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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.