I’ll Have the Clam Chowder – Hold the Clams

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My family likes clam chowder. I like the idea of clam chowder. I love a hot, creamy soup for lunch after I’ve been in the ocean and on cold days. I love hot, creamy soup served in a cute, hollowed-out round of sourdough. I love square chunks of potato in my soup. I hate clams. Nothing ruins a bowl of clam chowder like a big chunk of clam. I should just eat potato soup, or maybe just the bread bowl.

That said, this is a summation of my clamshell quilt experience.

*Important Disclaimer*

My feelings about this quilt are entirely my own and have nothing to do with Rachel, her blog, the way she presented information, or anyone else’s tutorials I studied along the way. There were however, numerous clams maimed, injured, and sworn at in the creation of this quilt.

I love scrappy, old-fashioned clamshell quilts; I was not prepared for the reality. This project began as an informal QAL hosted by Rachel of Stitched in Color. Rachel laid out a buffet of methods for joining in her clambake. I became enamored of her quilt-as-you-go method. How fun would that be to have a quilted quilt when everything was pieced? Little did I know that it was the only thing that kept me from abandoning the project.

The reality of this quilt was frustrating for me. I cut a few clams by using a template and quickly decided that wasn’t going to work for 450+ clams. A major purchase later and armed with my new die cutter, creating the clams was a snap! The only problem was I didn’t always ensure that my fabric was on the die correctly, resulting in a few misshapen clams. I used these on the sides, so not a total loss. I also needed to cut a few extra clams at the end. (I didn’t account for the half clams or my color layout when I cut.)

Getting the back and batting spray basted in preparation for the quilt-as-you-go method turned out to be pretty easy. I struggled a bit with making sure everything was squared up to draw my guide-lines and had to adjust when I laid out each row of clams.

*Tip – do not use a highlighter or regular felt-tip pen to draw lines on batting. If you do, don’t spray your finished quilt with water to remove a water-soluable mark. This could happen to you.


Ah, laying out the clams. I sewed down my starter fabric and the first three rows of clams. I just couldn’t get into my head how to space the rows and had to go back to Rachel’s posts several times and do some Googeling to see what other people have done. I also didn’t like how my clams weren’t perfect curves in the places that my glue-basting wasn’t done well and then my stitching pressed the fabric into little points. I ended up unsewing those first three rows and really wanted to quit at that point. The pile of precut clams kept me going.

At the beginning of this project, I absolutely hated the process. I had to chose the fabrics for each row. Each clam has to have the seam allowance turned under. Then each one is glue-basted to the batting/previous row. Finally, each clam is sewn down along the top curve. If you miss the top curve, then you get to resew it so that the clam under it doesn’t fray and look horrible when you wash the quilt. (More on that in a bit.)

About 1/3 of the way through the process I got into a rhythm and became more fond of the steps. I started laying out three or four rows at a time to play with fabric placement. I learned to pick up the clams in order so they could be laid  back down the same way. I found that starch was my best friend when I pressed the seam allowance under. (Starch is not my new ironing board cover’s best friend however. It now has a brown spot that I doubt will wash out.) I learned to put an old cloth under my starching. If I pressed all of the prechosen row fabric at once, I could glue-baste and then sew for quite some time. This felt much more productive than to do each step for each single row.

I finished alll 34 rows Friday evening. On to binding. I used my new die cutter to cut the binding  when I cut out the clams. The die cutter was great! The opperator was not. I put my fabric on the die the wrong way, which resulted in the pattern on my binding going the opposite way I wanted it to. Sigh. Despite the fact that the fabric pattern is going in the wrong direction, this was one of my better binding experiences. I have used Alyssa’s (Pile O’ Fabric) glue-basting tutorial a few times now, and I am finally getting a look on the back that pleases me.

Saturday I put the quilt in the washer with much trepidation. Would the lines I marked every two inches across the entire quilt bleed and permanently stain the top layer? I set my machine to soak a small load and just let the quilt sit in warm water for an hour. After that I put in a mild detergent, crossed my fingers, and put it through a wash cycle. I was prepared to reapeat this process and even buy a stain remover that promised to remove ink, but IT CAME OUT! All of it, except one little green mark – I can live with that.

The worst thing that came out of the washing was more bad clams (escapees from the topstitching). I had fixed places I missed during the construction process, but after washing I had 50+ clams that needed repair.

Bad Clams

Bad Clams

Instead of just taking out the stitches and top stitching again, I decided to remove stitches and zig-zag the offending clams. I will most likely have to do this for the entire quilt as it is used and washed, but for now I chose to only address the immediate problems. (Any Homeric epic will tell me that this is a bad solution. If you don’t kill your enemy in the first chapter, he WILL come back to get you later on.)

clam fix

So here it is – flaws and all. I seldom name my quilts, but this one is called Clam Chowder – Hold the Clams.  I almost decided to call it The Good, the Bad, and the Clam or The Dread Pirate Roberts – who for those in the know (Princess Bride fans) remember leaves no survivors. I had quite a few other names for it during the process, many of which included profanity, so I’ll spare you.

Clam Chowder Hold the Clams

Some quilts are so pleasurable to make I want to make them again and again. A clamshell quilt is not one of these. I’m glad to have one under my belt, but if I ever do anything with this shape again, it will be on a smaller scale and using a traditional method.  I’ve already mentally planned three other color ways I’d like to try, but it will be a while. I LOVE having a quilted quilt at the end that only needed binding.

Just when I had begun to think of myself as an advanced beginner, I am humbled by this challenge. There is so much to learn – technique, patience, embracing imperfection.

My final thoughts ……….

  • Rachel provided wonderful options for making this quilt and tutorials for my chosen method
  • I learned a lot about a new process, quilt-as-you-go, and liked it.
  • I made a clamshell quilt which I really like, in a color scheme that I’ve wanted to use for quite some time.
  • I used the process to continue my struggle to find the peace and calm in repetition.
  • I won’t try this pieceing method again. Maybe hand or machine piece instead of appliqué.

I’ll take my clamchowder in a bread bowl with really tiny pieces of clam.

Two Weeks?!

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Wow. I didn’t realize I hadn’t written a blog post over the last two weeks. I’ve been sewing, but not making much progress – maybe that’s why. High school baseball started last week and softball practice has begun with opening day next weekend. I love these two sports, but they are a big time commitment compared to hour long soccer and basketball games. We had glorious weather for both baseball games last week. Baseball – spring weather how much better can it get?

Here’s my freshman baseball player. See what I mean? Gorgeous spring weather. I hope all of you in snowy places warm up soon.


Enough mom stuff.

I’m about 8 rows away from done with my Clambake clamshell quilt. If I put this to the side, I seem to loose momentum and have a terrible time picking it back up again. The quilt has gotten heavy, and I’m tempted to free motion my clamshell appliqué. If I change the stitching at this point, I think I will dislike it even more than I do now. This quilt has been a challenge, and when I finally finish it, I’ll tell you all my ups and downs. As this WIP is currently in a heap on a side chair in my bedroom – no picture updates.

Rachel (Stitched in Color), who hosted this QAL, had some traumatic baby news. The thoughtful Jodi at Tales of Cloth is organizing a “flower” collection (quilt) to show Rachel our love, so I stitched up a hexi flower, appliquéd it on a low volume square and mailed it off.


I am keeping up with my Irish Chain Twist QAL. Melissa’s (Happy Quilting) pacing on this has been fantastic, and I’ve been able to complete each weekly step with no problem. We’ve completed two of the three different blocks so far.

final x-block

 X Block (supposed to be wonky – couldn’t do it)

Chain Block Twist on Tradition Patchwork (a happy cutting error created opportunity for me to add a little punch of orange to this block)

This week we should be starting the appliqué block. I’m curious how Melissa will have us do this step. I’m VERY slow at needle turn appliqué. Ten blocks with four petals may take me more than a week.

My March The Bee Hive bee block is at the post office and should be leaving for its new home today. My March queen bee chose the Wanta Fanta block using novelty prints and a low volume background. I enjoy paper piecing, but I think I wasn’t feelin’ it when I made this block. I had to make part of it twice when I realized that all four novelty prints shouldn’t go in one quadrant! Oops. New coaster for me.


Tried again, and then had some trouble lining things up. This isn’t a hard block to make. I probably should have put the project away until I was in a better creative mood, but I struggled on and finished. This photo turned out really blue for some reason, but it’s the only one I took and the block is at the Post Office. Sigh.


I’ve also been assembly-line sewing special wide open zippered pouches (tutorial by Noodlehead) in which to send my quilt block and some goodies to each month’s queen in my bee. I put in 9 zippers on Sunday. Bleh.

I’ve also been working on my New Hexagon Millefiore Rosette 3. The row I’m working on has some smaller pieces that take more time, so my progress has been slow. I have a few more hexagons to choose fabric for after this row. Working with yellow has been challenging. It surprises me how hard it is to find yellows that have the look I want. I’ve had to mix bright yellow, light yellow, and gold tones – not my favorite. Even though this isn’t turning out the way I imagined, in the big picture of the whole quilt it will be fine.

Rosette 3 progress

On to my assembly line. Sew forth!



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I’ve been working through my list of quilt alongs in the last few weeks. In an attempt to not bore those of you kind enough to follow my blog, I haven’t been posting every little bit of progress here. I’ve posted a few things to Flickr, Instagram, and Facebook as was appropriate for that QAL. (You can see my Flickr and Instagram feed by clicking over on the right.) I think I’ve made enough progress to show you some pictures of my half-baked progress.

17 rows of clams for my Clambake QAL – halfway there.

Half Baked Clams

Irish Chain Twist QAL –  cutting done, x-blocks pieced, trimmed, pieced again. Tomorrow we start the next block.

trimmedhalf blocksfinal x-block

Mystery FMQ QAL – The mystery was solved – we made a thread sampler for ourselves. As it turns out, I don’t have much variety in thread. I use mostly cotton and a few polys when I want something thin (although I usually use these in the bobbin, not on top). Each spool is a different thread, and I’ve written the brand, fiber, and weight on each spool with a Micron pen. Lori also had us “write” the needle/thread guideline 80/50 in the top corner. (Not my best choice of thread color.) I’ve attached a thin binding and just need to sew it down on the back, and I can call this one done.

closeupFMQ almost done

Linking up with WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced.



What took me so long?

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I have been reading about and drooling over pictures of a die cutting machine for about a year now. I have even gone so far as to flirt with the machine and its various accessories on numerous occasions. I have invited the lovely, time-saving, ungodly-expensive cutter to sit in my shopping cart numerous times, only to leave him there to expire as I try to decide if he’s only a desire, a fleeting toy to play with, a one night stand, or if I’m ready for a long-term relationship.

That’s how it went for over a year – flirting, temptation, nail biting, and then came Rachel of Stitched in Color and her Clambake QAL. Her quilt along is a friendly, casual one that results in a clamshell quilt. She provided information about various techniques and then reeled me in with her quilt-as-you-go method. I’ve never tried that, sounds interesting and do-able. I decided to make the same size Rachel is (too much going on to have to figure out my own clam-math) 56″x 68″. Four-inch clams means 14 clams in a row and 34 rows. That’s a whopping 476 clamshells! Rachel mentioned that she is using a die cutter for this.

Hmmmm. I can cut clamshells. No reason to go crawling back to the die cutter. I printed out the template and cut exactly four clamshells. Only 472 to go! Um, no. I had a serious discussion with my husband about desire and need. I even threw in the clincher, carpel tunnel (which causes me quite a bit of discomfort when I overdo it in the sewing room). The darling man agreed, that maybe this was a relationship with a tool that was necessary.

I went running back to the die cutter and begged him to let me take him home with me.

While I waited for him to arrive, I matched and pieced my backing: this lovely Amy Butler print that I have been hoarding saving for the right project, and pulled every fabric I have with a hint of yellow or gray in it.


The handsome Mr. G arrived at the end of last week, but I wanted to savor the anticipation and put off taking him out of his box until I had finished my February rosette and my bee block and bee goodies.

Today was the day to finally take him out and show him around my sewing space. He settled in nicely on my worktable, and we started cranking out clams.Accuquilt

Now that he is home, I don’t know what took me so long (except that storage in my very small sewing space is a bit of a head scratcher – I bought a clam die, a strip die and a flowering snowball die, the latter two are 24″ long!).

This thing rocks! I cut out 350 clamshells this morning! Scraptastic! I’m done!

Um, not quite. While writing this, I realized that I did my math wrong. I have another 125 to cut, but with Mr. G by my side, I’ll be done in no time.ready to quilt

Now I need to decide whether or not to spray baste, get my starter row ready, and begin laying out my first row of clams.

But first I need to see if my new friend wants to crank out a few more clamshells. Oh, and my family would probably like to eat some time tonight. Poor them.

*Linking up with Rachel at Stitched In Color – Clambake Link Party*

If you were here from Vicki’s site, 2 Bags Full for Grow Your Blog, my post is here. Sorry for making you go through that. I hope you didn’t run away screaming as I described my torrid little affair.