So, last winter I decided I wanted to make a quilt for Henry. The problem with this plan is that quilts are usually for, you know, Girls. And while Henry may appreciate pink things, he isn’t particularly into girly things.

I have always been drawn to Amish quilts, which are quilts with black or dark blue solid backgrounds and patterns done in solid colored pieces. Some of these, especially the more modern quilts, are more like stunning pieces of stained glass than quilts. Still, my skill level for a project this size was low. I wanted to hand-piece and then hand-quilt the entire project. I wanted it to be roughly queen-sized. I had never done a thing even vaguely resembling a project with any complexity that was also this large. So… I needed an easy pattern… for Boys… but something more compelling than simple color blocks…

Fortunately, around this time I discovered The Purl Bee, which is the blog for a store called Purl Soho, whose excellence I believe I have mentioned before. There I saw an entry for “A Wedding Quilt.” The instructions were clear, and the resulting quilt was very attractive.

That said, it’s a bit girly, isn’t it? A grown man might not mind sleeping under those pretty pink prints, but an elementary-school age Boy would not like it, and a teenage Boy would someday like it even less. Still, the simplicity of the design… the fact that a template was free online… the idea that this could be easily hand-pieced… it stuck in my mind.

I decided to download the template, and using photoshop, play with a different colorway:

Now that’s more like it! The numbers there correspond with the fabric that I ended up buying (I rejiggered the colors once I had the actual fabric in hand, so that this would be a pretty accurate representation of the final quilt). The quilt is pieced in vertical strips, so the numbers (which I wrote in tiny script on a corner of each fabric strip) told me which piece to pull from the pile as I worked. Once a single vertical strip was pieced, I made the next one, then attached them as I went along.

Had I cut the fabric for this quilt with a rotary cutter instead of scissors and a template, and then pieced it with a machine instead of by hand, I think I could have finished it in two days. But since I cut each piece one-by-one as I went, and sewed them by hand, it took me several months to complete the top.

Once the top was finished, I took it to my local quilt shop to lay it out with backing fabric (two big pieces of bright red fabric sewn together by hand) and soft, natural batting. I used “Quilters Dream” cotton batting, which is very soft and lofty (it also “needles” like crazy, which means the needle drags the white stuff out onto the front of the quilt as you sew — this is maddening on a black quilt, but will be no big deal once it’s finished and washed). All three layers were pinned together using flat quilt pins with yellow heads (you can see them in the photos below, which were taken mid-way through the process) and bulldog clips holding the quilt sandwich taut to the tables on which it rested. Then I basted the layers together with giant, spider-web style stitches in white thread. These will be removed once I’m done quilting and all the layers are secured together.

I then folded the edges of the red cloth backing over to protect the raw edges of the quilt top, and pinned it with safety pins. These will stay until I’m ready to trim the edges and bind the quilt.

Right now, I’m working on quilting the top. I created a template that is just over a quarter inch smaller than each individual rectangle, but that has small tabs around the edges that extend to the the seam line of the rectangle. This can be lined up with the rectangle, and allows me to draw a neat box inside each rectangle that I can quilt, without quilting into the seam allowance.

Note that the black cotton also picks up cat hair like no one’s business. Mitten is ridiculously obsessed with this quilt, and will hunt it down to sleep on it. I have to store it inside my armoire. Tonight I left it sitting folded on top of my sewing box for just a few minutes, and came back to find her nested in it. Last night, she knocked it off the tiny chair I set it down on, spread it out, and was sleeping on it in the middle of the floor when I came back from dinner.

Instead of using white thread, which I felt would be too harsh against the black, I’m using Gutermann quilting thread in a soft wheat color. I like this thread a great deal, which is important, because it ain’t cheap. It’s very stiff and doesn’t tangle easily. The only problem I have with it is that sometimes my final stitch with a particular piece slips back up a bit after I pull it tight (using a quilter’s knot). I think this is due to the stiffness of the thread. But it looks beautiful overall.

After a summer’s break due to it just being too hot to sit around with a huge, heavy quilt on one’s lap, I decided to pick it up again. I was using a hoop to do the quilting, but the heavy gauge of the black fabric in particular made this difficult. Instead, I’ve switched to just holding the quilt. It’s awkward, but works better. I don’t spend too much time obsessing over my quilting stitches. As long as they are reasonably even, I don’t care how many I’m getting to the inch, or any of that.

To prevent myself from getting repeatedly stabbed as I quilt, I use two thimbles: on the middle finger of my right hand, which pushes the needle through the quilt, I use a leather Thimble Pad, from Colonial. These are essentially really thick pieces of moleskin, pre-cut. Each one lasts me for months, so they aren’t as wasteful as you might think. On the middle finger of my left hand, which is under the quilt and receiving the tip of the needle, I use an Underthimble, which is also from Colonial. This is a little metal fingertip with a sticky adhesive inside. Once or twice a year I have to change the adhesive, but again, not wasteful at all. These are light and easy to use, as opposed to every other thimble on earth, and they don’t make me sweat. Replacement sticky pads are easy to get, but I’ve never really needed them, as I haven’t yet worked my way through my original packs!

I use a very small needle, a size 10 or 12, which boggles the kids, who all sew with 7’s or above. Their needles look ridiculously enormous to me now. The only downside to tiny needles is that they seem to bend more easily, so I go through them more quickly.

I don’t expect to finish Henry’s quilt this winter, which is okay, as he’s perfectly content under his Star Wars quilt for one more year. This quilt is a queen-size, too, and his bed is actually a below-normal size twin. So waiting won’t hurt in that regard, either. I’d like to finish it eventually, though, because my step-daughter really wants me to start on her quilt, which I designed completely on my own:

I think it’s going to be particularly stunning, so I’m looking forward to when I get to start it. My eldest step-daughter also wants one, and I came up with this for her:

Considering she may be in college before I get there, she may want a different design by that point!

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