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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tractor Cozies, Dental Aprons, True Blue Swoons, and the Big Five-Oh

….it ain't heavy; it's my brother's birthday quilt.  Well, actually, it IS heavy.

Some few weeks ago, I consulted via email with my most senior brother, Hercules "TVC15" Reflux, about what kind of quilt someone might want, if someone were to be turning 50 soon, and happened to know someone else who was in the quilt-making business.  This is the brother, by the way, who introduced me to "Space Oddity" and also to the loud, stupid joys of punk, in its heyday; who, the night before I precipitously went to work in Alaska all summer when I was 19, asked no questions about my incredibly poor planning, but trotted me right out to SportMart to buy me a tent.  And who came with me to Alaska the following year.  Who decreed that I should wear a shirt bearing the legend "Jail Bait" when partying with his rugby team when he was in college despite the fact he wasn't letting me talk to any of them anyway; and who is always up for a long bike-ride, for helping to move your heavy furniture, or for acting as an excellent, canny straight man in the continual comedy routine that is my siblings' dynamic.  He's smart, he's funny, he's got a heart o gold and is genuine, salt-of-the-earth good people.  I mean, he's my big brother.  I LOVE the guy.

Anyway, to the question of quilt preferences, Herc responded, in his inimitable way:

You were right to come to me with this. I am not a quilt expert, but I have been a great admirer of quilts from a young age. I don't know about there in the big city, but we country folk like our marriages, our values, and our quilts Traditional. Heavy. Muted colors...cream and blue, perhaps. Large. (We're big here in the country. Plus, you never know when you might have to cover your John Deere.)

Later instructions included the fact that a quilt should further be "heavy.  Like lead.  Like the lead aprons they wrap around you at the dentist when you get x-rays."  With this in mind, I set about finding a nice Traditional pattern that would take well to blues and cream, and also began a search for the heaviest batting I could muster up.  The result was this Swoon quilt:

….or at least, this is an "in process" shot, not quite the final result.  
Hm. You'll kind of have to use your imagination on that, since that picture is from before I basted the layers and quilted it.  Here it is after the first pass through of quilting, though you can only see a bit of it in this crap lighting which was supposed to highlight the quilting lines:

That sorta worked, I guess.
Well, in truth, this sucker was so big I never DID get a satisfactory picture of the whole thing.  I have lots of attempts, and they are all such tragically horrible photos I won't even bother (I REALLY need to figure out this photographing-your-quilts conundrum.)  I did manage some closer-ups of some of the individual blocks that are acceptable:

My favorite, I think, because the blues graduate dark to light, inside to outside of the star.

On this one, I was pleased I got the purple pattern all going in the same direction.

Demonstrating the different look of a dark middle vs a light middle.

A word about the Swoon - this is not, strictly speaking, a traditional pattern.  It was released a few years back by Camille Roskelley, who is a well-known pattern and fabric designer in the blogosphere (she and her mom are Bonnie and Camille, and design for Moda.)  But these central star block patterns are old and thick on the ground, and Swoon is very similar to a traditional pattern called a Carpenter's Wheel;  and also similar to one called a Dutch Rose; and to one that is sometimes called a Star of Bethlehem (though I have seen that particular name applied to a bunch of different patterns, including that Lone Star pattern I made for my buddy L in Texas. )  But I felt like Swoon captured the sentiment of the older patterns, while not requiring me to do any nasty Y-seams that I have not mastered yet; and Swoon also has the benefit of being designed as a HUUUGE block, 24" each, which aided my effort to make a giant heavy quilt (the original pattern is 3 x 3 swoons, but I did 3 x 4, so the John Deere's tires wouldn't get cold).  I also felt that Hercules is a benevolent and forgiving soul, and he would be okay with me adhering to the spirit, if not the letter, of his advice.

So I had the blue (with bits of green and purple to give it a little zing) and the mostly traditional part down, and was on my way to making it huge…what about heavy?  Dental-lead-apron-heavy was not something I had encountered in my previous quilts.  I did end up using a sort of heavy unbleached muslin for the cream parts of the quilt, which helped.  And it occurred to me that I might want to make this one more lofty than my other quilts - loft is ALSO not "traditional" for the look of a quilt, but there is something so down-home and cozy about a big lofty quilt.  What I ended up doing, then, was doubling up with two battings:  one lofty wool batt and one thinner, but more drape-y, and therefore heavy feeling, cotton-bamboo blend.  This did make for a MONSTER of a quilt, given that it was already damn close to queen-size anyway.

Achieving maximum monster fluff factor
For the quilting on this behemoth, I had high hopes, I really did.  I have been practicing on my Plus Quilt and my FMQ is still horrid but at least I have a notion of what I'm doing now, and I was all set with matching thread that could just hide my mistakes right into the background…..but this guy was SO humongous that I genuinely had trouble stuffing it into my machine to get to the middle swoons, or maneuver even the edges around because it was literally hurting my shoulders to do it.  This. Quilt. Is. BIG.  This quilt is the REASON long-arm quilting was invented.

I ended up doing straight-line quilting around, not the whole of the Swoon, but just the inside star plus the "wings" that in most blocks were the same color as the star.  This came to me as I was doodling at work one day, when I realized that drawing a double line around these components created a pretty cool continuous line pattern, not unlike some old Celtic stuff I drew with tiresome repetition back in my college days.  Here was what I thought I might be able to do:
HAHAHAHA Ahem.  75% of this ended up not happening.

This is what the star double-outline looked like on the front….

And this is what it looked like on the back.   Those little floral looking deals were my sole attempt at FMQ on this. And you can make out the blue binding in this picture, a bit darker than the other blues.
I hadn't seen this snowflakey looking thing on any of the, oh, half a billion Swoon quilts out there in the blogosphere (go ahead, Google "swoon quilt."   I'll wait.  ::whistles impatiently::  See what I mean?)  So I was pleased to  have contributed a little to the quilty lexicon, and decided against mucking it up with bad FMQ….apart from those little floral motifs, which were plenty to convince me not to try more, and which motif I stole from Harriet Hargrave's venerable Heirloom Machine Quilting, a bible my sis Lulu Fishpaw Reflux bought for me last Christmas, over which I have been drooling ever since.

The back was a funky tie-dyed blue, the above taupe, which was a nice sheeting material with a  lovely drape, and a vibrant faux-batik called "Jakarta" that I quite liked, and added a little red to the proceedings (a very traditional color combo, red and blue; but since Herc was a Marine back in the day, let us call this a patriotic homage -  Semper Fi!) :
The back, pre-quilting

That taupe is picked up in the outline of the flowers, though not quite visible here.
But the point of all this, was, of course, in celebration of Hercules Reflux's mighty 50th birthday, a milestone he has reached not without some toil and heartache on his part.  If you know my brother, you know he has an encyclopedic mind for, not just history, about which he is always thoughtful and appropriately skeptical, but about our family's past as well, such that we all consult him on particular dates for vacations or illnesses or other landmark events.  And he has a sense of mission, professionally, that has him always seeking out someone to help; and a deep and uncompromising loyalty to friends and family that make him the truest and bluest of the true blue.  He always has a song near his lips, his heart on his sleeve, and, when his wife and two rambunctious daughters are not otherwise occupying him, his nose in a book.  He's a gentleman and a scholar and when shit gets real, he's got your back like no one else I know.  I'm lucky to be related to him, and I'm proud to call him my friend, and I trust him implicitly.  If he wants to use this quilt to cover up a tractor, that's entirely okay by me, because I'm pretty sure he has a good reason for it.  Though, in fact, he doesn't own a tractor - which probably just means he's worried that someone ELSE'S tractor might get cold.  That's just the kind of stand-up guy he is.

Love you, brother, and happy birthday from the big city!  And, er, if you get a decent picture of this quilt once you receive it, send it my way, for the archives.

Hercules, Astrid, and Ratsy Reflux - three of five sibles.



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