Personal Quilt History

 July 26, 2022

My first full sized quilt finish
In celebration of the 12 years of quilt blogging I've decided to answer a question or two every new post from here until I run out of energy or the inclination. The questions have been gathered from here and I have to say that that list is very comprehensive. Definitely not going to answer every one, but I'm game to get started. Hope some of you will be interested in following along!

1. How long have you been making quilts? Would you describe your learning process?

I started making a few baby quilts at the end of 1992 or early 1993 so I guess it's been close to 30 years? They were very simply done in the coverlet style with very poofy batting and were made primarily to lay inside a crib. The first full size quilt that I made and finished {pictured above} was completed in 1995. Probably. So hard to remember now! At that time I would reliably check out Marsha McCloskey or Judy Martin quilting books from the Eugene, Oregon library and dream of having the courage to make a beautiful quilt just for me. There were a lot of artsy quilt books there, but I kept gravitating toward the old time, more classic, 'usable' looking quilts. Those two quilters in specific made me think it might be possible to be a 'quilter', so after a couple years of just dreaming, I finally got serious. I can't overstate how hard it was to actually say, 'I'm going to do this regardless of how little I know!'

When I finally found the grit and planned out how to proceed, I went to JoAnn Fabrics for the fabric. Of course! That's all that I could afford! Didn't tell anyone of my family or friends because I was sooo afraid of failure. The fabric buying was extremely stressful 'cuz nothing matched very well. Little did I know that was actually a good thing! Whatever. With only five fabrics needed, I eventually figured something out that I thought I could live with. 

I drew paper templates and pinned and then cut all the shapes with scissors. Just like I used to cut out my clothing pattern pieces! Finally ended up with a 'top' and absolutely no idea how to sandwich and quilt the thing. Yeah. It was brutal. And we were fairly poor too. One day I decided to take the comforter from our bed and just attach the quilt top to that. Turned the edges over for a wide, rolled hem and then machine sewed it into place. Then I came back and put in yarn quilt ties about every 10-12 inches or so! Total victory of course because it was FINISHED! This is one quilt that I've never, ever given up, even when one of my kids practically begged me for it. It's been used half to death and I'm still crazy proud of it. Always good to remember where we started and how it was that we committed ourselves to the craft. It would be a few years before I used a rotary cutter and started learning in earnest, but this quilt. Yeah, this quilt!! This is was what did it for me....

2. At what age did you begin to learn to sew? Do you remember at what age you began to piece? When did you learn to quilt? How old were you when you made your first quilt? Why did you learn at this particular time? Were there any special difficulties?

I learned to sew from my mother somewhere around the age of 10, perhaps younger. For sure, I learned to sew on buttons etc. before she ever introduced me to the sewing machine work. By the time I was a teenager, I could competently sew my own dresses etc. It was mostly due to her endless patience in answering my questions and always encouraging me to try every more complicated patterns! As explained in the previous question, I first started quilting when I was in my early 20's. The absolute first quilt was a baby coverlet and the very first, full sized real quilt, a rail fence style quilt. Then I promptly returned to making very simple baby coverlets.

I didn't truly learn to 'piece' until later on. In the late 90's, when I was 28 years old, a few ladies that I spent time with asked for pieced blocks for a wedding quilt. That effort mostly baffled and frustrated me, as I was still using scissors to cut things out. It did lead to making a couple small children sized quilts, mostly with big squares of denim, corduroy and/or flannel!  Then, when I was 29, there was a group of ladies in our church who started gathering to swap quilt blocks and/or make 'challenge' blocks in the winter months. 

Home Sweet Home
My mother promptly bought me a rotary cutter and rotary mat for Christmas. Woohoo!! Quilt piecing horizons were flung wide open! Except that I was a fraidy cat and kept all piecing efforts very basic for the longest time. So dumb. Squares and rectangles for me, thank you very much! 

The quilt in the picture above, was probably the fourth full sized quilt I had ever finished. This was 2001 when I was 31 years old. It was the first time for making the effort to piece blocks to join in with any swap or challenge blocks that I had won. And.... this was my first real attempt at making blocks that included triangle shapes. Well, I had to use a triangle shape to make my Home Sweet Home challenge block didn't I? And then, notice the house blocks in the borders? Yep! I was inspired to add little town houses and cottages along the edges of the quilt. Uh huh. The border stuff happened early on too. 

This is also when I started seriously dabbling in my love for applique. Playing with different techniques. Along with the little stars and heart block, every single house 'challenge' block has a little applique addition {or two} done by yours truly. Some people had already added a bit of applique, but I didn't let that stop me from adding more where I thought needed! I had to do it on the down-low too, 'cuz some of those gals would have been offended. My thinking was, 'The blocks are mine now. I can do with them what I want!'

I'm super glad that this quilt is still hanging around as it ended up being a showcase for everything that was being learned up to this point. Making and swapping blocks with others definitely pushed me to learn good coping strategies in regards to ending up with equal sized blocks. Also, it quickly pushed me into learning how to make individual block colors play nice with all the other tricky colors in a group setting. Getting those blocks wrangled into an interesting looking quilt pushed and shoved me to get the whole finished-quilt thing properly figured out.*whew!  No more sewing three sides of a quilt and turning it inside out and putting ties in to hold things down! How to make things lay flat and square. What batting to use. How to make and sew on binding! Things like that. Good times!

3. Were there special people or circumstances that encouraged you to begin to quilt? How did you learn to quilt? Who taught you to piece and to quilt? Did you have one special person you learned from, or were there others who influenced your quiltmaking? Where did they learn to quilt? Who else quilted in your family?

As mentioned in the previous question, the circumstances that really encouraged me to pursue quilting was when a group of women in our church started meeting in the winters for quilting. My mom ended up being the ring leader of that when she initiated the first meeting. Basically, everyone took turns talking about their personal knowledge & skills {or lack of} and then we all discussed what was wanted out of the meetings. 

The first year found us making basic exchange blocks for each other in preferred sizes and colors. The next year or two we added in optional blocks for each meeting with an anonymous vote, and then winner-takes-all challenge. At every meeting we would bring books and magazines to share. It was very informal and more 'information gathering' than anything else. Lots and lots of opinions offered! Oh my. We argued and debated 1/4" seams, the benefits of tearing fabric on the grainline, the proper way to put binding on a quilt, plus color matching and every other thing you could think of. If/when someone learned something new about quilting {had taken a class or learned from a book}, they would usually organize a tutorial. Sometimes it was super helpful and other times, it felt like the quilting police were busy establishing the RULES. In this way, we taught each other and ourselves to quilt! Whatever and however we learned, it was new skills and/or tips to add to our quilting toolbox.

During this time, my husband and I moved away to Redmond, Oregon. I was starting to branch out a little and get more adventuresome. The library had become my best friend and I was pretty much inhaling everything I could learn about layouts and setting individually sewn blocks together. How to deal with blocks that ended up being 1/2" smaller than others and how to successfully sew colors together that clashed. It was a area rich in quilting influences, quilt stores and an awesome outdoor quilt show in the summertime. 

One of moms discarded projects that I rescued
During the few short years in Oregon, I desperately missed our winter quilting meetings but didn't have the confidence to join a local quilting guild. In an effort to keep learning, I begged all my family for abandoned quilt projects to experiment with and slowly started challenging myself to learn new important-to-me skills on my own--like applique and hand quilting.

 The applique I painstakingly learned on my own--all different methods, mostly from book and pattern instructions. It was absolutely trial and error and I hated most of the methods. Ughh. So frustrating! Finally I settled on a favorite. That, funnily enough, from a quilt shop owner just telling me tips and tricks for plain old needle-turn applique! She was a little impatient with endless questions but honestly, the very best help. Very matter of fact. She thought it was easy and absolutely nothing to be scared of. Buck up. That sort of thing. I still think of her fondly.

The first person to teach me about hand quilting was a cousin, doing me a big favor. She worked in a quilt store and considered herself to be quite artsy! She was very precise in her instruction though she seemed very doubtful of my ability to ever flourish in the craft. Kudos to her though, she was very patient in teaching me how to get started and properly tie off my threads etc. I don't necessarily do things the way that she taught me, but hey! She got me started! 

Another friend {a mother figure} had learned from her aunts, mother and sisters in quilting-bee style gatherings. She was not super perfect as to her stitching length {which I adored}, but preferred feather patterns etc. and was more comfortable quilting from a huge floor frame. Mostly she just talked about quilting and her finishes were few and far between. Because my husband and I visited with her often, I consider her a big influence in encouraging me to keep trying with the hand quilting. Don't worry about it being perfect. Enjoy the outcome. Hand quilting is slow but it's so rewarding etc., etc.. Looking back, I honestly think she would have had more fun with a wholecloth quilt, she was that disinterested in anything but the hand stitching!

A mystery quilt with terrible looking trees
The person who probably made the most impact on my future hand quilting efforts was a friend in our church who had learned the basics from her mom. She pretty much forced me to help hand quilt on the church raffle quilt though I frantically assured her I had barely started learning. No matter. Everyone was helping and that was that. Everyone's stitching was to be gratefully received and at the end of my miserable week of stitching and ripping out, stitching and ripping out, I could finally see and feel real progress.*sigh  So painful. I kinda hated her during that moment of my life--for her bossiness, pushiness and general lack of compassion towards my quilting insecurities, but later on.... Yeah. I could totally see the real value of what she did for me! The funny thing was, she ended up years later with a professional quilting machine she adores and I am the one still with a hoop in my lap!

A Round Robin quilt. I made the 4 center blocks
and added the outside green scalloped border
When I moved back to Washington, the attendance at the winter quilting meetings had dwindled quite a bit. Mom had moved on to a project a year sort of theme, in similar-but-different outcomes. She intentionally set out to 'teach' something new with every project and we found ourselves making mystery quilts, round robin quilts, and whatever else she conjured up. I helped proofread the instructions she would type up and walk through the intent of the new projects in advance of the first meetings. We were an eclectic group of women with many different approaches to our quilting, but the camaraderie was a beautiful thing that I quite frankly treasured. This went on till about 2011 when finally, there just wasn't enough interest to continue. 

My grandma quilted, though I was too young to learn anything but the love of quilts from her. All of my sisters started out quilting, but now it's just me and mom and as you know, mom had a years-long hiatus. I started this blog in 2010 in an effort to have people to chat with about our shared love of quilting. People who are genuinely interested in quilting and not those whom you can obviously see their eyes glazing over in deep boredom! Lots and lots of influences and challenges from other Internet connected quilters through the years, the fun never stops!

4. How many quilts have you made in your life? Are there any special times when you made more quilts? When did you make your last quilt? Did you make more quilts when you were younger? If so, why do you make fewer now? Do you make more quilts now? If so, why?

When I go back through the various lists of completed quilts, gifted quilts etc. for the 27-28 years that I've been quilting, the count is at about 230 quilts. Not counting doll quilts or quilted pillows etc. Pretty mind boggling actually! 2013 was the first year that I completed a total of 12 quilts in one year and that number slowly increased until my average a year is now somewhere between 15-18. You can go to my Quilt Gallery to check out the last decade of quilt finishes if you like! 

The quilt stacks are getting a bit out of control!
I tend to complete more quilts in a year when I'm gifting baby quilts {of course} as they are so small and can come together quite quickly. Mostly, I pay more attention to prep work and making the most efficient use of my quilting time than I used to. It's amazing how consciously utilizing that precious time {so, so much better} and having better habits, has paid off for me in the long term. Do you really love quilting? Gotta put the work in or you'll just piddle away your year and never accomplish very much! Working on several different phases of 5-8 quilts all at the same time, I can have finishes on a regular basis throughout the year, keeping my quilty energy going and also, spark all kinds of ideas and solutions. 

A dark corner of the bedroom works good for this quilt stack

My last quilty completion was just last week, another one of my famous {or infamous} tulip quilts. It's not the most complicated quilt ever made around here, but I think you'll agree that it's not a carbon copy of anything else you'll find floating around on the Internet! The 'keepers' get stored in darker areas of the house unless I'm decorating with them. When the piles get too high, then I have to seriously think about which ones I'm ready to send off to another home. 

5. What other crafts do you practice? How does quilting compare with these?

Before the quilting bug hit, I sewed some of my own clothes and also, I enjoyed a little cross-stitch. Sewing clothes was fun when I was young, had a little bit of a 'style', and oh yeah, the body was in better shape. After having kids and trying to hide problem areas, it didn't seem nearly as interesting! Meh! Much better to go try something on and just say yes or no rather than put a lot of time into something and still feel very dissatisfied.

The cross-stitch was also a great hobby for those years before having kids because I never had to worry about the floss containers being dumped out onto the floor or tangled up and dragged off. Another thing that I struggled with after having children, was the big fat oops that happened as a result of too much distraction. And happen it did.... 

As I've said before, the quilting efforts started off slow around here. At the time when I really, seriously started getting into the details of piecing etc., I was feeling desperate for something artsy and crafty to do with my hands and ahem! my brain. Years of young children? You know exactly what I'm talking about! With quilting, I could lose myself in the love of colors and ponder quilting ideas, problems and possible solutions while I was washing dishes or cleaning house. Cross-stitch didn't have design problems, it just was! It was also easier to justify the expense {on our very limited budget} when many times, the intended quilt project was intended to be a gift.

Later on, as my family grew, quilting was an excellent way to fill my time in a positive manner. While waiting on kids during those long practices, tournaments or getting home by curfew, I learned to do something that calmed my mind and helped me to be a better mom and wife. Somehow the hand quilting {especially} was more meditative and therapeutic than anything else that I had ever attempted! At some point, I also recognized something very interesting. My time with the hoop also seemed to be a wonderful time for my teenagers to unexpectedly pop into the living room to have a little chat with mom. I figured out that they didn't feel so much like being under a microscope when I was seemingly 'focused' on a quilt instead of them. Little did they know!

Along with my intense, growing interest in the craft, these were the sorts of things that helped me continue to make space and time for them in our busy lives. With the other crafts, it was really all about the finish, at least in the way that I approached them. Quilting turned my ideas of crafting on its head, helping me to realize that this could be so much more. Even now that my children are grown and raised, I greatly value the calm and clarity that the entire quilting process brings to my life. Yes, I dearly enjoy all the warm, cozy finishes, but more than that, I cherish the gift of getting to play with colorful textiles and doing very good things with my heart and hands!

6. When do you normally quilt? Time of day, year?
Such an interesting question. I am not a morning person on any day of the year, so the quilting process that takes place in the quilt room is more likely to be late afternoons {depending on my schedule}. Or, if that doesn't work out, my best, most efficient quilting time is immediately after dinner. Hand quilting takes place at about 9:00 - 11:30 pm while I'm curled up in the corner of the couch, winding down from the day. Perhaps, if I'm lucky, for several hours in late afternoon and evenings on most Sundays. I obviously quilt all year long, but like most quilters, more intensely during the fall and winter months. 

7. Do you belong to a quilters' guild or club? If so, for how long? What groups?
Nope, never belonged to a quilters' guild, for many, varied reasons. Either I was comfortable with the quilting group I had, or I intimidated by the {thought of a} guild, or it met during a bad time for our schedule, or they didn't have a style that I enjoyed, or whatever. I'm not actively opposed to the idea. The groups that I belonged to were always groups from our church--just us gals getting together with a shared interest during some of the winter months. I'm a bit of an introvert in my own way and this was probably more of a comfort thing than anything else.

Currently {and since prior to 2017}, I am part of an online group I love called AHIQ:Adhoc Improvisational Utility Quilting. It involves loosely structured, group challenge projects headed by Ann from Texas and California and Kaja from the United Kingdom. We've slowed down a lot since inception, but I still find it immensely valuable to my creativity as a whole.

8. Do you know others who quilt in your community or parish?
Years ago I would chat with a lady quilter or two in our community. Usually when we bumped into each other at a quilt show or at the fair. Most of the ones that I knew were about 20+ years older than me with a very different style. 

There has been several quilter friends in our church throughout the years, but the numbers have thinned considerably in the last decade or so. I have found myself seriously dialing down my outwardly expressed enthusiasm for the craft in an effort to not come off as strangely obsessed and/or fixated. Uggh. So exhausting talking about quilting with people who don't care the slightest about the creative journey of it all! {Which makes me sound very snotty.} I have had a  tiny bit of interest in doing the quilt meetings again this winter so that might happen again. Am trying to wrap my brain around a way to make it interesting for all involved, including me, as it does take quite a lot of my time!

So next up for the ongoing quilt questions is a set of questions pertaining to 'Reasons for Quiltmaking'. The first three have a lot of the same answers, so I'm going to answer them all in a jumble.

1. Why do you quilt? What does quilting give you?
2. Why do you spend so much time on such a craft?
3. Why do you enjoy quilting? What do you like most about it?

I quilt because I adore the look and feel of quilts and I love the process. Might even be obsessed with the process in fact! There's just something so good and heartwarming about using our minds and our hands to think about and/or work with color and textiles. It's simultaneously relaxing, therapeutic, stimulating and comforting all at the same time. 

There's a puzzle to be figured out. The time and effort it takes our minds to work this out, can shut out all but the worst of the world has to offer. So that's a relief and balm to the soul. When our minds get finished sorting out the various and assorted details involved in making a set look or design, then there's a rush of satisfaction and all those happy endorphins to thoroughly enjoy.

People say that it takes on average, 10,000 hours of experience to master a skill. Whether that's true or not, there's nothing to take lightly about the journey of getting to a stage of proficiency in our chosen craft. Within those hours is a roller coaster of highs and lows--learning to trust in the core of ourselves and have a confidence in the things that we want to express through the makings of our hands. There's a great pride in being able to finally produce an outcome that resonates to the very depths of our being. When I randomly stumble upon one of my more favorite quilts {that I've personally made}, there's this leap to my heart. 'Is that one of mine? Oh, I know that quilt!' And of course I'm already smiling before the recognition even truly hits!

The journey {and joy} of creativity keeps me going, day after day and year after year. I can't wait to find out what happens next! In all the years that I've spent quilting, I would have never dreamed that I could make the kinds of quilts that I do now. Mostly because I couldn't envision where the passion would take me. It boggles my mind that my voice could so clearly be reflected back in so many of the quilts that I've made. How wonderfully real and warm and cozy that voice would be. It makes me want to cry because I'm such a reserved person. How is it that my quilts are not?

When I hand quilt, it quiets my mind and soothes my being. It sorts out the tangled mess in my brain. I've said it before so many times, but it's still true. Quilting makes me a better person. When I give a quilt away, it feels like I'm offering comfort, a hug, or perhaps a little ray of sunshine. And yes, we can buy or give other things to people to help them in their time of need. A quilt just feels extra special. Especially if it's made with heart and soul and not just out of feelings of expectation.

So that's why I quilt. Because I can and also, because I can't not make quilts.