The Neverending Quilt

As you well know, there have been some gaps in the blogging record.  Some represent actual dry spells in my knitty activity, while others are times when I am consumed by another craft.

Late in summer of 2014, I needed a gift for my groom, and in a moment overflowing with warm fuzzies, I decided I would make my Querido a quilt.  A marvelous quilt!  Out of his very own shirts!

(Side story: Querido is a serial killer of dress shirts.  The elbow is always the first to go, always the same elbow, always in exactly the same spot.)

I had a dozen or so dress shirts, carefully culled from the wash, and a vague idea that I would have rows of squares separated by lines of sashing.  That’s totally enough information to start a quilting project, right?  I don’t think I need to mention that I’d never quilted so much as a potholder before.

At first, I was just cutting out squares and things were hunky-dory.  I’d invested in a rotary cutter and cutting mat, the most marvelous gift ever given to sewing-kind, and I was a square-cutting machine.

Cream colored cat sitting on a square of fabric
Eloise the helpful kitty

With the occasional interruption.

We bought a king sized bed.  No problem, right?  Just gather a few more shirts.

The quilt was a surprise, and also I couldn’t think of a good excuse for why I was cutting up a whole bunch of Querido’s shirts, so the project progressed slowly.  So slowly, in fact, that the wedding passed and all I had were cut up squares.

One week in March, Querido was out of town, so I buckled down and started churning out squares.  All I did every night was work on the quilt until I was cross-eyed.  It was absolute insanity, but I started to make progress.  I cut out dozens of squares, sewed hundreds of seams, and ironed open those tiny seams.  Ironing is already not my favorite activity, and getting those little quarter inch pieces of fabric to unfold enough to get the iron going was a royal pain.

Melba the chiweenie asleep on squares of fabric
I’d forgotten this picture :..(
Cream colored cat cleaning her toes on a quilt in progress
Clearly, I was experimenting with quilt layouts to give Eloise a place to clean her toes

I had high hopes that the end of this week of quilting madness would end in a finished quilt.  It ended in a finished top, but I was defeated by the realities of time and this:

Cream colored cat rolling on a quilt backing
Quilt sandwiching time is kitty playtime!

I had four cats and nowhere enough space to sandwich a quilt in our house.

Utterly exhausted, I presented Querido with his quilt top and the promise of a finished quilt.  He took the unfinished gift and discovery that I’d destroyed a dozen of his shirts quite well.  Summer brought travels far and near, and getting that madness-inducing quilt out didn’t seem like a big deal.  But when August arrived with its nasty humidity, I started dreaming of cold and remembered we still didn’t have a quilt.

I took it to work, where we have huge tables, and on a deserted summer afternoon I got the whole thing sandwiched:

Blue and white quilt being sandwiched on tables

I was not nearly insane enough to attempt to hand-quilt, but I did want to learn the whole process, so I rigged an elaborate arrangement of tables and chairs to support the immense weight of a king-sized quilt, and sewed straight across the quilt: once in each stripe of sashing and twice across each row of big squares.  That’s 26 times, which is a lot, but not nearly as many as the number of times I stabbed myself with pins as I wrestled all that fabric through the machine.

Large blue and white quilt spread out across tables
Neverending quilt.

I used up two and a half full-sized spools of thread.  All 26 seams obviously didn’t happen in one day, and when I wasn’t working on it, the quilt became the cats’ new favorite sleeping spot.

Fermi the cat drowsing on a folded-up quilt in progress
Best kitty bed ever

Are you tired of reading about the quilt yet? Not as sick as I was of working on it, because it still wasn’t done. There was still the binding!  All 35 feet of pieced scraps of shirt, which, in a crazed moment, I had sewn with straight seams.  I cannot say how grateful I am to the colleague and seasoned quilter who gently but firmly informed me the seams needed to be sewn on the bias.  I ripped all the seams and did them again.

Patchwork bias binding ready to be sewn onto a quilt
The bias.

About 100 tiny seams, all of which had to be ironed open.  Then the whole strip had to be ironed in half.  Then, and only then, could I put the cats away, get out my cereal bowl full of pins, pin the binding to the quilt, rearrange all my dining area furniture, and begin to sew.  Finally, on Día de los Muertos, I slit the final thread, dragged several pounds of fabric off the machine, and it was a quilt.

I was too cross-eyed and exhausted at first to be happy, but Querido loved it.  Once I’d had a good night’s sleep and the realization that there was no quilt left to finish had finally sunk in, I loved it too.

Large blue and white quilt spread out across a couch and two tables
I never thought I’d see the day.

And that, dear readers, is how I quilted an entire king-size quilt in a year and a half.  We sleep under it every night. The cats play chase-the-wrinkles on it.  When they throw up on it, or when the strips of white start to turn Fermi-colored, I wash it in the washing machine and dry it on whatever is big enough.  In making this quilt I learned that I know next to nothing about quilting, and didn’t always have the right tools or equipment, and both those things made the process a lot harder.  I took a lot of weeks and weekends off quilting, but those were times we saw friends married, and explored our new home, and held parties, and helped one another finish other large projects.  After every break, I picked it back up again.

It was a labor of love, and stubbornness, and dedication.  Kind of perfect for a wedding gift.


6 responses to “The Neverending Quilt”

  1. This is an absolutely lovely account, and has convinced me that I should not attempt the quilt I was planning from Mr. Trask’s old shirts.

  2. First of all…..Lovely quilt! Second… with most skills there is usually more than one way to accomplish something. Sometimes it doesn’t matter and is totally up to the individual. Having said that, it is not absolutely necessary to sew the binding on the bias. Don’t scream. I just thought you ought to know. My mother is also a seasoned quilter who lives in a village of quilters and who is slowing but surely sucking me in. Help.

    • Thank you! It is good to know I can do a non-bias binding…I will keep that in mind if I ever quilt again! I’m not sure if there is any way to avoid being sucked in by quilters. You might just have to become one of them 😉

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