18 Feb 2017
This post is part of a series about sewing NotQuilts. If you’re unfamiliar with this method, The NotQuilt series begins here.
I began work on the Dragon Princess NotQuilt fashion face. What an awful experience it was. I understand completely why so many people buy packaged quilt kits or patterns with every last detail thought out, plastic templates for each shape, every fabric recommended along with how much to buy, and a known, finished size that the maker is guaranteed to achieve.
The first step was rearranging the living room. I like to work on a large, bare surface, and I don’t have a table big enough to lay out a NotQuilt. Nobody does one at least 110 by 100 inches square. If you do, how do you reach the middle?
My living room has a lot of empty space most of the year. It has a cream-colored wool rug that is good to pin on, easier on the knees than a hardwood floor, and the surface keeps fabric from shifting too much. The rug even has a design with some strong vertical and horizontal lines that I use to line up my projects on, helping them to stay square and true.
However, it has gotten cold and the houseplants have come inside. Most of them live in the living room as that is where the big picture window is and they need the sunlight. The croton in particular is huge, difficult to move, and in the way. They all had to be shoved off to the sides, putting them in the way of closing the draperies. Other pieces of furniture had to be moved as well.
The First Mistake
At last that was done and Dear Daughter and I laid out the blue blanket, blue side up and the pieced backing facing the rug. I brought out my ripped vertical strips of Dragon Princess and laid them out roughly.
And there it was, another mistake in measuring. I bought Dragon Princess to make some shirts and I cut out two, one for me and one for a friend of Oldest Child. The size of the motif meant I wasted a lot of fabric cutting out the shirts and trying to match the design repeat. My uncut yardage had, at the top end, two long selvedge side strips extending out with a wide gap in the middle. This was where the last shirt front had been cut. Each of these two extensions was about eight inches wide and maybe 16 to 18 inches long.
The width of the extending strips worked perfectly. According to my calculations, Dragon Princess would tear nicely into six vertical strips, each seven inches wide. That would allow me to put a Dragon Princess grid on the fashion face, keeping the strips aligned so that the design motif flowed across the face of the NotQuilt. Each strip would be spaced 9 inches apart and, according to my math, that would give me an outside border about six inches wide. Six strips would give me five squares, which I would then fill in with my signature irregular rectangles.
Because the blue blanket was about square, I would then sew down horizontal strips of Dragon Princess, giving me a final grid of five squares across and five squares down. I would then fill in the uneven number of squares alternating the rectangles, first horizontally in the first square, then vertically, and so on, across the surface of the NotQuilt.
An even number of squares would not lay out as well since the two far squares wouldn’t be symmetrical; one would be vertical and the other horizontal.
I didn’t want to waste material. Those extended strips were the right width and so I took advantage of them. I first tore the total length I needed of Dragon Princess to make the vertical grid.
Then I tore that length into six strips, each about seven inches wide. At the far ends of the two selvedge sides, I had to trim off the bit of excess fabric.
So far so good. I was using every scrap of fabric to its best possible use.
You can probably see the problem right away. Once the strips were thrown down onto the surface of the blue blanket, the middle four strips weren’t long enough! I knew that I wanted the outer set of strips, both horizontal and vertical, to extend to the edges of the blanket, corralling the grid. I knew that the inner strips didn’t have to be quite as long. I knew that I would have some border space all around.
But my border space wasn’t 16 inches deep! Alternatively, divided in half, it wasn’t eight inches deep! It was four and a half inches deep, to be precise, not the measurement I originally thought it would be. No matter what I do, I cannot line up the vertical strips so the Dragon Princess pattern marches across the surface.
Frustration, tears, and swearing. Not a happy moment in the household.
Then, to make matters worse, I couldn’t get the strips to lay out so they were evenly spaced. It turned out to be very difficult to lay out all six vertical strips and keep them 9 inches apart for their entire length.
What I ended up doing, after more swearing, tears and frustration, was making a set of paper spacers, each one of them 9 inches wide. We
laid all six strips out, spaced them correctly, and discovered that the outside border needed to be 4½ inches.
By this time, my back was starting to hurt. A real drawback of designing this way is having to do it on the floor. It’s the only place big enough to see the entire design at once. That means time spent on my hands and knees, which also object to the process.
Attacking the Horizontal
Since the blue blanket is not square, I know that the horizontal strips can’t be spaced the same way as the vertical. At 9 inches apart, the remaining outer border, top and bottom, will be about one inch deep. But I can keep the border at 4½ inches, top and bottom, and put the horizontal strips closer together.
They are already torn, each one is 7 inches wide, just like the vertical strips. It will be much less noticeable for each of the empty squares to be slightly shorter top to bottom than side to side as opposed to having no border at all, top and bottom. Besides, the Roman stripes that will fill those spaces will conceal any unevenness.
Buying a predesigned quilt spares you these aggravations. The designer suffered them for you to get to that smooth, attractive, finished product. You don’t see the false starts and dead ends. Designing a pattern can be a deeply humbling, frustrating experience. The process is expressly devised to make you feel stupid and incompetent. Design books never seem to talk about this, allowing the reader to think that the finished product sprang out, perfect, from the mind of the designer, like Athena from the mind of Zeus.
That is totally not true.
So I laid out the vertical strips using my spacers. I can make it work across, with side borders 4½ inches wide. I made the decision to keep that same border width of 4½ inches on the top and bottom. That 16-inch difference between the top of the two outermost vertical strips and the inner four vertical strips can’t be worked around. I have some fabric left; certainly enough to piece in filler strips if I don’t match them. If I match them, I may not have enough fabric (because I am so far off) and, at this rate, I’ll need that cloth to finish out the horizontal strips.
I think I tore enough fabric for my six horizontal strips. I tore six, plus two more, since I knew I needed that cloth to make it all the way across the surface of the NotQuilt. Now, I am not so sure and I won’t know until after I sew down all of those strips.
The pink Dragon Princess grid is so dominant a design element that I cannot fudge it. I have to have enough fabric to make the entire grid and if the motif doesn’t match up, it doesn’t match up.
Dear Daughter and I snapped chalk lines on all four sides, each chalk line 4½ inches in from the edge. I pinned the two exterior vertical strips down, running them exactly at the chalk line on the outer sides and touching the top and the bottom of the blanket edge. I sewed them down.
I then dragged Dragon Princess back upstairs from my sewing area and laid it out on the rug. Dear Daughter and I laid out the first pair of vertical strips, using the paper spacers. These strips are numbered two and five. They run, as per the picture, inside the outermost strips (one and six). I pinned them down, and it was time to quit for the night.
Strips two and five got pinned with their top edges lining up with the 4½-inch border at the top. They are too short, by about a foot, to reach the bottom border chalk line.
This process took hours and hours.
The next time I get to the sewing machine, I will sew down this first set of pinned, interior vertical strips. Then the last pair (strips three and four) will get pinned and sewed down, spacing them 9 inches in from the previous pair of vertical strips. I assume the center space between strips two and three will be 9 inches. It may not be but it won’t be off by too much.
When all six vertical strips are sewn down, then I will tear four more vertical strips, using what is left of Dragon Princess, and fill in the gaps at the bottom. I will attempt to line up the design motif, trying to not make it too obvious how mismatched all of this is.
When that is done, then it will be time to place, pin, and sew the horizontal strips, completing my Dragon Princess grid.
I pray that something else doesn’t go wrong between now and that point, like running out of Dragon Princess cloth. Arg.