As I told you in a previous post, my friendship quilting group, the “Daughters of the Valiant South” have been undertaking a precision piecing challenge. We started it last year and it was a challenge that had no leader and no teacher. We all knew how to piece but we all decided that we all could brush up our techniques.
Some more than others let me assure you. I don’t piece, I can’t piece. The blocks never came out the right size, even the simplest block would have me anxious and fearing that my patchworking ability, that some seamed to revere, was going to be shown to be untrue at best, self aggrandisement if I was lucky and completely false and a great lie at worst. I could applique but some people don’t distinguish between piecing and applique, its all patchwork. I would avoid piecing if it was at all possible. If it wasn’t possible, I would see if it could be done in foundation piecing where I knew that it would end up accurate and correct. The guild I was a member of, used to do quilts for special birthdays and if I heard that all were to contribute a block I would hit the CCU speed dial button on my mobile phone.
However, you can’t live under that sort of fear and stress. If I recall correctly I think it was me that suggested the challenge in part because I trusted the daughters not to be wicked if I stuffed up or couldn’t do it. They wouldn’t throw hail and brimstone at me, they might mock me but I’ve been mocked since the age of three and can give as good as I get, I have been known to clear a room – 5 middle aged women even with sewing machine needles and pinking shears wasn’t even a challenge!
We had several books that had collections of suitable blocks and we started simply with just four. We all brought our machines and we helped each other do the first few in one of our meetings. It was quickly brought to my attention that I was generous which I was very pleased to have been noticed! What was meant was that I sewed a generous quarter inch seam – it needed to be a scant quarter inch. I also ironed like my life depended on getting the wrinkles out of a linen shirt that had been out in the mid day sun and sat on by the maharajah’s elephant. I needed to learn how to press – up and down, no side to side movement which distorts.
A quick spritz with water and a follow up spritz with starch and I pressed the block again and despite the generous seams it was much closer to the 6 1/2 inch block it was supposed to be. I was ecstatic – I would have done a happy dance except that it would have confirmed their suspicious of me. I am a touch eccentric but my excuse is that I’m British and I’ve lived through some hideously hot summers.
From that moment on my piecing improved. Each week there was a new challenge, how to make flying geese, numerous half square triangles, combination units, stars. Somehow with help from the team and the occasional tutorial from YouTube I started to understand it all. Every meeting on the last Sunday of the month we would share what we’d done the previous month and get the next four or five blocks to be completed by the next meeting. I was several times so enthusiastic that after they had gone I would start the homework straight away. And I could – most of the time. Points remained points and weren’t cut off. The blocks were 6 1/2 inches square. Occasionally I had poor fabric choice and the lack of contrast didn’t bring out the best of the design and had to be repeated – almost always the second version was much better than the first and completed in half the time.
Today I finished the challenge. I have completed all the blocks we were planning to do. Well, not exactly. The last blocks were particularly hard which for the end of the challenge is appropriate but we were trying to put base 5 blocks into 6 inch blocks. You do that and you end up trying to cut 2.5/32ths of an inch – there aren’t the marks on the ruler for that – its guess work.
In keeping with the premise of the challenge I found 6 blocks that would challenge me and were similar to the blocks that were to the base 5 I wasn’t going to do without a nervous breakdown or measuring the thickness of the rotary blade which comes to the same thing in my book!
I was always keen to push myself and see if I really could do it. Well I could and today I sewed the last block.
Yesterday I had a really difficult block to make – in all the previous blocks I’d never used a template – I did in this one and it worked. Another first.
Today’s I really thought that this was the test – it had flying geese, half square triangles and a square (which was really a four patch) within a square. It went together so insanely easily.
I spent a while (read 1 1/2 hrs) arranging the completed blocks on the design wall until I was happy that I had an equal distribution of light and dark blocks and it was pleasing to the eye.
There are going to be dark red cornerstones and deep cream sashings but the design wall is too small to allow for that. Here’s a small section to show what it will look like spaced out:
I’m really happy with what I have achieved but recognise that making the quilt top is the easy part – you now have to piece it together and quilt it. That sorts the men from the boys or rather the quilters from the wannabes.
Tomorrow I will share with you what I have learnt from this challenge. Its something that is not just quilting related – some of it can be taken on into our lives! Quilting is like that – if you are really into it your life can be your quilting, but alternatively, quilting can be your life where what you learn in quilting can be taken into your life. I may be a hermit on Mt Buninyong but I learn, from my art, huge lessons.