Thursday, November 28, 2013

Quilts with a History and a Future

My latest two quilts having been presented to the intended recipient, I can now post about them here. I was once told that every quilter made only one quilt out of t-shirts because they were difficult to work with and just not very interesting to use. Being someone who often swims upstream (and that really is the way to get to an eddy when you're river kayaking), I've now done three. The first one was practice for the two that followed, which would be the two I'm posting about here.

I moved to Charlottesville in the summer of 1978. As a frequent user of the university's academic computing center, I got to know several of the staff members fairly well. I actually became an occasional babysitter for the daughter of one of my staff friends. Later, I was assistant leader for a Girl Scout troop that my friend led (that's actually a bad word to use because Girl Scout troops are really girl-led) which included her daughter as a member. By the time the daughter was a teenager, I had children--sons--of my own, and she babysat them. As an aside, this was not an easy undertaking given that if the sons knew a sitter was coming, they spent the better part of the afternoon planning Babysitter Traps. This usually took the form of a stack of afghans or blankets hurtling down on the sitter from the second floor of our open foyer. After the first time, a sitter came to expect the trap and played along, making it all the more fun.

Back to the story at hand. My friend's daughter went to college, went to work (at DisneyWorld), went to graduate school (in child life), and went back to work (at a hospital in Boston). She even got married. I made a quilt as a wedding present.

I used baseball fabric as the backing. After all, what else would two die-hard Boston Red Sox fans want on the back of their quilt. As the daughter went through life, so did her mother, eventually retiring, downsizing, and moving to Mt. Desert Island in Maine. As she was downsizing, my friend assembled about 40 of her daughter's t-shirts from throughout her life, and asked me if I would make a t-shirt quilt from them. I was touched to be asked and immediately agreed with the stipulation that there be no deadline. On a project like that, I did not want to be rushing to meet a deadline and cutting corners as a result.

The first thing I did was to make this quilt for younger son.

The shirts are all from Odyssey of the Mind or Destination Imagination, two creative-problem-solving competitions younger son took part in in grades 3 through 10. Since I'd never done a t-shirt quilt, I figured I should practice on one before I started the "commissioned" one, and this seemed a good way to do that. In researching t-shirt quilt patterns and instructions, most showed quilting limited to around each shirt piece and between blocks of a t-shirt with fabric borders, or no quilting but ties at the corners of all the squares. As I was sewing the blocks of this one together, I kept thinking how neat it would be to quilt on the t-shirt pieces themselves, on the t-shirt design or outlining parts of the design. That's what I ended up doing, and it looked so amazing that I knew that was the way I was going to do the commissioned one.

Back to the commissioned t-shirt quilt. After going through the boxes of shirts, I decided that it really needed to be two medium-sized quilts if I wanted to include as many different shirts as possible. And with two quilts, the recipient and her husband would each have one to use. I also decided that I didn't want to orient all the shirts in the same direction as I'd done with the practice quilt. That arrangement could be taken to convey that the quilt should be hung so as to be viewed and admired. I wanted these quilts to be used. It occurred to me that orienting the blocks in all directions would mean that a person sitting or lying under one of the quilts would always see at least one shirt logo oriented top-side-up. First things first, with those decisions made it was off to the races.

Step one was actually to wash and dry all the shirts without using any fabric softener. I will admit that I'm not sure why I was supposed to do that but I think it was to avoid there being any coating on the fabric that might interfere with a later step. Step two was to cut out the backs or fronts of the shirts with more than enough of a border around each logo. Step three was to iron each t-shirt logo to a fusible interfacing (this is where the fabric softener coating might have been a problem), again leaving a large enough border that I would be able to cut around the logo and leave a good-sized interfacing border around the actual logo.

Then the fun began. I had slightly over 40 t-shirt logos (some shirts had a front logo and a back logo) of sizes varying from about three inches on each side to over a foot on each side. In other words, I couldn't just cut them into squares and start sewing. I had to think about how the logos would go into a row by column arrangement that had a nice mix of colors.I had to calculate not only what size square to cut from each logo piece but also what width of fabric I would sew around the logo to get blocks of appropriate sizes to sew together into the quilt top. I should say that it did take some thought to choose a silvery grey fabric that would look fairly neutral around the logos of varying color. As it turned out, I could use 39 shirt logos between the two quilts. There were a couple of logos I couldn't use, but I am fairly sure that I used something from each of the shirts.

Enough background that may only interest those who quilt. Presenting "The Fabric of a Life (in Two Parts)"

In terms of size, each quilt is lying atop a queen-sized bed. I did not take the time to photograph every individual logo, but I did photograph several that give a sense of the quilting within each logo.

Finally, there were two t-shirts that I just could not cut up to use in the quilt. The logos were just two large. Interestingly, both were shirts that I had given the recipient of the quilts after trips my family took. I used these as bags for the quilts, one in each.

I started these quilts in the summer of 2012. I finished them a bit more than a year later, just in time for two friends who were driving to Maine to deliver them. I have mailed quilts before, but I really prefer not to. I haven't been able to write this post or mention the quilts on Facebook because I did not want to spoil the surprise of my friend and her husband giving these to their daughter in person. I heard this morning that that had happened and that the quilts were joyfully received and would clearly be cherished. Since I make quilts not as heirloom items or to be entered into shows, that's music to my ears. I make quilts to be used and loved, and I know these will be.


Jayne said...

When I first saw these quilts, I was overcome with emotion, for I, too, could touch each square and have it share a memory with me. You have, with your skill and artistry and love, created not one but two vessels that will, amazingly enough, over the course of their lives, give more love than you put into them. Thank you for creating them for my daughter and her husband (as I said to him, "You can touch a square and say, 'Tell me something about you and this square.'"

Ellobie said...

Jean, these are awesome! Nice work. :)