Sunset quilt

Hello everyone, I hope you all enjoyed my last post. I know it was pretty long, maybe I can be a little more concise with this post. Last fall my favorite female cousin (also my only female cousin) and her husband had their first child. As a Christmas gift I wanted to make the little one a quilt. I’ve never made a quilt before, but I figured, “hey, how hard can it be?” Turns out, it’s not too difficult, just time consuming.

I’m not one for following a pattern, recipes, or instructions in general; so when I was brainstorming ideas I obviously wanted to make something unique. My grandmother used to do a lot of quilting, but the last few years she has started to taper off. She had a lot of fabric saved up and about two years ago she let me raid her sewing room – I ended up with so much fun fabric. I used some of it here and there, but I hadn’t done a large project with it. As I looked through my stash I realized I had a wide spectrum of colors, what fun! After mulling over ideas, I thought a sunset would be a great way to use a lot of colors.

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My fabric stash – look at all the colors!

Okay great, I have the colors for a sunset, but how on earth do I make this quilt look like one? After striking out on my google search for “sunset quilt.” I decided to search for basic quilting patterns. When I stumbled upon this quilt, I knew I would be making a half square triangle quilt. They’re versatile and not too complicated, albeit more challenging than a block quilt.

Baby quilts seem to vary in size, so I thought I would shoot for mine to be about 45” x 45”. I looked through my fabric and picked out a bunch of colors. Using my cutting mat, ruler, and rotary cutter, I started cutting out 5 inch squares. I cut about 4 squares of each color to start. On the floor of my sewing room I laid out all of the squares in roughly the shape of a sunset. Then I needed to pair up squares to make the half square triangles or HSTs. As you can see in bottom row of the below photo, I simply paired up the rows instead of trying to match specific colors. This worked fairly well. There ended up being a few color combinations that I didn’t like that much, but I made them work.  I used this post as a guide for making my HSTs.

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A rough layout and starting to match up the HSTs

Making HSTs is tedious. First you need to match up the squares right side together and draw a line down the diagonal. I did this in batches, about 30 at a time. I was going to do all of them at once, but I got bored so I started sewing. With my newly purchased ¼” presser foot I sewed ¼” away from the line I had drawn on both both sides. After I was done sewing I cut down the center line and squared up the HSTs. I used this tool to help, I highly recommend it. It was important to be accurate here so that my quilt would piece together neatly later.

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Preparing the HSTs

I then ironed open all the HSTs. Note: it is important to press with your iron without moving side to side too much. If you have too much movement while ironing you can stretch your fabric. When possible, I pressed the fabric over to the darker fabric so it didn’t show through.

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HSTs ready to be sewn

The next step took several days to complete because I’m so indecisive. For the next few nights before bed I would arrange the pieces. The next morning I would take a look at it and inevitably decide that I didn’t like this piece or that piece. Finally, after many iterations I settled on a layout and took a picture. The picture was very helpful because I could reference it when sewing and because our cat is a jerk sometimes. Harry, our very playful 2 year old cat thought it was really fun to run around in circles and randomly throw the HSTs into the air – not cool bro, not cool.

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Starting to arrange the HSTs
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Ready to start sewing!

I started at the top and pieced together my HSTs one row at a time. I pressed each row to the side, alternating directions on each row. For example, if row 1 was pressed to the left then row 2 was pressed to the right. Then I connected all of my rows from top to bottom. I pressed all the seams open to reduce bulk – sometimes 8 fabrics converged on one point. My piecing wasn’t perfect, I’m still learning. I did a fairly good job of getting parts to match up, but if you look carefully my points aren’t perfect.

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Halfway there
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The finished top

The hardest part of this project was deciding on a backing. I wanted to use flannel so that it would be snuggly, but I couldn’t decide what color would go best with the front. I must have been at Jo-Ann fabrics for an hour wandering around like a lost child. Perhaps I should learn how to make a decision. I finally found an adorable fabric with some of the lyrics from “You are my Sunshine.” I also found a perfect pattern for the binding, dark blue with little stars and dots.

The backing wasn’t quite large enough as it was, so I ended up piecing it together. In order to baste my quilt I needed to move to a carpetless floor. I taped down my backing to the floor so that it was taut, but not stretched. Then I taped the batting on top of this. When piecing a quilt you want to make sure that the backing and batting are larger than the front. My backing ended up being a lot larger than my front, but that’s fine, I just cut off the excess.

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My quilt sandwich all ready to be basted

Now comes the really fun part – pinning that quilt sandwich! This took quite some time. I used special curved safety pins which are necessary, I think using a straight pin would be very difficult. After trying to close just one pin with my fingers I realized I would need a tool to assist me, bleeding all over the quilt seemed like a bad idea. They make special tools for this, but I found that a wooden kabob stick worked perfectly. I started pinning in the center worked my way out. I started with a cross, then I pinned quadrant by quadrant. This took a while, but it wasn’t too bad. I did have to stop and stretch from time to time.

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My very handy pin closing tool – a wooden kabob stick
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All done basting!

I would love to be able to freestyle quilt and do lots of fun patterns, but that’s advanced level quilting and I’m still at the beginner level. I decided that I would stitch in the ditch, aka quilt along your piecing lines. For the back I used white thread and a tie-dye thread for the top. A Lot of websites say to choose a thread that blends in with your fabric, but what do you use when the top is EVERY color? I was really excited to discover that tie-dyed thread exists. So much fun! I did an okay job of stitching in the ditch, there were times when it looked like a drunk person was operating my machine. 

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I started quilting in the center and worked my way out to the edges

Quilting is a challenge because there is a lot of fabric and no where to put it. I ended up rolling the sides up and feeding the fabric straight through. I also used a walking foot which helps the fabric feed evenly. Make sure to check your bottom thread when quilting, running out part way down a line and not noticing until the end is very frustrating. It may also cause a string of swears to escape your mouth at max volume – sorry for scaring you Harry! When I removed the pins I left them open for quicker use at a later time. There’s no sense in closing them back up just for storage purposes.

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The fabric was all rolled up and was easily moved through the machine

After quilting I cut off all the excess backing and batting and measured the edges of my quilt. I calculated how much fabric I would need for the binding. There are little calculators online that can help you with this. I used this tutorial to help me with my binding. Getting the corners right took me a few tries, but they weren’t difficult once I understood what I was supposed to be doing.

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Getting the hang of this corner thing – this one is ready to be flipped over and finished
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Finishing the binding – look at that fun tie dyed quilting thread in the lower right and ignore the cat hair!

I really enjoyed making a quilt. I love making things from scratch, it’s so rewarding.

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Immediately after finishing the quilt – I ran downstairs and jumped up and down like a little kid
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And this is why I had to launder the quilt right before wrapping it
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Tada! Does it look like a sunset?
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I’m so glad I found this fabric for the backing – I think it’s adorable

I hope my little cousin enjoys his quilt – I had a lot of fun making it. I learned a lot and I look forward to creating another quilt some day.

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