Thursday, August 26, 2010


Okay - you've decided you want to learn to quilt - you've visited a quilt show or two and looked at a few sites online and the idea is very appealing. And why shouldn't it be? There are countless numbers of women and men too who are making quilts and supporting a multi-million dollar business in the process.
Just think of the number of fabric designers, quilt designers, sewing machine dealers, long arm quilting machine dealers and long arm quilters, the notions business, thread business, local quilt stores, quilt teachers, quilt retreat operators and on and on and you get an idea of what I mean.

My very strong feeling is that in the rush to get to something new, finish as many pieces as possible and take the next popular set of lessons, we have become driven by the industry's need to forever innovate and grow their markets, and our own creative processes have been left to one side while we are encouraged to follow te latest trend and do it "exactly as it is shown in the magazine".
Do we really need to have the latest sewing machine with all the bells and whistles that we may never use? Do we even need a sewing machine? Personally I have had a love/hate relationship with my two sewing machines - a 35 year old Bernina which was state of the art back when I bought it in the early 70's, and my chain store 'el cheapo' I bought when my Bernina needed service and we had no trained service person within 600 miles! Yikes! We do now, thank goodness for Jean Hunjtley the Bernina Lady.
I eventually came around to thinking hand piecing ,although slow, was the way forward to accuracy for me and in fact was a lot faster and more self-affirming than picking stitches out.

Do we need all the notions that are being pushed on us - special acrylic rulers for this and that with special patterns and instructions? What is wrong with one omnigrid ruler with some angles etched on it?
And what is wrong with making your own templates and marking and cutting pieces individually? I do have a rotary cutter and a self healing cutting board  but I'd be hard pressed to tell you where the cutter is right now - haven't used it in months!

Do we need the very latest fabric release?
In case you haven't been looking closely at what fabric designers are releasing, there seem to be a lot of copycat fabrics out there - what you need to do is be aware of what your favourite designers and fabric companies are doing, what colours you prefer and look really closely at their output - many fabric lines use the same basic hues and choices can be made among them interchangeably - for example Minick and Simpson's last three or four lines have been easily interchangeable with one another, so if you find full price hard to do you can look for 'remaindered' fabrics and buy on sale at a considerable discount - you don't have to have the exact same fabric as the pattern shows - the world doesn't end and actually no one will even notice if you don't. You definitely don't need "special occasion" fabrics - Xmas, thanksgiving, hallowe'en, patriotic etc your colour choices will send the message.

We do need quality though - some fabrics that are remaindered or end up in the chain stores are made from lesser quality greige goods - the undyed fabric - and are a poor choice as they become flimsy and wear out quickly once the sizing is removed by the first wash - so buy first quality but on clearance.

Books and Patterns: I have a stack of books as high as I am and a huge cache of patterns and yet I rarely open a book or follow an actual pattem.

Why is that?
For starters, when I began to make quilts about 20 years ago I bought one very good "how to" book - Fons and Porter's Quilter's Complete Guide which was written before all the innovations in quiltmaking happened so I was instructed on how to draft a quilt block, basic quiltmaker's math and basic handquilting - all skills that are now lost to many newer quilters. From this book I learned the particular hints and tricks unique to quiltmakers as I already had the basic sewing skills I needed. I have a few copies in stock - they are hard to find now - out of print.

I buy patterns every chance I get if they tell me something useful to add to my design skills but I seldom actually sit down and follow one pattern from start to finish - in this way my quilts never become just like someone else's. I am still stunned when I visit an online site selling high end quilts and see one made from a kit or a pattern - what's the point in that?

These are a few points I want to make to help you free up your creativity from the strictures of popular quiltmaking. I will be adding several articles shortly expanding on the topics discussed above.
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Minick and Simpson Stars and Irish Chain using their Wiscasset line

"old faithful"

Please accept my apologies for the repeat pictures and their poor placement. It appears Blogger is having some glitches. I will attempt to straighten things out later!!


Mary Lou Casada said...

Good words! So much of the industry isn't quilter driven but money driven, don't you think? I've noticed the trend toward simpler patterns and machine quilting with very few nods of late to hand quilting or more challenge patterns for those of us who are "veterans." I'd hate to see our choices limited because we back off the roller coaster, but on the other hand, it'd be nice to "stop the madness!" :-D

Very thought provoking!
Mary Lou

Anonymous said...

I could not agree with you more strongly. These fabric lines have taken creativity out of quilting. Quilters used to have to match up fabrics that would create a pattern. I don't even like the appearance of the quilts made with all of the fabrics in a particular line. The dark, medium and light differences disappear cuz these fabrics are usually the same tint.