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A Brave New Ending

Updated: May 9, 2021

If you're looking for me anytime soon, you will find me unpicking the edge to edge machine quilting on my 73" x 43" hand pieced labour of love...

There were times during the final stages of stitching my Glorious Garden quilt when I thought I would never finish it. I loved making every block, but the actual joining up of the blocks was a slog. So many teeny tiny triangles, so fiddly & endless. But, I got there & I was super proud of my efforts. It took me over two years & the entire quilt top was hand stitched - at 73" x 83" that's a lot of stitches!

I always knew that I would hand my quilt over for machine quilting. This is my second big, hand pieced quilt & I always have a nervousness about the strength & durability of my hand stitching. I think that machine quilting holds everything nicely in place & offers that strength & durability, giving me a peace of mind. However, I'd had a near heartbreaking experience with my first entirely hand pieced quilt top, my Glorious Hexagons quilt, which had taken two years to complete. The nutshell version of events involved it returning from the quilter with the outside seam allowance turned under & quilted inside the quilt - leaving me nothing to attach my binding to. I was devastated. It took me months to face dealing with it. But eventually I did, hand stitching the binding in place, manufacturing a binding system to hide the problem. If I had made one quilt that I thought might be show worthy, then this had been it - but I knew that the binding issue had negated that.

Live & Learn...

My decisions around having my Glorious Garden quilted were perhaps not made for the right reasons. Firstly, I just wanted it done. I wanted it quilted & back home so that I could get the binding & label on, & tick it off my to do list. With hindsight, this quilt top deserved better than that. It deserved me giving it the time & care around it's quilting, as I'd given it in piecing it together. Secondly, I made my decisions based on our current situation. We are a no income household at the moment, with my partner currently out of work. Professional quilting therefore seemed an indulgence. I think that on some level I had a "that will do" mentality, rather than considering how much the quilt top had already cost me in time & love.

A quilt changes once it is quilted - it somehow magically brings it all together, creates a unity, completes it. When my quilt arrived back home I was excited - excited to see it, excited to finish it. I threw my quilt open, ready to take it all in. My eyes scanned across it, liking what I saw, until they landed on one of the lighter block centres. They then quickly scanned across to some other light block centres. Then frantically across the entire quilt top. I quickly flipped the quilt over & continued to scan the quilting. My heart sunk. I knew that I had a problem.

It seemed like there was a glitch in the quilting pattern. What was supposed to be a blousy, flowing floral design instead had jagged, somewhat erratic corners. Some of the petals that were supposed to be rounded & soft were instead squared. And it wasn't just one block - it was repeated across the quilt. Also, the stitches are irregular lengths in places - some so tight & short that they are embedded in the fabric, others a long & loopy. Devastated, I tossed the quilt behind the couch & went back to what I'd been doing. But it played on my mind, sitting in the background like a small, dark, angry cloud waiting to burst open. For days. I kept thinking that maybe it wasn't as bad as I'd imagined. Perhaps I was overthinking it, perhaps it was my perfectionism in play. But I couldn't bring myself to look at it...

It Will Be Messy

"When we deny the story, it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending."

- Brené Brown

I knew that I needed to address the elephant in the room. I knew that I needed to pull the quilt out & reconsider it. To look at it again, with fresh eyes, & see if it truly was a problem. And it was. As soon as I opened it up my eyes were drawn straight to the wonky quilting. I asked my partner to take a look at it, asking him if he could see any issue. He pointed it out immediately. Where to from here?

I began by re-celebrating my make. Overall, the quilt is a beauty. The blocks are stunning, it is a celebration of the Kaffe Fassett Collective's big, bold, beautiful florals. The Kaffe Fassett sateen wide backing fabric I chose (& will now need to replace) is sumptuous & divine. I artfully arranged it on my clothesline (hiding the flawed quilting) on a glorious Spring day & photographed it. I shared it & celebrated it.

Next, I reached out to the quilter. Not in anger or frustration (as I would have once done). I had given myself time & space to sit with the disappointment, so I instead simply reached out to ask if she had any thoughts around how I might rectify the problem - could I unpick sections & re-quilt it by hand? Maybe.

I then made contact with other quiltmaking friends to ask their thoughts, based on experience. The responses were resounding. "Unpick it. Very carefully. You've put so much effort into the quilt top you need to be happy with the end result."

I discussed it with my immediate family. Their responses were similar, but from a place of knowing me so well. This is where I always listen the most closely. "Unpick it. You have worked so hard on making it & you will always look at the quilting problems & be unhappy with it."

The quilt sat waiting for me. I have need time to prepare myself, to feel ready. And last night I was. So the unpicking began. I spent two hours carefully working on it. I unpicked a 15cm (6") square. In two hours. By my calculations, that is over 300 hours of unpicking. 300 hours. Ugh.

I will need to replace the sateen wide backing as it is pulling badly (I'm very upset about this - it's so beautiful, & not cheap...) & l need to replace the batting as it has been trimmed to the quilt size. I also think I need to invest in a top end thread un-picker (any suggestions?). Not to mention having to pay to have it re-quilted. It will be an expensive lesson learnt.

I will no longer shy away from dealing with this mess (& continue to hide it behind the couch). I am determined to write a brave new ending for my quilt, as painstaking as it will be.

And finally, if you ever (& I sincerely hope you don't!) find yourself in similar situation - some wise words from Judy, a machine quilting friend: "If you go gently it won't be a problem (to unpick). Especially if you go from the back - just treat it as thought it's another hand piecing project. It will be messy, but once it has been spritzed the needle hole marks shrink to close. You will be glad to have done this; & the work you've done to piece it will be on display."

From my clever hands, to yours...

Jo xo

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