The story of this quilt begins with the fabric, specifically the source of the fabric, my beloved flannel shirts. From elementary school through my undergraduate degree my characteristic outfit was simple: jeans, T-shirt, and plaid flannel shirt. I’m from the Midwest of the U.S.A. We learn from a young age to layer our clothes. After all, the weather could change any minute. It is wise to be prepared. I liked plaid flannel, I still do. My dad and my brother wore it; it felt like home. Flannel was comfy, cozy, light and washable. Even my girliest plaid flannel shirts, in purples, pinks, blues and reds were still not exactly girly. That was fine with me. I have nothing to prove, basically preferring comfort to fashion. Sometimes I dolled up, and by this I mean occasionally I would wear a fancy shirt, jewelry, sparkly hair barrettes, and nail polish with my jeans and sneakers. This is still the extent to which I doll up. To this day I don’t wear make up. I don’t like how it feels on my face. It is itchy, heavy, and I can’t stop myself from thinking of its component parts. I would only wear it when acting and then stage makeup isn’t exactly flattering. Reading the news these days I suppose that if I had gone to a different school system or gone a few years later in the Facebook age, I would have been teased cruelly for being a tomboy-looking girl in fashion sense. As it was there were comments (Huh what now? Why would you call me a structure that holds back the sea in Holland? Oooooh. <–awkward moment). I did not give a flying fig newton, however, at least not enough to change. The average of me liking my comfy flannel wearing self was positive and I survived high school fine.
I arrived at college in my flannels and tees, still ambivalent as to my perceived girliness and the prospect of ever having a boyfriend. I was happy just being me. This was when a miraculous thing occurred. I met a man who liked me, flannel-clad, makeup eschewing, super geeky, curvaceous, sneaker wearing, little me just as I was. Indeed he found my confidence and comfort-loving attire attractive (he still does). Who knew? The rest, as they say, is history. Thus I arrived at grad school, in love, happy, with my beloved flannels in tow. But. The flannels were old. They were shrunken. The sleeves didn’t button properly. They weren’t as fuzzy as they once were. I no longer looked tomboy-ish. I looked scruffy and unkempt. This would not do, not in grad school, not in my new grown-up life (how little I knew at the time about grad school). Yet, these were my favorite shirts, they had sheltered me in fuzzy comfort as I grew. The fabric was too good to throw away, my Scotch instincts revolted at the thought. And the shirts were too woebegone to inflict on the poor. They had enough problems. What was a girl to do?
Enter: American Patchwork and Quilting magazine with a pattern perfect for those flannel scraps and old shirts. Eureka! I got together with some girlfriends for a craft night. I cut apart all of my old shirts, sorted the pieces by size, and bundled them up in a bedding bag with the magazine all ready to sew. It was hard, I got a little teary, but as a friend pointed out, the flannels were being reborn into something special, something permanent. After that they sat there, all organized, ready and waiting in the bag. Three years passed. What can I say? It was grad school after all. Actual work got in the way of my quilting life as well as other crafts that didn’t involve 168 quilt blocks. Finally we moved out, bedding bag in tow, to a new life. A couple months ago, as we were re-organizing our life in boxes and discussing the reality that our life will remain in boxes for some time to come, I took a long hard look at that bedding bag and said: Enough! No longer will I drag around a 20 pound bedding bag filled with this flannel quilt. I will drag around an actual quilt!
So I’ve been busy cutting and piecing. It’s been a bit of a challenge in some ways. Although some of the fabric in this quilt comes from flannel remnants and scraps picked up from shops over the years, most of the fabric comes from my beloved flannel shirts described above. Therefore, since these were shirts I cut apart, a lot of the fabric is on the bias so a lot of my pieces are also on the bias. This means that already slippery worn flannel is also stretchy as all get out. The size of the blocks wasn’t uniform so I had to do some creative piecing. I used both strip piecing and chain piecing to expedite the assembly process.
I made a point of taking deeper than the recommended seams of the pattern simply to combat raveling (one of these days I swear I’ll invest in pinking shears) which naturally resulted in a quilt top that was too small to actually cover our bed. Some people might have stopped at that point. Some people, perhaps wiser people, would have been content with a cuddle quilt for the couch rather than a bed-quilt. I, however, am a stubborn person. Borders! (Note to readers: this is Ellen quilting maxim #1: “just add a border and it will look right!”) Using a trusty coupon I picked up some lovely pink plaid flannel from JoAnn and got busy. Of course this had an unintended side-effect, namely, making a gigantic quilt that is almost but not quite King size. Oopsies.
It dawned on me as I quilted the seemingly endless columns and rows of this quilt that I have never made a truly small quilt. Yes, I have made wall-hangings. I have made quillows. But I can’t seem to make a bed-quilt that is less than Queen size, even if I’m attempting to aim for Twin or Full. Oh well! I don’t really mind.
I pieced the back out of flannel scraps I had as well as a giant mound of purple flannel I think I bought for something else but for the life of me I couldn’t remember what. It looks awesome in the quilt though.
My mom pitched in and helped me add hand-quilted purple flowers to the pink flannel borders, moonflowers as she called them (good name, Mom!), using perle cotton. I designed the pattern with the first flower then she had some tea and went to town on the rest. What can I say? I’m spoiled rotten with the best mom ever.
My mom also helped me piece the binding for the quilt which I ultimately finished and sewed on myself using a zig-zag stitch on my machine.
I have to say that I’m incredibly pleased with this quilt. It has been a joy to make. I like the idea of recycling fabrics into quilts, maintaining that connection with the past while building something for the future in an environmentally conservative way. This quilt has so many memories. Multiple family members and friends have been able to point at a patch and go: “Ooh! I remember that shirt!” This gives me a little electric thrill every time. Just like I get a thrill remembering which shirt I was wearing when I went hiking with a dear friend or got my first picture taken with my then-boyfriend (now husband) or played with my dogs in or snitched from my patient brother. The interplay of the scraps is also rather hypnotic for me, just tracing the patterns with my eyes quickly turns into a bout of squealing and petting the fuzziness.
There it is, in all its fuzzy warm glory. It has exploded over the entire couch and most of the living room floor for the above picture. There are 168 blocks in the quilt top. It is just a little smaller than king size. I used polyester fiberfill batting which coupled with the flannel makes this just about the most washing machine friendly quilt I have made. I quilted it in straight(ish) lines using my personal sewing machine and machine quilting grade white thread. It won’t win any awards but it is scrappy and beautiful and warm and snuggly; everything I think a quilt should be. This quilt is so warm that I’ve been joking with my husband that we’ll be able to save big time on heating bills for the rest of our lives by just huddling under this in winter. Can we say “blanket fort?” Mwahahahahaha!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this quilting adventure. So far in 2012 I have finished two quilts. I’m close to finishing two more. Look forward to more crafty fun posts on the subject soon!
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