Sunday, December 14, 2014

Quilting in Alaska - au Natural!

 So, here I am in Alaska and it's winter and I'm wondering what am I going to do to keep myself busy and as I'm wondering, a phone call from my son reveals that I'm about to have a second great-grandson. 

That got me to wondering what I could send him as a gift that would be special from "me".  And that led me to think about all the things that I loved about my grandmother and that got me to thinking about QUILTS!

The 1st Quilt my Grandmother Made for me.

My grandmothers all made quilts and quilting in Alaska is a natural pairing in my mind.  I love to sew and I sewed a lot when I lived in Thailand, but one of the biggest challenges was the heat.  I always found myself sweating all over my "projects".  Making a quilt just never made any kind of sense.  But here in AK, keeping warm is a bonus and sewing definitely keeps you warm.  It can be a lot of work!  

The 2nd Quilt my Grandmother made for me.  This is called a "wedding ring" quilt.
The funny thing is that as I started learning how to quilt, I found that it also was a fun way to think about my grandmother and her life and all of the quilts that I have and have had in my life.  A quilt is not meant to be just some old blanket.  It starts out as a labor of love (I'm talking about real quilts made in homes here not factory products.) and probably carries far more weight in memories for the maker than anyone realizes.  

As I agonized over the "how-to's" and the little mistakes and the BIG mistakes, I also considered the parallels of life and the mysteries of the ages.  I'd say it's not a hobby to be done while sitting mindlessly in front of the TV.  My brain and my body both had to be totally engaged every minute or disaster lurked in the folds and seams to be discovered at the point of "too late" and "how do I fix that"!

My first beloved quilt came from my step-grandmother who lived in Indiana.  I can't really say for sure that she made it or even how it came to be in my possession.  I just know that old roughly made quilt meant a lot to me.  It wasn't beautiful or soft.  It was made of a coarse, scratchy material like old work shirts in shades of brown, gray and black backed with a piece of red and black flannel.  It was tied with bits of yarn.  I treasured that quilt for years until it finally fell apart.  It passed from my life but its memory remains.  

My Mom is a "collector" of quilts and has quite an eclectic collection of her own.  I was very happy to find this "treasure" in my Mom's pile of quilts last winter.  It's not particularly beautiful and she had no idea who made it or where it came from at all.  It's obviously homemade from a rough polyester fabric (like old work shirts!) and the backing is an old blanket that's soft and cuddly.  Finding this one was like getting my old "favorite" back!

This is my "go-to" quilt and stays on top of my quilt pile......

when I can wrest it from "the cat"!

As my second great grandson prepares himself to come into this broken world, I decided I better do something simple in the hopes that I could get it made before he entered high school.  The idea of using "jelly rolls" caught my fancy just by the sound of the name alone "jelly rolls" - what's not to like about that!  I never had the chance to learn anything about quilting from my Grandmother so it was up to me and my internet skills to figure this all out.

Fortunately, I stumbled across a website by Liz Katsura and she provides a wonderful set of patterns and instructions and even help for the helpless though I didn't have to push that "button".  I sent in an order for a few rolls that had a "boy" theme and some color.

I picked a simple looking "rail fence" pattern for my first quilt.  I decided that denim was going to be my "signature" so I used that as my "anchor".  I wanted my quilts to be unique to my own personal style.  I also love the idea of soft and cuddly so I went to the thrift store in Fairbanks and bought up a bunch of Snuggly fleece lap blankets for the backing.  

It was time to snuggle up to my Grandmother's sewing machine and put all of my skills to the test.  I didn't have any fancy quilting tools.  It was just me, the machine, a pair of scissors and an old gummy ruler from school supplies.  YIKES!

My First Quilt!

Of course, this story just can't end here.  I made this little quilt for my second great grandson.  That got me to thinking that I better make one for my first great grandson too.  However, he's five now so I knew I wasn't going to be able to just make him a baby quilt.  

Making the baby quilt took me three weeks (NOT in actual work time) and I feared the lessons that I learned here weren't going to help me with a bigger quilt.  I did know that I liked quilting, but I still had a lot to learn.  It was back to the drawing board for the next design and a story for another day............

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