Thursday, March 18, 2021

the pleasantest thing

this little lady is sewing her first quilt!
d5, youngest of my 5 daughters, has been helping me sew quilts since she could place her pudgy baby hands on mine and push fabric through the machine. now she's nine and ready to do her own quilting.

it all started with this beloved book - the swing by robert louis stevenson, illustrated by julie morstad - which is a beautifully pictured version of this sweet peom. a few years ago, about when she was five, d5 memorized this poem as part of our homeschool curriculum. we always loved how there was a patchwork quilt in one of the illustrations and said someday we should make that very quilt.

a few weeks ago when she was showing interest in quilting, we stopped talking and got planning.

we decided on 8" finished squares to give us a size we liked (48"x64"). i made a little grid to represent the quilt as pictured in the book (6x8), then we identified kona cotton solid colors that we thought best represented the colors in the illustration, picking a color for each square. 

the book quilt almost follows a pattern of every-other-square being a warm, spice brown color, but on some of those squares, the illustrator colored over the brown with a blue. d5 picked kona 1075 cinnamon for her background brown. i thought it was a little deep-toned, but i let her make the final decision. we chose kona 1058 cadet for the blue-grey washed over alternate background squares.

the other squares were a variety of colors that in some cases appeared to be tones of the same color. i let her make the call about which colors she wanted to use for the squares where it was questionable which shade was most accurate. some of the squares were very light, almost white, but we wanted color not white for them, so d5 picked shell for those. (in case you're looking closely and wondering - i don't have color chips for shell, goldfish, or watermelon, which are more colors we used. we used the most current kona color card to pick our colors.) 

there is one square very close to the little girl's skirt in the illustration that is more pink than all the other shell pink squares. we chose kona 143 petal for this one square as a special accent.

then we went shopping.
i meant to do all the maths before we went to the store so i could get the right amounts of yardage for each color, but i didn't get that done ahead of time. i don't mind having more solid colors hanging around, so i opted to get 2 yards of cinnamon (background color), 1 yard cadet (2dnary background and binding) and 1/2 yards of everything else. this was generous sizing as some of the colors only appear 2 or 3 times.

here is our color palette, left to right:
1075 cinnamon (main/background color)
474 goldfish
143 petal
1064 carribean
1846 lemon ice
1483 salmon
1058 cadet
1384 watermelon
1271 shell

we got cutting and stitching on a lovely, lazy, stay-in-jammies kind of weekend afternoon. she'd press the color and i'd cut the squares, then she'd lay them out on a piece of batting on the floor. (my design walls are currently all covered and this is my preferred method when wall space isn't available.)

when only the first 3 squares were laid out, she excitedly exclaimed, "mom, look! it's so beautiful!"

once the cutting was done, the stitching began. i'd pick up a row and then hand her pairs of squares to join, having her chain piece as i snipped them apart for her. after a while she said, "you're doing all the hard work. i'm just stitching." haha! i told her the stitching was the most important at the moment and i sure wished i had someone to cut my fabric or stand next to me and hand me all my pieces when i was sewing quilts. 

i had her sewing on the turtle setting for speed (juki's lowest setting). after a few rows, she asked to speed up. i told her as it was her very first quilt i thought she should continue on the turtle to get used to sewing straight even though she was doing a really good job. she complied for a few more squares and then i could hear the machine working at a faster pace. a few squares in she moved back down to turtle and said in a resigned voice, "sorry i doubted you, mom. you were right. i should have trusted your experience. kids just don't like to be told what to do." 

she was supposed to be backstitching over the seam junctures when sewing the rows together. i like to do this for reinforcement. every now and then she'd forget. one of the times she forgot, she said, "well, that was horrifying. it broke my heart." i have a bit of a perfectionist on my hands here. there was something else i told her to do that she questioned and i told her, "well, ou need to do it if you care about accuracy." her reply, "which i do. if you think i don't, you don't know me very well."

i showed her how to press the seams as we completed each row. conquering seam pressing is more difficult than stitching, and harder for me to be patient about with the learner. but we managed. we pinned rows together and she did a great job sewing those, too. the majority of her points match up perfectly and the others are barely off. (pinning doesn't work any better for me, either.)  i really am impressed how accurate her 1/4" seams turned out. she seems born to quilt.

we had to stop for dinner, but she wanted to push through and finish the whole top. she genuinely enjoyed the stitching. while sewing away she would randomly make exclamations like, "i love sewing!" it was a real joy to work alongside her and watch her develop this new skill.


by bedtime, we had a completed quilt top - her very first. she's so happy with it and i'm so happy with her. the way the colors are laid out isn't exactly how i would have placed them if i were choosing for myself, but it is a faithful reproduction of the quilt in the illustration. we love it. it feels like something you'd find in an old farmhouse that your great-grandma made from scraps. we call it "the pleasantest thing" which comes from a line on the same page as the quilt illustration in the book.

backing, quilting, and binding coming up.

and then we have plans for more quilts inspired by the book! there aren't anymore quilts in the pictures, but each page is an absolute delight in color palette and layout, so we've got lots of ideas for a series to represent each illustration. 

i can't think of anything more pleasant to do with this girl.


  1. It looks wonderful. Another quilter on board!! Always good to see young talent continue our craft for future generation.

  2. Gosh this is ADORABLE. I have a nine-year-old, so I recognize the dialogue, too. Love. You go girl!


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