Sometimes people give me fabric. Scraps of things they acquired and don’t know what to do with, projects they started and don’t want to finish, old stuff that they hope that someone can use (but really know it’s a lost cause and can’t throw it out) – in other words a hodge podge of stuff. So last year when Peter asked if I wanted some fabric that our friend Pierre’s wife Sue was giving away, I said sure. I don’t mind going through someone else’s fabrics and finding homes, donating, or throwing stuff away. Isn’t it always easier when it’s not your own stuff?
Imagine my surprise when Peter arrived home a few days later with six giant Rubbermaid containers of beautiful fabric. Fabric that had been lovingly hunted for and acquired from quilt shops – this was the stash of a serious quilter. Even though I’d met Sue over the years and knew she was a very creative woman, I did not know she was a quilter. I was gobsmacked. I couldn’t believe someone would give this away – and that I was the lucky recipient. It was one of the best presents and surprises I’ve ever received.
I spent the entire next weekend washing and organizing it. It was like Aladdin’s Cave in the laundry room. It was utter delight to go through it all and get to know someone through their stash – it was immediately clear what Sue’s color palette was, what types of things appealed to her, the various quilt fabric trends of the years, and the different projects she had done.
I knew that I had to make her something special to thank her for this wonderful gift. So to start with I cut out a 4 x 4″ square of each of the fabrics. Then over several evenings of TV watching, I sorted and re-sorted the scraps in various color ways from light to dark. Those sat on a board in the TV room for several months while I waited for inspiration to strike.
Even though I still had no plan, I took the scraps to a 3 day retreat with the hope of getting the top completed. I got out a sketchbook and started drawing and came up with this sketch that looked like it could have come out of one of my old geology notebooks – like the recumbent folds of a roadcut of sedimentary rocks. It also coincidentally looks like a large “S” for Sue.
I had bought a large newspaper print sketchbook because I thought I might do some paper-piecing thing, but of course I left that at home. The retreat was in the middle of nowhere, but I found a dollar store and bought a roll of wrapping paper instead and a smaller book of sketch paper. Here’s the sketch blown up with the stripes of the wrapping paper on the back…. It’s taped to the window so I could trace the pieces because I didn’t bring a lightbox.
You can see from the sketch that I thought I was going to break up the curves with some darker pieces because I wasn’t sure how the different rows of color would look together. After more playing with it I decided this wasn’t necessary. This is what is know as “improvising”. Let’s just say the whole thing was very amusing and interesting to the other women at the retreat.
Here are the piles of the scraps somewhat arranged over the template to get an idea where I was going. I then took each of the template pieces and using paper piecing technique, I sewed the scraps in stripes. Basically freehand, depending on how many scraps I wanted to fit into a particular section. You can see some of the sections sewn in the intial sketch picture above.
If you look closely at the quilt back or the finished quilt below or the sketches, you can see it’s in three main sections that run across where the big curves are. (This is the secret so that you don’t have to try and sew those curves!) I pieced together the different rows of each section – granted even those gentle curves are tricky and some required one or more reworks. I then sewed the three main sections together – and there was the top done! And to the amazement of all, I did manage to finish it in one weekend! Afterwards at home Boss the cat helped me remove all the bits of paper.
The next task was to iron the !@#$%&@ crap out of it; lots of steam required. I then made a back for it. This pretty compass was already made and was in among Sue’s scraps, so I decided to put that surprise on the back. I used an invisible binding technique that Kathleen Murphy had shown me how to do, and I modified it to add an invisible sleeve, so if you wanted to display the back you could. Maybe at some point I’ll post more about the invisible binding techniques.
Lastly, I decided it needed some embellishment. I thought about bedazzling it, but when I tried out the bling, it just didn’t look right with the scrappy nature of this quilt. I then tried some beads and I really liked them. Don’t tell anyone, but I glued them on. Thanks to another quilter named Sue for the suggestion of “Gem-Tac” glue, it’s magic stuff. And here’s the finished quilt. I finished it in time for the Thimble Pleasures Quilt Show and I’m proud to say it won a viewer’s choice award. I couldn’t be more pleased with how it came out. It really was one of those magic creative experiences, where ideas come from somewhere beyond your conscious mind, where problems come up but just dissipate, where friends offer advice just the right moments. If only all projects were like this!
The finished quilt has now gone to live with Sue, who said she was surprised and delighted and is enjoying remembering all her fabrics and projects in it. As for the rest of the stash…it’s already working it’s way into various projects – pillowcases for our guild fundraiser, wall hangings for a silent auction and a friend at work, some batiks to Kathleen in trade for help with the binding technique…the stash will continue giving for years to come!