Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Long range goals, and the making of a quilt.

Each square is 1" x 1" finished size
It started on a lark, the quilt I call Pegasus. My wife likes to cross-stitch and I like some of the patterns. I saw one of a knight riding a Pegasus and I liked the pattern. I'm a quilter. I like long projects. I'm also a novelist, and there are similarities between quilting and writing a novel. Both are big projects, and both require commitment.

A cross-stitch pattern, as you probably know, is made up of symbols on squares. Each symbol represents a color of floss (thick thread used in cross-stitch projects), and tells the person specifically which color floss to use.

Two pink squares, out of 7,544 total squares
I wanted to turn the pattern into a quilt. There aren't any directions for that sort of thing that I could find, so I had to wing it. I took the pattern to the local JoAnn's Fabric store along with a floss sample thingy (a highly technical term for a card that had little pieces of floss of every kind the manufacturer made) and went up and down the aisles of bolts of fabrics looking for shades and patterns for my quilt.
 The cross-stitch pattern had a lot of shades of gray, but I only used four or five in the quilt. After an hour or so in the fabric store, and having to use a shopping cart to carry all the bolts of cloth, I made my way to the cutting table. I'm used to getting strange looks in fabric stores, as I've explained elsewhere on this blog. They looked at me like I was nuts when I asked them to cut different sizes from each fabric. I don't think I told them what I was planning. Keeping them guessing was half the fun, and I didn't want to prove I was nuts by explaining my plan.
     The next step was cutting the fabric into squares 1.5" on a side. I needed the extra quarter inch around each square for seam allowances--that bit of fabric on either side of the seam (explaining for those who don't sew.) I used a rotary cutter, which is a device that looks like a pizza cutter but with a razor sharp blade that will cut through several layers of fabric at once. I cut thousands of squares, and held them together in little piles by running a strand of thread through the stack of squares, like stringing popcorn.
     I made a grid of 10 squares by 10 squares on a piece of paper and made a hundred photo copies. Using the pattern and having translated the symbols for floss colors to my own shorthand, I made my own pattern.
     It was finally time to start sewing the squares. I took my 10x10 square paper pattern and sewed squares to match. My big project became a series, a long series, of one hundred square blocks. Many of those blocks were 100 black squares, or black squares with a few gray squares, or...well, you get the idea. 
Variations of light make the quilt pop.
     When I finished enough 100 square blocks to make a row of the quilt top, I stitched the blocks together to make a row.
     You might be wondering by now how long the quilt took me to make. Three years is the answer. It was a pleasure watching the squares grow into rows and the rows start (slowly!) to reveal the larger pattern. I had started at the bottom, so over time I was able to see the long stretches of black squares become black squares with legs, then a massive white-gray-white-gray body, then the head build. I looked forward to the gold of the rider's armor. The quilt top became my quiet obsession.
The fabric in the armor looks like chain mail.
     Finally the top was done! I went back to JoAnn's and bought a dark batt--the innards of the quilt. Most quilt batts are white, but I was using dark fabrics, and didn't want the white of the quilt batt to shine through the dark fabrics. I couldn't find black fabric wide enough to make the quilt back from one piece, so I bought a couple of yards of magenta fabric and made a wide stripe of magenta down the middle of the black back.
   Then...how to quilt it? Quilting is what makes a quilt a quilt. It's the stitching, sometimes decorative, that holds the three layers together.
     I didn't want the quilting to be obvious. After all that work, I wanted the overall design to be the highlight of the project. I used black thread and stitched inside the seams on every square that made up the Pegasus's body, the wings, the knight, the lance, the head, etc. I quilted black X's across the black squares.
I'm pretty sure this quilt is a one of a kind. That's one of the many things I like about it. It's warm too, as you might guess. We use it sometimes.

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