Sunday, August 31, 2014

Great Granny's Squares: The Story of a Quilt

This is the story of my latest family quilt, which I made for my great-niece, who was born at the end of July.
The story begins with Birthday Blocks. For the last several years I have joined an online quilt swap group called "Birthday Blocks". It had its origins on Livejournal, but this year has moved mainly to Facebook. It's a small group of quilters managed by my friend Cat and another lady, Amanda, and in this group each quilter picks a block from which they would like to eventually make a quilt. Some choose color schemes and no actual block pattern, some choose specific patterns and colors. It's a fun way to branch out of your comfort zone and try something new. Each person in the group makes a block for each other members and sends it during their birthday month. I decided to choose the Granny Square Block tutorial from Blue Elephant Stitches so that the other members could just use whatever scrappy fabrics they wanted on a white background and I could use up some of my scraps as well to finish it. 

When I learned that my niece was having her second child, my brother and sister and I were in the process of going through my Mom's house to sort through everything and empty it out to sell it. Mom passed away last September 30th, but it took a really long to time to get through everything because a) we were still in the process of grieving and b) there was SO. MUCH. STUFF. Like almost 80 years worth of stuff. Actually more because Mom had stuff from her sister and parents and grandparents so... you get the idea. Anyway I digress here. This post is about the quilt. 

Mom had some sewing fabrics put away in her closet. These included some squares that she had cut by hand, I believe with the intention of making one of those grapevine and fabric wreaths that were kind of "the thing" for ladies to make in the 80s. If you are older than 35 or so you probably know what I am talking about. Here's an example. Anyway I had the thought when I came across those squares that if there were some that were cotton I could use them in a quilt of some sort for my niece's impending bundle of joy. I brought the fabrics home and started looking for patchwork patterns in which I could use them. 

I scanned pattern after pattern and was having a horrible time making up my mind, and then it hit me. I needed to produce some samples for my birthday blocks using the tutorial that I selected for my "pattern" so that I could make sure it was easy enough to follow. And then the name struck me. Granny Square. Great Granny Squares. Mom would have been this new baby's Great-grandmother, so this just seemed too perfect a coincidence. So I went with it, and after digging through the squares found that most of them, unfortunately, were a blend of poly cotton instead of 100% cotton. I wanted this quilt to get that squunchy, crinkly look that only a cotton quilt can give you after it's washed, so I ended up with only two fabrics that would work. 

About this time I learned she would be having a girl, and fortunately, the two fabrics were a jewel tone purple with bright pink and white print on it and a hot pink sort of batik-ish looking fabric with a hint of gold. The squares were unfortunately not quite evenly cut, as they were all cut by hand, so I trimmed them all down with my rotary cutter to 3.5" square, and then proceeded to go through all my different scraps looking for fun cute fabrics to use for the other colored squares and cut, I don't know, a million 3.5" squares and sorted them into color groups. Then I bought some white kona cotton and cut some 3.5" strips which I then cut into 3.5" squares for the background. The first time through the tutorial was slow going, but her instructions are terrific and I loved the result. I proceeded over the next couple of weeks or so to make 9 more blocks. And in each block I made sure to use one of each of Mom's pink and purple squares. Then I realized I had better come up with a layout to put them all together. I enlisted the help of my bff Jennifer of Sewhooked to come up with a few ways to lay the blocks out, using some software she has. Meanwhile I started trimming up the finished blocks trying to get them to as uniform a size as possible, only to learn that I had not been very consistent with my seam allowances while sewing them together, which left me with about 6 that I could use in this particular quilt. Also, because of the way the quilt is constructed, it's better to NOT use direction fabric like some of the fussy cute cute little animal fabric I used, because after it's done when you need to sew the blocks together the direction fabric was turned sort of diagonal. So THAT made me throw out all the layout suggestions from my previously mentioned bff  (sorry Jen!) and come up with a new plan altogether. This was going to be my first "on point" quilt. I was going to turn the blocks themselves on the diagonal so that my cute little directional animals would be framed properly and be pointed the right direction. Which meant that I only needed 5 blocks, so I picked my 5 favorites of the ones that were fairly uniform in size and got busy sewing them into rows and adding sections of white at each end to be able to square it up properly. I have a ton of the cute little animals flying in hot air balloons fabric, thinking it would be perfect for baby quilts, and it was certainly perfect for this one. The bright colors went very well with the scrappy quilt top, and the balloons can represent my home of Albuquerque, where we have a huge international balloon fiesta every year and the sky fills with hundreds of balloons at once. A scrappy binding in the colors of the rainbow finished it off just the way I wanted.

This was a quilt of firsts. My first "on point", my first quilt using a walking foot, and my first quilt quilted on my 1956 Singer 301A, which my mom gave me a few years ago after someone had given it to her and it had sat around in her garage for a few years after that. She was thinking my daughter might use it, but I've decided to clean up and repair Mom's 1986 Kenmore for her so she can have a few utility stitches for garment construction. But I digress.

The quilt is now at the home of my new great-niece, where she can play on it, sleep on it, cuddle under it, and hopefully feel like it's a hug from her great-aunty Julia and her great-granny Ruth. 

And now for the gratuitous, self-indulgent photospam of "Great Granny's Squares"... :


  1. I love this quilt and the story behind it. All the firsts are pretty darn awesome, too! I can feel how much you learned in what you've shared with us as you've worked on it!

    Also, my feelings are totally not hurt that you came up with your own layout. I love this one!

    And...I totally made a couple of those wreaths back in the 80s.O.o

    1. I definitely learned a lot with it, and it really boosted my confidence for it to turn out the way I envisioned. It doesn't hurt that I get to bounce ideas off of you, either. :D

  2. Love it. This a great pattern to showcase favorite prints. Can't wait to see what you get from the group!

    1. Thanks! It is definitely good for showcasing a print, as long as you remember to *think* when cutting out any that are directional. Still it ended up being a great learning experience for me.

  3. This quilt just turned out great! I love all the things about it - the pattern, the quilt back, the binding.

    1. I love it too! The whole thing was a great learning experience for me, and one of the things I learned is to trust my instincts, which led to most of the final look of the quilt.


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Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States
This is my place to talk about crafting, what I make, and maybe even why I make it.