Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Quilt #63: Charlie's Choo Choo Train

Two years ago, my son switched preschools several weeks into the school year. He was nervous about making friends and fitting in because the school he had been attending wasn't a great match for him. I walked in with him that first day to find that his new teacher, Miss Anne, had gone to great lengths to make sure that our little guy was already part of the class. His name was already displayed around the room in various places: on the birthday list, on his new locker, included in the job chart. There was a big white board announcing that today was the day that the class's new friend was joining them. Miss Anne assigned two friends to join him during each activity so he never had a chance to feel left out all day. My sweet boy took it all in, dropped my hand and ran into his new adventure. When I picked him up that first day and asked how it went, he said, "Mommy! I have friends!!!" My mama heart swooned.

He had a fantastic year. We have a very smart boy, but as is common in boys like ours, social skills take a little more time. Miss Anne "got" him. She marveled at this academic milestones, but celebrated his social growth. When his last day was done, our little boy clung to Miss Anne, sobbing at the thought of no longer having her as his advocate and friend.

Our son is at the same school today, starting his last week of first grade. Miss Anne's classroom is just down the hall from his, so he sees her many times a day. After many years of delighting the parents of everyone blessed to have their child in her class, and just as many years longing for a child of her own, Miss Anne will soon welcome her first child, a boy named Charlie.

I knew I wanted to make a quilt for Miss Anne to show how much her kindness has meant to our family. After learning the name and that she had a train theme, I started looking at train patterns. I am often asked how I come up with my quilt designs. Since I took lots of pictures of this one, I thought it would be a good opportunity to illustrate how this particular quilter gets her inspiration.

My original plan was to model a quilt after this adorable one by Amanda of  Sticks on a Plane. She modeled it after a quilt featured on Live Steam and Outdoor Railroading's website, but since the site has been taken down, I can't see what initially inspired her.

Please don't pin this quilt from here. Pin from the source.
I really liked the the strip of fabric on the rail cars and the way the flatbed carried the letters, but I made my own engine, drawing on my son's three-year train obsession. I also added a caboose, inspired by this quilt by Sindy Rodenmayer.

Please don't pin this quilt from here. Pin from the source.
Using this two quilts as inspiration, I came up with my own take, using the colors of the rainbow out of my scrap bins, and simple black circles for the wheels. But I wasn't happy with the look because Charlie's long name was cumbersome.

So the next idea was to put Charlie's name on one line. I know a lot of quilters create their patterns with Electric Quilt 7, but since I haven't made the splurge yet, I create my patterns in PowerPoint. I moved my cars around a bit until I landed on this design. 

At this point, I started the quilt. I made each block with a white 4.5" x 6.5" background. Leaving a 1/4" seam around the edge, I built the cars by cutting out squares and rectangles, trimming as needed to get the scale I wanted. 

My Silhouette Cameo was a godsend for this quilt, as I needed a lot of black circles. 

One of the most fun aspects of making this particular quilt is that I recently joined Instagram (follow me @dejongdreamhouse!) so I shared photos of my progress. I also posted photos to one of my Facebook quilting groups, and loved the feedback I received as I worked. 

When I posted the photo above, a woman named Cheryl suggested that I add tankers. I was on my way to church and thinking about how I wanted to finish the quilt before school let out for summer. I was nearly done with my trains, but couldn't stop thinking about those tankers..and log cars. My apologies to Jesus, I was distracted that morning.

Thanks to Snapdragon Snippets, I figured out how to cut the pieces for my two new cars. 

The piecing went by quickly compared to the time it took to applique. I thought I would be stitching wheels forever! 

Once I finally had all my cars complete, it didn't take much time at all to stitch the rows together. I added a 1/2" strip under the cars for the train track. But then, I made yet another edit to my template. I had originally planned to use striped fabric in between the rows of trains, but then I thought white would look better. 

At this point, I started getting requests my quilting friends for a pattern. I've never written a quilt pattern before, but I always take lots of notes as I work.

 And I take pictures of each step. It will be fun to have my own pattern available on Craftsy for other quilters to make their own personalized Choo Choos.

The last thing I needed to do to the main part of the quilt was add Charlie's name. Again, I relied on my Silhouette to cut out the letters. I used the font Flange BQ, which is the same font from Thomas the Train, a little nod to my little engineer's former obsession.

I added an exclamation point to the end of Charlie's name so there would be two letters per flatbed. I lined each letter up with the tire. My original idea was to have a black inner border and a blue outer border. I spent a ridiculous amount of time finalizing the border. In addition to my original idea, I considered just a thick black border, just a thick blue border, and what I landed on, a blue inner border and a black outer border. Honestly, I can't remember why I veered from my original, because I think any of the options would have looked good. This is where I landed before removing the black inner border and replacing it with blue.

And finally, Charlie's Choo Choo is complete!

For the back, I cut up a striped sheet that I found shortly after I started quilting. The stripes feature the colors of the rainbow and I've kept it thinking it would be a perfect backing for a baby. This was actually the first fabric I picked when starting this quilt. I thought I would use it on the front, but more often than not, my design process has a mind of its own.

Close up of the label, which also includes my son's school name and the current staff.

I hope Miss Anne's little engineer finds many years of joy with his new quilt. 

I have since gifted the quilt and it was enthusiastically received. Because my health is unreliable, I didn't promise the quilt after my initial conversation with our principal. I told her about it a few days before I finished, but for most of the teachers, it was a big surprise to see the quilt, as well as their names on the label. 

I've started working on the pattern, and will add a link when it is complete. Since I don't use a lot of patterns, and this quilt was mostly applique made from scraps and stash, it's been a bit more challenging to write up the process, but it's getting there. Here's a sneak peak!

Updated: Jen's comment below prompted me to add a link to the first quilt I ever made, a Thomas the Train rag quilt for my then-4 year old, who was on year 3 of his train obsession. I've learned quite a bit about quilting in the last three years!!

Linked to:

Quilt Story

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Quilt #62: Imogen's Bunting Bakery quilt

A friend recently asked me about my quilt design process. She asked if I start with a pattern, and then think of who might like it, or if I start with a person, and plan the quilt around what they might like. And beyond that, since many of my quilts are "just because" quilts, and not tied to an occasion, how do I determine who gets a quilt?

I muddled through my answer then, but the question has stayed with me because the more I quilt, the more I want to make all the quilts, and I just don't have that kind of time or money. You would think there would be some kind of priority, but living with a brain injury means that I don't do deadlines. I can plan all I want, but my brain works on its own schedule and creativity can't be forced. So the answer is that I have a rough list of quilt designs I want to try and occasions I want to mark with a quilt. But if a baby is born or someone gets married and I don't make a quilt, it usually has less to do with how I feel about the person and more do to with how my brain was working (or not, as is more often the case) during that occasion. And what really bothers me about that reality is that I don't want anyone who would appreciate a quilt from me to feel that a lack of a quilt from me means I don't appreciate them. 

When I give a quilt, it's not just a blanket. It's an symbol of my love and well wishes. My brain injury prevents me from being as social as I'd like. It keeps me from long conversations and phone calls. It keeps me from being as involved in the lives of those I love the way I'd like. When I give a quilt, it's my way of saying, "I care about you, and if I can't be there with you, this quilt can. If I can't hug you, this quilt can." Before my brain injury, I was a writer. I couldn't not write. Now the words don't come easily, especially if they are filled with emotion. My creativity doesn't come out in words any more, but in patterns I can sew.  My quilts express all the feelings that now get jumbled in letters that don't convey what I feel. My quilts are prayers that can be felt. As I work on picking out a design and fabrics, I pray. My conversations with God are harder now after my brain injury too, so I talk to him while my hands are active. As I work on a quilt, I'm thinking about the person who will receive it. I'm praying a blessing over them with each stitch. I'm hoping that with these scraps of fabric, the recipient will know that they are loved.

Sometimes, it takes me a long time to come up with just the right design, like quilt I have planned for my bonus brother. (Maybe I'll finally finish it by Christmas this year!). Sometimes, I see the recipient and pattern all at once, like Timur's Russian Heart. But no matter how a quilt come about, every quilt of mine has a story.

The story of this quilt began about in the spring of 2008 when Erin Berky and I "met" on an online forum. We were both newly pregnant. I was 36 and coming off two miscarriages. Erin was a young bride living in Japan with her Air Force husband. Our sons were both born in December of 2008. 

When our sons were only nine months old, Erin's husband, Ssgt. Bryan Berky, was killed in action in Afghanistan. The collective heart of the seventy or so women in our group broke. In the years since Bryan's passing, we Dec. 08 mamas have watched from around the world as Erin has accepted what life has brought her with grace and dignity. She has done such an amazing job keeping Bryan's memory alive, not only for her son, but for all who knew and loved Bryan. 

It has been my hope and prayer that God would bring love Erin's way again. And then, about two years ago, in a sweet story that is hers to tell, our Erin fell in love with someone who knew Bryan and loved him as much as she did. Someone who will be a good daddy to her son, even as he teaches him what a good man his daddy was. 

And then, I saw the happiest news on my Facebook feed. 

I knew that if any little baby deserved a quilt from me, it was this little one! The bakery announcement got me looking for the cutest donut fabric I could find! And then they shared her precious name: Imogen Anna Josephine.

A bakery bunting quilt theme it was! I was planning to make an applique bunting quilt, but then I found this adorable paper-pieced pattern by Deborah O'Hare of Quilt Routes

I don't have a lot of practice with paper piecing, but this seemed pretty doable so I was up for the challenge. Jennifer Mathis of Ellison Lane posted an easy-to-follow video tutorial on paper-piecing that made me discover how much fun paper piecing can be!

I appliqued her name with minky. I thought little chubby fingers would like the soft texture.

I didn't quite finish Imogen's quilt before she was born. In fact, she's already two months old! But as it turned out, the quilt arrived the week of Memorial Day. So fitting, really. As I worked on this quilt, I remembered Bryan and his sacrifice. I remembered the years of Erin's tears. I remembered the prayers for a new love and a return to joy. I remembered the utter elation of learning about her new man. I remember the big smile I couldn't get off my face when I thought of this sweet season of new beginnings for Erin and Josh.

It seems appropriate that this Memorial Day, for Erin, is not only about remembering the life of her first love, but also about celebrating the sweet life she has still to live. With all the donuts on this quilt, I couldn't help but making some sweet extras for Imogen. 

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