There are some tasks in life that I look back on and say to myself “How the heck did I do that!?!?!?” Running a marathon is one. Natural childbirth is another. Building my paved patio and raised garden beds in our last home. I often wonder where I found the time, energy, or know how to do these tasks. But I got through them, day by day, moment by moment.
Creating a quilt is one of these activities.
For the longest time I have wanted to learn to use my sewing machine. I have had lavish daydreams about creating my own clothing. I have also been hoarding away pajama bottoms from our annual matching holiday pajama tradition that started over ten years ago with hopes of making a quilt to capture the memory of the tradition without having such an excess of pajamas.
This past November I decided it was time. Without any real knowledge of how to use my sewing machine (I had made one feeble attempt two year ago and failed) I made a concrete decision that I was going to sew a quilt.
The decision was not entirely random either. There were specific triggers that lead me to the decision at this point in my life. My husband and I had started to watch the Netflix show “Godless”. It is a western style film about an old mining town run by women after a terrible accident killed off the majority of the men. If you haven’t seen it yet, I HIGHLY recommend it. I was watching it for one purpose – my friends daughter was one of the stars.
I was eager to see her perform. Kayli Carter was playing Sadie Rose, a young widowed mother. I had met Kayli a handful of times when she was younger. Her mother and I had become friends when we were both working at the counseling center at UCF. Young in my own career as a photographer, her mother hired me to take her senior pictures and headshots. It was a fabulous session – one of my favorites to date. Just working with her that afternoon I could tell that she was fearless and a force to be reckoned with. And she was certainly talented. She had been accepted to the performing arts program at SCAD – no small feat.
I kept up with her successes through my friend Kim, her mom, as she landed roles in the school productions, was accepted into the highly competitive actors showcase at SCAD, moved to NYC to pursue her dreams, achieved roles in plays, and of course landed a role in “Godless”. It is truly amazing to watch her achieve her dreams and fulfill what I consider to be her destiny. I had not had the same courage to follow my dreams of becoming an actor at her age, and so I am inspired by her veracity and courage.
Additionally, the plot line of the series got me to thinking. As her character hammers wooden planks in one of the scenes, working solo to build a church, my mind began to churn. These days we are so focused on learning one skill and mastering it. Well, this has never quite been my forte. I’m more of a renaissance woman – Jack of all trades, master of none – and although this has made me feel incompetent and unworthy while job hunting, in my day to day it actually comes in handy. I began thinking about how in the olden days women would do so many tasks and trades without formal training or technology to help them out. Cooking, sewing, teaching, building, farming, etc. There was no reason I could not do anything I put my mind to.
As odd as it may seem, in that moment revelling about Kayli’s brave and uncompromising spirit mixed with the plot line of these strong women taking on numerous roles and tasks, I resolved that it was time to make this quilt.
I started off by reading various blogs regarding quilts. I looked at different patterns that may be easier than others, but that I still liked the look of. I got the overall concept of how to design and build the quilt and bought a couple of useful tools to help. I purchased a rotary cutter, ruler, and self-mending board to cut on. It cost me roughly $32. I then got to work ironing and cutting the material into larger strips which would be more manageable to cut into the squares when the gadgets arrived.
Once I had the rotary cutter I got to work cutting the various sized squares. I was beyond nervous each step of the way, worried that I would mess something up. And I did. There were times that I miscalculated and cut an inch too short or lost my grip on the ruler and cut at a weird angle, but overall I was successful at cutting all the squares.
It was incredibly time consuming, but once I was able to breathe through the process and let go of my anxiety of getting it perfect I was able to enjoy the process. I kept reminding myself that the quilts did not have to be, nor would they likely be, perfect – I just wanted to get them done. I felt like a finished, handmade quilt, albeit imperfect, was far superior than having 20 pairs of unused pajama pants taking up room in our tiny apartment closet. So, I just kept moving forward step by step, cutting the squares while listening to my audiobooks, until at last I had 3 neat piles of varying sized squares.
Deep breath – I did it!
I felt incredibly proud of this accomplishment and celebrated in my success. I was one step closer to a completed quilt. But then the reality hit of how far I still had to go to complete the process and how little I knew. Panic set in. What was I doing? I still had no idea how to use my sewing machine. I was certain I was going to mess up all this hard work I just did and that it would be a complete waste of time.
Okay, deep breath. One step at a time. I gave myself a pep-talk and remembered my mantra that an imperfect quilt is still better than hoarding pajamas.
I pulled out my sewing machine and dusted it off. I sat down and for a whole day read tutorials, watched how to videos, skimmed through my manual and did some test runs on scrap material. The following day I decided it was time to start building the quilt. Two squares were joined to each other at a time until I completed the stack of that sized square. I then would join the two rectangles together creating a new larger square. Again, there were many mistakes made along the way, tangles of thread, wrong tension, and hours watching tutorials on how to unjam the machine, but I repeated this process until I had built the smaller squares to be the same size as the largest squares. At this time, I laid out all the squares onto the ground. I could now see the making of a quilt. I spent some time creating the final pattern for the quilt and then began to sew my rows.
At each step of the process I continued to chant my mantra that the quilt did not have to be perfect, just completed. There was a lot of deep breathing and working through my tendencies towards perfection. Regardless of the errors or slow downs, I kept proceeding forward. The rows were eventually done and ironed. I had long strips of squares mended together. Then it came time to connect them all and complete the front of the quilt. With bated breath I pinned the rows together one at a time, sewing them together as I progressed down the quilt. They didn’t line up perfect, but it was good enough and for the most part it lined up well. Before long, the front was complete!
I was overwhelmed with joy. I had done it! I finished the patchwork. The entire front was done.
Panic struck again. There were still so many steps that could go terribly wrong and mess up the entire quilt. The hours and days of work I had already put in. I still had no idea what I was doing. I wasn’t sure how to create the back, or what type of batting to get, or if the layers would even fit in my very basic sewing machine. And on top of that, I had decided that I was going to make two quilts, one for each kid, and I’d only finished the first. I had to repeat the whole process all over again.
Deep breath. Proceed forward. It’s not about perfection.
I ordered batting online and a large reel of thread and waited for them to arrive. In the meantime, I went to Joann Fabrics and found some materials that I used for the back. They didn’t have exactly what I had imagined, but I found some cute Santa hat patterns and since they didn’t have enough for the entire back of the quilt, I paired that with a black and white polka dot pattern. Good enough.
At home I connected those pieces together in strips to make up some sort of more attractive pattern in order to cover the entire back of the quilt. Again, it wasn’t how I originally envisioned it, but it got the job done.
I added a border to the patchwork in order to give it a more finished look and to add onto the dimensions making it closer to a true twin size.
The next phase was ironing the batting and lining up both the front of the quilt and the back of the quilt. I was still unsure how the thick materials would fare in my basic machine, but I didn’t want to outsource the job. It was very important, for sentimental reasons, for the job to be done 100% myself.
I laid out all the materials and batting and sandwiched them together, pinning the layers so they were connected. I used to large drapery rod to help me roll the material onto one another, but I’m not sure if that helped all too much.
Once I had the layers bound, it was time to test my machine. I cannot described the anxiety I felt as I fumbled through the process of actually quilting the layers. I was slow and steady – and it worked! The show would go on. I did have a backup plan of hand stitching the quilt, but that would have taken a lot longer and not have created the look I wanted, so I was thrilled when this worked.
I put many more hours into quilting. My fingers took a serious beating, but finally I completed the quilting. And just in time too! We were headed down to Florida for the holidays the following morning. I had not completed the quilts, but I was very close. My mom said that she had two machines at her house (hers and my sisters) and I was welcome to use either to complete the job. Wonderful. So, I packed up the quilts along with my material and needed supplies in the suitcases and headed to Florida.
I still was unsure how to do the binding. And to be 100% honest, I did not nail the process. I realized after I had cut the material that I had messed up, but it was too late and I was pretty much out of time, but I knew I could complete the job – the corners just had a little more character than I anticipated. Lol. I finished binding two of the four sides of each quilt by Christmas Eve and decided that was good enough to wrap and give to the children. It wasn’t worth being sleep deprived.
Oh, I should also mention that in addition to the quilts that I made from the adult pjs, I also used the kids pajamas to make stuffies. I figured that adding a toy to the quilt would increase my odds of the kids truly loving their Xmas gifts – spoiler alert – I was right!
Christmas morning was a little bit of a challenge. We decided to focus on less tangible items and toys and focus more practical items – books, gloves for skiing, gear for hockey and ice skating, healthy treats and snacks, and the quilts. Needless to say, when the kids opened their presents in tandem with their cousins – think toys, toys, toys – they were less than excited. I saw them put on their brave faces and try to hide the look of disappointment, but I felt crushed and questioned this parenting move. Had I just ruined Christmas? I knew that they would have loved their presents if we were home by ourselves, but they just didn’t seem to size up compared to their peers. I felt crushed.
Then, they opened their quilts. Thank goodness I made the stuffy, because having a toy on Christmas morning was needed. They LOVED their quilts and even more so their new soft and lovable sleeping toy. Success.
Later that day, when the kids were playing outside with the relatives I snuck away to the bedroom to complete the quilts. I finished the binding and packed up the machine. I was done.
That evening the kids bundled up into their beds, tucked snuggly in their quilts, while we read them the first chapter of their new books (Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew). They squeezed on their stuffies and proclaimed that this was the best Christmas ever. Ahhhh, exhale and smile.
I had a moment of doubt that morning that I had made the wrong decision in my gift purchases and suggestions for extended family, but now a month later I’m certain that they were indeed the right ones. We are still reading nightly chapters from the book series, the kids use their skating gear weekly, and the gloves have worked perfectly for skiing and snow play. And of course, they sleep in their quilts every night. The excitement of a new toy wears off pretty quickly, but the quilts are now possible family heirlooms.
As silly as it may sound, I am really proud of myself for completing the quilts. It was a lot of hard work, but I finished both quilts in a month’s time. My time to work on them was limited because I didn’t want the kids to see me working on them. I look at the quilts now and it seems foreign to me that they started off as pjs. They look so good! I really can’t believe I made them.
I believe that you can do just about anything that you put your mind too if you believe in yourself, start the task, and just keep going until the job is complete. It’s time for us all to start manifesting our desired outcomes. I am definitely working towards more goals this year, so hopefully I’ll have more positive outcomes to share as I continue to work towards completion.
What projects have you been dreaming of completing – and what stops you?