The auction for Ely’s preschool was over a week ago, but I didn’t have a chance to write about the quilt before I jetted off to Chicago. There are 3 classrooms at Ely’s school, and the classroom projects for the auction are a big deal. Each classroom paints a large canvas with the art teacher, but the room parents are responsible for coming up with the idea and implementing the other project. I’m not a room parent, but I’m “creative” which means I get roped into helping with anything that needs some artistic oversight. I actually didn’t mind helping at all. Right after college, I taught elementary school art and when I lived in Texas, I taught adult knitting classes. Some days I really miss being in some sort of classroom and watching children (and adults) explore the world through art.
The auction always benefits the school’s scholarship fund, but this year the auction also raised money for the upcoming playground renovation. Instead of the classroom projects being a free-for-all, we were told they needed to have an outdoors theme. Somehow we came up with the idea of a picnic, and decided to put together a family picnic kit. We got a wicker picnic basket with plates and silverware, and bought games, bubbles, kites, an insect cage, and other fun outside activities. To house the diversions, the children decorated the outside of a sturdy canvas bag with a bug and flower scene using their fingerprints and a little inspiration from Ed Emberley. And because sometimes picnics have to happen indoors, the children decorated a cookie jar the same way, so the indoor picnic could have some special treats too. I volunteered to sew some napkins and a picnic quilt, because it can’t be a picnic without a quilt.
I based my quilt off of Erin’s picnic blanket, though I made my squares a little bigger and I left off the rock pockets. I was going to make a rectangular quilt, but once I laid out 16 squares I thought it looked plenty big to fit a family. I kept the colors non gender specific, which was a good excuse for me to use a lot of orange. I was able to pull a few appropriate polka dot prints out of my stash, and added some solids, small prints, and other polka dot-like fabrics to create the top. Amy Butler, Denyse Schmidt and Anna Maria Horner all had some wonderful fabrics that worked so well together in the top. The quilt top was easy enough to assemble, and the back was just two pieces of the same sky blue kona cotton solid. I decided to quilt in the ditch to give the quilt a little more stability and durability, since the quilt was going to live at someone else’s house, and I didn’t want to worry about it disintegrating in the wash. I tied the centers of the squares with orange embroidery floss. The quilting part drove me batty. For some reason, I’m having a lot of trouble lately with my fabric shifting as I quilt. I don’t know if I’m not stretching the backing tight enough, or not using enough safety pins, or if it is something with my machine but it made the quilting part very slow and frustrating. It took me twice as long to quilt the whole thing as I thought it would take me. I used my favorite Denyse Schmidt orange print for the binding (it was also one of the few fabrics I had enough yardage of) and sewed it on using a large zig zag stitch. I thought the decorative stitch was a nice detail, but on the back side the edges lifted up too much, so you could see the line of thread where I attached the binding on in the first place. That bugged me enough to sew all the way around the quilt edge again with a straight stitch to keep the binding edge tacked down on the back.
Of course I still wasn’t finished once the binding was complete. We had decided the quilt needed to be personalized by the children some way, and the easiest way to do that was to make a label for the back. Using a Micron pen, the teachers and each child wrote their name on the label. There were a few reluctant children, so we had them draw a small picture and we wrote their name by their picture. At the very top, I wrote the name of the school, classroom, year, and city and wrote made by my name at the very bottom. As you can imagine, this label ended up on the large side. By time twenty-two 3, 4, and 5 year olds wrote their names, the label was 10×12 inches. I was able to cut a small amount off, but I decided to add an orange border to finish off the label and separate it from the backing as I used the same fabric for both. I was a little worried about how well the label was going to adhere to the backing, and I wished I had sewn it on before quilting or had even pieced it into the backing. Then, I came across a great method for making and attaching a label in Last-Minute Patchwork + Quilted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson. Joelle uses a lightweight fusible interfacing sewn on top of the label with the fusible side facing the label’s right side. Once you’ve sewn all around the label/interfacing, cut a small hole in the interfacing, trim the corners off and turn the whole thing right side out. Next, punch out the corners, center the label, press with an iron, and you have a patch that is completely adhered to the quilt! You still have to tack down the edges with a blindstitch, but I felt so much better knowing the center was attached too. I thought this was a great way for making labels, and I know I’m going to use this same method again in the future.
As for the napkins, I more or less used Heather Ross’s napkin pattern in Weekend Sewing with a zig zag stitch around the edges to sew the opening closed (I liked how the zig zag stitch also matched the zig zag on the quilt binding). By the time I finished the quilt, I wanted to forget about the napkins, but I already had most of the squares cut as they were rejects from the quilt top so I plugged along and finished them the night before the auction.
When the whole project was put together – basket, canvas bag, cookie jar, napkins, and quilt – it looked fantastic! Each little part made the whole picnic set colorful and whimsical and personal. I liked how we included so much of the children in our project, from their fingerprints to their sweet signatures in their own handwriting. The picnic set brought a lot of money, and a special little girl is now the owner of my quilt and all the other picnic items.