Thursday, June 25, 2015

Baby Quilts

I (Kara) love making baby quilts! The process is so satisfying to me because all babies need blankets, it's easy to personalize a baby quilt, and they are a lot smaller than a full size quilt and consequently easier to finish. There is also the fact that the pressure is on to get them finished before the child is no longer a baby.

My wonderful sister and her husband have been blessed with five amazing children here on earth, and I've made a quilt for each one. My sister graciously took pictures of all the quilts and sent them to me so I could share them here with you. I love that all the quilts are well-loved, as that makes me happy since that's why I made them.

Before Julie, my niece, was born, my sister mentioned that she was going to have a Beatrix Potter-themed nursery, and that became my inspiration for the quilt.

I chose three characters from the different books and added a letter to each. The characters were chosen, in all honesty, based on how easy I thought they would be to re-create. I used a shadow effect technique by cutting all the character pieces out of fabric that had been backed with fusible web and adhering them to a white base. 

Then I placed a piece of batiste the same size as the base over the top and machine stitched around all the colored images. I added hand embroidery for the eyes and noses and then attached the border and ruffle. This quilt was made almost 20 years ago, so I am happy that it has weathered the years as well as it has. 

In keeping with the Beatrix Potter theme, I decided to do a Peter Rabbit quilt when I found out I had a nephew. I had wanted to try paper-piecing for some time and designed the quilt using a paper pieced robin and rabbit, based on one of the illustrations in the book.

The rabbit needed a few design changes to turn him into Peter, but the robin went together quite easily.  I've searched the internet to try and find the book I used, but it must be out of print.

Fast forward a couple of years and Ian, my second nephew, came along a month early. The "Trip Around the World" pattern was and still is one of my favorites, so that's what I chose for him. He was a tiny little guy when he was born, but now he is taller than I am!

Next in the Love family (yes, that is their last name,) came Isaac.  I decided to try mixing some patchwork and appliqué and came up with this. It is simple, but still has a lot of pop.  The bright colors fit Isaac's personality, although I didn't know that then.

And last, but certainly not least, is Miss Ellen. After three boys, it was nice to work with some girly colors. I had recently bought a Snail's Trail stencil by Fiskars, designed to be used to make your own paper pieced blocks. The stencil could also be used to make the Square Within a Square block, and that's what I did for Ellen's quilt. All these fabrics had been previously purchased for a Blooming Nine-Patch, but I stole a few and put this together. The rest of the Blooming Nine-Patch fabrics are still lounging in my "future projects" bin, awaiting their transformation.

Baby quilts are a fun thing to make because it is such a special gift for a special time; a new little life appearing. I've enjoyed looking back and remembering (or at least trying to remember) making these quilts for my nieces and nephews. When I made them I had no idea how these five little humans were going to turn out. As this posts, I am spending time on vacation with the owners of all five of these quilts. They are no longer babies, but wonderful young men and women. I can't wait to see what the future holds for all of them. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Learning Journey to Celebrate Fifty Years

Block pattern from a class with Karen Kay Buckley
Sometimes a quilt is so full of stories that it's hard to know which one to tell. This quilt has two distinct stories: one about the making of it, and an even better one about the giving.

When I (Teri) first started quilting, I loved patchwork and machine piecing. There was nothing I didn't want to learn, but I really enjoyed the relative instant gratification of being able to sew quickly and complete a project. My machine afforded me that opportunity. But after a while, I decided to venture out and expand my skills. Kara and I enrolled in a hand appliqué class with Karen Kay Buckley at the Quilt Odyssey show in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Up to this point, I had done one hand appliqué piece, but that didn't deter me from thinking I could master such a complex block. I loved the design, so I was going to give it a try. 

Let's just say that Karen is a wonderful teacher, very patient and attentive—especially to poor souls who are nearing a panic attack. I think I got as far as the serrated leaves before I started wondering what on earth I was thinking, at which time I felt a hand on my shoulder and a concerned, "Are you okay? Do you need some help?" Thankfully, those gold curlicues were almost the last units to appliqué, and I could face them on a day far in the future, with a bit more experience with that needle! I'm not sure I could have handled them on that day. Obviously, I was determined enough to persevere and finish the block, and through its difficulties, I learned a lot. But all the while, I wondered what I would do with this beautiful block, because I was pretty sure a quilt full of such blocks was not in my near future.

Ready for the party, one signature lower left
While I was stitching, I realized that my parents' 50th wedding anniversary was the following year, so I started thinking about making the block the center medallion for a signature quilt for them. I used Electric Quilt to design the surrounding blocks, using snowball blocks for the signatures. I planned to have it ready for signing at the party we were planning for them. My oldest son was about to go overseas and would be gone at that time, so I had him sign his block before it was even pieced.

I'm not going to lie. I thought the whole signing the quilt idea was a great one, but I was a bit terrified about having those pens near that year's worth of work. So I asked a dear angel to "watch over the signing of the quilt," which was all set up in the laundry room so that hopefully my parents wouldn't see it. I had a muslin "quilt sandwich" for people to practice first so they could get the feel of writing on fabric. Close attention was paid to the quilt and the signers so that they all signed in the right direction, and no stray marks were made. Her help was such a blessing!

Quilt set up for signing in the laundry room atop the washer and dryer.

Despite the careful monitoring, one cousin succeeded in signing his square upside down...but truly, it couldn't be more appropriate! We think it adds to the charm of the quilt.

Our house was packed that day with celebrators: family, old friends, and new friends—all joined to pay tribute to my parents. And somehow, they didn't notice that everyone there had at some point stepped into the laundry room, a rather unusual room for guests to visit. We presented the quilt to them just before we cut the cake, and they were quite thrilled. By the party's end, each of the signature squares was filled with good wishes from family and friends.

My parents' home has quite a few examples of my quilt work throughout, demonstrating (at least to me) my journey as a quiltmaker. Of all the quilts/wallhangings I have ever made for them, this is and will likely always be, my favorite. It represents so much more than the many skills I learned. It represents their love for each other over 50 (now almost 60) years of marriage, as well as the love they have poured out for their family and many friends over the years. I believe that I am a blend of both my parents; the older I get, the more I admire them both. I think when I "grow up," I want to be just like them.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for everything. You're the best!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

More Wedding Collaborations...

Making a group quilt for someone who is getting married in your church is a lovely idea. That's what I (Kara) thought after we had done Teri's quilt and then found out that there would be another wedding in our church the following year. The lady who had done Teri's quilt wasn't able to work on this one, so I took the reins. I chose some lovely companion fabrics, set the parameters for the blocks, and sent the information out along with deadlines as to when I needed the blocks in hand. Let's just say the deadlines were interpreted as guidelines, and collecting the blocks was a little more difficult than I had anticipated. I finally received all the blocks and was able to assemble the quilt top. A few friends came over, and we tied and bound the quilt. The quilt was given to a wonderful young woman at her wedding shower, and she was thrilled. And with the second collaboration quilt, a tradition was started within the church.

Not too long after this quilt was presented, we found out that another couple in our church was getting married. At this point, three of us decided that less hands involved with making the quilt might make the process a bit easier, so we each decided to do several feature blocks and then make up the rest of the quilt with signature blocks. The groom was in the Army, and the bride was musical and loved Hawaii, so that gave us some inspiration. We had the blocks available to sign at the shower and did our best to guide the signers away from the seam allowances. Thankfully the couple lives locally, so we were able to see the quilt again and get lots of pictures. We appreciate the loan of the quilt!

Our friend Pat's beautiful wedding ring block made an appearance in several wedding quilts! See Wedding Collaborations for another.

Of course the following year there was another wedding, and it was just Teri and I working on this one. For this quilt we decided to go with the signature quilt style and have a center picture block. The bride and groom were big beach fans, and since I was in my "landscape quilt phase," it worked perfectly to have an ocean and beach vista for the  center block. Teri worked the math for the surrounding signature blocks.
Many thanks to the bride for the photos of her quilt!
We were a bit terrified of having a finished quilt that people would sign as opposed to having people just sign individual blocks and then put the quilt together. Thankfully no one got too crazy with the pens, (we might have taken turns standing guard,) and the quilt was a hit.

By this time we had begun to get a reputation for making wedding quilts. It was a lot of work but we enjoyed it, especially because we had only done one per year. We still thought it was a special thing to do for a new couple, and it would provide them with some lovely memories of their wedding day. Then we found out that there were going to be four weddings in our church the following summer!

After we got over our shock, we decided to simplify things even more than we had been doing and went with a rail fence signature block. We picked colors for the four couples and took a roadtrip to Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania, to buy fabric. That was the fun part. We each took two sets of fabrics and hunkered down to get the signature blocks done before the respective showers. We marked the 1/4" seam allowance and gave instructions not to sign in that area. Some people followed directions and some didn't, but what are you going to do? After we got all the blocks signed, we soon realized that we were not going to have the quilts done by the weddings, so we went with the etiquette rule that you have one year after the wedding to give a gift. We were in such a frenzy to get them finished that we forgot to take pictures of all of them but we do have a few.
The first of four quilts on the design wall before signing and piecing together.
We picked the colors for each quilt based on what we learned of their tastes. The other two quilts were red and green and a blue and white batik.
When the final quilt had been sent out (within the year window, barely,) Teri and I looked at each other and said, "We're done!" and our career as the church wedding quilt makers was over.

We learned a lot about making group quilts, and I'm not sure we would have done things differently, as we needed to go through the learning process of what worked for us. Both sayings, "many hands make light work" and "too many cooks spoil the broth" applied at different times. Thankfully, the amount of weddings in our church dwindled, so we didn't feel too bad about hanging up our wedding quilt needles. The biggest lessons we learned were be careful about starting a tradition, and that it's okay to end a tradition. Do you have any quilt traditions that you have started...or maybe ended? Please share some stories!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Wedding Collaborations

About 16 years ago, a friend of ours sent out an invitation asking each of us to make a quilt block for another friend who was getting married. She had picked out some beautiful fabrics and gave us some parameters for our blocks. The blocks could be done in any medium we chose, but needed to be finished to a certain size. I (Kara) had just begun to learn how to quilt so I was little nervous about what I was going to do, but the person we were making the quilt for was a good friend, and I figured she would forgive my quilting inadequacies.

Some of us got together to help Linda, the coordinator, put together the quilt. As the blocks came in, we all were amazed at the thoughtfulness behind each block. There were pieced blocks, cross-stitched, embroidered, and even painted ones. Many of the blocks needed to be brought up to the required size, so we added the coordinating fabrics to them. We ended up with 24 blocks that were all beautifully done, and each block contained a special thought for the couple. The quilt was backed and tied and then bound just in time for the wedding. It was decided that the quilt would be hung behind the cake table at the reception, and as far as we knew, the bride had no idea what we had been doing.
This lovely wedding ring block is a mini-quilt in itself!

It was a beautiful day and a beautiful wedding. It was a second marriage for the couple, and they were going to be blending their two families together making a new family of seven. All of us were thrilled for our friend and couldn't wait to see her and her new husband's face when they saw the quilt.

I will let her tell the rest of this story, because the quilt we made was for Teri!


Admittedly, much of that day was a happy blur, and I (Teri) remember having to be told several times to look at the quilt hanging behind the cake table. It just wasn't registering that this quilt was for us, made by so many of our friends. When we got home and had time to examine the quilt, we were overwhelmed by this act of love. We enjoyed the variety of blocks styles, reflecting so many different gifts and skills. Each block held a special meaning for us, with its own "message" from the maker—sometimes with embroidered words, and sometimes just in the design of the block.

Still, when I look at the quilt today, I am amazed. I had only just started to learn to quilt at that point, but I know that this gift had a huge part in pulling me into learning more. We have only shown a sampling of the blocks, but you can see the variety of talents in this quilt. While each block is unique and has its own story, they share one thing in common: they are a reflection of love. This quilt reminds us daily to cherish that love of friends.  And isn't that love part of the inherent beauty of a quilt? 

Do you have a story about a special quilt that you have made to give to someone, or that you have received? We'd love to hear your story!