Saturday, May 8, 2010

In Progress: A Smooshy, Cuddly, Very Hungry Caterpillar Blanky Quilt for Melissa's Baby

My first-grader has been blessed with the most amazing teacher this year.  She is one of the hardest-working, most loving people I know.  Charged with teaching the Talent Development (formally identified "gifted" students) and top-achieving first graders who were grouped together for the first time this school year, Melissa has risen to the challenge of devising and delivering an enriched curriculum to these kids that made every school day challenging, fun, and thoroughly worthwhile.  What's more, Melissa has had the patience of a saint in dealing with my son's ADHD difficulties in a creative, loving way that emphasized his gifts and acknowledged his special needs, yet still held him accountable.  When your little boy goes off to school and spends more waking hours with his teacher than he does with his mother, it is such an enormous relief, such a gift, to know that his teacher makes him feel so loved and cherished in the classroom. 

So naturally, as soon as I heard that this teacher was expecting her first child, I knew I wanted to make something special for her baby.  At first I thought I'd buy a nice baby blanket and do a machine embroidered monogram, something like this one that I did for a favorite client's first grandbaby:

By the time I picked out a monogram style, combined the letters the way I wanted in my embroidery software, and stitched out the monogram, that would probably take me between 30 minutes to an hour to accomplish.  It would be done by now, and I would have been able to give it to the teacher before she went on maternity leave a week ago Friday.  But I decided this new mommy and her baby deserve something extra special, and I've been itching to start a new quilting project for the longest time, so I decided that Melissa's new baby was a good excuse to get back into it. 

Although I had wanted to do something wild and crazy for my niece, Princess Petunia's baby quilt, the traditional baby pink and green one with Minky backing and ruffled satin ribbon edges turned out to be a big hit.  Two years and many tumbles through the wash later, it's still her favorite blanky, the one she asks for when she's sleepy.  Here's Princess Petunia (whose parents insist on calling her Sarah) with her grandfather on her dad's side and her favorite blanky from Aunt Rebecca:

Now, how sweet is that?  Although I was sulking about not getting to use my tattoo fabric, I really liked the soft smooshiness I got from the Minky Swirl fabric I used as a backing (the swirls reminded me of rosebuds).  The top of Princess Petunia's blanky is actually a remnant of a Ralph Lauren home dec fabric leftover from a client's project; the fabric came pieced together like that.  I know I put some kind of low-loft quilt batting in between the layers, something that said on the package that it would be suitable for a tied quilt, but I don't remember exactly.  And I used the ruffler attachment on my Bernina sewing machine to ruffle a few yards of wide satin ribbon to insert in the edges, then hand-tied the quilt with embroidery floss.  I think I attempted to do French knots, which seem to have come undone over time but I like the cute, unplanned pom pom effect that created.

By the way, I made a quilt for Princess Petunia's older brother, James, too, and it's also his favorite for snuggling.  James's quilt has machine-embroidered alphabet blocks using designs from Sarah Butcher's Storybook Alphabet collection for Cactus Punch.  Here's James and one of his best pals, snuggling up together in his Alphabet quilt:

I should also probably mention that I incorporated a few scraps of the leftover striped inner border and binding fabric from James's quilt when I made Anders' Froggy Quilt of Many Colors for my son's third birthday.  I like to try and sneak in at least one fabric from a previous quilt whenever I can; I feel like that makes it extra-special somehow.  Here's that same striped fabric in my son's Froggy Quilt:

So, getting back to the project at hand -- I want to combine the best aspects of James's and Princess Petunia's quilts.  I need to finish this quickly, so it can't be too elaborate, and I want it to be super soft and snuggly with Minky backing, like Sarah's blanky.  But since Melissa's expecting a baby boy, we're obviously not going with soft pink and satin ruffles.  I love the bright, bold colors of James's quilt, and I enjoyed selecting the different fabrics and planning the layout for the quilt top.  I also loved how this quilt doubles as a fun learning-your-alphabet book; some of the designs are pretty funny and they are all too cute.

When I started shopping for fabric, I immediately fell in love with the licensed Eric Carle collection from Andover FabricsThe Very Hungry Caterpillar was one of my favorite books as a child, as well as a favorite of both of my sons.  I know that, as a first-grade teacher, Melissa will definitely be doing a lot of reading with her son, and the caterpillar growing up to be a beautiful butterfly theme kind of ties in with the baby's name.  The parents are giving him the first name Gage, which means "promise," and his middle name will be Kipling, because the father's favorite poem is If by Rudyard Kipling.  The poem is about what it takes for a boy to grow up and become a man, so the baby's name is a promise that the parents will help the baby grow up to be the best man that he can be.  See -- these parents are already amazing, and their baby hasn't even been born yet! 

I realized after I got home with my fabric haul that I wasn't going to be able to keep this blanky quilt as small and Linus-style drag-around-the-house as I wanted if I tried to use all of the coordinates I bought, so I settled on the large illustration panel in the center, flanked by the wide border print of the caterpillar eating holes through all the food on each side.  I felt like I needed something else between those two fabrics, though, and I was delighted to discover that the striped fabric leftover from Anders' and James's quilts would be a perfect transition between the two fabrics.  I am also going to use the stripe for an outer border around all four sides of this quilt.  I'm planning to finish the edges with multicolored 2" satin binding in Jewel, so the outer border will be sized with an extra 2" to be covered by the satin binding -- no ruffles for Gage!

I've found several projects for baby blankets online that advocate skipping the batting altogether when using Minky as a backing, but I don't think a pieced cotton quilt top would "marry well" with the slippery Minky backing.  Yet quilting through the Minky dot fabric would ruin the Minky texture on the back of the quilt.  I also want to do some machine-embroidered personalization on the quilt top, and batting might help the thin quilting fabrics to support embroidery stitches (hopefully with less bear-wrestling and swearing than was necessary to get James's quilt embroidered without a zillion puckers!).  I like how the Petunia quilt felt more balanced with the batting, but I don't want to tie this quilt.  I'm planning to use a thin quilt batting that can be quilted far apart because, not only do I lack sufficient time and talent to pull off dense machine quilting under the gun, but I also don't want the quilt to get too stiff.  So I'm planning to use adhesive basting spray to affix my batting to the quilt top only, then secure the batting to the quilt top by stitching in the ditch along the border seams and -- are you ready for this -- if I can get up the courage, I'm going to use the BSR feature on my Bernina Artista machine to do some free-motion outline quilting around the caterpillar, the butterfly, and the leaf.  With a little practice, some deep breathing exercises leftover from natural childbirth classes, and the power of positive thinking, I know I can do this!

Once I've got the quilt top/batting combo embroidered and lightly quilted, I'm going to sandwich it wrong-sides-together with my Minky backing and serge it around the edges on my other sewbaby.  Except that I didn't know how this quilt was going to come together when I was fabric shopping, and I didn't buy enough of the orange Minky dot backing fabric for the size this blanky will finish.  Of course not!  Because, as my husband will tell anyone who will listen, every project that involves me has to be complicated!  So, I'm going to cut the Minky backing up into squares and piece it together with Dalmatian spotted Minky fabric leftover from when my mother made a beanbag chair cover for this same teacher's story corner in her classroom (she's big into Dalmatians).  So yet another fabric scrap from a previous project, suffused with warm fuzzy associations and special meaning, sneaks into the Hungry Caterpillar Quilt!  I love it!

Okay, so when all of that is done, then the last step will be to pin the satin binding on with mitered corners and stitch that down on the regular sewing machine with a nice zigzag stitch.  That is the plan!  And I am going to finish it within the next week or two, even though I will be traveling for business most of next week!  Join me with positive thoughts and pray that God will send me a couple of 36-hour days...

So far, I pre-washed and cut my fabrics and got both the inner striped borders and the wide side borders stitched to the main panel.  Doesn't that stripe look like it was just meant to be used there?  I did have to cut my border strips from selvage to selvage to get the stripes going the way I wanted them, which means the outer borders have to get pieced from two strips of fabric in order to be long enough.  Another opportunity to incorporate Ghosts of Quilting Past!  I found some green and blue batik scraps from the Froggy Quilt of Many Colors that look nice with my other fabrics, and I'm going to piece one green scrap in the center of each outer border strip and put a blue square in each corner.  Here's a shot of the Froggy Quilt of Many Colors showing the green and blue batiks:

Side Note: I had originally planned for the Froggy quilt to be my first BSR-assisted machine quilted project, but I spent SO many hours piecing those flying geese units (and ripping many of them apart to restitch them until every triangle point was perfect) that I couldn't bear to diminish my hard work with anything less than perfect machine quilting.  And I was trying to finish that quilt quickly to meet a birthday deadline, so I didn't have time to do a lot of BSR practice, and hand quilting was out of the question.  So the Froggy quilt was quilted along the block seam lines with my walking foot, and I used a design from one of the Keryn Emmerson embroidery design collections for Bernina (either Quilting Expressions or Quilting Inspirations) to get the look of flawless free-motion quilting on the large frog center squares with the ease of my sewing machine's embroidery module.  I think this quilt could use more quilting on the flying geese as well as on the four square sections, so maybe after I finish the Hungry Caterpillar project I will go back to the Froggy Quilt and add more quilting in those areas.  Just because the quilt has been on the bed for 3 1/2 years and in and out of the wash machine doesn't mean it's finished!

Back to the project at hand: Here's how that green batik looks pieced between the striped outer border strips.  I love the way I got those slivers of red and green on either side of my green batik scrap, so I'm going to try to replicate that on all four borders.  Pay no attention to the ugly water stain on my ironing board cover:

After I got this strip pieced, I realized that I cut my border strips too wide by 1/4", so I'm going to need to trim them all down before I proceed.  I had wanted a 1" strip of the border to be visible after the 2" FW banding was applied, so I figured 3" plus two 1/4" seam allowances, forgetting that there wasn't going to be a seam allowance on the outside edge of the quilt.  It is SO much better to accidentally cut borders too wide instead of too narrow, especially since I only have a tiny little strip of this fabric left to return to my scrap bin!

Well, I've spent the last couple of hours writing this post off-and-on between cleaning the house, baking cookies, and moving laundry along.  I'm such a domestic diva today!  Now that everyone in my family has an abundance of clean underwear once more, it looks like I can sneak up to my studio until dinner is ready and spend 30 minutes or so working on this project instead of just writing about it.  Did I mention that my wonderful, amazing, handy, good-looking husband also cooks?  I snagged a good one!


Janice the Manice said...

Ooohhhh, I love the fabric! Eric Carle is a favorite in our househould with "Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What do you see?" topping off our list. He does such amazing illustrations that both child and parent alike can't help but be drawn to. I can't wait to see the finished project and shall be jealous. Is Anders getting an "A"?

Rebecca Grace said...

They don't start letter grades in our district until 3rd grade. Anders gets 3s for "meets expectations" -- except when it comes to the "completes assignments" section, where he gets a 2 for "needs improvement." Needs hand-holding, dancing bears, twelve million reminders, loads of encouragement, and a couple of hugs, truth be told...