You ask, I answer, part five

Back in part two, I mentioned that I’d just written a review for a writing book. The review’s available online, so you’re welcome to check that out: Book Review: Writing Novels That Sell by Jack Bickham

Today, I’m going to talk a little about quilting because Nicki asked. Quilting is one of those things that I always thought I should know how to do. My first encounter with quilting was when I was still in single digits; my parents were working on one. My dad made this square wooden block that they were using as a template, and there were stacks of squares sitting on the ironing board (I think that’s where I saw them). As far as I know, the quilt was never pieced together, which is a shame.

Later, I remember seeing references to it in the Little House books (pretty sure she did some patchwork), and quilting figured in one of the Trixie Belden mysteries. (The latter stayed in my mind because of the anecdote where the person used the fabric to trace the shape on another piece of fabric, then used that one to trace it on another — and when the girl got all the pieces done and placed them in a stack, she found she had made each succeeding one larger than the one before, so they wouldn’t fit together the way they were supposed to.)

Then in graduate school, another of the students in the lab took a class where they pieced a quilt top. I was envious (and just a little “Well, I should be able to do it, too, then” — which, given the quality of things I’d sewn to that point was a ridiculous notion) but didn’t do anything about it. In fact, I didn’t do my first quilt until we moved to Ohio, where I got a book out of the library to teach me the basics (Rotary Magic by Nancy Johnson-Srebro). That book showed me how to use a cutting mat, ruler, and rotary cutter to cut accurate, straight, reproducible shapes. It also taught me how to strip piece, which made the sewing itself much quicker.

The first quilt I ever made was a tiny crib quilt for my then-toddler. It’s a 9-patch (a 3×3 square) set on point. It was a little small even then, but I wanted to start with something easy. As you can see, the seams aren’t perfect, and my corners aren’t straight. The quilting looks fairly decent, though.

Front of the quilt
back of the quilt

Me being me, once I decided I had the basics down, I jumped straight to a quilt big enough for my niece. It took a few years to finish (like 6 or 7). But eventually, I finished it and she got it.

Finished quilt

Tips for getting started:

  • Do something with straight lines, and minimize the number of triangles. (Triangles require cutting on the bias, which can lead to frayed edges, as well as pulling the pieces out of shape.) Log cabin, 4-patch, and 9-patch are good patterns to start with, and they each have lots of variations.
  • Get a quilting ruler (clear plastic, heavy duty, measurements and angles marked on it), a cutting mat, and a rotary cutter — they make life much easier than trying to use scissors.
  • Stick with basic woven cotton fabrics to begin with.
  • Change your sewing machine needle before you start piecing.
  • Finish. (Um, yes, I do still need to get my in-laws’ quilt from Christmas a couple years ago backed and quilted, why do you ask?)
  • Remember that, like everything else, it takes practice to improve.

Maybe next time, I’ll post some pics of a quilt that I’ve had in progress for a while (quite a while now) where I ignored some of these points, like the “woven cotton fabrics.”

Let me know if you have any questions or advice you’d add to mine for quilting. Or if you have a hobby that you thought about for years before you jumped in and started!

After this post, I’m fresh out of things people have asked me (unless I give Nicki more details on knitting and crocheting), so if you have anything you want to know, feel free to drop it in the comments. Alternatively, I have signed up to participate in Goodreads’ Ask the Author, so you can ask me questions on my page over there.

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  1. One more tip…if your ruler is one of the clear plastic squares, note there’s an extra quarter (or is it half) inch on one side. That, besides cutting for 1/2 inch leeway and sewing 1/4th, is the reason my son’s twin quilt fits his queen sized bed with no trouble years later :).

    Honestly, I’m more for enjoying it than finishing… or maybe that’s an excuse.

    • I think that extra depends on what brand you get. Mine doesn’t have it. 🙂

      The reason I put “finish” is because that’s the step I have the hardest time with. I have more finished novels than finished quilts.

  2. Finish? … what is this ‘finish’ you speak of?

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