A conspicuous amount of imagination, hard work and patience had gone into making the items on display and I could see that it demanded more than sewing a few bits of fabric together to create a satisfying quilt. Thus I signed up for this 2 day workshop, run by The Exeter Sewing Machine Company ,to make a mini-quilt and intended particularly for Beginners. I was so glad that I did as I learnt about many aspects that I had not considered at all. This sample 24" x 24" was roughly what we students aimed to produce using our own choice of fabrics.
Day 1. As requested, I arrived on the first day at 9.45 am for a 10 o'clock start clutching the only items that we were asked to provide- 4 "fat quarters" for the body of the quilt and 25 cm of fabric at least 110 cm wide for the binding plus a packed lunch. All the fabric had to be 100% cotton and well-pressed (the instructions were very explicit) so as not to waste working time removing creases. All other materials and all tools were provided. The workroom was light and airy. Each work station had its own Brother 1000 machine, large cutting board, iron and ironing surface and all the necessary equipment. There were 4 of us at the workshop and, after settling at our work stations and finishing the coffee or tea provided, we were ready to go. The tutor, Jenna Clements, was excellent, taking us in clear and logical steps through all the processes.
Then we learnt how to remove any selvedges and accurately cut on the straight grain to exact measurements using a rotary cutter and cutting mat. I was really pleased to learn this technique and realised that I had not been successful in my previous attempts at using a rotary cutter because I was not doing it correctly.
To avoid the fabric being caught up in the feed dogs you can place a scrap of spare fabric over the feed dogs and immediately abutting the fabric that you are going to sew (as in the photograph below) - a useful tip that you may well be aware of but which was new to me.
Using the correct method of pressing of the sewn block is very important to ensure a successful result. Seams are not normally pressed open, as in dressmaking, but to one side. It does mean that you have to think carefully how the blocks will be sewn together so that you press the seams to avoid bulk where two seams meet by making sure that the seam of one block has been pressed to the right and the seam of the block to be sewn to it is pressed in the opposite direction.
This brings us on to the all-important "matching of points", that's where seam lines meet. Apparently the accuracy of the matching is one of the key factors by which the standard of your work is judged. Many points can occur on a large quilt. Fortunately I only had to match five points in my mini quilt. See if you can spot them, they are the points where four seam lines meet and the junction of those seams should be exact. The joy I felt on achieving my first correctly matched point was enormous.
By the end of the first day at 4 pm we all had the main section of our quilt sewn. Here's a photograph of another student's work, she decided to make her quilt as a linear runner instead of a square. I love all those dramatic blues.
If you had not finished or wanted to redo a point that had not quite matched, you could stay on, as the shop remains open until 5.30 pm, but I went to explore the fabric section in the basement and the haberdashery on the ground floor, plenty of scope for shopping there. However the thought of having to carry it all back to London on public transport helped me resist and not break my "No more fabric buying" resolution yet again.
Day 2. Overnight the tutor had tacked wadding and backing fabric to our quilt fronts ready for us to to begin the day and crack on. So that we would understand this process Jenna explained the different types of wadding available, their uses, advantages and disadvantages and various other details about wadding, such as the maximum distance apart for quilting lines appropriate to each type. This lead to an explanation of how to construct a quilt "sandwich" (the top, wadding and backing) and how to correctly tack it together preparatory to quilting. Below you can see the 3 layers of my quilt before it was trimmed.
And here, on another student's piece, you can see how the whole quilt is tacked to secure the 3 layers together so the fabric is held in place while you machine stitch the layers permanently together. This one is destined for a grandchild. The pigs are so cute.
To machine quilt the 3 layers together we used a "stitch in the Ditch" type technique using a walking foot and following the seam lines of the patches though not right on top of that seam but immediately to one side by an infinitesimal amount. This means that, actually, you can't see the machine quilting on the right side but it is there, securely holding the layers together. It was a slow process for me, needing concentration to keep the needle stitching in the correct place. Jenna taught us an incredibly neat way of fastening off the stitching so there are no signs of stopping and starting on the front or the back. If you look at the photograph below I hope that you can only just see the machine stitching, although the tacking is plainly visible.
I had hoped that we would do some visible machine quilting but there was insufficient time. Jenna described some simple quilting effects and how they were achieved and discussed tools for marking out designs. We pressed on to cut strips of fabric for the binding for the edges. To make the necessary length we joined our strips with a machined seam on the diagonal so the bulk of the seam would be distributed when it was folded over. This photograph below shows the diagonal sewing line I have marked on my strip, once that was sewn I had a long straight strip.
This strip was folded in two along its length and a diagonal point created.
This folded strip was laid around the top of the right side of the quilt with the raw edges of the quilt and the binding strip aligned and mitred at the four corners. Then the strip was stitched to the quilt a quarter inch from the edge.
The binding was folded in half to the back side of the quilt and, our time being up, we would be able to finish the quilt at home by hand stitching the binding down on the wrong side or machine stitching on the right side along the join of the binding and the quilt body. I had to leave my quilt behind in Devon to be continued next time I visit but I roughly pinned the binding in position to take this photograph, which gives you some idea of how the finished item will look.
I can see plenty of faults with it but I am quite pleased with this first effort. I think I might try hand-quilting something simple on the four cream squares but I will wait until I have finished the binding before deciding on this.
One of the things that I liked so much about this course was the amount of information about tools and techniques so one understood not just how to do something but also the reasons why you did it and what other options were available. I was able to comprehend the techniques to a greater degree than I would have done by reading a book in quilting. It certainly taught me the importance of accuracy and also some processes that I can use in dressmaking.
Exeter is a very interesting city and there is beautiful countryside around it. Should you be thinking of taking a long weekend break you could consider Exeter and combine it with one of the workshops run by The Exeter Sewing Machine Company. Honestly, I am not being paid for this!
I am now looking for some good dressmaking workshops that I would be able to attend as I can appreciate how they can improve your skill. Is anyone able to recommend some? Do add a comment with the details if you have attended a workshop that you can vouch for and would like to bring to members' attention.
Happy Sewing, Barbara.