"A New England Album" shipped out to Vermont Quilt Festival yesterday! UFO no more. I couldn’t be more pleased...
At the end of this year-and-a-half journey I feel nostalgic, so read on for some finishing tips, mixed in with some metaphors about life, or just quickly scroll down for some detail photos and be on your way.
The reason this project started was because I always wanted to make one of those beautiful, hand turned Baltimore Album quilts. After years of trying, I had to face the facts-- I STINK at hand appliqué. None less than Karen Kay Buckley, Mimi Dietrich, and Rosa Rojas all tried to help me with all manner of scissors, papers, and glue to no avail. So I realized the only way I was going to get the "look" was by digitizing machine embroidery. The lesson here is, if you lack something, consider it an opportunity to find out what you CAN do!
The final product is better than I envisioned... the piece just seemed to happily come along bit by bit and became what it wanted to be. Fat Quarter Shop always had an extra piece of the backing fabric when I ran out, no coffee spills, no epic embroidery machine fails when I left the room. In just looking at it as if seeing for the first time, it reminds me of an ancient pictogram, or a medieval tapestry of daily life. And as ironic as it is, it’s made on the cutting edge of computer aided design.
After finishing the large borders, there was an empty space between the blocks and borders. I decided to fill it with "pearls" and "rope" embroidery and added about another 40 hoopings for myself! I had to use a smaller hoop to get more control over stitching them on straight. Little by little at night did the trick and the embroidery was finally done. A great feeling to take it off the machine for the last time!
I struggled with the idea of washing and blocking, but it really needed it—as flat as it was after all those hoopings, it did have some noticeable hills and valleys. The fabric was not prewashed, but the colors were so pale to begin with, so no fears there. It was all those fire engine red embroidery threads from every manufacturer and country on the planet that worried me. I googled how to best do it... while some used the washing machine, EEK!, adding a tablespoon of Dawn to the water was a common theme. Dawn is said to contain a chemical that does not allow the re-depositing of loose dyes. I threw in three color catcher sheets for good measure and used really cold water. All those thread dyes held fast!
Then, to dry it quickly, I did put it in my washer for the delicate spin cycle—I stood and watched as my washer slowly built up to full speed. I could only stand it for a about a minute, but it really did really get much of the water out. The piece was alarming shrunk now, but I pulled and pinned with about 450 T-pins to a foam insulation board, and bought a $14 laser level (it shoots out 2 perpendicular lines) to square it up-- well worth the money. Then it was fans, fans, fans. It was mostly dry in about 6 hours, but it took a solid day for it to be bone dry. The results were utterly fantastic—I never thought my thin white borders could be that square. I will be blocking ALL of my work from now on.
Binding-- this is only the second time I have done scallops and it requires more patience (I have an abundant supply) than skill (sometimes in short supply here)! I tested so that the width of my binding PERFECTLY touched the satin stitched edging on both front and back. I also took the project on and off the machine for every scallop. As a reward for the patience, my pleats formed effortlessly on their own. You really couldn't tell which was front and back on this...
Crystals... Back in the day, my daughter was a figure skater for ten years. She never made the Olympics, but opportunities for sewing were abundant. There was a saying: If you can’t dazzle the judges with your performance, blind them with crystals. I can't deny there's a bit of that philosophy here!
Whether or not to crystal the New England Album was a topic of dinner conversation on quite a few nights... at least one family member being adamantly opposed. I am sure the fine arts community would be appalled, but they would also consider this a demented craft project anyway. Art or craft? I was at one time insulted by this question, but at this point in life I really don’t care how my work is labeled anymore. All I ever wanted to do was make something beautiful. And I wanted crystals.
I bought the first crystals in Michaels... they have a good selection, but then, since I needed over 500 of them, I ordered them for a fraction of the cost from Fire Mountain. Warning: Fire Mountain has so many colors and sizes, do not go to their website unless you know exactly what you need!
To glue or to hot fix? I tried the glue for the first time-- easy to do, not as messy as you'd think. I used a pin to just apply a tiny dot of glue to each crystal... you can still pick off the crystals days later if you have a change of heart, leaving just a tiny bit of residue. But I still prefer hot fix-- just lay the crystals down and heat for about ten seconds. I'll let you know how many fell off of each method when the quilt returns!
WARNING-- it is really hard to know when to put that Bedazzler tool down-- apply one crystal in one place and you are then committed to doing two or three hundred in all those places! Use caution!
And the label… a beautiful machine embroidered one, of course!
I saw the words “wrought by” on an 1800s cross stitch sampler and they forever resonated with me… there was definitely some “wringing” here… it also reminds me of wrought iron and I did have a will of iron to finish the thing...
Some say the best judge of needlework is that back…
So after a year and half of work, “A New England Album” is now done, rolled up, and entrusted to UPS to take it to the Vermont Quilt show and who knows where else after that. I can't deny a ribbon at any of these would be a thrill, but I've learned that to be a very random occurrence and have probably already won more than my fair share. I sometimes wonder what the purpose was to pour all this love into 2000 square inches of fabric, into a quilt that is too stiff to provide any comfort or ever warm a loved ones shoulders… but I hope that it will still warm many hearts.
I am now sweeping up the dust in my sewing room, and enjoying not having a project for a while… knowing me, that won’t be for long!!