Celebration Quilting

When a friend asked me to make a birthday quilt for her adult daughter using her baby clothes and tee-shirts, I was nervous. Combining clashing colors, scales, and styles doesn’t bother me at all, but showcasing clothes that had been saved for years for their sentimental value? Still, when someone offers you a chance to learn something new and isn’t illegal or immoral, say yes.

I like to think of myself as an art quilter, letting the fabric lead me where it will, but in this case I went back to tradition and found a pattern first. Showcasing fabric is a lot easier when you have a wide frame, so a block with two borders and corner blocks is ideal. It also happens to be a variation of a block I’ve taught many times before in The Guilt Quilt workshop with Ann Anastasio.

The next step was sorting the clothes. Luckily, my friend agreed that not everything needed to be on the front, so I kept the brightest tee shirts for the back and combined the softer colors with the baby clothes.

Waiting for the scissors

I’ve never made a tee shirt quilt, but since I have a pile of old tees that I intend to put together, I knew about stabilizing the motif, protecting thicker paints and fragile silk screened images, and giving yourself some wiggle room with shredding edges. I whacked those shirts into lovely blocks, stabilized them into submission and dared the images to flake or flatten. They behaved wonderfully.

Then I started on the baby dresses.

We always hear about memory quilts, and how the recipient dreamily traces each block, murmuring “I remember when Great-aunt Helga made me this dress from potato sacks and chicken wire.” No one talks about the reality of baby clothes, however, which is smocking and lace and fussy little appliques. It’s one thing to showcase a fancy sun dress, or multi-colored tee, but when the dress is pretty much a quarter of a yard of solid pink and 4″ of smocking, what’s a quilter to do?

Beginning the blocks

What I decided to do was take a page from computer programmers everywhere and turn a bug into a feature. If the smocking made the dress, don’t chop it into bits – applique the whole front of the dress on a background square. For one of the smallest dresses, I even let a section of the hem float freely, and appliqued the girl’s silk booties peaking out from underneath.

Half the blocks with half their borders

You could use a variety of patterns to showcase clothing – Attic Windows, to mimic a shadow box, would be very quick and could take advantage of the smaller scraps children’s clothes offer. As for me, I’m looking to move my tee shirt quilt up a little higher on the to-do list, now that I know how much fun it can be to indulge in celebration quilting.

Look for the booties

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One Response to “Celebration Quilting”

  1. Marlene Dotterer Says:

    It’s beautiful!

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