Thursday, November 5, 2015

Throwback Thursday Quilt Edition: The 13-year Bed Quilt

You know those UFOs or WIPs or whatever you name your projects that seem like they'll never get done? I'm here to tell you that you can complete them (eventually) and enjoy them long afterwards, even if you initially bit off way more than you could chew.

Here is the quilt, which we've used on our bed from October to June each year for the last 20 years. 


I've raised the blinds in this picture and put all the lights on to get the truest color, but over the years, we've kept the blinds closed on the west window (on the left side of the picture). The other window faces north, so generally the room is fairly dark. This is how the quilt looks from the doorway. It looks pretty good for a 20-year old quilt doesn't it? Keep reading and I'll explain in a few minutes why I've included this tidbit about the lighting.

I started designing this quilt in August 1982. My diary told me so. I also still have a folder with odds and ends of plans and templates, including an old grocery store receipt for dish detergent (55 cents) with scribbled notes on it about yardage requirements. We were living in a rented duplex at the time with our 18-month old daughter. I had recently learned how to hand quilt and had it in my mind to make a bed quilt to replace a cheap store-bought bedspread we got when we married in 1978. 

I chose two blocks. I'm not sure of my source, but I have a note paper that mentions Puss in the Corner and Grandmother's Cross with the dates 1898 and 1931. I must have copied that information from a book. I also have the graph paper design that I colored and most of the templates that I made from graph paper and glued to plastic stencil material. 

Notice the double border at the top of the design. I used that so that the quilt was long enough to fold over our pillows and would still show a border, as you see in the picture of it on our bed. You can see a couple of options that I tried out at the top of the design page.

I'm not sure when I purchased the material for the quilt. I didn't mention this quilt in my diary again until June 1983, when I noted that I was working on it, and in October 1983, when I mentioned that I was still cutting pieces out--over a year after I started the design. And in February 1984 (!) I noted that I had started cutting out the blue pieces for the quilt. I wasn't using a rotary cutter yet, so all that cutting was by scissors after tracing around each template. Now, in between all that cutting, my son was born (July 1983), so I have some idea of what I was up to most of the time. But I also quilted a double wedding ring top for my sister-in-law and made some other quilts that I'll blog about sometime. 

In May 1984, we moved to a little bungalow. Our old bed quilt was now nearly 6 years old and looking a little worse for wear, but I was sure I'd get our new quilt finished soon and I refused to buy something else in the meantime. We lived in that house for 11 years. My husband and I had an attic bedroom (the kind with a sloped ceiling where you can only stand up straight when walking down the middle of the room). During that time, I won $100 worth of wallpaper (which went far in those days) at a local store. In my optimism about finishing the quilt, I chose wallpaper to match the new quilt--an ivory background with a tiny dark red and blue print--to cover the knee wall of our room and a navy striped paper (very much like the outer border of the quilt) which I cut apart and made into a border strip where the knee wall met the ceiling. Never mind that it did not go with the brown/navy bedspread with the giant stylized paisley that we were using.

After we moved, I took a job quilting for pay (I'll write about that some day soon). And there were always other projects to tackle. I abruptly stopped writing in my diary the day we moved, so my detailed notes about quilting the bed quilt ended. At some point I got it pieced. I still have the plan for the quilting design--which I soon found out was way more dense than I realized and would take (almost) forever to hand quilt. But I was committed, and there was no turning back. I made templates from plastic stencil material and drew around them with a silver lead pencil as I quilted in a hoop on my lap. 

Here's the design:

And here's how it looks in quilting:

Well, you probably know where this story is going. In 1995, we built a new house and moved into it in July. By that time the old bedspread from 1978 was pretty much shredded, and the "new" bedspread had never had a chance to enjoy its beautifully wallpapered attic room. So shortly after we moved, I made the push to finish the new quilt. I had to shop for new material for binding, but was lucky to find a red that was almost the exact same color as the original red fabric--it even had a little whitish figure in it. I finally finished the quilt 13 years after I started it, and we've been using it ever since. It used to hang all the way to the floor, but sometime along the way, we bought a new bed with a thicker mattress, so now there is a dark green dust ruffle added to the box spring. 

I didn't know a lot about fabric selection in those days (except that I knew I didn't want floral), so the quilt doesn't have a lot of contrast. It's not a style I'd pick now either, but I still like it and have a little feeling of excitement when I pull it out of the closet when the weather starts to cool in the fall. Because it took so long to make, I've never considered replacing it. However, the last couple of years, I've been noticing something...

Here's what the bottom right corner looks like today (I've folded it up to the top of the bed so you can see it):

And here's the left bottom corner--the one by the window that ALWAYS HAS THE BLIND DRAWN):

Faded! See that contrast between the two sides? It's getting worse really fast and starting to feel kind of rotten. The little bit of light from the setting sun through the blind each day did its damage. No matter how much we think we are protecting our quilts, light is an enemy, even if it does take 20 years to notice. 

I think this quilt is near the end of the line. (Understatement!) It looks fine from the doorway in low light, but something will need to be done soon. I'm thinking I might save the middle of the quilt--cut it down to a lap size and re-bind it for an emergency car quilt. I would love to make a whole cloth quilt in off-white to replace it. But I have to be realistic. It would probably take me way too long to do that, even with machine quilting. The blanket you see under the bed quilt is actually a commercially made off-white cotton quilt. It's not big enough to be a bedspread, but maybe I will buy (yes, I said buy) a bigger one to be the main quilt. Then I could make bed runners to change as often as I'd like. 

Here are some stats: The quilt measured 104 by 111 inches when I made it (10-inch blocks, 2-inch sashes, and borders of 2, 4 and 3 inches). The batting is a fairly light weight polyester and the quilting thread is a hand quilting cotton. The quilt is now roughly 101 by 107 inches. I don't know if that is shrinkage from quilting or washing.

So there you have it. I'm not sure if this quilt is 20 years old or 33, but it's had a good run. Persistence did pay off. And apparently made me a little too attached to the final result. Now it's time to let go.

I'm linking up today with Jenn from A Quarter Inch from the Edge for Throwback Thursday. (Button is on the right).

Now, go work on a UFO, WIP, anything!


  1. I made my first quilt when I was in high school (a twin sized quilt) to take to college. I used it for 3 semesters, and just from that period of time it has faded from sunlight. Perhaps I shouldn't have taken the bed by the window... Persistence does pay off, and getting 20 years of almost constant use from a large quilt is awesome.

  2. What a great story behind your quilt. I love that you kept a diary and could actually document your progress along the way. I hadn't put much thought into the effects sunlight would have on fabric, but I will definitely pay attention now.

  3. Great story! Your persistence paid off. But it might be time to retire it. I like your idea of making a smaller quilt from the good center.

  4. what a well used quilt! that's the way it should be! well done!

  5. Great post and beautiful quilt.

  6. What a tale! And cautionary one at that for all those of us who have WIPs that seem never ending! Thanks for linking up with Throwback Thursday @ A Quarter Inch from the Edge!

  7. Love your story and the encouragement. I am quilting for pay right now and it seems I never get to just sit down and quilt. While all those WIPs sit in waiting. Hope you get a new one done soon!

  8. So endearing, your quilt & story is lovely!

  9. I hope you can save the whole center of the quilt Janine, because the quilting you did is a real treasure! It is quite a shock how much the quilt faded even with the blind closed. What is really wonderful is how much the quilt was used and loved.

  10. Oh I love this post. It is such a great expose on you and your quilting life and records the history of moving from house to house. It's wonderful.
    In about 1980 I made my parent a simple quilt (huge star pattern -not sure what that is really called) and it as in a very similar color scheme. It faded terribly, just like that corner of yours. I think the fabrics from that time period were not of the quality that we have now. Fading is still an issue if left in the sun but it sure seems like my fabrics from 'those days' aren't as nice as what I can buy nowI. worked in my dad's fabric shop as a teenager and the cottons weren't as good nor was the process for dying the fabric.
    I love the idea of cutting it down to preserve it. The quilting is so nice. Totally worth saving.

  11. awe! But it is lovely and has great memories. I use those solid coloured bought quilts and add a lap quilt for the bottom. :)

  12. Great quilty post! What a wonderful quilting job you did. I have had the same thing happen with a quilt I made for my daughter.

  13. What a great post - I love to hear the whole story (all 33/20 years worth). I was quite shocked by the fading; I too would have thought pulling the blinds was enough but this is a warning to us all. You should definitely do something to save what you can - this has part of your history in it. PS I love your bed!

  14. I am impressed that this quilt got made and finished - what a journey. I'm equally impressed that it has been on your bed for so long. My bed quilt literally has holes eaten through it from the Texas sun (and no window coverings since I live on a ranch) and it's only twelve years old! Time to make a new one. I may even get some blinds because queen sized quilts are a pain and I want mine to last twenty years, too.

  15. What a wonderful story about persistence and letting go and the relentlessness of time ... really enjoyed reading this.

  16. Such a great story Janine. My eyes popped out of my head and I said, "NO!" when you said you might cut it...NO!! ALL that incredibly beautiful quilting (I sucked in my breath at seeing your drawing and then the rendition in fabric and thread!!), all that time, commitment, life that happened during the making of the can't! But that's just me. At least you're not chucking the whole thing. Makes me stop and think, though about the western exposure we have in this house, and how the sun shines right on our bed once the leaves are off and the sun is lower, even more so.