Sunday, May 16, 2010

Smoky Mountain Stars Quilt

This is the next installment in a series documenting my earlier quilts.

In the fall of 2007, after the Modified Rail Fence was done and sent off to live at the longarm quilter's for a few months, I started a Smoky Mountain Stars quilt. This quilt design comes from Bonnie Hunter of Quiltville and can be found here. It's made from thrift shop shirts. Thrifting and quilting--two of my favorite things!

Many of the shirts I found at an annual fall fair, or flea market, the proceeds of which benefit a local charity. On the last day of the fair, clothing is sold by the paper bagful, whatever you can stuff in a grocery sack for one unbelievably low price per bag. I raided the men's plaid shirt section.

You know, when you're 6'2" and female, you turn a few heads in public. But when you're super tall, female, and shopping the men's plaid shirt racks like there's no tomorrow, wearing sensible shoes, you get even more sideways glances.

Eh, whaddaya gonna do? So I hummed a k.d. lang tune and tried to ignore what was happening in my peripheral vision.

Okay, I'm kidding about the k.d. lang part.

It was Melissa Etheridge.

Seriously, though, I loved making this quilt! I enjoyed everything from cutting up the shirts, choosing which plaids to use, piecing the squares, tweaking the layout, etc. My husband even volunteered one of his black pinstripe shirts, which I used for the inner border (love!). The question of the outer border was solved by using wide strips pieced end to end. You can get a pretty decent sized strip of fabric out of an XL men's shirt back.

I finished piecing the quilt in early December, but then I wasn't sure about the quilting of it. Should I send another one to the longarm quilter, or consider having it hand quilted?

Then one day, as we were grocery shopping, an Amish family was in the store. I approached the younger woman and asked if there was someone in her community who did hand quilting for others. She was very shy, but replied that she would ask her mother and father, who by this time were down at the other end of the aisle. She joined them for a hushed confab, peppered with glances in my direction. After a few minutes, I strolled to the end of the aisle to see what the outcome was. Mrs. Miller, a diminutive woman with wispy gray hair peeking out from under her black cap, spoke quietly and politely. She indicated there was a woman in the community who did hand quilting for others. However, depending on the size of the project and how soon it needed to be done, Mrs. Miller said that she herself might be interested in the job, if it could wait until after Christmas. I told her I was in no hurry whatsoever, and we talked a little about the quilt and ultimately exchanged addresses. I said I would get in touch with her after the holidays.

Well, the overthinking began almost immediately, and by the time January came, I had a case of cold feet. After all, I knew nothing about this woman's quilting skills. I had never seen any of her work. Was it wise to hand over to a virtual stranger a project I had put so many hours into?

I did not contact her.

Along about the third week of January, a letter arrived in the mail. It was from Mrs. Miller, who in neat, precise cursive wrote that she was ready for my quilt. She enclosed directions to her farm and the days and times she would be home, if it would "suit" me to come with the quilt then.

I took the quilt to her the very next weekend.

A month later, another letter arrived, this one advising that the quilt was done and ready to pick up. I hadn't asked what she charged, so I went to the bank and withdrew a wad of cash--four times more than the actual cost, as it turned out. She had tallied on a piece of note paper the number of linear feet of thread used in the quilting, which figure was then multiplied by so many cents per foot. That was the bill. I tipped her generously.

I made the quilt label from the inner yoke of one of the thrifted shirts. Love the graphics on it!

I referred to it as a "cowboy quilt," because of the kinds of shirts it was made from, but the term isn't mine. It came from Lynn at Klein Meisje Quilts, whose beautiful "cowboy quilts" were a source of inspiration.

Mrs. Miller did a wonderful job of hand quilting. Just look at those fine stitches! I'm so glad for the serendipity of meeting her, and grateful for her follow through.

Sometimes you just have to let go, take a risk, and trust that it'll work out. In this case, it certainly did.


  1. Ohmigosh P, that is one really wonderful quilt! I love the plaids, and of course, you know my penchant for scrappy. :-) I've wanted to do a plaid quilt at some point in time, but never considered raiding the thrift stores, etc.

    How wonderful that you met Mrs. Miller. Her quilting is indeed beautiful.

    Thanks so much for sharing this awesome quilt!

  2. What a gorgeous quilt! I've been hoarding some of my husband's old shirts to use in a quilt, but I'll have to hit the local Goodwill to get some plaids to add - this is lovely! What a treasure!!

  3. What a fabulous quilt and what a charming tale to go along with it.

    This quilt will be loved in your family for generations along with the story of how it came to be finished.

    Thanks for sharing that with us.

  4. This is an absolutely wonderful quilt. I love your label. Very cool.

  5. I love it and I love how you take the initiative and walk up to complete strangers and talk to them and end up with these wonderful stories. Me, I'm happiest in my own little hole. I usually have to be pried out with a two by four by the husband just to go the grocery store. As for talking to strangers, I try not to, and I get nervous when they talk to me. What if they are secretly trying to figure out where I live so they can come by and steal my blue willow dishes? If Wonder Woman can have an invisible plane, why can't I have a cloak that makes me invisible so strange people, I mean strangers, won't talk to me in the grocery check out line?

  6. Wow, P. That is gorgeous! I loved the story behind he quilt. How wonderful that Mrs. Miller was able to quilt for you and it turned out well in the end. That is an absolutely amazing quilt. I can't say enough how much I love it. I actually copied down the pattern that Mrs. Miller used in the border to use on a project I'm working on. I've been looking for something to quilt in the borders of a quilt and that will work just right. Oh, and really nice touch with the tag! I love it!

    xo -E

    P.S. I'm completely jealous that you are 6'2". I'm kinda short. Like 5'5".


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