Just because a person is born into a Mennonite family, does not mean she comes out of her mother and immediately picks up needle and quilting thread. No, it does not. Just like everything else I do, it has come with a lot of practice.
I mentioned my short little history of quilting here. During those first couple projects, I was winging it. I had a couple quilting books passed down from my grandmother and I kind-of read them. I asked my mom some questions. Then, I just went ahead and stumbled along. On Sam's quilt (the first I actually quilted), you can totally tell at which end I started. The stitches look childlike compared to the ones I stitched at the end. But, you see, this is how we learn.
Another way I've learned is to watch experienced quilters and ask them lots of questions. Much of this has occurred while sitting around a quilt frame at church. Our old church holds a sewing circle during the Sunday School hour. A sewing circle is when a group of women (it's almost always women) come together to quilt for the purpose of donating the quilt (and it's proceeds) to a charitable cause. Sewing circles are great places to get practice and to glean quilting knowledge.
Here is a picture of my great grandmother, second from the left, at a sewing circle. She made the cover of a magazine. I have not.
Let's get some quilting jargon out of the way. To "piece" a quilt is to sew together the pieces of fabric that make up the top or back of the quilt. To "quilt" is to use special quilting thread to make small stitches all the way through the top, "batting" (the fluffy stuff inside) and back, to get that nice puffy effect. "Quilting" also allows you to make designs in the quilt (More about that later).
Here are a few of the things I have learned along the way.
Organization helps. I use a fishing tackle box. It's not an original idea, but it works so well. I've vowed to have no more small quilting supplies than what will fit in this box. So, there. Oh, you'll also need a sewing machine (minor detail), unless you're going to hand piece your quilt top. It can be done, Lord, have mercy. In this photo, you can kind of see my machine, an old Singer we bought for me years ago. I love this machine, but Jamey has been trying to convince me to move on and buy a newer model. It's just come home from the shop. Again.
An iron is a quilt-piecer's best friend. There are a couple reasons for this. First of all, it helps immensely to have your fabric completely flat and smooth when you cut your squares, triangle and trapezoids (Ok, most probably don't use trapezoids. I have trapezoids on the brain. I teach second grade math). The second reason will be evident in a minute.
A rotary cutting tool and mat save much time. This rotary tool can cut through several layers of fabric at once and cuts way straighter than I can even with my best shears.
Iron open your seams. Do you need me to say more? No problem. I didn't get it at first either. I had been complaining to a sewing circle friend about the fact that when I piece (sew) part of my quilt top to another part of my quilt top (both parts being made up of smaller pieces already sewn together), I have so much trouble getting the seams to match up.
Let me try to show you what I mean. Here is a picture where my seams (in the center) have come together pretty well. Imagine that they are, like, a quarter of an inch off target. It wouldn't look so nice, now would it?
Or, here. How would it look if this point, instead of pointing to the seam below, was pointing a half inch off to the side of the seam?
That is what was happening to me. I'd tear out the thread and try and try and try again. I was thoroughly frustrated. Don't cry like I did. Instead, listen to this. The kind, advice-generous quilter told me to iron my seams open. When you sew two squares or pieces together and look on the back, the extra 1/4 inch of material is laying off to one side. The idea is to iron the seam open, like this...
See how I splayed open the back of the seam and ironed it flat? This way, when you lay your two sections of fabric together face to face, you can SEE your seam from the back of the fabric instead of having to guess just where it is. Oh, I do hope this is making sense.
Note in the picture above how I can then fold the top down and line those seams right up. Then, all you need to do is pin it carefully and move on to the next pair of seams that need to be matched. If one of your next set of seams down the line doesn't match perfectly, you can at least SEE that and adjust things further if you need to.
Are you as exhausted as I am? Just take a deep breath, sit back and relax.
I promised to give you a peek at Miriam's quilt. Here are a few.
My iron wasn't so effective on this next fabric square.
The fabric above is actually cut into 10 1/2 inch squares. Since I'm not allowing myself to buy more fabric, I cannot make the back of her quilt all one print. Instead, I am going to try something new (for me). I am going to piece together the same number and size of squares (and borders) for the back as I did the front. The squares in the back will be whole squares of one fabric print while the ones for the front (shown further above) are made of simple designs (squares and triangles). My hope is that if I match them up carefully, as I quilt I will get the same quilting designs on the top and the back, making it a reversible quilt.
Now, if you've read through this entire post, please tell me. That is, after you've woke up from your quilt-talk induced coma or have untwisted your head on your neck.
I'll post more photos as I go along, but wanted to share some things I've learned in case you find yourself with the New Year urge to quilt.