Not so very long ago – within the last five years – the airing cupboard held bulging bags of would-be quilts. There were old wool blankets from our grandparents’ homes, a stained batik tablecloth of my mothers, a tired feather duvet, ripped sheets, leftovers from dressmaking projects and more than a couple of bags of old clothes in patterned fabrics. One summer holiday I got the whole lot out and divided it up as best I could, never having made a quilt before. I divvied up the blankets and other bits of wadding, assigned backing, and estimated how many scraps I’d need for each. Armed with a pair of scissors and the fact that a coin quilt really couldn’t be all that tricky, I set about making my very first quilt, which Seb has had on his bed ever since. It took far more scraps than I’d anticipated, and I wouldn’t use such a heavy backing again, but it still looks nice enough.
Ilse’s Irish Chain took several months more, even with the loan of a cutting mat and other game-changing equipment. It took so long, in fact, that I wondered if the library would allow me to keep renewing the same book for so many months. But eventually that, too, was done, and the bags in the airing cupboard were a little bit lighter.
That summer I got organised and made up two more ‘kits’, dying white sheets for backgrounds and setting myself up for the next two quilts. That autumn I ended up making three, two of which have never been blogged and Ben’s fast and furious leaving-home quilt. And, finally, the airing cupboard was empty and all the children’s beds were covered in a bit of homemade warmth.
Five quilts down the line, a huge kingsize one is next, for John and I. In my head, I place a glorious order with Liberty and spend a happy month or so making a starburst of truly cosmic dimensions, radiating from its epicentre in a blur of colour and light. One day.
In reality, all the sewing I’ve done over the past couple of years has generated a significant number of scraps, and this is what I quilt with. I’ve learned a thing or two about keeping them quilt-ready. Inspired by professional quilters who keep their bins full of precut fabrics in every size, shade and scale, I’ve been keeping on top of my own cutting in a rather more specific way.
The thing about using scraps and old clothes is that for every nice big 8″ square you get, you end up with fifty much smaller bits that simply can’t be used. So I’ve chosen three quilts to have on the go, in sizes that can be cut down into each other if I change my mind.
First of all, there’s a postage stamp quilt, designed to use up all those pesky little 2.5″ square pieces (anything smaller goes in a scrap jar and gets used for making cards, and crazy quilting and the like. Ilse loves digging through it). I don’t think I’d have the patience to sew 1936 little scraps of fabric together in one go, but it’ll take years for me to accumulate that many scraps. In the meantime, I’m stitching them into 16 patch blocks with no rules other than that no fabric can be repeated in each block. When I’ve made 121 of them (or earlier, if I get sick of this project) I’ll sew them all together and finish the quilt.
The quilt that I’m really excited about is the next size up. I cut anything that would allow into 5″ squares, so that I could cut them down into 2.5″ squares if I wanted to speed the postage stamps along, and spent a very pleasant few months considering what to do with them. For a long time, I pondered a hand-stitched clam quilt, but in the end Christina’s gorgeous Drunkard’s Path sent me on a little pathway of my own, and I am planning something like this beauty. I’ve dyed and cut more than enough grey squares (yet another worn out sheet) in various shades to pair with the number of coloured squares I have so far, and am looking forward to some steady piecing as and when the fancy takes me.
Finally, I’d like to make a very simple, large scale quilt of half square triangles. Whenever I can – and it isn’t often – I cut a 10″ square. These seem to get used up faster than I can collect them: twenty went into the back of a baby quilt, and several more were cut up into 5″ squares. I’ve got eleven at the moment, and think the duplicates will hit the cutting mat soon. That leaves just eight, which is a very small beginning indeed. Perhaps that pile will grow, and one day there’ll be a kaleidoscope of all my favourite fabrics on our bed, in triangles large enough to show them off. Or perhaps I’ll need just a few more squares here or there to finish off the other quilts, and that’ll be the end of that. Whichever happens, it doesn’t really matter. All things being equal, there’ll be a quilt on our bed in the next couple of years, and another for the guest room. Two quilts is what is really planned, and a third would be a bonus.
How do you plan your quilts (or do you not plan them at all)? Do you make them fast, or over months and years? With new fabric or old?