Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Quilt for our Goddaughter

One of our huge highlights of 2013 was becoming godparents. Our goddaughter, MC, is the daughter of good college friends of Mr. M, who became my good friends too because we lived in the same city for a few years. Their first child, a boy, was born the day after our wedding (!) and our goddaughter was born this year on Halloween and baptized November 23.

As soon as they asked us to be godparents, I started thinking of gifts for our goddaughter. After all, gifts you receive at your birth are really special - and extra special if they come from your godparents! (As a convert, I don't have godparents, but I do have some gifts from my birth day that are still special - a stuffed rabbit in particular.)

The gift I settled on was a quilt. Ambitious! Thankfully, my mom is a seasoned seamstress and (as you'll see) one of my aunts had just started a long-arm quilting business (I'll explain what that is). Plus, I had about 5 months to make the quilt because our friends asked us right after they found out they were having a girl. 

I thought it would be fun to recap how I made the quilt. It ended up being a super fun project, and actually quite therapeutic! I definitely got bit with the sewing bug and have a bunch of other projects in the works =)

Step 1: Choose a quilt pattern
This part was fun =) I checked out a ton of quilting books from the library, particularly ones that were for small baby quilts. I was looking for something relatively easy (only straight lines, no curves) but more interesting than just big squares. The one I found was called "Small Checks" - you'll see why.

Step 2: Buy fabric
My mom and I had a blast shopping for fabric. We spent most of a day at Joann's, walking around with the pattern and finding the fabrics we liked. This particularly pattern had up to 6 different fabrics, and of course we wanted it pink and girly =) This is the first chance to really be creative! We ended up with several pinks, a white for contrast, and two "novelty prints" (the kind with larger designs) that are vintage looking because my goddaughter's mom likes that style.

Step 3: Cut and piece
This is the step that literally took me months! (Of course, a little thing called a full-time job and a husband also took up my time =)) In this step, you follow the instructions on the pattern and cut all the pieces to certain sizes, then stitch them together to make a design.

(n.b. I always laugh when I think of my mom and quilts. My mom loves to sew but doesn't like quilting because she says, "It seems like such a waste of time to take a perfectly good fabric, chop it up into little pieces, and sew it together again!" =))

Here's some examples of the cut & piece stage:

Below is my work station - a big old cabinet that was in our apartment already. On top is my quilting board (hard plastic with measurements) and my rotary cutter (basically a pizza cutter for fabric). The candle has no sewing purpose =) The fabric below is strips of pink and white that I sewed together, side by side. I'm about to slice them up vertically, as you can see in the pictures further below. what are these pink and white strips for? You'll see!

I also had to cut out a bunch of yellow polka-dot squares:

And...when you sew the pink and white strips to the sides of the yellow squares, you get...

Ta-da! That's one of two "blocks" in this quilt. The other block is a lot more simple - I just cut that out of the novelty fabric, which had little sleeping babies on it. Once I had created enough "blocks" (13 of the yellow with checks and 12 of the novelty print) then it's time to sew them together in rows, like this:

On the ironing board, which is essential to have nearby because you're constantly "pressing" the fabric - making it flat to make it easy to sew

Close up of the two kinds of blocks sewed together
 Once I had 5 rows of 5 blocks each, then I sewed the rows together. Simple! 

What the "wrong side" looks like - underneath - with all the stitching
Now the cutting and piecing is done. On to...

Step 4: Borders
After the body of the quilt (the main part) is assembled, usually there's a border or two to add. Mainly this is for pizazz =) With my pattern, there were two borders, a small one and a big one. To keep it girly, I choose to make both borders pink.

The technique of adding borders is pretty simple: cut the fabric to the required width, then one by one sew it to the edges of the quilt. 
You can see the two borders here: skinny and fat, both pink.
Quilt complete with borders, held by yours truly in our windowless guest room aka sewing room. Also where we hang our wet laundry =)
Step 5: Quilting
But wait...haven't we been quilting this whole time?!? Yes, and no. So far all I've done is what's technically called "piecing" - that is, sewing the pieces of the quilt top (the decorative side) together. What makes a quilt a quilt is this next-to-final step. You basically make a fabric sandwich of three layers: the top pieced (decorative) layer - what I'm holding in the picture above - then a middle layer of "batting" (fluffy stuff that makes the quilt warm) - and a bottom layer of another fabric. Usually the bottom layer is just a large cut-out piece of fabric. You could "piece" the bottom layer too, but that's a lot of work! 

The action of quilting is sewing all these layers together. There are different ways to do that. Before sewing machines, our pioneer ancestors quilted by hand - ever heard of quilting bees? That's when a bunch of ladies would get together, stretch a quilt out on a frame (all 3 layers) and painstakingly stitch the layer together.

I didn't do that =)

You can also quilt on your sewing machine, I think. (I didn't do that either, but I imagine it would be quicker than hand-quilting!) Lucky for me, as I mentioned above, I have an aunt who has a long-arm quilting business. What that means is that she finishes other people's quilts (or her own) by attaching them to a gigantic frame and using a computer-guided sewing machine (with a long arm), quilts the fabrics together.

Here are some pictures to prove it:

The bottom layer of the quilt (plus an edge that won't be in the final quilt) attached to the huge frame. Next we attached the batting and the top decorative part.
The computerized sewing machine quilting through all 3 layers.
One of the neatest parts of this step was that I got to choose what patterns to have stitched into my quilt. Because the back fabric has teddy bears on it (you can kind of seem them in the picture above), I chose to have teddy bears stitched in the middle of each yellow square.

Teddy bear being stitched
Watching the machine work was so cool!! Once you chose the pattern, designated the parameters (with a laser, no less!), you just said "go" and it stitched the pattern in one continuous line. My mom and I were pretty mesmerized =)

And for the border, I chose a baby-themed pattern (no surprise!):

It also had a teddy bear in it - bonus!

The "novelty" blocks of sleeping babies got a "meandering" pattern, which just means a swoopy line. 

And, as a final special touch, I had her name stitched on the top of the quilt:

It says "Marie" if you can't tell. I had her middle and last names added too.
Step 6: Binding
After the quilt is officially quilted, it's taken off the rack and a final skinny border is added. I think I fudged this step (misplaced my instructions...) but it wasn't hard: just a folded-over piece of fabric (pink) is stitched on one side around the whole quilt, then hand-stitched on the back (I did that while catching up on Downton Abbey - season 4 starts tomorrow!!!!) The binding - as it's called - basically seals the layers and makes sure none of the batting gets out. It's a practical step but also looks nice. (Sorry - forgot to take a picture.)

Step 7: Give the quilt to your goddaughter and make everyone cry
Yep, I thought they would cry =) Let's just say the quilt was well received by MC's mom and dad! I think our goddaughter liked it too, but she didn't say much =) She looked awfully cute cuddled in it though!
With her grandma

Whew! That was fun =) Conclusion: making a quilt takes a long time but is a real treat and completely worth it. Like I said, I have some other ideas in the works....



  1. Wow! A beautiful quilt. And so much attention to detail. I made a few quilts back in my college days, though they were all "around the world" quilts, which is a verrrrry easy pattern. Wish I had known about long-arm quilting. It's not like I finished the thing by hand, but the long-arm process just looks so neat!! Congrats on a present well done. :)

  2. Beautiful! I'm quite impressed! I got a sewing machine for our anniversary; my mom is coming to visit for a few days in March to finally teach me how to use it :-)
    I knitted a blanket for our Goddaughter.

  3. Beautiful! The quilting is fantastic!

  4. Amazing! I am so impressed! I have along way to go before I'm quilting but I hope to someday :)

  5. I have some fabric and very few blocks pieced on a quilt that I would love to do someday; this is making me want to get it out and actually work on it, which I haven't done in years! Great job, it looks like it turned out amazing!

  6. That is amazing! So so so so so cute, thanks for sharing. Impressive.

  7. beautiful! thanks for sharing all the details! my mom is still one of those ladies who gets in a circle and quilts everything by hand. she's amazing. but that machine your aunt has is ALSO amazing, and really really expensive!! how nice to have access to it! yeah, there's a reason my hand-stitched wedding quilt is still in the frame..almost 5.5 years later, ha!