Friday, September 23, 2016

What I've learned after finally jumping into quilting (...and why did it take me so long?)

I'm still newish to quilting.  After sewing just about everything except quilts for awhile, I finally tried it a couple of years ago!  To be honest, I was intimidated to try quilting before.  I was worried about feeling incompetent - am I cutting right?  do I have the right tools?   how am I ever going to be precise enough? what will the "real" quilters think?

Why are we like this as adults?  Kids don't have this filter. They just jump in and try and are simply pleased by the act. They don't care as much about the final product.

Nevertheless, I finally made a quilt a two years ago.  My first finish was made to celebrate my baby niece's arrival and was finished, oh, the night before my sister's baby shower.  I wrote about that quilt here, and also cautioned against making your very first quilt as a gift to someone special. The whole "gift" aspect adds a wee bit of pressure!

baby quilt for my sweet niece
Since then, I haven't actually finished a whole quilt.  I have a Modern Maples top that I pieced...and have yet to quilt.  I made a couple of mini quilts - one for a swap and one for my daughter's room.  Those were satisfying finishes.  And recently I helped coordinate two quilts for the Orlando MQG's #quiltsforpulse effort.  But that's it!
a mini for my daughter

Raspberry Kiss mini for #lovewinsminiswap
Wait, I honestly forgot two others until I looked through my photostream!  I finished a little doll quilt for a friend's one-year old.  And how could I forget the labor of love that was my nephews' i-spy drawstring quilt?!?
doll quilt in the softest Blueberry Park colors

i-spy drawstring quilt

But, no finishes of large quilts, like throw size or bed size. And I'm okay with that.  Here's why....

As a new quilter, I've taken some steps to build my skills first  I'm the kind of person who wants to know the ins and outs.  I research things to death.  I have a curiosity and want to know all the answers.  (Maybe the reason it took me so long to actually quilt, instead of exhaustingly reading about it.)   I thought a sampler would be a great first step in providing an opportunity to try many different blocks and learn new techniques.  And a sampler would force me to practice, practice, practice, and would get me sewing on a regular basis.  Sometimes we forget as adults the need to practice a new skill in order to get "good" (On a side note, i just listened to a great episode of the Good Life Project podcast that hit on this very topic of learning new skills as adults and being vulnerable....)

The Modern HST Sampler Quilt Along hosted by Alyce of Blossom Hearts Quilts seemed like a great place to start.  Half-square triangles are foundational to quilting and Alyce promised to teach several different methods and provide us the quilt math to master HSTs!  And two blocks per month seemed a perfect pace. In addition, Alyce hosts an great facebook group where fellow members post pictures of their blocks, share questions or tips and encourage each other. The group is so supportive and inspirational.  What a nice little corner of the world wide web!

At this point in the sampler QAL, I now realize that my fabric pull was somewhat ambitious for a newbie. Nearly ten different designers, numerous prints and colors, and an array of low volume background fabrics.  Phew!  The amount of fabrics has challenged me (in such a good way) to choose just the right fabric combinations to make individual blocks work, but also to consider the bigger balance of color and value to ensure cohesion.

my fabric pull
Pairing fabrics and considering placement, and then seeing the blocks come together is absolutely my favorite part of the process. And when it works, it works and is so satisfying!
block 14 : introspection

block 15 : windmill
As I finished my two most recent blocks (shown above), I could clearly recognize my improvement and evolution.  The blocks look crisper, more precise, the fabrics complement the design more so that my first few blocks.  I've also learned that slowing down and using the right tools makes all the difference.  Specifically, starching before cutting has helped, although I don't do it every time. I've always been a big fan of pressing, but I finally realized that using a dry iron vs steam is best and avoids the ripply look of my early blocks.  A tool that has really helped me is the Fons and Porter Quarter Inch Seam Marker.  Marking the seam line rather than the center line of the HST allows for more precision in my stitching.

hotel floor progress shot! i've been taking my machine along on work trips.
Looking back at  my earlier blocks, I don't love a few. I could easily remake them with different fabric choices or better process, but I'm not going to.  They are staying in the final quilt as a reminder of my progress!

block 1 : candy

block 5 : mountain

If you'd like to see all my blocks from the sampler, click the pages at the top of the blog. I've added a page for the Modern HST Sampler and post my blocks as they are completed. 

I've also started a second sampler, the Summer Sampler 2016, which has taught me many more lessons and deserves its own post!  


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