A couple of weekends ago, having just completed the pieced backing for a queen-size quilt and faced with the prospect of then basting said quilt, or maybe finishing marking and basting a twin-size quilt top, or perhaps marking and basting a throw-size quilt top (are you sensing a pattern here?), I took the easy way out: I pulled an even older UFO out of the closet and decided to work on it instead.
Back in 2004 or 2005, about a year or so after my husband and I had moved to Colorado, I decided to bust some stash and make a Centennial State-inspired delectable mountains quilt for our queen bed. I pulled a bunch of blue, green, red, orange, gold and ivory fabrics from my collection, with only a couple of tan or brown prints, and started to pair them up for the blocks.
My original intent was to make blocks that would gradate in value from the top of the quilt to the bottom, similar to how, when looking at the Rocky Mountains at sunset, the foothills are darkest while the highest peaks further away are much lighter, with the sky appearing golden at the very top. The concept isn’t a bad one, but it wasn’t an easy one to accomplish shopping only from my limited stash.
I used a quick-piecing method I learned from a book to make the blocks, very similar to the technique Lori Baker described in a different blog post. I finished 36 blocks, made pairs of half-square triangle units for approximately another 15 blocks, and still had a few more sets of squares cut and ready to be stitched for the bottom rows before I ran out of steam.
I’m trying to remember why I stopped when I did. It wasn’t simply a matter of being bored, although that was part of it. The design I had imagined (but didn’t sketch out in any way) wasn’t working as well in real life.
I asked an artist friend for her input, and she said she thought the greens were popping more than everything else and could maybe be tempered somehow. (I’ve since learned that green always pops out to her and is one of her least favorite colors in an arrangement, but I didn’t know that at the time.)
I also realized that despite my plan to represent the colors of the natural Colorado views I was seeing everywhere, I really didn’t have any brown neutrals except for a dark brown calico and an unbleached muslin with a music motif printed in gold metallic. Obviously I didn’t have much to choose from in my stash.
So I halted production until I could get ahold of some more browns, breaking my original self-imposed rule to only use what I already had for the blocks.
I had laid out my blocks, units and patches on a flat bed sheet that was functioning as a horizontal design wall and that could be rolled up and stored while maintaining my arrangement. See, if I still had everything laid out, then it wasn’t really a UFO, it was still a Work In Progress, right?
When my husband and I moved, that rolled-up sheet came with us and got put away. It made it through a number of reorganizations of my fabric storage over the years. Each time I thought to myself that I didn’t want to interfere with the work I had already done, so I would find a spot for the rolled-and-now-also-folded-over portable design wall. And there it would sit.
In the meantime, as often happens with quilters, my tastes changed and I lost all interest in making a delectable mountains bed quilt.
I began to think that maybe I would cut my losses, make a large throw with what I’d already sewn and donate the quilt to a charity. In a recent fabric reorganization, I accepted the fact that I was not going to make the quilt I’d set out to make, so I unrolled the sheet, put the unsewn squares into a scrap bin, and stacked up the blocks and half-square triangle units and put them into a plastic bag.
I had officially broken up with my UFO. The relationship had been a dead shark for too long and it was time to let go of the promise it once held.
When I pulled the now-creased blocks and units out of my closet a couple of weeks ago as a way to keep sewing without having to baste first, I did so still thinking I was going to be making a donation quilt.
I arranged what I had on the bed in the approximate layout I originally planned. It was OK. But it still didn’t thrill me.
I decided to play with the arrangement. I tried a completely random layout, interspersing blocks of different values somewhat evenly.
I liked it. I liked how the scrappiness kept the eye moving, and how each block stood on its own and represented a different mountain view. The Rocky Mountains remind me of Monet’s haystacks — their size and shape never change (at least from my vantage point a few miles away) and yet they never look the same from one day to the next, even one hour to the next, because of the changing seasons and light conditions. They’re a pretty magical thing to have in your backyard.
I tried a couple of other layouts, such as placing the lightest blocks in the center and gradating to the darker blocks at the edges.
I took a look at it from the opposite direction to see what secondary patterns, if any, might emerge.
I was intrigued by the secondary patterns that are possible with a delectable mountains quilt. So I tried a layout of flipping the orientation of alternate rows to see what could happen.
Because I don’t know when I’ll make a delectable mountains quilt again, if ever, I decided to go with this approach, of alternating the direction of the blocks and arranging them to bring out secondary — and even tertiary — patterns.
Even though it still may not be The Perfect Expression of a Delectable Mountains Quilt Design, I like its planned scrappy look well enough to keep it this way.
During the process of sewing and arranging over the course of about a week, I realized that I couldn’t donate this quilt. Too many of the fabrics I’d used now hold enormous sentimental value for me a decade (or even two) after I’d bought them.
For instance, that brown calico is one of the very first fabrics I bought when I made the decision to make a sampler quilt while working my way through Quilts! Quilts!! Quilts!!! by Diana McClun and Laura Nownes. I spent a loooonng time with that particular print.
Similarly, the navy blue-and-rust leaf print, ivory tone-on-tone leaf print, gold tone-on-tone floral, navy blue tone-on-tone floral, and a couple of the rust prints were all fabrics I used in a hand-appliqued and -quilted small throw. Again, I spent a lot of time with those fabrics, and the quilt they went into holds a special place in my heart now (I’ll write about it in more detail in a later blog post).
Some of the other fabrics, such as my perennial favorite map of Paris print from Moda’s Paris Flea Market collection and the music prints, I just like because of what they represent in my life.
So instead of donating this quilt, I decided to make it a large throw for our downstairs TV room/man cave. Without borders it measures 60″ x 67.5″, which is a nice size for a throw. Well, mathematically it should measure 60″ x 67.5″. In reality it’s … let’s just say it’s not 60″ x 67.5″.
One of the things that might happen when you reconnect with an ex, I mean, a UFO, is that mixed in with the nostalgia and affection for the good times you had there’s usually a reminder (or two, or more) of why you broke up in the first place.
Deciding to finish this quilt meant deciding to accept the choices Mary Kate of 11 years ago made and not try to fix them. For instance, for some reason I thought it was important to match thread colors to my fabrics whenever possible, regardless of weight, quality or fiber content. Which means I have a good amount of mid-quality cotton-poly thread in this quilt.
Also, I apparently didn’t understand thread tension very well, or maybe it was my pressing, because there are a number of seams that look like this.
Granted, 1) that seam was stitched on the bias, 2) the green check fabric is yarn-dyed and of a looser weave than the quilting cottons, and 3) I did not understand how helpful starch is back then, but still. That is not great.
As I said, I decided not to reprimand myself for how I sewed 11 years ago. I just decided to meet myself in the middle as it were and do the best job possible.
I didn’t use any starch, but I pressed and re-pressed the blocks so the seams would interlock when put together in rows; I used only 50-weight, neutral cotton threads; and instead of focusing on aligning raw edges, I focused on making my seams line up as much as possible. With so many seam intersections, it meant I had to take my time stitching the rows together, but the end result is worth it.
All that’s left now is to add some narrow borders — in a lovely dark brown pulled from my current stash — for stability, and then this quilt top will again become a UFO. With the weather warming up we won’t need it for the man cave anytime soon, and I really do want to get around to quilting the tops mentioned earlier. Come the fall, though, I know this project will be waiting for me and I’ll enjoy the reunion.
Because with exes and UFOs, even if the romance will never be there again, after all these years it’s nice to know you can still be friends.
As I mentioned above, I found Quilts! Quilts!! Quilts!!! by Diana McClun and Laura Nownes to be an invaluable resource when I was a beginning quilter, and I still value having it in my personal library. We included the Third Edition in our QN Select: Editors’ Choice Kit along with other basics we know will make your sewing life easier, such as high-quality neutral cotton threads from Aurifil, glass-head pins, and a 12.5″ square ruler.
I would have saved a lot of time and energy with my delectable mountains blocks 11 years ago if I wasn’t trying to match thread colors and then fighting with tension issues because of using different weights and fibers. Had I known to just stick with neutral 50-weight cotton threads for my piecing, I probably would have gotten a lot further. I also know that if I’d had a 12.5″ square ruler back then, cutting my units would have gone faster and easier. Did I get by without those things? Yes. Would my work have been better (and a lot less frustrating) if I’d had them? Absolutely.
That’s why we included what we did in our Editors’ Choice Kit. Our collective experience has shown us what we consider to be the quilting basics that make sewing easier, more technically accurate and much more satisfying, and we know you’ll think so too. Click here to learn more about the QN Select: Editors’ Choice Kit, available from Quilt and Sew Shop.
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