I belong to several quilt groups, and one of these bees meets every Tuesday night, nearly without fail. This group is the continuation of the Tuesday night Sit and Sew which met at Dragonfly Quilt Shop when it was open. I love this group of women. They can be brutally honest when you need them to be and unfailingly supportive when you need that. This is also a great discussion group about everything from soup to nuts and of course, quilts. The topic was raised a few weeks ago about “What Makes a True Quilter.” One member of the group stated that she had heard you couldn’t call yourself a “True Quilter” unless you had made a Dear Jane quilt, Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt, and a Cathedral Windows quilt.
This hit me kind of hard – I’ve made a Dear Jane (and am now gathering fabrics for my second one) and am in the middle of a Grandmother’s Flower Garden (by hand, may I add). A Cathedral Windows Quilt is nowhere on my horizon. But I consider myself a true quilter. So, after much thought, to borrow a phrase from MASH’s Colonel Sherman Potter:
Making one, two, or all three of these quilts has nothing to do with me or anyone else titling themselves a “True Quilter.” What does this even mean? Does it mean you quilt eight hours a day? Does it mean you only make challenging quilts? Does it mean you quilt most of your quilts by hand? Could someone….anyone… out there give a definitive answer on what it means to be a “True Quilter?”
Chances are there, if I waited long enough, I’d get as many different answers as there are quilters. I do understand the reasoning behind the statement that any quilter who makes these three particular quilts has reached a certain level of proficiency that should be admired. Those quilts – the Dear Jane, Grandmother’s Flower Garden, and Cathedral Window – require a fairly advanced set of sewing skills. Yes, there are patterns out there that have certainly “dumbed down” these quilts, but if sewn from the original designs, these quilts are on the difficult end of quilt construction. To reach this proficiency level, you either A) Are extremely talented or (more than likely) B) You’ve quilted a long time and have acquired a certain skill set. There is also significant handwork involved with these quilts. Dear Jane can be machine sewn, but there is applique and embroidery involved that should be done by hand. Grandmother’s Flower Garden is hexagon after hexagon and was originally designed to be hand-sewn. I’m hand-piecing mine. I’ve seen GFG’s done by machine, but they’re not nearly as lovely or accurate as the ones done by hand. Cathedral Windows is a toss-up. I’ve seen lovely ones done completely by hand and equally beautiful ones done on machine. And if you want to get really down and dirty, Cathedral Windows isn’t a “true quilt” anymore than it makes a quilter a “true quilter” – it has no middle layer. That’s right. Not one scrap of middle filler is involved and a quilt – by definition – has a top, middle, and back.
Besides the skill level and handwork involved, the other reason construction of a Dear Jane, Cathedral Window, and a Grandmother’s Flower Garden seems particularly important is the amount of patience each of them requires.
None of these quilts are weekend projects that could be started on a Friday night and be completed by Sunday bedtime. These are project that need months – if not years – of steady commitment. If a quilter can start and finish at least one of these quilts, it is a great achievement.
So, when we consider the skill level, handwork, and patience involved with these three quilts, it’s easy to see why some quilters believe those are the ticket to True Quilterhood. However….let’s back off from these and reconsider that thought. There are other quilt patterns that involve the same level of skill sets these quilts have. What about Sue Garman’s Halo Medallion? Or the Caswell Quilt? Or Patchwork of the Crosses? Would anyone out there call these quilts particularly easy? I don’t think so. These quilts involve time, advanced skills, and patience.
I don’t think anyone can absolutely define what a True Quilter is. I think it varies from quilter to quilter. I do think that there are certain characteristics that “True Quilters” (whatever that is) have.
We know it’s not just a hobby
Yes, it relieves stress and help us relax. But it’s more than that. Our sewing area is our happy place, filled with colorful chaos and creativity. If we choose to make quilts for different organizations that need them, it’s a hobby that helps us give back to our community. It’s a way for us to give a tangible gift to someone we love — a gift that is imbued with our prayers and thoughts. It’s a place where we feel okay by ourselves or with a community of like-minded crafters. It’s somewhere we know we can have a few minutes of fun at the end of a trying day. Sometimes knowing I can go home and quilt is the only thing that gets me through my day.
We always strive to do our best work
I have mixed feelings about the word “strive.” It sounds almost like a battle front – that the work is difficult and we’re exhausting ourselves just trying to get it done. But it’s the best word for this characteristic. Quilting certainly isn’t a battlefield at all. It’s something we enjoy. However, most quilters I know put their best effort into every quilt they make. Our quilts are never perfect, but we work hard to get them as close to it as we can. Many times this propensity carries over into other areas of our lives, and this cannot be a bad thing.
We want to learn new skills
The quilters I hang around with love learning new things. Whether it’s a different way to use a ruler or a new quilting method or a class that teaches different skills – we’re all in. And this is a good thing in so many, many ways. The American Medical Association has told us that as we age, it’s just as important to keep our brains active as it is our body. Learning new quilting skills not only keeps our brains churning, it also works both halves of our brain – the mathematical, logical side and the creative, word-driven side. And this can ward off dementia and Alzheimer’s.
We want to learn how to make our acquired skills even better
Most of the time quilters won’t settle for mediocrity. Whether it’s color choice or technique, we want to do it better. We’re always looking for ways to make a better four-patch or pinwheel. We want to make our hand quilting stitches smaller and our applique stitches invisible. True quilters, in my opinion, won’t settle for the status quo. We want to take what we know and push it one step closer to perfection.
In closing, let me add that part of this year’s theme of “Level Up” will take some of the basic concepts and push them just a little closer to perfect. And some blogs will introduce techniques that you may not have heard of before or have heard of, but never tried. I hope this series will encourage you to hone your skills and enthusiasm just a bit more. However, let me also caution all quilters, everywhere:
- Don’t judge yourself or other quilters. This is so easy to do. I quilt with some outstanding quilters. It’s so easy for me to compare my work to theirs and condemn myself for coming up short. And it’s just as easy to look at another quilter’s work and think about what you would have done differently or how you could have done better. Don’t. Go. There. Just don’t. As I said in the first blog of this series, this is about your quilt journey – not anyone else’s. Celebrate the variety in quilts and quilters. Celebrate another quilter’s journey, but embrace your own. You may never make any of the three quilts we’ve talked about in this blog, but you know what? That’s okay. They may never be part of your quilting journey. And the fact that they’re not does not in any way take away anything from the quilts you’re making.
- If you’re learning more, and working to make each quilt better, then you’re a true quilter. Those three quilts – Grandmother’s Flower Garden, Cathedral Windows, and Dear Jane are just quilt patterns. Yes, they are difficult, but so are a lot of other quilt patterns out there. If you’re striving (there’s that word again) to make your quilts better and eagerly learn new concepts and techniques, don’t worry about what another quilter says. You’re in the True Quilter Fellowship.
- If you love to share with other quilters, you’re an awesome person and an awesome quilter. The one quality that strongly impressed me when I began to quilt was the willingness of other quilters to share with me anything they had – time, knowledge, fabric, tools, books (because I started quilting before the Internet Age). Quilters are some of the most selfless folks I know. They open their homes, their hearts, and their sewing space to others. They listen and share and pray for you. And I’ve seen this over the entire spectrum – from the very impressive quilt judges and designers to the newest member of a bee or guild. Quilters are simply the best people.
In 2020, let’s push ourselves to learn one new skill and to become better with at least three we already do. I’d like to ask you to share those with me along the way and if I have enough, at the end of the year, we can make a list. Above all else, I want you to embrace your quilting journey. Enjoy it. Spread the love. And just quilt.
Until next week, Level Up those Skills….
Love and Stitches,
Sherri and Sam