With each new quilt I make I try to try a new technique or learn a new skill. I’ve always shied away from appliqué in the past thinking it just wasn’t “my thing”. However, last year my husband and I were gifted a vintage handmade quilt that had been a wedding gift for my in-laws when they were married in the ’60s. My husband had grown up with that quilt as a constant comfort and had even taken it with him when he left for college as a reminder of home. It is threadbare in spots and buttery soft from decades of laundering. When my mother-in-law offered it to us, I was so excited to have a vintage quilt in our home, and my husband was excited to once again be reunited with his favourite quilt.
I’ve marvelled over the uniqueness of the design. It is like a traditional Dresden Plate quilt, but with the curved edges, it has a fun swirly floral feel to it that makes it feel unique and special. I wish I knew who made the quilt, I would love to know where from where the design inspiration came.
Over the past year it has graced our laps on the couch so many times and my eyes have always wandered to the craftsmanship of the hand-sewn appliqué. I’ve secretly enjoyed the thread-bare sections because they have offered me an otherwise hidden glimpse at how the maker stitched the pieces together. Over the course of the pandemic, our daughter has been reading The Hobbit aloud to us on the living room couch and while listening to her read, my eye has been drawn to the exquisite work that went into the quilt on my lap and I decided I needed to make one myself. I don’t have any experience or training in hand-appliqué, but with my love of English Paper Piecing and the repetitive stitching that comes from hand-binding a quilt, I figured it would be something I could handle.
I set off to draft my own “petal” and “centre circle” templates and made a test block using some scraps of pretty floral fabric. My first block came together in an evening and I was smitten with the process and couldn’t wait to get started on my next quilt.
The Dresden Swirl Quilt
As I do with any new quilt project, I jumped in full speed ahead and cut out all my petals and background square blocks. I used the delightful fabrics by Riley Blake Designs called Beauty and the Beast collection by Jill Howarth (@zippyboro on Instagram) and paired Swiss Dot in Aqua and creme for my background. These fabrics are a match made in heaven. I’ve been loving all the little details in Jill’s illustrations from the story of Belle and her encounters with the Beast, along with all the other characters and details from the story (clocks, candelabras, roses, the French countryside, teapots, serving trays, ottomans, horses, pastries, wallpaper, and a library of books to name a few!).
Once I cut out all my petals and background, I started joining all my petals in a round. I machine stitched the base of the petals, being careful to leave a seam allowance for the raw edges.
Next, I pressed all the curved seams of my flower and then pressed under the raw edges and lightly glued them to my background fabric to prep them for appliqué.
I hand-stitched all the flowers to my background fabric. It took a while but I was very pleased with the clean look of a hidden seam. I used an appliqué stitch, basically the same method you use to hand-bind a quilt. The stitches seem to disappear into the crease.
I had to do some research on how to make the centre circle because I wanted it to be as round and smooth as possible. I hate “lumpy” circles. I tried a few different techniques and chose the one that wasn’t the quickest method, but it resulted in the smoothest edges. It involves a loose hand-baste around the circle template and then you pull the threads tightly around the template until the seam allowance hugs it all the way around, which you can then press in place. I ended up with near-perfect circles.
Once my blocks were all completed, I stitched them together and made a sashing using a complementary aqua fabric called Kisses from Riley Blake Designs (I also used this fabric for the centre circles). I don’t normally use sashing very much in my quilts, and I considered omitting it for a more modern look but I wanted to be as true to the original design as possible so I kept it in and I’m happy that I did, I love how it looks.
I machine quilted my quilt on my domestic machine using a technique I learned from Melissa Marginet’s book Edge-to-Edge Walking Foot Quilting Designs. The design is called a cross-hatch hourglass design. The hourglass made me think of the rose in the Beauty and the Beast story, which slowly lost its petals, counting down the time for which his beastly curse would last forever.