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.