Wednesday, August 31, 2016

My First Quilt - Part 1 Planning and Cutting

I knew that as soon as I purchased a sewing machine that it was only a matter of time before I started my first quilt.  My Aunt is a fantastic quilter and has made a number of amazing projects for me over the years.  Lucky has two handmade quilts, one from my Aunt and another from my mother.  I thought it would be wonderful if the first quilt I ever sewed would be for Rowdy.  (I did hand sew and tie a simple patchwork quilt as teen but that came as a kit so I'm not counting it.)  

My first quilt!
I always take notes while working on a craft project, but I kept a lot of journal style notes for this quilt.  Since there are SO MANY pictures I will divide this project up into 3 different posts:  Planning and Cutting, Piecing the Top, and finally Quilting and Finishing.

The inspiration

I found a dinosaur print that I loved but wasn't sure of how to pattern it.  While exploring a near by quilt shop (that has since closed due to retiring owners and the lease not being renewed) I saw the above quilt hanging on the wall.  I loved the way the pieces were spread out and that there was a big center panel.  The owner told me that they used 5" squares to make this.  Based on this picture and knowing that the 5" squares were precut I reversed engineered the quilt in PowerPoint.

I had a lot of nerves while picking out the fabric.  Five of the patterns were easy to put together, I found them over time and they are part of a coordinating set (Nursery "Dino Dots" from JoAnn's Fabrics - I used some of these in my home sewn crib sheets.)  However with the design I was working towards I knew that I wanted to add some more patterns of different scales to the other squares and triangles.  First I got to 8 fabrics, but realized that I don't want the layout to seem "even" with 4 of each square, so I hoped to find a couple more fabrics I loved at the local fabric shop.

My fellow Wellesley crafters helped me with my dilemma for the back of the quilt.  With a planned ~53" square a normal piece of quilting fabric would not fit across the back of the quilt.  However, if I add a horizontal piece of quilting down a "seam" I can create an intentional break in the fabric.  This should allow me to use up some of the extra fabric I already have, plus give me a nice spot to potentially applique on the baby's name.  I don't want to get too ambitious though, and first I'll try to work through the quilt top.

Diary of the Quilt Construction - Since I expect to spend more than just a few days working on this project, I want to go through my thought process for the whole project.  These notes will help me keep track of where I am and what I need to do.  This way if I'm interrupted by the baby being born, I should be able to pick the project back up.  

Today is my birthday and I'm ready to officially start cutting pieces. Of the fabric I have for the center square and the outside edges, I bought 1.5 yards.  There are just over 52" of length post washing.  If I have the strips cut as shown, then I only will need 48" of length.  Worst case scenario I have to extend them with a piece of something in the corners, but I'd prefer to not have to do that.  Or I suppose I could buy new fabric with 2 yard length.

Anyway, I wanted to start cutting with this fabric.  I know I am going to need more fabrics for the binding and if I have to order more of this, too, then I want to know.

After cutting the 16x16 inch square, I still have over 24 inches of the entire 52" length of fabric.  This doesn't give me a ton of wiggle room, but I have enough for 4 5" strips easily.  I will not order more of this fabric at this time.

The backing fabric is a fun patterned navy.  I learned that using subtle patterns can give a quilt more depth when I walked through a local quilting shop, so I looked hard to find a navy on navy print.

In my binding calculations, I was conservative and estimated that I'd want 3" binding strips, I'd use 40" wide fabric to make the strips and be finishing a 60x60 quilt.  According to the quilt binding calculator, I'll need 230" total binding length which will require 7 strips and a total of 5/8 of a yard of fabric.  This is more than I have of any single pattern currently in my stash.  I could make the binding out of multiple fabrics that I use in the quilt, but I'd like the option to do it out of a single fabric.

What else do I need for this project? I need cotton batting and thread.  From my online research it looks like I can purchase a thrown sized batting that would be 60"x60".

Between the small squares, and large and small triangles there are 52 pieces to surround the quilt.  I have 14 different potential fabrics to use for this section.  I'm not going to use all of the ones pictured above.  I have the same pattern in both yellow and blue and I will only select one in the end.  I also think I will only pick one graphic yellow or one graphic light blue, not both.  If I use 12 fabrics then I'll have between 4-5 pieces of each color, should I try to distribute things relatively evenly.

Baby "Rowdy" came early (mid January) so the quilt project got put on hold for a while.  Now that he is 3.5 months old I have a day alone with Rowdy so I can do some cutting while he coos next to me.  (Thank you Keith and Grandmama!)

I'm bummed that the store where I purchased the navy fabrics and got some of my fat quarters is going out of business.  I'll miss you Button Box!  Thank you for giving me inspiration for this project and helping me figure out what I needed to get started.

I need 32 - 5" squares and 20 - 5" right triangles (4 of these triangles are smaller but I'm going to go ahead and cut 5" triangles to give me the most flexibility with placement.)  I'm going to wait to cut the larger border sections until I have the rest of the top pieced.  With a plan to use up to 12 different fabrics, I'm going to start by cutting 4 - 5" squares of each fabric.  I did end up cutting some extras so I would have an easier time to play as I was laying out the fabrics.

Can we take a moment to talk about patterns not being printed on grain?  Many of these were slightly of of the grain but I cut the fabrics on grain.  With the alphabet squares, however, I just couldn't deal with how askew it was!

On the advice of a quilting friend, I cut these according to the pattern not the grain.  This was frustrating because the alphabet isn't even square with itself!  My friends (yay Wellesley Quilters!) recommended using a starch spray or something to help stiffen the fabric so it doesn't stretch strangely as I'm sewing.  In the end I was able to include Rowdy's initials (RB) in 3 of the squares so I'm happy!  (The elephant was cute but it didn't go with the dinosaur theme so I cut around it.  Sorry elephant!  I'll use you next time... or maybe I'll never use this fabric again because it bugged me so much.)  

I started arranging the squares at random around the center panel.  I really like where I got on the first attempt with only a few tweaks.  Now I just have to decide on the direction the patterns should face.  The center panel will be on the bias so the "up" direction will be pointing northwest.  I have a lot of prints that have some kind of orientation to them.  If each print would be on a square more than 2-3 times I might "randomize" what direction they were facing but it looks strange and somewhat off as I have it in the below picture. 

Rough Layout Attempt

It is important to consider the orientations before I cut the triangles because it will matter how I cut them in some cases.   I think that the cutting went really well and I'm thrilled with my first draft of this layout.  

The first draft of the layout.  Notice any glaring orientation errors?
I'll take a closer look at the layout before I start sewing, but it isn't bad for the first pass.  

For the borders, I purchased 2 yards of this semisolid navy fabric.  The pattern is subtle and hopefully it will make the quilt feel rich.  I need to cut a lot of long 1.5" strips, so I pressed the fabric in half length wise so I can get close to 2 yard strips.  I'm making the long strips EXTRA long so I can have plenty of extra if I need it.  I plan to cut all strips in the same direction so it won't look strange if I need to cut out a few extra from the long pieces as I near the end.  (72" should be way too long since I am aiming for a 53" square quilt but I'd rather over cut than undercut!)  My calculations say I will need 43" for the inner border but some of the diagonals might be longer.  

Seven extra long strips should be plenty to cover the inner border and long diagonals... but I cut 8 sort of by accident.  If this isn't enough then I can always join two strips together to help make a longer one.  Even though I only pressed the fabric in half once I folded it in half a second time and cut through 4 layers at once.  Pressing down the clear ruler with my knees helped me cut through in one cut.  It looks pretty straight to me when I open it up.  Yay!  

To cut the smaller strips I cut some more longer strips and then split these into smaller pieces.  I should need about 38 - 5" x 1.5" strips.  Cutting them went much faster than I expected.  Wahoo!

At the end of my day alone with Rowdy I had cut all of the pieces I need for this quilt. Now I just have to start sewing it together, but I'll wait until I have another Lucky free block of time.  

I'm so glad that Rowdy is a trooper for me to work on this project.  Stay tuned to the next diary of my first quilt where I'll talk about my journey of piecing together the top!