The twelve times 12″ by 12″ July quilt turned out to a bit more of a challenge than expected, but alls well that ends well!
Now, July is the month of my birthday, so I thought I would make a self-indulgent design, an image of something that I really like and associate with July: a sort of Fiona’s Favourite, as it were. Like most (all?) quilters I have a huge list of quilts-I-want-to-make-someday, and one of those is the Barn Swallows quilt from Country Threads.
I love the design, and swallows (along with wild geese) are my favourite birds. In the summer I see them swooping low of the fields and streams as I bicycle to work. For me, the sounds of swifts calling in the air, is the sound of summer. So that was easy, but obviously I couldn’t make an entire quilt or even use the pattern and make a single 20″ Barn Swallow block for a 12″ series. So I fired up Electric Quilt (EQ7) and drew the block myself. It has a grid of 10 by 10 units.
It took a bit of playing about with the design to get a version than minimised the amount of piecing and set in corners.
But before long I had a block, scaled to 12″, that I liked. I experimented with colours: I wanted my swallows to be red and blue, on a pale yellow star with a light blue background (symbolic for the sun and the sky).
Then I decided to add a bit more variation by having half my swallows with bright red bodies, and half with deep red bodies. The block is made up of squares and rectangles (the corners, the edges and the centre), half square triangles (the swallows, and the star) and quarter square triangles (the star tips).
Because the individual blocks were a bespoke size (a grid of 10 with a 12″ finished size), and because I know that EQ7 rounds up or down for rotary cutting, I used the template option for maximum accuracy, and checked against the rotary cutting sizes for extra certainty (I mean checked that they were almost the same). I laid out my corners and blue triangle middle sections templates and measured everything. Yes, 12″ finished size.
Then I dived into my stash: I decided to make the entire quilt top from batiks (my something new this month), and soon had a selection that worked for me. Dark blue for the wings, two different reds for the bodies, a pale yellow and a pale blue and a punchy speckled red for the binding. I’ll explain the medium blue a bit further on.
So I cut everything out, checked all my triangles and squares etc. against the templates yet again and started piecing. Everything went fine until I sewed three HST units to a corner square: the corner square was too big. Then I sewed two HST to a QST to make a rectangle…that didn’t fit either: no matter what I did, I didn’t end up with a 1/4″ seam allowance at the point where the HST and the QST met at the apex of the triangle. Back to square one: I checked my measurements, I checked the file in EQ7, I checked my printer and my print-outs, I checked my templates, I checked my sewing machine, my needle and my scant 1/4″ seam and ultimately came to the conclusion that it wasn’t the corners and rectangles etc. that were too big, but all the HST units that were too small, even though I had cut them exactly according to the template, and the template was printed at 100%. I still don’t understand how this is possible, so I have I contacted EQ Customer Service with my problem, to see if we can track down where this went wrong. I’ll post the answer in a later blog. If someone else knows, I’d love to hear from you! This has rather shaken my faith in EQ7, but I am hoping that I have just missed a setting or something somewhere.
So, what to do? I decided that as all the pieces were cut, the size of the HST units would have to be leading, and that I would have to trim down the squares etc. to fit. This would mean that the whole block would come out at closer to 11″ than 12″ so a border would be necessary. That is where the medium blue batik comes in: it is the border colour. I hadn’t used a border in this series yet, so that was a bonus something new. So I got on with piecing.
In the photo of the pieced lower section, the fit problem is visible with the corner squares. It also shows that the HST are only slightly too small: the difference was about 1/8″ over three units.
Once I had decided what to do (and was finished with agonising about what went wrong), the block went together fast.
This was going to be okay after all!
Once all three units were sewed together, I trimmed the edges to 1/4″ past the points of the star.
Then I added a the blue border, a little wider than necessary so that I could trim everything to size after quilting.
I chose a non-batik fabric for the backing: a cream with little blue stars, it seemed appropriate for a red-white and blue July quilt!
Then I made up a quilt sandwich with Hobbs 80/20 cotton batting and basted everything together with thread. I didn’t use pins because the weave of the batiks is so dense, and I didn’t want to leave permanent holes. I use Gutermann basting thread: it is terrific, it comes away really easily, even if you have quilted over or through it.
I decided to quilt in the ditch around the star and along the border in pale blue, and around each swallow in blue and red to make them puff-up nicely. In the setting corner’s and triangles I quilted a sort of abstract wing/bird shape in pale blue, and in the centre I quilted a pale blue circle. Then I quilted a line of variegated red thread in the blue border for added interest. Because of the swirling patterns, it is difficult to see the quilting in the photo, but it is there!
Then I added a hanging sleeve to the back and the double fold binding in red speckled batik. After all the trauma, I really like the way this quilt turned out: dare I say it (and who hasn’t heard this before!), I think the added blue border is an improvement: it gives an extra pop of colour and ties the quilt together with the binding.
A quilt label on the back completed the quilt. You can see the quilting designs more clearly from the back, too.
Then I hung it on the Ackfeld Wire quilt hanger and put it in our entryway. It makes me smile each time I walk by. My July birthday swallows, captured in perpetual swirling motion under a blue sky and a summer sun.
Now, August is the month we bought our house, so house quilt, here I come!