My very first “nibling” arrived almost two months ago now, a little baby girl named Leah. When I found out about the pregnancy, the first thing I did was started thinking of crafty gifts to make. (Second was congratulating the parents-to-be!) A niece called for more than a pair of booties or a hat, and I very quickly settled on a quilt, something appropriate for a new baby, but that could be cuddled and snuggled for years to come as well, as long as my sewing holds up.
The TL:DR version
This post is long, so I’ll cut to the chase if you just want to see a pretty picture and move on (read on afterwards for close ups and construction details). I absolutely love how well this quilt turned out. Sure, if you look closely, there is some technique improvement I need to keep working at. But the overall effect is better than I hoped when I planned it, and I’m really happy with all the details I included. Here is the finished masterpiece:
I consulted with Leah’s mama on a theme/colour scheme (without giving away what I would actually make), so with “three little birds” (theme) and coral and turquoise (colours) in mind, I started to pull together ideas and draft the quilt. I also wanted to incorporate a different type of triangle, after conquering the half square triangle on another project.
My initial plan plus a ton of notes made along the way!
I initially wanted to do paper piecing, as Leah’s parents gave me a book last Christmas, but I consulted with Pinterest (of course) and came up with some appliqué ideas instead. I really wanted to incorporate the bird theme in a bigger way than simply choosing fabric with birds on it, though there are at least fabrics featuring birds as well.
Despite not usually being drawn to greens and oranges, I found myself really liking the shades I was choosing and a great selection soon came together. I can’t recall all the designers, but the Persimmon by Basic Gray (for Moda) collection features heavily and the bird fabric in the centre of the main blocks across the middle is from the Acorn Trail by Teagan White (for Birch) collection (side note: while looking up the names of these lines, I found the Eiko collection. I absolutely adore koi fish and spent a pretty penny getting a yard each of Playing Koi and Eiko’s Pond – blogging is expensive!). Most of the fabric comes from GJs.
Piecing the triangles, squares and strips was easy. I used a tutorial from See Kate Sew for the triangles, though I think I used Kate’s template as a basis, but ultimately went with marginally different triangle dimensions, seeing as I wanted them to be spread evenly over a set area. There is an updated template now too, which I will definitely use in future, as it was a bit of a trick working out which end of the seam to line up.
I completed three large blocks very quickly in November, but with baby not due until January, Christmas projects quickly took priority. I picked up the appliqué sections once our Christmas holiday was done, which took a bit more time. I did a lot of work in the two weekends before Leah arrived, then by the following weekend she was here, so I really went into overdrive. My Instagram attests to this being my number one project for a few weeks.
Trust me, don’t ever use Birch basting spray, 505 is the only one to use!
I drafted the bird and tree myself, but drawing (unintended pun!) heavily from designs found on the internet. Despite not really designing these pictures, I’m still really happy with my drawing skills, as I’m usually all stick figures and two dimensional houses with trees and flowers to the side! I wasn’t initially set on the number of birds to appliqué, but as it started coming together, I thought it was appropriate to have the large one in one corner and two on the tree, to pull the “three little birds” theme together a bit more.
Using my self-drafted pictures, I made the various appliqué pieces, cut them out, stuck them on and appliquéd around them. It is time consuming, and can be a bit fiddly, but the process is relatively straight forward. The key is to test the tension, as well as the length and width of the zig zag on scraps, because you do not want to be unpicking appliqué stitches!!
The time consuming nature of this task gave me lots of time to think about the remaining pieces and the quilting, and I ended up going on multiple thread runs to Spotlight to pick up different colours, where I was initially going to appliqué entirely in a neutral grey. I also decided I wanted to quilt around the key elements of the bird and tree designs using a contrast colour on the back, so that the design would show through. This both solved the problem of how to quilt these sections, because they were too large not to, and introduced some extra features on the back. I have always done a plain backing on my quilts, but I wanted to make this one more interesting.
In addition to quilting the designs through the back, I chose three different fabrics and added Leah’s name. I planned how I was going to quilt the middle section, then worked out the placement and size of the letters to ensure they weren’t randomly quilted. I’m pretty impressed with how perfectly this came out, because while I measured everything up, I was ultimately quilting blind! I just threw the quilt under my machine and hoped for the best here.
I quilted all the straight lines first, and despite giving it considerable thought, I still wasn’t really sure how I would quilt the triangles until it came time to do them. In the end I decided to quilt on both sides of all the seams, but in a way that meant I wasn’t stopping and starting and tying too many threads off (i.e. the lazy way!). Again, I’m really pleased with out this turned out, especially on the back, it gives it another interesting feature.
You can see the outline of the bird here too, though you can’t see the contrast colouring.
The hardest part of quilting just inside the appliqué stitching was the curve of the leaves, which I did under the walking foot, thinking it was a gentle enough curve to cope. It worked for the most part, though I had to unpick a few leaves and try again, as they came out really bad the first time around. I would love to master free motion quilting and do this that way instead in future.
The contrast colouring can be seen more clearly on the tree (click on the photo for a larger version).
Seeing as this is going to a newborn and I used basting spray, I threw the whole quilt in the wash once it was done. This set the quilting stitches in around the appliqué pieces, which especially disguised the quilting on the front of the tree while really bringing out the leaves, so I was pleased with the effect.
I changed my mind at the last minute about the binding. I initially cut green strips from the Kona solid I used in the middle of the backing, but I decided this would be too harsh against the front of the quilt. I had just enough of the coral spots and gray thatch leftover, and decided to do two sides with each, contrasting it with the opposite colour across the top and bottom. I’m happy with the outcome, although I didn’t plan the corners out well. If I’d thought about it more, I could have had the join right in the corner.
I also made the strips wider than the standard 2.5 inches, and sewed them on the front with an 0.5” allowance. This just happened to fold over nicely with enough of an overlap for me to stitch in the ditch on the front and still catch the back. I have always hand stitched my binding down, but it is time consuming, and I didn’t want to take another 3-4 evenings to finish the quilt, baby had arrived by this time and I needed to post the quilt to America! I hate stitching in the ditch, I’m terrible at it, but I set my foot pedal to low speed and took my time. For the most part, it looks good, but I failed to catch about 7-8 sections on the back. I just pulled these across a bit more and went over them again, which is probably not good practice, but it worked for me.
One last detail and tip – I used Mathilda’s own bamboo batting, and was not overly happy with how well it quilted. I’ve quilted with wool, bamboo and cotton before, but this was the first time I’d experienced threads of batting coming through the quilt. It’s also not quite as soft and cuddly as my first bamboo quilt (from memory, the batting from that came from Spotlight!).