Alice’s Quilt – a heartbreaking work of not so staggering genius*

*Apologies to Dave Eggers for stealing and abusing the title of your book (which bored me silly!). 

Remember the quilt I started making for Alice for Christmas? The top of it was beautiful. It looked like this.

Stacked coins quilt top

When it came time to actually quilt it, I got nervous. I know why. The other quilting projects I’d worked on were just for me. They were fun. I was new. I was learning. I went in with an attitude that spoke of not caring if I messed it up because I was just mucking around.

With Alice’s quilt, I was not mucking around. I was serious. And I felt serious. I remember calling my mum the morning I was going to start saying ‘I think I’m over-thinking this. I feel so nervous.’

And you know what? Those nerves didn’t help. Look what happened to the strip I’d sewn into the back.

quilt back

Staggeringly bad warping. I did everything right. I pinned the quilt heavily, I did all that taping the back to the floor and smoothing it out that you’re supposed to do but nothing worked. I knew as I started sewing those straight lines that it was wrong, wrong, wrong.

The front looked nice.

quilt front

But even though Alice is not yet three, and has nothing like an eye for perfection, I just knew I couldn’t live with the quilt with that horrid warping. I hope she’ll have this quilt for a long time – I don’t want it to be poorly made. I’m a newbie. It won’t be great. But it really shouldn’t be that bad either.

So I sulked for about a week (and I did really sulk – one day my mum asked me what was wrong and I said I was feeling down and we worked out that this bloody quilt was depressing the crap out of me).

The one night I sat down and begun unpicking the dozen or more lines I’d worked down the centre of the quilt.

quilt back - unpicking
Such a big job. It took me about three evenings. I figured that really, if she is to have this quilt for a long time, what’s a few evenings of ripping out? One day I can tell her I did that and maybe she’ll smile and think I’m crazy but it’s ok.

One night I got over zealous with the seam ripper and I nicked the quilt and there’s a hole but I’m going to applique or patch the hole and it’ll be ok.

Honestly the day this quilt is done I will feel like I’ve climbed Kilamajaro. It’s not even that big, as far as quilts go, but it’s been painful. I’m determined not to throw it in a cupboard and forget about it though I realise many would. I just can’t. I will just hate myself.

If anyone who’s got a clue can advise me how to avoid such hideous warping again, I’d be so pleased. One thing I’m doing is getting rid of the bamboo batting I was using. It’s way too slippery. I’ve bought some cotton/wool batting and I hope it’ll be better.

Oh and another thing? It’s no longer Alice’s Christmas quilt. She didn’t know it was coming so I’m not going to kill myself getting it done. I’ve knitted her something and bought her some books. That’ll be fine. Life’s too short to live with that kind of stress.



28 thoughts on “Alice’s Quilt – a heartbreaking work of not so staggering genius*

  1. You contact me dear. Quilting by machine is not hard with a few tips. I will be more than happy to help you through making this sweet heirloom and keepsake. I promise you can do it. I would love to help you.

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  3. I haven’t read enough to know if you finished or not, but I have it on good authority that some people are patchworkers and some people are quilters and those that are patchworkers where I live in Gunning send their quilts to Jo-Anne Dickson of Maidstone Downs Quilting out of Crookwell. I believe she is very reasonably priced.

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  5. You know I know exactly how you feel when it comes to this. I have no problem knitting or doing stuff for me cause I’ll own the stuff-up however as I am a perfectionist by nature I too struggle with all you say about producing for others. I don’t know what to say to you to help you move forward but I guess just to say that in times that passed, quilts were made and handed down without being made by machines but rather by hand with scraps from worn clothes to be recycled into quilts. All of these were lovingly stitched out of need and today some hang in galleries. So I guess maybe remember that Alice will love it because you made it and she will remember that 🙂
    Good luck with it, and I will say it does look VERY pretty so far !

  6. Oh Bells, I’m not a quilter and it all looks so complicated to me! I admire you for fixing it and I understand how easy it is to get really down about making something that isn’t going the way it should! When you put so much effort and enjoyment into something that is handmade, it is important to feel truly proud of it and if it isn’t quite right (for you, even if everyone else thinks it’s fine), then it plays with your emotions! I think the quilt is superb and I’m sure Alice will love it!:-)

  7. Bah Humbug, It must be so frustrating. I have used those special quilt safety pins, and hand basted and then started with more widely spaced lines and filled in the thinner ones later. I have seen Basting spray in an aerosol can being used on people’s blogs. But really, it looks like bad luck and you are very resilient (after your sulking) to have undone the quilting. I often just hand quit. It takes longer but is much more forgiving, I do less quilting than on a machine, but I know that you have a limited time now. The coins on top look so beautiful though, it is a lovely quilt!! Alice is very lucky.

  8. I certainly agree with that last sentiment!

    Did you start from the centre of the quilt? The change of batting might help, I haven’t tried bamboo so I wouldn’t know. I do know that basting properly is crucial and not at all easy, but I’m sure you did it really well.

    I hope you find some satisfactory solutions.

  9. The quilt is lovely, and i feel for you in your disappointment. It’s depressing to have a special project go wrong on one of the finishing stages. I don’t know anything about quilting, but I have seen some rather lovely effects done with hand quilting in small running stitches. Time consuming, but something that can be done in front of the tv in the evenings. Also, I noticed that Alicia of Posy gets Cosy tied her quilt and was very happy with it –

    Good luck with it whatever you decide. Alice will treasure it.

  10. Everyone’s suggestions seem good, Helen. The only other comment I have is that I’ve found quilting diagonally, from one corner to the other, is also good. Somehow doing lots of long rows along the grain of the fabric seems to cause some amount of puckering no matter how careful you are. Quilting diagonal lines helps push the excess along and out the edge. Sometimes I do have to unpin that outside row of safety pins, to allow that little bit of extra material to ease out. Good luck…it’s such a pretty quilt!

  11. oh, Bells! I have nothing to help on this one, not being a quilter or having the foggiest – but I can wish you luck!!

    and remember – she will love it, *design* features and all, cos you made it 🙂

  12. Sorry you are having trouble, but I think you’ve been given lots of good suggestions. I look forward to seeing the finished quilt next year. 🙂

  13. She will love it forever, no matter what!

    I have a quilt my grandmother made me. It has colonial ladies made with scraps from clothing she made for me, my mom and my aunts when we were all growing up. So, picture fabrics from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.

    She sashed the quilts with florescent pink and green! She had cataracts at the time. I wouldn’t change it for the world!

  14. It’s so beautiful! But I understand your wanting it to be better. Just remember that perfect is the enemy of good and don’t stress yourself out so badly on the next go. I might throw it in the cupboard until after your class in February. Quilting is NOT easy, so you really shouldn’t beat yourself up over not getting it perfect the first time. You’re brave even to attempt it. 🙂

  15. Oh, honey. I’m just so sorry. It’s so pretty, and she will love it lots and lots for a very long time – so keep your eye on the prize! Maybe a bit of a break before you tackle it again?

  16. Of course I don’t have any quilting advice, but I feel for you! This reminds me so strongly of knitting projects past (and not so long past) that I have sweated over, made mistakes, fixed them in the longest and most painful ways. Even though I often wish I could power through my projects more easily, I also often find myself realising that I’m faster than before and once upon a time what I’m doing would have been much harder. All this to say, it’s probably just part of the learning curve and in a couple of quilts time you’ll look back and be happy that it’s become so much easier!

  17. I use a walking foot (your machine may have one or you can easily get one) as this allows different fabrics to be treated as a single layer and experiment with reducing the tension. I use safety pins instead of pins as they don’t slip out. I really like bamboo batting as it gives a very smooth quilt that lies beautifully on a bed and folds crisply. Once you solve your top and backing slip, you might find you like bamboo a little more?

    If you can find some time to experiment with some samples, a walking foot and varying your tension, I think you will be delighted by the results. This is the equivalent of swatching in knitting. Going back to the technical basics of any craft or art always pays dividends beyond rubies. It is a beautiful quilt top and will become a gorgeous gift.

    • I use a walking foot too! I’ve been using one from the very beginning, on big and smaller projects. I played around with one for ages on small things, then moved to bigger projects.

      I think my really narrow quilting was just too much for this project. That’s why I’m going to move to a more open diagonal grid or something like that when I re-do it. I’ll have it done for her birthday in March. I won’t be defeated!


    • that said, tension is something I’m not well versed on. I wonder if that’s an issue. I’ve signed up for a class in February. I hope to learn about that stuff there!

      On 18 December 2011 22:39, Helen Gladman wrote:

      > I use a walking foot too! I’ve been using one from the very beginning, on > big and smaller projects. I played around with one for ages on small > things, then moved to bigger projects. > > I think my really narrow quilting was just too much for this project. > That’s why I’m going to move to a more open diagonal grid or something like > that when I re-do it. I’ll have it done for her birthday in March. I won’t > be defeated! > > Helen > >

  18. It is a beautiful quilt and I am sure she will love it when she gets it.

    I say good for you for recognizing that the world won’t end if she doesn’t get a gift she didn’t know was coming. I think we make ourselves crazy with our crafty gifts some times. A Bee Keeper’s Quilt is my albatross at the moment. I love the project but will be so glad when it is done!

  19. What Lauren said with the changing direction is right on. Sewing first (centre) line left to right then the one on either side, from right to left alternating down the length means that any stretching in one direction is balanced by stretching in the other direction.

  20. What a horrible shame it didn’t work out this time. Definitely worth ripping out and re-doing. Looks like Lauren has given good advice, I was going to suggest quilting in the seams too, down the long lines first and then perpendicular across in the seams of the smaller rectangles (but obviously all the way across the White sashing part too, if you know what I mean?). It would make a grid, which wouldn’t be as effective as the parallel lines you originally used, but it might be easier?

  21. Heya Bells, so sorry your quilt experience hasn’t been great so far! I have a few tips for you I learnt while taking classes at the famous Patch Works here in Hobart.

    1) Quilt from the centre outwards, this means all the layers will be pulled in all directions equally.
    2) Do your “backbone” quilting first – ie if your quilt is made of squares, quilt in the seams of the squares first to secure the fabric within them. Then when you quilt within these lines there is much less fabric that will move around.
    3) Hand-baste.
    4) Use a new needle for your quilting, once you’ve finished the quilt-top. Sewing needles are really only designed for about 8 hours of sewing before they start to get blunt & damage the fabric.

    Also, not something I’ve tried, but when you’re doing a whole bunch of parallel lines like that, you could try doing one line one way & then the next line the opposite way to even out the way the fabric is pulling.

    Hope this helps.. feel free to email me if I wasn’t clear enough 🙂

    • Thanks Lauren. I did some of that – starting from the centre, but I didn’t change direction. The backbone idea is a good one. I should try that. Hand basting sounds like the way to go too – I pinned A LOT but maybe it wasn’t enough.

      I plan to do a more open grid for the next go at quilting. The parallel lines just seemed problematic.

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