It’s for you – not me – and other lessons learned

Happy 2014 everyone!  I’ve been fairly absent for a bit here.  First, trying to get Ryan’s Christmas present finished.   I almost made it on time!  Then catching up on the corporate books.  I don’t recommend a 5 month absence from those.   Ugh.

At the end of it all, he got his gift before New Year’s Eve, which considering all of the hurdles I cleared to do it, and the fact that I started it WAY too late, I’m accepting of.

I’m told that the significant other is often the last one to get a quilt.  Not in Ryan’s case.   He actually managed to get the second ever quilt I’ve made.

Let’s rewind a little.  Somewhere around December 12th,  I decided I still hadn’t come up with something for a gift for Ryan, and I really wasn’t feeling like battling the crowds.    It’s far too late to ship anything.   I HAD promised him a quilt back in April.   Not knowing what we quilters are like (more projects than we can ever complete in 3 lifetimes on our bucket lists), he might even still think it could be forthcoming….

Shortly after I’d made the promise, he’d attended a church run fabric sale with me ( that was a LOT of ladies behaving badly!  I’ve never been elbowed out of the way so many times in any other venue in my life!) and picked out a fabric in a Southwest type of theme.   Not long after, we went through a book I’d picked up for blocks he liked.  We went to the fabric store some time later and picked out a few coordinating fabrics.

Today I give you a minefield of mistakes you can avoid, by reading my tale.  😉

Mistake #1 – Know what you’re committing to.

That book we went through?  It’s called 501 Quilt blocks from Better Homes and Gardens.  In this book are (presumably) 501 4″ quilt blocks that you can get inspiration from and their piecing diagrams.   He picked out 6 blocks in that southwestern theme that he liked that didn’t look too scary.

*Note:  At this point, April 2013, I had completed one quilt in my life,  a few quilted projects and fixed untold numbers of sewing machines.    What do the sewing machines have to do with it?  Turns out not a thing.  That experience helped me not at all in this whole process.

I learned not too long after that that the blocks in this book were all meant to be paper pieced.  I’d never done any sort of paper piecing.  Those blocks weren’t as easy as I thought they would be, even enlarged to 8×8″.   It took me 2 days to piece 3 blocks.

I’d estimated that for a lap quilt, I’d need roughly 25 blocks.   At my current speed, I’d need roughly 16+ days just to piece the body of the quilt.  Then borders and then I needed time to quilt it.  Lucey’s fast, but she’s not that fast…

Realizing that there was simply more work than I was going to be able to manage, I modified the plan a little.  How about that one block that took me the least amount of time – 25 times.  It could be set on point, and with setting triangles it would look nice, right?

I sure hoped so.  The block I shortlisted is commonly known as a Navajo block.

This is sort of what the block looks like.  It’s the closest I could get in EQ7.  Ignore the black lines, it was a signature block, but had a similar sawtooth to what I needed in the block.  Putting it into EQ let me at least preview the blocks and the quilt as a whole.



The BH&G book called it Geometric4 or some such.   If I alternated the colors, I could have 3 different blocks that I could alternate.  Good, right?

There were 911 pieces in that top.

The cutting took me 2 days, and the sawtooth portion took me another 2 days of marking, cutting and pressing half square triangles.

Mistake #2 – Measure 5 times, cut once

I am absolutely the wrong person to ask about cutting.  I can line everything up, cut carefully, and get a perfect trapezoid or  a lovely curve.  Speed me up with a deadline?  Perfectly un-square pieces.  I’m seriously considering taking a beginners class -just- for the cutting.

Now we’re at the end of Dec 18th, and I’m getting nervous.  I have one completed block out of the 25 that I need.  Will I make it?

December 19th, the sawtooth portions went together.  There was a small break for a dentist appointment that slowed me down though.

Wait, who gets a filling done just before Christmas?  You’d be sensitive to hot and cold!  I know, right? Further proof I wasn’t thinking clearly.

Mistake #3 – Check your 1/4″ seam for accuracy.

Whether you use moleskin, a stack of post it notes, a 1/4″ foot or a seam guide, check it for accuracy.   This is my favorite way to check it, and no, I didn’t check this machine and foot for accuracy.  I know better.

Additionally, if you’re going to use more than one machine to piece a quilt, check them all. Otherwise, you’re pretty much guaranteed one will be out.  This is why we’ve heard to always piece a quilt on the same machine, or that 3 people will make blocks in 4 different sizes, etc.

There were a few decapitated triangles on this quilt as a result of an inaccurate 1/4″ seam allowance on the main machine I pieced on.  This is a problem I didn’t have with my Labyrinth top that I did with Ronnie, the featherweight.

 December 20th had me waiting upstairs for the UPS guy to deliver the saddle chair Santa uh… sent me for Christmas (I love it by the way!), so I settled down at Ronnie with all my little pieces of the blocks for the day.  Now I had 25 blocks.

25 wonky blocks.

At this point, I was resigned to a quilt replete with generous amounts of wonk.  I trimmed the blocks from 8″ to 7-7/8″.  This is the joy of working from your own design.  I could take up the extra with the borders if I wanted to, or not.  With the design – a lap sized quilt, with blocks on point, it was likely to make a difference of less than a half inch to the total width or length of the quilt.

The Winter Solstice saw me assembling the body of the quilt.  The setting triangles were challenging because lining the edges up with another block is not as straight forward as one would think.

December 22nd saw the borders go on and the quilt loaded onto Lucey.  That was a comedy of errors as well.  First, I’d measured the width of the backing fabric wrong.   I’d thought it was 60″.   That’s what I’d put in my inventory program.  I’d made this quilt 54″ wide and 60″ long so I wouldn’t have to piece the backing and would have a not generous but adequate amount left on the sides for loading it onto the frame.  I went downstairs to iron the backing, and found that the backing was 52″ wide after it was washed.

Awesome. 😉

I pieced the backing, then miscut the batting by about 4 inches.  (See mistake #2)  Wow.  I seldom do this, and now I was on a roll.   I stitched “oops” leaders onto the batting and proceeded to load the quilt.  Luckily, the leadergrips made this stage painless.

Mistake #5:  Don’t assume because you’ve done it once that you remember how to do it months later.  Easing the borders is important!

This is a problem  I didn’t find until much later.  When I was almost finished quilting it, in fact.

Borders should be done in a set way, to avoid making waves, both with your quilt and your Longarmmer.

There are some great videos on YouTube about how to properly install borders, but the short and sweet is:

  1. Measure both the width and the length of the quilt 3 times.  Once at each side, and once in the center.  Take the middle value of those 3 numbers. Let’s say we measured 1.5″ 1.75″ and 2″.  We would use the 1.75″ measurement.

  2. Cut your border fabric for both parallel sides to this length.

  3. Mark the half way, 1/4 and 3/4 points on the first side of the quilt using pins.

  4. Do the same for your border fabric.

  5. Now match the pins on the quilt and the border and pin them together.  You’ll probably find that there’s a gap at various points from one or the other layer.  These are meant to be eased (stretched so they lay flat against each other while you sew them together) between the pins so that the borders lay flat.

If not, you get a bed skirt at the borders like I did.  Realizing at the late stage of “the stitch in the ditch is done, time for fill and borders” that the borders are wavy is a BAD time to make this discovery!  At the end, I was reluctant to remove the quilt from the frame.  I knew with this quilt – the “Quilt from Hell” – I’d never get it straight again when I reloaded it.  So, I removed the border while it was on the frame.  Loaded Luce with a temporary spool of thread (poor girl!) … and went to work:


What I ended up easing out was between 1″ and 2″.  Over about 48″ worth of border, that can be a challenge to take up, especially when your seam looks like it was done with a ruffler.    I could have done darts, yes, but with the dragon vine I was using the for borders, I didn’t think I could hide it well enough.



Mistake #6 – This is a big one.  Be sure of your thread choice for surface design right from the beginning.

Audition your design with Plexiglas and dry erase markers over the quilt, or I have a roll of plastic used for covering books and such.  (You can see it hanging in the background of the photo with Lucey’s temporary thread set up)  Just don’t get the marker on the quilt.  It doesn’t come off.  For a more complex design, it’s an idea to hang it where you can see it while quilting too for reference.

As for the thread color,  test it out with a tiny bit of quilting and use your imagination for the rest.  If you have even the littlest bit of doubt – STOP.  Rip now.   I quilted 1/3 of the borders, thinking the whole time “I don’t know, I don’t know… I don’t think I like it….” It looked like spider webs to me.  With the way the design looks in the corner already looking a little like a giant spider…. I needed it to blend better.

I’ve heard it said that 1 minute of quilting is 1 hour of ripping.  Based on that formula, it would appear that I quilted over 8 minutes before deciding that I had to change the color of the thread.


Finally, December 30th, I’d finished making the corrections and finished the fill on the quilt.   When Ryan got home from work, I was fighting with the binding.

Seriously.  Not one stage of this went smoothly for some reason.  Even the binding gave me fits.

Mistake #7 – Don’t force your ideas of what looks good onto a quilt made for someone else.

This is one of the most challenging things I’ve had to do since I started quilting.  The fabrics didn’t speak to me.  The pattern didn’t speak to me.  I gave myself way too little time, and I took on something I really didn’t fully understand the scope of.  It’s a recipe for a UFO (unfinished object) really.   I spent 18 days convinced that I was making an ugly quilt.  It’s still never going to be my favorite.  It’s loud.  It’s bold.  It’s so loud, it almost creates loud noises that I flinch away from.  I like my soothing blues and greys.

But that doesn’t matter, does it?  The most important thing is that Ryan says he loves it.   He picked out  the fabrics, the fill designs, and he uses it all the time.

It’s not up to me to like it, or even think it’s attractive.  That’s his job.  🙂

Final note:  I bet you thought I was going to say don’t let the significant other chose the fabrics or the colors.   Nope.  They can be trained into that. 😉




Today’s post brought to you by Melissa Etheridge – It’s for you

2 thoughts on “It’s for you – not me – and other lessons learned”

  1. Hello,
    dou you think it could be a good sfaety measure to earthen/ground the body og a Singer Featherweight 222K Featherweight as a part of rewiring, or is it unnecessary? If it is recommendable, do you think someone has done it in safe and nice way? Which parts should be earthed — tme main body, the foot control, the lamp housing…?

    Gunnar Pettersson,

    *edited to remove email address from public (bot) consumption

    1. Hey Gunnar,

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting 🙂

      I don’t think there’s a point in modifying the machine to earth it. Realistically, a 2 prong plug with wiring in good repair is still safe. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have current appliances with only 2 prongs, and upgrade would have been mandatory. That said, I’m not an electrician, so if you wanted to know for sure, I’d contact one and see what they say. I will mention that my cousin is an electrician and she has a featherweight (and several other machines) and has never talked about modifying them to earth them for safety.

Pssst! I'd love to hear what you think about this!