Monday, September 9, 2013

Collaborative Quilting, part I

In science, collaboration is an essential part of success. Many of the greatest scientific discoveries (e.g. DNA structure, sequencing the human genome) are the result of fruitful collaborations between scientists. It also happens to be one of my favorite parts of the job. Two brains are better than one, right?

Collaboration has played an important part in my scientific career. Sarah is a collaborator of mine and she has played an instrumental role in my career as a scientist. When I was a graduate student and she was a post-doc, she was a mentor and a role model to me and was integral in helping get my project off the ground. Now that she is a university professor and researcher and I am a post-doc at a different university, we don't see each other too often- but that hasn't stopped us from collaborating on several new science projects. And, with Skype, we hold virtual lab meetings so it's almost as if she's still just a few floors away.

So... when Sarah emailed to see if I wanted to collaborate on a quilting project, I jumped at the opportunity!  For years, she has told me about how she loved to embroider and that there were kits where she could embroider quilt squares, which she wanted to try. But, Sarah informed me that she is not a sewer. She started on these embroidered quilt squares when her little girl was born and was now finished with them and needed help putting the quilt together. Sarah mailed me the squares, gave me a budget of $100 for fabrics/notions etc., we discussed some color options and then I got to work!

[ excuse my terrible image of sarah's gorgeous embroidery ]
The dominant colors in this quilt were the light blue seen in the quilt square corners and greens and yellows. Each of the quilt squares (there were 12 in total) was 9" x 9". Sarah and I had discussed using a yellow fabric to form the border around each of the 12 squares. I primarily shop for fabrics at JoAnn's but the timing of this quilt happened to coincide with a rare 25% off SALE (picture me doing jazz hands while saying 'sale') at an amazing quilting fabric store nearby called 'Thimble Pleasures'. I got to go fabric shopping with two of my good friends Heather and Allison--my crafting partners in crime--which made fabric hunting even more fun! Working within the budget that Sarah set, I purchased most of my fabrics at Thimble Pleasures, with the exception of part of the backing and the batting, which I was able to get at JoAnn's for less. After Sarah and I had discussed using yellow for the border fabric, I knew I wanted to choose a yellow with a subdued pattern because I wanted her embroidered squares to shine.

[ close up of the yellow border fabric ]

One of the things that Sarah and I discussed was that she wasn't super into pinks/purples/uber-girly things for her daughter. I kept this in mind when picking out the fabrics. I think by choosing fabrics that weren't overtly juvenile, it allows this quilt to grow with Sarah's daughter, rather than appearing as a baby blanket she might have to retire in a few years. For the outer border, I chose a green fabric that Heather spotted. This fabric had yellow and red accents, which were all predominant colors in the quilt squares and it nicely tied in the yellow of the first border. Additionally, it had small white flowers that were similar to those in the yellow fabric.

[ close up of the outer border fabric ]

The quilt squares came as a part of a kit and therefore came with instructions for quilting them (yippee!)! It was interesting to read the instructions as they were likely written by someone who embroiders and not a quilter. In quilting, a 1/4" seam allowance is relatively standard, but for this quilt they requested a 3/8" seam allowance instead. I liked using the larger seam allowance- I often worry with a 1/4" (or scant 1/4" for some quilts) seam allowance that after repeated washings, the seams will come apart. Somehow that extra 1/8" seems like added security?

[Also, as an aside, there is too much math in quilting- Heather and Allison can attest to the fact that there was complicated math involved in figuring out how much backing fabric to use. Math is not my strong suit and I do not enjoy it! My grandmother, who taught me most of what I know about sewing and whose machine I still sew with, was a high school math teacher and tutored me in math through college. She was a very influential person in my life and she is likely rolling in her grave that I have publicly proclaimed on the internet that I loathe math. Sorry Mimi!]

[ exhibit A. math is hard...don't judge me ]

I chose a light blue fabric for the binding, which was roughly the same color as the blue Sarah used in the corners of each square. I love choosing binding fabrics that add a bright pop of color!

[ binding fabric ]
I opted not to purchase the backing fabric right away. I was initially super in love with this chevron flannel fabric from Riley Blake, but after the quilt was put together, I ultimately decided that it was a bit too masculine. It made me glad that I waited until the quilt top was put together before choosing the backing fabrics.

Stay tuned next week for part II: A tutorial for putting the quilt together!