Sunday, January 22, 2017

I Love Churn Dashes!

For my first post in the new year, I am very happy to share my first collaborative project with you today with Martingale, Block Buster Series: I Love Churn Dashes. It was fun to be a part of this and I really enjoyed seeing how my fellow 14 designers started with the same traditional Churn Dash block and made such uniquely personal projects. In case you were wondering, we don't see each other's ideas or work before the book comes out either! It's amazing to me that it comes out the way it does, each project so individual and re-imagined by each designer.

Here's my project, "Little Boy Blue", 48 1/2" x 48 1/2"
I know, I know...not my usual color-palette, and it's even flannel! Sometimes you have to go outside your box and learn something new and boy, did I ever have learning opportunities on this one!
"Little Boy Blue" by Tonya Alexander
Quilted by Tracey Fisher
At first, I thought I would just share this project with you like any other, add some pretty pictures, some commentary, etc. etc. I have been dragging my heels on this post because there is so much more behind what started out to be just a simple little baby quilt.  Make no mistake, I love how my project turned out and I really love the book. I can also honestly say at this time last year I had just completed this project in the late night hours before the publisher deadline and truly thought it may be one of my biggest oops!

The design was good, the piecing was no problem. It's a nice weekend-sized baby quilt project and would be great in many colorways. I even loved my idea, but along the way, I had so many opportunities to learn from my own process mistakes. Humbling, yes. Discouraging, a little bit along the way. Satisfying in the end, absolutely!
Quilt testing in progress. This is the official quilt-tester in my house, Seamus.
Things I learned on the way to the finish line:

1. Pre-wash flannel in hot water and dry on high heat
This part I at least got right. I had the fabric colors/prints in mind before I actually found them and they turned out to be flannels. I hadn't really worked with flannel a lot before this project so I did some homework. The best advice I found, flannel can shrink a lot and at different rates. Working with flannel is not the time to forego the pre-washing step. You will save yourself a good amount of shrinkage in the end.

2. Baste, baste, and baste some more
Initially, I planned to quilt this with my walking foot on my domestic machine. I was going to do three large spirals that intersected and overlapped. Well, the first one was no problem. The second one started to bunch up and pleat as the circles came together. I pin-basted but not as much as I should have. I didn't take into consideration the give of the flannel under my walking foot and the amount of shifting and distorting the flannel was capable of. An let me tell you, it's capable of a lot, even with high-quality flannel fabric. Lesson here, don't take short cuts in basting. Whether you pin, spray or thread baste, take the time to be thorough and do it right.

3. When something isn't going right - STOP!
Or should I say, stop, re-evaluate and adjust. The quilting was turning into a hot mess on this and I just kept pushing along, thinking is would somehow work itself out. You can see even in the early picture above, the problem was already beginning. See that bunching up at the top? Yeah, well, that got a whole lot worse before I had the good sense to finally stop. I was so discouraged by my own stubbornness in not stopping when I should have, I didn't even take any pictures. You'll have to take my word on this one!

4. When the going gets tough, call in reinforcements
Your quilting peeps are one of your best assets and can serve you up equal parts of advice and encouragement. I called my good friend and long-arm quilter, Tracey. I told her my tale of woe and that I was going to give up and start over, considering my looming deadline, could she quilt it in like 10 minutes? She calmly talked me off the ledge. She said, "No, bring it over and let's see what we can do."

She finally convinced me we could pick out the quilting with a seam ripper and recover. I've known her a long time and she's an amazing quilter, but I did not believe her. Shows you what I know. We spent about an hour together "un-sewing" and then she took it into her capable hands and turned the quilting into something great - this time on the long arm. (So I will only take about 1/8 of the credit for quilting on this project. Let's just say there is more un-quilting to my credit on this one that actual quilting by me in the end!)
Tracey's final touch, beautiful all-over spiral quilting.

The best laid plans...
5. Be flexible and be o.k. with change
Even the final version didn't finish exactly as planned. Originally, I had designed it to be square but was forced into another design decision when it came time to square it up. Because of the shifting during the quilting, there was no way those corners were going to be square no matter how I trimmed them. Tracey suggested lopping off the corners. It solved the corner problem and added to the final design element of the corners mimicking the corners of the Churn Dash block. In this case the outer border is actually the largest Churn Dash and the angled corners made sense! Win-win! 
Quilt-tester comment: "It's o.k. Mom, I still love you..."
Presto, a year later, and I can now say I learned so much on this project and I am happy to share it with you. I share this with you in hopes to encourage you not to give up when things aren't quite going right. The project wasn't the problem - I was! But if you're willing to step back, accept some help, and be flexible and willing to change your plan, it's possible to have a happy ending. I hope you'll check out Block Buster Series: I Love Churn Dashes on the book shelf at your favorite local quilt shop or retailer and enjoy all the great designs.

Happy flannel quilting,