Friday, January 1, 2021

Rebecca and Her Ugly Christmas Quilt Top: A Fairy Tale of Quilting Redemption

Happy Christmas, to any of you who are still celebrating for the full Twelve Days of Christmas! Happy Procrastination to those who have ceased celebrating, but who are using the liturgical calendar as an excuse to leave their decorations up until Christmas officially ends on Epiphany (January 6th).  And of course, Happy New Year 2021 to all of us, because I don't know anyone who isn't glad to finally shut the door on the House of Horrors that 2020 turned out to be.  

Bibbity, Bobbity, Boo!

This post is a fairy tale about how the perfect edge-to-edge quilting design (E2E) can take a so-so, unloved quilt top and not just finish the UFO, but transform it into something better than it was before.  Just like a Fairy Godmother!  

"Let It Snow" E2E Quilting Design Redeems This Disappearing 9-Patch Quilt

Once Upon a Time...

Once upon a time, during the darkest days of the Global Pandemic of 2020, Rebecca was inspired by all of the cheerful Christmas quilts that were popping up on her social media feed.  She indulged in nostalgia-induced daydreams of snuggling near the fire beneath just such a quilt, watching classic Christmas movies, reading, and munching on crackled molasses sugar cookies whilst Bing Crosby crooned carols in the background.  So she decided to "whip up" a quick Christmas throw quilt using novelty prints from her stash.  The cake pops, peppermint candies, and steaming mugs of hot cocoa in the photo above were the three stash fabrics that she started with.  The larger scale of those prints makes them work well as a feature fabric for the large scale Disappearing 9-Patch blocks, and they played nicely into Rebecca's visions of sugar plums.  She also worked in some long-hoarded scraps left over from a crazy patchwork Christmas tree skirt that was made about 10 years ago.  The solid red and greens were from her stash as well.  But alas, she did not have nearly enough novelty feature fabrics for the quilt in her stash, so she bravely masked up, slathered herself with hand sanitizer that stung her papercuts and stank of cheap tequila, and ventured forth in search of fun Christmas food fabric.  She hadn't left her house in so long that she barely remembered how to start the car!

Rebecca searched high and low at two different local quilt shops and quite a few online fabric shops, but she couldn't find anything with the perfect scale, theme, and colorway.  Where were the peppermint ribbon candy fabrics she'd seen in years past, the large-scale candy canes and the beautifully rendered chocolate truffles?  Instead, she had to settle on gingerbread fabric that was scaled too small and the wrong shade of green, poisonous poinsettias, tiny reindeer that can barely be discerned, and vaguely Christmasy evergreen forests. 

By the time the blocks were all pieced and up on her design wall, Rebecca thought they looked like a motley mess of fabrics that didn't belong together no matter how many times she rearranged the layout.  

"Blech!" and "What was I thinking?!" moaned Rebecca.  "This quilt is turning into an Ugly Duckling!"  She did not even want to show it on her blog.

Double 9-Patch Blocks Completed

Rebecca's original plan had been to border her quilt with solid red fabric on two sides and solid green fabric on the other two sides, like this:

What This Quilt Might Have Looked Like, If Rebecca Had Saved Fabric for Borders

Those borders might have improved the quilt by containing the chaos caused by all of those different prints.  Sadly, however, Rebecca had been talking on her magical AirPods to her sisters and Zooming with her quilting bee while she was cutting out her quilt, and she neglected to cut any long border strips.  Chatting merrily away, she chopped up ALL of her red and green yardage into 5" squares.  Getting more of those fabrics was impossible, as they'd been residing in her stash for years and she had no idea where they came from.  So, borders were nixed and the Ugly Christmas Quilt Top would have to stand on its own.

Sad Little Quilt Top Without Any Borders

By this time, Rebecca just wanted this quilt FINISHED so she could pack it away with the Christmas decorations and not have to look at it anymore.  She found a backing fabric in her stash that was the wrong shade of green to go with any of the fabrics in her quilt top, and told herself that "Done will be better than perfect."  She loaded it up on her long arm frame with Quilter's Dream Orient batting, a blend of silk, bamboo, cottton and Tencel, reasoning that if her Christmas quilt had to be ugly, at least it could still be soft and cuddly.  Looking at the quilt top hanging down from the frame, she felt that it was all way too busy and that the Disappearing 9-Patch had been a horrible choice from the beginning.  But she was still determined to snuggle up in a Christmas quilt, believing in her heart that even an ugly Christmas quilt wold have the power to make her cookies and hot chocolate taste better and ensure that every novel and Christmas movie would have a happy ending!  So she grabbed a cone of Glide thread in color Sand and unspooled some of it across each of the different fabrics in her quilt top.  "Yes, I think that will work," she mused.  

"Let It Snow" Panto Laid Out for the Ugly Christmas Duckling Quilt

She scrolled through the wintry-themed edge-to-edge quilting designs in her IntelliQuilter's pattern library, and selected Let It Snow from Urban Elementz.  Although this design is digitized at a row height of 12.75", Rebecca reduced the scale to a row height of 9" to get a pattern density of 1.89 (pattern density represents the average length of quilting lines within a 1 square inch area).  She hoped to soften the harsh pieced geometry of what now looked like weird red and green bow tie/goggles and blend her disparate fabric prints together with lots of texture and swirling curves.  And, as soon as she started stitching out the design, something magical began to happen.  

The Transformation Begins

The quilting design was making a difference.  Rebecca was starting to like her quilt again.  Maybe this would not be such an Ugly Duckling quilt, after all!

She noted with satisfaction how the swirled lines of quilting seemed to extend the steaming hot chocolate from one of her favorite fabric prints throughout the entire quilt top.  The motif intended as a snowflake by the pattern designer reminded her of holly sprigs, stitched out in the subtle Sand thread against the red and green solid fabrics.

Even the fabrics she most regretted including in her quilt top, like the cardinals against a white background below, looked less out-of-place once they'd been quilted with the same swirling snowflake design as the others.  She watched, mesmerized, as one of her least favorite quilt tops EVER was transformed before her very eyes.

What a difference the quilting makes!

As she advanced the quilt on the frame, Rebecca noticed with surprise that the swirling, curled stitching lines of her quilting design echoed the design printed on the backing fabric that she'd pulled half-heartedly from her stash!  She decided to pretend that she'd planned it that way on purpose.  

When the quilting was finally finished, four jumbo bobbins' worth of thread later, it wasn't such an ugly Christmas quilt anymore.  The motley mish-mash of novelty prints seemed like they belonged together now, in the same way that all of the different ornaments she'd collected over the years looked like they belonged together on her Christmas tree, all of the different Christmas wrapping papers looked right on the packages beneath the tree, and all of the different Christmas cards from friends and family looked like they belonged together on the mantle above their Christmas stockings.

The quilt top had not been transformed into a beautiful swan, a princess, or a show quilt.  It was still the same humble, simply pieced design with a lot of busy fabrics.  But somehow, quilting this unloved top with the right allover quilting design had allowed the quilt to be all of those things in a good way.  When she took it off her frame and saw the quilt in its entirety for the first time, Rebecca knew it was going to be perfect for what she'd wanted -- a snuggly, scrappy Christmas throw quilt to wrap up in throughout the holiday season in years to come.

Remember what this looked like before it was quilted?

I love Before and After quilting photos because, regardless of whether the quilt is a masterpiece of appliqué and custom quilting or just a simple pieced top with allover quilting like this one, the transformation wrought by the quilting always amazes me.  Especially with a top like this one, where the quilting completely changed how I feel about the quilt.

Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  There are lots of different ways I could have quilted this, with custom quilting in the red and green rectangles to emphasize the geometry of the piecing, or with a more modern allover design.  It's interesting to me how the decisions we make about how to quilt something can draw our attention to the things we like best about a quilt top, solve or minimize some of its flaws, and course-correct a project that wasn't turning out quite as its maker had envisioned.

And so, Rebecca's Ugly Christmas Quilt was renamed Rebecca's Scrappy-Happy Christmas Quilt.  It will get a label and binding before Christmas officially ends on January 6th, and everyone will live...

Happily Ever After!

PS: If you or any of your quilting friends has an unloved quilt top that you've fallen out of love with and don't feel motivated to finish anymore, I'd love to help you cross it off your UFO list in 2021 by quilting it with the perfect edge-to-edge design to complement everything you like best about your quilt while minimizing any flaws.  Because EVERY quilt deserves a happy ending!  You can learn more about my long arm quilting services on this page.  Happy New Year, everyone!

And now, before I get started on that binding, I'll be linking up with my favorite linky parties:


Whoop Whoop Fridays at Confessions of a Fabric Addict

Peacock Party at Wendy’s Quilts and More

Finished Or Not Friday at Alycia Quilts

Off the Wall Friday at Nina Marie Sayre

 TGIFF Thank Goodness It’s Finished Friday, rotates, schedule found here: TGIF Friday


UFO Busting at Tish in Wonderland


Frédérique at Quilting Patchwork Appliqué

Oh Scrap! at Quilting Is More Fun Than Housework


Design Wall Monday at Small Quilts and Doll Quilts  

Monday Making at Love Laugh Quilt


Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

your quilting sure changed the look and I think you are very much getting the hang of your long arm - the quilting looks perfect

Anonymous said...

The quilting is at least half the work of making a quilt, and it makes a huge difference. I enjoyed your story! And it does look like the perfect snuggle quilt for watching Christmas movies and eating cookies.


Ramona said...

I love the happy ending of your fairy tale! Your quilt did make quite a transformation with the beautiful quilting. And your analogy of the quilt being like all the different ornaments on the tree is spot on!! You will snuggle under your happy, beautiful Christmas quilt for years. :)

Carole @ From My Carolina Home said...

It is said that quilting makes the quilt, and is certainly true with yours. I thought the backing fabric choice was perfect! The finished quilt will be snugly warm for Decembers for years to come. Bravo for seeing it through!

CreationsbyPaulaMu said...

What a transformation! That design really made your quilt! You've grown so much with your long arm sewing . . . I enjoy following your progression! Happy New Year!!

Alycia~Quiltygirl said...

Oh my gosh!! LOVE this story - its kinda like reading the Grinch - and we should visit this story every year. It is amazing the Difference Quilting makes!! Hope you got to snuggle under it this year ;-)

piecefulwendy said...

What a fun post to read, and what a lovely transformation the quilting added to your quilt! I'm still chuckling at the slathering of the cheap tequila sanitizer - LOL.

Nancy @ Grace and Peace Quilting said...

Beautiful quilting, indeed!!! And the Orient batting will be luscious!

LIttle Penguin Quilts said...

I loved the story of how your ugly duckling quilt turned into a beautiful swan! Your quilting really did make all the difference! said...

What a great post. . .and the quilting sure made the difference! Aren't you glad you stuck with it to the end?

Gretchen Weaver said...

Your quilt is lovely, the quilting design was perfect! I hope you get some cuddling time in with the quilt before you put it away for the rest of the year. I just have simple 'Christmas' decorations and I leave them up until March. They bring me joy and the grandchildren enjoy the nativity. Happy stitching in 2021, looks like you're off to a good start!

scraphappy said...

I am constantly amazed at how every fabric looks like it belongs once you get them all quilted together. Glad your Christmas snuggle quilt made it to the finish line.

Sylvia@Treadlestitches said...

I enjoyed reading about your journey with this quilt. All of us who make scrap quilts have come across this problem of fabrics not playing well together. Thanks for showing us the difference quilting can make. BTW, I never thought it was ugly!

Chantal said...

Awesome job! You gave the quilt a chance to show you what it could become and the underdog rose to the occasion. It's the Hallmark Christmas Story of the Quilt World. Awesome way to finish the year. Cheers! ;^)

Cynthia Brunz Designs said...

Never give up on a quilt until it is finished. This one turned out quite festive. Thanks for sharing with Oh Scrap!

The Joyful Quilter said...

Told ONLY as Rebecca could. Let this be a reminder to you... Done is SEW much better than perfect!!! I knew from the very beginning that Ugly Duckling would be a sweet holiday surprise. Enjoy!

gayle said...

I do love a good Christmas story - especially one with such a happy ending!

Anonymous said...

The Not So Ugly Duckling Quilt looks like the perfect quilt to wrap up in on a cold January night while watching a movie on Netflix or the Bachelor!! It looks very comfy.

Nann said...

I wouldn't have considered the quilt ugly but I know that our personal reactions to what we're making, or what we've made, are lodged in our creative consciousness and cannot be budged. So glad you got this finished to your satisfaction!

Nancy in NV-wheres the dude at blogspot said...

You are quite the story teller! I love that you kept all 4 squares together for each block. It turned out wonderful. I would snuggle with it. Happy New Year!!

Susie H said...

And Grace and the Christmas Quilt lived happily ever after. Yay for happy endings!

Frédérique - Quilting Patchwork Appliqué said...

What a beautiful fairytale ;) The ugly quilt turning into a gorgeous one! And yes ideed, the quilting makes the quilt!
Quel beau conte de fées ! The vilain quilt qui se transforme en un magnifique quilt ! Et oui, tout est dans le quilting !

Leanne Parsons said...

The quilting is so perfect! I really enjoyed reading the story of the transformation, too :)