Simple Vs. Complex

 Which type of quilt do you like to make the most – a simple quilt or a complex quilt?  Or does the choice depend on the timing, the fabric, and your mood?  What I’d like to discuss with this blog is both types of quilts and why it’s important as a quilter that to embrace both types. 

While I like both types of quilts, I do tend to favor complex quilts more than simple ones.  I embrace the challenge of harder quilt patterns.  It stretches me as a quilt artist, and I like the feeling of accomplishment I get when I put that last stitch in the binding and can stand back and look at what I did.  However, a steady output of complex quilts is just as bad as ongoing production of simple quilts once you’re past the beginner quilting stage.  With this blog, I want us to examine why it’s important to have both types of quilts in your quilting pattern stash, as well as why it’s vital to have a pattern stash as well as a fabric stash.

Simple quilt patterns are wonderful things for every quilter to have tucked back in their files.  If a quilt is needed for a charity cause or a quick gift, those patterns are invaluable.  You can pull them out, cut your fabric, sew them up, and quilt them in a couple of weeks or less.  Clearly these quilts are made for use and not for show (not that they shouldn’t be attractive – they’re just not show-bound), so the color way will carry the quilt.  I have three quilt patterns I consistently use for baby quilts and five I use for charity quilts.  I’ve used these patterns so often I don’t have to think too hard when I’m cutting them out or sewing the tops.  I’ve just about memorized how much fabric I need for each, so I can quickly shop my stash and then get down to business.  These are great patterns.

However, complex patterns have taught me a few things these simple quilt patterns have not.  Complex quilts have taught me you can make assemble a quilt easier by breaking it into units or steps.  Simple quilt patterns obviously do this, too, but a difficult quilt pattern really teaches you the value of the process.  If a pattern calls for cutting out 180 squares that are 2 ½-inches, you quickly learn it’s easier not only to figure you how many 2 ½-inch x 44-inch strips to cut from the fabric, it’s also best to cut them all out at once.  If the directions call for 80 flying geese units, find a Netflix show to binge watch and sew those all suckers up.  And if it calls for 20 quilt blocks that must true-up to 10 ½-inches unfinished, you learn to do that as you go along and not wait until the end.  All of these practices – and more – I’ve learned from the harder quilt patterns, not the easier ones. 

Complex quilts have taught me the importance of organization.  Harder quilt patterns have a lot going on all at once.  I’ve learned to bag and tag units and blocks clearly and keep them together so they’re within easy reach when needed.  I have also learned one other tiny detail that’s sometimes really helpful with a quilt with lots of different units – often the stitching process can be made easier if I can use fabrics that have a definite right and wrong side.  This will ensure that parallelograms are turned the right way and I won’t have to rip them out. 

Judy Neimeyer Pattern

This next concept that I’ve learned sounds contrary to the way most folks understand things, but I’ll own the fact that I learn differently.  As my regular readers know, I’ve written several blogs about paper piecing, when I use it, and how much I appreciate its accuracy.  I began quilting in 1986.  I was introduced to paper piecing then and hated it.  It wasn’t until 2010 that I learned how to properly paper piece and my love affair with it began.  And it was through a Judy Niemeyer quilt pattern – a pattern designer who is not necessarily known for her easy quilts.  However, the way that Judy explains paper piecing, how to cut the fabrics, label and bag, and then actually do the process was one of those “light bulb” moments in my quilting life.  So sometimes the harder quilt patterns can clarify techniques you are struggling with.

But I also don’t want to sound as if I’m slamming simple quilts, either. There is great beauty in simplicity when technique is executed well. If you’re struggling with a particular technique and can find an easy quilt pattern that highlights it, oftentimes you can get a good grip on the skill by making the simple quilt. However, aside from that, there is one other very important thing I love about an easy quilt pattern:

It’s wonderful therapy.

I quilt for a lot of reasons, but one of those reasons happens to be it’s a big stress reliever for me.  During the difficult times in my life, having something simple to sew and quilt calms my soul and spirit.  While I’m dealing with whatever problem has crossed my path, I don’t want or need anything else complex.  I need something that allows my hands to be busy and my mind to be free to think over the situation.  It’s often through these simple quilts that I find my greatest peace of mind (because they’re so easy and I’ve made them so often I can pray through the construction process), and I feel productive – because when I’m through I have a quilt to give away.

In closing, I think it’s important to have both simple and complex quilt patterns in your files.  You never know when life will throw you a curve and you’ll need a quick quilt, and you’ll never know just how far you can stretch yourself as a quilter unless you try out some hard quilts.  Have some of both tucked away.

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

3 replies on “Simple Vs. Complex”

I love the idea of having certain ‘favorite’ patterns set up and memorized. It eliminates the angst of trying to choose a pattern for a particular purpose. Thanks! BTW, what’s the name of the pattern that has the multi-color blocks and black border? I really like that!

Not only do simple quilts give peace, they can feed your soul by giving you a feeling of accomplishment to actually finish something. Having a lot of unfinished projects waiting can add a lot of stress. Quilting is supposed to be something we enjoy!

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