pale green, lavender, white, light grey and cream. I thought my instructions and sample blocks were simple and clear.

Random pinwheel patchwork quilt design

This was one of my sample blocks.

Random pinwheel patchwork quilt design

The colours in my sample blocks were very, very washed out.

Random pinwheel patchwork quilt design

I drew this to give my hive mates an idea of the finished quilt.

Not so. It became clear that my version of wishy-washy is far wishy-washier than other people’s, and I received some blocks far darker than my two sample blocks. I tried putting them up on the design wall and hoping it would all work, but I had two clear sets of blocks: light (like my sample) and dark. I sought second opinions, then third and fourth opinions, and consulted my hive mama. If I wanted the quilt I had planned, the fabrics that did not meet the brief had to be unpicked.

After a few months of pondering what to do, I started by unpicking the batiks and oranges, and then the darkest squares from the blocks that read as ‘dark’. This was a good job to keep my hands busy at my local quilting guild’s committee meetings. I kept any dark fabric squares that came in pairs and remade those into pinwheels. I had wanted to keep each person’s block as intact as possible and just replace dark with light from my stash, but working in a small space meant that things quickly fell into a muddle.

I also received blocks that followed the brief perfectly but stood out on the design wall because they had four identical fabrics or read as an area of one colour or style, such as a strong patch of purple, so I split those in halves or quarters and mixed the pieces with other fabrics to more evenly distribute colours and tones.

Finally, I called my husband in and asked him to point out anything on the design wall that looked out of place. I had not told him the colour brief, but he immediately pointed to a pinwheel that had both red and black in it, which I had let slide as I loved the print even though I knew it did not meet the brief. Sadly, out it went.

Before you accuse me of pedantry, note that I only worried about colour. I did not check the finished size of blocks. I did not care if a fabric was modern or older than I am. I left the pinwheels that were spinning the wrong way and embraced them by making a dozen more so they had friends to play with. I was not fussy about the pinwheels’ points.

Random pinwheel patchwork quilt

Colour was important as I was trying to match our bedroom.

Random pinwheel patchwork quilt

The colours tone with the prints and paintings on the walls.

Random pinwheel patchwork quilt

It has lots of lovely variety in the fabrics, thanks to my hive mates.

Unpicking and resewing was a difficult choice and a lot of work, but I am pleased with the result. I think worse than unpicking a few bits would have been to shove it in the back of the cupboard as an unloved UFO and not finish it. My hive mates were very generous with the blocks they sent me, and I had lots of lovely fabrics to work with. I hope they all forgive my work with the stitch ripper. Their efforts were very much appreciated, and I can only assume any hiccups were because my instructions were unclear and overly verbose.

When I had a finished quilt top, I dug out some wool wadding and a blue sheet. I thought that the pale blue of the sheet, rescued from my dad’s house, worked perfectly as the backing fabric. I sent everything off to my long-arming friend Donna to be quilted with wavy lines. It came back looking fabulous.

Much later, as I was hand sewing the binding on, I noticed that the fine, tight weave of the high thread-count sheet had not fared well. The problem was not obvious at arm’s length, but the strong needle needed for high-speed long-arm quilting machines had ripped a tiny hole in the sheet’s threads with every stitch! Thankfully, the quilt top was unharmed, but it looked like the quilt back would start to fray with its first wash, and it needed to be washable as I planned to use it on our bed. What to do?

Donna and I met and came up with a plan. Unpicking the backing would be a nightmare and would mean replacing the wadding, so we chose plan B: sewing a second backing over the first and quilting it again. Thankfully, the simple wavy-line quilting design worked perfectly for this and allowed us a choice of two possible fixes: add another set of wavy lines to create a cross-hatching effect or quilt randomly placed flowers to secure the extra layer. We chose cross-hatching. I unpicked the binding and set it aside to be re-attached later.

The double layer of backing means that the quilt is heavier than most, and I have lost a little of the lovely drape of the wool batting, but I think our fix was the best way to solve the problem. I truly appreciate Donna’s help fixing it as the problem was caused by the sheet’s close weave and not the long-arm quilting. (Lesson learned: use only cheap, loose-weave sheets for backing.) Problem-solving is the true test of good customer service, I think.

Random pinwheel patchwork quilt

The quilting problem was solved with cross-hatching!

Random pinwheel patchwork quilt

It has wavy lines on the back and cross-hatching on the front. Not many quilts have a different quilting design on the front and back. Clever, eh?

Last month at retreat, I finished the binding and the quilt, but there was one final twist in the tale. On Tuesday, we had a new bed delivered. It is a king size; I made the quilt big enough for our old queen-size bed. Yes, after all that work, the quilt is too small. But I do not care. I like it and we are using it anyway!

Random pinwheel patchwork quilt

Now we have a stupidly large bed, the quilt is a bit small, but doesn’t it look lovely?

I named the quilt ‘cool, calm and collected’ as it uses cool, calm colours and the blocks were collected from many people. Cool, calm and collected was also the mood I needed to maintain with all those hiccups along the way!

18 thoughts on “Stash Bee: Staying cool, calm and collected

  1. What a fantastic example of ‘stick-to-it’ : ) I do like the finished product. I don’t think I could handle a king size bed. Too far away from hubby ! : )

    • My hubby is a bed piggy, Carla. When he was in Canada for a month in June, I slept so wonderfully well. In the first few days he was back, I hardly slept at all. I was perched so close to the edge that all I could think of was Katniss Everdeen of the Hunger Games managing to sleep up a tree without falling out. She tied herself to the tree with a belt, I think; I did not have that option. In no time, I had dragged him bed shopping.

  2. I do not think you were being pedantic! Your instructions and photos were perfectly clear! You even said no red, oranges etc. And don’t sew all your blocks together if they didn’t fit the brief! I give you an A+ for tenacity and perseverance! I love the grey backing- I have used that in some low volume blocks I am making! Thank goodness you got the quilt you wanted, even if it is now too small. Ah, the joys of participating in a bee!

  3. What a beautiful quilt even if the process was painful. The pale colours work so well and I’m increasingly drawn to this look. A charity bee I’m involved with has requested pale colours for their last two blocks and whilst I wasn’t convinced at first when I saw them altogether they looked wonderful. The only problem is that I guess most quilters don’t have many of those pastel colours, I certainly don’t so that limits choice for blocks. But what a lovely excuse to do more fabric shopping!

  4. I’m lost in admiration, not only of this lovely quilt, but of your tenacity in plugging away at blocks which were just not what you’d very clearly specified. It’s been worth it, I’d say, not just for the great result, but also in demonstrating very clearly that it’s never wise to have clear expectations about the results in a bee!

  5. Your quilt is lovely. Perhaps you could fold it the long way as a bed runner at the end of your bed to fit your new bed. Sometimes the struggles and obstacles in the process of making a quilt make me wonder why I want to make quilts as they often find themselves in a state of UFO when I find something isn’t working , and then I finish a quilt and it brings such joy l forget about the pains and I start right in with another one! Kind of like why most folks have more than one child Ha. Glutton for punishment I guess. Just don’t want to live without quilts in my life and can’t stop sewing. Thanks for sharing. janita

  6. I was so happy to be able to send a block to you to contribute. I don’t care if you ended up having to rip my seams to get what you wanted (I just feel bad that you might have needed to!). I am amazed at the effort that was needed to be put in to finish the quilt; it turned out so lovely, though, and I hope that the extra weight of it is a nice feature in the end. 🙂

  7. You put in quite the Herculean effort to finish this project. I’m so sorry you had so many struggles along the way. Last year was my first time participating in Stash Bee and while I had a few hiccups along the way, it was nothing compared to your experience. I had one block last year that was unusable so I unpicked it and was able to use some of the fabrics to make a new block. Again this year I had a block that was so small that even after unpicking it, I couldn’t use any of the fabric (the block pieces weren’t cut the to correct size and they used a seam allowance bigger than 1/4 inch). With each bee I participate, I’m learning what works better to allow for participant interpretation. Any chance you’ll be participating in Stash Bee next year?

  8. What a tale?? You are a better quilter than I am and get high marks for perseverance. I would have chucked all the blocks that didn’t fit into the charity box and started over. I hope the blocks I sent weren’t off track. It’s a lovely quilt and sharing all the adventures of finishing it will hopefully be good lessons for others!!

  9. Talk about perseverance! It came out beautifully even with all those hiccups. I found the same problem with my blocks, some of the colors just didn’t look right when I put them together. Glad you found a solution that worked.

  10. Nice Finish! Of course, we each think our blocks were the ones picked apart, oh well. I admire your tenacity to get it finished. It is lovely and so peaceful. You love good fabrics, and use them in your tops, I am blown away that you use old sheets for the backs, or that your quilter would agree with that. Really? Well, it turned out great, good idea to quilt over, ripping out a whole quilt is crazy, and nice finish. Your quirky sewing style is one of the things we love about you, Carla.

  11. My quilts shrink width wise more than length, so I stack my quilts like a bars on a cross, one longer width, one longer length. One cotton, one wool. Seems to work fine. Especially since my husband likes his feet sticking out!

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