Wednesday 13 January 2021

The Great Canadian Maple Leaf Quilting Adventure

I'm actually calling this the Vintage Maple Leaf Quilt because it's from a "vintage" pattern, but it has been quite the adventure. This is definitely a quilt of firsts:

  • first applique quilt (yes, I've done applique blocks, but never a whole quilt)
  • first quilt with wool batting
  • first quilt with double batting (one layer cotton, one layer wool)
  • first quilt completed with rulers (I did do those fabric Valentines for my grandson with a ruler, but that was less than a metre of fabric)
  • first quilt that I've taken off the frame and reloaded it sideways
  • first quilt I've had to do three passes over - one for the horizontal borders and sashing plus the leaves, one for the vertical borders and sashing and one to quilt the white background in the blocks
  • first quilt I've used 2 different colours of thread to quilt (an army green for the borders, sashing and leaves and white for the block backgrounds)
  • first time I've completed a quilt from a pattern that I've had for over 43 years (while I may have some books that are older than that, I don't think I have owned any of them for that length of time)
My goal was actually to complete this quilt for my daughter for Christmas. The label on the back says 2020, but that is not entirely accurate. I was alternating rows of blocks between this one and the Stitch Pink quilt, which I was making for my oldest niece. I was able to finish that one before Christmas, and the quilt top was finished for this one. But then the (mis)adventures began. When I unfolded the backing fabric, I disovered that somehow I had miscalculated the amount required and I didn't have enough. Thank the Lord, I was off work, the quilt shop was open and they still had some of the fabric left. That was the 23rd of December and they were closed December 24th and wouldn't reopen until the 4th of January. I wouldn't have been able to do any work on this quilt over the holidays if I hadn't gone in that day. Or I would have had to make a mad dash to another community with a quilt shop open and probably had to purchase the entire amount required for backing since the likelihood of matching this fabric was slim. 
Nearly perfect backing fabric for this quilt. My LQS actually had one that I liked better. It was the same design, but some of the leaves were fall colours. Unfortunately, they didn't have enough of that one. And I almost didn't have enough of this one. 😌
The next issue was trying to get my longarm into ClearView load position. 
Since I would be using rulers, this keeps the top bar out of the way of the rulers and my arms. I watched the video and it looked pretty simple to lift and drop the bar assembly and then it would just be a matter of turning around one of the leaders to use it in this position. However, no matter how much I manhandled it (even lifting the entire frame off the floor), I could barely get it to budge. I finally called my vendor and was told to loosen a couple of the screws on each end (which is what I had thought of trying, but didn't want to try it without their go ahead), and success! Though the left end still gave me some trouble. 
Before I loaded the quilt, I also had to trim both battings so that I wouldn't have a lot hanging over the side. I trimmed them to what I thought was a generous allowance - about 8" wider than the quilt top. Apparently, wool batting scrunches itself back up somehow and once I loaded it, I discovered that I barely had enough and had to keep tugging on it to make sure it extended past the edges of the quilt top. Then, to load. As the clamps would be in the way of the ruler base, I had to have something to which the clamps could attach and then pin the other ends to the backing. Some binding remnants served the purpose. 
These are the rulers I purchased for this quilt: Wiggle Wave, Versa Tool and Straight Edge.

I bought the Versa Tool because it's supposed to be good for applique and stitch-in-the-ditch. I didn't find it really improved my accuracy for applique, and I only did enough stitch-in-the-ditch to get from one diagonal line to the next in the block backgrounds, so that would have required a quick switch back and forth from the Straight Edge to the Versa Tool and back again - not worth the effort, in my opinion. 

I finally started the quilting, but, oh my, what a lot of work quilting with rulers is! I don't know why people like it. It's tedious and time-consuming.

And my free motion quilting on the leaves was terrible. I couldn't stay on the edge of the leaves. And when I did the veins and had to travel back over my quilting, I often ended up with loops instead of my stitching going over the previous path. And what a hassle to switch between colours frequently! I was up late that first night and went to bed discouraged, and could hardly sleep because I was trying to figure out how to get this quilting done. I had pretty much made up my mind to remove it from the frame, rip out all of my stitching and just use a pantograph. I do have two different maple leaf pantographs, after all. And that was what I had originally planned on doing. But I also knew that an allover pantograph just wouldn't do this quilt justice. Those leaves needed to pop, which is what I wanted to accomplish with ruler quilting. 
In the morning, I decided not to let this defeat me and came up with a better plan of attack. I had originally planned on doing the whole quilt with one pass, completing each section as I advanced the quilt. I now recognized that that was not the best way to get this quilt quilted. Trying to do vertical as well as horizontal lines, plus changing thread colours repeatedly wasn't going to cut it. So, I now planned to quilt it in three stages: 
  1. Quilt the horizontal borders and sashing, plus the leaves.
  2. Reload the quilt sideways to quilt the vertical borders and sashing.
  3. Switch to white thread and quilt the block backgrounds. 
I found stage 2 the easiest and stage 3 the most tedious. Stage 3 would have been much quicker and easier if I could have just quilted right over the leaves instead of having to go around them. 

Because each leaf had to be quilted individually, with the veins quilted separately from the outline, I managed to produce a large pile of thread ends. 
Some time during my quilting - I'm not sure what I did: held my finger too long on the up/down button maybe? - but suddenly my needle was stopping so low that it dragged on the quilt top a couple of times. I managed to get it up high enough to clear the quilt top, but still wasn't happy with where it was stopping - too low for my comfort. 
I asked advice in the Handi Quilter group on Facebook and finally contacted the repairman at my vendor. Ultimately, I will have to take it in for adjustment, but it was working well enough for me to comfortably finish the quilt. 
Meanwhile, I was finding that, with the ClearView load, and double batting, it was very difficult to adjust the batting to keep the wrinkles out. So there are a few places where I've got batting ridges in the quilt. I also neglected to trim all of the thread ends, and there are some places where dark threads show through the white fabric. 😖 Live and learn!
I was finding Stage 3 very tedious, and considering just finishing one block at a time, but these blocks are too wide for the throat space, so that would necessitate rolling it back and forth for each block. So I would do approximately half of each block in one row, advance the quilt and then quilt the other halves of the blocks.
Finally, the quilting was done and I took it off the frame and put it on the double bed in the basement bedroom to have a good look. 
My goal with the quilting was to make the leaves "pop." Mystery (my cat) confirmed the success of my goal when he jumped on the bed and promptly tried to play with the leaves.
Now for the binding, which is my least favourite part of any quilt. But especially when it's a bulky, heavy, double-bed sized quilt. And, with two battings, this one is heavy. And stiff because of the fairly dense quilting. I had planned on using this fabric 
It's fall colours, but that black background made me hesitate. There is no other black in this quilt. So, I decided to see if I could find something else. I was planning on going into the quilt shop when I had the chance, but then I found this fabric in my stash. 
Perfect colours, perfect theme. And today, because we had two severe weather warnings in effect (freezing rain and high winds), and I have a 45-minute commute to work, I opted to take one of the Personal Leave days that my employer allows, and got the binding done. Currently, it's snowing horizontally.
And so, nearly 44 years after this pattern was published, I've completed my version of it. 
Original Pattern: Maple Leaf Quilt from Scraps, published in Family Circle magazine in March 1977

(My changes from the original pattern included raw edge appliqué using fusible web, rather than needle turn applique, widening the outside borders to 5", and, of course, longarm quilting rather than hand quilting). 

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