Wednesday, June 13, 2012

WIP Wednesday: Storm at Sea Woes

Here it is, the shame of my sewing room for almost a year. I'd love to finish the top this year, but this quilt has problems. I desperately need your recommendations for the best way out of this pickle. Here's what happened ...

The Backstory

When I committed to making a quilt eleven years ago, I knew I wanted to jump in with a queen-sized Double Wedding Ring. It was a bold choice, bordering on stupid. My mom sounded concerned, but she didn't dissuade me. (Thanks again for hand sewing that scalloped binding, Mom!)

One of the books I picked up with the Double Wedding Ring pattern also had instructions for a Storm at Sea quilt. I was sold. All straight piecing with the illusion of undulating curves seemed like a sweet deal.

After ten years, when I was recovered from (mostly) hand piecing and hand quilting the Double Wedding Ring, I decided I should pick up where my quilty dreams left off and begin a Storm at Sea. I rounded up over ten yards of fabric with extra to allow for mistakes and increasing the size. Then I logged serious hours to cut more than the 1,367 pieces called for by the original instructions.

User Error

I use my mom's Bernina 1630 Update '96 sewing machine. She's had this machine since I was twelve, but this time last summer I was googling which way the bobbin should spin. Hooray for online PDF manuals!

This machine is all about the computer. You depend on the screen and the rollerball "mouse" to change its settings. I didn't have a 1/4" presser foot when I started piecing the Storm at Sea, so I just moved my needle position to create a 1/4" seam. It worked great.

Until I turned the machine off.

Just because my sewing machine thinks it's a fancy computer, doesn't mean it is one. While it retains some contents of memory when you turn it off and on, needle position isn't one of them. Somewhere in the middle of a marathon block piecing session, I realized I was sewing a 3/8" seam instead of a 1/4" seam.

I had pieced so many of the 195 blocks called for in the original instructions that I decided to soldier on and piece the rest of them with 3/8" seams. I figured the only consequence would be that my quilt would be smaller, so I would need to cut and piece more blocks to make the quilt as big as I wanted. That didn't bother me, because I was already thinking of making it bigger to go on a queen bed with bigger drops.

Now, after a year of reading quilt blogs everyday, looking at patterns, and making six quilts, I realize that everything has to come together with a fairly high degree of precision . . . especially when there are points involved . . . and solid fabrics . . . with a high contrast white and navy situation.

My favorite quilty quote is "If you can't see it while riding by on a galloping horse, don't worry about it." I'm usually more of an "It's just crafts" and "It'll be FIIIIIIIIINE" kinda gal, but the whole point of this quilt is the illusion created by the seams lining up just so.

uneven sashing rows with blocks that don't line up


By the time I started assembling blocks into sashing rows, it was clear I was in trouble. I thought I could ease a few seams and everything would settle together without any major issues. I played with four sashing rows, sewing, ripping, and resewing the seams between the blocks. Significant size differences began to show immediately, though.

squished points and way off seam with the row above

It's not just a matter of having slightly squished or slightly floating points. We're talking about losing a 1/4" off of a point and seams not lining up by an inch by the time you get to the end of a sashing row. Assembling a couple of large squares with sashing went just as badly.


Here's what the original quilt instructions describe:
• Finished size: 76"x88"
• Blocks
     - 42 large blocks
     - 56 small blocks
     - 97 sashing blocks

I'd love to make this a queen-sized bed quilt with longer drops, though:
• Ideal finished size: 100"x112"
• Blocks:
     - 72 large blocks
     - 90 small blocks
     - 161 sashing blocks

Here's what I have pieced:
• Large blocks: 42
• Small blocks: 56
• Sashing blocks:
     - 73 fully pieced
     - 44 half pieced

I have extra fabric, and I have some extra pieces cut. I would need to do more cutting to make a bigger quilt, though. 

A Request for Your Guidance

So now what?

• Do I rip out all of the seams and start fresh with my 1/4" foot?
• Do I rip out all the seams and use foundation piecing to guarantee success with my next attempt?
• Do I fudge it the best I can and hope those floating and squished points aren't so noticeable in the washed quilt?
• Should I scrap the whole thing, buy new fabric, and start again?
• Should I just forget making it bigger, because this is not the pattern for adding extra rows?
• Is there an option I haven't considered?

Surely I'm not the only one who's ever screwed up a quilt this badly, I would so appreciate any suggestions on how to move forward at this point. Please don't be shy about leaving a small novel in the comments field, clearly novel-length writing is the thing today ;-)

Many thanks for your input!

I'm linking up this tragic tale with Freshly Pieced, Sew Much Ado, Someday Crafts, and Rae Gun Ramblings.

WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced  


  1. oh no! I hate to say it but I think i would start again with a 1/4 inch seam. The magic of the design only comes with accuracy, unfortunately. Foundation piecing is a great idea, if you have enough fabric. You are totally not alone in this - I had hand quilted almost an entire quilt (a 9 block single girl) when I realised I had done it completely wrong and ripped it all out. It was a pain at the time, but I am so glad now that I did it. Good luck!

  2. Take the pieces that match up and create a tiny Storm at Sea within a lot of negative space. So create as big a square of the Storm at Sea as possible, and then float that square or rectangle within a solid or print. If you don't like the square idea, you could do a long rectangle so that it ends up laying near the end of the bed [kind of like if you folded a quilt at the end of a bed]. Kind of like this quilt: except turned the other way.
    I hope that made sense...

  3. Oh man, sorry to say, but I'd go with the frogging and starting again with the 1/4" seams. With so many seams to match up, you're going to be tearing your hair out shortly (well I would be anyway, but I'm a tad anal). Good luck!

  4. I'd pack it up neatly, take a break, and think about it for a while. So disappointing but believe me ... we've all been there!

  5. I would be inclined to piece more blocks with the accurate seam allowance and add them to the original accurate pieces. Make as many as your fabric allows and finish with them! Make a quilt top with as many pieces as you have and get it finished!
    You will not be happy with a 'fudged' version. In all likelihood it will not lie flat when it is pieced anyway, which will make it a nightmare to quilt! Should you get that far, I can almost bet you will toss it out altogether or never sew again!!!
    Could you have an 'un-pick' party? Invite your girlfriends around,hand them a glass of wine and a seam ripper and get to work! If I was closer I'd offer to come around and help!
    Whatever you decide good luck!

    1. I've done the "unpick party" before on an attempt at free motion quilting that went horridly wrong. (still haven't blogged about that one, it's too painful to think about!)

      great suggestion!

  6. Claire, I didn't understand most of what you said, except that it's not good. But I did want to say, if I were in Austin I would totally come over for a glass of wine and participate in an unpick party!

  7. Yup, gotta un pick and start again. If you try and fudge it, it will forever be there as a reminder and if your anything like me it will spend more time in the closet than out on your bed. As you said, the pattern looks amazing because of the accuracy of the seam. If it helps, the few hours spent unpicking will be a fond memory when your old & grey and snuggled under this gorgeous quilt.

  8. Wow.. this is going to look gorgeous in the end.. it is wonderful getting to see the progress.

  9. The big question is "how married are you to the original design?" I'm not a big fan of ripping out pisses me off, so if you're willing to give up on the design, but still use what you've created, I suggest a major "toss up" of your fabric rows. Turn them this way & that; add in sashing strips; unexpected blocks of solid fabric; cut your rows down to smaller sizes. Think MODERN and I your navy/white quilt will look gorgeous...just not like you had originally planned. Whatever you do, don't try to "fudge" the rows together. It will be too much work and I guarantee it will not work. Been there, done that, learned my lesson!! Good luck.

  10. I agree with many of the above :-) If it were me (I am NOT a fan of seam ripping) I would probably either do all of the 1/4 inch seams in the middle and then a border, then add the 3/8 inch seams in a pattern around them. I would also consider doing it a bit more modern (?) and putting all of the 1/4 inch in a top section, then add a solid strip to the middle and adding a block of the 3/8 at the bottom...kinda like 3 large rows. Not sure if that makes sense. If all else failed I would probably start over (with new fabric) because I really hate ripping. LOL. Can't wait to see how it goes!

  11. Dude, just take a deep breath and start again. If it were me I think I'd just buy more fabric and start again with a 1/4 inch foot. It will take too long to rip out all those seams and because they've been cut on the bias they will be stretched with all that handling. This is a quilt you've dreamed of for a long time - so don't fudge it.

  12. You can divide your blocks by size and make a smaller quilt out of the wrong ones for charity. Then you wouldn't have to look at it forever. Or... make the wrong blocks your traveling busywork for a while. Working at them is small bites of time in waiting rooms, traveling, or while watching TV. Or... make it a goal to unpick 1 or 2 a day. I have a rainbow version I want to do. I've got the Marti Michelle templates to use.

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