Friday 28 July 2023
4? Country Quilting Projects: Rainbow Biscuit Quilt
The book: 50 Country Quilting Projects by Margit Echols, 1990
The project: Afghan Quilt, pp 236 & following
The first comment I want to make is about the name of this quilt: Afghan Quilt??? Either it's an afghan or a quilt, but not both. In this case, it's fabric with batting (or stuffing, in this case) and backing, so it must be a quilt. I'm not sure if the designer called it that because it's about the size of an afghan (though afghans can actually be any size) or because the layout of the blocks reminded her of an afghan. Either way, I consider it a rather silly name for a quilt and I prefer a more imaginative name, like Rosy Sunrise or Pink Lemonade, since the quilt in the book is done in shades of pink. Or, since it's laid out similar to a Trip Around the World quilt, how about Biscuits Around the World? Wait a minute, that gives me an idea. Since there are over 200 biscuits in this quilt and about 200 countries in the world, I could do an individual biscuit to represent each country in the world. <sigh> So many ideas, so little time...
My real concern about this quilt pattern, however, is not the name, but the inaccuracies in the fabric requirements. The quilt in the book uses 5 different fabrics, not 6 like mine, but that isn't the issue. The squares for the biscuits are 4". Allowing for selvages, you can count on 10 squares per width of fabric strip. The pattern calls for 3/8 yard of fabrics B, C, & D. Three eighths of a yard equals 13.5". Fabric B is fine at 3/8 yard, requiring only 20 squares or 2 strips. Fabric C, however, calls for 28 squares, which would require 3 strips or 12". That's cutting it pretty close to the 13.5" in 3/8 yard, especially if you have to allow for uneven cuts. I prefer a bit more margin for error than that. But 3/8 yard is definitely not enough for fabric D, which requires 36 squares or 4 strips, 16 inches. And with fabric E, the pattern only calls for 1-1/4 yards, or 45", which is really cutting it close to the 44" required for the 11 strips. If it weren't for the fact that I live in Canada where we use the metric system and I had to do some conversion before purchasing this fabric, I might not have caught these errors and I wouldn't have been very happy. In case you have this book and would like to make this quilt, here is what I purchased in metres:
Fabric A - blue - 0.6 m (In the pattern, fabric A is also used where I have the red squares as well as for the backing. The requirements in the pattern, 3-1/4 yards, should be sufficient for this).
Fabric B - orange - 0.3 m
Fabric C - yellow - 0.4 m
Fabric D - green - 0.5 m
Fabric E - purple - 1.2 m
Fabric F - red - 0.3 m
Calculating for just straight squares is pretty simple, so I'm at a loss to understand the reason for the errors in fabric requirements. I certainly hope that this is not an issue throughout this book as I've already purchased the fabric for the Iris Medallion quilt, which I plan to make for my oldest sister.
Back to this biscuit quilt - I just called it the Rainbow Biscuit quilt - as I mentioned, the one in the book is done in shades of pink, and has lace edging and ribbon ties. Mine is for one of my great nephews, so pink, ribbons and lace wouldn't have been appropriate.
My original plan was to make this quilt for Canada's Sesquicentennial As I was perusing the book,300 Years of Canada's Quilts, I found this statement, " Anna Strum of Mador's Cove, Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia made an elaborate and beautiful quilt for her only son in 1874. Of German descent with a strong heritage of featherbeds and down quilts, Mrs. Strumm made what is now called a 'biscuit' quilt. Each little 'puff' is filled with uncarded wool..." (p. 52). This quilt can still be found in the Desbrisay Museum in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. Unlike the book, however, the museum exhibit states that the quilt was made in 1877 of many types of fabrics stuffed with cotton, and contains 945 squares. (I was able to find this information online before the museum changed their website). Personally, I lean more towards what the book states: sheep can be raised in Canada, but not cotton. And since Canada had not yet developed a textile industry, I question whether "cotton stuffing" would be readily available to make this quilt. An interesting connection, Bridgwater is only 25 minutes from Lunenburg, where the Bluenose II is located, the schooner featured in my pixel quilt.
So, the biscuit quilt was in existence around the time of confederation and at least one was made in Canada not too many years after confederation.
(For some interesting background on the history of the biscuit quilt, see Those Peculiar Biscuit and Puff Quilts).
My plans don't always turn out the way I planned them and this quilt never got finished until this year. It's actually incredibly tedious making all of those biscuits. But the most frustrating part is stitching them together. The instructioins in the book say to complete each biscuit individually and then stitch them together in rows and then stitch the rows together. It was really a struggle trying to get all of that bulk under the presser foot on the sewing machine in order to stitch them together. I just got quite frustrated with that process.
When I finally got back to this quilt this year, I continued to do what the book said until finally I got the brilliant idea to stitch a row of unstuffed biscuits together and then stuff all of them and stitch the whole row closed at once. Yes, it was much easier that way. But still I struggled to get those bulky rows together. And sometime during the process of trying to push all that stuffing togehter and force it under the presser foot, I managed to get my finger too close to the needle and did something that I don't think I have ever done before in my 46 or so years of sewing: I hit my finger with the needle.
My next brainstorm for completing this quilt was to stitch the whole row of unstuffed biscuits to the previous - already stuffed - row. That way, I was only dealing with the bulk of one row of stuffed biscuits, not two. That worked much better as well. My final brainstorm didn't happen until I was going to put the binding on, but that was after I came up with a couple of not-so-brilliant ideas.
The instructions in the book said to put the quilt top and the backing right sides together and stitch them together, leaving an opening to turn. Then turn it right side out, stitch the opening closed and sew a bar tack over a ribbon in multiple biscuit intersections, but not all of them. As I mentioned, this quilt is going to a great nephew, so I didn't want ribbons. I also didn't want to tie the quilt. My experience with tied quilts is that the knots work themselves loose with wear and laundering and I'd have to go back and re-tie or replace them. I also don't think they look as nice. And I wanted quilting around every biscuit, not just a bar tack at certain places. So, I decided to mount it on the longarm and stitch between all of the biscuits. And to compound my foolishness, I also decided to add a layer of polyester fibrefil batting... All of that bulk really became quite unmanageable and my quilting between the rows tended to go in whatever direction the biscuits pushed it. Definitely not nice straight rows. Nevertheless, I got it done. But now, because I chose to quilt it on the longarm, I also had to bind it, something I wouldn't have had to do if I'd followed the method in the book. And I had added to already incredibly bulky quilt by including batting...That's when my final brainstorm came in. I decided to use the Brother sewing machine. Its ¼" foot is narrower on the left side than the one on my Janome. That meant the bulk didn't have as much presser foot to fit under. Even so, I nearly ended up crying - and considered burning the quilt - while fighting to get the binding on.
Thank God, it's finished. There are a few more biscuit projects in this book, but they are all smaller projects and I at least learned a few tricks to make the going easier while constructing this quilt.
Here's the fun backing fabric I chose for this project.