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Shelby Had a Little Blanket

Dear Ann,
I am in a whirl of Fifth Grade Graduation preps (such festivities–you’d think they were getting their MD/PhD joint degrees, or maybe the Nobel Prize) combined with non-knitting fiber arts. After a long forced absence from the sweet hunk of plastic known as my sewing machine, I have finally made good on a do-over of the binding of baby Shelby’s baby quilt.
This was my first quilt. It is a diary of my progress as a beginning handquilter. The center is quilted in large folk-art sized stitches, but by the time I got to the green top and bottom borders, I was quilting like a native of Lancaster County (well, a bit slower). I was also deciding that handquilting, while enjoyable, would eat up all my knitting time. Now that I have found an excellent machine-quilter for my tops, handquilting is a rare thing for me.
When I made the quilt, I wanted to finish it but didn’t really understand the differences between the various modes of binding a quilt. I read about an old-fashioned method where you make the backing a bit larger than the quilt top, turn it up, fold it over, and sew it down. By machine. I hunkered down and did it, and it seemed good enough at the time. It was Just Fine.
Later, I learned that People Who Know These Things are big believers in the hand-sewn binding. I tried it on my next quilt, and got such a beautiful finish (plus many enjoyable hours of blindstitching–I heart blindstitching!) that I vowed never to sew down a binding by machine again.
Shelby’s little quilt, with its second-rate binding, started to haunt me. I asked for a do-over so that I could do a double-fold binding and sew it down by hand.
I used my rotary cutter to cut off the old binding. As I did this, it occurred to me that now the quilt was smaller, and that if it ever needed a new binding (because of all the LOVE it is getting), it would get smaller still.
Which reminded me of this favorite from our collection of Books About People, Animals or Objects Named Joseph. If you have a toddler who enjoys a good interactive read about fiber arts, this is a great choice. Joseph’s overcoat keeps getting smaller–but I don’t want to spoil it for you. There are die-cut holes in the pages to stick fingers into. Great fun.
Searching out Joseph Had a Little Overcoat sent me to the Fiber Arts section of our picture book library, and to The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco. I re-read it for the umpteenth time, got weepy on the same page for the umpteenth time, admired the appliqued animals on the quilt for the umpteenth time. Then I thought about how I would never make such a quilt, since I am a piecer, not an applique-er. I like a good, solid geometric shape, preferably involving lots of small strips sewn together. I put the book away.
Over the weekend I was looking for inspiration for a quilt I need to make for somebody’s 21st birthday. I wanted to make a Chinese Coins type of quilt–long, straight columns of strips. I couldn’t find the right one. I went through all my old Rowan patchwork books. In Kaffe Fassett’s Quilt Road, I stopped when I saw this:
And now I’m going to be away for awhile. I’m blindstitching shapes onto a little quilt. It’s a different quilt for a different person, who is not even close to a 21st birthday. (One thing I’ve learned: I can only make the quilt I want to make, right now.) I cannot overstate how worried I am that I am going to create something cute, Hallmarky, twee. Janet Bolton is not twee, but then she’s Janet Bolton. The applique-ing of shapes of birds and flowers poses a grave risk of cuteness that you basically have to be Janet Bolton to avoid. Yet I can’t help trying. Perhaps Janet herself started out all cutesy-wootsy, and evolved to her elegant, spare style. Maybe at first she couldn’t resist print fabrics and bright colors, either. Maybe cuteness is just a phase I have to work through, or maybe cuteness will always be with me.
(In case you think I was kidding about the cute.)
(I’m totally not kidding. Blowing all cute circuits. Mary Engelbreit is going to sue me for cute infringement.)
See you later. I’m blindstitching.
PS The only knitting I’m doing is not knitting, either: I’m sewing the squares together for the second Oliver blanket. Halfway there. If I can keep away from the quilt.




  1. Shelby’s quilt is so very beautiful. I have never made a quilt, but I have just decided I
    am going to dig out my Elna and see if it still works…

  2. Thank you for reminding me of that Patricia Polacco book!
    When I was in 5th grade, my teacher read my class that story – and when she got choked up, she passed the book to me and asked me to finish… but I was crying too! I’m so glad I was reminded of that book!

  3. I can’t wait to see how cute the bird quilt comes out! And the second Oliver blanket looks pretty incredible, too.

  4. Spare. Elegant. Bah humbug, I say! Embrace the cuteness! Love the cuteness! Babies, puppies, Patrick Dempsey… they are all cute and everyone loves them!

  5. So beyond cute into divine! You’re reminding me of Sara Fanelli. Check out her books section–we have First Flight and the illustrations are wonderful.

  6. That’s my square! I see my square! The pinkish/greenish one! I thought it got lost in the mail or something! How cool! Glad it made it there!

  7. Ooh Janet Bolton. I don’t think she started cutesy. I did a workshop with her once. Great fun even though we had to stitch with our coats on.

  8. My mom was a huge crazy quilter. I’m not sure why she isn’t doing it anymore (probably got trapped by painting), but she did quilts and wall hangings.
    I love the bird quilt, because it reminds me of something my mom would make.

  9. 5th grade graduation – ugh! My daughter had to walk down an AISLE in a WHITE DRESS with a BOY during her 5th grade graduation last week. I guess here in the Deep South she’s got about as much edumication as she needs before getting married (which she can LEGALLY do at FOUR-FREAKIN-TEEN)!
    Looking at your lovely quilt with no doubt help restore my equanimity (or give me ideas for my impending grandchildren).

  10. Speaking of fiber-arts-related children’s books, a must-read is The First Christmas Stocking by Elizabeth Winthrop–really beautiful.

  11. the quilt and blanket are beautiful. I need to send you a photo of the amazing (king size) quilt my cuz made us. I can barely see a button!

  12. I made something cute once. I was forgiven.
    I’ll have to go look for that book.

  13. I used to detest applique, until I learned a neat trick…I use a washable fabric pen to draw the shape on the right side of the applique piece and the same on the background where the applique is to go. Then I can match the whole thing easily (I mark the pattern with tick marks for circles, which also get transferred), without having the applique fabric slipping or stretching, and ending up with too much at a point or something….
    I don’t see 1) anything wrong with cute…if you like it, you like it and 2) yours looks more folky than cute to me, anyway!

  14. Inclusion of fabric with words on it automatically blasts away the twee factor. (This is a Rule. I just made it up, but it’s still a Rule.)
    Your quilts rock!

  15. The Eiffel Tower!

  16. I’m right with you in only being able to make the quilt you need to make. Me Too! I had the hardest time making a quilt for my neice that was blue……and by the way, your current quilt is cute in a good, good way.

  17. I’m right with you in only being able to make the quilt you need to make. Me Too! I had the hardest time making a quilt for my neice that was blue……and by the way, your current quilt is cute in a good, good way.

  18. Kay, I love it when you talk ‘quilty’…
    Re: Oliver’s Blanket II: Looking goood!

  19. The appliqued quilt is lovely — they are all lovely! Wouldn’t you say that the technique to applique is not too different from blind stitching? Maybe you would enjoy making an applique quilt?

  20. Your applique looks like an illustration by Ezra Jack Keats (Young’un and I read “Whistle for Willie” at bedtime last night, so the “look” of Keats’ books is fresh in my mind). It’s cute, yes, but Art nonetheless. I am looking forward to seeing where all this takes you.

  21. I don’t applique. Your’s looks much better than mine! And Oliver’s second blanket looks fab!

  22. cute does not necessarily equal twee. i think you’re in the clear.

  23. I have a quilt which has worn out the binding
    more than once, and I just sew the new binding
    over the wornout binding, thus maintaining blanket
    size, but not dealing with need for perfect edges.

  24. Umm, I don’t want to show my ignorance (which is usually pretty obvious!), but what does “twee” mean? I don’t think we use that word down here in Texas.
    Oliver’s Blanket II is looking great–it has Kaffe written all over it!
    Mary G. in Texas

  25. would you quilt paul klee
    or the new york sky line
    china patterns
    klimt or mucha fairyopolis
    olivers blanket is lovely

  26. Total agreement about the need to make only the quilt you want to make. All joy may be Hoovered from the project otherwise. And yes, dorky as it may sound, tacking down double fold binding by hand is mighty relaxing – and satisfying to boot!

  27. You know, I don’t think that quilt is cute enough yet. I think you need to add some flower appliques in there–just stitch some right on there.
    Twee? I think you’re really, really far from twee on that quilt, and my twee-o-meter is very sensitive . . .
    Going up to Monteagle this morning for a minute.

  28. I’m with Ann – – I think you are a safe distance from both cute and twee. I have a sister who loves cutesy-wootsey, wildly and unashamedly. I showed her these pictures and she called your quilts beautiful and sophisticated. This is a woman very free with the “cute label” so I think your good.
    I always swoon a little at your quilts. So beautiful. I tried quilting years ago without success. My massive failure at quilting is the reason I learned to knit.

  29. Your quilt looks like folk art which I think is very sophisticated and expressive. I also like cute though. Can’t wait to see the rest of your applique quilt.

  30. Oh, Shelby’s quilt! She and I miss it so! I’m so glad to see we made the blog today. And I look forward to seeing it in the mail again. You know I hated to give it up, but it is good to see it properly binded (not that I ever noticed to begin with, but still).
    What a nice surprise.

  31. I am such a HUGE fan of Janet Bolton but even though I adore appliqueing (how in the hell would you spell that?), I’ve avoided emulating her work out of the same fears you describe. I think you’re doing your muse proud.

  32. I love the bird.

  33. If those pictures are any indication, your bird quilt is the best kind of cute.

  34. Kay darling, with that face of yours, cuteness will always be with you!

  35. Speaking of Patricia Polacco and fiber arts children’s books, have you read her “Mommies Say Shh”? I think you would love the illustrations…

  36. Loving Oliver blanket #2!!!!
    And so impressed by the giving nature of the knitting community! How many hours of work does that blanket represent? How many people? How much love for a boy none will (likely) ever meet? Yahoo for the knitterly love!
    When do the raffle tickets go on sale?

  37. Oh my, my, my! Too good to be called cute, my friend. Cuite, maybe? Gorgeous, definitely.


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