Thinking About: Quilting?

My Quilting Journey

Someone recently reached out wanting to learn how to quilt and asked for help &/or advice.

I had never really thought about it before. 🙂

Disclaimer: I am not a teacher. What follows is my particular journey into the craft of quilting.

I’m a life long viewer of crafting shows. I’ve spent years watching Fons and Porter on PBS, not to mention a host of other, well, hosts. Nancy Zieman (Sewing with Nancy) was probably my tipping point, although I couldn’t really say what gave me that push.

You see, up until That Point, I had never owned a sewing machine, could do Very Basic hand sewing; sewing a button or a hem, and had Absolutely No Interest in anything related. Period.

My mom was a seamstress. She made my sister’s prom dresses and a suit that was fully lined. She made my clothes and most of hers, too. Heck, at the time she passed she was attempting to learn to make shirts for my dad.

Looking back, I really don’t know if it was a Necessary Skill or one she really enjoyed. Mom did a lot of crafting, but she never made a quilt. There was one summer she spent making aprons out of fabric scraps…

Back in 2011 I came across Mary Fons on YouTube with her Quilty videos and was intrigued. Here was a young(er) person who was interested in the craft, not surprising considering her background, but learning/teaching it in a way that was not like anything I’d ever seen before. Hmm.

Somewhere along that time I caught an episode of Sewing With Nancy where she was putting together a strip quilt. In my mind, the light bulb came on when she talked about sewing. “If you can drive a straight line, you can sew one.” I believe she said. At least, that is what I remember.

Me, being me, I bought my first sewing machine, along with a crafting table, ordered a copy of Nancy’s book on the lessons and dove in. Head first.

But that’s me.

I love my sewing machines – yes, plural. Both my machines are Brother, the second was designed with the extra bells and whistles for quilters. Both are excellent beginner machines and perfect for me. I might have drooled over the more expensive brands, but bank balance has always had an impact on reality.

When I started out, I followed what I was seeing from the teachers I watched. I bought rulers and tools that I knew would help me do the job. I subscribed to a couple of magazines and online classes that helped teach me basics.

What I discovered is that my tendency to jump into the deep end of the pool, while not always a bad thing, was not a great way to start out. My first attempt at a quilt is still in the UFO pile, and likely to be recut to be used elsewhere. If at all.

UFO = Unfinished Object

On the other hand, I discovered precuts and my life got measurably better. Quilting precuts are bundles of fabric cut into standard shapes and sizes. Each precut fabric bundle features coordinating fabrics from a designer’s collection.

Each collection is designed to work together, so I don’t have to spend hours fussing and fretting choosing each individual fabric. They are cost effective, too. Depending upon the quilting pattern you are working with, there can be zero waste.

You see, somewhere along the line, I discovered that I hate cutting fabric. Well, maybe “hate” is a bit too strong, but for me to put rotary cutter to fabric is an exercise in fearlessness.

I can not stand and lean over a table for very long, my lower back can’t handle it. Cutting yard goods over time is, frankly, painful. Add into that the occasional whim of the ruler or template to move creating a bad cut, which can lead to a fabric shortage, and you start to see where I had to find an alternative.

Accurate cuts make accurate quilt blocks.

Accuquilt to the rescue!

I love my Accuquilt Go cutter and dies. That investment changed the way I quilt and made my quilting life so much easier and less stressful.

Why: The dies are already set up with the 1/4 inch seam allowance and the dog ears have been removed during the cutting process so all I have to do is maintain my 1/4 inch seam when I sew. No trimming dog ears! My blocks are ALWAYS accurate as long as my sewing isn’t sloppy.

Yes, I use my Accuquilt to further cut my precuts.

While I could go out and buy yard goods, I do prefer my precuts and have been known to get some fat quarters

Fat Quarter = One quarter of a yard of fabric. For quilters, it is usually cut in a square shape, rather than a strip off the end of a bolt.

The Quilting Police

Let’s take a minute to touch on a bit of reality here.

There are all sorts of ways to go about the process to create a quilt. Some folks like to make their own plastic templates. Some like to use rulers. Some love their machines, while others prefer to do a lot of hand work.

Pretty much, you can find a way to create that quilt you are dreaming about in a variety of methods and there will always be someone out there who is more than happy to provide help and guidance on how to do it.

The trick is to realize that not everyone is good at, or wants to do, someone else’s method.

Personally, I’ve never come across anyone who would pick apart my work to point out a flaw. Not that there haven’t been quite a few…

Most people will look at a quilt and be caught up in the pattern and the colors – and most of them won’t have a clue about a missed seam or a badly pressed block (unless it is Really Badly Pressed), they will just be wowed at the end product.

Which is as it should be.

Quilting is not an inexpensive hobby. Depending upon the way you choose to do yours, there is the investment in tools and equipment. Fabric is also not inexpensive. Good quality quilting fabric can set you back quite a bit depending upon the project. Like, $100.00 plus for a bed sized quilt. And we won’t begin to discuss the cost per hour to actually do the process of making the quilt.

There is also the need for space to put the quilt together: Top, batting and backing.

Longarmer = Longarm quilting is the process by which a longarm sewing machine is used to sew together a quilt top, quilt batting and quilt backing into a finished quilt.

Once that is done, you will either need to quilt it yourself or send it out to be quilted. Not inexpensive, but a great option once you find a good longarmer.

Some folks get stuck doing bindings. If you find a longarmer who will do that for you, fantastic!

Quilting can be a long term project. Very few people can spend entire days doing just quilting, so if you are embarking on a bed sized quilt, you can reasonably expect to spend a few months at the very least.

“Quilt in a day!” is a great concept, but even Eleanor Burns acknowledges that the process usually takes more than a day.

Speaking of Eleanor, she was also one of my teachers. I learned a lot from her.

I enjoy the process of quilting. It can be very zen-like. I enjoy the geometry of it. As Mary Fons talked about, it is a great way to create order when the world around you is in chaos.

I love watching Missouri Star Quilt Company and The Midnight Quilter videos on YouTube and Bluprint. Stuart Hillard has expanded his online presence beyond Create and Craft and his patterns and teaching methods are very calming.

If you are interested in learning the craft, why not check those references I mentioned, but also your local quilt guilds. Your local quilt shop, or sewing shop, will more than likely have a few contacts to help you along.

For myself, I don’t know if I will make a bed sized quilt again. I have a couple of lap sized or twin sized tops ready to be quilted. At this point, I’m thinking I might be more inclined towards small projects like wall hangings or table toppers. Time will tell.

My fabric stash will keep me busy for a while yet. 🙂

A Few Thoughts

  • If you can drive a straight line, you can sew one.
  • You don’t need to spend a lot of money in the beginning.
  • Find teachers who communicate with you. If what they say makes sense, it is worth the time you’ve spent listening.
  • Start small at the beginning.
  • Fabric comes is a huge variety of colors, patterns, designs, etc. There is a lot to play with there.
  • Plan on spending a lot of time doing the process. “Quick” is relative.

A quilt is a gift of love. It doesn’t matter how professional it looks or if it wins any prizes, the simple act of creating a warm space for someone is an act of love.

Enjoy the process.

About Janet

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