Thursday, May 24, 2012

Graduation Gift!

My oldest has graduated college. Sigh. Sniffle. Wide, wide, grin.

I really can't explain how amazing and wonderful and amazing it's been watching him progress through his college career. Amazing. I'm repeating myself, but I'll assume I'm forgiven since this has been one incredible year.

To celebrate him, I made a quilt. First, let me say I've never made anything of this magnitude before. I've made small quilts, as gifts, before. Small, as in wall hangings. And I've learned that quilting is not my special gift. Or should I say, making the seams line up is not my special gift. So, when I got it into my head that only a quilt would do to mark such an occasion some were skeptical. Okay, I was skeptical. But, the idea would not go away.

I have seen some amazing quilts in the blogging world and was inspired by strip quilts. No need to match the seams! After some perusal, consideration and pondering I jumped in with both feet. This was my plan... My graduate is a music major so I intended to buy any and all music themed fabric. I've used this type of fabric before and know it's usually black and white, so black and white was my planned color scheme. I was also going to embroider panels with images and words personal to him.

Two weeks before graduation (no that is not a joke - two weeks!) I ventured to my favorite fabric store and started picking fabric. Seriously no idea how much I needed. I focused on fat quarters because of the variety of fabrics available in the colors I wanted. I didn't want anything too feminine, but other than that I picked every single black, black and white fabric they had. I added in some gray fabric and you will see in the photos some orange fabric, which I'd planned to use as accent, but as the quilt was coming together, the orange just wasn't working. So out it went.
I stood in an aisle with all my choices spread across a flat surface mixing and matching until I found the most appealing balance of light to dark. It took some time, but was well worth it.

I found some music fabric at the store, but not enough, so I started looking online and found with several amazing fabric choices that I ordered. The arrived quickly and were top quality. I give them 2 thumbs up!

I started embroidering. My sewing machine is a combination sewing/embroidery, so I wanted all the embroidery to be finished before I started sewing. It took the better part of two days - I kid you not. The most challenging was getting his name as large as I wanted
(which was significantly larger than my hoop) and lined up. This was especially tricky when factoring in the letter size and how a smidge on a computer screen translates into a noticeable difference on the finished product. Yikes! It was tricky, but so worth it to have his entire name in 2" letters across the quilt.

As I was embroidering images, I added silver metallic as an accent and it rocked. Just the right amount of punch. I embroidered his name, grad info, and then a ton of images of things important to him now and in the past. I decided to embroider only on white fabric and used a gray to black ombre thread, black thread, and silver thread. The white makes the embroidery pop and is the perfect foil for all the busyness in the fabrics.

It was during the embroidery process that I settled on 3 inch strips which would have a 2.5" finished size. Most of the images fit inside this parameter, but some did not. Once the fabrics were washed and ironed, I began cutting the strips. The fat quarters were fairly straight forward. I folded them all the same way, so the strips were roughly the same length. I decided to cut the full yards, ordered online, the full width of the fabric as they would help balance out his name panel, which stretches about 30 inches across. I did some math to determine how many strips I needed - basically, number of rows needed for the length I wanted multiplied by the number of strips it would take to make the row the width I wanted. I was counting on leftover fabric to be used for the back, which I did not want to strip piece, so I erred on the side of too few and ended up cutting three more strips to finish the quilt.

Next came seaming everything together. I just began picking up strips and sewing, adding embroidery as I went. I was flying by the seat of my pants and I thoroughly enjoyed the process. About half way through I thought, "hmmm... maybe I should see how these will look together." Yes. Half way. Can you tell I'm a novice or what? So, I cleared some space in the studio and started laying them out. I could immediately see which strips all roughly the same length, those pesky seams were awfully close together. Dang. If I left it that way, it would look like I couldn't match a seam to save my life, which though true I did not want the quilt to look like that. So, I began adding a little here and there or cutting through a strip to sew to something else.

A little trial and error, but in the end the rows looked fantastic. The embroidery well distributed. The fabrics evenly used, not touching itself, and a good flow from lights to darks. The top went together quite well. Fairly quickly (faster than the embroidery) and I was feeling pretty excited. I used the leftover music fabric for the back, but it wasn't quite enough. Into the stash I went. I found two black and white fabrics (which I buy if I find a deal as they are so versatile for the kinds of projects I make). One a harlequin and one a stripe. I decided to use the harlequin as the middle of the back. Though the rows of diamonds aren't quite straight, the overall effect is pretty cool.
The stripe became the binding. There is a video on YouTube showing how to fold 18" of fabric to get yards and yards of binding. I was able to bind this entire quilt by doing this process twice so with 1 yard of fabric. And it was easy. I highly recommend!

I also used another YouTube video for learning how to machine quilt a large quilt on a standard sewing machine. Seriously, you gotta love YouTube and the amazing people who share their knowledge! Basically, when all the layers were together, I pinned and pinned and pinned - with safety pins. Then I rolled up the quilt, put the walking foot on, and stitched along each seam from side to side. Now this was more complicated than it sounds as there was so much fabric. I'd stitch, pause and adjust, stitch some more. It took a long time and my arms got quite a work out! But, of all the steps thus far, this went the quickest although it was 4 hours worth of work.

Next came squaring up the thing. There is a whole nightmare story on how to square up a quilt, which someday I will document because I could not find anything helpful anywhere when I needed to figure out how to square it up. No book, no video, no blog, no message board - nothing. While I'm definitely a novice, I know I am not the only one who has ever had to try and square up a quilt project. So look forward to that. All I will say right here about it is Thank God for my husband! We squared it up, then using the yards and yards of binding, I attached that to the front of the quilt, using the walking foot. Then I hand sewed the binding to the back of the quilt. I did not get that part quite finished before graduation day and so was stitching for a few days after that.

So this is the finished project. I am pleased and proud of the project, but more importantly I'm thrilled because my son loves it, because it marks a big life event, and because he will be wrapped in love each and every time he uses it. ♥