I have wanted to learn how to quilt for a long time. The world of quilting appeared inviting, beguiling, but a bit intimidating too. I noticed beautiful quilts everywhere. They caught my eye in films, perhaps draped cosily over a sofa; or plumply folded at the end of a bed, implying hospitality and welcome. They popped up in books, warming and comforting characters who were ill, sad, or chilled.
I read about quilts, I looked at them in museums. Quilts documented significant events. Quilts stored family history in their folds. Quilts were made to celebrate weddings and births. Quilts were sent away with grown children to college and new jobs. Quilts seemed to cast a homely spell, distilling the essence of love, family and home within their folds, to be used when the recipient needed warmth, or the comfort of home.
Derek, having heard me say many times how much I would like to learn to quilt, surprised me on my birthday this year by booking me on a 'Quilting for Beginners' course. (He is an excellent gift-chooser!). Inspired and motivated to do some ground work before the course, I decided to take the plunge and try to hand sew a quilt whilst we were on holiday in Wales. One the right size to nestle under on the sofa, or throw over the back of my desk chair; big enough to be useful, small enough to be realistically achievable over the summer, seemed a sensible plan. I had heard the phrase 'English paper piecing' and after reading a little about it, thought it seemed suitable for a first attempt.
I bought ready cut paper hexagons (2 1/2"), and cut some rough squares from an old fabric sample book. On a last minute trip into town before leaving for holiday, I chose a couple of larger pieces to supplement the fabric samples (and whilst on holiday bought remnants for the backing here)
I started basting the pieces onto the paper templates on the long train journey to Wales. It was quick to do each one, and enjoyable, but I had no real idea of how many hexagons I would need, how they would look, or if they would ever become a quilt.
During our weeks at Sugar Loaf Barn, I made steady progress. I worked on my hexagon flowers whenever I could. I learned to strengthen corners where hexagons met, with extra stitches; to trim the backs neatly when the hexagons were stitched together, to 'patch' the areas between flowers with extra hexagons as the quilt top began to take shape, and on no account to remove the paper template from a hexagon until it was surrounded by other hexagons (I found that one out the hard way...)
The fabric I used was soft furnishings weight, not a conscious choice, just what I had to hand, and this gave considerable heft to the quilt top as it grew, which I rather liked. The evening before we left Wales, I stitched the final hexagon in place.
Once back in Glasgow, I was determined that my quilt would not languish unfinished, and worked on it whenever I could over the next couple of weeks. I was rather daunted by the process of joining together the layers to make up the quilt, and made lots of mistakes, but I managed, after a fashion, and to my amazement it began to look quite quilt-like. I don't have a sewing machine, so there were no short-cuts with binding or quilting, everything was stitched by hand. I quilted the layers with a simple grid of wiggly lines, in a dark pink thread.(I used a water-erasable marking pen like this to make the pattern.)
Here, then is my Sugar Loaf Quilt. It was made with great enthusiasm rather than great skill, but I really do love it. The finished size is 125cm x 70cm, just about right for keeping legs warm and general sofa comfort. Amazingly, though it is very old fashioned and quite pink, both boys like it and have watched its development with some interest.
I rather like (even prefer?) the back.
I learned such a lot making this quilt, and found every moment stitching it hugely satisfying and enjoyable. I began to understand, rather than just imagine, the charm of quilt making, and the pleasure the finished article can bring, even if it is imperfect.
My course begins soon, and is based on machine quilting, so that will be a different experience entirely. I don't know if I will make another quilt wholly by hand again, but do find myself, in odd moments, thinking about next year's holiday, and somehow imaging another quilt top slowly taking shape in the quiet of the Welsh hills....