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.
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.
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.
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!
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!