Friday, March 31, 2017

A Faded Finish

At a recent meeting, the guild I belong to—the New Hampshire Modern Quilt Guild—hosted a special show-and-tell. Meeting attendees were encouraged to bring in the first quilt they ever made, as well as the most recent one, and to talk a bit about how they got into quilting.

I made my first quilt, a picnic blanket for a friend’s birthday, back in 2013. I thought it would be fun to ask her to borrow it for the meeting. Since it’s March in New England—and picnicking while there’s still snow on the ground isn’t fun—she said she could go without the quilt for a few days.

Wow. This quilt has been used and loved. I suspect it’s been spilled on countless times, and it has been washed and washed and washed. What reentered my life as a prop for show-and-tell, however, became a lesson on how my quilts hold up over time.

Here’s what I noticed ...

The Fabric

I wish I knew how many times this quilt went through the washer. I suspect it has been to the spa more times than all the quilts in my house combined. (I wash my quilts, all of which are used inside my house, only when absolutely necessary.)

I used two fabric lines for this quilt: Robert Kaufman’s Kona Cottons and DS Quilts, Denyse Schmidt’s line for Joann Fabrics. In addition to feeling almost leatherlike now, these fabrics are a shadow of what they once were. I’m not exaggerating! I don’t have scraps of the solids to use for comparison, but I do have some of the DS fabrics. Check this out ...

I wish I could return to 2013 long enough to give my friend a second quilt, made only from quilt-shop-quality fabric, and see how the two fared head-to-head after so many spills and so many washings. I suspect a quilt made of higher-quality fabric would fare better. How much better? I can’t say.

The Quilting

The quilting has held up well over time. I used a Gutermann neutral on the quilt top and an Aurafil blue on the back. (Wow—I’ve been testing the tension gods since day one. I forgot all about that!) The quilting lines look good. It seems as if I had some problems with puckering as I quilted this project, and those puckers combined with the regular washings create creases and uneven fading.

This is yet another reason to quilt my projects from the center outward—and bury all the many threads that result from that approach! It is also a reminder to loosen up my top-thread tension from the start of a quilting project.

The Binding

I don’t cut the strips for my binding on the bias, and I’m almost certain that was true four years ago, when I made this quilt. There is some noticeable wear on the binding, probably from all those trips through the dryer, but it’s not egregious. What’s more noteworthy, I think, is how I bound the quilt.

Back in 2013, I used a zigzag stitch to machine-finish my bindings. I’ve since abandoned that technique (I use this one instead) because I find it hard to stop and start again neatly and because I don’t think it’s as durable as a straight stitch. The zigzags here are in good shape, however. My eye is drawn to the messy spots where I had to take the quilt off the machine and restart my line of zigzags. Otherwise, it looks really secure, albeit a little wobbly. : )

The Batting

It’s true: cotton batting has a memory. I used a 100% cotton batting—either Quilter’s Dream or Warm and Natural—in this quilt. I still use 100% cotton products from those two brands of batting. Maybe I shouldn’t. It’s clear that my friend consistently folded this quilt on the same two lines horizontally and vertically because there are two permanent creases where the quilt looks looser, almost a little bubbly.

I know this quilt might not be the best example of how my quilts wear over time because of the amount of use and washings it’s had, but the batting lesson it teaches will give me pause the next time I want to commit to buying and using a bolt of 100% cotton batting.

Your Take on This

Have you had the luxury of examining your work on a quilt after years of use as I have? (I am convinced that I’m in the minority!) If so, what did it teach you?

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  1. The fade in the fabric is amazing, isn't it? I still have my first quilt; I used it in college and the corner that was in the sun is faded even compared to the rest of the quilt. I think that your first quilt has held up really well and it is a testament to how much it is used and loved which is perfection in my eyes. For my quilts that get the most wear (the ones on my bed), I find that the binding needs replaced every 5 years or so. The stitches never come out; the binding itself gets holes on the edge and wears through.

  2. This is interesting and educational. I have had the chance to look at quilts from 10-15 years ago and was pleasantly surprised at how well they have held up, but I think they have also gotten limited washings. I feel like I know so much more than I did then, and yet, even the one that went to my going-away-to-college nephew has done well. I think quality materials and discipline in construction make a lot of difference. They don't look new, but they look loved and used, in a good way that suggests that can continue to happen for many more years.

  3. That's fascinating to go back and see how it's worn and the fading is amazing. My very first quilt still lives on our bed and I only have a couple of outdoor quilts so nothing's worn too heavily just yet but give it time!!

  4. I too have my very first pieced quilt. It doesn't get washed often because it is a twin size and I don't have a twin size bed. I take it to quilt retreat to put on my bed there. I have also looked at the quilt I gave my granddaughter for her HS graduation 13 years ago this spring and I repaired the binding about 2 years ago. She uses it all the time, has washed it countless times. It has faded some but not a lot and I had it professionally quilted by a long arm quilter, so the quilting is holding up well. I will make her a new one soon, maybe after my 5th great granddaughter's quilt is done. Oh, I have to make a quilt for my son, he is the only child, grandchild or great grandchild that doesn't have one yet. He'll be 50 in 2 years, I should be able to get one done by then! "giggle"

  5. I suspect that your friend washes her quilts in hot water, probaby with TIDE. Tide is fine for whites only, but fades everything else. Cold water and about 1 TBSP of scent-free, dye-free detergent (the kind used for babies) would be fine. Also if you bought your fabric at Joanns, you did not get top=quality fabric.

  6. Yes, I have. It all held up well, through 200 or so washings of a baby quilt, figuring weekly washes tossed in with the rest of the baby clothes. I would suggest you continue to use the cotton batting - I always use Quilter's Dream - and give directions to refold the quilt along new lines from time to time. =)

  7. So interesting! Do you think the fading is solely due to fabric quality or does washing techniques make a difference? I made quilts for two little buddies of mine, Star Wars and Spider-Man about three years ago. I understand these quilts go everywhere with the boys and have been washed a lot. I saw the quilts recently and was amazed at how well they held up (Joann character print fabric and fleece). Interesting about the memory of cotton batting on your quilt. After I finish using my ginormous roll of cotton batting I think I'm going to experiment with some blends. Not that every quilt I make is heirloom quality, but there are some that I would like to be loved and to last!

  8. Wow - this was a very interesting and educational read for me today. I will have to make some subtle inquiries about my first quilts, although I suspect they haven't been washed that many times.

  9. This is such an interesting post. I have my first ever quilt because it was a cribs sized one I made for my son but it's rarely used so it's not a very good comparison, but like yours, it was made from fabrics bought primarily at JoAnn's and there's a definitely difference in quality. I've heard about the memory creases of 100% cotton batting and the recommendation of folding your quilts on the bias or even rolling them for storage to prevent that, but haven't practiced that myself. I definitely agree with some of your other readers that how a quilt is washed is a factor in how it holds up. I make my own laundry detergent and only wash my clothes on warm/cold (not that our water ever gets cold here in Florida) so I know that it's gentle on fabrics. Great post and topic for discussion!

  10. Fascinating topic! It's pretty drastic to see how the fabric has faded. I'd love to see how quilt-shop quality fabrics would fare in comparison. It's nice to see a quilt being so well loved.

  11. I am amazed at the amount of fading on that quilt! I still use my first quilt (from the 90's) everyday so I constantly see the wear and tear and how my quilting has evolved. It's always neat to look back and see where we were and how far we've come.

  12. It sounds like it has held up well after all that use. I expect fabrics to fade, especially if they are kept in sunny rooms.
    I have not closely examined any of my first quilts; they were given away to friends with new babies. I expect they are in a similar state!


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