With great relief I’d like to show you some pictures of a project that absorbed a lot of attention this summer — but that I couldn’t blog about because it would give away the surprise! At so many points over the past few weeks I was almost crazy with the effort of not writing about it, such was my excitement. The project in question was a wedding gift for my good friends J & M; now that that beautiful, joyous, delicious event has come and gone I am home free! Let the slideshow begin!
Here it is! A queen sized patchwork quilt! The key points of interest about the project are that it was a collaborative effort between myself and my good friend M — someone I was introduced to through the bride when I first moved to Toronto. And, secondly, the quilt is made almost entirely of salvaged fabrics which we sourced from both the bride and groom’s families. A large proportion of the material is old clothing of the bride’s grandmother — the very same fine dame whose fabulous costume jewellery has been finding its way to me via J for some time now. J’s mother was game to send a large box of clothing up all the way from Narragansett, Rode Island.
I laughed so hard when I opened the box: the colour spectrum ran from neon kelly green, bright fuchsia, and royal blue, to misty mint, faded pastel florals, through to the olive, tan, ochre, navy, brick, and mustard of the dozens of neckties (that had belonged to the bride’s grandfather) that were also included.
A further box of clothing from the groom’s family sealed the deal. We needed a very particular patchwork scheme to reconcile and harmonize this insane range of colours. I raided my stash for a few fabrics to fill in some of the gaps, and was happy to find that a few remnants I had tucked away from projects I had made for J in the past were a perfect fit. M added a few fabrics from her own stash and we had a workable palette. Sort of!
The key ended up being the pattern we chose, inspired by one of Kaffe Fassett’s quilts. The energetic randomness of the colourway we had been dealt needed something a bit simple and geometric to stabilize it. Repetitive without being too prescriptive, and flexible enough to accommodate the fact that we had vastly varying amounts of each colour of fabric, this log cabin pattern with blocks of varying sizes was just the ticket!
All this planning happened back in the late spring. But the summer months’ arrival meant M and I were not even going to be in the same city for very much of it. So with the help of some graph paper and a sharpie, we set to work making a map of the quilt we could each take with us while we worked on the quilt separately. We divvied up the quilt into 7 large sections that we could then fill with the smaller log cabin blocks as we liked. We agreed upon only a few rules – that each concentric ring of the blocks would be one colour, that blocks would be no smaller that 3″, and that we would try to randomize size and colour… and that is it.
Since we were using salvaged materials we bucked the convention of using only 100% cotton fabrics. Silk, cotton, polyester, rayon, mystery fibers – it all went into the wash on the hottest setting, and anything that didn’t survive the abuse was eliminated from the competition. The survivors were all ironed and cut it into strips of varying widths, and then divided between us so that we’d have a similar palette to work from. Our (naive) plan was to just to make our respective patchwork sections and then just piece the top together upon our reunion in August in Toronto. Easy, right? 😛
Fast forward through a glorious summer of flights and farms and family visits, celebrations and relaxations, and a growing number of blocks accumulating on my hallway walls.
It is interesting to look back on now of the different approaches M and I took to the task of filling our assigned sections of the quilt. I arranged all my strips by colour on a hanging broom handle, then every morning as I started my day I would make one or two blocks as a warm up activity. I could make a long term habit of that! It is a good, tidy, meditative exercise to get the brain started up. Nice because the form provides enough structure to motivate and simplify the process, but not so much as to be totally prescriptive — choosing a different colour and size of fabric strips each time meant that every block was a new and exciting adventure. Fascinating to see how the concentric repetition of fabrics could harmonize colours I thought were doomed together.
As the number of blocks grew and grew, my impression of the individual fabrics faded, and a new overall texture was created. So exciting to see how the scale, proportion of materials changed as pieces were added and rearranged. After all the fun of making the blocks however, I was faced with the mind boggling task of fitting all the randomly sized blocks I had made together! Woops.
M took a much more logical approach and mapped out completely the required number and size of the bocks she needed to fill the sections of the quilt she was responsible for. Plugging away at a constant pace, I think she realized in horror long before I did the shear enormity of the project we had set for ourselves. In my happy state of just producing blocks on a whim of whatever size I liked, it took me a little longer to hit that wall. I’m not sure who had an easier time of it in the end, since there was a quite a few panicked phone calls each way between us over the course of the summer!
Towards the end of August, M delivered to me the portion of the top she had finished – a great big 87” x 30″ strip, along with a big stack of individual blocks and all her remaining fabric, before disappearing into the wilderness (I think with a snigger) for a week of totally quilt-free camping. It was then that I threw out the original map (which had been changed and altered many times already) and resorted to ye olde tyme square dance of trial and error on the kitchen floor to make all my various sized blocks fit together (swing yer partner!)
With M and I finally both back in Toronto again, we hunkered down (literally) for an intense quilt immersion weekend to assemble the top with batting and back.
Three long days of basting, hand tying, and binding later, with a little help from our partners, a little help from the LCBO…
A little interference from a certain kitty, and only a few tears…
It was done!
(There were only a few more tears at the laundromat upon realizing I hadn’t set the washer to the delicate cycle, as I retied and tightened approximately one gazillion %*#$ing knots)
Oh, but then… but then…
J & M: I hope it keeps your hearts warm for many, many years, my friends.