Wednesday, 3 February 2016

St. Louis 16-Patch Quilt


At the start of this year, I decided to finally do something about the fact that we don't have a quilt that's big enough to cover a sofa's-worth of people in our living room. Until now we've invariably snuggled under a patchwork of smaller quilts or more often the beautiful cashmere blanket that my mother gave me for my thirtieth birthday as it's amazingly warm. But after eight years of snuggling, it's starting to show its age and I don't want it to reach a level of wear where I have to part with it, so I'd rather just minimise its use and allow it to go into semi-retirement over the arm of a sofa where I can still see it everyday.

I decided that I wanted something in bright, saturated colours, which automatically makes me think of prints by Amy Butler, Anna Maria Horner and Kaffe Fassett. Amy Butler fabrics seem a lot harder to find at many online quilt shops nowadays - I still really love her designs though and really like the more painterly, less geometric prints that feature in her last few collections, Violette and Bright Heart - only Stitch, Craft, Create and Cotton Patch seem to stock a wide selection in the UK. When my fabrics arrived, they really did make me feel completely joyful - I absolutely love these prints and instantly texted photos of them to both my sister and mother as it felt like a great ball of warmth and sunshine worth sharing.

For the piecing, I've kept things completely simple and chose to make the quilt from 16-patch blocks, with two prints per block. Although it's not a complex block, I used a tutorial that I found here as Steffani has done all the hard work in terms of thinking about which way to press seams.


Here's my chair temporarily reupholstered in four inch strips of fabric. The very, very eagle-eyed may notice a curious selection of things appearing on my desk. In addition to sewing paraphernalia, over recent months I have become the proud owner of a replica Mini Cooper (a gift from my husband in lieu of a real one) and a miniature golden retriever in glorious moulded plastic, which my husband thought I might appreciate on the grounds that our loft rooms are a Nell-free zone. I really love these strange little additions and my eyes are yet to become used to them in the way that they can with things I'm expecting to see, so I enjoy looking at them every day!


The repetitiveness of the piecing allowed me to become really obsessive and geeky about the way that I was working (that's a good thing in my eyes!). Building in strict seam matching standards and economies of time in the production line became a really fun part of making up the blocks! I realised that normally whenever I reach for a pin, there's a pause in work flow as I try to avoid being stabbed while finding one that's both straight and is actually a pin (my needles tend to end up in with the pins and because I hand-sew a lot, there are about fifty of them mixed in there!), so I put only the exact number of pins that I needed to sew each seam onto my magnetic pin cushion and loved how much this simple change sped up the sewing!


Although it may look random, I also had a strict fabric pairing criteria for each block: there had to be one lead print and one filler print; the filler print had to contain at least one of the colours contained in the lead print; but the filler print could not have the same background colour as the lead print. I don't think the results of this are obvious, but I always think that details like this make something feel right, even if only in my head.


I loved seeing these mushroom and fill up my design wall. My daughter made the blue and black one at the top left of the wall (and in the photo below) and it's my favourite block so I put it in the centre section of the quilt when I came to laying them out later. I really loved teaching her the clever way that these blocks are made up (as per the tutorial I linked to earlier) so that you don't have to piece 16 individual squares and so that the seams all nest nicely.


I've now completed 36 blocks and I'm at the point of sewing them all together. This quilt is huge and the only room where I could lay it all out was the living room. When I put the blocks down, I realised that it just looked like a giant mess, so I went down the root of trying to give it some order that, again, may not be instantly apparent, but which hopefully helps the whole thing to hang together and look right. I decided that every other block should have either some orange, pink or red in it and that the ones in between would be cooler colours. I felt much happier with this layout even though Nell looks to have grave doubts about it. Please excuse the rumpus of cushions; there is no time for beautifying a room when arranging quilt blocks.


And goodness, did I ever think I could get to the point of arranging a whole quilt top on the floor and Nell just instinctively knowing that she shouldn't trample over it? At three years old she is becoming an incredibly thoughtful little creature who tries really, really hard to control her impulse to bound around willy-nilly and now just bounds when it looks like she won't knock things over or destroy them. Just after this photo was taken she lay down with her chin on the corner block, quietly watching me place the rest of them (I've noticed she will often do this: following my eyes the whole time, she will place just a paw or her nose gently on something that she knows isn't really hers, as if trying to strike a compromise and trying to ascertain that I do love her dearly and so am willing to share a little with her, while simultaneously doing this testing-of-the-waters so carefully that she is reassuring me that if it's permitted then she knows to take care!). Sometimes it really amazes me that we've invited this creature (who at first seemed like a wild animal) to share our home with us and that it's all actually okay and that we all live happily alongside one another and that two entirely different species have formed a family. Do you ever get hit by this sense of how odd it is that there are animals in your house*, but how weirdly fine and normal that feels?

Anyway, back to the quilt. I did quite a lot of batting research and I'll let you know the results of that once I've quilted it, but I'm hoping for super puffiness and softness!

Florence x

* Only applicable if you have pets. If there are uninvited animals in your house then I have everything crossed for you that they leave quickly!

25 comments:

  1. Love this post. The quilt looks beautiful and your sewing patience simply astounds me every time I look at your blog or IG - I am in awe. And then Nell's lovely face and your description of the chin resting on the edge of everything and anything that she deems to be hers is so familiar; I just love the whole chin thing. Anyhoo, look forward to seeing the finished quilt x

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    1. Ah, thank you, Katy! I have seen Otto working the chin (and also the entire body thing in his case!) with aplomb on your own IG too :) They are such lovely, lovely creatures, aren't they! And thank you for your kind comments about my sewing - I'm incredibly flattered. x

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  2. Your daughter's block in particular is such a nice combination of patterns and colours! I know just what you mean about the wild animal - I used to sometimes suddenly realise it with our late beloved cat: there's a little furry beast with sharp claws and pointy teeth and yellow eyes living in my house!! Somehow this story I saw today seems very vaguely related: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/feb/02/ravens-can-imagine-being-spied-on-study-finds? x

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    1. That's such an interesting study. I love things that show that the species are more interconnected than we think and also the idea of a surreptitious raven...a bit like a cunning fox, only a more interesting and unusual image!

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  3. I do often feel exactly that way about my dog. How did this 70 pound wolf-like creature get into my apartment?! I love that you articulated that.

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  4. I like the quilt but I love hearing about Nell. I have always had dogs and I cherish the relationship we can have with them. I would be lost without my pups! I don't think it's weird at all - people who DON'T love animals are weird to me.

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    1. I often think the world is divided into two camps - those with pets and those without and each thinks the other is a little strange! (I'm an animals girl. *g*)

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    3. It's hard to realise that there is that division until you actually experience having them though, I think. Looked at in practical terms, the downsides of animals (being a bind for going on holiday, expensive, leaving hair everywhere, needing walking even if you're ill etc) far outweigh the on-paper positives; it's only once you have one in your house and fall in love with them that you realise that the relatively few on-paper positives actually far outweigh all of the negatives by a very long way.

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  5. I've always had animals in my home up until I moved away for university and now find it weird how there aren't any animals in my accommodation! Like today, I was off ill but just found it strange how I wasn't being sat on by a dog or a cat (their usual method of offering comfort).
    I'm very impressed at Nell's restraint at the sight of a quilt top. Whenever I lay mine down on the floor at home, I have two cats and a dog lying down in the middle of them within seconds! No matter where else they may be in the house...

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    1. I love the idea of them all racing toward you at the sound of an unfolding quilt top! x

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  6. Nell is such a sweetheart! And, yes, I actually found myself musing the other day what a strange and wonderful idiosyncrasy of humanity companion animals are! We have two almost four year old Bengal cats and I had always had dogs. Cats, it turns out, are a different fish altogether!! And we had a few years of absolute madness with energetic, headstrong felines. But it brought it home to us all how much a part of our family they are when one became very sick last month. He is fine now (after tests and an MRI scan he has an epileptic diagnosis) but we have cancelled our Easter holiday to make sure he is fine and we don't have to leave him. And my blasé husband was in bits over him! I think it shows how much you bond with pets and understand them even when there's not a common Language.

    P.S. Lovely quilt! My daughter sleeps under a very bright 16 patch, it was such a satisfying make.

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  8. Personally I cannot imagine quilting without a professional quilt dog just wouldn't be the same...

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    1. I wonder whether your dog tells his friends at the park that he's a professional quilt dog!

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  9. What a lovely looking quilt. I adore the boldness of the colours, brightens up any room. I couldn't be without our four legs, he's 11 now so snoozing is a big part of his day. He's always there by me, and he approves when I go in the sewing room (only room downstairs with carpet and he clearly loves to curl up on it when I'm working). Look forward to seeing the finished quilt.

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  10. My husband is always looking at our menagerie and saying 'we have wild animals IN OUR HOUSE!' apparently the novelty of the weirdness of it hasn't worn off!

    Beautiful quilt :) I made a really bright one last winter from Anna Maria Horner fabric big enough for lots of us after getting fed up that we were all trying to squeeze under a one person quilt. Typically one child will now hog that quilt, but luckily I have 3 or 4 on the sofa alone so we have plenty!!

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    1. That's what I need to do, as this still won't cover everyone as we tend to have three people on one sofa and then one person sprawled out on the other. The sprawler may still be chilly...

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  11. This is so pretty, Florence! I love your bright, happy fabrics all together. It's going to be a gorgeous quilt.

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  12. This is going to be a wonderful quilt...patchwork is my favorite. Do you machine quilt? And if so...how do you keep things smooth on the backside? That is my biggest problem so I often take mine to a lady to long arm quilt, but that is expensive!

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    1. I use really long sturdy pins (far thicker than the type you'd ever pin fabrics together with) to secure the quilt backing to the carpet - this means that I can stretch it taut with no creases in. Then I spray baste the batting and the quilt top to make the quilt sandwich. And then I pin baste the whole thing too to make extra sure that nothing can move around while it's being quilted!

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  13. I have often thought how weird it is that these cats just roam around inside our house and interact with us, but have never heard anyone else vocalise it - so thanks! Quilts gorgeous too

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  14. Wow, that's going to be a stunning quilt when it's finished!

    Have you decided on the binding, quilting pattern and backing yet?

    Great site and tutorials by the way, so thank you! Nell is great too.

    Bill

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  15. This is such a happy quilt, I like the way the orang pops. I can't believe Nell is three, I remember when you first announced her on your blog. x

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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

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