Almost 22 years ago, my brother got married. I had been a quilter for five years and loved hand quilting best of all and I decided to make a quilt as a wedding gift for him and his wife Amy. My brother is an ornithologist and has loved birds since he was a child so I decided to find a block that evoked birds. It is so many years ago now that I am not sure of the original source of the block I chose. I had thought it came from “The It’s Okay If You Sit On My Quilt Book” by Mary Ellen Hopkins but now looking through it, I am not finding it so I must have found it in another of my many quilting books. I decided to make a queen sized quilt. I am nothing if not ambitious. I had just moved to a new old house and had three children who were adjusting to a new home and neighborhood and one of the children was an infant. I am pretty sure I started this either right before the wedding or right after (the wedding was in September of 1995 and we had moved to our new old house in June of that year.) In my mind at the time, it would be fine because you have a year to give a wedding gift and still be within acceptable rules of etiquette (not sure if that is actually true.) And so I started piecing blocks using mostly blues and browns and reds.
Meanwhile, two children were starting a new school, one infant refused to sleep under any circumstances and systematically, things broke and needed replacing and repairing in our new old house. Since I had stopped working to be home with my kids, we were pretty tight for money so I was stripping wall paper and painting and shoveling while the baby napped. It snowed a lot. That winter the first 18 inch snowstorm was before Thanksgiving and there were many more significant storms that cancelled school so I had to find ways to entertain three kids. I baked a lot. I was getting nowhere fast on this quilt. So I arranged for my amazing quilting teacher and professional quilter to machine piece the top, figuring that the hand quilting which is what I was best at and enjoyed most would be doable.
I sent Judy the blocks I had been able to finish, all of the accumulated fabric that I thought would work and instructions to fill in where necessary, apply her own creative vision and do her best. She sent me back the top beautifully pieced, basted and with the bias binding sewn and ready to go and so I started quilting. I like to juxtapose straight line piecing such as triangles and squares with curved quilting. I love the look and feel of traditional cotton batting (as did Judy) so the top was pieced with Blue Ribbon cotton batting which recommends quilting no further than one inch apart. I decided to quilt the center of the quilt with a traditional fan pattern using a template I owned and to then quilt the borders with another pattern to be determined later. I had quilted a large lap sized quilt with a similar traditional design using a clam shell pattern for the main center portion of the quilt. I found doing that quilt that it worked best to quilt from back to front because it was so much easier to mark and see the chalk lines so I decided to do that in this case as well. First I quilted a rectangle of stitches along the main lines that enclosed the central design by eye from the front to back. Then I determined how I would orient the quilt and chose a corner to start in and then quilted the first fan and then quilted it in rows in an L shape. The fan template has a center corner fan that is larger than the fans that spread off in two directions so after completing the first L I then would start the next L shaped row working my way diagonally across the center rectangle of the quilt.The corner that you see in the picture above is actually the last corner to be quilted. The corner that I started on is at the top right hand corner of the picture.
The quilting was very slow going. I continued to work on the quilt when I had time but as a stay at home mom to three kids, I had trouble making very quick progress and missed my one year wedding gift deadline. I think I sent something else as a gift in the meantime. I certainly hope so. A couple years after moving to Connecticut and starting the quilt, I joined a new quilting group. This was a great joy to me as I had missed my Brooklyn quilting community. I worked on the quilt every time we met and sometimes in between and in my mind, I think I decided that if this was a great wedding gift, it would also be a great 5 year anniversary gift so I relaxed a bit and kept quilting. I took it with me on vacations to Maine. I even took it on a vacation to London and Paris. I took it to Arizona and Massachusetts. Four years in, I probably had completed about a quarter of the center area and thought I would power through and get it done in year five. And then in the early part of 2000, I had a heart attack. This threw me and my family for a loop. I kept quilting but I wasn’t powering through much that year. Later that year my quilting group disbanded when a member moved away. I kept on working on the quilt but I was being pulled in many directions as many of us are and my progress was slow. I might have thought I would focus on the ten year anniversary, I am not even sure now but in 2005, my children’s father and I separated and life became really quite difficult for the next ten years. Many things happened and I did many things from 2005 to 2015 but sewing was not one of them. We moved several times and I moved the quilt along with us. In my heart of hearts, I feared that I would never finish the quilt and I felt bad because of all the effort that Judy had put into creating something beautiful but during those ten years I was in school and working two jobs, 7 days a week and trying my best to parent my kids with the limited time I had and that is the way it was.
But in 2014, I moved to another new old house that had a small room that I converted into a sewing room and started sewing again in the little bits of time I could find after work and on days off. I took out the quilt and bought more quilting thread since I had lost or misplaced many things during the many moves. I couldn’t find my fan template so I searched online and had to buy two before I found the right size but I found a match and started back on my rows of fans. In 2016, I made a commitment to stop working Sundays and spent many Sunday afternoons quilting and listening to audio books. At the beginning of this year, I had about 75% of the center portion of the quilt done and I decided to aim to finish it this year. The picture below was taken this May with the center fans completed when I was working on the borders.I also made a plan to visit my brother and his family in South Carolina where they have lived for 18 years and where I had never been due to time and money constraints. I finished the center portion of the quilt just about a month ago and then quilted all of the borders during the month of May. I had planned to take some days off from work and basically spent almost all of my free time quilting. My fingers were very sore but after so much time, I was very focused on finishing the quilt in time to bring it to South Carolina myself rather than mailing it. The photo below was taken on May 18th which shows you how much more I had to do at that point.I finished the center fans around the second week in May and quilted another row of fans around the outer border of the quilt, I outlined the triangles in the pieced border (quilting from the right side just visually, not marking the lines) and quilted another inner border between the triangles and the center fans with another template seen below. When I was done, there was a bit of a gap between the triangles and the outer fans border so I added a line of stitching between. The triangles are outlined in navy rather than the gold thread that I used for the rest of the quilt because I spent several hours demonstrating hand quilting at a quilt show at our church probably about ten years ago and left my gold thread at home and used what I had in my bag. I ended up liking the look so did all of the triangles in the blue.Starting the corner of the outer fan border below. My stitches above are not as neat and tiny as they were 22 years ago (see below) but I had a goal in mind and speed and finishing was my priority at this point. I think 22 years of life teaches you that sometimes done is better than perfect. My current motto is “Good enough is good enough” which has worked well for me these last ten years.At one point I realized that I was quilting the final stitches very close to the first stitches I ever sewed. I thought about my 34 year old self who had started this quilt and all that had gone on in those intervening 22 years and all the ups and downs that this quilt had accompanied. It was really something to consider. So many things have happened to me and my family and many I never anticipated. Sort of like a marriage. It is one thing to make the leap into marriage but another to get up each day and show up and be present and stick through the good and the bad and the completely unexpected. So in the end, I think this quilt may be almost 22 years late but possibly it is right on time. My brother and his wife have created a beautiful family over these 22 years and I am sure a lot of work went into it.
I found that when I got to the corners of the inner border that there was no good way to start and stop the border at the corners. I also noticed that at one point, I might have thought a row of blue stitches was a good idea or maybe I just sewed them during the quilting demonstration expecting to take them out after. I just left them. I hadn’t even seen them until I looked up close.My brother has two sons and that is when I realized that this was really a family gift rather than a couple gift and I quilted each of their four initials into a corner of the border. Here is an S for one of the boys. (reversed since you are seeing it from the back.)Binding and finishing below.
It was quite something to sew the last stitch.
A close friend who is a long time quilter brought over champagne to celebrate the completion of the quilt and then it was off to South Carolina in my carry on bag.
I was not about to risk checking it after all these years.