Still a Beginner

Yesterday I spent quite a bit of time writing a blog post that was bad — stupid, indulgent, unpublishable. No, not really all that, but sort of a waste of time, and not good enough to simply revise.

I was indulging myself a bit with how long I’ve been blogging, how many posts I’ve published, how many comments.. yada yada. Who cares, really? It was boring even to me. 🙂 But so you don’t think too poorly of me, I was trying to answer a question posed in one of my Facebook groups recently. One of the members asked bloggers, “How do you find the time or inspiration on what to post about?

The short answer to that question is, sometimes I don’t find the time. And sometimes I do. All kinds of things inspire my writing. I write about what I’m interested in. Sometimes that’s projects I’m working on, sometimes it’s design ideas or tutorials, sometimes it’s current events, sometimes it’s things that light my imagination, like a museum trip. Now and then I just whine about something quilting-related. 🙂 I always always have things to write about. The real issue for me is, if I’m spending my time writing, what am I not doing while keeping the blog up to date? It’s hard to allocate my time well.

I am not worried about growing my audience, because I write primarily for myself. No one is paying me to do this. But there are people out there, (hello, people!) and I enjoy sharing with others. I enjoy teaching and try to craft my posts carefully so they are useful in some way to readers. If I truly were just using it as a personal diary, it wouldn’t be the way it is.


Even though I have a few blog posts under my belt, and have made a few quilts, I’m still a beginner at both. There’s still plenty I don’t know how to do, or haven’t done enough to actually get good at it.

For example, I’ve been working on appliqué projects this year, from simple flowers on the ¡Fiesta! quilt, to all the Hands and Hearts, to the more elaborate Rooster,  to the crazy mask. Each one has taught me more about how to envision shapes in space, how to choose colors and fabrics, and how to attach them appropriately for the purpose.

I’m very much a beginner in this area, both from a technical standpoint and a design aspect. It’s a whole new way of using my brain. I want to be really good! but I’m just not yet. And I need to remember:

When learning something new, be patient.
Allow for your work to look like a beginner’s.
Just keep at it and things will improve.

Here’s my new start on an old project.

I actually started this two-and-a-half years ago, which for me is a really long time. I began it with a sketch, created by drawing and cutting shapes, and then tracing around the shapes to establish approximate position.


And this is what I said about it at the time: “I’m planning to do old-fashioned needle-turn appliqué, without all the glueing and pressing and fusing and fussing that some of the other techniques use. This will be relatively primitive, both due to my skills and my intention. The colors I’m choosing are joyful, not stuffy. I’ll show you progress as I make it.”

HAHAHA! Yeah, the intention was to use needle-turn appliqué, but then I realized I don’t really enjoy it, and the project would never get done. Not only did I change applique methods, I also changed fabrics for everything but the stems and the paler leaves, which were already stitched down. The first ones I chose were too muted, not strong enough to stand up to their background. The more saturated colors work better than the ones discarded.

The next modification to it will be the addition of a bird in the lower right corner.


And speaking of beginning, a different member of that same Facebook group asked today about a “scant” quarter-inch seam allowance. A variety of responses were given, from “it doesn’t matter as long as your seam allowance is consistent” to “it DOES matter if you want things to fit.” The best answer included a link to this video, which explains exactly why a good seam allowance matters.

Some other good tips for beginning quilters are here, including in the comments.

As always, thanks for reading!


24 thoughts on “Still a Beginner

  1. jmn

    I watched the video – that answers the 1/4″ question! No doubt about it. For most piecing that scant 1/4″ is desirable. But when I’m improvising curves and some other elements it’s a bit less critical. Where I’m not concerned about points being perfect I allow myself a bit of leeway.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Exactly. Either way you need quality construction, from the standpoint of things holding together securely. But as you say, for some work the exact measure is not as crucial. Thanks for taking a look.

  2. Kit Dunsmore

    I NEVER got the hang of applique! Every other year, our guild would make a raffle quilt and I often took an applique block to make, only to regret it later. This is why I always make a really small project when I’m learning a new technique… in case it turns out I hate it.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I think that’s very good advice! Don’t pay ahead for a whole year of tennis lessons, just in case you keep tripping on the racket. 🙂 I think I *could* do applique by needle turn method. It’s very attractive, and I can do the stitches. But I don’t really enjoy it. Fortunately there are other options, and I’m having fun exploring them. Thanks, Kit!

      1. Kit Dunsmore

        Finding what you enjoy doing is what it’s all about, and not every technique is for everyone. Glad you’ve got other methods to get the job done.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      When I started quilting I found there were several things that improved my seam allowance, and I discovered them one by one. Now my main challenge for it is to be attentive, and to check my seams on anything very complicated. (You know, like half-square triangles!) It does make a difference. Thanks, Chela.

  3. katechiconi

    Thank you for this. I always find what you have to say interesting, so even if you don’t post so often any more, it’s worth waiting for! As for seam allowances: Scant 1/4 inch is important when you have elements with different amounts of seam in them; as she pointed out, mismatch is cumulative. 90% of the time, I’m relaxed about it, the other 10% I’m on it like a hawk because it makes a difference. It doesn’t help that my needle position isn’t adjustable, so I have to eyeball things 😦

  4. KerryCan

    I remember that appliqué project! I’m impressed you got back to it, after all this time. Applique has never been my thing, at all, but I like seeing how others work with it.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks, Kerry. I’ve become more impressed with applique over time, but never assumed I would do much. It’s been a big source of surprise for me this year, and I’m still enjoying it.

  5. norma

    I enjoy your posts and I’d miss you if you stopped.
    I once tried to make a precision block and didn’t quite do the 1/4inch seam right. It was a disaster! Suffice to say, 20 or so years on I’m more careful 😊

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I think some people will never be able to do a “good” and consistent 1/4″ seam, perhaps because of some limitations physically or with their machine or space. And others don’t care and get along just fine without worrying about it. I like stuff to fit, so it’s important to me. But there’s room for all of us. Thanks for your kind comments, Norma.

  6. My Sewful Retirement

    I love your posts I find them both enjoyable and informative. Over the past year I’ve focused on accuracy and it does matter. Lately I’ve been working with smaller blocks and have been happy with my results! Patience is the key 🙂

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      It does pay to be patient! For me, I’ve found that being carefully and occasionally taking apart a block and re-doing are worth the time, especially for small, intricate blocks. Thanks so much for commenting. I appreciate it!

  7. Pingback: Blushing Peonies – IV | jmn

  8. Design Quest

    Thanks for blogging, Melanie. I enjoy your thought-provoking, well written posts, whatever the topic and whenever you share them. As in most things, I personally prefer quality over quantity! And that’s my guide post on blogging. Carry on and share on,

  9. snarkyquilter

    I call you an altruistic blogger. You aren’t selling anything, but do it for a lovely combination of reasons. As to your applique project, I love how the background enlivens the whole foreground. I, too, have tried hand turned needle applique, and have the 8 by 10 inch project to prove it. Never since.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I guess needle-turn just isn’t our thing. It’s not that I’d never give it a go again. But at this point, it’s not how I want to spend my time. Thanks so much for your kind comments about my blogging, and about the project. I feel like we’re “in this” together, and I’m glad you’re one of my blogging partners.

  10. audrey

    So many things resonated with me in your post. We really do have to work continually to make the best use of our time! And it’s okay that your quilt blog is about you–that’s what we’re coming here to read about.:)

  11. tierneycreates

    I love this sentiment: “I am not worried about growing my audience, because I write primarily for myself. No one is paying me to do this.” This is true and something I try to remember. I do want my posts to be engaging but I am writing because I enjoy writing AND I enjoy going back and reading my previous posts – blogging really is an online diary (that we keep more edited than a real diary – ha!)
    Your new start on an old project looks good so far!


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