Pretty much everyone I know cooks at least a little bit, so potholders are an excellent all-around go-to gift. Hostess? Christmas? Birthday? Valentine's Day? (I kid you not, my mom mailed me a homemade heart-shaped potholder for Valentine's Day 2009.) Therefore, when I wanted to try a little quilting -- and by "little" I mean not larger than 6" x 6" -- I planned to make a smattering of potholders.
The only problem was, I don't know much about quilting, and the strip-block quilting I tried eight or nine years ago was not very successful. Public library to the rescue! A quick trip to the 746.46 shelf and I came home with Quilting 101, 501 quilt blocks : a treasury of patterns for patchwork & applique, The complete book of machine quilting, and a really charming video produced by the New England Quilters' Guild in 1987.
I don't know what methods are being taught in quilting classes today, and for the time being, I'm perfectly happy not knowing. The video was a great introduction to the basics: choosing fabric, drafting a template, marking and cutting fabric, piecing, quilting, and binding. I found myself taking notes and I ended up following the methods of marking and piecing shown in the video, rather than those outlined in the Quilting 101 book, when the two conflicted. For instance, the guild ladies recommended tracing a template without including a seam allowance, cutting with a rough seam allowance around the traced edges, and then, pinning and sewing the traced edges together. For a somewhat inaccurate sewer like me, that produced much better results than cutting with seam allowances included and trying to sew along a strict seam allowance. Being able to pin lines and corners together really helped me keep things lined up. They suggested another tip that I used, which was to paint the tips of cardboard templates with nail polish. It reinforces the cardboard so your points stay sharp. Shazam.
The other reason I loved the video, beyond all the practical advice, was that the ladies reminded me of all of my mom's friends, and my friends' moms, in the 1980's. Very nostalgic!
After getting an idea of how to start, I pulled some Christmas-y fabric from the stash and chose two star motifs from the book of quilt blocks. The first was called "Star of the West" (diagram):
Then I got busy with some cardboard, scissors, and the sewing machine! While I used the Quilting 101 book as a quick picture reference as to "what comes next", I really relied on Robbie Fanning's book, The Complete Book of Machine Quilting (first ed.), for detailed directions and photos.
This book is AWESOME. I'd flip through to look up something particular, such as basting, and realize half an hour later that I was still reading. The authors have a sense of humor (just read the section on "how (not) to machine quilt a sheet") and a trove of knowledge on how to manage all the little details. I kept discovering what I needed to know next, before I knew I needed to know it. So I ordered a copy for myself on Amazon for Christmas. :) (It's out of print, but there are some library copies out there.)
Here's just one example of how it helped me make a better potholder (click to read):
So. What did I end up making? Two potholders for my mom and two for my mother-in-law. If there had been more time I'd have made a few more for friends and for myself. Aside from a bit of trouble staying "in the ditch", I couldn't be happier with how they turned out. J helped with a bit of the sewing, when he felt like it.
So there you have it: four quilted potholders, immense gratification for a novice quilter, and two people who have no excuse for burning their hands on a hot pot!
Next up in the Christmas crafting recap: four five and a half yards of cotton duck, some PVC pipe, and a kick in the pants...