Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Babies on my mind

We’re waiting impatiently for a new baby in our family, a week overdue and no sign of wanting to get on with it. It has me thinking about baby quilts, even though this baby plus two others are going to have to wait till fall to get theirs (I’m feeling stressed over my Quilt National entry, plus two big trips this summer).

I’ve always loved making baby quilts, for many reasons. First, they’re relatively small, thus quick and easy to make. Second, they don’t have to match anything, fit in any series, be any particular shape or size or color. Third, they’re always so special! You make a baby quilt and wow, does it stand out at the shower amid the standard Babies-R-Us merchandise! And fourth, but certainly not least, you often get to put the baby’s name on it, and for me any quilt where you get to use letters is excellent.

Unfortunately I have only skimpy documentation of all the baby quilts I made in the first round of my life, i.e. 35-40 years ago when my age group started having kids. I have photos of two or three of them, faded to pastels, and it’s probably just as well because the quilts were nothing to write home about. They were well designed but poorly executed. It was the 70s, and the only fabric you could get was poly/cotton broadcloth – so crispy that your seams didn’t press flat and your curves didn’t ease. (The silver lining: those quilts are probably indestructible and will live on after centuries in landfills.)

And I was so new to quilting that I hadn’t figured out a lot of the basic concepts such as putting in enough quilting or choosing sturdier fabrics for backing and binding. Several years ago I was asked to do something with a baby quilt I’d made for my niece Allison, who just happens to be the very pregnant lady on our minds today.

I had cross-stitched her name on gingham (yuk) and layered the quilt with flannel batting (yuk) and bound it in a flimsy floral print (yuk) and after a quarter-century of wear, the thing was in pieces. The flannel batting had totally disintegrated, the binding had worn away on the edges and the rest of the quilt was bagging and sagging. However, the log cabin squares had been decorative-stitched to a layer of 100% cotton sheets and they were holding up well. I took the quilt apart, reconstructed it, requilted it, rebound it and somehow even managed to rehabilitate the gingham name panel.

I’ve learned a lot since that first round of quilts, so the subsequent generations of babies are getting a much higher-end product. I thought I would beam thoughts of childbirth towards Boston and see if my reminiscences can urge the baby onward.

Let me start with the best baby quilt I ever made, from 2004. It was a gift for my brother in Australia to give to a baby he knows well. I’ve bought a lot of batiks in my life but used very few of them, and when it was time to make this quilt I was happy to find everything I needed right there in my stash. Too bad my favorite detail is not visible in this photo: inside the arms of the middle H is a little embroidered chair, the empty chair that is always left at the seder for the prophet Elijah in case he comes back and wants to stay for dinner.

This photo was taken at the state fair, hence the attractive pole-and-drape display.  The timing was such that I finished the quilt just in time to enter it in the baby quilt category before it had to go in the mail. You’ll see a red ribbon, which made me mad because the blue ribbon went to an insipid baby-blue-and-pale-gray number with no color contrast, no design, and it didn’t even have the baby’s name on it!!  But it did have hand quilting, which is always big with our state fair judges. I suspect my quilt was downgraded for the dual sins of being being bright and machine-quilted, and that was the year I swore I would never again enter in the quilt division if that’s the way they were going to be.

I’ll tell you about some other baby quilts tomorrow.


  1. While you may not have high regard for the quality of your quilts in the early years, we still cherish that little pink baby quilt. Boston nights are chilly and many layers make for a cozy sleep -Justin, 34 years after its creation, still snuggles in each night with MY baby quilt! Each night I admire both the little squares of pattern, the creative repairs and the softness of the cotton.

    For this generation and the next, thank you for quilting! Allison (still preggers in Boston)

  2. I had to laugh when you talked about gingham used in early baby quilts. I also use to make a lot of gingham baby quilts years and years ago. Back then there was not the selection of fabrics and gingham was about the best you could find other than a calico print. I have made hundreds of baby quilts and I am still making them. I want to spend more time on developing my art pieces, but there always seems to be another baby quilt to make. Maybe I am just kidding myself with the art quilts. So far this year I am five for five - that is, I have made five baby quilts and they will all be delivered before the baby is born.

    Loved the piece you did with the baby's name. I also use to enter in fairs, but the judges didn't understand my quilts either - the judges were too traditional and could not see past that. I know when I have done good work and don't need a ribbon to confirm that.

  3. Patty -- I actually love gingham (the pattern), just wonder why it has to be so flimsy and slimy! Why can you buy 25 different varieties of color and size of gingham check, but they're all 40% polyester? Why does no fabric manufacturer in the world make this lovely stuff in cotton?

  4. Allison -- this is why people make baby quilts -- in anticipation that a baby is going to sleep under them, and that a mother is going to think good thoughts when she tucks the baby in. and if the quilt survives to the next generation, that's even better

    now stop reading this blog and go into labor already