Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Quilting Moonglow

Friday night I started quilting Moonglow, the very elaborate, paper-pieced quilt that I started in a Block-of-the-Month class in 2010. The top (which I displayed in an album on my Facebook page if you'd like to look at it) gave me a severe approach-avoidance complex when I first saw it.

Beautifully designed, the blocks are a cross between the mariner's compass and ancient drawings of the stars and sun. Each block seemed more detailed and difficult than the last. I had never paper-pieced, a process by which one sews the fabric onto actual pieces of paper. I had never attempted any quilt block as complicated as the simplest of these blocks. And, I had never seen such a beautiful quilt. I had to do it and I felt terrified at the same time.

 The teacher, Carrol Stewart, was also an unknown quantity to me, although I quickly discovered her strengths as a teacher and taskmaster. Carrol had impeccable quilting credentials and as a bonus was a whiz at nudging recalcitrant sewing machines into behaving. She had owned a quilt shop and sold sewing machines before her retirement and she had all the skills needed plus a great personality for a teacher. I can just hear her saying, "Now, look here, darlin' ... " which indicated you were about to get a lesson that included ripping out stitches.

 Over a year's time, I learned my lessons fairly well and Carrol was often willing to sit and rip stitches for me while I re-sewed defects. She taught me how to miter borders and generally coaxed me along until I had a beautiful, I-can't-believe-I-made-this, quilt top. With her help, I found the perfect backing for my quilt, then took everything home and put it in a drawer.

 I told myself that I had other quilts to finish before I could start this one, but the truth is that quilting it daunted me as much as constructing it had in the first place. There was just so much to quilt. Whenever I looked at it, I saw the thousands of stitches I would have to sew in laboriously and I balked at even starting. Didn't I know the obvious that if you didn't start you would never finish? Well, of course, I did, but I had my excuses - other quilt projects to finish.

Nine months later, I had caught up on the projects that were ahead of Moonglow and I still didn't want to commit myself to hand quilting it. For a time, I considered paying Carrol to machine quilt it for me. I had seen her work plenty of times and she did a marvelous job of machine quilting, whether a simple, computer-driven pattern or a complex, hand-guided pattern. But I hand-quilted all my quilts. After all the work I put into making Moonglow, would I be selling myself short to let someone else quilt it?

I considered machine quilting it myself, on my own little sewing machine, not a top-of-the-line long-arm quilting machine like Carrol had. I even took a class on machine quilting which helped to reduce my anxiety about it, but which also taught me that I would need a tremendous amount of practice with machine quilting before I could do a job nearly good enough for Moonglow.

Two weeks ago, I finally took the plunge and purchased the wool batting that would make hand quilting a much more pleasant job because needles glide through it so effortlessly. Then I spent an evening at Quilt Til You Wilt making my quilt sandwich. This past Friday, I wrestled the first stitches into the quilt top. It is always difficult for me to get started with my needle and thread. Quilting has a kind of rhythm and at the beginning, I don't know the music I will be dancing to with the particular quilt in hand.

I spent several hours on Monday quilting with Alix and now have the first block 3/4th finished. I estimate it will take me 8 to 10 hours per block to hand-quilt it. There are 25 blocks, plus a large border made of seven different fabrics, so, if I work on it regularly, I should be able to finish it in six months or so. I always underestimate the finishing, like adding the binding, but I certainly will have it done by next Christmas.

 Alix and Adam are getting Moonglow. For a long time, I thought I couldn't give it away after doing so much work on it, but I am over that now. There are other quilts to make and I can't keep all of them in a house with only two beds!    

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