Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Zebra's quilt

These are the toes of Zebra-girl poking out from beneath her birthday quilt. In the months preceding her birthday I had spent several hours playing with fabric, looking through online shops at possible prints and in my darkest moments of confusion putting together PowerPoint slides with swatches of various fabrics combinations for Ian's consideration (Ian always knows that I have reached crisis-point in the decision making process when I start using PowerPoint as an aid...he is filled with dread at the very idea of one of these displays which he knows must be followed by hours of careful analysis on his part...and he also pokes fun, because he says that I may be the only person left in the world who still uses PowerPoint). And finally, paralysed by indecision I decided that if the fabrics weren't perfect; if they didn't say the things that I wanted them to say to her, then I should leave doing it for now.

But then one day a couple of weeks ago my mother and I were sitting in Zebra-girl's room while she was at school and we were looking at all the loveliness of the fabrics in her curtaining hung at the window that has been altered and added to with each house move, and my mother suggested that as they was slightly ill-fitting anyway, then perhaps I could make a quilt from Zebra's curtains...this proved to be somewhat like a red rag to a bull (in the best possible way) and moments later I was standing on a chair hacking the precious fabric free from the lining with a large pair of shears, for she had stumbled upon the perfect thing. The fabric is faded and aged by the sun, holds so many memories from Zebra-girl's toddlerhood and beyond and was something that I had been loathe to take down and replace because I find the prints so lovely and nostalgic to look at.

The binding is a mixture of old and new fabrics and this combination is actually the bit that gives me the most pleasure to look at. The quilt is a very simple design: a strip of floral paisley at each end with red polka dots in the centre, and a strip of powdery blue velvet ribbon (again, salvaged from the original curtains) to cover the joins...so on that front it was a simple quilt to construct, but in terms of the actual quilting part, which I had never done before, I felt like I learned a lot (which for other new quilters I thought it may be worth sharing). Firstly, that I had never realised what a physical thing quilting is; the sheer weight of the materials and the effort of holding it taut as it goes through the machine was quite unexpected. I had always thought that quilting gloves were a rather precious affectation...now I realise that are an essential to avoid being in agony after keeping your shoulders hunched for hour upon hour as you try to keep your hold on the material steadily without the grip that a quilter's glove would provide. As it was a Sunday and the shops were closed and I am impatient I beavered on without them...but it was not a comfortable experience. Other things that I learnt (and this is from my own very limited experience...more experienced quilters may have better ways of doing things) is that one should always work from the centre on a quilt - meaning that when you begin to pin your top fabric to your wadding and backing fabric you should start pinning outwards in circles from the centre, and likewise, when marking out your quilting lines you should start from the centre too (your backing fabric should always be a little bigger than your front fabric as this allowance gives you room for the fabric shifting). I used a very light layer of basting spray to fuse the layers before pinning them with special quilting safety pins.

To bind, I machined the top side and then hand-stitched the underside. I had a friend round for one of the mornings that I was doing the hand-sewing and when she asked why I didn't just machine-stitch the whole thing I realised that as well as thinking it would be neater this way, I also felt that for it to be the quilt I wanted it to be, some of it must be done by hand. I hardly ever hand sew things and I realised what a lovely and relaxing (and more sociable!) occupation it is. I also wanted to make a patch for it and I'd read about amazing printable cotton for quilt patches, the look of which I love, but when I investigated further I realised that the printer inks don't seem to be fade or wash resistant and that the message may disappear over time - the idea of which saddened me. So instead I appliqued some roses onto my my patch and then embroidered my message and the date of giving.

I chose not to preshrink the cotton or the batting and waited to wash it until after I'd finished, so that it might gain a more antiqued look. It feels so nice to have so many favourite fabrics contained in one, hopefully long lasting, piece...the only thing I was less pleased by was that I had hoped that the batting would have a little more loft to it...and be a little more puffy once washed. I quilted it as far apart as I was instructed I could for the type of batting that I had chosen...but now I'm wondering if I should have ignored this and gone a little further apart, or if I should have chosen a different batting to start with (I went for Hobbs Heirloom).

I bought a book called The Quilt Story, now out of print (in the UK), to put with my gift. It is the most lovely story about a mother who makes a quilt for her daughter, which is used in her camps, tea parties, in the winter and on sick days and every other part of life, eventually accompanying her on a house move where it holds the comfort of being the only thing that smells like home. Eventually the quilt becomes so tattered that it is put in the loft, until years later, after it has become a home for some passing mice, a raccoon and other animals, the girl finds it and asks her mother to mend it, which she does....the messages in the book are lovely and both me and my mother were not entirely dry-eyed after first reading it.

Zebra-girl was delighted with her quilt, pleased to see her old curtains again (albeit in a different form) and has snuggled beneath it often. The canny amongst you may already have guessed that my next post may hold some mention of the making of new curtains, which for a bay window measuring 4 metres wide suddenly made the previous week's adventures with a single quilt's worth of material seem rather paltry by comparison.

I was quite sad once the quilt was finished as I had so enjoyed making it (in an aching shoulder sort of way), so it was uncannily wonderful for me that on Zebra-girl's birthday I had a note saying that there was a package waiting for me at the post office. I opened it to find that my dear friend Charlotte (whom I met at primary school, aged 8, when we were the only two girls in our entire school who had no desire to attend recorder club in our lunch hour...a mutual dislike of wind instruments that has proved to be a sound basis for a friendship spanning 23 years) had sent the most lovely and unexpected 'just because' present of a book about quilting, which she'd apparently bought for me several months earlier, but had kept for herself after it had an impromptu meeting with some small baby hands. But now we both have a copy, which makes it even more special. The book has some fantastic projects so I am now thinking about what kind of quilt I might make next (something for Dinosaur-boy I'm thinking...and I'm quite intrigued by the idea of what a hand-tied quilt might be like to make).

33 comments:

  1. Lovely post.
    I started quilting this year, (never having been a sewer before this... knitting was my thing) and so far I've made 5 quilts for my children. I wasn't sure how they'd like them (I have 4 boys of 16, 15, 13 and 12) because a quilt isn't exactly a 'manly' gift like a football or an electric razer, but they absolutely love them. It's so rewarding to see them wrapped up in their quilts watching tv or snuggling up in bed with them.
    So rest assured, your little ones will continue to love the quilts. It's not just a 'little kid' thing.
    (Be warned though.... as they get older they like to have a say in the fabric choices.)

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  2. Wow Florence what a beautiful job you did and I love the idea of the accompanying book. I do love the idea of a special quilt for a child, mine are certainly very attached to theirs. I'm down to my last few scraps of that same Cath Kidston Ikea fabric, it's so precious! Oh, and by the way - I didn't know there was an alternative to powerpoint - I still use it all the time!!!

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  3. it looks like the absolute perfect quilt. What a great idea!

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  4. Yes, yes, yes! I related to everything you wrote here Florence and wish you were here as I feel the need for a chat about such things! I made my first quilt for my darling daughter this year and like you, wished it were a little puffier (think eiderdown which could be impossible to replicate in a quilt). I also had aching shoulders and had no idea how physical a job it would be. Couldn't get quilter's gloves as it was almost midnight and I was still working on it. But, oh the pleasure to be gained from her teary face on seeing it and the further pleasure from having a daughter who understands the beauty of such a precious gift sewn with so much love. Well done on a brilliant quilt and a lovely post xx

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  5. That's how a quilt should be! It's gorgeous. I hope to make quilts for my children too - some day.... Perhaps I should look for the book you mention.

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  6. The quilt is beautiful - such a wonderful gift and a lovely book to give with it. I have a copy of that book bought about 20 years ago when my eldest boys were small. It's so beautifully illustrated.

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  7. What a lovely post and such a special special gift for your wee zebra. it's so lovely to sew your love and memories into a piece of work. love your choice of colours and fabrics and being reminded of the charming quilt story too.
    Yours patiently waiting to see the new curtains.
    ginny x

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  8. Beautiful quilt, well done you are so talented! And I love your fabric choices, delightfully girly. I will be turning to you for advice if I ever pluck up the courage to make one myself!

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  9. Flossie, you made me cry with such a beautiful post. What a lovely idea to make such a special quilt for your girl.

    I am sure she will treasure it

    April xx

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  10. How very special, when I read things like that it makes me sad I havent made more quilts!

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  11. What a beautiful choice of fabric.Your daughter is a very lucky girl.
    One day I will get to a quilt.
    How are you doing?
    I had a summer off but I am slowly getting back to reading my blog list:0)
    Cheerio from stateside:0)

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  12. Lovely. I'm betting the quilt will never leave her bed for years, so hopefully no mice(!) An what a wonderful memory to give a daughter!

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  13. You took me back with this post to a much younger me embroidering my first sons patchwork quilt with 'Sleep baby sleep, thy father guards the sheep, thy mother shakes the dreamland tree down falls a little dream for thee, sleep baby sleep' and then from Mummy etc. On one particular occasion he was most definitely not asleep...squawking..I was exhausted...!!

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  14. Oh I love reading your blog and haven't visited in a while so lots to catch up on!

    Your quilt is just beautiful and you were right to spend time planning and waiting for the right fabric to 'speak to you'. I have been known to take months to finish a quilt due to waiting for the right pink or blue to turn up. Your daughter is going to love this for many many years. Such a beautiful gift and it will be a true heirloom x

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  15. i love this story .. even though the curtains in my nana's house back in the 70's when I was small, weren't a fraction as nice as your Zebra's ex curtains... i can still remember how i used to stare at those curtains before I would go to sleep - looking for patterns and faces and all sorts of things as the light from the street illuminated them. I used to love staying with my nana in London, so curtain gazing at bedtime is one of my favourite memories. And so too will it be for Zebra - all the more so because they were beautiful curtains, specially chosen for her, and now she will always have them to snuggle up to. Lucky lucky girl!!

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  16. beautiful quilt and beautiful post flossie! so glad the quilt book was timely - i had no idea you were already working on such a treasure of a quilt, i have a feeling that it will never be far from zebra wherever she is in life... even when she is our age, making quilts for her own children! :)
    am about to check the tracking on my eagerly anticipated parcel - so excited!
    char xx

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  17. Well I can't make up my mind whether I want to creep into your house and steal your quilt, or whether I could just snug in beside zebra-girl. Oh it is just gorgeous. I have curtains that could maybe become a quilt too, if I thought about it hard. it is perfect the way they fade. I really like the way you put a message on it for her, felt a bit teary about that!

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  18. beautiful post! it nearly had me tearing up at thought of the love in the quilt and the memories in the curtains/fabric.

    have a lovely weekend.

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  19. Happy belated birthbay Zebra girl, so sorry I'm wait in wishing it to you.
    Have a fabulous weekend.
    Hugs,
    Catherine x

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  20. I read that to my daughter when she was small - think we still have it hereabouts! However I have only just got round to making her her quilt and she is now 21!

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  21. Lovely quilt and a great book to go with it. I am sure it will be loved forever!

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  22. what a gorgeous quilt, and made with such fantastic sentiments. I'm with you on the binding, a quilt that is handsewn to finish is finished with love...

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  23. What a gorgeous birthday quilt, and so much sentiment that has gone in to making it! The book sounds wonderful too. You must feel very proud when you see your little zebra snuggled beneath it.

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  24. What an adorable quilt!!!!

    Quilts are so special. If you get a quilt, you know you're loved. All the work that goes into making them.....only out of love. :):):)

    Cute post, it made me smile. :)

    Hugs,
    Lory

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  25. That first pictue of tiny feet peeping out from the quilt is just gorgeous.

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  26. I have just also finished my very first quilt - for granny turning 100 tomorrow and I so understand that need to hand sew the binding - the story of your quilt is wonderful.

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  27. Florence, this ost has bought tears to my eyes...all so beautiful...the story of using the curtains, Zebra Girl's delight, the learning curve of quilting. All of it! You write so beautifully. Thanks as always for sharing.
    D x

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  28. Oh be goodness, you have done an absolutely stellar job on that quilt. And using those curtains was genius - it all just goes together so deliciously. Your daughter is very lucky!!!

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  29. Oh Florence - another absolutely beautiful creation. It is just perfect!! I'm finally working on my girl's quilts starting (to be completely fair) on Chloe's first. I have had the fabric for about 8 years and we (Chloe and I) have had to add a few new fabrics to make it more 'her'. I will do a post on it shortly as I'm really thrilled with the way it is coming together. You have inspired me to get on with it!!

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  30. Beautiful post as always Florence and what a stunning quilt - I'm sure your little zebra-girl will treasure it always :)

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  31. What a beautiful project! It's always so lovely to make things for your daughters that they love.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x