Love Letters to Friends, As Well As Very Important Musings on Earth Shattering Matters:
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Thursday, October 23, 2014

An Arkansas Traveler, Stem Stitches, and the Magic of Paper

….being a wee wedding quilt for an old college chum, with some forays into paper-piecing and label-making.

I know I can be a bit scattered when it comes to spacing out on Important Things Happening Around Me, but somehow, my friend Jeannie got married this fall and I was caught unawares.  Curses, people!  Don't you know that my ability to provide you with a decent crafty Major Life Event present relies on some lead time?

Jeannie was one of the first people I met, in the dorms down at our Alma - she and her roomie Mo were two of the nicest, most pleasant, funniest, and clever people I met in my whole time at school, and fortunately for me, I met them on like the first week I arrived, surly, suspicious, and pretty sure I was smarter than everyone.  I was wrong.  But they let me down gently.  Since then, I have marveled at Jeannie's exploits in sprint tris, Francophonie, real estate moguling, and motherhood; enjoyed the hell out of our annual christmas cookie baking night; wondered how she fricking gets up at 4:00 in the morning every day (for her "me" time.  Yeah, I get "me" time too - it's called unconsciousness, and it ALSO happens at 4:00 in the morning.)  Despite knowing her for 20+ years (!!!), I only just realized that Jeannie is also a singer….and she only just realized that her husband plays guitar, so now I intend to agitate for the Weston One Glee Club, and/or a monthly karaoke night, to happen.  I have also, embarrassingly, gotten into fights with her dad on Facebook, who happens to be on the far end of the political spectrum from me.  Because Jeanne is so fabulous, she forgave me, even for that.

Fortunately, I had already been thinking about something quilty for Jeanne - she's been on my Quilts of Gratitude List, for being one of my emergency employers during a particularly bleak period a few years back (I have many people to thank for coming to my aid then.)  And my sole guiding principle for this one was a comment she made on Facebook when I posted about someone else's quilt, in which she indicated that she'd want something purple.  Purple! Got it.  I can work with purple.  For any a youse who comment on my quilts, pay heed:  I'm taking notes.
Purple it is.  Front, and...

Arkansas Traveler sketch and some purples
As it turned out, though, I did have a hard time settling on a pattern - I would have attempted something grandiose like a Double Wedding Ring, a traditional pattern dating to the 20s, but that seemed a bit out of reach at the moment…and I did want to get something to the happy couple at least in the same SEASON as the wedding (though Miss Manners informs us that you actually have one year to come up with a wedding present, which is good to know, and a tidbit I've definitely taken advantage of over the years; the problem being that if left until after a wedding, I'm liable to forget what I was supposed to be doing, and then I don't do anything at all. Rude!)

After much hemming and hawing, and a few scrapped samples of other patterns, I settled on an Arkansas Traveler, a pattern probably dating from the late 1800s (and also the name of a folk/bluegrass song from the turn of the century).  The layout and also the quilting were inspired by Faith at Fresh Lemon's Arkansas Traveler quilt, which was also a wedding present (though hers was bigger - mine is just a lap size, approx 60 x 80).

The pattern and the paper-piecing template I used was from Lee at Freshly Pieced's Summer Sampler Series 2011, which meant this was my first completed quilt using paper-piecing.  Bully for me!  I found the process to be interesting but slow; eventually I was comfortable enough with it to do more assembly-line-style piecing, and that sped things up considerably.  The deal with paper piecing is that you have a paper block with the lines of the pattern printed on it, and then you sew the fabric along the lines, right to the back of the paper, in a particular order so they overlap correctly.  The bonus is that the piecing looks preternaturally sharp and precise, which is helpful when you tend to be a bit haphazard as I do.   However, the instructions for paper-piecing invariable require some mental gymnastics that insure that the more tired you are, the more mistakes you will make; example as follows:
Tape a diamond, fabric right-side out, to the back of a page that has the pattern on the other side.

Putting right-sides of fabric together, sew a background piece big enough to cover the lines of the pattern on the other side.

End up with a big pile of papered-squares that have to be sewn into sets of two, and then four.
Voila! one block. Clear as mud!

The bummer is that you have to unpeel a pile of paper off of your fabric squares when they are done, resulting in a pile next to your couch that looks like this:

The debris.

And in this particular pattern, combining those four squares into one block also meant that there was a center seam where 8 folded seams meet, which creates a noticeable bump in your proceedings: if I were more clever with patterns, I'd figure out a way to make this less of a thing, but I'm afraid that's not in my bailiwick.  Yet.
Do you notice it?

Somewhere in the middle of all of this, I realized that my iron was making iron IMPRINTS on the fabric I was trying to smooth out.  I mean!  Define "irony", am I right?

Really, iron?   Really?

All that aside, I thought this pattern was fun to make, and perfect for Jeanne and Sean, who are a classic contemporary kind of couple. For the back I went with solid bars across of various grays and purple-grays and purples, with one sweet vintage-esque floral that seemed to tie the whole shebang together.  Naturally, I was about 3 inches short with the widths of the fabric I selected, so I added to sashings across the flowered fabric to highlight them a little, and give me the distance I needed.

Before quilting.  This looks extra purply because of the flash.
And then the quilting is mostly just straight lines across, with the diamonds outlined.  The horizontals are spaced approximately at half-inch intervals - I say approximately because despite my best effort, I veered off course a few times and had to make up some big gappy spaces with skinnier in-betweeners.  Overall, it looks fairly uniform, which is once again testament to the power of your eye to fool your brain.
Ha! fooled ya!

Ignore the stray string all over everything. I do.
 The background was Kona Lilac, I believe - I had also auditioned Amethyst, which I used in one of the strips on the back, but it was TOO purple for the overall quilt, quite overwhelmingly so, and made me think of this house.  Here's a shot of the Lilac in the sunshine, in an attempt to get a real color out of my craptastical camera:
Lilac in the sunshine
The diamonds had little organizational principle happening here - I tried to keep the darker diamonds to the "outside" of each square, so the darker diamonds tend to touch, which lends a kind of sparkling, scrappy look to the whole affair.  And then this here is a totally gratuitous shot of it folded just so and draped over my rocking chair, just because:

Rock on.

 New to me, and to any of my quilts, I actually labeled this one for Jeannie and her new hubby Sean  (I did think about adding Jeanne's daughter's name to this too, somewhere, but screw it - this is a wedding quilt, and if the three of them want a Happy Family quilt down the road, I'll make them one.)  I've never embroidered a stitch, but Pinterest as usual came to my rescue by identifying a great little tutorial on the stem stitch, which is helpful for just outlines and lettering and such.  And this, my first embroidered label:

Aw.  Congrats, you crazy kids.

So many felicitations to you, Jeannie and Sean!  It's a pleasure and an honor to know you both, and I am delighted that you found each other.  Can't wait for cookie night.  Mazel tov!




  1. Beautiful quilt and story behind it. We love you and this quilt!

  2. aw, glad to hear it, Jeannie. Long may you snuggle!

  3. Awwwww! That's a great story :)