The challenge: design a modern, heirloom cat quilt for my granddaughter, age 10, which will appeal to her now and as an adult! Here’s what I came up with!
This is for you techies: I drew the design in Photoshop at 90×108″ at 72dpi. I usually do it at 20 dpi to keep the file size smaller but I knew I’d want to print out the black parts of the design at actual size to use as templates. The center cat was 35″ diameter, so it printed out in 17 letter size pages which I had to tape together to get my template.
Once I had all the black templates I then cut out the black fabric. I turned the raw edges of the black under 1/4″, basting with white thread by hand because this seems to give me more control. I clip the curved edges. I then measured the location from the top and sides for placement of each cat and pinned those down. I used Glue Baste It (which washes out) very sparingly and close to the edges away from my basting stitches, and let that dry. I then machine stitched very close to the edges with black thread and then removed my white basting stitches.
This is a closeup of the machine stitched edges which don’t show up at all on the final quilt.
Here’s the giant cat all sewn down. I worked in horizontal rows of teal fabric and then sewed the 3 rows together after I finished the applique work.
After I sandwiched the quilt by spray basting, I was wondering what on earth I would quilt in all that teal area around the cats! I figured it could be a lot of different freestyle things, or I could do lovely spirals, or maybe feathers. I knew I didn’t want to do anything that would distract from the cats though. I did wonder what I’d gotten myself into, I mean, wow, look at all that teal to quilt!! Some people see that as fun, some as terrifying. I’m somewhere in the middle, alternating between the two.
For the backing, I used this black and white print fabric of cat faces, but I only had 3 yards so I had to come up with an idea to extend it a few inches on the length! I did this strip of teal and appliqued a black cat on it. I had to measure the placement of the cats on the front to be sure wherever I put this cat that it would not be covered up with the quilting I would do on the cat faces on the front. So, this one on the upper right just below the cat on the top, right on the front. This added so much design element to the back, it is essentially a two-sided quilt!
And since this was going to be such a big quilt for me on a sit-down Q20, I used Dream Wool batting. It’s so lightweight and provides a great loft (puff). But, the thing I do not love about it is how much any exposed areas along the edges shred and get all over everything. My solution: I’ve started trimming it closer to the edge of the top and I fold the backing over the edge and baste it down. This way I can manipulate the quilt a lot as I’m quilting without the wool getting rubbed and shredding. I lift up the basted edge as I’m quilting and quilt just under that. When I’m done I remove the basting and trim to square up the quilt. This is an extra step I do not enjoy, but it makes for a cleaner edge while quilting! (In case you’re wondering… those selvage edges do get trimmed away; I allow extra fabric for squaring up the quilt.)
By the time I got the edges basted, I had figured out how I wanted to quilt the teal fabric around the cats. In order to make things as difficult for myself as possible (!!!), I would do a large feather meander with the feathers wrapping around flowers. Why difficult, you ask? Well, this is an oversized queen size quilt and I’m working on a sit-down machine with not much visibility in any direction! If I just started sewing I’d have no clue where I was on the quilt much of the time. Therefore, I needed to mark my spine first. But, I could not use my water soluble blue marker to mark the spine on the teal. I really needed to preview a spine and flowers first anyway. The flowers would add a complicating factor, as would the spacing with the cats! What to do? Well, I decided to draw my spine with yarn! To represent the flowers I cut out 5″ diameter paper circles. I pinned the yarn and circles, making adjustments. My feathers were going to be about 8″ wide! Even on my table, I could not see the entire quilt, so it was like walking in a maze.
I have my hand here to give you an idea of the scale of this monster! Now, maybe you can see why I could not just sit down and start marking or sewing a spine?!!
I used my acrylic sheet and dry erase marker to preview the size of the feathers to make sure this would work the way I wanted. WHY did I want such big feathers? Well, I wanted this quilt to be soft, flexible, and have a good drape to it. Tiny, dense feathers would be too stiff. They would have been easier to do for sure, but I’m a crazy person, remember? Actually, after I got this spine figured out I almost took it off to re-do it a bit tighter. I worried my feathers would be too big and difficult to quilt, but I decided to fearlessly go with what I had. One way to be fearless is to remember if you mess up bad enough you can do the whole thing over. Nobody wants to do that, but this is my attitude which somehow frees me up to take chances and do things I’ve never done before, like this quilt!
Once I was satisfied with my yarn spine I grabbed a blue washable Crayola crayon and marked my spine, removing the yarn as I went along. I had a cutout of my flower, so I did the same thing for the flowers. Next, I quilted around the cat faces, noses and eyes. I then quilted the entire spine, yes, over the entire quilt. I then quilted all the flowers. Lastly, I quilted the feathers. This was a massive quit because I made it a bit larger than queen size to allow for a deep mattress. I have 4 dog groomer arms on my Q20 koala table and while that helps handle some of the weight and bulk, it is still tricky quilting bulky quilts. On a sit-down, you can only quilt in a space between your hands, so you are constantly stopping and repositioning. (This is when I want a stand-up longarm so bad!!) So, I got this Martelli Hoop to help hold down as much of the quilt as possible, freeing me up to quilt without having to constantly reposition my hands as much as I normally would! I can lay my arms on the edges of the hoop and get my hands close to the needle as desired. I really like this hoop. It’s not for everything, but it’s great for doing big designs. I can even turn it diagonal to get a wider design quilted, such as when I’m doing long spirals. I am using Aurifil thread to match my fabric color. I want the texture but no contrast from the thread.
This shows you the scale of the feathers and gives you a better idea of how challenging this was on a sit-down machine. Crazy people do crazy things! I have to say, even with the groomer arms and the hoop, there were times when some area was pulling just enough that I’d get a slight wobble, and since this was all freehand I had to accept that this gives the quilt character.
In progress. I echoed the flowers twice to help them stand out from the feathers. I like the round, clear foot on my machine for this; it helps remind me my feather plumes have to be big and fat.
I got the lower left quilted and took this pic to see if I liked what I’d done! Too bad if I didn’t. ha. I thought it worked just as I had imagined it. You can see my groomer arms on my table here, and my messy “flowers” on the floor lower left! I saved those in case I decide to do something crazy like this again. A heavy quilt is still a workout, so I think of this as my home gym for an upper body workout.
After I got the feathers and flowers done I had to figure out how to quilt the cat faces. I could not leave them puffy because of the size. They had to be quilted in such a way as to make them clearly separate from the feathers. I had already done feathers on the black areas as if a continuation of the background (using black Aurifil). I decided to do this tighter design which looks a bit like cat fur. It’s pretty dense but for just a few areas I decided it was ok and it made the cat recede behind the feathers a bit. It took me 1 1/2 hours to do all 4 cat faces.
And, after 5 days total of quilting a bit every day I actually finished this! I love how the feathers and flowers have an organic look to them. The shadows are heavier here to show the quilting, but with the threads matching the fabric, the cats pop the most! The rest just adds a bit of texture. I did a black binding. Since this is not a show quilt I sewed my binding to the back, turned it to the front, then used a decorative overcast (blanket) stitch to secure it. I do this a lot and love it. Using the walking foot makes it easy and it is very durable.
I signed the quilt on the lower left in script, which reads, “For Emme (heart) Noni 2019.” Noni is Italian for Grandmother. I use 17spi to sign these things and I do not draw it first! Fearless or stupid, who can say!? 17spi is close to impossible to remove, in case you’re wondering or want to try to remove it.
My granddaughter has not seen this yet. However, right after I finished this my daughter told me Emme “wants a Harry Potter theme bedroom now; can you make a Hufflepuff quilt?” OMG!! NO. No. Nope. You can buy that stuff!!!! ha! This is an original, heirloom, one-of-a-kind quilt! I will save this till Hufflepuff puffs its way out of her room. Since she loves cats, I know she will love this next year, or the next, or the next and ever after!
If you’re new to my blog and new to free-motion quilting, or just struggling to improve your quilting, be sure to check out my first blog post from October 2018. It’s about How I Got Started! It shows my first 3 months and how I managed to learn to FMQ fast!