Sunday 24 May 2020

My Quilting Journey

When I'm asked how long I've been quilting, that is a difficult question to answer. It's not like I can answer, "My mother taught me when I was 12 and I've been quilting ever since." (My mother wasn't even a quilter, but she was a seamstress). Or, "I took a class when I was 40..." No, my quilting journey is a rather long and convoluted one. 
Let me start by saying that I hated Home Economics (or Home Ec, as we preferred to call it) classes. I was required to take them in Grade 8. I think it was one afternoon a week, all of the girls in my class were required to traipse over to another school, where they had a Home Economics classroom and teacher, so we could learn the joys of cooking and sewing. The class was divided in half, so that half of the girls were learning cooking while the other half was learning sewing. I had baked cakes from scratch before I ever took a Home Economics class, so was quite insulted when we had to make a cake mix. Therefore, I didn't really feel that there was much to learn on the cooking side of things. 
Sewing was a different matter because, while I had used my mother's Sunbeam Mixmaster, I had never used her Singer. And, for whatever reason, there appeared to be a shortage of sewing machines in the Home Ec classroom. It seemed that every time I got up from my sewing machine, another girl in the class would "steal" it. It made for a very frustrating time trying to complete a project. My first project was a skirt. I think it was probably made from a yard of fabric (we weren't on the metric system back then). One seam up the side, an elastic casing and then hand-hemming. Boy, that hand-hemming was painful. Little wonder that when I finally got my first sewing machine, one of the requirements was that it have a blind hemming stitch. No more of that hand-hemming for me. As I was working on hemming my skirt, the teacher told me it was too short. Oh come on, this was the early 70s: all of our skirts were either minis, midis or maxis. And one yard was definitely not enough fabric to make a midi or a maxi! And why didn't she tell me that before I started hemming? The next project was pajamas. I asked if I could use a pattern that my mother already had from one of my older sisters' forays into the domestic arts, rather than the one the teacher suggested. Why spend money on another pattern if we didn't have to? (Especially since it was not likely to get used again). The teacher agreed and the project was started. She did, however, tell me to do something different with the armholes. Was it binding instead of facing? I don't remember exactly, but instead of making it easier, I think it made it more challenging. I had to take the project home to get it finished, and when my mother saw me so frustrated, struggling so much with it to the point of tears, she finished if for me. Was that cheating? Probably, but I likely would have done the same for my daughter. Except that I homeschooled my daughter, so I was the teacher.
Somewhere during that frustrating time, I decided to stop attending Home Ec classes, with my mother's full knowledge and consent. If that makes me sound like a spoiled brat with an indulgent mother, that's definitely not the case. My mother raised me to be mature, responsible and self-directed, and when she heard my rationale for wanting to quit, she allowed me to. Instead, I stayed home and cleaned the litter box. That is, I stayed home until the Home Ec teacher reported my continued absence to my teacher, and I started going back again. Looking back, I wish I'd had the courage to tell him how frustrating I considered Home Ec and what a waste of time it was. And that I had my mother's permission to stay home. However, I went back and endured the frustration until it was over. But it turned me off sewing so much that I never touched a sewing machine again until after I finished high school. I found shop class, which I took as an option, much more fun, feeling that I was learning and accomplishing something, with appropriate supervision and input from the teacher. I can't help but wonder how many of the girls in my Home Ec class never sewed again. At least for me, it wasn't an experience calculated to instill in me a lifelong love of sewing. 
So how did I end up returning to sewing? I really don't know, other than the fact that my mother always sewed, and so, in spite of my experience, it wasn't something that was seen as negative. Somehow I got back into it, only this time it was a wonderful journey. Yes, I had frustrations. I remember a green satin dress on which I just couldn't get the bodice right. And my mother ended up finishing that one for me as well. But I did successfully make a lot of my own clothing. 
And sometime in those early days of garment sewing, I developed an interest in quilts. That was back in the day of women's magazines that would feature craft patterns - I still have some of them in my library. One of the first I remember was a puff quilt that called for four layers of batting, two of which were cut up into squares about an inch smaller than the squares of fabric. When you stitched the quilt together, these two layers would be stitched inside the fabric squares. It made for a very puffy, and no doubt very warm, quilt. Unfortunately, I never did get around to making that quilt and neglected to preserve the pattern. The next one was the Meow-y Christmas quilt. I love Christmas and I love cats, so this was a perfect quilt for me. I think it had 16 or 20 blocks where I had to embroider cats in various poses. Each cat pattern had to be increased in size using a grid from a small picture in the magazine, and then transferred to the fabric. I managed to get 12 of them done, and eventually ordered the package from the magazine. 

As you can see, I still have it. And maybe some day, I will actually complete this quilt. 
One of my reasons for being interested in making quilts was because of all the scraps I was accumulating from garment sewing. Eventually, I used some of those to make my very first quilt.
And yes, I've still got it, too. And believe it or not, I think it has pieces of that original skirt in it (the orange fabric).
It's a real mish-mash of fabrics - cotton, poly-cotton, polyester, flannelette, and satin. And in some places, the fabric is totally gone. So, it is in definite need of repair. I did the quilting on the sewing machine, not really having a clue what I was doing. I don't even know if walking feet even existed back then. I got tired of making all the squares in the centre and decided to try crazy quilting around the outside. Look at those huge pieces with no quilting, aside from the edges of the pieces. If I ever get around to repairing it, I might try putting it on the longarm and doing a better quilting job. Not sure how that would work because I'm not going to take it all apart. I don't remember what year I made it, but I know that I had it on my bed in nurses' residence when I was in nursing school, 1982-1984.
Sometime early in my marriage, I belonged to a book club, and I am quite sure that's how I obtained this book. 
Owning a book on quilt-making and actually making a quilt are not the same thing. And this book, unfortunately, is about making quilts by hand. It's from the days before rotary cutters and rulers and walking feet were common. And as you can see from the spine, it's well travelled, going with us as we moved from province to province. 
My next quilt was not until I was pregnant with my daughter in 1990. I finally used 6 of the embroidered cat blocks I completed many years before. 
And this one is also still around and now in my grandson's possession. I had intended to use the other cat blocks for another quilt for my daughter, doubling the batting to make a winter weight quilt. But, once I had Sophia, finding time for making another quilt just didn't happen. Unfortunately, through my many moves, I have lost the other six blocks.
Somewhere and somehow, I acquired a rotary cutter and pattern weights to use with garment making. I'm not sure whose not-so-brilliant idea that was. Rotary cutters don't work very well for cutting out garment patterns with small notches and indentations and curves. And the pattern weights don't work very well with scissors. As soon as you lift the fabric up to cut, the weights shift. At least, I already had a rotary cutter and mat for when I actually started making quilts.
It was after I moved to Alberta (1999) that I really wanted to get into quiltmaking. And I wanted to take a class. But I couldn't find one. I could find quilting classes for my daughter, but none for me. So, I had to learn from books and magazines. This is one of my original books. 
And then not only was I able to make quilts, but I actually taught a small class of my daughter and her friend, my niece and a couple of my friends. It was just a basic 4-patch, and my daughter still has the quilt she made from that class. 
I made a few quilts over a few years, but when my marriage started falling apart, so did my motivation for quilting. And once the marriage ended (2006), I had to focus on getting my life and my career back on track. Not really any time for hobbies. I had been out of nursing for 20 years, and had to take a nursing refresher course in order to get back into it. I had started it preemptively before the marriage ended and finished it in 2007. Then, because I didn't have any recent experience to put on my resume, I decided to pursue my degree. In 2012, I was awarded my bachelor's degree in nursing. And in 2013, I started quilting again, starting with both the 2012 and 2013 Craftsy (now Bluprint) BOMs, neither of which is finished yet. 
In September of that year was the last time I quilted a larger quilt on my domestic machine.
The cats were extremely helpful, as you can see. I had been trying through online learning to figure out how to do free motion quilting on the domestic machine. I had even found a tractor tire design that I wanted to use on this John Deere quilt. But I just couldn't get it right, so I ended up just doing straight line quilting with the walking foot. I had wanted to do cross-hatching, but It took me days just to get diagonal lines done. And I'd had enough. 
I had probably been to the Creativ Stitches show in September and I think that's where I got the flyer about renting a longarm. So, in November, I decided to give it a try. 
And I've never looked back. Since then, I have only done mini quilts on my domestic machine, renting a longarm for all of my bigger quilts. And in 2018, I bought my HQ Amara. 
And since this purchase, I have completed over 20 quilts on this machine, plus a couple of tote bags, table runners and table toppers. 

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