A treasured quilt, made 100% by hand

Mariner's Compass to Hawaii quilt - finished

Inspired by the gorgeous quilts that I’ve seen popping up in the sewing blogosphere lately, I decided to dust off my first and only completed quilt and document it for posterity.  This quilt is one of my most cherished possessions, next to some very meaningful gifts from my best friend and, of course, my sewing machine.  It holds such a special place in my heart that it rarely ever sees the light of day!  I’m intensely afraid of damaging it, and I give it the white glove treatment on the rare occasions that it comes out of storage.

Today I’ll share with you the story of this quilt and of the person that I was when I made it.  I hope you enjoy reading about this part of my life and my crafty journey.  : )

Mariner's Compass to Hawaii quilt - signature

I made this quilt while working on my master’s degree and living in a very cold and lonely part of the country.  I would spend my evenings and weekends huddled in my apartment, surrounded by forest and deer, listening to the snow fall, and working on this quilt.  It took me a year and a half to make it, and I barely worked on any other craft projects in between.  The quilt is made 100% by hand, pieced and quilted with my own two hands, long before I ever had a sewing machine or even an iron.  I know!  And what’s even more surprising is that I didn’t show it to anyone or tell anyone that I was working on it during the entire year and a half, only to reveal it to my boyfriend a few months after I completed it.

I learned to quilt by watching PBS shows as a tween/teenager, and although I loved it, I was always embarrassed to have such an “old lady” hobby.  My crafty adventures were a secret from everyone except my immediate family for many years, including while working on this quilt.  I don’t know why I was so afraid to let people see this side of me!  Anyway, this quilt represents a very sheltered time in my life and was a completely solitary project of my young adulthood.  Thankfully I eventually came out of my shell.  : )

Mariner's Compass to Hawaii quilt - fabric inspiration

The color scheme was inspired by this peachy Hawaiian-themed fabric, featuring pineapples, guitars, flowers, and the occasional “Aloha.”  How whimsical!  I loved it.  I picked up a bunch of warm-colored quilting cottons to match, most likely cotton/poly blends since they came from the discount fabric store and were probably under $2/yard.

Mariner's Compass to Hawaii quilt - full view

The fabric for the sashing and border came from a quilt shop near the university and are 100% cotton batik.  I fondly remember strolling through that little shop while my laundry was drying in the laundromat next door.  I actually used to look forward to doing my laundry just so that I could hang out in the quilt shop.  : )  Their annual quilt show was one of my favorite days of the year.

Mariner's Compass to Hawaii quilt - block detail

The pattern is called Mariner’s Compass, and I got it out of a magazine of quilt block patterns.  A quick internet search leads me to 50 Best Blocks, 2002, published by Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine (on Amazon here).  I probably still have the hard copy buried somewhere!  Since my quilt was Hawaiian-themed, I called my quilt “Mariner’s Compass to Hawaii.”

Mariner's Compass to Hawaii quilt - full block with sashing

I made 12 of these blocks (each measuring 12 inches square) and pieced them with orange sashing in between.  I’ve always loved orange, apparently.

I still can’t believe that I put all these little pieces together by hand.  Clearly the younger me was much more ambitious and hardcore than the older me!  I would never attempt such a huge project like this anymore.  I must have been crazy.  : )

Mariner's Compass to Hawaii quilt - corner block detail

And get a load of these corner blocks!  They measure 2 inches square and consist of 8 teeny tiny triangles arranged in a pinwheel.  Wowza!!  My younger self must have been so proud!  I remember contemplating doing the entire border of the quilt in these little pinwheels and eventually talking myself out of it.  Perhaps I wasn’t that crazy after all, haha.

Mariner's Compass to Hawaii quilt - point matching detail

The point-matching on this quilt is also pretty ridiculous, no doubt due to the ease of manipulating the pieces by hand (as opposed to putting them through the sewing machine and hoping for the best) and my aforementioned youth-induced insanity.  Not all of the points are as good as this one, but some of them are quite remarkable.  And all the pressing was by hand since I didn’t own an iron!  I can’t even imagine how I pulled this off.

Mariner's Compass to Hawaii quilt - border quilting detail

For the quilting, I made cardboard templates of stars in 3 different sizes and traced them all over the quilt in a random pattern.  Sometimes I’d quilt the smallest star inside the largest one for an echo effect.  I used hand-quilting thread, which is pretty thick and sturdy, and I used a plain old pencil to mark the stars… erasing them when I was finished.  Oh the humanity!

The hand quilting took forever.  Year-and-a-half forever.  It was an epic undertaking that somehow I managed to complete over many, many cold and quiet nights in my woodland apartment.  I had practiced my stitching on a few scraps before starting on the quilt to make sure my stitches were smooth and even.  Looking back now, I think I did a pretty nice job.

Oh, and I had used a big hand quilting hoop (essentially a 12 inch diameter embroidery hoop) to hold everything in place while quilting.  It worked pretty well.

Mariner's Compass to Hawaii quilt - full view with backing

I remember having a difficult time settling on a fabric for the backing, and I finally chose this yellow-cream colored cotton print featuring some kind of wheat or grain.  I’m still not crazy about it, but I was a broke grad student and the price was right at the time.

Mariner's Compass to Hawaii quilt - binding detail

The binding is made from the same orange batik as the sashing.  I pieced the binding strips on the bias to spread out the bulk when it was folded over the edge of the quilt.  Man, I thought of everything!

Mariner's Compass to Hawaii quilt - full view on couchI’m intensely proud of this project and will treasure it forever, as it represents a very fragile time in my life and an absolute mountain of hard work.  The person who made this was much more patient, ambitious, and stubborn than the person writing this blog post, and I can’t decide if I’m happy or sad about that.  Regardless, it’s a handcrafted time capsule and will always be viewed with nostalgia and warmth.

Maybe one day I’ll have the courage to actually use it on my bed.  : )

10 thoughts on “A treasured quilt, made 100% by hand

  1. Carolyn, that is such a wonderful story. I am in awe of the fact that the entire quilt was made by hand! A daunting task, but a testament to your dedication and commitment to making this labor of love. So many memories of that time in your life are part of it as well. I am so impressed and it is truly a lovely quilt.


  2. This is incredible! I can’t believe you stitched a quilt entirely by hand! I have to admit, I’ve considered doing that several times, but I’ve always talked myself out of it as madness, ha ha! Good for you for actually finishing it! It’s amazing how we change over the years and how our crafts reflect that. Your quilt definitely reflects the perseverance required to get through grad school! When I started knitting again a few years ago, everything I made was with really thin yarn because it stretched further so it meant I could afford to make a sweater. Now all I want to knit with is thicker yarn! Your quilt is a work of art – I can understand not wanting to use it for fear of damaging it.


    • Thanks for the kind words, Chantal. I had the same experience when I started knitting but didn’t have much money to spend on yarn – I knit almost exclusively with 4-ply and all my projects took forever! It’s amazing how things change over time. Good luck with your quilting adventures… I’d definitely recommend using a sewing machine. 🙂


  3. Oh my gosh, what an absolutely beautiful quilt! The colors are gorgeous. I like to quilt, too, but have never stitched any by hand. What a labor of love. I understand why you are hesitant put it on your bed, but I hope you do every now and then. I inherited some lovely hand-embroidered tea towels, dresser sets and pillowcases from my husband’s grandmother that were in mint condition because they were never used. It seemed so sad that they had spent decades wrapped in tissue paper because she considered them too good for everyday use. I suppose the upside is that they are now mine! But they are beautiful and give me joy because she made them.


    • Thanks for the lovely comment, Louise. What a treasure to have inherited those hand-embroidered pieces! I agree that it’s a shame to have such beautiful pieces and never use them, but it takes a little courage to get going. : )


  4. I absolutely LOVE this! 🙂 🙂 And I know you made this a long time ago during a very different period in your life, but you are just as creative and hard-working now as you were back then. I’m so proud to call you my best friend!


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