It has been a long road (ten years, give or take a month or two), but I am proud to report that the quilt-which-would-not-die has finally picked itself up, dusted itself off, and jumped, fully-quilted, onto the sofa. It is now ready to be snuggled under by anybody who is fond of warm, fabric-y goodness. It did, however, have the decency to sashay out to the back garden for the obligatory outdoor beauty shot. Here it is in all its glory:
After all the time it had taken, I decided I couldn’t face constructing it in the usual way as a “quilt sandwich”, and then making and attaching binding. I needed a faster hit than that! I found some instructions for making up a quilt without binding (“bagging out”: I used the instructions in this book, which were quite helpful after I’d finished rolling on the floor, laughing at the concept of making a quilt in its entirety in a weekend) and went for it.** Albeit that this quilt took an absurd amount of time to complete, I’m actually very proud of the fact that the only part of it which wasn’t hand-sewn were the three edge seams I made at this point (the final edge was oversewn after I had turned the quilt right-side out and inserted the batting).
I found a backing fabric from one of the many sewing shops on City Road in Cardiff, the rather fabulous Butterfly Fabrics (they have gorgeous tweeds and boiled wool, suiting fans!). Again, I hadn’t read the book at this point, and wasn’t aware of the idea that a lot of quilters choose to use a large-scale, bold, or otherwise striking fabric for the backing, but I’m still very happy with my selection. After a lot of digging, I picked out a pale-green fabric with an all-over design of golden-brown birds and tiny red flowers, which picked up on a number of colours and thematic elements from the front of the quilt.
I think it worked rather well, although, in typical fashion, I did manage to sew it on upside-down. Honestly, with the chequered history this quilt has had, it wouldn’t be right if something hadn’t gone wrong at the last minute, would it? At least I didn’t make the whole thing inside-out, which wouldn’t have been beyond the bounds of possibility.
After I had attached the backing, I hand-quilted the whole quilt in a variegated green/brown 100% cotton thread from Guttermann (it was a Sulky Blendable in shade 4020, in case anyone out there has a long-running quilt to complete). There were a few incidents with broken and knotted threads which lead to a little sotto voce swearing, but this stage really went very quickly: the whole thing took about two weeks, but bear in mind that I was only able to work for a short period of each day, as the rest of the time was taken up with family, Eoin, presents, visiting, Eoin, eating, thank-you letters and more Eoin. That’s how I roll, you know.
While the quilt was actually finished after dark, and therefore not really at a good time for photographs, I did manage to take a picture of it a few hours before completion, reposing gracefully in the very chair in which I started it, all those years ago. As you can see, I was using a hoop; I had read a certain amount of anti-hoop propaganda before I started the quilting process, but I found this worked the best for me. Without the hoop, my stitches wandered about wrong side of the work like drunken ants, but with it I managed to get reasonably straight lines of stitching on both sides. It also obviated the need to contort your left hand in a rather painful fashion in order to maintain tension on the fabric while sewing, and diminished cramp is always a winner in my book.
I know I have a long way to go, but I’m pretty pleased with how this quilt turned out. I learned a few lessons along this last stage of the way, not least that a hoop can make your life an awful lot easier if you let it. I also discovered that quilting needles, or “betweens”, are unbelievably sharp, and can really make a mess of you as you grope for them on the underside of the quilt. If I told you that this apparently innocent textile had been made with blood, sweat and tears, I wouldn’t be exaggerating about the blood part. Ouch. In a fun twist, it turns out that my irrational, though deep-seated, sewing-related fear (that my hand will slip mid-stitch and I’ll stab myself in the eye) has returned with a vengeance. I have no notion why I should be so convinced that this is going to happen, but there were a few panicky moments near the end.***
I’m having some thoughts about planning quilt number two, but they’re not too serious yet. For the moment, I’m happy to snuggle up on the sofa, raising a small celebratory G&T to the coverlet wrapped around me. It’s a bit of a brochan and rather wonky, but it’s all my own work. What’s more, it’s dashed warm, which is exactly what a girl needs on a chilly night. Slàinte mhath, my messy, lovely quilt!
*“I came, I sewed, I conquered”.
**There are some alternative instructions here: the suggestion to stabilise the top and the batting sounds very useful, as I did find that the batting shifted a little during the making-up process.
***I have a similar irrational fear about cycling: no matter how much you understand on a rational level that nobody is going to shove a stick through the spokes of your wheel as you pass, it doesn’t necessarily stop you worrying about it.