Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Cheatin' Art of Patchwork Blankets

To make a patchwork quilt seems, on the surface, to be the Most Homesteady Thing a body could do. However, there are a number of drawbacks. The art of quilting is one I have yet to master and there ain't no Quilting Bee on the mean streets of Harrogate. The cost of quilting thread, wadding and all the beautiful fat quarters I hanker after is not to be underestimated. Time (I'm supposed to be a housewife) and space (I have no sewing room) are also things to consider. Surely there was some way to create a Mumtopian patchwork quilt with no space, time or money?

Readers, I cheated. What you see in progress in this post is a patchwork blanket, not a quilt. It does a similar job, makes use of similar skills, but requires less time and fabric and won't make you eligible for a Mary Jane's Farm Sisterhood merit badge. Progress is fairly rapid and scrap materials can be used. For my patchwork blanket, I used a mixture of fat quarters I had been holding onto, wondering what project could possibly be worthy of their presence, material from my stash (leftover from making the apron, for example), and old clothes. 

Each piece of fabric was cut into 8" squares with pinking shears, and a half-inch seam allowance was used throughout the project. Although the recommendation is that you use all the same type of fabric (e.g. all cottons or all polycottons), I figured that I had broken one rule, I might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. As a result, you can find denim, sweater material, gingham, shirt fronts, duvet covers, and the dreaded stretch jersey on the first patchwork blanket I made. 

This, coupled with the fact that I appear not to be able to cut straight or draw straight round a square template, meant that the results were mixed. Many squares did not line up accurately. Squares were sewn together in horizontal strips of 13, randomly, with a vague colour scheme of green, red, blue, pink and white. I then layed the strips across my bed, resting them on top of the red fleece blanket I had bought for this project. 

Once I had enough strips to cover the blanket, I arranged them in order so that no two similar patches were touching, labelling each row with a letter. This is a time-consuming and high risk strategy and one I avoided when I made a blanket for Prima. Second time around, I had a colour scheme of only red, white and blue, and alternated patches accordingly, as I built up the strips. 

I stuck to a budget of around £17, which could have been reduced if I had bought a cheaper fleece blanket and fewer nice fat quarters. Little personal touches I have incorporated include: 
* making squares out of the children's outgrown school uniform, complete with school badge
* using old jeans to make squares and leaving the back pockets on - good place to store a handkerchief!
* making squares from shirts and keeping the breast pocket on - good place to hide love-notes/ notes to the tooth fairy! 
* using fabric which has been given as a present (thank you, Dolly!) or reminds you of someone or some place

You can see Prima's blanket to the left; the strips have been sewn together and I am in the middle of pinning them to a cream-coloured fleece blanket (I plan to trim the fringe off). The next step, after sewing the patchwork sheet to the fleece blanket, is to edge it all with bias binding. I made a real mess of that first time round - I usually get impatient at the end of a project, and this one took about 50 hours. That's a lot of Electric Light Orchestra greatest hits.

Other things I learned in the Cheatin' Art of patchworking a blanket are: 
* try not to forget half-way through whether you are doing a half-inch or quarter-inch seam allowance. 
* avoid fabrics which have any stretch in them
* so far, I have got away with using normal thread, not quilting thread
* it doesn't matter what colour thread you use when sewing the patch squares together - no-one can see it, so this is a good place to use up your weird colours
* make sure your square template is actually a square, by measuring the diagonal
* stick to no more than three colours
* home-made bias binding is quite awkward
* you don't have to actually quilt the finished item
* you can make patchwork squares out of scraps sewn together if you are running low on fabric
* if you are going to appliqué hearts ribbons etc on, or sew on buttons or other decorations, do that before you sew the squares together...

The final result made its way onto our bed a week ago. The King says it is the best thing I have ever made! All I can see are the errors...but at least they are MY errors! I'm learning from my mistakes and the cheatin' art of patchworking continues with blankets for Prima and Secundus! 
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