What do you do when you’ve been quilting for three months and your partner’s birthday is coming up? Set yourself on an ‘almost impossible’ quilting challenge of course! And let’s let it get crazier and crazier. Three months later, and 130 hours from start to finish, boy, did this quilt turn out so much more than I had ever imagined.
Back in February, I was waiting for some fabrics to arrive so I could sew some clothes. The delivery was delayed and I was left with nothing to do but twiddle my thumbs. Twiddling thumbs are a really bad state for me to be in because my mind will go off and think up of all sorts of crazy ideas.
Realising it was James’s birthday in a few months, I thought I’d make him a quilt. After all, if it wasn’t for him being so kind and buying me a sewing machine for Christmas, I’d never got into to sewing my own clothes and quilting. I was really grateful he opened up an opportunity to fall in love with something I thought I’d never enjoy, sewing.
Now, James is a big Doctor Who fan, particularly of the eleventh Doctor played by Matt Smith & written by Steven Moffat and Co. James actually introduced me to Doctor Who. I mean I knew about Doctor Who (who doesn’t, living in the UK?) but I never watched it until I met him and he went on and on and on about it until I gave in and gave it a go. I was hooked the instant I clapsed eyes on the first episode where Amy met the Doctor. It opened up a whole new world of crazy, adoring, magic. So what else I was going to make for his birthday than a Doctor Who quilt?
I mulled about the design for a while. The Doctor Who logo was the obvious thing to go for. Not knowing at all how you are suppose to translate photos into quilt design, I found the logo image, opened up excel and used the cells as 1-inch square guides.
I then worked it all out on my quilting journal. The logo was easy to figure out the dimensions of from the excel picture. I decided to go for a half square triangle design for the lantern, just as a proof that this was a quilt.
I designed the overall look for the quilt and ordered the fabric. Then I waited. And waited.
Did I tell you that me twiddling thumbs is a trigger for craziness? The fabric wasn’t coming so I started looking at google images, mostly out of frustration. I tried searching for the Doctor’s cot, wondering if there was a wee little quilt in his cot. Then I saw this.
My brain went off radar for a while. When it came back it muttered
‘I’m sorry AK, but we are going to have to quilt that.’
‘The Gallifreyan. We’re going to have to quilt that.’
‘Are you crazy? I’ve never even quilted a CIRCLE before!’
‘I’m sorry. You’re just going to have to do it.’
I really, really hate my brain sometimes.
The crazy Gallifreyan was duly copied onto the excel. I wasn’t even going to try and draw it out into my sketchbook. It was just going to be drawn straight onto the fabric and pray it works.
I wanted to replicate the golden Gallifreyan almost glowing on the dusty navy/grey background of the cot, so I decided on a yellow to orange circles on a background of navy batik, as if the Gallifreyans are the stars glowing in space.
On 18th May, FINALLY I had all the fabrics I need.
I started off by taping the blue batik fabric onto the floor and started to draw circles. Lots and lots of circles. I’d stare at the excel drawing, then stare at the fabric. I made lots of mistakes and had to redo many but by the end of the day I had all the circles down. It was a pretty awesome day seeing the circles all drawn onto the fabric.
Then I made lots and lots of circles from yellow and orange batik fabrics. The circles that were 1 inch to 1/2 inches wide were all cut out as one continuous piece of fabric rings and machine appliqued on. For the medium width circles, I made lots of bias tapes out of the lightest yellow fabric and top stitched them on (which made my eyes go all funny.)
I was out of easy options for the thinnest of circles (of which there were many.) Hand embroidering seemed the only option. So I sat on my sofa for many days hand sewing yellow and orange threads onto the fabric whilst James was at work. Each stitch represents a moment of thinking of him and waiting for him to come home.
I have to admit, I didn’t have much experience in hand embroidering. Although to be fair, besides piecing fabrics together, I really didn’y have ANY experience in anything else that went into this quilt either – never done applique before, never done photo-to-quilt design before, never made circles before, never made bias tapes before, never done quilt as you go, never done hand quilting. I dragged my feet about it. I’d do a few hours a week. I even made the Doctor Who logo in between hand embroidery, in one day! I was very glad when all the circles were stitched on and the top was done.
I had a problem when it came to the back. Originally, when I came up with the Gallifreyan idea, the logo was going to be on the front, and the Gallifreyan was going to be on the back. However, when I put the two designs together on the floor (they were done on two separate background fabric), they matched perfectly and decided to put both on the front. Consequently, I had used up all my design ideas on the front and nothing left for the back.
One day, I threw all the left over fabric on the floor as I thought to myself, what kind of quilt would the Doctor have in his TARDIS? What wonderful, old, patchy quilt would represent him? I looked at the scraps of fabrics strewn on my floor and thought ‘SCRAPS of course!’
I wanted something that was random, patchy, scrappy. I also got inspired by the TARDIS exploding image in the Big Bang episode. I didn’t want the same look, but I wanted the same sort of energy, everything exploding, space, time, stars, the TARDIS.
I cut all the left over pieces into random shapes. I threw in some blue and black fabrics with stars on them also, to represent time and space. To save time, I grabbed a gigantic piece of wadding, and started sewing the pieces directly onto the wadding.
I really adore the zig zag stitching holding all the different pieces together. The randomness of it all. I really can see this design on a quilt (perhaps slightly aged) tucked away in some corner of the TARDIS, being brought out for picnics and when the Doctor feels lonely to remind him of all the stories he placed on each piece of scrap fabric. As James said, ‘being mended, patched and re-patched over hundreds of years.’
I machine quilted the logo, and hand quilted the circles. The quilting and binding took surprisingly short time, just over two days – which is short in comparison to every other stage of making this quilt.
I am both really proud and sad at the same time. I am so going to miss working on this quilt. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. For three months, I lived this quilt. I lived the world of the Doctor. Watched and cried over Season 5, 6 and & part 1 over and over to keep me motivated and inspired. In my own little way, I took the greatest sci-fi series of all time and let it create new life through my hands.
A major thanks goes to Sculcuvant on DeviantArt for creating such a clear image of the Gallifreyan, without which I wouldn’t had a clue how to convert into a quilt. Also to the artists who designed the Gallifreyan and the famous Doctor Who logo in the first place.
It’s been such an honouring experience. I really hope Steven Moffat, Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, Mark Gattis, Neil Gaiman, and everyone else at least find my small effort not insulting to their amazing work. Most importantly of all, I hope I did some justice in making this quilt for James for how amazing and beautiful a human being he is. One day we hope to take a photo of it at the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff.