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Back to babies and my quilting life

by Pam Voth

I started my quilting journey with a baby quilt and so, when my husband mentioned that three of his colleagues were having babies in the next few months, I thought it was the perfect time to  ‘return to my roots’. I love the idea of celebrating the special moments in the lives of those around me as I did with my first baby quilt, my patchwork zipper pouches and my Dresden plate table runner. With social-distance quilting being a thing, I’m inspired to try new projects, together – and apart – with my group. I’m currently researching my next very big project – a heritage quilt for our bed – and I look forward to sharing that journey through blogging in the future. But, for now, I’ll practice some machine quilting with some baby quilts.

four completed quilts lying together, overlapping, showing the different colours and patterns.

Four babies, four quilts

Everything hinges on finding a pattern that works and fabric that’s fun. I luckily found both – mostly from my stash – a little bit of shopping for some turtle and polka dot fabric but, I found enough fabric to put together four different baby quilts.

This picture shows the fabric for four baby quits

Fabric for four baby quilts

I came across a simple baby quilt pattern in my newly created binder of quilting patterns (no link, just a random paper??). I created the binder because my mentor has one and she encouraged me to organize and keep track of my projects this way. I now have a binder for knitting patterns and quilting patterns. They are in plastic sleeves and always ready to be pondered, shared, and created into something amazing.

I decided to cut the fabric for all 4 quilts before sewing. This was done partially at our first social-distancing quilting adventure…showing our projects from afar but, at least being together where we could work on projects again while sharing our ideas. Bring your own coffee, share your favorite stories, and solve problems. So much of all this re-entering has been about really knowing and trusting the people you spend time with. My quilting mentors are trusted friends…we share our lives…sewing together does that for you.

 This picture shows the measuring and cutting of the smallest block on the quilt - you can see a piece of gray fabric, a ruler and my hand using a cutter to make a 5½” x 5½” block.

Measure and cut

This picture shows the animal print quilt completely cut and laid out ready to sew. You see 3 rows of blocks with the strips in between. Each block has (2) 5½” squares, a 10½” x 5½” rectangle and a large 10½” square; various squares and rectangles are arranged to create the quilt.

Ready to sew

I have been celebrating my own learning lately. Just over a year ago, I would have never thought that I could tackle 4 baby quilts without being mentored through every step. Now, here I go…with the voices of my mentors echoing, giving me confidence. Is the purpose of mentoring not seeing the mentee become confident and independent – always knowing that strength and advice is just around the corner?? If so, then I have been blessed with two very incredible quilting mentors. When I was struggling with attaching the sashing in between the blocks, a little advice and coaching was there for me. So, on I sew, building beautiful quilts for babies.

I sew the 2 small blocks together, add the medium block and then sew on the large block – this makes one complete block. I create 6 of these. In order to make the columns of the quilt (three in total), I sew two blocks together to make a row – add the strips in between (which are three strips sewn together) and, in the end, I have 3 rows of 2 blocks each with strips in between.

This picture shows the gray quilt blocks sewn together. You see two blocks sewn together with a strip on the right-hand side. Another quilt block has been assembled and is sitting to the right of the first third of the assembled quilt.

Quilt blocks sewn together

 This is a picture of the turtle quilt being assembled. You can see the rectangular turtle block on the bottom that has been attached to the snails and moon blocks (these were sewn together first) and the larger salmon colored block is on top. The strips are visible but, not sewn on and the other blocks are on either side (butterflies and moons).

Quilt blocks create a stunning quilt

Part of the reason that I love mentors is because of the accountability factor. I always know that they’re waiting each week to see what I have accomplished. Quilting is a happy, hopeful and optimistic hobby. You set goals, try new things, you trust your instincts (and this happens more and more) …and it fits perfectly into my personal vision. I get up every morning with the goal of making everyday life better for people in my circle and beyond.

Quilting allows you to do something simple, keep learning and enjoy spending time with friends and mentors who are expectation free. On top of that, you get to find peace, challenge yourself and create beauty while caring about the people in your life and making a difference. That’s my truth about quilting – both self-care and giving to others through fabric, batting and stitches.

A rainy day provided the perfect opportunity to put together all the quilts…backing, batting, fronts and pins. I always spend time squaring my quilts before I put the backing on, and it’s always worth it. It felt like a lot of pins but, they’re all ready to be stitched-in-the-ditch.

The quilt with gray tones is complete. It’s pinned to the backing with the batting in between. You can see the pins spread out across the quilt ready for machine quilting. You can also see the rulers, cutter and pins on the floor in the background. In the foreground, you can see the scraps of the quilt that were cut off in order to square it. A green cutting mat is under the quilt and it was used to square the quilt.

Quilt pinned to backing and squared

I took pictures of the bunnies, elephants, turtles and giraffes to make into patterns to be traced onto the big squares for quilting. The beauty of handmade gifts – working hard for something you don’t care about is called stress, working hard for something you love is called passion.  When I retired from teaching, I was still very passionate about my students, I always wondered whether I would ever find anything that I cared as much about, outside of my family and friends. Quilting has brought me this passion for making something beautiful and unique and using it to connect with people that I care about.

The paper pattern for the turtle shape is seen on the large square of light green and dark green, as well as bluish and white tones fabric. The fabric is the largest square and the turtle is waiting to be traced for machine quitting.

Turtle pattern for machine quilting

Stitch-in-the-ditch is complete – I was reflecting to my first baby quilt and my first experience with stitch-in-the-ditch. I can’t believe how I moved forward in my confidence. I truly believe this is because I have listened to my mentors and kept myself motivated to keep trying and working on my skills. If you had told me two years ago, that I would love quilting, I would have literally said, “You are crazy! I’m not able to do that!” …and yet, here I am… loving it and part of a group that supports and encourages each other in many ways that are beyond the quilt.

My thoughts were to hand-stitch on the largest blocks. A baby elephant on two quilts, a rabbit in the blocks of another, and turtles to finish the final one. I started hand stitching and realized it was terrible. So, I did an experiment with the bunny – I used the walking foot and machine quilted a beautiful bunny. Problem solved – again, mentorship matters because, without my mentors, I would not have had the confidence to solve this little issue…I don’t even know if I would have realized how bad the hand stitching was and how it did not suit this project at all.   One of my mentors recently ripped out an entire quilt – the sashing wasn’t appropriate – it became the untidy focal point of the quilt. Quilting is both fulfilling and humbling – humility comes from the inside out. Humility is when your friends gather round and support you because you’re doing the thing that is right for you. Life can be hard and friends need to be safe and honest places for each other.

The machine quilting of the turtle is shown on the turtle fabric, the elephant is shown on both the gray dotted fabric and the multi-colored zigzag fabric and the bunny is shown on solid gray fabric.

Animal machine quilting

All the machine quilting is complete. I’m working on adding the borders. I tried the two styles of borders that I know. The first is making and adding it from scratch and the second is to extend the backing 2” all the way around and then fold it in half twice and then fold it over and blind stitch it.  I prefer the “extra backing” method but, this time, I did not have enough backing to do that for all the quilts so, I had to make some binding.

This is a picture of me, sitting outside on my front porch in my white wicker chair blind stitching the border of the animal print quilt. You can see the large polka backing, the dark blue border and the scissors lying on the railing that goes around the porch.

Blind stitching borders

I’m amazed I completed four quilts in four weeks. Summer isn’t a heavy-duty quilting time and had it not been for Covid, we would have gone on a proposed trip to Scotland but, life is always about making the best of things so, here I am, making some little babies happy and some moms and dads, too.

The four quilts are pictured hanging outside. The bunny quilt is in gray tones, the turtle quilt in black, orange and blue tones, the first elephant print has animal prints in yellow and orange tones and the final elephant quilt has zoo animals, schoolbooks and letters in brown and yellow tones.

Four awesome quilts

My quilting journey continues and I’m so thankful I joined Margaret and Heather, my quilting mentors, because, without them, I would not have completed my first baby quilt, which has led to these four beautiful baby quilts. My next project is a back to school bag for my friend (mom of Mason of the Fat Quarter Baby Quilt). She returns to school after her maternity leave. It’s not easy and I want to do something for her to ease her transition, other than offering to babysit, cook meals and anything else that might help.

I celebrated the 80th birthday of my friend, Helen on July 17th. We had a social distancing party (with 59 candles on the cake – which is where she stopped counting). Her words to me, after she read my blog post about her and the Dresden plate table runner, that she did not realize that I felt this way about her …my dear friend, it took a journey into quilting to allow me to express the feelings that I should have shared a long time ago. Life is short – write that note you have been meaning to write, make that phone call, and maybe even quilt that table runner.

 I am pictured here with my mentor and friend, Helen, at her table, showing the dresden plate table runner with the multicolored plates and blue backing.

My Dresden plate table runner finds a home with my dear friend, Helen.


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