I wrote yesterday about my system for sewing my postage stamp quilts together. The one I’m working on now, called "Postage 5: Epidemic," is the fifth in the series, and my general theory about series is that with each successive piece you try to master or explore something new.
When I sewed my first postage stamp quilt I had a terrible time with the columns twisting and getting tangled up, so when I did the second one I thought it would help to stitch each column onto a strip of Solvy, which would keep it from twisting and tangling. That was a good idea, until it came time to soak off the Solvy. I put the quilt into the bathtub and covered it with water. Came back in a couple of hours and lifted the quilt out of the water and hung it out to dry. Oops! The quilt was so heavy I could barely lift it up to hang from the shower rod. And the water in the tub was full of slimy thread ends. I was afraid to let it go down the drain, lest it permanently clog the pipes, so I spent more time than I care to remember fishing the threads out of the water, while the quilt dripped onto my shoulders all the while. Yuk.
I abandoned the Solvy and for the third quilt in the series, figured out that the columns would twist less if I secured them with two rows of stitching rather than one. Sure enough, that one went together smoothly and easily and I kept that method for subsequent quilts.
In the fourth quilt of the series I wondered what would happen if I allowed the postage stamps to cascade onto the floor and pile up at random in a 3-D effect. I’ve only seen it “installed” once, the day we took the photos. It’s never been out in public although it’s been entered a couple of times.
In this new quilt I wondered what would happen if I allowed some holes to appear in the grid. I started off by sewing my columns the same way I always had, trying to arrange the postage stamps at regular intervals. But as I kept sewing and sewing and sewing I had time to think about what I was doing, and decided it might be interesting to vary the spacing on the columns to put some irregularity in the grid. So I sewed some of the columns with the stamps closer together.
From the beginning I knew I wanted to leave some of the spaces open, so I cut little pieces of tissue paper the size of the postage stamps and inserted them into the grid as placeholders. By the time I finished sewing the quilt together, many months later, I realized this was a dumb idea – because now I have to tear the tissue paper away! I should have just left space rather than sewing across tissue paper.
Well, that’s the way you learn. Just like the Solvy, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Next time I’ll just eyeball it.
As this quilt was in process, I realized that the irregular grid might make for exciting design but it made for a flaming pain in the butt to sew together. Because the stamps weren’t aligned with one another horizontally, I couldn’t get my horizontal rows of stitching to go straight across. And in fact, as the errors compounded the farther I went, I realized that the quilt was not going to hang straight.
On four separate occasions, I had to hang the quilt up and inspect it. When I found places that were out of whack, I had to cut the stitching apart, let the columns hang free, mark where they should fit together, and restitch. Here’s a picture of the quilt hanging on the design wall on one of these inspection visits. My design wall wasn’t wide enough for the whole quilt, so I could spread out only about 18 inches at a given time.
On each occasion, while I had the quilt hung up for inspection, I marked a horizontal line straight across with blue painter’s tape. That made it easier to align my columns for several rows of horizontal stitching, but despite my best efforts, the next time I would hang it up for inspection there were always bad spots that needed to be cut and restitched.
I typically go through a rollercoaster of emotions as I make a huge quilt. It starts out, of course, with wild enthusiasm – this is going to be the greatest quilt I’ve ever made. Then I get to the tedious middle part, and maybe even encounter technical difficulties, and start to doubt. By the time I approach the end I’m often ready to pitch the whole damn thing.
When I finished sewing on this quilt last Sunday I was (a) glad to be done and (b) seriously wondering whether it was worth having spent two months on. I hung it up on the wall again and started tearing the tissue paper away, which is going to take a l-o-n-g time. But after I got a fair amount torn away, I started feeling a little better about the quilt. I like the way the stitching lines go through space in the missing areas of the grid. I like the way the horizontal lines aren’t really horizontal.