I’m going to go over some of the plus and minus for loose squares and then talk about the completed quilts. You’ll notice it’s a little repetitive, but hopefully helpful! This is one of the most common questions I get, so I decided to just lay it all out. I’ve done dozens of these so I have developed a lot of thoughts over the years.
In the end, I really think either is a completely fine option – just go with what feels right for your vision and your event. The main variable that I recommend is a person to watch the quilt and explain the concept, and that will solve most of your potential problems with either option.
The positives of having loose signature squares:
- I think the main motivation is having more control over the final product – you can remove squares that are messed up or have inappropriate messages, and maybe incorporate the signed squares more thoughtfully into the quilt design (for example, putting the parents’ signatures together, etc). You can also make sure that the signed squares are equally distributed in the final quilt (though you can also do this with a complete quilt – tips below).
- The other main benefit is that you can work them into your wedding vision. For example, you can have your guests hang signed squares on a clothesline, or set a square at each place setting.
- They are smaller and easier to travel with – though also easier to lose!
The negatives of loose signature squares:
- The mistakes. So many. People write on the wrong sides of the squares, they write in the seam allowances (which are hidden when the quilt is sewn together). They write on both sides of the squares. The worst part is, if people write a long message, the signature is usually the part at the end that gets cut off in the seam allowance. This is a bummer!
- The prep time – because people don’t understand that you can’t write in the seam allowance, I really think the only way to ensure that they don’t is to tape the edges of each square. And yes, people will write ON THE TAPE even if you do this. Taping the edges and removing the tape is a lot of extra work. But it is the best way to get people to sign the right way.
- The quilt never gets finished. After the wedding, honeymoon, going back to work, it is really hard to get motivated to finish the quilt. It is even hard for me to get couples to mail me the squares from their kits! The pre-wedding mania is intense, but you do get things done!
- Guests can’t mess up the squares – writing on the wrong side of the fabric, writing in the seam allowance, writing on top of the tape you put on there to keep them from writing in the seam allowance (!) are avoided if you have the quilt made in advance.
- Less worry about markers bleeding - sometimes the marker can bleed onto the square beneath it, if people are writing on a stack of the unfinished squares – or onto the table cloth beneath the fabric…With a finished quilt, I have never known a marker to bleed through the batting onto to the back of the quilt. (Let me know if you have!)
- Time – It’s less work over all to just make the completed quilt. It takes time to prep all the squares for signing, then find them all after the wedding, and then force yourself to sew them into a quilt. I get 2-3 requests a year to finish quilts for couples who have unsewn squares from their wedding 2-3 years ago! So, if you finish the quilt in advance, it can be really convenient for you and the happy couple.
- Easy to write on – Ok, it’s pretty easy to write on the unsewn squares. But it’s also really easy to write on a finished quilt. My favorite method, which isn’t as fancy for display, but very practical and still pretty – is just to lay the quilt over a table! I have also known people to hang the quilts on walls or on a display board (as pictured here).
- Guests all sign in one area – or sign in the wrong areas. You can tape up the areas you want to keep unsigned like in the above example – you can even use pretty washi or decorative tape – most masking tape works great for this, and it comes in all colors and designs. However, you might have someone check to make sure that the guests aren’t all signing in one corner, etc. A simple readjustment during the reception can help with that!
- Weddings are cray-zay! Guests sign with the wrong pen, spill wine on the quilt, pen explodes, someone draws a lewd picture on your quilt. Yes, I have personal experience with all of the above. But, these issues aren’t incredibly common. Having a quilt host – much like many weddings have a person host the guestbook – can help prevent a lot. Also, having the blocks near the entrance – i.e. away from the dance floor/bar – also goes a long way! If you do have disasters, you can mark over any mistakes with your signature pens, like fixing a regrettable tattoo. You might even have some artistic friends who can make that mistake truly awesome! You can also patch over mistakes with fabric, or use a bleach or stain pen to get stains out. I have gotten a lot of stains out of quilts – but be sure to do all stain removal before you put that quilt in the dryer!
- Quilts are bulky: If you are making a queen size quilt and/or flying across the world for your destination wedding, a ziplock baggie full of squares is a lot either to drag along than a quilt.
- Time: Most folks don’t have piles of free time for spare sewing during wedding planning. While it is less work overall to make the quilt in advance..umm..there was no way I was going to get our signature quilt done in time for our wedding, so I just brought the squares, and had plenty of time to pick out the pattern after the wedding.
Another great option is to bring the unquilted top to the wedding – then if there are problems, you can pull out the offending square and sew in a new one, which is a tricky bit of sewing surgery, but it’s something a rock n roll quilter like myself has done a few times before.
I think the main thing to consider is your personality – will your head explode if someone draws a penis on your quilt or a baby grabs the marker and goes to town? Or does that sounds like a hilarious memory you want captured forever? The quirky mistakes and silly drawings on my quilt make me laugh every time I see them, so it just depends on your vision.
Questions? Ask away!