This was number two of three baby quilts I finished last year, and I still have one more half-quilted and another one planned. Too many babies to keep up with!
My sister in law was due a month and a half after me, so of course I had to make her a quilt! The idea for this quilt came about because she showed me a picture of a blanket with cute cartoon solar system planets on it – and I went and did something completely different.
Anyway, I was feeling inspired by the idea of space and stars and galaxies, so I looked through One Hundred and One Patchwork Patterns by Ruby Short McKim (a Dover reproduction of a 1930s quilting book – it’s a good resource for old American quilt blocks & it’s charmingly written,) until I saw the illustration for the Monkey Wrench block. Aha! Doesn’t it look like swirling galaxies?
Then I went looking for a star block, and when I found one I liked I turned to Illustrator to see if I could get the blocks to tile like I was imagining them – and it worked! I had to resize the blocks, because one downside of this book is that unlike with most modern quilting books, the block sizes aren’t standardized. A minor annoyance, but not a problem.
And there we are: star clusters and swirling galaxies. Here you can also see that I was playing around with color and value. I decided to go with the layout on the right, with purple/dark in the center. This was a design that I knew would need careful attention to relative value and mostly solid fabrics in order to read right, so I spent a while combing through batiks at the fabric store and agonizing over them – and came home with several extras just in case. 😉
I settled on four fabrics for the front – a pink-flecked turquoise for the mid tone, two yellows for the light stars, and a deep, dotted purple that reminded me of starfields. I don’t usually pay much attention to value (light/dark contrast) when I’m planning my quilts, so this was something of a departure for me, and I’m very pleased with how it turned out.
Here’s a question – the double star block is called “Kaleidoscope” in my book, but when I went looking for blocks by that name, my searches turned up different modern blocks. I couldn’t find anything that looked like this block. Sewing the block together is a little fussy and requires more than sewing in straight lines, and I wonder if that contributed to it falling out of favor – or was it given a new name? I don’t know, but I wish I did.
Here’s how I assembled the block:
First, I sewed all the straight seams – sewed two arms to the center squares, and the other two arms to the side triangles.
Then I matched the seams on the center square and the arm of the star, and sewed across the center square and down one side. Since this seam isn’t straight, this means you have to sew across the arm of the star and pivot right at the seamline. Needle down, pick up the presser foot, and shift the fabric so that everything lines up…
… like so. It’s far harder to explain than do. Then you flip it around and sew the other side! Doing it this way allowed me to make sure the corners of the center block matched up nicely with the arms of the star, and helped keep things from slipping around and going wonky. (Technical term.)
Monkey Wrench/Snails Trail blocks are always fun to sew. I really love that turquoise fabric! The swirling pattern and the dashes of pink work really well with the theme of the quilt.
The finished quilt! I love how this turned out and someday I want to do a full-sized quilt using this same pattern, so you could really seem the full effect of the swirling blocks. I wish I had gotten better photos, but since I was literally sewing on the binding while driving to my sister-in-law’s baby shower this is what you get. (2.5 hour drive – lots of time for sewing, though I didn’t quite finish and had to sneak off after we arrived and finish the last twelve inches of sewing while hiding in our car…)
But wait, there’s more! For the back, I got this crazy idea into my head that I wanted to use a photo of an actual galaxy as the backing. Did you know that all the hauntingly gorgeous photos from the Hubble Space Telescope are licensed under the Creative Commons License, meaning that you can use them for stuff? Here’s the details.
I used Spoonflower to print the image of the Westerlund 2 cluster on both their Organic Cotton Sateen and Kona cotton. The Organic Cotton Sateen took the color much better (the Kona cotton was kind of dull) and didn’t fade noticeably in the first wash. I really hope it wears well… I did notice that the dye felt like it was on top of the fabric, and had a almost sticky feel to it – my iron didn’t slide smoothly over it – so while this was a fun experiment for a special project, I’m not going to be using Spoonflower fabric for everyday projects.