That was my physical state as I sat exhausted at the end of the day yesterday. My weekend "retreat" was over and I'd outdone myself. I'd spent three days hunched over the machine, getting up and down to press, to square up, climbing up and down the chair being used as a step stool as I pulled blocks and rows of blocks down off the design wall and put them back up. Seriously, how did those women in the 1800's working out of cabins and small houses manage to put their blocks together with little if any space for laying them out? How did they cut the big pieces? The preponderance of quilts with blocks turned the wrong way, that don't lie completely flat, that are wider on one end than the other tells us that this lack of workspace did effect their final product. Had they the large tables and design walls we now use, they wouldn't be complaining about a few sore muscles, I'm sure. But I AM complaining! Or at least certain parts of my aging body are complaining. It's a stark reminder of my thoughts after making my last large quilt back in 2006 - physically, logistically, it's getting increasingly difficult for me to work on bed-size quilts, and I don't know how many more, if any, I have left in me. They would have to be special for me to tackle them. Which is why, nearly three years later, I've just completed a large quilt top.
That was my emotional state as I climbed the chair for the last time. Remember those crowsfeet blocks my WI guild made after I moved to Idaho? They arrived in December 2006 and I wanted to make them into a quilt large enough to snuggle under on the couch, have those ladies close around me. So that meant I had to make additional blocks, which I did in March and April of 2007. I arranged them on the design wall, considered fabric for alternate blocks and sashings, then went on to other things. They've been taunting me daily and more recently singing a siren song - high time to do something about it. The idea of pretending to be at a retreat gave me the permission I needed to move this project to the top of the list.
I "arrived" at my virtual retreat late morning. Here are some strips I'd cut earlier in the week, and my cell phone so I could text my friends at the actual retreat. Are you there yet? What's for lunch?
The strips were to sew around each block. When working with blocks made by others, there's always slight variation in the finished sizes you have to work with. In this case, there was nearly a 1/2" difference between the smallest and largest blocks. By sewing extra fabric on all blocks, I could then square them up to the same size (although I decided to "let out" a few seams on those smallest blocks first). This picture shows the squares of fabric that will alternate between the pieced blocks. I'd cut these ahead of time too.
This is the inevitable truth about traditional quilting, at least for me. Seldom do you buy the proper amount of fabric specifically for a particular quilt project. Instead, you buy fabric as you fall in love with it, as you find it on sale, as you pick it out as a souvenir of the quilt shows you attend. You buy it in increments of fat quarters all the way up to 6 yard lengths, again depending upon your budget, your good luck at finding it on sale, your thoughts of what you might do with it. In the end, when you get ready to make a quilt, you often find you do NOT have enough of what you need, and you bought the fabric so long ago that your chances of tracking down more of it are next to nil. And of course, you don't want to spend even more money and time searching for a substitute fabric. So you figure out how to make do, use what's on hand. In this case, I didn't have quite enough fabric for all the strips around the blocks. A survey of my extensive reproduction fabric stash produced only one fabric close enough not to make a fuss in the grand scheme of things. This is a scrap quilt, one that will be considered a utilitarian quilt, one that will never hang on the wall or go to a show. In the best tradition of utilitarian quilts of the 1800's, we are making do here or doing without.
Usually I underestimate how long various steps in the quilting process will take, but I surprised myself this time be underestimating just how much I could accomplish in a focused day of sewing. I think I put in around 8 hours total, realizing things were moving along faster than I expected and not stopping until I got to this point: all the blocks are sashed and squared up and sewn into diagonal rows. The only thing the rows are lacking are the setting triangles at each end. Ideally, they would come from the same fabric as the alternating squares. But life is anything but ideal - I don't begin to have enough left of that fabric for the triangles. Tomorrow I will have to peruse my options. Tonight, it's time to celebrate with a glass of wine!