My daughter was thrilled to sew a baby quilt with Aunt Rose during her Thanksgiving vacation. It would be her first quilt — an Ohio Star pattern. “Bring one yard each of two high-contrast colors,” Rose said over the phone, “like blue and white or blue and yellow. Small prints often work best; they almost seem like solids. It’s okay if there are small amounts of other colors in the print as long as the overall effect, especially from a distance, is of one color. She will also need to bring two yards of some compatible print for a backing and a yard and a half of batting. All fabrics should be 100 percent cotton.”
The quilting day came, and my daughter spent the afternoon piecing and quilting under Aunt Rose’s loving eye. By dinner, she had a pretty green-and-yellow baby quilt. That was enough to give my daughter — and her mother — the quilting bug. When Christmas morning arrived, a brand new Riccar sewing machine was left under the tree, “To Eve, with love, Santa.” The winter hobby in the Kelly household was to be quilting.
I called Rose after the holidays to pick her brain further about quilting. “My motivation to learn quilting was to do something beautiful that didn’t get immediately undone, like my housework,” she explained. “I started by taking a sampler quilt class at the local sewing store, which included both hand appliqué and machine patchwork. ‘Irish chain,’ ‘nine patch,’ ‘Jacob’s ladder,’ ‘Ohio’ or ‘colonial star’ — all are good beginner patterns. My favorite quilt designs are the Whig Rose (an appliqué), and Castle Wall (a patchwork). When it comes to quilt patterns, it is sometimes neat to look for meaningful block names. If the name sounds interesting, the pattern probably will be.”
What about preferred quilting supplies?
“My strongest views are on batting,” Rose answered. “I use Warm and Natural. It’s flat, very easy to work with, and feels great made up. Other batting that’s very puffy is a pain to work with and often pills through. I mostly stick to cotton fabrics, preferably not super cheap, as it can fall apart or pill. I don’t mind a cotton-poly blend for patchwork — it can be more lasting — but for appliqué, it is harder to work with.”
And for the cutting utensils, “I prefer a nonmetal Ginger scissor; Fiskar or Olfa rotary cutters. It’s essential to learn to use these carefully — too fast and you can go out of control and bye-bye fingertip.”
Rose does some hand embroidery, “mostly just my name and date on the back of the quilt, or sometimes I add a quote from the Bible. I made a quilt for my father once with the quote, ‘He watching over Israel slumbers not nor sleeps’ [Psalm 121:4].”
Rose says it takes her a month or two to finish a quilt, longer if she hand-quilts.
Veteran quilter Cathy, my sister, made her first quilt in college. “I favor the easy patterns, machine-done. I am not that patient,” she confessed. “I like the ‘wedding’ pattern and the ‘Irish chain.’ My favorite is cutting fabric strips, any width, and arranging them diagonally along a square so that the lines of the fabric do not go parallel to any of the sides of the square. If you have lots of scraps of fabrics, it is the easiest way to make colorful quilts and similar-looking quilts if you have enough scraps.”
How long does it take you to make a quilt?
“It depends on the design of the quilt,” Cathy replied. “If you are a real quilter, in the sense that you are using scraps from your sewing pile, it takes longer to find, sort, and cut material as you are being economical with what you have on hand. But if you have the leisure and money to go to the store and buy what you want, time is saved by ripping the fabric in strips of desired width down the whole length of fabric and then sewing the long pieces together and then cutting the resultant multicolored striped fabric into squares. That speeds up the process quite a bit.”
Cathy usually sews with cotton or cotton-blend fabrics, but for a rich look, she makes velvet and satin quilts. “Satin and velvet are a bit hard to work with; they slide around. So it is harder to hold the fabric still while cutting and sewing. But the finished result is quite lovely.”
Sandy Andersen, store manager at Rosie’s Calico Cupboard Quilt Shop in La Mesa (619-697-5758; rosiescalicocupboard.com), has been quilting for almost 25 years. “It’s best to start with a lap-size quilt, with a ‘rail fences’ or ‘simple stars’ design,” she suggested. “Cotton fabrics are usually used, but the art quilters quilt with suede and leather.”
Any tips in picking fabrics?
“Usually you pick a fabric that has a lot of colors that you like. You might not necessarily like the design, but you like the colors. And then you pull your colors from that one particular fabric. You can start out with as little as three different colors.”
Two classes at Rosie’s Calico Cupboard caught my beginner’s eye. Introduction to Quilt Making starts March 4, 6 p.m. — $45 for a sampler quilt finished over four Tuesday evenings. The other class, Stripping on the Blvd. with Rosie, March 14 at 1 p.m., produces a ‘scrappy jelly roll’ quilt ($20).
I found my final motivation to learn quilting at the bottom of the store’s website: Making Quilts for Kids with Cancer.