There is some quilt bee twitter talk between some of us, for this new year. I love quilt bees, (and I love making quilts in winter). They are a way for me to stretch myself creatively, and I need some of that more often than not. In traditional quilt bees, both virtual and "real life", you're usually only creating a single quilt block's worth, so it's easy to try out a new technique, to play with colors and fabrics not of your choosing (possibly inspiring new colors in your own work), or to just think about the process of quilting in a new way.
One of the things I am asked regularly is how to jump into that first quilt project. Where to start? Do you have the skills you think you need? Is it necessary to have a ton of room to make a quilt? Things like that. I totally get that if you've never made a quilt in your life, the whole idea may seem really complicated, technical, or full of secrets. But its really not! I assure you, there is no secret society that must annoint you, or a test you must pass, before you make a quilt.
I have talked a little about jumping into the art/craft of quilting before and you can read that first post here. It's good to revisit it though, no? The first quilt I ever made was of Emma's baby clothes, above (more photos here), just before Ian was born, so 2000. I knew I was having a boy, and Emma had the most beautiful baby clothes. I knew I had to save them somehow, in a special way. That is where my stubborn, obsessive personality comes in handy when planning or making a quilt. You see, I wanted that quilt. I wanted it bad. I was willing to put in the work to make it, so I could have it. (If you're crazy like me, that will make sense.) Not having a dedicated sewing space, or my inability to bend over my very pregnant belly didn't stop me from dragging my college sewing machine out every night, setting it up on our dining room table, and working for a couple of hours. I had no techniques, I had no experience with batting, grouping compatible fabrics together, binding, none of it. (In fact, I actually thought the binding was more like twill tape and this quilt is trimmed with store-bought twill tape sandwiched between the edges all around, not covering them, as traditional quilting goes, because I didn't know.)I stumbled through this quilt and made a lot of mistakes. And honest to goodness, 11 years later, I can't even see those mistakes. In fact, when I pulled this quilt out while writing this post, I was thinking it might be fun to trim the edges of my next quilt the way I did that one.
Some things are true, like the idea that quilts are time-consuming, usually considered a long-term type of project. I do not typically think of myself as one to take on a long involved sewing project of any kind, so quilts should probably not appeal to me. When I make things, I like the fast results with little effort. But quilts are very different for me, and I think there's several reasons why-
1. I like any excuse to really explore putting colors and fabrics together. Nowhere does this suit itself better than quilting. Crazy fabric pairings that look completely ugly suddenly look made for each other when sewn together in a patchwork and quilting. I don't know why this is, but sometimes sewing them together makes them feel perfectly matched.
2. I like the way my mind wanders when I am doing long stretches of repetitive cutting, piecing, and sewing. There are many different steps to the process of making a quilt. These can be broken up into chunks of time, like an afternoon, and it is actually enjoyable for me to make those predictable cuts over and over again (or sew those blocks together over and over again). Something about the rhythm of my hands really relaxes my mind, that doesn't happen often throughout my day.
3. By the time I have completed the repetitive steps necessary to make a quilt, I have almost always learned something. I've mentioned before that doing something over and over again is the way I imprint it into my brain. I may not be able to remember what I packed in Ian's lunch this morning before school, but I can probably tell you with a degree of accuracy how many squares made up one of my quilts. There's something about exercising my brain that way. There are so many shortcuts, nifty tricks, and time-saving methods others have discovered over time, I love teaching myself these new little bits.
For those of you who want to make a quilt. Take heed. Quilts do not have to be fussy. There does not have to be complicated piecing involved. There does not need to be a room in your house just for this project. I gathered some new images of some very easy, patchwork quilts that I think are stunning to prove my point.
(Image from wool patchwork: warm quilt for the home ISBN#4-579-10894-9)
Such a simple, lovely quilt of large squares of wool. How cozy would that be for someone snowed in right now?? This one isn't quilted, but simply tied at random seams. I love the polka-dot binding.
(Image from Casual Living by Judith Wilson- thanks Sally!)
The quilts laying over the ottomans, to me, are gorgeous, especially given their traditional feel in this modern space. The squares look to be about 4" x 4", and the patchwork is surrounded by a large border. So simple.
This orange quilt is so pretty, its really just rectagular strips made of a mixture of fabrics similar in pattern scale and color. You would sew the strips, then sew the strips together. I might machine sew diagonal lines going across the quilt (although I like the idea of "stitching in the ditch" and topstitching through the seams, it never looks neat enough for me). It's hard to tell how this one is quilted.
(Image from Lotta Jansdotter's Handmade Living)
Lotta is my girl, she doesn't do much I don't think is magical and scientific (a little family phrase meaning it covers it all). This quilt is made from a mish-mosh of both her own fabrics, and ones she's purchased and gathered. Same idea of piecing the individual strips, then sewing the strips together. Its not quilting that I can tell. In fact, you could sew the top as above, then sew a backing fabric on 3 of the sides, add ties, buttons, or snaps to the 4th, and create a duvet cover.
The last part I'll say about making a quilt. You will love it. Even if you see mistakes, they will fade with time. You will love seeing them over the years. You will love that at one point in your life you took the time to do it. You will love it when people you love wrap themselves in them.