Rebuilding Memories, Step By Step

This quilt was intentionally made for my aunt and her family. Unfortunately, they lost everything in the Camp Fire of 2018, narrowly escaping with their pets and a few essential items. I know this quilt can’t replace everything, and is not a sufficient substitute for all of the photo and memory albums lost. But, it is something tangible they can hold and snuggle with, knowing family (and friends) love and support them.

My aunt is special to me. Like every family, we have experienced our fair share of familial drama. But through it all, all I wanted was a good relationship with her and her family. Whenever I talk with her over the phone and hear her voice, it makes me smile. She has always been really funny, smart and strong. She is constantly joking around. It shouldn’t surprise me that through the devastation she and her family encountered with the fire, her attitude has remained positive and uplifting. I KNOW things must have been incredibly frustrating and sometimes infuriating dealing with insurance and contractors and whoever. Yet, every time I spoke with her she’d say, “It is what it is, man. I can only control my own attitude, you know?” Words to live by!

My aunt was the one that told me more about our family’s antique quilt and maker, shortly after Mama gifted it to me to restore.

estimated to be about 150 years old

After receiving this quilt above, I committed myself to become a better quilter before starting the restoration process. This one needs to be 100% hand stitched. But, I’m not delusional. There is NO WAY I have the patience to make many quilts all by hand. Instead, I wanted to make quilts and extrapolate lessons from each one and put those lessons to use when restoring this one!

Back to my aunt’s quilt!

Knowing her quilt would take me a while, I whipped up some little fleece blankets for their puppers and sent them off in a care package.

Meanwhile, I picked out some fabrics and set to work:

I started this quilt, got frustrated, continued through the frustration, got more frustrated and had to put the project out of my reach until I could regroup my wits lest I create a bigger mess. Even though I’ve made many quilts, I’m still learning new techniques!

Mistake Lesson #1) Being overly eager and going to “just any” place that sells fabric.

I went to a big chain store. Which isn’t always bad. Most of the time, the fabric I’m getting will be fine for most of my projects. But with this quilt, I learned that this store’s fabric wasn’t up to my standards. The batik fabric was great and had good quality. But I soon found out that the the solids weren’t very pleasant to work with. They were too thin and frayed far too easily, and quickly lost their shape once cut.

After washing, ironing, and prepping the fabrics I cut them into long strips and sewed them together.

Lesson #2) Using a big stitch length to piece the top quilt together.

Once again, due to my eagerness to get this quilt done and into my Aunt’s arms, I let my overzealousness take control. I thought using a big stitch length would help in getting through the redundancy of piecing everything together. I was right. This part just took an hour rather than a day. BUT it came at a VERY frustrating and time consuming cost, to be discovered and re-discoverd in the following steps!

Once all of the strips were pieced, I pressed the seams to one direction and cut them down to squares. Then I laid them out in the “stair step” pattern. The official name of this block is “rail fence”.

Once I was happy with the layout and overall size, I began to sew the blocks together. This is where I noticed that having a long stitch length was a big mistake!

When I started sewing the blocks together, my strips or bars within the block would unravel and separate from each other. This resulted in me needing to pin every previous seam edge…but this wasn’t fool proof. Keep reading!

Lesson #3) Not squaring my blocks before piecing them together in rows.

If you take a close look, you’ll notices that many of the stairs have a bit of a lip where the blocks didn’t line up properly. I was fortunate in my “Crumbs on the Stairs” quilt….or maybe I actually did square those blocks before assembly? Either way, my eagerness got the better of me in this step as well.

In the case of this quilt, I had enough material leftover from the top-quilt and some extra material from my stash to piece together the After-Quilt (backing). I found this is my favorite way to back my quilts. Very rarely do I ever buy enough material in the initial purchase to account for the backing. This is because I don’t do the initial math involved. Instead, I make the top-quilt, then depending on the finished size, I go out and get my batting and backing.

For the batting, I also had plenty in my stash. I had to Frankenstein the pieces together, but the only one that knows this is me and you. Shhhh! Actually, this is a GREAT way to use up all of those odd pieces of batting that are just too small for a standard quilt, but too big to throw away.

(this is the quilt already basted. I guess if forgot to take a picture of the backing)

Lesson #4) Trying a new basting technique.

This wasn’t a horrible lesson to learn. Actually, I kind of enjoyed it! Typically, I lay my quilt sandwich out and use curved basting safety pins to keep the layers together. Then I take to to my sewing machine and quilt it.

This time, I really wanted to make sure the backing didn’t shift and pucker like some previous backings.

I did some research and decided to go with a whole new technique. It took a long time and a lot of patience, but I was convinced this was a better method than curved safety pins alone.

I watched this YouTube turtorial posted by the nice people at ThePatchworkBoxTips.

I ran out and bought the 2 straightest boards that were long enough for this quilt and followed along.

Once everything was set up, I began to unroll and baste using the same stitch technique and thread that was recommended in the tutorial.

It was a very calming and therapeutic process. It gave me the opportunity to take a closer inventory of where my blocks didn’t stitch together properly (See: Mistake Lesson #2). As I was basting, if I saw seams that didn’t catch, I stitched a bit “X” over them so I could make sure my quilting stitched the pieces together.

After it was all basted, I made sure the fabric hadn’t shifted on either side and didn’t have any offensive puckers or wrinkles. Then I took it over to my machine which I fit with a walking foot designed to pull the top fabric through the machine at the same time as the bottom fabric.

Of course I label my feet! Doesn’t everyone?

Just like Karen Brown from Just Get It Done Quilts says, “It’s a walking foot, not a running foot. Go slow.” So, I did. I even got myself some quilting gloves so my hands wouldn’t slip on the top quilt and help me feed the sandwich through evenly.


I chose to do a lazy wave quilting stitch pattern. It just seemed appropriately symbolic of water. Water that extinguished the fires, and water is also a symbol of cleansing and renewing.

After all that I did to prevent the wrinkles and puckers on the back of the quilt, I ended up with WAY MORE than I have on and previous quilt!!!! AHHHKKK!!! This is supposed to be a gift??? Ugh! How… How did this happen? I thought I took so much care and consideration in PREVENTING THIS EXACT THING! I wanted to cry!

It was at this point that I needed to fold it up and put it in my sewing closet for a bit. I had to give myself a time-out on this quilt.

After some encouraging words from my mama, and some reassuring thoughts from friends, I trudged on. After all, I wasn’t finished! I still had the binding to put on and some pictures on the back.

Before any of that, I needed to fix the quilting thread ends and any “stitch glitch”.

I was very happy with how the quilt maintained a square shape. I didn’t need to stretch it at all!! I just trimmed the edges.

*cry* maybe i should think of the wrinkles and puckers as “added texture”?

Figuring out how much material I have for the binding, and how much more to add:

Attaching the binding to the front with the machine for a clean straight line.

I prefer to attach the binding to the front of the quilt with the machine, then turn the binding to the back and stitch by hand. I feel it gives my quilts a more polished look. I’ve tried the “stitch in the ditch” technique with the machine, but it never turns out well for me.

To keep the quilt oriented, I mark the top with ultra washable crayola marker. Also, when sandwiching, I add a couple of lines along each side. This helps to ensure that the fabric doesn’t shift….or if it does, to know how much things shifted in the basting and quilting process. My marks didn’t shift, so I’m still confused as to why there was so many wrinkles and puckers on the reverse.

Adding the final touch: pictures!

This quilt is for my mama’s middle sister. I don’t have any pictures of them growing up. Luckily, Mama did and so did my cousin.

While I was on the phone with my other cousin, he mentioned the original title ‘Steps to Recovery’ sounded more like a 12 step program. I didn’t even think of that!!! I was so thankful he mentioned that! As I worked on the pictures, I reworked the title and landed on “Rebuilding Memories, Step By Step”

I printed the pictures out onto printable fabric, and played around with some different layouts. Since I’m not 100% sure of when each picture was taken, I just guesstimated.

I used Heat n Bond on the back of the pictures, positioned them, ironed, and pinned for good measure.

I wanted to cluster the pictures together near the top on the reverse side so my aunt and her family can see the pictures as they are snuggled under the quilt.

on beautiful days, I work outside.

One evening as I appliqued the pictures on, an interesting program came on:

It’s like they knew!!!!!

I tried to be creative with the applique stitches I used.

I know that even after a couple of washings, these pictures will fade. But that’s OK. I have the pictures digitally and can send them to my aunt so she has them for her own records.

The collage of pictures covered up the most offensive wrinkles…like a magical make-up wand!

No quilt is complete without a label!
Label must haves:
-quilt title
-maker name
-maker location
-start date
-completion date (sometimes it takes days, sometimes years)
-recipient’s name
-reason/occasion for the quilt or a short message
-care instructions

I always breath a last sigh and say a little prayer for the recipient as I tie the final stitch in each quilt.

One final washing to remove any remaining markings…hopefully!

The very last step is gifting the quilt. I would have LOVED to give this in person. But with CoVid-19 going on, I figured sending it through the mail was best. The quilt took me 2 years to make, I didn’t want to prolong the delivery as well.

*Cheers my Dears*

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