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February 1999 Issue
A Labor of Love
by Ronda L. Halpin
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Snuggling up in front of a roaring fire wrapped up in a warm homemade quilt with a good book is probably one of life's most rewarding moments. Quilts evoke thoughts of the "good old days" and grandma's house. They take us to a simpler time when it often took longer to cook, craft and garden -- but it was worth it. They are the material reminders of the time, effort and love that goes into making them. Making a homemade quilt truly is a labor of love.

Whether you never touch a sewing machine during the process or you wait until the end to top stitch with a needle and thread, the process of making a quilt is time consuming. But that needn't be a bad thing. One of the best ways to make a quilt is with a partner. Think of all the catching up you can do while you cut patterns, sew the cover, and tie the quilt. That's what I did with my mother when we made a cheerful quilt for my bed last year. The time we put into it is part of the reward. Whenever I look at my bed, I am reminded of the fun we had and the bond we have. Heck, there have been quilts that we've made with the entire family. A few people cutting patterns, a couple more working at sewing the top together, still others working with the fill, and -- of course -- everyone gets their chance at tying! Quilts really can help to build strong bonds.

If you've ever considered making a quilt, now is the time to do it. The cold weather brought on by February is the perfect excuse to avoid shoveling the walkway and, instead, sit in front of the fireplace with fabric, patterns, and scissors. If you wait until the spring, you'll find yourself doing yardwork, planting flowers, and rushing around with spring cleaning. Work on keeping yourself warm now, not later!

The most important step in making any quilt is choosing a design. This can be as simple as finding a pattern in one of the many quilting books available at craft and fabric stores or as complicated as making one from scratch out of the day dreams in your mind. Some other options include checking out quilts sold at specialty stores and antique shops and keeping some favorites from mail order catalouges. Once you've found your pattern, you might need to determine the best fit dimensions for the size quilt you plan on making. Who says you'll never need the geometry you took in high school?

Once you've figured out what dimensions you'll need for your various patterns within the quilt, you'll need to chose fabric (or you may have done that first). Fabric comes in so many varieties, it can make you dizzy! However, you should avoid flimsy materials. If you want your quilt to last for years, choose cotton and polyester blends that will withstand the test of time and at least two yearly washings. Apart from that, the sky's the limit when it comes to choosing fabric. Pick patterns and solids that work well together and you will still like years down the road.

Now it's time to cut your patterns from the fabric you've chosen. I like to start with a sturdy cardboard pattern to work with. That way, all of my squares will be the same size and, if I love the way the quilt turns out, I can save the cardboard pattern for another day. This step is time consuming and can seem very tedious. I help alleviate that by spending a little time each evening cutting my fabric. It may take a week instead of a day or two, but I find myself enjoying the process more anyway.

Once all of the fabric for the top of the quilt is prepared, it's time to assemble the top of the quilt. Whether it's done by hand or with a sewing machine, it's a good idea to have two people working together to keep seams tight and make sure the right patterns are in the right place. It seems like there's nothing worse than finishing the top of a quilt only to notice that the square in the middle is the wrong color!

When it comes time to sew the top and the bottom of the quilt together, including the fill in the seam is a good idea. After several washings and moving it around every night, the fill can move around inside the quilt and cause lumps to form if it's not tied tightly and the edges sewn into the seam. To sew it all together with a sewing machine, you'll want to make sure that it's set up like a pillow case turned inside out. Once it's all sewn together -- with an opening at the top -- it's time to fold the entire quilt inside out and flatten the corners. Now, it is really starting to look like a quilt! To finish the sewing, you can top stitch around the outside of the quilt to help it lie flat and completely close it up.

Now it's time to tie the quilt. Choose yarn that will not bleed or fray in a color that works with your quilt. There aren't a lot of rules about tying a quilt. You can tie in the center of squares or tie at corners (which is harder). However, you should try to tie the quilt at least every eight inches or so to make sure that the fill doesn't move inside the quilt. Stretching your quilt on a rack will help it keep its shape during tying. Again, this step is much easier if you have a partner to help. Once you get going, you and your partner will get a procedure down that works for you.

Well, there you have it. Your quilt is done and ready to be used on your bed, crib, chair, or wherever you want. You might want to keep the yarn you used to tie it with around. If something happens to one of the ties, you can easily replace it if you keep the yarn handy. When my cat was a kitten, she managed to chew two of the ties on my quilt until they were little stubs! After I had broken her of the habit, it was quick work to replace the nibbled ties.

Next time you sit down with that homemade treasure, enjoy the memories that go with it. It's more than a cozy blanket to warm your toes -- it's also there to warm your heart.

If you want to learn more about quilting or are looking for supplies and books, click on any of the links below or search the Internet using the keyword "quilting":

Good luck!


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