Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My First Quilt

Kelly Ann, who owns the LQS (local quilt shop) just posted the other day about her first quilt and asked about other people's first quilts. I made mine somewhere between 1980 and 1982...i thought i had made it earlier, but the book (about which more a little bit later) that i used has a 1980 copyright so it can't be!

I've been interested in quilts for a long time. I remember as an undergrad in college doodling quilt designs, even though i knew nothing about how to make a quilt, although i did know how to sew...took sewing in home ec in junior high school and loved it although i wasn't thrilled with the projects we did in that class. My sister had fun in home ec, too, so we managed to talk our parents into getting us a nice soft green Singer in a cabinet...we ponied up something like $15 towards the purchase price and it was my father the engineer who helped set up the machine and figure out how to use it.

When i was a first-year grad student, the mother of my then-boyfriend found a sewing machine for me for $20 from an antiques barn in Massachusetts. It was a 1927 Singer Model 66 in a cabinet that had been painted battleship grey with a little flower decoupaged onto the drawer. A full-size, solid metal, old Singer that only did straight stitch (it didn't even do back stitching) but what a lovely stitch it did.

I made a banner for my boyfriend's rock 'n' roll band (kinda like an art quilt with embellishment and everything but not quilted) and clothing...i really wanted to make a quilt but was daunted by how huge and expensive a project it seemed. You'd have to buy ALL this material and it would take SO LONG to complete it.

And then around 1980 i picked up a book on machine quilting by Robbie and Tony Fanning. And they had in there a quilt for a busy person to make...out of bed sheets! I combined and modified two of their project ideas (a duvet cover and the busy person's quilt) into a quilt whose front was one large piece of upholstery fabric and whose back was a blue sheet, purchased, i seem to recall, from the Bradlee's out on the highway. Anyone who's serious about quilting now-a-days realizes i committed two "sins"...upholstery fabric is very heavy and sheets are very tightly woven and hard to needle through. The third sin was that i used a fairly thick batting...didn't i want the quilt to be fluffy? Mostly following directions in the book, i wrapped the sheet around to the front, forming the binding (and actually forming a border, because the upholstery fabric was a little too narrow to top a double bed).

Then i basted the whole thing (i can't remember how i did it...maybe with safety pins? as soon became evident, i didn't baste it closely enough) and carefully rolled it, using my bicycle clips to hold the roll together...and set about machine quilting it. I got one vertical line done. That was o.k. although it felt like i'd been wrestling with an alligator. I started the next vertical line and the quilting bogged down completely...i was getting this huge bow wave of unsecured fabric and batting in front of the presser foot and ripples and puckers behind it! Aaarrgh! I ripped the stitches out, tried it again...broke the needle.

So i decided i'd better tie it instead! I used black acrylic yarn, and followed the print. I tied the ties really well. And voila, a quilt! (I put it on the bed tonight to take a picture and of course Fuzzy had to come in from the other room to try it out...i believe that's the paw wash of approval he's giving there.)

It is very heavy, and quite warm, and i used it continuously for two or three years until i made a down comforter from a kit, and after that, it moved to cover the guest bed.

Now, some 25 plus years later (?!?) it mostly resides in my linen closet, but has held up well to having been used, machine washed, etc. Here's a closeup of the quilt and the book that started it all.

And here's a little video that shows why it's a good idea to tie your ties really tight!


  1. Facinating post, QC! Lovely to read about how you got interested in quilts and quilting. It's not something that is huge here in the uk, but it does go on. Interesting about sewing, as traditionally, 'needlewrk' was only for girls here, when I was growing up....When I became a School Teacher in 1996, one of my remits was to teach Textiles as part of the technology part of the curriculem, to boys and girls from age 11! I kind of figured the boys would not want to do stuff like aprons and skirts (what we had to do when I was a nipper) so I did things like Sesame Street puppets, ties and waistcoats with sweetie designs, and mini quilts! Each student designed a personal square which we quilted, then joined it all together! It was such a cool project, and it worked well! In the end, the boys loved textile lessons probably more than the girls!

  2. We think it is lovely that the quilt lasted 25 years already. You did such a good work back then and it was your first one! And things only got better!

  3. Thanks for sharing your first quilt. What a hoot where we all started. I tied the first several quilts and yes our cat loves the tie tips also.

  4. That was a great story! We all have our 'first Quilt' stories!

  5. Our woman used to sew, but never made any quilts. That quilt, by the way, is beautiful.

  6. Hi Quiltcat,
    I loved your recollections about how you got started with sewing and quilting... that's a wonderful first quilt. My first and only sewing machine is a very old singer portable (black)and it still works but just does plain sewing, nothing fancy. D gave it to me many years ago when we first met. It belonged to his sister and she was living in Europe so it became mine. Interesting how your Dad, the engineer figured out your sewing machine worked for D taught me how to use the one he gave me. He had studied engineering and that came in handy! He also helped me with the patterns, he said it was like reading a blueprint. Well, I was very enthusiastic for a while and made vests and shirts and smocks. Everyone in both families received them...they left much to be desired, the cuffs were upsidedown and the collars didn't stand up but everyone was kind enough to wear them!
    I can really appreciate all of the talent you have!

  7. My Mumsie made my clothes when I was a kid (back in the days when that saved lots of $$$). I made a quilted poncho in high school with lots of scraps leftover from those clothes, and some wretched were polyester.....did I mention it was the early 70's? That was the beginning of a life long love affair with quilting. I loved reading about your first quilting adventures. We have all come such a long way, eh?

  8. That's great!! What a huge job!! The PM would love to make a quilt some day but you seem to have to be sooooo perfect with it all. She made a moses basket cover for the wee lass when she was born but had to change it half way through as the pieced border was all screwed up. She must not have cut her triangles exact.

    Maybe someday...

    Purrs Goldie, Shade and Banshee

  9. That's a lovely quilt, and it was nice to hear the story behind it!

  10. Thank you everyone for visiting and your nice compliments!
    Buskitten, the same thing has happened here, with similar results if taught properly...the boys love the mechanical aspect of learning how to use a sewing machine! And it sounds like you developed excellent projects that would make boys and girls happy! (We made kerchiefs, an ugly skirt, and jumper [not the same as a jumper in the UK] back in my day.)

    Nan, it's funny that we had similar assistance from engineers with our sewing machines! I also made shirts...western style shirts with snaps, yokes, the whole works *g*.

    Karen, i still have some scraps leftover from those 60s and 70s sewing projects...they're pretty hideous since so many are polycotton or board-stiff kettle cloth!

    Goldie, Shade, and Banshee, you should encourage your mum to try her hand at quilting again...and start small, just with a kitty nap quilt! Triangles are very challenging! (and there are new techniques that make them easier)

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