A couple of years ago, about the time my cousin adopted her son, she mentioned that she would love for him to have a quilt with the family tree on it, because, you know, he’s part of the family. She knew I knew how to sew, and asked if I’d be interested in such a project. At the time, I had only made garments, and didn’t really know anything about quilting, so I declined. The short version of the story is: I learned how to quilt and then I made this quilt.
The long version follows (if you’re interested).
Last winter in Wisconsin, I had the opportunity to take a quilting class at Gayfeathers Fabrics, a store conveniently just down the street from our house. It was a great class, and I look forward to doing some more quilting and reconnecting with the ladies in the class when I get back to Madison. I mentioned to the teacher, Sandy, that I had this family tree quilt project in mind, and she showed me some techniques that would work for what I had in mind. She also discouraged me from doing a twin-sized quilt as my first blanket project, as it is a big project, and to go for a throw blanket or crib-sized instead. But the intended recipient had just graduated to a Big Boy Bed, so a smaller blanket seemed like the wrong size. Besides, a twin is the smallest of the bed sizes – how big could it be?
I started by cruising Pinterest for inspiration/something to copy, and sketched out a design. The trunk, branches, birds and leaves would be appliquéd onto a white background, and there would be some green rolling hills at the bottom. Quilted squares around the border would be blue above the hills and green in the area around the hills. The scribbles all around the margins are the “quilters’ math” of figuring out how much yardage I’d need of each color to make it all work.
Sandy suggested I do a full-scale sketch, which I could use as a template for all of the pieces. Great idea! It was also the first inkling I had that a twin-sized quilt, is indeed, kind of big. For a piece of paper big enough for the job I repurposed some packing material from Amazon. Instead of packing peanuts, they included a bunched up piece of brown paper about 10 feet long and a yard wide. Perfect. I think I ironed it before I sketched on it (use a poly setting).
To keep the project at a more manageable size for as long as possible, Sandy suggested I split the background fabric in half, and add the branches and leaves first. Then sew the two halves together and sew the trunk over it. Another great idea!
My plan was to have names on most of the leaves, and some blank ones, just to fill in. But I wasn’t sure how I would get the names onto the fabric. Then inspiration struck. Spoonflower is a service that will print digital designs onto fabric. I made a jpeg with a green background, and added all the names in a grid. Their website has rulers that you can use as you’re uploading your design, so that I could get the size and spacing right. I uploaded it, selected the type and quantity of fabric that I wanted, and it arrived in the mail a few days later. Brilliant! I should mention, I think my use was one of the least creative things happening on Spoonflower. There are so many creative people uploading beautiful and clever designs. Seriously, check it out.
To get the pieces attached, I ironed some fusible bond onto the back of the leaf/bird/branch fabric, cut out the intended shape, peeled off the paper on the back of the fusible bond, placed it on the white background, and ironed it in place. I then used a machine zig-zag stitch around the edge to hold it in place forever. Hopefully.
After I had stitched the birds in place, and used a zig-zag stitch for their legs, I showed it to the Professor, for a progress pat-on-the-back. He said the birds looked funny without any faces. Which was true. I had recently discovered embroidery (while looking for something to do while I recovered from a knitting injury. Yes, really. Why are you laughing?), so I embroidered a beak and eye for each of them. The eye is a french knot using three DMC floss threads. I traced the beak in pencil, then outlined it using a backstitch, then filled it in with a satin stitch. I used two DMC threads held together for the beak.
I don’t have progress photos of all of the next steps, but here’s a summary of what else went into the “top”:
- I figured out how long the quilt needed to be and cut the rolling hills to size, then appliquéd them to the background.
- I cut out a bunch of little blue and green squares and sewed them together into strips and then sewed the strips onto the edges of the quilt.
- I cut four strips of white fabric and sewed them to each edge of the quilt.
For the back I had bought a few half yards of various cute animal fabric, and came up with a way to cut them all up and sew it together to make a big enough rectangle for the back. I kind of wish I had just used two giant rectangles rather than a bunch of little ones, but whatever. Next time.
The next step was to put together the “quilt sandwich”. I had to clean up my sewing room to make enough room in our temporary Mountain View apartment to lay it all out. This thing is kind of big. First, I taped the back to the carpet.
Then I sprayed it with the adhesive spray and laid down the quilt batting and smoothed it out.
Then I sprayed it with the adhesive spray again and laid down the top, working in thirds, to try to keep it aligned, and smoothing as I went. Yes, that is a bandana around my face because adhesive spray is nasty. I left the apartment for a few hours after that with the bathroom fans on to let it air out.
NOW it is time for the actual quilting of the quilt. That is, the sewing of the quilt sandwich together. After a bit of doodling, I decided to go with a stylized leaf design, and drew it onto the quilt with a special pen. I think its a Bic erasable something, picked it up at an awesome quilting store in Sunnyvale. It disappears when you iron it!
I spent a few days just before Christmas agonizing about how I was going to sew it all together, and finally decided to get a free motion foot and a special plate to cover the feed dogs, which, on my cheap-o Singer, I could not adjust to get out of the way. This ended up working great. It was still a lot of work to quilt it. I think I limited myself to an hour or two at a time, because manhandling the fabric so precisely was real work. I think I finished it in 4 sessions. Mostly while listening to the Serial podcast, which was awesome.
So, at this point I’m ready to be done. The recipient’s birthday has long come and gone. Christmas has come and gone. I want to sew other things now, please. Just one last step: the binding. I wussed out (I think that counts as wussing out in quilting circles), and bought pre-made binding from Joann’s, rather than making some from the fabric. Again, I was ready to be done. I used the machine-only technique of sewing it to the back first, then topstitching on the front. I reviewed the quilting class instructions on how to turn the corners (and I think they came out ok).
And then it was done. WOOHOO!
The stairwells of the apartment complex made for a very easy way to take a picture of the whole enchilada.
And even though he didn’t get it as a Christmas present on Christmas, the recipient seemed to like it. And I think his mom did, too.
Oh, you’re still reading? Your reward is to hear me admit the mistakes I made on this project. I spelled my grandfather’s name wrong in the file I sent to Spoonflower. “Walk” instead of “Walt”. Embarrassing. So I did a new leaf for him with a sharpie. Not bad, but I’m glad I didn’t do all the leaves that way. There were also two new babies added to the family between receiving the fabric from Spoonflower and finishing the quilt. They were also added with sharpie. I wish I had just used two big ‘ol pieces for the backing. I ended up being a tad short on fabric and adding some white strips at the sides, top and bottom. Which I do not think looks awesome. But the recipient seemed to like the back quite a bit, going so far as to suggest that should be the side that is “up” on his bed. Oh, kids.