I had just finished making my first two quilts ever (blog coming soon) when a friend told me she was getting married and the bridal shower was in one month. I started looking through my Interweave Stitch Magazine archives for gift ideas. The one that caught my eye was the Windows Improv Table Runner by Malka Dubrawsky in the Spring 2010 issue of Stitch. It was a gorgeous, colorful quilted table runner. It was more active quilting than I’d done before, but I was so inspired by the colors and I was sure I had a set of brightly colored fabrics (an old roll of fat eighths) that I could use for the top.
My friend who is getting married has the brightest and most beautiful personality. She is extroverted (unlike me), laughs easily, loves people, and is passionate about everything around her. And she’s one of the bravest people I know – she got a job in Korea and lived there for over a year and learned and grew more in that year+ than most of us do in a lifetime. I love her to pieces. She has been a shining light in my life and I wanted to make her a gift that was as commanding of color and attention as she is.
I was surprised how quickly this piece worked up. The majority of the work was in the quilting – duh – but I didn’t realize that. I had previously made a simple 54″x54″ throw and a twin-sized quilt that had minimal quilting – I was new to quilting and have a regular machine so had to keep it simple. Those two blankets quilted quicker than the piecing – though I’m sure that has more to do with my tentative approach being the first time I’d ever pieced and completed a quilt (I have 10 quilt blocks from when I was in my 20s that need 2 more blocks then finishing…it may never happen).
What I love about (and simultaneously break out in a cold sweat over) this pattern is that it’s improvisational. I love to look at improvisational work, I struggle to feel safe making improvisational work. But I did it and I’m so proud of it.
Cutting out the pieces of fabric came easily. I didn’t use a rotary blade, just a pair of scissors and a ruler as a general guide. Lines that weren’t straight were just as valid as straight ones. And a rotary cutter would have made me more likely to cut the same sized squares and strips. I cut out more squares and strips than I needed and that was okay (I have plans to make coasters or hot pads with the remainder).
Once I finished cutting, I started matching and pinning each square with one strip. Then I sewed them together in a chain, cut them free, and pressed the seams to the side. Then I sewed a strip onto the other side of the square, pressed, and made a pile of two-toned squares(ish) blocks.
The next task was piecing together the runner. The runner is made of three large squares created from 16 two-toned pieces sewn together. Below is a picture of one square: on the left it is laid out, only the center sewn; on the right fully sewn and trimmed.
NOTE: There is a typo in the pattern. You can see it in the lower right hand corner (I didn’t realize the typo until I had sewn the first square). Each corner piece is turned so the large square makes up the outward corner. In the pattern from Stitch Magazine, the lower left hand corner (my square is rotated, sorry), the outer corner square is rotated inward. Do not make this same mistake. These corners need to be outward facing so that they match up when the three squares are put together and make a half square.
The instructions for piecing, aside from the typo in the pattern diagram, are easy to follow. I was stressed out about how well to line up the seams, or not. I tried not to be too crazy about it, but wanted at least a few lines then propelled through the length of the runner.
The challenge is that you can always trim down a square to fit or add fabric to the edge to fit (see the lower and upper right hand corners of the picture above to see how I added fabric to fill in space for smaller squares). I also rearranged some squares between photos to get a better fit of the center two squares on the right side. It was a lot of trial and error. But because it is an improvisational design, I felt some freedom to let it be imperfect, and I loved that! I struggle with perfectionism, so this pattern let me release some of that – YAY!
Surprisingly, in the end, the three squares only varied by about a 1/2 inch at most on each side. Rotating did minimize the difference, so be flexible and creative.
One way I deviated from Malka’s pattern was to use different colored fabric to fill in the gaps where Malka only used white fabric – which was also used for the binding. I wasn’t sure white would look right or any one color, so I chose my filler fabrics from the remaining strips I originally cut. I chose a color that complimented the rest of the square – the color that was less represented or the color that was missing from that sector of the square.
After each strip was sewn, I would shore up the edges with my rotary blade and ruler. This made piecing together the larger pieces easier, though if you study Malka’s sample in the top image, you will see that she gave a lot more license to unevenness between her squares. Malka – you amaze me!
After all three squares were made, trimmed to match size, and sewn together (that took a little coordinating so I could hide the one bad corner – see it on the left lower corner?), it was time to quilt. The quilting I did in small batches over the course of one or two weeks, I can’t even remember now. I think the piecing I did in a matter of days (I don’t work, so maybe 2-6 hours spent on it a day).
I’m not sure exactly how the quarter squares were intended to be quilted (on the full squares it’s done in concentric squares), but I started at one edge, sewed to the other then sewed down the ditch a few stitches before starting the quarter-square of stitching to the other side. I don’t know if Malka started and stopped for each concentric quarter square, but that seemed like too much work to me, so I connected them all and hoped that by stitching in the ditch around each square it would be sufficient to hide those side stitches. I don’t have a good picture of this, but I hope it make sense. From a distance, it doesn’t seem as obvious as when I was up close at the sewing machine.
The last challenge was the binding. I have never made my own binding – total binding wimp, right here. But my last two quilts at least taught me how to sew binding together – I am terrible at it, but practice makes perfect, right? I tried to find a fabric at the store to make a one-color binding, like Malka’s. I bought blue fabric and a backing that incorporated all the colors in the top except for blue. But when I got it home and saw the blue with the whole of the top piece, I just couldn’t do it. So I opted for doing the binding in the same manner as the filler pieces – I sewed together strips (cut with my rotary blade and ruler) from the leftover fabric in the top to make the binding. I love how it looks. I couldn’t have picked one color. They all, together, make this piece work. The hardest part was making such a small binding (1.5″ width to start, folded into quarters). It was a terror to sew, but I got it done and only ripped out one small section of stitching.
I’m super happy with the final product, and my friend was too, not to mention everyone at the shower was raving about how beautiful it was.
I highly recommend this pattern. It will definitely be at the top of my mind for future projects and I’m already keeping an eye on fat eighths at the fabric store, since the slightly used batch I had could easily make two of these. Otherwise, it could be a great stash-buster project.
An Ode to Malka Dubrawsky
When I first saw this pattern in Stitch, I kept thinking to myself, “Boy, this pattern and the designer’s name sure feel familiar.” Finally, I realized she was the designer of one of my all-time favorite pieces of fabric – “A Stitch in Color”. I found that fabric late in its shelf life. I had discovered it in the half-bolt discounted section, just over one yard’s worth of this gorgeous fabric. I almost made it into an apron the other day, but I just couldn’t do it. Recently I read someone describing a project as good for that piece of fabric you like a lot but don’t love so you’ll actually use it. I finally understood that statement. I may just have to frame my yard of A Stitch in Color. I may just.
I love Malka’s sense of color and design – both in her fabric and in her quilts, especially her quilts!
For those wanting more of Malka’s designs, she has two books out:
I will definitely be visiting some of these patterns soon!