Pandemic Quilt for March 1, 2021

and, so, like, at some point in February, I was doing my daily “Today is” thing and had the impulse to make the daily data into a quilt.

Here’s what I had in mind: like, you know, where it says “Today is” and then the date, and then the usual data (new U.S. cases, number of dead, number of people vaccinated). I pulled out a bunch of black fabric and a bunch of white fabric and started playing with making letters (which I had never tried), but without planning, or measuring, or consulting advice online, or any other things that might have sucked the fun out of it (or made it better). By the time I had made the words, “Today is Monday,” I was aware that I was not going to be able to lay out the words in lines that would make sense.

So I thought I would also have some room for skulls, which was good.

Anyway, when March 1 rolled around, as we knew it would, pandemic or no, I publicly shared the thought it might take me a few days to finish.

I assume I was being sarcastic.

I finished piecing what I thought of as the quilt top on March 16. It was too large to measure in my sewing room. And it was only vaguely rectangular.

Does a quilt have to be a perfect rectangle? No. Could I have tried harder to make it a perfect rectangle? Yes.

I was a fan of Vine, and I enjoy TikTok. No doubt I will enjoy the next short-form video social media platform, too.

Then I started on the back, for which I had in mind a large skull surrounded by coronaviruses. I did not plan it well, and do not recommend working according to the method that my progress photos, below indicate.

The back of the quilt took up so much of that green fabric (I had many yards of it in my stash), that I had to cut up a pair of unfinished pajamas that I had started to make from it. Every time I start to sew clothing for myself I become so convinced it will be a failure that I never even finish. So cutting up the unfinished pajamas was a typical end for a project of mine.

There are a lot of reasons not to make quilts that are too large. Keeping the top of a small quilt flat is simpler. Small quilts weigh less, and so are easier to move, to measure, and to quilt. Small quilts can be laid out and basted on the floor of a small sewing room. I know; I know. There may be more reasons I don’t even know. My ability to fail to demonstrate my understanding of this lesson is noteworthy. I had to piece together batting to have enough.

I quilted with the green side up because quilting with white thread on a white fabric background is harder to see mistakes. I have a Sweet Sixteen machine for quilting, and I love it. I finished quilting May 4. For the binding I used scraps.

I finished burying thread ends and hand-stitching the binding just after midnight last night, and waited to wash it until this morning. I used five color-catching sheets because if the green fabric ran onto the white during the first washing, I wouldn’t have found that funny at all.

The finished size of the quilt is 87.5” by 102.5” by 83.5” by 97.25.” It’s a quadrilateral. It weighs 8 lbs., 10 oz. It is so big that to take a picture of it, I had to take it outside, lay it in the grass, and set up our tallest ladder.

Gray Area


My niece was graduating high school in a few months, so I asked her mother what colors to think about for a quilt for her to take to college. Her reply: “[She]likes grey, colors that go with grey, and grey are her never-miss choices. The colors you see in those …pictures …represent grey and things that go with grey; she’ll wear other colors that go with grey, but I think she has something grey on practically every day.”
So I started thinking about a gray quilt.
I enjoy making monochromatic quilts. I have made two all-red quilts, an all-green quilt, a couple of all-pink baby quilts, and an all-blue quilt top. Gray is tricky because there are green-grays and brown-grays and pale grays and if you put them all together they appear to be different colors. Gray fabric is hard to find as well. I managed to lay in a supply of darker and lighter grays and set to work.
I do not remember how or why I decided on equilateral triangles for this quilt. They are a satisfying geometric shape to me, being both equilateral and equiangular, but they are not particularly easy to cut from fabric without a template.
Adding the binding
Machine quilting
The cat is always interested in sewing projects, being a big fan of sleeping on the ironing board, the sewing table, and my lap. This time, the dogs got involved, too, and sprawled out on the quilt in progress, especially when they had been invited no to do so. When I bought the batting, I had to make a special trip to the fabric store, and when I brought it home I unwrapped and unfurled it to get some of the wrinkles out. Then I took the dogs for a walk. When I got home, I found that the cat had attacked the cotton batting, taking several large bites out of it.  I was able to trim off his damage, though I did have to go back to the fabric store for more of the backing fabric, which in the end I had not bought enough of.
Making a baby quilt can take a weekend, if you know what you’re doing. Making a quilt big enough to go on a twin or full-size bed takes months, even if you do all the steps by machine. When you make a quilt for a child, you can use airplane fabric for the back and be sure that he will love it. When you make a quilt for a teenager, you run the risk of making something she doesn’t like and will never want to use. My goal was to make the quilt inoffensive enough that at least she might use it under another bedspread.
Dogs testing new quilt
I finished in time for her birthday and graduation. It was well-received. Better still, she tweeted at me a couple of weeks ago: “Did I ever mention to you that almost every single person who comes into my room compliments the awesome quilt?
The next one I am planning is for the toughest customer of all: my youngest son.

Jolly Roger Quilt, Part 2: Math Problem

Jolly Roger Quilt, cat is larger than he appears
I think I just finished my 18th quilt. I might have actually made more, but right now that’s how many I can name and remember. One is just a top, and even though it has been sitting unfinished in a box for many years, I would like to start quilting it soon; though I have to admit it is a little kid’s quilt and I do not have any little kids living in my house right now.  Many of the 18 were baby quilts, given away to close friends.  Two were made for the dogs (so they sit on the quilt on a chair instead of the chair), and I am happy that they have not been destroyed by them.  I sold one in an auction (which was not a good experience). I spent last winter finishing a quilt for my niece to take to college, and afterwards started thinking about a black and white quilt.
I was living in North Dreadful, with only one decent fabric store worth the drive, so I ordered a bunch of the fabric for the Jolly Roger online. I am an unskilled and unhappy shopper in many ways, though I, like anyone who likes quilt-making, have a huge stash of fabric and a weakness for the nice fabric stores. I found the perfect backing fabric for the Jolly Roger quilt (Michael Moore’s “Quilt Pirates”), and it is pictured here.
Quilt back, with free-hand machine quilting
I do not know what I had in mind when I ordered the backing fabric, but by the time I was finished piecing the top, I had, in my exuberance, exceeded the amount of fabric purchased for the back by a full eight inches. You would think that for an experienced quilt-maker this would be an occasional problem. You would think that for a former geometry teacher, with a master’s degree in pure mathematics this is a rare mistake. You would think.
The truth, dear reader, is that I fail to buy enough backing fabric so often that this scenario is typical.
Figuring out how much fabric you need for the back of your quilt is straightforward. Quilting fabric usually is 44” wide, so you often piece together two lengths of the same size, and have one seam on the back, running up the middle. You plan for there to be extra, because out of the scraps of old projects new projects grow.  A huge quilt might be 96” long, which is 8 feet, so you would need to buy 16 feet (or 5 1/3 yards) if your back needed to be about 88” wide (or less).  This quilt turned out to have 64 squares across its length, 2” of fabric per (pre-sewn) square, yielding 1 ½” per square after deducting the ¼” seam allowances. 64 times 1 ½” is 96”. It is 48 squares wide (or 72”), for a total of 3072 2” squares of fabric.
This works nicely if you are good at planning how big your quilt will be.   I usually strike a bargain with myself when planning quilts, because I like some aspects of planning and dislike others. With the Jolly Roger quilt, I embarked on the making of the grinning skull without knowing how I intended to use it in a finished quilt. Maybe I had a vague sense that it could be like a pirate flag, but pretty quickly I realized that this was not a very interesting design, being almost entirely black. In the end, I made two skulls and some scissors and a heart and played with how I wanted them arranged until I was happy. I was very busy cutting little black squares and sewing long strips onto the growing top and it was not until the whole top was together that I knew my enthusiasm had allowed the top to grow beyond the amount of fabric I had purchased for the back.
Back piecing to mask error
The good thing about being consistently bad at planning is I know how to deal with my bad planning. In this case, I used the largest possible square pieces of fabric that I could cut until I was down to scraps.
Now that it is done I am pleased with the quilting (which was very intense), and having that feeling of sadness that I always have when I finish a project.

Jolly Roger Quilt, Part 1

The last time I made a baby quilt, I ended up playing around with 2″ squares. This is as small a piece of fabric I would ever have imagined being willing to work with, but I found myself very pleased with the texture of the finished result.

Somewhere along the way, I started thinking about being able to represent an image with squares, rather than just a pattern. Soon enough I had traced a Jolly Roger (pirate flag) on to graph paper and had executed the grinning skull in mostly black and mostly white fabric.
I worked horizontally, from the bottom up, but certainly could have worked in vertical strips, too. Because I was assembling several rows at once, I tried to label the left-most square of any row (using masking tape and a pen); I also tried to keep written track of which squares had been made and which squares had been joined.

Originally I had thought I would make a choice to go black or white with any given square, just to see if that skull face would show up, but when I sat down I found it was fun and easy to make part-white-part-black squares of any configuration I needed (so much for not sewing with pieces smaller than 2″ by 2″).  I put tape on my cutting square to create a 2″ by 2″ window for composing the squares.
More than once I got bogged down with the pattern, and I even had to tear out two rows when I discovered two errors.
The classic Jolly Roger has a pair of crossed bones below the skull, but I also found other designs, including swords, a single bone, words, and even a heart.
I am not finished with this project, but when I posted pictures of the work in progress, my cousin asked for the plan.