Saturday, April 28, 2007

"Book Ends" Memory Quilt for Mary B.

Here's where my work life intersects with my after-hours interests ... I'm a Health Sciences Librarian by day. My Library Director and mentor for the past 9 years will be leaving her post April 30, 2007, as a result of a re-organization effort by Administration to contain costs. Her job was eliminated after 35 years. You can read my tribute to Mary Bayorgeon here.

In this blog post, I want to write about the making of this Signature Quilt for Mary.

I started in 2005 by asking Mary what her favorite colors were ... Little did Mary know what I was up to. She answered quickly : red, blue, yellow. Primary colors, and I promptly went out and bought fat quarters in those colors. I chose the Rail Fence block because I thought it looked like books on a shelf--fitting for a career librarian. And the rails allowed a generous amount of space for signatures and messages.

Here's a page from my actual Sweet Leaf Notebook (where I scribble and sketch out ideas well before I sit down in the sewing room with them) :

In December 2005, I drafted a letter and mailed it with a Rail Fence Quilt block and a SASE out to many of our library colleagues past and present. Most of them wanted to participate, and wrote back what a wonderful idea this was to honor Mary.

Method of Construction :
* The Rail Fence blocks were strip pieced, then cut, and sewn into blocks.
* I used Marti Michell's Quilting in Sections. This method works remarkably well for making the quilting manageable on a regular home sewing machine because you are quilting smaller sections at a time. The best part is that once a section is done, it's done. You don't have to go back and do the quilting! My only complaint is that the joining seams can get bulky on the back-side.
* Quilting motifs : The Rail Fence blocks are quilted with a corner to corner "swoop" that comes out looking like a star in the 4-patch blocks. On the borders, I used a cabbage-rose design. It's hard to see behind the gold print fabric, but was a great way to practice free-motion quilting.

This is the drawing of the cabbage rose motif I stitched into the borders of Mary's quilt :

After drawing it on paper about 30 times, it was easy to do via free-motion.

* Bonnie McCaffery's binding method worked well with the reversed blind hem stitch. My hand sewing is really not very good, so I was overjoyed to see this mostly-by-machine binding method.

Lessons Learned :
1) Don't use rayon thread for the machine quilting. It may be beautiful, but it's not strong enough. By the time I had finished the quilt to present to Mary, I could see that some of the rayon quilting threads were breaking in places.

2) Seam covers are a little bulky on the back side. I started sewing these by hand. But I soon realized that it's much faster and makes the seam more secure to stitch these seam covers by machine with clear polyester thread. My hand stitching took too long to do, and it started to pull out before I finished the quilt.

3) On collecting signatures. This was easier if I could be there to explain to the signers that they needed to use a special pen and leave a seam allowance. Most people I asked to sign were not quilters, so they just gave me a funny look when I said "seam allowance."
Not everyone quilts, nor has an understanding of fabrics. For the blocks I mailed out to people, I included a letter that explained participants should use a permanent marker (Sharpie-type) or even a regular ball point pen--NO GEL PENS. Mary Horan, a fellow quilter and Librarian, suggested that I iron a piece of freezer paper to the back of the rail so the fabric would be stabilized when people tried to write on it. (If you haven't tried writing on a loose block, the fabric wiggles without being stabilized.) Again, some of the non-quilters who signed at a distance somehow thought the freezer paper was some kind of transfer paper, so they signed the paper on the back of the block. I had to "forge" some of these signatures to the right side when I got the blocks back, and peeled off the freezer paper. I think there were only 2 blocks that had ink that ran after I removed the markings for machine quilting. Again, some of the non-quilters didn't know what a seam allowance was, so some of the words got cut off in the seams.

4) When I had the blocks laid out on my design wall, I thought this was going to be a huge quilt! By the time it was sewed together, it was a lot smaller.

5) I also kept a spreadsheet of the following :
-- Who I had asked to sign the blocks
-- Date block was sent for signature
-- Was Block Returned? Yes / No
I gave Mary this spreadsheet when I gave her the quilt. This helped her know who had already signed the quilt, and who she wanted to make sure she asked to sign the quilt herself. A few people forgot and signed the completed quilt again (No big deal-I started this project 2 years ago!). She could also see who I had thought to ask to participate ...
I suppose I could have also kept track of where each signee ended up in the quilt and listed the x/y location of each, but I wasn't that thorough.

I pictured Mary putting this quilt on the back of a couch, or something ... Mary plans to hang it on a wall in her home. As soon as she said that, I had to add a hanging pocket!

Mary was really touched and honored that I would have invested so much time and effort into making a quilt for her. It's the least I could have done for all I've learned from her in the past 9 years! She said no one has ever made a quilt for her. She will treasure it. That's why we Quilters Quilt!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read the new entries and re-read the previous ones. Very, very
interesting, even though I am not a quilter. I was amazed at your
journey and all the techniques and ideas involved in quilting. I am
appreciating my quilt more and more. I never thought of cathedral
as patterns for quilts, but that sure makes sense--some lovely and
patterns from another medium, with all the history involved.