The quiet, the memories and the quilting

I was a bachelorette this weekend, as ITMan took the girls to Girl Scout Camp (is he a great dad, or what? Good thing he likes that kind of stuff, because nobody will ever get me to do that camping thing ever again. “Roughing it” in my book is a hotel without room service and a spa!). I decided that I wouldn’t go check the mail on Friday to see if my thread was there, since I began to see light at the end of the 11-year-long tunnel that was the Dresden Plate Drama quilt. I started this quilt in 1996 (I might have said ’95 here before, but I really think ’96 now), so it’s long past time to see it finished!

This quilt carries many memories with it; not surprising considering it’s older than my youngest daughter. I spent a lot of time sifting through them as I finished it up. The pattern is from the May, 1994 issue of McCall’s Quilting, the first quilting magazine issue I ever bought, even before I was “a quilter.” I can’t lay my hands on it right at the moment, but I do still have that magazine. I know I have it somewhere, because there’s another quilt in it that I’ve always wanted to make, and besides that you all know I’m a confirmed packrat. The fabric is my absolute favorite fabric of all time, a Christmas print from VIP Fabrics. I had to have my mom search out more of it for me and ship it over, and I ended up with a total of 18 yards of the stuff, 13-14 of which went into this quilt in one place or another. (I still have the rest, wonder where it’ll end up?) This was the first block I made (you can see all these pics bigger if you click, but beware, they’re big files!):

Dresden Drama Block

This wonderful kaleidoscopic effect is just so stunning in this fabric. Every single plate in this quilt is slightly different. I cut a total of 364 (or was it 384?) petals the old fashioned way, by hand with a template. I took my first appliqué stitches on these plates, sad as they were! Too big, too far apart, using the wrong weight and color of thread, and a doubled thread no less, like you’d use to sew a button on! I’d no clue what I was doing! I called my friend Carla to complain about how badly the thread tangled up when I was trying to stitch, and how I couldn’t understand why it mattered if you threaded the needle onto the end of the thread as it came off the spool, since you doubled it anyway and then the twist of the thread would be going both directions. She laughed and told me what I was doing wrong, and got me on the right track.

I sat in the convention hall and appliquéd blocks, and people would stop and oooh and aaahh over my work…

I remember taking some of the blocks to Lyon, France with me when Dawn, Carla and I took a road trip to Quilt Expo that year. I sat in the convention hall and appliquéd blocks, and people would stop and oooh and aaahh over my work, and some even said I should teach a class at the next Expo. Little did they know I was flying by the seat of my pants, and had probably bitten off more than I could chew right then with the quilt at all. I must have looked like I knew what I was doing, anyway.

That was also the trip where I spent the last day of the Expo lying in the back of Carla’s van in the parking garage, miserable and sick as a dog. I could barely get out of bed at the hotel that morning, but I had to since we were checking out, going to the Expo for the day, then heading for home. I couldn’t figure what the problem was, I only knew there was no way I was leaving the van that day. I made it home okay, and then realized what was wrong the next day: it was morning sickness, and I was pregnant with DD#2!

I dabbled a bit here and there trying to keep going on the quilt, and I did eventually get the whole thing put together into a top at some point. I though that it was really the type of quilt that needed hand quilting and I don’t even think I knew how at that time, so it sat for a bit longer. Machine quilting it wasn’t an option then as I didn’t think my skills could do it justice, and I remember my friend and sometime student telling me “you just have to hand quilt it, it’s too beautiful to do by machine.” I even thought about sending it out to the Amish for quilting, but I couldn’t really afford it at the time. I finally basted it with batting and backing, and set to work on the hand quilting, hoping to finish it “someday.” Meanwhile, my machine quilting skills got better and better, and life and other projects kept getting in the way of the Dresden Plate quilt. I finally realized that I might die with it still undone at the rate it was moving along, so I ripped out all the hand quilting (not very much, if the truth be told), and started the machine quilting three or four years ago maybe.

Throughout all this, deciding on quilting designs was a major hurdle, right up to the end, really. I quilted the main motifs in Mettler cotton, but when I started on the small grids in the sashing, it didn’t look good, so I was stalled on the quilt again. Eventually I tried silk thread, and it was perfect! The last little decision I had to make was how to quilt the cornerstones, and I asked my friend Brenda what she thought. She said I should do a little tiny rosette like the one in the plate centers! “Little tiny rosette” indeed; the pattern was an inch and a half wide! Thank goodness for friends, and silk thread! Here’s a shot of some of the quilting I finally decided to do by machine:

Dresden Plate Drama back

So it became a matter of perseverance. Just keep going, and eventually, you’ll run out of unquilted spots! When I realized that I was pretty close to finishing this monster up I just kept quilting, through six or seven movies (long ones, too, like Gone with the Wind and Scarlett), spotty meals and late nights, until I put it in the washer on Sunday morning. I even had to remove some stippling and echo quilting that I’d put in there experimentally, that I decided I wasn’t really happy with (at the last quilt night at the Gussy Goose, Brenda and I debated long and hard over whether it really needed background quilting, like stipples or echoes, between the plates and the feathers; I finally decided that yeah, I could stipple it, but why??). Then I had to wash it twice, removing pencil marks that I’d put there when I was hand quilting it between the washes. But here it is, done at last:

Dresden Plate Drama finished

The irony of it all: I started this quilt because it just had to be made. It was a great pattern with a fabulous fabric, and I thought I’d see it on my bed one day. As it stands now, it’ll hang on the quilt rack in the living room; I don’t put quilts on the bed since the cats tear them up (not on purpose, their claws just get caught accidentally, and some of my quilts have holes and snags from it). Not only that, a month or so ago we bought a king size bed, so it wouldn’t fit anyway! I can’t give it away though, it’s full of too many memories of quilting good times and family and friends for that. That is what it’s all about, isn’t it? Maybe my youngest will love it enough that I can gift it to her as her wedding quilt. That might be appropriate, after all.