Martha Stewart gave me the bird…or how I made my first quilt

What does Martha Stewart have to do with my first quilt?  I can’t remember for sure when it happened but someone gave me one of her magazines to look at; I think there was a flower article that they wanted me to read.  There was also an article about making a quilt with state birds.  I went back to that article much later (in an effort to organize my desk, I had to look at the magazine before I tossed it) and decided to give it a try.  I had done embroidery before….how hard could it be?

Here is a page of the PDF instructions that I downloaded from the Martha web site (click to enlarge)

There was a bird for each state (actually several states have the same bird so there aren’t 50)  and I neglected to embroider the state name with the bird which I now regret.

I went to the fabric store, decided the color I wanted, bought a few fat quarters, and some DMC floss and went at it.  The instructions werent that great (at least at the time I didn’t think so) so I had to figure out how to transfer the pattern to the fabric, but I got that worked out.  Every few days I was back at the store buying a few more fat quarters (each bird got a different fabric and different floss) and I’m sure the clerk thought I was nuts (perhaps she was right).

I got all the birds finished, cut the blocks down to 12.5 inch squares, sewed them together, added a border and was ready to make it into a quilt.  So back to the directions.  They said to layer the backing batting and top, and then sew between the blocks (stitch in the ditch) and then fold over the edges to make a binding.  OK that made sense to me, so I went to buy batting and backing fabric.   I selected brown backing fabric (which would also become the binding).  For the batting I had no idea what to buy, so I read all the packages and made a huge mistake!  I bought June Taylor polyester fusible batting, seemed like a good idea at the time, that cotton batting seemed so thin!  You are theoretically able to press the quilt layers together with the iron rather than basting, which I did.  They do stay together untill you try to run the thing through a sewing machine with out a walking foot.  What you get is a bunched up mess, and more puckers than I care to remember.  After it was all together, puckers and all, I decided that maybe some decorative stitching would help flatten it out so a ran decorative stitching up and down the blocks on the machine.

The quilting came much later so only look at the machine stitching for now.

I still hated it, decided I had wasted a lot of time and fabric, had a huge pile of scrap fabric from all the blocks and the backing, and had an ugly quilt.

The scraps didn’t go to waste!  I made a toothbrush rug with them.  Toothbrush rug?  what is that? You whittle a toothbrush handle into a needle and use that to make a rag rug.  here is teddy having a nap on that rug (it’s now used as sofa cover)

Some other time I will post about how to do the rug.

After the rug was done (I added a lot more fabric than just the quilt scraps) I decided to do something with that quilt.  I had no Idea how to quilt so I looked it up on the internet.  It looked easy (silly me) so I jumped in but lacked an important item, a thimble!  My fingers were raw and bleeding (I still can’t find a thimble that fits…apparantly manufacturers don’t believe that men might appreciate a thimble large enough for our fingers). I now make my own with leather.

I did echo quilting (at the time I didn’t know that is what it was called) around each bird, amazingly that took out all the extra fullness and made a huge difference.

Here is where I have to comment again on fusible batting.  The quilting was a much harder job because there were hard crunchy parts in the batting, presumably where the fusing glue was heavier.  I can’t tell you how many needles I bent trying to get through that glue.

In the end I like the quilt, and once washed the crunchy glue came out.

I’m now glad Martha gave me the bird, I learned a lot and even though I wanted kill her, it realy wasn’t her fault that I didn’t know what I was doing. If not for that magazine article I don’t know if I would have ever made my first quilt.  “Its a Good Thing”

Happy quilting!


April 30 addition:

You can easily find vintage bird transfers on eBay, here are a few

I have a set somewhere that I bought from eBay, it has 50 states so that helps to date it .  I have seen sets that have only 48 states but can’t remember who published them. Anyone that knows I would love to hear from you.

I looked up the Martha Stewart patterns that I used and they are still available here

20 thoughts on “Martha Stewart gave me the bird…or how I made my first quilt

  1. Ann Champion says:

    Oh Tim! As I read along I couldn’t imagine you being able to save the quilt. It looks fantastic!!!
    Your wonderful quilting saved those blocks you worked so hard on.
    I’m glad Martha gave you the bird…you were meant to be a quilter. 😉

  2. timquilts says:

    I guess I do have to thank Martha, I dont know if I would have found quilting with out her.

  3. Wow, I can’t believe that hand quilting thru that fusing didn’t have you running screaming away from quilting. Of course after that, most quilting jobs must seem easy. Quilt on!

  4. Connie Combs says:

    It’s a thousand wonders you stuck with quilting after such an experience. So glad you kept it up tho. Can’t imagine life in the quilting world without the beautiful work you share with us all.

  5. Sue says:

    Nice! I have a set of embroidery transfers for state birds – I’ve had it probably 40 years and still haven’t started! Maybe when I retire? (27 months to go, not that anyone’s counting) I wanted to mention my Mom’s dearest friend was a quilter. She had the shortest, stubbiest fingers and wore a man’s tailoring thimble. I don’t remember where she got it, but she’d had it for years. She even wanted to be buried with it! I don’t know if that happened or not. It was a large thimble and worked really well for her fingers. She was also our church organist for over 50 years and with those short fingers could reach just over an octave and made magic on that organ.

  6. Cathi says:

    What a great story! I’m glad Martha gave you the bird – because you have gone on to inspire so many of us with your amazing quilting!!

  7. Grayson In Austin says:

    Great story! And, your first was salvageable. Mine was not. Thanks for being a wonderful inspiration to other quilters. Perhaps you should design an XXL thimble and market it. 😉

  8. Amazing how that was your very first quilt!!!

  9. bermudagirl says:

    Tim you put us all to shame! I can’t believe that was your first quilt!! And Martha Stewart or not it is a beautiful design and I absolutely adore the echo quilting!!! Amazing quilt. Thanks for the link from FB!

  10. Sharon Eshlaman from Galesburg says:

    Looks pretty cool, Tim! Do you mind telling how many years you’ve been piecing, quilting, etc? And also, where did your interest come from….grandmother, mother, father or just looked like fun? You don’t just dabble in the art, you just jump in and go to town. I’m just curious, I guess on how this addiction took you over😋. Your quilts are amazing and you’re a very talented man. You also have good taste in dogs….love that Teddy!


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s