As a quilter, I would call my style…experimental. Quilting is a strange hobby for me considering that I have always been a terrible rule follower. But there is just something about the tactile nature of textiles. Fabric as a medium. Mixed with the practicality of a blanket. I spied this crazy swirly de-constructed block while cruising Pinterest for inspiration. Variously attributed to different quilters, I was unable to find a proper tutorial, but I was as undaunted as I was shook. The free form nature! The riot of colors! The customizability (not to mention the lack of any patterns or instructions) had me entranced. I must make you, quilt.
But I can’t just challenge myself to learn one new skill, in this case, a very loose interpretation of reverse applique. I have to pile on the difficulty level. What if I made it a weighted quilt? I had been ogling some weighted blankets as the weather turned here in the northeast, and the 2020 stress levels continued to ratchet up. Who couldn’t use a full body hug for their nervous system, am I right? So I decided to make a batting free(!), reverse applique(!), weighted(!) quilt.
I did a very small amount of research into constructing a weighted blanket, and found out I had two options for fill: plastic or glass beads. The glass, fine as grains of sand, was much more appealing (and obviously less bulky) and so I ordered up a fifteen pound bag. I also determined after watching a couple of tutorials about making a weighted blanket at home, that fancy quilting would be out, as the primary goal of the quilting needed to be to hold an even distribution of beads throughout the quilt. Okay, simple squares it is. I also learned that trying to feed glass beads down the length of a small channel would be hindered by batting. So I opted for a double layer of flannel. The tight weave giving me peace of mind that I would hopefully avoid any glass bead explosions in my future.
Making the quilt
I selected a throw size and chose to make it four large swirls across, and four down. Here is my very professional and detailed planning diagram. I’m not kidding, this IS how I plan a quilt.
I cut forty two 17” squares out of a beautiful pile of batik fat quarters I had been hoarding. Selecting a base color palette of greens, blues, black and grays, I layered on top of each base square one or two more pieces of contrasting fabric. Depending on the size blocks you want to make, this is a wonderful place for scraps!
After layering, I got busy free motion quilting messy circles over the top of each fabric sandwich. The messier the better, and you want to encourage crossing over the lines you’ve already sewn. If you don’t, you’ll just end up with a spiral, and cutting away at the various layers won’t work. After some experimenting I discovered it was best to start on the outside of the block and work towards the center. My friend Kathy at Nantahala Quilts suggested a variegated thread and I was so happy I went with her advice. I chose Aurifil Marrakech 50 weight and it worked out awesome. It added just one more element to the color chaos.
Once the sewing was done, it was time to cut away the negative space to reveal the treasures beneath. Yes, this leaves you with a ton of raw edges. And since washing it, all of those edges are fuzzed up. To me, that adds to the charm and touchability, but if you require a bit more polish this same quilt would work great with scrappy pieced curves as well. Just skip the step of layering fabric, and instead use up all your scraps making quarter circles.
I started by cutting back the top 1 or 2 layers around the outer edge of the circle. Then as I worked my way inward, I removed varying layers, trying to keep the fabric changing between lines of stitching.
Then it was time to deconstruct! I cut each block into 7.5 inch squares and rearranged them, laying them out on the floor as I went to find a pleasing pattern. I inset two especially colorful swirls in the center, just to break up the monotony. Once I liked the look of it, I got to work sewing them all back together.
When I was done I had a square, but I needed it to be a little longer to cover my feet, so I added a row on the top and bottom of smaller swirls using the same technique. Only with these, I kept them whole.
The top came together very quickly. Now for the weird part: beads. The suggestions I read said that the most ideal weight was about 10% of the user’s body weight. But that must have a ceiling, right? I mean, if you have a big fella in your life, a 25 – 30 pound blanket sounds a little overboard. Unless you are trying to crush vital organs!
Inserting the beads is easy and straightforward, if time consuming and terribly messy. I had 15 pounds of beads to use up, and at least a half pound of them ended up in the carpet. After layering my top, two lengths of flannel and the backing material, I sewed around the bottom and two sides of the quilt with a 1 stitch length, just to keep those beads in. Then I made vertical channels just using my blocks as guides. Stitching in the ditch, and cutting each block in half, my squares would be 3.5 inches each. Next, I poured an equal amount of beads into each channel, shook them to the bottom, sewed a horizontal line to trap the beads by stitching in the ditch and using painters tape to keep myself straight, and repeated until I reached the top. Some quick math (checked by my brainiac friend at Nantalaha!) told me I needed .75 ounces in each square. Easy, right? Well…
Okay, so the glass beads created one tiny issue: static cling. To each other, and to the plastic cup I was scooping them with, the plastic bag they were in, and my plastic scale. Further, I discovered the hard way I had sprung a leak in one of the side seams and lost a lot of beads. By the second row I had abandoned the scale and decided to do what I do best: eyeball it.
And well, it worked. I was stunned when I got to the last row and I somehow had the exact right amount left. Keeping the beads in each channel isn’t too hard if you just use a few straight pins to hold them down and do your best to keep the filling side upright until you sew. You’ll lose a few beads, but hey, what’s a few ounces between friends?
The process went quickly! I chose a coordinating binding to offset the soothing Windham Fabrics Bedrock backing that I picked up from my favorite Nantahala Quilts quilting sisters, finished it up and crawled underneath. You know that feeling when you go to the spa and they place one of those sand filled eye pillows over your eyes? It’s like that, only for your whole body. Ahhhhhh. Unfortunately, I’ll be staying under it for a while, because it’s so heavy I can barely lift it off myself. For real, you may as well skip working out, and make one of these quilts instead.
My husband named my new comfort partner, “Ripples on a Psychedelic Pond”, and I think it couldn’t have come out more perfect. Give it a try! Experiment! Live a little! Use up some scraps!