Friday, September 25, 2009

Grandma's Quilt, Part 1

I come from a long line of 'makers'. The women in my family have all had very special talents, whether is was sewing, quilting, crocheting, or painting. So I guess I come by my drive to create and make naturally. I am never without inspiration, but these days the time to act on that inspiration is few and far between. I think that's why it's fitting right now to apply my limited project time to something that honors my own history. Specifically, my grandma's quilt.

My maternal grandma is by far the grandmother I have known the best. And at 94, she continues to amaze us with her wit and sense of humor. Unfortunately, time had not been as kind to her hands and she had long ago been forced to put away her embroidery needle and floss. However, she had one project that she was unable to finish. A quilt comprised of embroidered blocks that each feature one of the 50 U.S. states. She had thought it was a shame no one in the family quilted, so this project was slated to be donated to her Church group for finishing. Many years ago I had told her that I would be interested in learning how to quilt so that I could help with the project. It's taken some time, but my mom and I have decided to finish the quilt for her for Christmas. We thought she would enjoy seeing it all put together and we hope that it can serve as some decoration in her new home, a lovely private board and care home run by the most wonderful people that may have ever walked this Earth.

In the last couple of weeks, my mom and I got out the quilt materials and took a look at what was there and what work was needed. My grandma had everything together, the pattern, the quilt blocks and the material she had picked out for the front borders and the back. It was so much fun to open up the pattern and see all of her notes.

Grandma's Quilt

The pattern envelope

You can tell from the recycled return address label that she had mailed away for the pattern. And from there, she used the pattern envelope to complete her yardage calculations. We looked all over for a date or something to age the start of this project. We know at least that she received the pattern while she was still living in her home in Salt Lake City...her home that I grew up visiting as a child.

Grandma's Quilt

Quilt layout and embroidery transfer

The quilt pattern itself is slated to be a queen size quilt of significant size to not only contain all fifty state blocks, but also a rather large embroidered map of the U.S. right in the middle. Each state block contains the embroidered state as well as its state flower, state bird, the year it entered the Union and the order it joined. Fortunately for my mom and I, she completed all of the embroidery work (save a couple unfinished numbers or unknotted state capitals here and there).

Grandma's Quilt

Finished block
PS the rooster is intentionally gray in honor of the revolutionary soldiers

It has also been very interesting to finish someone else's project and to decipher what she did compared to the pattern requirements. The first thing we noticed was that the blocks she embroidered are not the size called for in the pattern. She had arranged them to use as little fabric as possible and thus was planning for a somewhat smaller quilt. Since she really isn't in a position at this point to tell us why, it has been fun to guess. Was this a stash project and she was trying to only use the fabric she had on hand? Was she a conservationist and hated any potential fabric waste? Did she read the dimensions wrong? What I do know from reading all of your blogs all these years and from my own experience, there was surely a reason.

I'm currently leaning on the stash theory as there is one panel of blocks with a clearly different shade of backing fabric. I had originally thought it might have been due to age, but that panel is consistently the same color, rather than only on the top or some other gradient to account for exposure.

Grandma's Quilt

Sample of finished blocks

Now this isn't exactly a pattern I, or my mom for that matter, would normally pick out for ourselves. Its very 'intense' but sparse at the same time (because of the large white blocks and the large central US map). And frankly, it is rather huge. This kind of quilt also walks a fine line in the patriotic department. We ultimately decided that we didn't really need to follow the pattern to the t. Rather, I drew out a new layout of 60 blocks for the front, 50 states and 10 patterned blocks of fabric, and we decided to move the large US map to the back and piece it with the backing fabric. Finally, we also decided that the red fabric she had picked out for the front borders could use a little updating. So, with some sketchy yardage requirements and pattern notes, my mom and I headed for the fabric shop.

Next time: the new fabric and cutting 50 blocks.


Anonymous said...

that is going to be one wonderful present for your Grandmother! Sounds like she put a lot of work into it. Can't wait to see the next installment

Ichun said...

The embroidery is exquisite. Can't wait to see how this turns out.

Anonymous said...

Yay- this is so awesome!