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When I was knitting, I had a difficult time with one response from people looking at my project.  “I couldn’t do that.”

I was always shocked by their statement.  Of course they could knit the sweater!  What the hell was wrong with them?  All they had to do was practice with some needles and put in the work.  That’s all I did.  No magical skills: just practice, patience, and some time.  If they really wanted to make a sweater, they could. I really wanted to make the sweater.  So I did.  And so could you.

Long ago, I abandoned my knitting needles and for the past year, I’ve fallen back in love with my sewing machine and quilting.  I learned to quilt the same way I learned to knit: I got some books, followed some bloggers, and I worked on the quilt.  When people say there’s no way they could quilt, I laugh.  If I can, anyone can!  And I’ll give a few tips to get you started.

Pick fabric you really really love!

There’s color theory out there and you should learn it.  Someday I will.  But to start your quilt, run out and find some fabric that completely speaks to you.  You see it and your heartbeats really hard.  You have to own it.  You sleep and dream about how it will look draped over the couch.  That’s the fabric to start with.  I’d recommend 100% cotton and something gorgeous.  You’re going to be looking at the fabric for a long time, so find something you won’t get sick of.  Psst…  Don’t hold me to this. I ’ve had yards and yards of stuff that I wanted to marry.  And then randomly, I hate it.  But find one piece you must have.  And coordinate with it.  My favorite places to shop online.

Learn the basics.

I’ll give you a Quick and Dirty basic for sewing a simple patchwork quilt top.  Cut a bunch of  equal squares of washed fabric.  Try 6 inches to start with.  Take two and place right sides together. Woooah!  You’ve lost me with right sides.  Never fear, my friend.  The right side of fabric is the side you want the public to see.  Take the pretty sides of both squares and make them kiss.  Line up those cut edges.  And sew a quarter of an inch from the cut edge.  Now you have a seam!  Iron the seam to one side or open it up with the iron and press.  Pick a method and then research the great Iron to Side or Iron Open debate.  Flip it over to the pretty side and iron once more.  You’ve got the first two blocks of your first quilt!  Repeat with more blocks and more rows until it’s big enough to cover your tush.  That was painless, wasn’t it?  I realize I’ve over simplified, but not by much.  Go Google the rest and try not to get inspired by what you find.  Because she’s my current Quilting girl crush, visit her first.

Keep your recipient in mind.

Erika, you never said it’d take a long time? Well, duh. That’s a given. Blankets don’t materialize in an hour. But keep working. If it’s for your house, remember that someday your babies will take long naps under it. Think of the future when they might beg you to take that beloved quilt to their own house. If it’s for a friend, think of how she’ll wrap herself in the quilt when she’s exhausted, happy, sad, or needs a bit of comfort. It will force you to return to the sewing machine. Because no one receives a handmade blanket and says, “Bah. I guess Thanks.” People love a nice blanket.  The quilt above was made for a friend’s new baby.  A bunch of us got together and made a wonky log cabin quilt.  Most of the women had never done a quilt, log cabin square, or a quilting bee.  But it was one of my favorite project and it was a perfect gift for a beautiful new baby.

Let perfection slide.

This one is huge.  I’m certain that if I was a perfectionist, I’d never finish a quilt.  If I was worried about every little mistake, I’d take my machine and sew over my fingers multiple times.  On purpose.  A little wonky corner might make some quilters lose their minds.  I’m good.  A lot of cut-off tips and I’ve got an issue.  I’ll rip and try again.  Or I’ll come up with a new design for the quilt top.  I’ve had two finished baby quilt tops that were tossed into the garbage pile because I didn’t like it or it was going to be too much work to fix.  I don’t give a shit.  I don’t want anymore work than I imagined when I picked the project.  Whenever I’m basting a quilt, I vow to never make another blanket.  When I see a pucker or a wrinkle, I start sweating and swearing while trying to smooth it away.  Finally I give in and start quilting.  I put my hands to the Quilt Gods and hope the back isn’t lined with puckers.  And then I grab my machine and say “I’m gonna quilt this MoFo.”  If there’s a pucker or two, I don’t care enough to stop sewing or to rip it out.  And if someone doesn’t like my blanket because of that little mistake, I’m pretty sure we’d have issues beyond their dislike of my boo-boo.  They’re probably unforgiving in all areas of life.  They’re a pucker fucker.

I don’t claim to be a knowledgeable quilter.  I’m a half-assed lazy one.  I doubt most Quilters would even call me a true quilter.  I’m sure there’s snobby quilters who would laugh at my over-simplification of this tradition.  I’m just a girl who loves fabric and likes to make blankets to nap under.  And that very simple desire is why my mistakes don’t bother or shake my confidence.  Maybe a little over-simplification will push people to make a blanket.  And in my opinion, every house should have at least one handmade blanket.  Helps make the house a home.

So let’s review.  You can make a quilt.  Find a sewing machine (I’m too lazy to hand quilt, so I won’t even advocate that nuttiness).  Learn the basics.  Buy some beautiful fabric.  And get to work!

Don’t want to make a quilt?  I get it.  It’s not for everyone.  Want to do something else, but you’re pretty sure you can’t do it?  Write a novel.  Cross stitch.  Run a marathon.  Swap out my quilt words and insert: write a bunch of words, make a bunch of X’s, run.  Over simplify something, put in the work and finally do it.

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  1. April 19, 2012

    pucker fucker. best thing i will read all day, i know it!
    i too am not a “real quilter” but i quilt dammit and i so need to finisih a new BIG one for my new bed. i think you may have kicked my ass into heading out today to ifnd me some yummy grey to go with those gold quares.

    • April 20, 2012

      I’m still crushing on Grey & Yellow. That’s going to look perfect!

  2. mary #
    April 19, 2012

    i need to do this. i’m adding it to my list. wait….i don’t have a list. i need to make a list and when i do, i’m adding this. e, those quilts are gorgeous. i think you should make a quilting instruction book with your photos in it. add that to YOUR list. ok?

    • April 20, 2012

      See Mary’s Quilt. Added to my list.

  3. April 19, 2012

    Pucker fucker! Love that 😀

    Anyway, this is totally my approach to, well, life. I call it wabi sabi, because that’s the terminology I fell in love with a long time ago, but hell to the yeah, let perfection slide and just do the work!

    • April 20, 2012

      Wabi Sabi. Thanks for the reminder. My house is a shrine to that theory.

  4. April 19, 2012

    amen sista!

  5. April 19, 2012

    i feel like this post was written just for me.
    you really are making me want to get to the sewing machine. not just for quilting, either. now i just need to clean off the sewing table. i know the machine is under the piles of kids artwork, mail i’m hoarding, shoes that we’ve taken from the dog and other misc. crap. i think i’ll do that today.

    • April 20, 2012

      Clean, Lady. Or just push it all aside.

  6. Rachel #
    April 19, 2012

    Your words are great, but if your photos don’t make a person run for the sewing machine, I don’t know what will! And now I’m running to my machine — working on a quilt made of my dad’s flannel shirts. There’ll be a double layer of warmth snuggling under that when it’s finished.

    • April 20, 2012

      Oh a flannel shirt quilt! That’s going to be amazing. Email me photos. great. I’ve got another quilt to add to my Must Make list…

  7. April 19, 2012

    Ahh, I needed this. I just finished crocheting a baby blanket for a friend and I swear I can see so many things wrong with it. My family says I’m nuts, they can’t see anything wrong with it. lol

    • April 20, 2012

      My family is the same way! They keep me in check.

  8. April 19, 2012

    I too think it’s ridiculous when people say that they can’t (insert activity here). I taught myself to knit with a couple of Youtube videos and a lot of determination, and I just made my first afghan for a friend the other day. There is nothing as satisfying as when you finish a project like that and think, “Wow. I made that.”

    • April 20, 2012

      Good for you!! It feels amazing when you’ve got that finished project in your hands!

  9. April 19, 2012

    I need 1. access to a sewing machine 2. to pick up my knitting needles again and 3. to get off my ass and run.
    Keeping it simple

    • April 20, 2012

      Simple is always key for me to finish anything!

  10. April 19, 2012

    “Pucker fucker” made me laugh so hard I almost peed myself. The same level of laughter the old ladies at church feel when I quilt with them and they see the speed at which my stitches happen.

    • April 20, 2012

      Try Pucker Fucker with the ladies at church… 😉

  11. April 20, 2012

    pucker fucker. yes i’m starting my comment with that little bit if perfection. perfection i tell you! my friend and i laughed until the tears were rolling over the phone as we used all the swear words and in every combination we could come up with because sometimes they are the only words that really encompass what needs to be expressed. good medicine right there. thank you for the little extra dose. pucker fucker.

    • April 20, 2012

      Pucker Fucker is going to be my new mantra!

  12. kathy #
    April 20, 2012

    LOVE IT! I’m a quilt hoarder. I have two hand sewn quilts from my grandmother. Yes, HAND FUCKING SEWN – queen size! Once, when we were sleeping in it, my hubby kept getting stabbed, found out grandma forgot to take a straight pin out…hehe. When I was little she showed me how she did it, I wasn’t interested at the time, but I have the distinct memory of her showing me how she would hang it on the ceiling as she sewed it. I’ve dabbled in rag quilting…I think its easier, because I’m a lazy sewer, and can’t sew a straight seem for shit. You do it with flannel, and it frays so nicely. One day I may try a “true” quilt, but I’ll keep faking it until then. I love your oversimplified tutorial – its perfect! It will get people into action!

    • April 20, 2012

      Do it! And in honor of your Grandmother, leave a pin in it!

  13. lovelyember #
    April 20, 2012

    Nooo, don’t leave a pin in it, lol. The only quilt I’ve made yet was for Eric, a Christmas gift. I found plaid flannel shirts and cut them out all different rectangles, convinced my mom to help me put them into a giant square, and then sewed ’em together. A bunch of friends came over when we were putting the ties through (tied quilts are so much less sewing- I’m sure there’s a real name for them besides tied though) and because so many friends helped, it got a little messy. End story, Eric got stabbed 7 times, with 7 straight pins that got lost in the batting. . . yeah, going to be a bit more careful with the next one. Loved reading this Erika, your quilts are beautiful!

    • April 22, 2012

      Thanks! No pins left in quilts. Promise. Eric served as a cautionary tale against novelty.

  14. Jill #
    April 20, 2012

    I’m leaving the quilting to you . . . although I have about a bajillion scraps of fabric in my bin downstairs. Maybe I’ll trade you a quilt for a scrapbook 🙂 . . . and some of your yarn.

    • April 22, 2012

      Done. I’ll start to make a yarn pile.

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