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A quilt top project to test my skills

sewing a bag

In my journey to learn to quilt I have been playing with different techniques and different types of projects. And then seeing if they are profitable or interesting to me as something to sell. It has been an interesting journey of fun and finance.

One thing I was seeing out in the market was cutter quilt products. This is where a quilt is taken, cut up and made into something else. At the volume that some of the makers were producing I can’t believe that it is only worn or damaged quilts that get used but also quilts that are still very usable as quilts. It broke my heart to see so many usable quilts being chopped up and put into quilts. One of my favorite artists to watch is

I thought well maybe I could use just the quilt tops and use those in projects. Quilt tops are often found because someone made the top and abandoned half done project. They could have abandoned it for any number of reasons. The cost of the batting and the time and effort to quilt it all together may have been too daunting. (some people pay a great deal of money to send the quilt top out to a longarmer- a person with a machine that can reach and quilt the entire expanse of a quilt. I felt better about cutting up an unfinished project and finishing it off and giving that hard work a useful life. 

I was given one that was an immaculately started quilt project. I was from an old age home. The pieces were hand piece- it is absolutely stunning. The tiny stitches so perfectly done it was my teacher to try to continue in such a fine fashion.  I have been enjoying finishing work on the project. That one I am hoping to make into a full quilt someday. It’s a slow and meticulous work, a labor of love for my home. Definitely not something that has any retail feasibility. 

So I asked my sister-in-law if she saw quilt tops in the thrift stores around her. She said yes she does. I asked her to grab me some without any instructions on parameters whatsoever. (because of course they would all be like the one I already had right?) She grabbed some quilt tops and brought them to me. Well let me just say not all cool tops are created equal. 

The project

I decided to start with one that was in earth tones. As I looked closely at it I realized it was created by a beginner sewist. And had no instructions on how one goes about creating a classic quilt. My heart went out to how much time that new sewer had put into assembling this quilt top and I wanted to give it new life. All in keeping with my desire to upcycle, give things new life, use everything, no scrap is too small to be useful. 

I had also watched my quilting group generously take on other’s beginner sewing and turn it into a beautiful baby quilt for donation to charity. It is such heart warming work. I felt inspired. 

With all those blooms of good doer in my heart I forgot about what a sewing snob I am and how finicky I am about sewing standards. I didn’t think about how challenging taking somebody else’s less than perfect work might be for me. 

Taking a broad look at the quilt top and its design. I suspect that they were given some 5×5 squares of different fabrics and went home to sew them together. Well the typical quilting strategy is to put the different fabrics back together in some sort of pattern that also distributes the different fabrics and colors throughout the quilt creating a cohesive balance or overall story. Well they didn’t quite understand the assignment and sewed like fabrics back together in strips. Leaving one part of the quilt top having no relation to the other parts. So I felt like this project was best served to cut up into different projects and not remain a quilt top.  

I decided to chop it up into shopping bags. Well as I proceeded putting these together I realized that when they found that pieces didn’t quite fit together they either gathered one fabric into the seam or they put large pleats so nothing lay flat. I will admit on a couple of instances I ripped out the seams and removed the pleat and made the fabric lay flat.


Their hand stitching was very large stitch lengths. Which means they might not hold up to any weight bearing activity. I had a choice to make: do I disassemble all the squares and make them lay flat and have a strong seam or do I honor the work that this sewist put in and find a way to save it. Disassembling and resewing didn’t seem in the spirit of what I was going for so I decided to be a hero and find solutions while keeping the original work. 

I needed to sew down all of the squares onto a base to make it a usable sturdy product. I decided to put stitches on either side of the seams in a colored thread. This not only would add stability to the product but also add a design element that pulled everything together. This was easier said than done since none of the fabrics laid flat. And I have to say as I went along I cursed and grumbled the whole way through.

I kept trying to remind myself that I was honoring this person’s work and wondering how they would react if they saw it all finished up. They had suffered a sadness having to give up on this project. This would create joy from their work by having it actually getting used. I was taking on this challenge to my skill as a seamstress to see if I could make chicken salad out of chicken sh*t. 

At the end of two days I was still not finished. I was determined to get these four bags done and out of my hair. I stayed on the sewing machine for 2.5 more hours. Yup I ate dinner at 9pm for the sake of getting these darn things done!

A Comparison project

I worked on a different project of four bags that were not pieced, no exterior pockets and were not lined. Those four bags were completed in half a day. In contrast this new project of four bags took me two full long days. Granted it is not an apples to apples comparison. But with these new bags I don’t think that I can charge enough to make it warrant a decent hourly wage. (these bags can be found in the shop)

two tote bags
two tote bags

The completed bags from the quilt top:

This project took me two long days to make four bags. I used up every last scrap of fabric from the quilt top, a lining fabric and an interfacing. All four bags have little inner pockets and two of the bags have large quilted exterior pockets. I met my goals of honoring that sewist’s long hard work. I feel that the bags meet my standards and I am proud of the work enough to show them. Hopefully someone will fall in love with them and use them. 

So here’s a hard lesson learned about sewing things to sell. It needs to be fast for the end cost to be something people will be willing to pay. (and save myself from cursing while I fight with bad sewing!!! LOL)