The plan was always to get the Jane Austen Community Story Quilt professionally quilted. It measures over 100 inches in length and 60 inches in width, so it would have been unwieldly to hand-quilt as well as time consuming. Carolyn Clark is a ‘longarm’ machine quilter who has a studio on a farm in Billingshurst, where she has worked as a quilter for five years. She came to the second of our ‘put it together’ days to see the quilt and to discuss options with Lucy, our Project Manager, and me.
With regards to how the quilt would be constructed, my preference was for the quilting to go in the sashing as a frame, rather than to be hidden in the seam line around each block (called ‘in the ditch’). However, as the blocks give the viewer so much to look at, I wanted the thread to be the same colour as the sashing so that it didn’t detract from the overall look of the quilt. Originally, I didn’t want to use wadding. The backing is a heavy cotton canvas, the weight of which will help the quilt hang flat to the wall. I also thought it would be apt to have two layers of backing material, as this is how the original coverlet made by the Austen women was constructed. However, Carolyn suggested that we should use a very thin cotton wadding such as ‘Quilter’s Dream’ to cushion the blocks and, now it is quilted, I agree that was the correct decision.
Pippa, one of our volunteers, met Carolyn and I at the studio to deliver the smaller Admirals’ Quilt to be machine quilted, and we spent the morning finishing off sewing the long borders onto the main Story quilt. To ensure that it would hang correctly, chalk marks were made along the length of the quilt in order to mark out where the sashing strips, to be added to the edge of the quilt, would meet. We then pinned at each intersection. Carrying the quilt-top to the machine was a three person job, similar to that of wedding attendants holding a long train at a royal wedding! Once the elements of the quilt were all brought together, the effect was breath taking. The blue sashing gives each block room to be seen independently of the others, yet when you stand back you get the full effect of Jane Austen’s story coming together.
Watch a video of the Jane Austen Community Story Quilt as it is machine quilted
After we gave the quilt a good pressing, it was loaded onto the quilting machine. A few test stitches were then sewn into the side and Carolyn got to work. Her machine is computerised, so she marked ¼ inch points onto the sashing around each block and then programmed these points into the machine. It then stitched a square around each block. This sounds simple, but each of the 57 rectangles (52 blocks, with five in the centre) needed to be sewn individually so it took a full day to complete. Once Carolyn had finished her work, the quilt was carefully rolled and wrapped in bubble wrap. The quilt was then ready for the binding to be added.
We then discussed different options for quilting the Admirals’ Quilt, from a meandering squiggle to abstracting Jane’s handwriting and stitching that across the top. However, we kept returning to idea of using a wave design. Running evenly across the quilt, these waves help to strengthen it, add texture without detracting from the design, and were a suitable choice considering the theme of the quilt and the room in the Museum that it would inhabit – the Admiral’s Room. Again, this quilt was rolled, and was then ready for binding.