During the early days of the pandemic, I started hand-sewing quilts to keep myself from going crazy. I started with hexagon quilts, which were easy to do and easy to store away. Quilting gave my brain and my hands something to do, and I liked the end results.I made a full-sized hexagon quilt and gave it to a nephew, and then made a crib quilt for baby Emil in Berlin. I started a third one when I went back on the road after the worst of the pandemic, which I finished in the fall of 2021 while I was in Salida, Colorado.
Hexagon quilts were easy, the quilting was inside each hexagon, so I didn’t have the challenge of making a top, then quilting it to backing fabric and finishing it off. I decided last June (yes, 2022!) that I was ready to step up to a “real quilt” but I wasn’t sure where to begin. This is when it became very handy to have my own personal Quilting Yoda, Peg, in Lancaster, PA. With her help, I selected some fabrics (Tula Pink, if you’re curious), ordered them online, and then waited for them to arrive at a friend’s house in Indiana and then for me to arrive there a week later.
First step: lots of cutting squares and more squares and rectangles, then sewing them into the four-square pattern that gives this quilt its name. I made my first four-square on Jun 25, 2022.
All during this first part, I really had no idea how things would turn out because the colors ranged from pink to orange to blue to green. I would have to sew all of the four squares together before I could lay them out and figure out a pleasing quilt top. It really was faith that kept me going, that it would all work out even though I couldn’t quite see how. But Peg said it would and she makes beautiful quilts, so I put my faith in her eye and her experience.
One glitch in my quilting plan was that I ran out of the green and purple fabrics I was using to make the 2-inch squares in each four-square block. I called Peg in March, desperate to see if she had enough in her scraps pile. She did, and kindly cut the number I needed, and a few more, mailing them off to an address in Maryland. That address was one of my best camping buds, Karen, who then carried them down to South Carolina in April, so that I could finish sewing the four-squares.
I faced a new problem when all the four-squares were finished. I had to figure out how to put them together to make a nice quilt top, but… ? Where could I find enough flat space to lay out squares that were the size of a queen bed? Well, for once I got lucky with the weather and my paved camping spot at Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina was just big enough. I used my ground cover to protect the squares as much as possible and then got to work trying out patterns.
I was out there for a few hours, moving squares around and then taking photos. Oddly enough, photos show the design better than just looking at it, and I was able to pick out squares that seemed out of place and then try again. At one point, the woman camping next door came over because she was pretty sure what I was doing. Turns out she was a long-arm quilter (someone who puts the front and back and batting together). She kind of shook her head when I said I had hand-sewn all these squares. I could understand that!
I carefully caught up each row of my final layout, marking each pile with a paper note indicating position in the design, then started piecing the first row together. I was happy to see my four squares were fitting together well, with just a little bit of adjustment now and then to make seams line up. Soon enough, I had four rows done and I could start to see the pattern come together.
And, yes, I was doing all this in my Alto. I laid each row out on the bed before sewing it, comparing it to my photo of the final design, then sewed the squares together. Then laid out that row with the one above it to make sure I was still following my design, pinned the rows together and started sewing. Each row became a bit more challenging because I very quickly ran out of space in the Alto to see all the rows at one time. Four turned out to the limit so I had to take special care making sure I was doing each successive row in order. I only screwed up one row, so I’m kind of impressed by that error rate.
After all the rows were done, I still had more to do: the borders and corners. This was probably the most challenging part because I had to piece the border fabric together and then pin it to the quilt blocks to make a smooth, gap-free border. I felt like I did a lot of repinning on each of the four sides before I was satisifed. One last bout of sewing to get the border fabric done and then my part of the quilt was finished.
In early June (yes, a year after I first started this crazy project!), I contacted a long-arm quilter in Lancaster, PA, who lived in the same neighborhood as my quilting Yoda, Peg. Starla was very patient with my questions and rolled with the challenges of my logistics, too. I ended up mailing the quilt top to Peg, ordering backing fabric from Missouri Quilt and having *that* sent to Peg and then waiting. Peg, however, was not waiting. She took the top and cleaned up the backside and ironed it so that the quilt would be smooth and the quilting process as trouble-free as possible. She also inspected and ironed the backing fabric, finding a defect in coloration that she flagged to make sure Starla would avoid that small section.
Peg then hand-delivered the quilt to Starla and they worked out the final selection of the quilting pattern. I had picked three I liked, but I had no real idea what would work best with my design or the backing fabric so I let the two experts make the call. Here’s one from Starla as she pinned up the top to the batting and the backing fabric.
I had mailed the quilt top to Peg and ordered the backing fabric in late June. Peg’s careful cleanup work took a month or so (off and on, mostly off because Peg does have a life outside of being my Quilting Yoda) and then she handed the package off to Starla in mid-July. I had told Starla no rush on it because I would not get to Lancaster to pick it up until September. I tried to be patient as the weeks ticked by but I was secretly dying inside, wanted to see how it turned out. Then, Red Letter Day: August 9! Starla (who is on Instagram as @guidedstar) posted teaser photos of my quilt. My quilt!!!! I was so excited that I took screen caps of every single shot and sent it to friends. My quilt was done!
A few weeks later, Peg picked it up and staged a little photo session in her house to show me the results, since I was still a few weeks out from Lancaster. Here’s the front, with the quilting pattern of pebbles big and small.
And this is the back of the quilt. It gives me a very different view if I get tired of the front! The big hexagons in this pattern are “larger-than-life” versions of some of the squares on the front, so it all ties together. The cover photo for this post shows some of the smaller hexagon squares, so you kind of get the idea.
A month later (a whole month!!) and I finally made it to Lancaster and got to see and feel my quilt. I haven’t stopped smiling since, honestly. Every time I walk in the bedroom, I smile and run my hands over the top, feeling the quilting and remembering the seemingly endless hand-sewing that created this beautiful thing. And that brings me to the real point of this quilt: it’s mine, made just to fit the bed in my trailer pefectly. Until I’m back on the road next week, I’m using it at Peg’s house, enjoying the satisfaction of sleeping under my own hand-made quilt.
Quilting in an Alto is not impossible, but it did require ingenuity and patience. Probably the biggest hassle was figuring out how to ship things to me and then on to Peg and Starla. I kind of envy quilters who can just pop into the local shop for supplies or order them online and have them in hand a few days later. (To avoid the shipping dilemma, I just picked out fabrics for my next project while visiting Peg, so I’m one step ahead.)
Huge thanks to Peg, the Quilting Yoda, for all her help, advice, support, and snipping of loose threads and ironing of everything.
Long-arm quilting and binding done by Guided Star Quilting. Thank you so much, Starla, I love your work! (And thank you for the photos, including the cover photo to this post.)
We stitch together quilts of meaning to keep us warm and safe, with whatever patches of beauty and utility we have on hand.