Slow and steady wins the race…

…the old parable goes, but wowee, technology sure does seem to blow that idea out of the water! We started working on our ten donation quilts for the YWCA’s women’s shelter here in Woodlawn (thanks to the PNC neighborhood challenge) back in October, and here it is April and we are six quilts away from completing our goal.

Back in February, when we were a little more inclined to spend some time around the quilting frame, Mrs. Annie, Gloria and members old and new (young and old), gathered themselves around Gloria’s frame and talked shop while putting stitches into our first quilt. The frame was made for Gloria’s mother by Gloria’s grandfather and is a simple set of notched saw-horses and some long 1″x2″ slats. Finish it off with some C-clamps and you have yourself the first long-arm quilting “machine”. Because our members’ hand-sewing skills vary from “first time I’ve ever held a needle – now where does the thread go?” to “I can thread that needle with my eyes closed (and with these eyes, might as well close them)”: we have had our share of ups and downs with the hand work on this first quilt. It was realized about half way into the process that perhaps I should have done a tutorial on hand quilting before we got a half-dozen women around the thing in the first place. We’ve taken stitches out having not noticed that the underside was bunched to high heaven and we’ve taken stitches out because they never made it through all three layers of the quilt sandwich, thus managing not to “quilt” the quilt!

Clockwise from far left: Mrs. Annie, Adriane, Jeraldine, Celeste, Carol and June
Clockwise from far left: Mrs. Annie, Adriane, Jeraldine, Celeste, Carol and June

The hand-quilting and the use of the frame have been wonderful for fostering the burgeoning community that is Bib & Tucker and several new members have had the chance to get their feet wet slowly, but surely, and with lots of laughter and help from veteran quilters. Of course, Bib & Tucker is a celebration of the past & the present so while we were pulling out the trusting quilting frame each week, once we had another quilt sandwich ready to go, you know that bad boy got stitched up fast on the long-arm sewing machine. “Wonderful! You finally used the long-arm”, you say? Well, yes and no. We used the Pfaff machine that came with the long-arm apparatus and stand, but just as a regular sewing machine, sitting on a wooden tabletop and assisted by several women who held and guided the rolled up quilt sandwich like a giant burrito as one member manned (or should it be wo-manned?) the machine.

Dear Mrs. Annie threading her needle and getting teased by me!
Dear Mrs. Annie threading her needle and getting teased by me!

The quilt sandwich is a fascinating thing. You can iron the backing fabric and the quilt top until not a wrinkle is in sight, but if even one scrap of fabric in that quilt top is cut on the bias, or made of a cotton-poly blend, or heaven forbid – fully synthetic – you will have puckers and buckles and hiccups to account for when you get to quilting. This, of course, is why hand-quilting is preferred by many quilters. I have found hand-quilting to be ever forgiving, whereas the minute you put a sandwich through a machine, one wrong look, one slip of the wrist, and you’ve got a mile of stitches to take out or a little fold in the quilt to stare at for the length of your days. Take the below sandwich, for example. The very large pinwheel blocks were made of fabric cut on the bias and even though the thing was sprayed (using basting spray – worth its weight in GOLD, I tell you!) within an inch of its life, it bucked and rolled all through the quilting process. Lesson learned? When creating 20″ pinwheels, pay closer attention to the initial cut of the fabric!

A carefully sprayed and laid sandwich!
A carefully sprayed and laid sandwich!

Thanks to our incredible veteran members, Sew-Op  newbies have learned all kinds of tricks in the making of these quilts. By the time we reach number ten, we will have worked out all the kinks and will practically have to purposefully throw some wrenches in the process. Of course, no quilt is ever perfect or even supposed to be perfect. One of my favorite quilting myths is generally ascribed to the Amish and states that quilters used to misplace a piece or use an unusual fabric choice in order to create “humility blocks” so that their imperfect quilts would not be prideful before God. Of course the Amish themselves counter this argument with the belief that such an idea of artificial imperfection is prideful in itself. The unusual placement of small pieces of fabric or slightly “off” shapes is a delightful mystery regardless of its origins and is a helpful reminder for any beginner.

We love our Pfaff! Yes we do! We love our Pfaff, how 'bout you?
We love our Pfaff! Yes we do! We love our Pfaff, how ’bout you?

Ah, good old technology. It may be loud, lonesome and bad for your back (unless you have a burrito-wrangler or two on your team), but it certainly helps to get the job done. Here I am wrestling the last few quilting lines of the pinwheel quilt and what’s that smile on my face? It’s the satisfaction of creating and quilting a sandwich in one session? Who had more fun? Why the ladies around the quilting frame, of course. But they still have work to do!


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