Area 51…or Managing Your UFOs

There’s an area out in the Western United States that’s known for its…other-worldly happenings.  Little green men (or little gray men, if you’re an avid X-Files fan) supposedly have landed in Area 51.  You approach this desert area and Keep Out signs abound – primarily because it used to belong to the US Armed Forces.  Weird stuff, such as flying saucers, are everyday experiences out there…supposedly.

However, I call bunk on this…not because Area 51 doesn’t exist…but because I know for a fact that my quilt studio closet is the home of a large number of UFOs.  Probably far more than NASA has called in by people that may have had one beer too many and spent too much time in the desert. 

And you must understand that when a quilter tosses out the term “UFO” it doesn’t mean Unidentified Flying Object.  It means Unfinished Object.  Most quilters have a closet full or at least a few.  I do myself. Why is this?  Why do we quilters, in general, have a difficult time completing one project before starting another?  Why do we have several projects we’re working on at the same time? 

I can’t say for certain, but I believe it’s primarily because quilters as a whole are a creative bunch and this creativity is the culprit.  We have a difficult time working on the same thing day after day.  We get bored.  One of the reasons I particularly adore Sampler-type quilts is that each block (or row or border) is different.  If there is one particular block (or row or border) I’m not particularly fond of, I know there’s something different waiting for me in just a few more stitches.  I can ride out the discomfort for a little while and be rewarded soon.  There is no boredom and creativity abounds.

However, I don’t think you can hang all those UFO’s on the creativity peg.  There are other reasons quilters don’t finish what they’ve started.

  • The project is a lot harder than what we thought it was.
  • We decided we didn’t like the fabrics we chose after all (or just got tired of them).
  • We got to a part of the quilt we don’t particularly like to do in any quilt, not just the one we’re working on right now.
  • We think we’ve made too many mistakes.
  • We misjudged, miscounted, mis-ordered, or mis-bought and now we don’t have enough fabric to finish the quilt and we can’t find anymore of what we need anywhere.
  • We simply got bored with the project. 

I’m sure there are even more reasons, but these six seem like a good place to start.  Let’s look at them one by one.

The project is a lot harder than I thought it was.  This is a big issue with beginning quilters and even some veterans like me run into this situation.  I’ve always been a big proponent of quilting classes for beginners.  These classes can break down the solutions to lots of quilting problems into easily managed chunks of knowledge.  However, if you’re working on a quilt at midnight on a Friday, that’s not a great time for a class, let alone calling or texting your teacher with a question about binding.  What I have found very helpful is to Google the name of the quilt pattern in question.  There may be blogs or YouTube videos on it.  Those are invaluable. 

If it’s not the pattern that’s giving you a hard time, but a quilting technique, you’re still in luck.  Google the issue that’s giving you issues…such as binding.  In a matter of seconds literally hundreds of blogs and videos pop up.  Find the one that looks like it suits your needs the best, point, click, and learn.  In my opinion, the internet is still the best tool today’s quilters have in their possession. 

Sometimes it’s not the pattern or a technique that’s the real problem.  Sometimes the methods employed are tedious or take too much time.  I ran into that problem a few years ago with Lucy Boston’s Patchwork of the Crosses.  The original Patchwork of the Crosses quilt is old, and like a lot of our treasured older quilts (think Dear Jane), it was experiencing a resurgence of popularity.  This heyday was at its height a could of years ago when a friend of mine purchased several kits while she was in Florida and brought them back to show us at one of our guild’s quilt bees.  Most of us immediately fell in love with it.  The fabrics were fussy cut and the resulting tiny blocks were simply gorgeous.    I signed up for the kits and began receiving two a month.  I dutifully made them, but after the tenth block, I knew Lucy and her Patchwork Crosses were not for me.  I love to fussy cut, but this fussy cutting was very, very exacting.  And it was English paper pieced – the entire thing.  All the background, every piece of every block…all English paper pieced.

It was too tedious and time-consuming, even for me – and I love hand work.  So, I had a choice.  I could either modify the pattern or…

Sell the whole thing.  By this time, I had about 30 kits.  When another friend mentioned she wished she had gotten in on the bottom floor of Lucy Boston, I made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.  I sold her everything – even the blocks I had so painstakingly made.

And I’ve never regretted it.  It wasn’t the fussy cutting that really got to me, it was the English paper piecing.  By this time, I had experienced the joy of Cindy Blackberg’s hand piecing stamps and English paper piecing drove me nuts.  Will I make a return to the Patchwork of the Crosses?  Probably.  It’s still on my Quilting Bucket List.  But this time I will use Cindy’s elongated tile stamp, chose my own fabrics, and it will be a much smaller quilt – not the 56 blocks the original quilt called for.

So, if you’re a veteran quilter and the project just becomes to difficult, you have some options – alter it, give it away, or post it on Ebay.  One quilter’s headache is another quilter’s treasure.  And let me assure you, there is no shame in that game.

We decided we didn’t like the fabrics we chose, or we just got tired of them.  Right now, let me encourage you to go with your gut with your fabrics.  If there is a certain line of fabrics that you always love (such as French General) or a certain type of fabric that makes you happy (like batiks), there is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking these fabrics out when you are designing your quilt.  The reason I’m telling you this is a personal experience I had about seven years ago.  A group of ladies I quilted with at Dragonfly Quilt Shop decided to make the quilt Hop to It! by Edyta Sitar.  It’s a wonderful quilt with vines and flowers and berries and this cute, little bunny in the center block.  I was pretty new to this group and let the leader influence me in the fabric selection.  Everyone in that group was using the same fabrics as the leader.  Instead of standing my ground and picking my own fabrics out, I let myself be influenced too much.  As a result, I made three or four blocks and set the thing aside.  As much as I wanted to make that pattern, after about six months, those fabrics got on my last nerve.  The book, my applique patterns, the fabric – everything – is in a large project box in the bottom of my closet with about six other project boxes on top of it.

Will I return to it?  Probably.  With those fabrics?  No.  More than likely they will go in my stash. 

Take my advice.  No matter how pretty the picture looks on the front of the pattern, if you don’t like the fabrics or the colors, you have the option to switch it up.  Make it something you will love or at least can live with for several months. 

We got to the part of the quilt we don’t like on any quilt, not just the one we’re working on right now.  As much as I love to quilt, there are a couple of steps I really have to push myself to get through. I dislike cutting out the quilt most of all.  That’s why I’ve disciplined myself to go ahead and cut my quilt pattern out as soon as I’ve purchased my fabric and prepped them.  This is a good idea for two reasons.  First, it gets the part I like the least over with first.  And I do mean I cut everything – borders (I cut these a little longer and then shorten when I square up my quilt), binding, backing, applique pieces, stems – everything.  If I do this now, then I don’t have to stop and return to the cutting table.  I can keep on sewing and am not tempted to put the thing back in a project box and put it out of sight.

At this point, I also may discover I haven’t purchased enough fabric, or I may mis-cut something and need more fabric.  By cutting the pattern out immediately after making my purchases, I’m pretty much assured that I can still get the additional fabric I need.  Three years later, I may not be so lucky.

The other area I struggle with is binding – the part when you sew it down to the back of the quilt by hand.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy the handwork, it’s just that I would rather be sewing on Big Red or Marilyn or even Loretta.  To get me through this part, I promise myself a large cup of my favorite latte at my favorite coffee shop when I’m done.  I try to find a good movie on Netflix and watch it as I’m hand sewing.  My favorite way to get through this is to take it to a Sit and Sew or Quilt Bee and do it there.  It’s amazing how great handwork can be when you’re chatting it up with friends.

In other words, I develop coping skills to get me through the part I dislike, always with the knowledge that the part of quilting I really enjoy  is just a few stitches away.  My coping mechanisms may not work for you, so search your soul and decide what will motivate you to work through the parts you don’t like and keep you from that project becoming a resident of area 51. 

We think we’ve made too many mistakes.  This can be a real kill-joy.  And a lot of quilters are guilty of this.  It’s easy to look at another quilter’s work and think “She/He is so much better than I am.  I could never to that – or at least do that as well as they did.  Their work is perfect.

No.  No, it’s not.  It can be really close to perfect – great, even – but not perfect.  No one’s quilting is perfect.  Ever.

Every quilt should be a learning experience.  If you come away from any quilt without learning at least a thing or two (even if it’s a little thing, such as this quilt needs three bobbins wound before I start sewing), then that quilting experience has failed you.  I always try to do my best (and I always encourage other quilters to do so, too), but I have never made a perfect quilt.  Every quilt of mine has mistakes in it, even the ones that have won ribbons.  My rule of thumb is this:  If I think I’ve messed up, I set that part aside for 24 to 48 hours and then come back to it.  If whatever the mistake is still bothers me after that, then I redo it.  If not, then to borrow a phrase from Frozen, I “Let it go…” 

My point is this:  If we redo everything we think we did wrong, we will never get anything done at all.  Finished is way better than perfect.  And perfection is a destination none of us will reach this side of Glory. Don’t let perceived mistakes stop you from finishing that project. 

We misjudged, miscounted, mis-ordered, or mis-bought and now we don’t have enough fabric to finish the quilt and we can’t find any more of what we need anywhereQuilters are no different than any other artist.  This happens to us all at one time or another – we run out of material or run short.  Usually this happens late on a Friday night when all the stores are closed and even Amazon Prime can’t promise us our fabric until…oh, maybe Tuesday.  The BEST way to avoid this situation is to do what I have suggested several times:  As soon as you’ve purchased and prepped your fabric (if you’re a pre-washer), go ahead and cut the quilt out.  That part will be over and done and if you’re running short or make a mistake, it can be quickly and easily rectified by another trip to the store or a quick point and click venture on the internet.

But….what if this didn’t happen?  What if, between the time you’ve purchased the fabric and started the quilt, several years go by (hey…life happens…this is a judgement free zone).  Or what if you simply purchased some eye-catching fabric several years ago and now it just works for the quilt you want to make.  In the first situation, a mistake could be made cutting the quilt out or there may be an error in the pattern.  In the second case, you had no idea how much fabric to purchase for the quilt to begin with – you just bought several yards because you liked it.  In either case, now you’re looking at a fabric shortage and it’s breaking your heart.

Don’t despair.  There are a couple of ways to overcome this obstacle.  The first one is the easiest:  Make the quilt smaller.  Instead of making a queen-sized quilt, make a throw, twin, or lap-sized quilt.  This down-sizing should take care of the fabric short shortage. 

However, if you still want to try to keep the quilt the size desired, and if the fabric is several years old, the first place I’d look is Ebay.  Ebay has saved my quilting sanity more times than once.  If it’s not there, try Facebook Marketplace.  And Facebook (I know…it’s a love/hate relationship with good, ol’  FB), has lots of quilting pages that will let you post what you’re searching for.  Most quilters have been in the same situation you’re in, and if they have it in their stash, they’ll either sell it to you at a reasonable price or give it you if you pay postage. 

Just don’t let a fabric shortage permanently derail your project.  There are options out there…work them.

We simply got bored with the project.  This one is a little more difficult to manage because what works to get me out of a boredom funk may not be effective for you.  I can tell you how I manage my quilting life, but again, this works for me.  You know yourself better than anyone and some of what I’m going to suggest may help you, none of it may work, or one or two ideas may be very effective. 

First, I’m not one of those quilters who can work on one and only one project from beginning to end.  I learned early on that I need a minimum of two projects going at one time to keep my interest – one that’s heavily handwork (so it’s portable and can be worked on while watching television) and one that’s primarily machine work (because I do love my machines).  The maximum number of quilts I’m happiest working on at the same time is three.  Currently, that is enough.  There is always another quilt I can turn to if I get bored with the one I’m working on.  Three is also not an overwhelming number to me.  Remember, quilting is not my vocation.  I work full time.  While some women have the wonderful opportunity to spend several hours a day up to their elbows in fabric and patterns, that is not where I am in my life right now.  Three is a comfortable number at this point, but that number may increase when I retire.  So, my suggestion is to have a couple of projects in progress at the same time, this way when you get bored with one you can turn to another.  Then return to the other quilt a bit later. Just don’t have so many in progress that you feel overwhelmed.

Second, I bribe myself.  Don’t judge.  It works.  If I get really stymied on a quilt, I promised myself a cup of my favorite latte or tea, a good piece of chocolate, or something else my little heart desires if I get to a certain point on the quilt pattern.  Often this act of progress is enough to push through the boredom and spur me on to the finish line.  You know what works for you…go with it.

The third thing I do – and this is a completely LAST resort – I put the thing in time out.  I put the quilt top, pattern, and everything else that I need for that quilt in a project box and put that box under my sewing machine table. Why there?  Because I will see it several times a week, and this reminds me that while that project and I are spending some quality time apart, we still need to get back together, and I need to finish it.  And this time apart is not a divorce, it’s a vacation.  I give myself a time limit – three weeks, a month – something reasonable.  I mark it on my calendar.  At the appointed date, I take it back out and resume the making the quilt.  Most of the time, this is all I need.  If not, then I seriously consider finding this project a new home. 

In closing, at this point, I could get really cutesy and trite.  I could tell you to avoid making your studio an alien destination like Area 51 full of UFOs.  But I won’t.  I will tell you this:  Every minute you make time to sew, even if it’s just a few stitches, hastens the end of a project.  It propels you towards the finished line and finished is better than perfect (just ask anyone who’s made a Dear Jane).  Learn how to work your project and what to do with yourself if you get into a funk and can’t seem to finish that project.  This is like a lot of things with quilting – and with life itself – trial and error are the names of the game.  Take the time to find out what works for you.

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


My Year in Quilts

It has been a long time since I’ve written a blog with lots of pictures of projects I’ve been working on.  I quilted a lot last year.  It was my therapy when everything seemed to be going south in my life.  Even a stitch or two, here and there, gave me a few minutes of clarity and peace.

My guild’s vice-president issued a challenge last year.  Matthew challenged us to make a mini-quilt each month, roughly 12 x 12-inches square, to reflect a theme that he would give us.  With some of these themes, he’d issue an additional challenge, such as use a technique you never have before, or use a certain color. 

I love a challenge, and even with everything going on in my life, I couldn’t say no.  I started out obeying the 12 x 12-inch standard; however,  pretty soon that became merely a suggestion and not a rule —  not only with me, but with a lot of my guild friends.  The mini quilts were never smaller. Many times they were bigger as the design would dictate.  By the end of 2018 they had became wall hangings.  I had a ton of fun and my binding game really improved as well as my domestic machine quilting.  I also worked out quite a few of these designs using my EQ8 software, so I also had the opportunity to get proficient on that.  All of the quilts I made are below, along with what I learned along the way.

February’s Quilt

Matthew announced the challenge in January, so our first mini-quilt was for February.  At this point, you can see that I stuck to the 12 x 12-inch size.  I paper pieced hearts for this this month and I learned that you really must pay attention when a design needs to be reversed.  This pattern is one I designed using the EQ8 software.

March’s Quilt

March’s challenge was to use green.  I’ve always thought that green and purple played well together, and I love my basket weave binding.  This little quilt was completely pieced. Now let me set that sentence in perspective.  Do you remember that blog I wrote about atrophied skills?  That warning came into full play at this point.  Prior to making this quilt I had paper pieced two huge quilts – The Farmer’s Wife and The Halo Medallion.  My piecing skills were sub-par of my expectations and standards.  What should have been a 12 x 12-inch quilt meandered out to 13-inches.  I am happy that my points all meet, but oy-vey.  At this point I began to push my piecing skills again.

April’s Quilt

For April I came up with a sweet Sunbonnet Sue block.  Sue has always been one of my favorite quilt characters.  The challenge for April was to use some kind of embellishment.  The applique on this block was raw edge and I used the machine applique stitch as part of the quilting process.  Since April showers were called for, I had Sue taking a stroll through the rain and I used crystals as the raindrops.  That fulfilled the embellishment part of the challenge. 

May’s Quilt

If April showers bring May flowers, then I did well with this block.  Of all the mini-quilts I made, I had the most fun with this one.  It came from a pattern in EQ8 that I modified slightly.  At this point, you can tell I was definitely straying from the 12 x 12-inch rule.  The background is pieced with blue batiks and the flowers were just a delight to applique.  Matthew asked us to use a technique we’ve never done before as part of May’s challenge.  When you’ve been quilting as long as I have, that in itself can be a challenge.  By now, I’ve tried almost everything I’ve wanted to undertake.  The stuff I haven’t done yet is generally techniques I simply don’t want to try.  However, I’ve always wanted to use painter’s tape as a guide for quilting and that’s what I did with this quilt.  Did I like this new-to-me technique?  Absolutely.  So much so that I now have blue painter’s tape in every width available.  Old quilters can be taught new tricks and they may even like them. 

June’s Quilt

For June, we were told that the block had to represent either a place we’ve been on vacation or want to go to get away from it all.  Of all the quilts I did in 2018, this represents me the most.  Anytime I go on vacation, I want the ocean, quilt shops, coffee shops, wine shops, friends, and family.  It doesn’t seem like a get-away unless all of these come into play.  I went narrow and long on this quilt and ended up putting thick books under my small quilt rack so that the thing would hand straight. 

July’s Quilt

July was red, white, and blue or anything patriotic.  Again, I turned to EQ8 (I had the most fun with that program this year) and came up with this.  The Applique Society used this as their cover quilt picture for July on their members-only Facebook page – and I was very honored.  I really enjoyed appliqueing the stars on this one. 

August’s Quilt

By August I was challenging myself in all kinds of ways.  I quilted the block in a crosshatch pattern before I appliqued it.  And again, I used the applique stitch as part of the quilting process.  The EQ8 program was once more used to design this sweet block.  There were tiny circles and paisleys and I employed the embroidery stitches on Big Red to make the tiniest circles on the butterfly and the watering can.  Up to this point, this has been the most challenging mini-quilt I had made in 2018. 

September’s Quilt

September was a bit of a tossup for me.  As a former high school chemistry teacher, September always meant lesson plans, school rooms, and labs.  At some sweet spot in my career, I received a paper piecing pattern that had the molecule for coffee in it.  I nearly made that but thought that only a few people would truly understand that quilt.  Instead I opted for apples.  This was made from a down-loadable pattern from Keepsake Quilting.  I’ve rarely use red in any quilt (except Christmas ones), but I gotta say, I’m in love with the red in these apples.  I think red will be showing up in more of my quilts.

October’s Quilt

There was no doubt that October meant Halloween and this little quilt was fun from start to finish.  The Jack O’ Lantern came from my EQ8 software.  I added a gray kitty for Sam and threw the whole thing on a purple background.  I quilted a spider web in the background and bound it with fabric that had candy corn on it.  I also used the same fabric for backing.  As soon as Meagan saw it, she claimed it.   I haven’t given it to her, but I will probably end up making two more – one for her and one for my son.

November’s Quilt

By November, I was itching to go big or go home.  Since the wall in my home’s entrance was could use a bit of updating, I decided to make a fall wall hanging.  This pattern came from The Big Book of Table Toppers published by The Patchwork Place (which is a really wonderful book to have in your library).  I cut the quilt out at home and took it with me to retreat to finish.  I appliqued it by hand using the Apliquick method and began quilting it at retreat on Big Red.  

December could have meant so many things.  I love a good old-fashioned looking Santa.  I love stockings and candy canes and presents. I love going home and spending time with my family.  I love get togethers with my friends that have become like family.  But the Heart of Christmas means the most.  I wanted to do something different.  At some point in time I saw a quilt with a similar block in it.  I cannot remember the designer (if you know, please tell me so I can give him or her credit), but I love the block.  To me it means you can have all the traditions you want, as long as you know the real meaning of the season.  Everything else pales in comparison to the Baby in the Manger.

The last quilt was for January.  I decided I wanted to go with a snow theme and found this wonderful pattern in Fons and Porter’s Our Best Seasonal Quilts.  The applique on this thing is outrageous.  Remember cutting out paper snowflakes in grade school?  This is very similar and allllllll those tiny spaces that show white through the snowflake alllllll had to be cut out.  And then stitched around.  It was challenging, but fun.  I quilted it with Superior Threads Metallics #31.  It gave the top a sparkle but didn’t give it too much “bling” factor.  I did alter the pattern and omitted the mitered border, so I could make the quilt bigger than the pattern called for. 

There you go… my year in stitches.  I learned so much.  I got the chance to push myself creatively as a quilter and it opened up my mind to new ideas I had never entertained before.  It was fun and challenging.  And that’s what a good challenge should be.  If you’ve never participated in a quilt challenge, there’s all kinds of ones out there on quilt sites, in magazines, and of course in conjunction with a local guild.  I encourage you to try one or three.  They can teach you so much about quilting and yourself.

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


The Dumbing Down of Quilting

I am talking this week about a topic I feel verypassionate about. 


If you are a sensitive person, this blog is probably notfor you.

If you think consistent seam allowances are merely asuggestion, this blog is not for you.

If you think turning out quilts en mass is the best thing since sliced bread, this blog isdefinitely not for you.

If you think that good technique is optional, then do meand you both a favor and just stop reading right now.

And if you think just anybody can turn out a great quiltpattern…you’re delusional.

The topic I would like to discuss is this:  The Dumbing Down of Quilting.  This is not a new idea.  Around 2011, when the Modern Quilt Movementwas getting its legs, this was a fairly hot topic floating around the quiltsites on the internet.  I kept quiet atthat time, still sifting the topic through two filters:  That of a quilter and that of a high schoolscience teacher.

See, as a teacher (of both science and quilting), I realized something – in order to get folks starteddown the path of success in either field, you couldn’t throw advanced topics atbeginners and expect them to grasp those immediately and be successful.  You had to start with the basics, emphasizethem until the student fully understands them, and then build on those precepts.  What I saw in the quilting arena was theopposite.  We had one group of moreexperienced quilters who were expecting a younger group of quilters to be justlike they were, perform just like they did, make quilts just like everyone elsedid, and be completely successful without much teaching.

And from the younger quilters I saw more attachment toblogs, the internet groups, Facebook groups, Instagram, and Pinterest than Idid actual personal contact with quilters who had been toiling at their art foryears and knew a few things that the latest, greatest quilt blogger didnot. 

There was a great deal of arrogance on the part of bothgroups.

In my mind, we more experienced quilters had to realizethat the new generation of quilters probably lacked two things that we took forgranted:  We had sewing classes in highschool (where I attended, those classes were mandatory), and we had mothers orother family members that sewed.  Wecould go to them with questions. The next generation lacked one or both ofthose factors. 

Thus, the Dumbing Down of Quilting began.

Allow me to explain my way of thinking about this topic.

Like all great wars (and I do consider this a battle), thejump to a full-fledged assault didn’t begin with just one issue or oneaction.  As the Arts and Crafts movementbegin a resurgence in popularity, fabric designers saw an opportunity to cashin on the development.  This process ledto more lines of fabric, more attention to popular colors (such as the PantoneColor of the Year), as well as more internet sites from which to purchasematerial.  We were barraged with the newcolors and patterns.  This wasn’t a badthing.  Pretty fabric attracts new sewersand quilters.  Fabric websites wereselling their goods a brisk clip – which unfortunately eventually led to thedemise of many LQSs. 

Along with the fabric came a new bunch of folks thatthought they could design patterns and instruct quilters.  If there’s that much fabric in the retailmarket, sewers and quilters had to have something to make with it, right?  So, enter new patterns designed by peoplewe’ve never heard from before.  Andthere’s two-pronged blame for this: The fabric producers and the publishingcompanies.  The fabric manufacturersneeded patterns that would highlight their material and the publishingcompanies needed to sell more patterns.

There is nothing in itself wrong with this.  This is what drives the retail market andconsumerism.  This is what keeps fabricand pattern production profitable and allows both fields to reinvest intechnology, employees, and better-quality goods.  This keeps material and patterns affordablefor the consumer.  The problem is, thatat least as far as some of the pattern production goes, it seems fact-checkingthe pattern went out the window.

Let me give you an example.  I hope that you have heard of the Mountain Mist Batting Company and their patterns (if not, stop right now and Google it). 

From 1929 until 1970, Mountain Mist Batting Company included a free pattern printed on the wrapper of their batting.  These patterns consisted of traditional pieced blocks or applique quilts.  The batting company had a group of quilters that worked with them, and each pattern was made several times by different women in this group in order to ensure the patterns were correct, clearly written, and easily understood.

If you understand the timeline of 1929, you realize thatthis was the beginning of The Great Depression. Paying these women was an added expense, but it was one that MountainMist surmised was necessary in order to keep their product not only sellingwell, but also to have return customers. And it was wildly successful – far beyond anything anyone expected.  Their quality product was both profitable andpopular.

Let’s take a look at today’s market.  It’s faster-paced than Mountain Mist ever wasat its zenith.  There are digitaldownload patterns as well as books and paper patterns.  The quilt pattern market is flooded by namesof designers we’ve never heard of before and some I hope to God never hear fromagain.


Many of their products are seriously lacking in clear instructions, correctness, and are difficult to understand.  I’ve experienced this on a personal basis.  Remember this quilt? 

Well, I am still working on it.  But the directions are horrible.  One of the first things I do when I begin anew pattern is to Google it and see if there are any blogs, YouTube videos, oranything else out there written by quilters who have made this particularpattern.  In this case, there was nothing.  That should have been my first hint and Ishould have backed off.  But I hadcommitted to the project with a couple of my quilting buddies. 

Now as I have lamented before, the book for this quilt iscrap.  There are few directions, lots ofline drawings, and a few helpful odd and ends, but that’s it.  Here’s what I think happened (I can’t proveit, but I think it’s a plausible theory). Mary Buvia made the quilt, never thinking that it would become a book orpattern.  She started the quilt as a wayto deal with her husband’s cancer.  Shemade the quilt, entered it in an AQS show and to her credit, she won aribbon.  And with this ribbon came thequestion:  What pattern did you use?  Well, it was her pattern.  It came fromher heart and her head…from her advanced knowledge and experience.  I bet she never imagined that AQS would askher to write a pattern for it and that pattern would become a book.

This is where I lay the blame at AQS’s feet.  They probably took Mary’s notes and goteverything in book form while the interest in the quilt was at itshighest.  I can say with more than a fair amount of certainty:

They never proofed the book for more than just grammaticaland spelling errors.

They never had anyone else construct that quilt in orderto make sure the directions were clear.

Because if they had, the book would be much, much betterthan it is. 

And from what I hear, this same issue is coming up in moreand more quilt patterns.  I have gottento the point that if I use a pattern, it’s from someone that has a track recordof producing really, really good patterns with real accuracy and really cleardirections.  I firmly believe that todaythe race is to get the pattern on the market at the same time as the fabric –not to quality-test it before it’s released to the quilting community.

In some ways, this factor (erroneous patterns) has led tothe second aspect of The Dumbing Down of Quilting:  Lack of attention, respect, and commitment onthe part of quilters.  They not onlyaccept these poorly designed quilt patterns without so much as a whimper, butthey have also sacrificed technique on the altar of speed.

Before everyone stops reading at this point, let meplainly state There Is Nothing Wrong With A Quick Quilt.  As a matter of fact, every quilter shouldhave two or three quick quilt patterns in their files for baby quilts, hospitalcomfort quilts, and surprise gifts.  Butthe steady diet of these has led (IMHO) to a dumbing down of the quilter

The act of quilting is a gift.  Not just to others, but to you.  Quilting works both sides of the brain – the theological, mathematical side and the artistic side.  It’s a gift to your mental state andemotions.  Difficult patterns andtechniques allow both sides of your brain to stretch and exercise.  It helps alertness and there is some medicaltalk about it preventing Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

However, this is not the only reason to execute goodtechnique or difficult patterns.  Let’sstart with technique.

When you began to quilt, what did you learnimmediately?  Most likely it was to keepa consistent ¼-inch seam allowance, be accurate in your cutting, and careful inyour stitching.  More technique camelater, after the basics were grasped. However, I feel that many times in today’s quilting world, with thelatest and greatest quilt patterns along with the latest and greatest quiltfabric, we’ve given up technique for cleverness.Let me explain.  Sometimes – many times –we admire a new quilt designer for her patterns and those patterns fly in theface of good, standard quilt technique. Points don’t match?  No bigdeal.  Blocks aren’t a consistentsize?  Don’t take them apart, just throwsome coping strips around them.  Appliqueis off-center?  No one will notice.  Top stitching is all wonky?  It doesn’t matter.  Your quilt top isn’t squared up?  Surely that will quilt out…

I am all for cleverness, dear readers.  If there’s a quick, accurate way to makehalf-square triangles, pinwheels, and do set-in seams, I am in line to learnhow – as long as it doesn’t sacrificeaccuracy and solid, quilting technique. I’ve seen too many times in recent years where quilters’ work has justbeen down-right sloppy.  Maybe this isthe look they were going for…maybe some of them just hadn’t been taught ortaken a class…but to continue to accept this as the “quilting norm” does asmuch harm for our art as a fire would roaring through the National QuiltMuseum.  It kills off what makes ourcraft unique and wonderful.  It erasespart of our history.

For awhile many “traditional” quilters tried to lay this lazinessnew phenomena on the backs of Modern Quilters. And in the beginning, since a lot of these new quilters were new toeverything – the sewing machine, quilt patterns, etc., – that could have heldsome truth.  But we’re at least ten yearsout from the Modern Quilt beginnings and that no longer rings true.  Sure, these quilts are many times simplerthan what a lot of my generation makes. However, there is nothing wrong with simple, especially when it’s executed well

Frankly, we have accepted poor designs without so much asa whimper and have also allowed ourselves to accept less than our best with ourwork.  And in the process the entire artof quilting is suffering what I consider to be a Dumbing Down. 

I’m fighting this battle hard.  Here’s what I’m doing, and I hope you willjoin me in the war.

  1.  If one of the less-than-stellar patterns fallsinto my hand, I contact the designer and let them know.  If it has errors, I let them know that,too.  Sometimes I get a response andsometimes I don’t.  But primarily, I letmy dollar do the talking.  If I use yourpattern, and your pattern is crap, I don’t buy from you again.  And I tell my quilting friends your patternstinks.
  2. Withevery quilt, I do try to keep the basic techniques as perfect as I can getthem.  No quilt is ever completelyperfect, but if I try as hard as I can with each quilt, pretty soon my quiltswill be as close to perfect as they can get. And I may catch a handful of show ribbons along the way.
  3. Irefuse to make the same quilt over and over again.  Part of quilting is learning.  And you can’t learn new things if you don’ttry new patterns.  Or try making your ownpatterns.  If you keep doing the samething over and over, you’re getting the same results.  I only make the same quilt twice if it canteach me new things.  Dear Jane is one ofthese quilts.  So is The HaloMedallion. 
  4. Ibelong to several Quilt Bees, groups, and a couple of Quilt Guilds.  These members are generally pretty seriousabout their quilting.  They are generouswith their knowledge, but they do not suffer fools lightly.  If your work is bad, they pull no punches.  They’ll tell you.  And then they offer suggestions on how to fixit. 

This topic has weighed heavily on my mind for a while nowand The Dumbing Down of the Quilt is the primary reason my 2018 blogs were so“teachy.”  I wanted quilters to have areference point – for the folks that are quilting today and the others who maytake it up five years from now.  Goodtechnique is part of our culture as quilters. We lose it, we’ve lost part of who we are.

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Quilt with Passion

I like having a theme for each year of quilting.  In 2017, we were Quilting Fearlessly, and in 2018 we were Quilting with Excellence.  Each of those themes were a deliberate choice on my part.  In 2017, I wanted everyone to realize that they had the power to change things up in their quilting – no one was holding them back but themselves.  In 2018, I had a strong desire to make sure that everyone – new quilters and experienced ones alike – had the basics down pat.  But for 2019, I want passion involved in everyone’s quilting.

There are a couple definitions of Passion.  When you Google the word Passion, the first meaning that comes up concerns the life of Christ and more specifically that concentrated time just prior to and during His death.  This is obviously not the definition we’re looking at.  It’s the second definition of passion that I want to emphasize this year:  an intense desire or enthusiasm for something.  Synonyms for passion are fervor, ardor, enthusiasm, eagerness, zeal, zealousness, vigor, fire, fieriness, energy, fervency, animation, spirit, spiritedness, and fanaticism. If you’ve hung with me for the past several years, you know that I am incredibly passionate about quilts, quilting, and quilters.  In the words of my husband, “She’d rather quilt than eat.” 

That’s true.  And I love a good meal.

I’ve always loved quilts.  From the minute my mother gave me my great-grandmother’s quilt, as corny as it may sound, that quilt whispered something to me. “I have a history,” it said.  “And it involves your kin.  Your blood.” 

Great Grandma Perry’s Quilt, affectionately known to me as “The Quilt that Started it All.”

So, I set out to learn as much as I could about the fabric in the quilt and then about the maker.  I can’t describe how excited I was as my mother would point to certain patches and tell me, “That was from one of my grandpa’s shirts,” and “That was from one of my grandma’s dresses.” Those feed sack remnants quilted with heavy cotton thread on top of a castoff Fieldcrest blanket sang a song that completely bewitched me.  In return, I learned as much as I could about the quilter.

Annie Elizabeth Wolfe Perry

Annie Elizabeth Wolfe was born August 4, 1890 in Virginia.  Her father was Marcelle (Sell) Wolfe and her mother was Susan Buskell.  She had four sisters, three brothers and two half-brothers.  She married my great-grandpa, Felix Gather Perry on May 13, 1908 in Johnson County, Virginia.  By 1910, they were living in Leaksville – which used to be a small town in Rockingham County, North Carolina.  Years later it was swallowed up by Eden.  Her husband died in 1958.  She had four daughters and three or four sons.  My grandmother, Cora Perry Forbes, was her third daughter.  Annie passed away on October 21, 1971 from pneumonia at Annie Penn Hospital. She was 81.  She’s buried in Roselawn Memorial Garden Cemetery in Rockingham County.

And between birth and death, she quilted. 

Since the time of gifting of her quilt to me and now, I’ve had the extra-ordinarily wonderful opportunity to meet so many quilters and see so many of their quilts. When I started researching the quilts and their makers, I had only the intention of making one or two quilts.  But as I talked with quilters, their passion for the craft rubbed off on me.  While a great deal of my passion for the art still revolves around quilters and their quilts, most of my excitement now is making my own quilts that, hopefully at some point in the future, will tell their own stories to my children and grandchildren.

What drives your passion for quilting?  Is it a certain type of pattern?  Fabric acquisition?  A color?  Or the euphoria that comes from making something with your own hands?  Is it the creativity of the art?  Is it the fellowship with other quilters?  Or is it a combination of several of those and some I haven’t mentioned?  There is probably as many reasons for loving the craft as there are quilters.  This is what I want us to focus on in 2019 – what puts our own personal zeal behind the art of quilting. 

I enjoy most steps of the process.  The one I like least is cutting the quilt out. After that, I’m good with most everything else.  That’s why I cut everything out at once when I start a new top.  That way I don’t have to go back and re-visit the cutting table!  I can just keep stitching.  What I enjoy the most is changing up a pattern to suit my tastes and needs.  Take this quilt:

Winter on the Ohio

This quilt is from Our Best Seasonal Quilts.  These are quilt patterns that have been published in Fons and Porter Magazine.  The name of this little beauty is Winter on the Ohio.  The original quilt measures 21 x 21-inches.  And that cute, mitered blue border?  That was mitered off the quilt top and appliqued on

Who came up with that nonsense?  If you’re constructing the mitered border off the quilt and then appliqueing it down by either hand or machine, you’re dealing with some serious bias.  So, I began playing with the pattern.  There were some important factors involved.

  1.  I really liked my November wall hanging.  It was a nice change. The same pictures had hung in this spot for several years, and it was time for something different. 
  •  As a result, I decided that I wanted to do a winter wall hanging that could stay up until March.  The size of the original quilt was a bit small for my entry way.  To make the quilt bigger, I sewed the original 5-inch borders the pattern called for to the edges of the background instead of the insanity of mitering them and appliqueing them on the white fabric.  This increased the quilt size by 10 inches, a size much more suitable for a wall hanging. 
  •  Notice the little, curly white pieces around the blue border.  These are cut separately and appliqued down.  Of course, there is a pattern for these in the book, but it is for the original quilt size of 21 x 21-inches.  Since my quilt now measures 31 x 31-inches, I knew I would have to play with the pattern – make it a little bigger and a little longer.  It didn’t help matters that my quilt’s dimensions are prime numbers.  Prime numbers!  What was I thinking!  However, I did the math just right, and pulled it off without too many mishaps.  I also had to reverse part of the pattern to pull off the corners just right.

Did it take more time than I thought it would?  Absolutely.

Am I glad I did it anyway?  Absolutely.  I love it.  I took a pattern, changed it to suit me, didn’t sacrifice any of the basics, and made that quilt mine.  Although a bit difficult to execute, my heart and mind soared through the process and I found myself a bit disappointed when it was done. 

That is the feeling I am pushing for this year.  I want that feeling of soaring and loving what you’re doing with your quilts to dominate this year.  In a world where we are constantly barraged with negativity, this should be the area where your heart and soul takes flight. 

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Good-bye and Good Riddance 2018

It’s now 2019.

Normally, it’s at this point I give my annual “State of the Quilt” address and discuss my predictions from last year – how many came true and which ones didn’t – as well as make my predictions for the New Year.  And I’m going to do that…but then I want to talk about the State of the Quilter … and that quilter being me.

Last year, this is what I predicted:

  1.  That younger group of quilters will make their voices heard.  I was right about that one.  At the end of 2017, I wrote about the second largest group of quilters – the ones 45 years-old and younger.  I see more and more modern quilt patterns and more local modern quilt guilds.  At the last local quilt show I attended, this Modern Quilt Group had a large display section all to themselves.  I am incredibly thankful to be right about this.  And what thrills me even more is that the “traditional” quilters were right there, mingling with the “newbies” and swapping quilt patterns and tips.   Keep it going folks.  Pass the art along to the next generation.
  2. More on-line classes will be available for quilters of all levels.  Definitely right on this one.  Have you looked at what Craftsy or The Quilt Show is offering?  Oh.  My.  There is something for everyone at every level and every interest.
  3. I see a new group of quilt teachers.  I haven’t seen this yet.  I’m still seeing the same names (not that there is anything wrong with this).  I’m waiting on the next rising star to make herself or himself known.
  4. Quilting is not a dying art.  It’s not.  Numbers may have fallen off a tad this past year (I’m still waiting on the latest numbers and will let you know), but it’s still vital and growing and strong.  The number of attendees at quilt shows is pretty stable as are the number of local guild members. 

So, what are my predictions for 2019? 

  1.  I think there will be a return to traditional quilting.  By this I mean I think we will see a resurgence in hand quilting and hand piecing, a renewed interest in significant historical quilts, and a return to traditional quilt blocks.
  2. More acceptance of embroidery machines as part of the quilting landscape.  Believe it or not, this is a hot-button issue among quilters and administrators of quilt shows.  Embroidery machines are pre-programed and all you do is switch out thread.  The real art involved is developing the programs and making quilts out of the embroidered pieces.  However, just as machine-quilted quilts were once thought of as “not real quilts because they weren’t hand quilted,” I see the stance against machine embroidery work softening.  Why?  Because so many of us have and enjoy these machines.
  3. The layout of fabric stores and quilt shops will change.  Because there are more and more younger quilters, retail and on-line establishments will have to change in order to remain viable.  This means different fabrics and machines available to rent by the hour.  Call it a “try-it-before-you-buy-it” mentality or simply tuning into the fact that this new generation of quilters doesn’t want to own several machines, but more retail dealers will not only offer machines to rent, but spaces to cut out patterns and meet with quilters.  This is awesome…especially if there is coffee thrown in that mix.

This is where I think quilting is heading, but I promised earlier that this blog is more about the State of the Quilter (and that quilter being me) than the State of the Quilt.  Let me be blunt:  2018 was absolutely the worst year of my life and I am more than happy to see it leave.

To recap:  1.  My daughter was diagnosed with cervical cancer.

                2.  My mother’s anemia and internal bleeding re-occurred.       

                3.  My brother – my only sibling – was diagnosed with MGUR.  This is a funky extra protein found in the blood that could bode for serious illness in the future.

There were days I dreaded answering my phone because I simply could not take another phone call where something else – anything else, large or small – was going wrong. I worried all the time.  I felt as if I was perpetually on a set of monkey bars – swinging from one emotional bar to another every day. If I didn’t “crash” at any point, I was having a good day.  I’d take a shower just to go somewhere and cry, so no one would know how stressed I was. 

It. Was. Awful.

But let me also tell you something else…I have discovered that God’s grace and His mercy are indeed new every morning.  I have re-discovered the power of prayer.  I know first hand His love.

The first part of 2018 was the worst.  Meagan’s surgery was successful, but she was re-hospitalized twice.  One of those times I thought I was going to lose her.  This mother’s heart broke for my daughter.  My mother’s hemoglobin level plummeted.  And through follow-up tests for vertigo, my brother discovered this protein in his blood.  It was a scary, scary time.   I prayed as I’ve never prayed before and through this, I learned that His presence was real and His care unmeasurable. 

I’ve also learned to thank God daily for modern technology.  While any or all of these medical issues could have been tragic as few as 10 years ago, today they are not.  As of this blog, my daughter is cancer-free.  She is still undergoing Pap Smears every three months and will for the next two years.  A new gastrointestinal specialist tested my mother for a stomach bacterium that came back positive.  This may have been the issue all along.  And it’s one easily treated with antibiotics.  My brother’s protein levels have remained consistent and he’s under the watchful eye of a specialist.  He has his blood tested every three months so that if the protein does spike, the doctors can catch it early.  I pray for each of them daily…and thank God for Wake Forest Baptist Hospital and Duke Medical Centers. 

I’ve learned a great deal this year…about Him and about myself.  I can struggle through difficult times, or just keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep moving.  I can collapse under the weight of hard times or trust God to keep me upright (and sometimes carry me). 

Still…. I was more than ready to kiss 2018 good-bye and tell it good riddance.

My blogs this year are going to reflect some of what I’ve learned and some of what I hope you learned from reading my highly instructional columns from last year.  And because this year will be more personal, and I will tell you how quilting kept me sane more days than not, I have decided that our theme for 2019 will be Quilt with Passion.

So there…that’s where I’m at…

Until next week…Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam