I followed quilting for years before I actually tried it. I was a subscriber to Quilters Newsletter Magazine for decades, and enjoyed the artistry of Caryl Fallert and the detailed precision of Diane Gaudynski. In about 2000, I visited the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY for the first time, and was blown away! Wow! Yet for a number of years after that, I said that I couldn’t start quilting in earnest because I wouldn’t have time to do anything else. Oh, I had done several special quilts (see Our Whole Life, My Texas Star, and David’s 21st Birthday Quilt, plus a few others) so I wasn’t starting from scratch. Finally, though, the idea of making a quilt for competition grew irresistible to me. And Heirloom Dreams was born!
56” x 55” 2004
I had seen those quilts in the museum, and later, had attended the AQS show in Paducah, so I knew what kind of quality was required to be competitive. Because I had spent many years working for Martha Pullen Co., heirloom techniques were in my blood, and I also knew this was something different that had not been brought into the world of quilts in a big way. So I got out my batiste and lace and my thinking cap! 🙂
I wanted a quilt that would have the overall look of delicate lace. It is actually four layers – a backing, batting, and two top layers of fabric. The top is white Swiss batiste, embellished with shaped French Val lace, shaped lace/rickrack bridging, shaped puffing, shaped bias linen strips, pinstitching, entredeux stitching, and machine embroidery from an old Husqvarna Viking embroidery card. The outer edge is a shaped linen applique. This was layered over light blue Swiss batiste to create the quilt top.
Making a great top is only half (or even less!) of making a good quilt. The quilting is what brings it to life, what transforms it from a flat, two-dimensional piece of fabric into a sculpted, three-dimensional work. And quilting was the challenge (and still continues to be.) I free-motion quilted around every bit of embellishment with monofilament thread – the lace, the applique, the embroidery. This is still the first step of quilting for every quilt I make. I created trapunto floral designs in opposite corners around the center medallion that repeat the machine embroidery shapes. The 3/8″ crosshatch was done with the feed dogs up… lots of tie-offs, and lots of turning! Shell-stitched piping outlines the scalloped bound edges.
So, my quilt was finished and photographed. Instead of starting with a small, local show, what did I do? I entered it in the World of Beauty contest at the Houston International Quilt Festival 2004! I was delighted when it won first place in the Computer-Aided Machine Embroidery category, was juried into American Quilter’s Society judged show in 2005, and was featured in Jenny Haskins Creative Expressions magazine, Issue 7.
It’s hard to believe that this was over 16 years ago! I still like many of the same things. I often use soft colors, and lean toward analogous color schemes. I still love fine details, and I regularly use medallion settings. Almost every quilt I make includes lace, either the fine cotton kind, or machine-embroidered free-standing lace that I make. I like symmetry. Intricate edges are interesting. And, I’ve learned a lot about quilting since then. Here are some of the things I’ve learned…
- Quilts have to be visually appealing from a distance as well as close up. With heirloom garments, almost everything is about the tiny details. But quilts need to pack a “wow” from across the room as well as from a foot away.
- The difference between expensive Swiss batiste and much less expensive cotton batiste is significant in a Christening gown; it makes much less difference in a quilt. Now, I’m not saying you should not use quality fabrics, but in this particular comparison, Swiss batiste is not worth the cost.
- Those tiny stitches we love in heirloom sewing – pinstitch and entredeux – just don’t show up in the finished quilt. The little “holes” get lost in the texture. If you’re going to add lace to a quilt, a zigzag is just fine, and takes far less time.
- As important as I knew quilting was, it’s even more important than I thought! It doesn’t have to be done on a longarm. All of my quilts were quilted on sit-down machines. This one was done on a regular domestic. The only way to be good at it is to do a lot of it!
Go ahead and try your hand at something you’ve wanted to do for a long time. Who knows where it might take you!?