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Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a quilt, perhaps one from your past, perhaps one you are making yourself, perhaps a dream quilt. I see colors spilling forth, like jewels toppling from a treasure chest, tumbling onto the sand, glimmering, gleaming in the sun. I see leaves cartwheeling from trees in fall, nestling on the ground in patterns of dark green, plum, scarlet, gold. I see stark contrasts of blood red on snow. I see muted browns and double pinks, plaids and paisleys and calicoes.

I am a quilter. Often when I say this, people will respond by saying, “My grandmother was a quilter. I’m glad to know people still do that.” Yes, people still do that. According to Quilters Newsletter and the Quilting in America 2010™ survey, the total number of quilters in the U.S. now exceeds 21 million, and the total size of the quilting industry (annual sales of fabric and supplies, machines, publications, etc.) exceeds $3.58 billion. (The link is dodgy so may not work for you.) Statistically, the typical quilter is female, 62 years old, and affluent. This largely coincides with the quilters I know, though I know many younger (including myself), and I know many with a relatively meager household income.

It’s hard to explain what quilting is, what it means, to someone who hasn’t held a quilt in their own hands. Traditionally, a quilt is coverlet for a bed, made of two layers of fabric with a soft filling between them, and stitched through all three layers to keep the filling from shifting. In addition, quilted fabrics have been used for centuries to make warm clothing, and they still are. Besides bedding and clothing, these days quilts include small pieces to use as wall-hangings, tablecloths, placemats, lap rugs, and couch throws. Some people even make post card-sized pieces and send them through the mail!

Though a quilt can be made from as little as two pieces of fabric stitched in layers, most quilts are made by taking large pieces of fabric, cutting them into little pieces, and sewing the little pieces back together to make large pieces of fabric.

I wanted to share a recent project of mine. The finished quilt is a gift for a friend, and it measures about 52” x 68”. The fabrics are 100% cotton, which is typical. The batting (filling between layers) is polyester with a low loft. The dollar value of materials used was approximately $50. I don’t track the amount of time involved with making a quilt, but it includes plan/design, shopping and prepping fabrics, cutting, sewing, quilting, and finishing with a binding. For this quilt, I’d estimate more than 40 hours of time. So if you wanted to buy a quilt like this from me, no, I wouldn’t charge you $50. I’d charge you several hundred dollars. Few people are willing to spend so much for a quilt that wouldn’t even cover their bed.

The first step in my process was design. Sometimes I use quilt design software called Electric Quilt 7. With it I can try different colors, blocks, and settings, determine the finished size of the quilt, and even calculate the yardage required for each fabric. Here is a picture of the quilt as designed.


I’d purchased fabrics earlier in the year in very strong colors, with the intention of broadening my color palette. They were just the right thing for this project. With fabrics chosen and a design, I started sewing blocks. Here are two I made that are left over. One is right-side-up and the other is upside-down, so you can see the stitching.



After I made a number of blocks I took another picture. I didn’t have a specific plan when making them, but chose from colors randomly, usually trying for good color contrast between the star and its background. Some stars are “fancy” with extra piecing in the centers, or with differently colored points, or varying backgrounds. Others are plain. In addition to the star blocks, I made alternate blocks from just two fabrics in turquoise and purple.

Once I finished making blocks, I assembled them into the center of the quilt top and then added borders. You can see from the design above that I planned a narrow green border. When I tried the green, I decided it needed a stronger color. A rosy orange color seemed to be just the right thing.

With the top done, I needed to quilt it. I have a long-arm quilting machine, with which I can quilt pieces big enough for a king-sized bed. The quilt layers are stretched on the frame, and the machine itself moves, allowing 360 degree motion by the needle. The needle moves rather than the fabric layers.


Here is a link to a cool demo on how the needle brings the top thread and bottom thread together, to create a stitch.


After I finished quilting, I removed it from the frame and trimmed the extra backing fabric and extra batting away.


The last step was to bind the edges. On most quilts, this is the only stitching I do by hand.


It is done except for writing and applying a label. Quilt historians advocate labeling, including the name and town of the maker, the name of the recipient, any special occasion, and the date made and/or given. Once I have labeled it, I will mail it to my friend. She is not expecting it, which makes it the best possible kind of gift.


Have you ever made a quilt? What do you enjoy about creating things yourself?

Originally posted to Melanie in IA on Sat Nov 12, 2011 at 09:28 AM PST.

Also republished by DKOMA, Street Prophets , Pink Clubhouse, and What Are You Working On?.


Have you ever made a quilt?

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Comment Preferences

  •  We have a quilt shop here (4+ / 0-)

    in the small IA town where we reside. Have not been in it but this may get me to go look. Thanks!

    Trade always exists for the traders. Any time you hear businessmen debating "which policy is better for America," don’t bend over. -George Carlin-

    by not4morewars on Sat Nov 12, 2011 at 09:49:02 AM PST

  •  It is beautiful! I was a seamstress in my younger (6+ / 0-)

    years but have not sewn now in many, many years.

    I have some lovely quilts, my most favorite given to me by some local ladies after the 2007 fire for starting a mini-animal rescue in a parking lot where the entire community was living for two ridiculously long and dreadful weeks.  This one has a little pocket in the back to hold a mini Bible.  It is beautiful and dearly loved.

    I have not ever been interested in making quilts but I can SOOOOOOOO appreciate the love and talent that goes into them!

    Nice job!

    202-224-3121 to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them.

    by cany on Sat Nov 12, 2011 at 10:01:00 AM PST

  •  Quilting is my salvation (5+ / 0-)

    I've moved out of traditional quilting into the more artsie type stuff but the basic techniques are the same.

    I'm envious of your long arm, do you have a quilting business?

    •  Yes, the techniques are the same. (4+ / 0-)

      The imagination is different. :)

      I don't have a business but I do some quilting for my local guild for our donation quilts. Last guild year we gave nearly 200 quilts in our community, mostly to the hospitals as comfort quilts. This year we'll do about the same, and in addition, we're working on gathering more than 200 placemats for Meals on Wheels to distribute to their clients. My guild has about 150 members, so we have a high level of participation in the service efforts.

      Do you have a link for a website? I'd enjoy seeing your work.

      "Stay string." ~ rb608

      by Melanie in IA on Sat Nov 12, 2011 at 10:15:29 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I am not good enough (4+ / 0-)

        to have a web site. My dreams are big and I'm getting better at experimenting and having the willingness to try anything. Here is a diary I wrote for KosAbility about a month ago. I'm still working on the quilt featured. I had to put it away for a while because I was too stressed out to be creative so I put it away and worked on another project that was technically challenging but did not require creativity.

        I wish that I worked faster. I would really like to have the energy to donate quilts. If only my body could keep up with my desire. Quilts are such a wonderful gift, and quilters like you and your guild are amazingly generous. I know each quilt is treasured by the recipient. The love that goes into each project is easy to see.

        By the way I really like your quilt the colors are absolutely beautiful.

  •  Here is a link (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pandoras Box, nomandates, palantir

    to some pictures from the International Quilt Festival in Huston. I am in awe of the incredible work being produced in fabric.

  •  One thing I like most about the quilting done... (5+ / 0-)

    in our house, is how colorful and artistic they look. Some are hanging on walls. Some are draped over the couch or chairs. Some rest warmly on my lap. And, I like to watch the creative process unfold into the final product.

    Great diary. You do wonderful work.

  •  I've finished a few, started many (7+ / 0-)

    I started my first quilt 30 years ago, didn't finish it.  Then I started another, didn't finish it.  Now that I'm of a certain age, I'm trying to complete my earlier projects.  However, though I pick up these two quilts on occasion, they are still in progress.  Perhaps I've outgrown the original designs, or maybe I'm distracted by new babies, old moms.  

    One thing is for sure.  Quilting is booming!  There are so many beautiful fabrics designed for quilting now.  Hard to pick.  I think many women and men are quilting. And there are the new tools that speed up the process.

    My first finished quilt was for my mom for her 82nd birthday.  I used the colors she loves: coral, peach, cream.  Warm mother aura colors.  I incorporated fabric scraps that I've kept from my childhood... fabrics my mom used to make dresses for me and my sisters.  

    It was totally amazing to make this quilt!  It took so much work and time... I used to look at it, feeling I was gazing out over the ocean, that the task was infinite and I would never complete it.  But as her birthday drew near, I started working at least 3 hours everyday, sometimes putting in 8 hour days.  And I got it done!  

    I'm packing up my second quilt this weekend, which I made for my niece's new little girl baby.  I didn't get it finished for her birth... she's now 6 months old!  Ah well, she's still quite small and the quilt is the perfect size.

    I'm about to start a new quilt for my other niece's little boy.  I started one for him, then felt it was too babyish for this adorable boy.  So I'm making a pirate quilt for him.   It should be fun, but doesn't really use any traditional quilting blocks.  The other quilt is... you guessed it... unfinished!


      •  Ooooh!! That's pretty! (6+ / 0-)

        Make one for me!!

        One thing I think I've learned, even though I'm a finisher, is it's okay to give up on projects at a point. If you have old projects you really don't want to do, it's okay to be done with them. If they have promise for someone else to finish, you might donate them. If they are "trash," well, trash them. Then there isn't any continual reminder of something you "should" do. It's very freeing!

        "Stay string." ~ rb608

        by Melanie in IA on Sat Nov 12, 2011 at 10:50:45 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Good advice! (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Chinton, nomandates, palantir

          Yes, letting go without regret and realizing we've grown beyond an earlier project is indeed a good thing.

          However, I'm reworking those older quilt tops.  One is a Moon Over the Mountain pattern.  The old book I used said to alternate the block with muslin squares.  I did that, but when I put it together, I didn't like it at all.  It looked too checkerboard, and the moons looked like pac man marching around the quilt.  Into the closet it went. Now years later, I'm redoing it - replacing the plain blue mountains with Japanese indigo prints, and making strips between blocks with the indigo as well.  I imagine this block with a quilting stitch based on traditional Japanese sashiko or patterns from Japanese woodcut prints.  I love the idea of using Japanese fabric, but I wonder if I shouldn't just start anew rather than retrofit the old top?

          The other quilt is half redone.  It's a scrappy quilt, made up of the zillions of fabrics we made our clothes from back in high school and college.  I fixed some of the blocks, and I'll just make it a lap quilt, rather than make a big queen size quilt.  I have a few more blocks to complete.

          I've learned that making the quilt top is only half the project.  There's still all that other stuff to do - layering, quilting the layers, adding borders and binding.  

  •  melanie, your quilt is gorgeous! (5+ / 0-)

    thank you for writing this diary and showing your work.  I love seeing how other people make quilts!

  •  I remember a quilt my mother had (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Melanie in IA, nomandates, palantir

    that came from her mother. It was ugly, but warm. It was hand sewn from scraps from old clothes. It was designed to keep people warm on cold winter nights on the farm.

    •  Hi cocinero! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nomandates, palantir

      "Utility" quilt is what we'd call that now, with the understanding that the function was more important than the aesthetics. But I've seen some of those old quilts (and made a few I'd put in that category), and they still are filled with care.

      Thanks for stopping.

      "Stay string." ~ rb608

      by Melanie in IA on Sat Nov 12, 2011 at 01:25:07 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I have a couple of those (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Melanie in IA

        that my maternal grandmother made during the Depression.

        The piecing is large; the filler is pieces of old overcoats; instead of being quilted, they are tied.

        Heavy as hell -- and, when I was a child, sick on the couch watching cartoons, the weight was very comforting, like a hug.

        A little tender courage at that rare right instant, and things might well have turned out differently -- Ken Kesey

        by Frankenoid on Sun Nov 13, 2011 at 04:05:27 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Afghans (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Melanie in IA, palantir

    I haven't made a quilt quilt yet but I have crocheted and knitted several afghans. I'm going to expand the idea of quilts and put those there. I have made several where you are linking up squares and sewing them together. I find it very relaxing.

    My kitties sure seem to like them. The one on the chair is the first afghan I made back in the early 70s. Usually Pixie is cuddled up next to it.

    Afghan Chair

    "Always forgive your enemies - nothing annoys them so much." Oscar Wilde

    by michelewln on Sat Nov 12, 2011 at 02:16:14 PM PST

    •  Sweet! I have 2 afghans (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      my grandmother made -- about the only things I have from her. I didn't even get her good looks -- my sister got those.

      When my son took one of them to college with him and I spotted it in his dorm room, I told him no, I needed it back. He had one his own grandma made, so he could use it. Selfish of me, I guess, but I wasn't willing to give it up.

      thanks for sharing!

      "Stay string." ~ rb608

      by Melanie in IA on Sat Nov 12, 2011 at 02:19:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'll be out all evening. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Thanks to all for stopping by. I'll be checking in again to respond in the morning.

    "Stay string." ~ rb608

    by Melanie in IA on Sat Nov 12, 2011 at 02:20:09 PM PST

  •  Not only am I a quilter, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jlms qkw, palantir, Melanie in IA

    but I'm a hand quilter. I piece tops by machine, then quilt by hand until my fingers bleed.

    I will make and donate a hand-quilted pillow for the Netroots Nation holiday bazaar. I'll be starting it pretty soon so it'll be finished by early December.

    Here's what brought in $75 to a local Dem club in Oct.:


    "At this point of unimaginable threats on the horizon, this is what hope looks like." - Tim DeChristopher @RL_Miller

    by RLMiller on Sat Nov 12, 2011 at 02:22:07 PM PST

  •  Hi Melanie! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Melanie in IA

    Beautiful quilts

  •  I've never done a quilt (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Melanie in IA

    start to finish, but did work on my mother's quilts while growing up.

    She did the piecing by machine, but all quilting was done by hand.  A quilting frame was always in the living room.  I have a quilt she gave me for my 18th birthday, and each of my sons have a crib quilt.

    My paternal grandmother was an astounding quilt maker -- all hand sewn.  The stitches in her quilts were so small as to be almost invisible.

    But I never really glommed on to quilting, perhaps because I never liked sewing all that much.

    Instead, I knit.

    A little tender courage at that rare right instant, and things might well have turned out differently -- Ken Kesey

    by Frankenoid on Sun Nov 13, 2011 at 04:02:40 PM PST

    •  I never like sewing much, either. (0+ / 0-)

      My mom was an expert seamstress, and both my older sisters are quite skilled, too. Since I wore their hand-me-downs, I guess I didn't see the point in learning to sew, too.

      But I did get ambitious and decided to make a quilt when my 3rd granddaughter was due, 8 years ago. It was a horrible experience, using a sewing machine that wouldn't hold its tension. I didn't know anything about quilting at the time and cut the patches individually with scissors. These days, of course, I use a rotary cutter.

      Anyway, when I was done with that quilt, I swore I'd never make another.


      "Stay string." ~ rb608

      by Melanie in IA on Sun Nov 13, 2011 at 04:13:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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