“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” ― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
“You’re on your own. And you know what you know “. Well, sometimes neither is ideal, or quite enough, when it comes to putting a quilt together all by yourself. Most of us learn best by doing, though we can learn more wisely if we are lucky enough to have a family member, mentor, or friend, to point out useful tips and strategies so that we aren’t falling at every fence.
I think to some extent that’s what we look for in other people’s blog posts, a guiding hand, someone who can help us avoid problems, see where we went wrong, in addition to ideas, inspiration and connecting with a like mind.
When I first started looking at quilting blogs I was coming across so many posts where a finished creation was posted in a Ta-da! moment, the blogger describing the fabric they used, or how excited they were, but nothing about how they got to that moment, or the challenges they faced on the way. I used to think it was just me making these mistakes. Everyone seemed to be making amazing things, as if they knew instinctively what to do. I thought it might be an American thing, a quilting know-how passed down through families; something we don’t have here in the UK anymore.
One day I was looking for advice on Pinterest about attaching some wavy braid (ric-rac or rick rack in the USA). I was finding turning corners with it tricky and wanted to understand how best to tackle them, but I found that posts either didn’t mention the corners, or if they did, the corners didn’t show in their photos.
After a while it began to dawn on me that people didn’t want to admit to mistakes, they didn’t want to show their ‘done, but not quite perfect’, corners. They wanted to appear capable, accomplished, professional and just have us admire their creations.
I do understand that. Who wouldn’t like to post something beautiful and have people admire it, but what if your posts could accomplish much more?
Eventually, I found a few blogs that did discuss process and discovered what is referred to as a “win-win” situation. The bloggers had learned from their mistakes but SO DID I. And I admired them for their courage and honesty and willingness to share what they had learned and struggled with on the way to their finished quilt. I realised I wasn’t on my own. I wasn’t the only one finding that my quilts didn’t quite match my expectations. There are others out there just like me, even in America, and it’s good to have each other’s help.
So, I am happy to say that I have completed another quilt that was languishing unfinished in a box (Ta-da! drum roll!) but less happy with the quilt itself. In a previous post I mentioned that this was a quilt I started as a beginner quilter and so it was not pieced as well as I would like, and the stitches show much more than I would like. I abandoned it after I had done the top because having made the quilt sandwich with backing and batting tacked on, I had no idea how to quilt it or bind it. Three or four years on I have learned enough to complete it, but, even now, some of the choices I have made I would be wary of repeating in future.
Here are the main things I learned:
Stars are not easy to quilt: I used stencils for the stars, tracing them on with pen lines that wash out and quilting over the lines. It was hard to get into a rhythm of stitches, getting the right number of stitches coming up to each spoke of the stars. I kept having to unpick my stitches, making them bigger or smaller to fit. The smaller stars were even harder. I realised, too late, that the larger stars effectively quilted all four of the tiny patches at the same time, which was SO much more helpful. The smaller ones took ages and only covered two patches, leaving me wondering what to do with the other two. Did they have to be quilted too? I wasn’t sure. I decided on a small ermine stitch but felt all these made the quilt fussier and more labour intensive than it needed to be. I think in future I would have the whole quilting design thought out a bit better before I started.
Variegated thread may not be the best choice: I used variegated thread for the stars because I thought the softer colours would be better on a quilt that was already so bright; that a soft blue moon and stars would be less obtrusive and would prevent the quilt from looking too cluttered.
I have used variegated thread before on quilts to good effect but it was as surface embroidery or in lines along borders and edges. On this quilt it caused some images to appear to be only partly there, when seen from a distance. I think using only large dark blue stars would have have maintained the simple, bold look of the rest of the quilt.
Using very dark fabrics can be risky: I used a very dark fabric for the border. I did prewash the fabric and it did run a little. I rinsed it until the water ran clear but I am still worried that when I wash this quilt the colour may run a little. I no longer buy very dark fabric for projects that will be washed and always avoid cheaper cottons where this could be a problem.
So, “the places you’ll go” may not be quite what you had in mind originally, but they may well lead somewhere more satisfying eventually, especially with the help of others who have been there before you. And if you are lucky “you’ll know what you know” because they helped you get there. I want to say thank you to those quilters out there who have opted to talk about the problems they faced and the mistakes that they made. You know who you are. Bravo!
Till next time….