Hallelujah!

The Hallelujah! quilt is now completely finished! I finished it in time to hang it in our church the Sunday before Christmas.

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Some notes on the process… my original idea came last year as I sat in a beautiful cathedral for a performance of Handel’s Messiah. I wanted to try to do something that would evoke the baroque beauty of the cathedral–the ornate over-the-top painting and carving and details everywhere. In my original idea I wanted to do a whole cloth silk quilt with ornate machine quilting and machine lettering.

I thought about this quilt a LOT before I was brave enough to start it. By that time, I had decided to hand-stitch the lettering, and to include 4 large circles that would offset the verses. I spent a lot of time thinking about which words I would include. The Hallelujah Chorus repeats phrases and words, and many times they actually overlap in the singing. In the end, I eliminated most of the repeats, except where I thought they were needed for emphasis.

When I decided to hand-stitch the lettering and the four large circles, I decided that I needed to do the piece in panels, because it is much easier to hand-stitch a smaller piece. For the most part, the seams are unnoticeable. Once I had all those panels finished, I carefully assembled them and put them up on the design wall. That is when I started thinking about adding more circles. It seemed more in keeping with the way I currently work. Once I auditioned a few, I actually liked the way they looked And so about 50 circles were added to the piece.

I decided to use wool batting. My way of constructing a quilt sandwich is to use 100% cotton batting and to use steam to “stick” the layers of cotton together. But now I was using “silky” fabric and wool batting. There was no sticking going on there! I decided to hand baste it. I was able to do this on my cutting table. And I was very pleasantly surprised that there was actually no slipping of the layers going on. The hand basting held everything together very nicely through the embroidery of all 50 circles, and then through the machine quilting.

In between here, you might remember, the Juki quilter went on the blink. This was anxiety producing, but it actually gave me no option but to hunker down and get everything embroidered while I awaited the Juki’s return.

And then it was time to quilt. Now, I had been doodling quilting designs for almost a year. But you know…QUILTING is different than doodling. I knew I wanted to include feathers and cross-hatching. And some sort of background fill. Many of my sketches included a lot more design elements. In the end, I decided to only use 3 quilting designs since the circles were filling in a lot of space.

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But I don’t know how to explain this except to say…I DIDN’T KNOW. I started putting feathers where there was space, and tried out some crosshatching, and then some pebble filler. I outlined all the lettering as I went along. But somehow I didn’t know that I would need to put quilting everywhere–between all the lines of words and between each word! I think I would have been overwhelmed if I had realized that this was what I needed to do.

In the end, I enjoyed every minute of the quilting. It took three concentrated days. Each day I would take the quilt and put it on the design wall, and mark where I though I could fit another feather or some crosshatching. I took it back to the machine and put those feathers and crosshatching in place. And then I filled in with endless pebbles. When all was done, I found the perfect piece of golden brown fabric for the binding, and after it was applied, I soaked the quilt in cold water to make sure all the blue pen came out, spun the extra water out, and then blocked it on my design wall.

In the midst of the quilting, I listened to the Hallelujah Chorus. It is such a magnificent, complex piece of work. My quilt is a very humble homage to Handel’s work, and beyond that, to bring honor and glory to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

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A Banner Day!

Sunday while sitting in church I started to panic that I might not finish Hallelujah! before Christmas. I sketched a bit to make sure I had a complete plan to finish all the quilting, and so Monday bright and early I was in the studio ready to start quilting. Tuesday I did the same, and Wednesday it looked like I might be able to finish. Each day I put the quilt back up on the design wall to see if I wanted to add more feathers or crosshatch, and finally to mark each area that still needed to be quilted.

I had bought two spools of Mettler silk-finish thread for this quilt, and here is what was left when I put the last stitch into place:

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Here is what the studio looked like on Wednesday, the day I finished the quilting. I have already cleaned up some of this. And I am aware. None of this mess has anything to do with quilting an all white quilt.

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On the same day, I could hardly believe it, I re-worked that pink area of Noah’s face, and went on to finish ALL of him, leaving only the hardwood floor left to hook to finish this rug.

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Here is a bit of Hallelujah! I am still doing some hand quilting on the circles, just to tack them more securely in place. Then to bind it, wash it, put a sleeve on, and I will really be done with it.

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I am almost sad to be done with both of these projects, but I am also happy and excited that I will now have time to move on to new exciting projects that I have been thinking about for a while!

Back in Business

The Juki arrived back the Friday before Thanksgiving week. My gardener (and general helper/builder/handyman) was able to come over and help me lift it back onto the table on Monday. He had helped me with the original set-up and so I was very grateful that he was able to come and help me get it back in place.

I was unreasonably nervous about working with it, and so  I planned to practice on a couple of small quilts before attempting the quilting on Hallelujah!

First, I finished the quilting on this little piece. This was made of some very small courthouse steps blocks I had made. I enjoyed making them, but after getting this far, I realized that I was never going to finish enough of these blocks (with 1/2″ finished logs) to make a whole quilt. I always loved this verse, and thought it was the perfect one to go with “courthouse steps” blocks.

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Next, I dug out a really old little quilt. A long-gone dog had chewed on the edges, and I didn’t know what to do with it. Then when I looked at it again, I realized I could just cut the borders smaller, and no one would ever know a dog gnawed on it 🙂 I had fun quilting it.

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So I was almost ready to start Hallelujah! But I decided I wanted some different thread for quilting. I decided to treat myself to a trip to the quilt shop after the last shot in my knee, the day before Thanksgiving. Because I was determined to start this quilting the day AFTER Thanksgiving.

Look at this wonderful fabric I found at the shop! I could not resist getting a piece of it.

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And right on time, Friday morning, I made myself go out into the studio, I practiced a feather or two on a practice sandwich, and then I just went to town. I alternated outlining the lettering with making feathers.

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Next I am going to fill in between the feathers with some crosshatching and some pebbles. I’m not sure what I am going to do around the lettering–thinking about some straight line quilting just to make them stand out.

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Working without a Net

Working on this Hallelujah quilt has been challenging, to say the least. I had an idea, but that idea included a lot of things I had never done before. And I guess I’ve been more nervous about this particular quilt because I very badly want it to turn out good. Changing my vision along the way has created more uncertainty. And to be fair, I do tend to drag my feet when faced with learning something new.

I think I showed you this before–just fitting the 10 panels together into a finished top was a challenge. It looked a little empty, and I had the thought to add more circles.

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But I thought that might look silly, so it sat untended on the design wall for a few days. One day I told myself, just go out and try a few circles. That’s all you have to do.

And surprise, surprise, I liked it. So I set about cutting a myriad of circles out of various fabrics, and pinning them to the top to decide where to place them.

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Once the circles were zig zagged in place, it was finally time to make the quilt sandwich. Oh, but first I had to make the back. Of course, I did not have one piece big enough for the back, so I used four different light colored fabrics and pieced together the back.

NOW it was time to make the sandwich. Another thing that caused me great concern. I usually rely on steam to put my quilt sandwiches together. That would not work with this slippery top and the wool batting. Oh, when I took the wool out of the bag, it was very wrinkled. Somewhere in the recesses of my memory there was something about putting it in the dryer for a few minutes. Google to the rescue–I put it in the dryer with a damp washcloth for less than 10 minutes–perfection!

So. I decided I would just pin the daylights out of this top. But shortly into that process, I became concerned about moving it and trying to machine baste it. Since the layers weren’t steamed together, I did not have faith that there wouldn’t be slippage in that process.

So I decided I needed to hand baste it. Here is how it looked to me. An ENDLESS sea of pins, waiting for the slow and painful process of hand basting.

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My finger was getting a beating. I remembered I had these little thingies, and they came in very handy. I tried to be patient and basted it in a 4-5 inch grid.

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Making progress.

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And after three days, it was basted. I checked the back, and amazingly, there were no pleats. So I folded it up and put it on the quilting table. More decisions awaited me.