Tag Archives: learning

Ten Things I Learned in 2018

Bat mask from Burkina Faso, on display (and for sale) at Beadology in Iowa City. Maybe about 4′ wide.

What did you learn this year? We could go all out and make that a really broad question, but I am thinking in terms of making most of all.

Here are ten things I learned or had reinforced:

  1. It’s easy to reposition the needle left or right on my domestic sewing machine. Easy and handy!
  2. I didn’t need a new strap on my new purse after all. I just needed to adjust the strap that was already there.
  3. Glue is amazing! Fusible web, Elmer’s white glue, purple glue sticks, basting spray, I used them all. They are now a regular part of my quilting life.
  4. MicroQuilter is a very fine polyester thread from Superior Threads. It can be used for fine detail work and stitch in the ditch, and it nearly disappears. I used it on my recent table runner and liked it a lot.
  5. Inspiration comes from all over, if you let it. Okay, really, I knew this already, but it was confirmed time and again. Couldn’t you make an amazing quilt inspired by the mask above? (More about that beautiful mask in the next post!)
  6. The three quilt projects I most enjoyed working on were also the ones that taught me new skills or ways of thinking. Photos are below. Click on any picture to open the gallery and see more detail.
  7. Being quilt guild president is a privilege, and it’s also really great not being guild president.
  8. I learned how to make a facing for a quilt, rather than a traditional binding. In truth it isn’t any harder, and if you’re going to hand-stitch the edging down anyway, doesn’t take more time.
  9. I can design and sew a shirt for myself, which fits, has French seams, and a faced neckline. While I’ll probably never do much garment sewing, next year I might be slightly more ambitious and do something more complicated.
  10. I’m still not particularly good at making and writing at the same time. It’s easier for me to recap decisions after the fact than to chew through them while they’re in process.

What did you learn this year?


Class Projects in 2018

My guild has had some terrific workshops in the last few years. In 2018, I participated in three of them and added to my tool kit of skills. I share a bit about them below, in the order I took them.

Kim Lapacek of Persimon Dreams
Kim Lapacek brings a joy and enthusiasm to her work, and her workshop, that I’ve rarely experienced.

Kim led a workshop in the style of her Project Quilting challenges. Nine guild members spent the day inspired by her take-no-prisoners style of quilt-making. She goes ALL OUT, with techniques, embellishments, color, and pattern. As our challenge, she provided fat-quarters of base fabric as well as two more fabric pieces to each of us. We were to create and FINISH a quilt top in the six-hour time slot, using those two printed fabrics and NO straight-edge ruler. In addition, we were given a limit on how much fabric we could bring — only the amount that fits in a brown paper lunch sack. Also the fabric pieces we brought were supposed to be scraps, less than a fat quarter. While that lays a lot of constraints down, the subject or direction of our individual projects was completely up to each of us.

Influenced partly by her own “amazing technicolor dream heart quilt” and partly by a project I’d been wanting to make, I decided to use a rainbow color scheme to recognize LGBTQ rights as basic human and civil rights. It might be a poor shorthand, but it is eye-catching.

The verbal message is plain in black letters.

This project is like nothing I ever did before. It hangs behind my ironing station, and every time I stand there, it buoys me a bit.

Cathy Geier
Cathy Geier is an art quilter focused on landscapes. Her style would probably be called “collage appliqué,” though she incorporates piecing, especially into the backgrounds. She’s also quite fond of amending her fabrics with paint and markers, allowing some subtleties not available from the fabric alone.

In our workshop with her, we learned some basics of creating a landscape quilt of a forest scene. With commercially-available fabric, we cut tree trunks and glued them to a base background fabric. Diluted white craft paint helped turn the birch trees a paler grey, and silver Sharpie markers applied to one side of the trunks gave a sense of dimension. Flowers and shrubs came next, and then leaves. Leaves were mostly adhered using a fusible web rather than glue, but either would do.

At home I added a border and did the quilting. This was my first “collage” quilt and I’m very happy with the result, and with what I learned. The part that makes me less happy (and I know this wouldn’t bother many people) is that it doesn’t feel like my quilt. I can’t display it because I didn’t design it, and likewise it’s hard to give as a gift. Maybe that’s just weird of me to feel this way… But maybe because of that, I like the back that shows the quilting as much as the front.

The gallery below shows a squared-off photo. Click either image to see bigger and with right proportions.

Toby Lischko
Toby Lischko specializes in using mirrors to create fabric design symmetry, and in curved piecing, especially in New York Beauty blocks. My guild was treated to the first topic for an evening presentation, and to the second topic in Toby’s workshop.

Using her method and rulers, curved piecing was a snap. I honestly was surprised at how easily and well my blocks turned out. In class I made two quarter-circles; at home I made the other two and set them in a background of orange Grunge.

I added corners in purple and designed the Lone Star-style star point. I need to take the star point apart and rebuild it so my seam allowances and sizing are better. This is a low-priority project so will carry into next year.

I am very fortunate to have opportunities like this. My guild has some great things planned for the coming few months, too, and I look forward to them, too.

Day 15 100daygreenmanproject

As it turns out, not making is hard. I like to make, which is one of the reasons this 100 day project is important to me. MAKING sometimes gets in the way of ASKING “what if?” and TRYING something to find out. The 100 Day Project, for me, is about trying, and about asking. But making is very satisfying! I like the sense of product as much as I like the sense of process.

Last week on Day 7, I took a six-hour workshop and tried (see, TRYING!) working quickly and intensely, without time for hesitation. The technique was different for me, with gluing colorful scraps onto a background and then freely stitching them down. I haven’t done a lot of appliqué of any kind, and none of that before. I also used fusible web to appliqué a word.

Later that week, still infused with enthusiasm, I tried (TRYING!) designing a Claddagh ring emblem. I used fusible web for it, as well. There are other things I will try on it, including weaving leaves around the ring and machine stitching the appliqué down. However, I ran out of fusible, and I had no stabilizer.

Our local JoAnn Fabric store is moving and the current location is in liquidation. The store is quickly emptying and they were out of the products I need. The only other local places to buy these supplies are a Hobby Lobby (I don’t shop there) and a WalMart (rarely shop there, either.) Instead, I ordered the items online, along with new pins (Dritz Super-Fine Sharp pins!) and machine needles. It will be a few days until they show up.


The Green Man project has been in slow-mo for the last week, but he hasn’t been abandoned. I reviewed my fabrics and found them wanting. A trip to the best shop around here for what I want will wait a few more days. I pulled out all my books on story quilts so I can page through them. I spend a lot of time thinking about him.

However, not making is hard. Sunday I decided to make.

Do you have orphan blocks? Orphan blocks are single blocks (or occasionally sets of them) from projects that have been abandoned. Sometimes they are test blocks, used to try out a technique or pattern. You might create an orphan block by signing up for a block-of-the-month and then deciding not to continue. Or maybe you made one great block out of twelve for a block quilt, but you found you didn’t enjoy the process.

I don’t have a lot of orphans but I’ll admit to a few. (And no, I don’t count single blocks as UFOs. They are not projects. They are just another resource like other kinds of fabric. There is no shame attached to them.) One of them came from a workshop I took about a year ago. The workshop was to learn to create a particular pieced block. (I won’t do that again. For me, workshops can be valuable for learning how to do something new, or practice techniques or skills, not for learning to create a particular teacher’s pattern with traditional piecing.)

Ahem… One of my few orphans was from that workshop. I liked it — bright, colorful, strong contrast, you know, all the characteristics I like. But I was not about to make more.

Sunday morning I pulled fabrics to make that orphan into a medallion quilt top. The block is the center within the narrow red-line border.

Fiesta! Unquilted top. Approximately 62″ x 62″. April 17, 2018.

This was easy and quick. I finished the top a whole 48 hours after starting. There was almost no math involved. (See my post on setting a block on point.) ANYONE can do this type of medallion. No, it’s not my most spectacular, but it’s gonna be a heckuva lap quilt for someone.

The piano keys border was cut from scraps. I cut them widths between 1.5″ and 2″, depending on what the scrap could give me. I cut them to 5″ long, or left them in long segments if they were long enough, to be trimmed up later. When I finished assembling the sides of piano keys, I cut each border segment to 4.5″ wide, to finish at 4″. Trimming both sides of the border gave me an even edge to stitch.

The bright gold setting points happened partly because I had enough of that fabric. The other things I had didn’t suit, because they were too dull or just the wrong color. The green setting triangles and border were chosen for similar reason.

The great striped border? I bought a yard of that recently when I visited my sister.

It’s called Fiesta! It was fun to make. One of the reasons it was fun was because I didn’t hesitate on decisions. I used what I had and what worked. The construction was simple with hardly any piecing.

I have three yards of another green print to use on the back. It’s not enough, so I’ll use most of the rest of the top’s green to add a strip. And guess what! I have a length of binding from the same fabric that should be long enough to finish this. If it’s not, I’ll cobble together binding strip remnants of reds, blues, and greens.

And tomorrow I’ll start on the Green Man again. This time, I’ll work on a chicken. Yeah, that’s the lovely thing about how I defined my project: even a chicken counts. 🙂

Self-Critique is Part of the Process

“You’re too hard on yourself.”

“Quilters are famous for pointing out the flaws.”

I’ve heard both of these many times. I heard both these ideas yesterday in comments, when I posted about a recent finish. If you don’t think about it, they sound like the same thing, that pointing out flaws is the same as being hard on myself. That pointing out flaws is an unnecessary burden on my self-esteem, reinforcing bad thoughts about myself.

It’s not.

While it’s possible that quilters are famous for pointing out flaws, there can be more than one reason we do so. Perhaps it happens when someone is uncomfortable with praise, and seeks to minimize it (and herself) by criticizing her work. Perhaps it happens when someone is seeking praise, hoping that by pointing out problems, a chorus will arise denying it.

But for me, pointing out flaws is neither of those. For me, self-critique isn’t about you (or what you think of me or my quilts.) And it isn’t about me (and how good or not good of a person I am.) It’s about the work. It’s part of the process of working. It’s how I improve in what I do and how I think.

I’m not a perfectionist. My piecing is pretty good, generally, but there are too many variables that aren’t controllable to think I can “perfect” it. Starch has its place, but I won’t soak my fabrics in starch, as some people do, trying to deny fabric one of its most important characteristics: plasticity. The ability of fabric to stretch and ease is part of what makes it pleasing as a medium. Otherwise I might as well cut and paste paper into designs. And often, once a piece is quilted, small errors fade into the texture of the quilt, becoming nearly invisible. Even so, there will always be ways to improve my piecing, and I try to move in that direction.

Quilting, stitching those three layers together? I can do a serviceable job. But I have no expertise and probably never will.

My focus is on design. For me, piecing and quilting are always in service of the design. And to improve at designing, as at anything else, I need to practice. “Practice” is not simply doing something over and over. After all, doing the same wrong something over and over simply entrenches bad habits.

To practice with improvement, I need evaluation of my designs. And to evaluate them, I need to understand the characteristics that can lead to a pleasing composition.

We call those characteristics “design elements and principles.” In quilting, the elements are the tools of design, such as color, value, shape, pattern, and line. The tools are used to create the viewer’s experience, such as unity, movement, repetition, balance, and proportion. These are the principles.

As I learned more about the principles and elements, my designs became stronger. Coincidence? Perhaps. But along with learning about those factors, I also started to assess how successfully I’d applied them. What do I see? Why does it seem static, or too chaotic? The balance seems wrong; what happened, and how could it have been better? That color seems out of place; the value contrast could have been stronger here. Ooh, I really like the way this element echoes that one…

Self-critique, assessment, evaluation. Whatever you want to call it, describing — for myself — my design successes and failures, taught me to apply those design components.

When I point out the same positives and negatives of my designs to you, it is not so you will either confirm or deny my view. (Of course if you have opinions to share, I welcome them.) My hope is that what I’m learning will be of service to you, too.

My goal is not perfection. There will always be varying levels of success and failure within any quilt I make. My goal is to learn and to become more powerful in my art.

Self-critique is part of my work process, and part of my learning process. As I learn to see more clearly, I don’t learn to succeed. I learn to fail better.

Sewing with My Granddaughter

Those of us who quilt, or enjoy any hobby, know the joy of passing it on to others. Since I made my first quilt almost ten years ago, I’ve wrangled one sister into it, and she’s passed it on to others. I’ve also tried to inspire and help many more. Yesterday I had the pleasure of working with my granddaughter —  the very one for whom I made the first quilt!

She and I had talked about a project, a quilt for her little brother. They are farm kids and John Deere is a big part of their lives. The barn and shed are filled with equipment, implements far larger than their great-grandpa could have imagined. She thought her brother would like a John Deere quilt. What do you think?

After we talked, I found fabric online with John Deere logos. It wasn’t obvious from the description that the fabric was printed panels, not simply designed yardage. I bought “3”, which turned out to be a length of three panels, rather than three yards.

Yesterday we finally had a chance to work together on a design for a quilt. She agreed that she’d be happy to use one panel whole, and add to the bottom. I think we’ll probably add to the top, too. Because she is new to sewing, this will give us a pretty good shot at a completed project she’ll be happy with.

Before we started I showed her all the medallion quilts I’m working on. She really focused on the design issues while I explained some of the problems I had and how I fixed them (or plan to.) So when similar issues came up for her plan, she understood quickly how to deal with them.

Using one panel allows us to cannibalize the other two for tractor parts. 🙂 After we talked through a plan, I cut pieces from one of the panels and we discussed how they would connect to each other. She watched while I used the rotary cutter to square pieces. And she listened carefully when I showed her the quarter-inch presser foot, and how she can use the little guide to sew her pieces together.

I was really impressed with her concentration. We spent almost four hours designing, pressing, cutting, and sewing. She did all the sewing, while I handled cutting and ironing. One thing she was clear about was using a diamond-in-a-square block.

I showed her how it can be designed with only one square in the center, or with two. She definitely wanted two. She picked the blue plaid to help bring the blues back into the border. The funny yellow chicks print is one I used in her bed quilt, too.

She did all the assembly of the bottom border as it is so far. You can see the selvage edge at the bottom of the printed panel. Everything below that is made from parts she sewed.

To finish, we’ll figure out how much more needs to be added on to the border section, and then edge it with the tractor border that surrounds the panel above. And we’ll need to talk about whether to add anything at the top of the quilt, too.

I wish I had a picture of her concentrating so hard at my machine. She did a great job, both with paying attention and with her sewing.