Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Jolly Roger Quilt, Part 2: Math Problem

Jolly Roger Quilt, cat is larger than he appears
I think I just finished my 18th quilt. I might have actually made more, but right now that’s how many I can name and remember. One is just a top, and even though it has been sitting unfinished in a box for many years, I would like to start quilting it soon; though I have to admit it is a little kid’s quilt and I do not have any little kids living in my house right now.  Many of the 18 were baby quilts, given away to close friends.  Two were made for the dogs (so they sit on the quilt on a chair instead of the chair), and I am happy that they have not been destroyed by them.  I sold one in an auction (which was not a good experience). I spent last winter finishing a quilt for my niece to take to college, and afterwards started thinking about a black and white quilt.
I was living in North Dreadful, with only one decent fabric store worth the drive, so I ordered a bunch of the fabric for the Jolly Roger online. I am an unskilled and unhappy shopper in many ways, though I, like anyone who likes quilt-making, have a huge stash of fabric and a weakness for the nice fabric stores. I found the perfect backing fabric for the Jolly Roger quilt (Michael Moore’s “Quilt Pirates”), and it is pictured here.
Quilt back, with free-hand machine quilting
I do not know what I had in mind when I ordered the backing fabric, but by the time I was finished piecing the top, I had, in my exuberance, exceeded the amount of fabric purchased for the back by a full eight inches. You would think that for an experienced quilt-maker this would be an occasional problem. You would think that for a former geometry teacher, with a master’s degree in pure mathematics this is a rare mistake. You would think.
The truth, dear reader, is that I fail to buy enough backing fabric so often that this scenario is typical.
Figuring out how much fabric you need for the back of your quilt is straightforward. Quilting fabric usually is 44” wide, so you often piece together two lengths of the same size, and have one seam on the back, running up the middle. You plan for there to be extra, because out of the scraps of old projects new projects grow.  A huge quilt might be 96” long, which is 8 feet, so you would need to buy 16 feet (or 5 1/3 yards) if your back needed to be about 88” wide (or less).  This quilt turned out to have 64 squares across its length, 2” of fabric per (pre-sewn) square, yielding 1 ½” per square after deducting the ¼” seam allowances. 64 times 1 ½” is 96”. It is 48 squares wide (or 72”), for a total of 3072 2” squares of fabric.
This works nicely if you are good at planning how big your quilt will be.   I usually strike a bargain with myself when planning quilts, because I like some aspects of planning and dislike others. With the Jolly Roger quilt, I embarked on the making of the grinning skull without knowing how I intended to use it in a finished quilt. Maybe I had a vague sense that it could be like a pirate flag, but pretty quickly I realized that this was not a very interesting design, being almost entirely black. In the end, I made two skulls and some scissors and a heart and played with how I wanted them arranged until I was happy. I was very busy cutting little black squares and sewing long strips onto the growing top and it was not until the whole top was together that I knew my enthusiasm had allowed the top to grow beyond the amount of fabric I had purchased for the back.
Back piecing to mask error
The good thing about being consistently bad at planning is I know how to deal with my bad planning. In this case, I used the largest possible square pieces of fabric that I could cut until I was down to scraps.
Now that it is done I am pleased with the quilting (which was very intense), and having that feeling of sadness that I always have when I finish a project.

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