Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Beatles Quilt

My in-laws departed this morning, and although I am still decompressing from their visit (while trying to put my house back together and help my kid through junk-food withdrawal), I wanted to start sharing the birthday crafts. This was the biggie, in terms of money, time, planning, perseverance, and sheer determination.

Most of the front is one big piece I bought off of Ebay, after I could not find a satisfactory way to use the Beatles fabric I had on hand. I knew she would totally love, it, too, which was why I hovered in front of my computer one night a week before her birthday, anxiously awaiting the end of the auction and upping my bid to make sure I got it. In the end, with shipping, I think I paid about $27, which is three times what this stuff sold for originally, but that was two years ago and they didn't make more so what are you going to do?

It was already wide enough, but I added the black strips at the top and bottom to accommodate for the length of a three-year-old vs. the usual baby-quilt, doesn't-cover-the-whole-crib-mattress length. The back is part of a top sheet from a set of flannels that had seen better days. After conferring with my friend Amy, who hand-sews gorgeous quilts (the adorable baby one she made before Piper was born is still in rotation and gets regular use at our house), I decided not to put any batting between the layers. The flannel itself was fairly weighty and I wanted Piper to be able to use it in all seasons. Plus, it's been excruciatingly hot and humid here and the thought of trying to work on a heavier blanket, much less put it on my easily-overheated kid, made me want to scream.

The first thing I discovered when trying to trim up the top piece was that all of my scissors suck. Every last pair. I would've given both my pinky toes for a good-size mat and rotary cutter, but since I did not actually start work on the quilt until the day before her birthday and the thread, binding supplies, and a few other doodads had driven the project cost up past $50 I decided to just power through. I messed up a little, since I was hacking away, but hopefully it doesn't show.

The second thing I discovered is that my sewing machine hates me. It really, really hates me. At one point during this adventure, it completely stopped working and would only emit a loud, screech-like beep while flashing red lights. No amount of pleading, cursing, turning it off, or unplugging made it stop. I cured this by unplugging it, getting a screwdriver, and taking off the cover for the mechanical area where the needle is; the only problem was that once I'd replaced it and plugged the machine back in, it started randomly sewing by itself. It was seriously possessed, sitting immobile when I tried to use it but then whizzing away without me even touching it. I again unplugged it and unscrewed the cover, inspected everything, blew a little canned air around, and put it back on. It cooperated fine the rest of the night, much to my relief. 

The top and bottom got puckery when I sewed on the black strips, which is when my Google-Fu helped me discover that I am a dum-dum who was supposed to cut off the selvages. I could not bear to rip it all out (and by now it was 10 p.m.), so I just moved the fabric over 1/4" and sewed it again. Which is probably good, because I'm sure I'll have to wash it, not to mention my kid can be hard on her stuff, so at least I know at the top and bottom parts will stay put.

I pinned it all the way around the edges and just sewed "in the ditch" (is that the right term?), the seam between the black & blue parts, on both top & bottom. Then I went once all the way around in the purple border area. I called that good enough for now - eventually I will go back and hand-sew a few stitches here and there to keep things where they belong - and moved on to the binding.

Oh, the binding. I had never done binding before, and Googling it at 1:00 a.m. is not a path to perfection.  I had the perfect stuff for it; a jelly-roll rainbow of pre-cut 2.5" strips I bought at Wal-Mart of all places. They're the same pattern as the black top/bottom strips, actually, a subtly shaded graphic dealie that went nicely with the busy patterns of the panel. Anyway, I had to sew enough strips together to make a binding, and it took me a few tries to get the angles right. The more I did, the better I got, so by the last couple pieces I was confidently whizzing along.

Putting it on was something else altogether.  I had read what Heather Ross and Amy Karol had to say on the subject, and both advised hand-sewing it on the back, which was not an option. No time, no patience, no skill. I could've just sewed it inside-out, turned and top-stitched it thus eliminating the binding altogether, but I really wanted the look of the rainbow binding around the edge. The other directions I found, for a no-hand-sewing way, were not so great. I started out with poise and confidence, which quickly degenerated into me shoving fabric through my machine while swearing, sweating, and nearly crying at 2:30 a.m. I think I did cry, actually, because I could not figure out how to do the mitered corners without creating a big lumpy mess. My directions were totally inadequate; no amount of clipping and turning and shoving and smoothing could totally fix the problem, so I just did the best I could.

Somewhere around 3:00 in the morning, sweating in the super-humid Southern night, sitting at my possessed sewing machine, looking at my crooked stitching and lumpy corners, tears welling in my eyes, I felt like a total failure. Failure as a person (why could I not get it together and not only decide on but start this project months ago?), failure as a crafter (again: lumpy, crooked, puckery, NOT RIGHT), failure as a mother (what kind of mom would give this wreck to her kid? Who gives only handmade presents anyway?). My husband, who had also been up working on other projects, saw me sitting there dejected, and said:

"I know what you're doing. STOP IT. It's not as bad as you think, and she is going to love it. Now finish the damned thing so we can get to bed. Stop obsessing and just do it."

And he was right. No, it was not going to be picture-perfect, but it there was love in every one of those crooked stitches and lumpy corners. I realized that love had kept me going, even though I was running on 3 hours' sleep because I had also been up late the previous night working on presents. We had looked for other presents, we'd spent months poking around on line and taking torturous trips through the toy aisles of Target, Wal-Mart, Toys R' Us, and every other big-box store. We had looked in specialty toy stores and learning toy stores and every place we could think of. All that looking, and we could not find a single thing that was right for our funny, chatty, Beatle-obsessed kid. THIS was the right present, this and the other things we'd dreamed up. I loved her too much to give up and go get any old made-in-China-plastic-thing. I owed it to her to see it through, to give her these gifts I knew she would love. So I put my pedal to the metal and was done by 3:20 a.m. We set up her little pile of gifts near the fireplace, like we usually do, took a couple of pictures, and fell into bed.


Cristina Kollet said...

That quilt is awesome! I love it!

You did a great job and I bet she's going to treasure that.


Trish said...

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Now I know how woodstock feels)

Super Awesome quilt! Seriously wonderful.

Rae said...

You rock, mama!