Large Hadron Collider Quilt

For Science!, Sewing Projects

My winter project is done!  Inspired by the textile art of Kate Findlay, and using the Compact Muon Solenoid as my muse, I’ve finally finished the Large Hadron Collider quilt.  It’s 130 cm (about 53 inches) squared.  It’s hard to tell from the photographs, but the silver fabric is sparkly and the silver thread is metallic and shiny.  Yes, I’m a magpie with opposable thumbs.

Large Hadron Collider quilt close up

Embroidered on the back is a wee Carl Sagan quote that I thought was fitting:

Large Hadron Collider quilt Carl Sagan quote

Making a quilt is simple: just create a design, pick out some nice fabrics, and voila!  Five months later, you’ve spent a heck of a lot of time making a fancy blanket.  Of course, said blanket is also a nerdy piece of art, so if making a Large Hadron Collider quilt wins in your hedonic calculus, here’s how to do it.

Step 1: Sanity check

Are you sure you want to do this?  Quilt-making, like cross stitch, requires a significant amount of time and patience.  It really did take me five months from inception to completion, although I only worked on it from time to time, and it’s only my third quilt (the Portal companion cube quilt was my second).  If you’d like to dip a toe without all the commitment of a full-size quilted blanket, try a pillow or a small wall hanging first.

Step 2: Make a design

You know the saying “measure twice, cut once?”  Do that.  No, really.  Few things are more frustrating than realizing you made a measurement mistake and having to re-do a whole lot of sewing.  I started with a few sheets of sketching newsprint and drew out exactly what I wanted the quilt to look like.  This is also a great excuse to get out your old geometry set.

LHC quilt in progress 1

LHC quilt in progress 2Now that you have your paper pattern, you can cut out the pieces, and add a seam margin (1/4″ used here) to make your final pattern.

Step 3: Pick your fabrics

I’d recommend against spending a lot on fabric if you’re new to quilting.  For the record, everything used here was $3-$5/m on sale at Fabricland.  Recycled fabric works well too.

LHC quilt in progress 3

Step 4: Try out a small piece of your pattern

If you have a repeating element, start by cutting just enough fabric to make one.  I tried out a few iterations before I found the colour combination I liked best.

LHC quilt in progress 4

Step 5: Go crazy and cut all the pieces

This can be done while doing other things, like watching reruns of Storage Wars.

LHC quilt in progress 5

Step 6: Sew everything together

Start with each section (each repeating unit), then sew the sections together.  I used patchwork and applique, machine and hand sewing.  The more you can do by machine, the less time it will take.

LHC quilt in progress 6

Step 7: Make the back

Once you have something that resembles the front of a blanket, cut a piece of same-sized fabric for the back.  Place your front and back right-sides together, and sew three of the four edges together.  Now sew most of the fourth edge together, leaving a hole at least as big as your arm.

Step 8: Add quilt batting

Cut a piece of quilt batting the same size as your quilt.  Optional: use some washable fabric glue to tack down the batting so it doesn’t migrate all over the place when you turn it inside out.

LHC quilt in progress 7

Step 9: Turn the whole thing inside out

Turn the whole thing inside out, using the hole you left in Step 7.  Even if you used fabric glue, your batting probably still bunched up and migrated all over the place.  Stick your arm in the hole and skootch the batting all the way to the edges, and smooth it down.

Step 10: Quilting time

Unless you are part of a quilting circle (in which case: cool!), I’d recommend doing all the quilting by machine to save time.  Start by pinning all the edges, making sure the quilt batting hasn’t migrated again.  Sew around the edges until you get to the hole you left.

LHC quilt in progress 8Now, close the hole by hand.  I used a running subcuticular stitch to make it invisible.  I’m sure there’s a non-medical name for this stitch that sounds less creepy, but if you google it you’ll get the idea.

LHC quilt in progress 9

Once all the edges are done, quilt the rest of the blanket until you’re happy with it.  I only quilted along the major lines (so far, anyway), but you could certainly make it more like a traditional quilt.

I should mention that metallic thread, although eye-catching and shiny, is a real nuisance to work with.  It made a nice accent but I wouldn’t use it for anything structural since it has a tendency to snap.

Science FTW… if you make one too I’d be happy to post a pic or link on the blog :D