Fatal Attraction (or the Quilt that Takes Forever to Finish)

It all starts very innocently…

There’s the initial attraction…

Then comes the flirting…

After awhile you’re seeing each other regularly…then almost exclusively…

And then BAM!  Commitment.

No, I’m not describing a relationship with another person.  I’m talking about a quilt.  More specifically, I’m discussing the type of quilt I call a “Lifer.”  This particular kind of quilt usually involves lots of detailed work, many times calls for extensive hand work, and may have lots of small blocks.  The term “Lifer” denotes the quilt will take lots of time (maybe even years), perhaps lots of fabric, and great attention to specifics.  All of these aspects should scare nearly every quilter off, but the beauty of the quilt sucks you in and before you know it, you’re in a relationship with a Lifer before you can think twice.  You ignore the voice in your head and the voices of your quilter friends who warn you that this quilt will be a commitment for several years to come. 

I know how you feel.  I’m in a commitment with three Lifers at the moment:

And have the fabric for another Lifer waiting in the wings:

Today I want to talk about how to choose your Lifer quilts and  how to manage them.

I could post picture after picture of quilts which will require time and attention.  However, what’s important for you to know is any quilt which will involve lots of attention to details and will take you more time than the average quilt you make, should carry the term Lifer in your mind.  It’s not that this quilt will literally take you a lifetime to finish, it’s that this quilt may need more time and attention than any average quilt.  To illustrate, this quilt is what I would term a Lifer.

This one is not.

Notice the difference.  In the first quilt, the blocks are small-ish.  There is applique.  The piecing is challenging.  In the second quilt, the blocks are easier, there is no applique, and if you set your mind to it, the quilt top could easily be completed in a few weeks.  The final finished product may take longer, depending your quilting skills, if someone else is quilting your quilt, and if you’re putting the binding on by both hand and machine or only by machine.  Even if you machine applique the first quilt, the applique is detailed and will take time. 

First, let’s examine how to choose a Lifer.  Initially, I think it’s important you wrap your head around the fact, this project will take a while to finish.  I realize some quilters work quickly.  Some quilters have hours each day to spend on a project.  However, a quilt which has lots of challenges will still take some time.  I think it’s important to realize this before you make the first cut in the fabric.  Mentally prepare yourself this project may take several months years to complete. 

Next, research the pattern.  If you Google the pattern and nothing comes up but the designer and their rendition of the quilt, back away.  Put the pattern down and walk off.  Trust me on this one.  I know I’ve mentioned this in prior blogs, but take it from a quilter who has been there, done that, has the t-shirt, and is still working through the pattern: If no one else has made the quilt except the designer, you don’t want to be their guinea pig.  There are probably good reasons no one else has made the quilt.  Perhaps the pattern is new, or the designer is new.  If this is the case, wait awhile and come back to the pattern in a year or so and research it again.  This time you may see other quilters have made the quilt and have left feedback about it. 

However, if you Google a pattern which is several years old and nothing comes up but the designer and their quilt, run – do not walk – to the nearest exit.  These two patterns:

Have given me major issues.  I’ve spent hours mulling over them because the directions were incomplete, the designer wouldn’t answer emails (or at least answer them coherently), and despite numerous searches through numerous search engines, I can’t find anyone else who made the quilt.  I’ve put Santa’s Loading Dock in semi-permanent time out, and if it wasn’t for the fact one of my BFFs was making the Day in Grandmother’s Flower Garden with me, I probably would have done the same with it.  However, Dear Jane and Language of the Flowers have Facebook groups and web sites.  There’s a lot of help, instruction, and support for these quilts.  Lifers are more complicated than most quilts, and the extra help is extremely valuable. 

Now let’s talk fabric.  Many Lifers require serious yardage.  It’s a good idea to have of the primary fabrics in hand (and a ½-yard extra of each wouldn’t be a bad idea either) when you start the quilt.  Applique pieces can come from your scrap bins, but the main fabric players – background, lights, mediums, focus, and darks – should be purchased when you begin the quilt.  Remember, fabric manufacturers rarely re-print fabric lines, and once it’s gone, it’s gone.  If it does take a while to complete the quilt, and you find yourself running short on the fabric, it may be impossible to purchase additional material when you need it.  There may not be anymore available.  I know Ebay has saved my quilting skin more than once, but you can’t count it any vendor having exactly what you need. 

With the pattern and fabric now in your studio, it’s time to take a serious look at the pattern.  Read it through, and then read it through again.  If the Lifer in question is one of the Super-Size Samplers, read the book through.  Mark it up – highlight which sections you may think will give you issues.  After this, it’s time to set up a game plan.  How will you conquer this Lifer quilt?  This is where it really helps to know what kind of quilter you are.  Are you:

  1. The type of quilter who, once a project is begun, works only on that project until it’s complete


  •  Can work on a single project for a good while, but then needs a break from it to sew something else.

If you’re Type A, you’re good to go.  Cut the Lifer out and go to it.  However….most quilters (at least the ones I know) are Type B.  We can work on any project for a while, but then we need a break.  We need something different to keep the creative juices flowing and to keep quilting fun.  All of us Type Bs need a loose game plan to stay on track and not allow our Lifer to languish in some project box like Santa’s Loading Dock is. 

My regular readers know I’m all about goals.  Goals are important to me – they give me something to work for and once I’ve reached a goal, I reward myself.  With Lifers, I think a reward system needs to be in place.  Complete ten 6-inch blocks?  Get your favorite coffee from your favorite coffee place.  Finish half of the applique blocks?  Go purchase a fat quarter or two.  I know these are little rewards, but sometimes having something to look forward to is enough to encourage you to keep stitching. 

Another plan to have in place is a roadmap.  Type B quilters can have a notoriously short attention span and we have to work to combat it.  Initially, we may decide to do all our prep work at once.  If it’s an applique quilt, we may prep all the applique pieces at once and have them bagged, tagged, and ready to rock and roll.  If it’s a pieced quilt, we may elect to make all the blocks, then square them up, and then join then together in rows.  The roadmap you chose for your quilt journey depends on you, and you know yourself better than anyone else.  You may be zipping right along and then about block 17, suddenly realize you need a break.  Now would be a great time to press and square up some blocks and join a few rows together.  It’s important to be flexible and allow yourself a change of pace.  Changing up your plan can keep you enthused about the project.  Personally, for me, it depends on what kind of quilt I’m constructing.  If it’s a pieced quilt, I will make a dozen or so blocks, press and square them up, then join the rows together.  I’ll put this section of the quilt top somewhere I can readily see it.  This encourages me to keep on stitching.  Applique is a bit different.  I would much rather prep all my pieces at once.  I love to hand stitch (it relaxes me), and once I get a rhythm going, I hate to break it to prep more pieces.  The longer you quilt, the better you’ll know what motivates you.  Use that motivation to your best advantage.

I’ve found it’s also helpful to have an easy project waiting in the wings.  Sometimes I just need some mindless stitching for a change of pace.  Lifers can demand periods of intense concentration and occasionally just having something to sew while you binge on Netflix is good for you. It allows your brain to take a break.  It’s also a great idea to see if you can bribe talk a friend into making the same quilt.  You kind of become each other’s support group.  My BFF, who is making A Day in Grandmother’s Flower Garden with me, has been a lot of help.  Between the two of us, we’ve more or less figured out how to finish the quilt.  The directions for this quilt were so bad, it took two heads to determine out how to get the center complete.  We’re still hashing out the applique.  It’s been wonderful to work together to try to get answers.

Lastly, if you can, it’s good if you can find a way to make the Lifer portable.  I realize once a quilt top gets so big, it’s difficult to put it in a project box and take it with you to quilt bee or sit and sew.  However, as much as you can, it’s a great idea if you can take it with you to work on while you’re traveling or at a quilt function.  You’d be surprised how much you can get done while riding in a car or at a two-hour quilt bee.  And you must realize even a few stitches here and there really adds up.  I keep my Horn of Plenty for a New Generation and A Day in Grandmother’s Flower Garden in easy reach.  If I catch a few minutes to watch TV, I can put in a few stitches.  Every stitch is progress and should be celebrated.  A Lifer will take some time…but it shouldn’t take a lifetime.

A couple of quick housekeeping notes.  My first podcast has been recorded.  I’m working on editing  it’s a huge learning curve. I’ll let everyone know when it’s up.  For those of you who don’t know me, the Southern accent is there…really, really, there.

Second, by the time you read this, my brother Eric will have completed his chemotherapy and will undergo the Stem Cell Transplant on September 27 at UNC. Prior to the transplant, there will be PET scans and a bone marrow biopsy.  He will also undergo daily injections which will prompt his bone marrow to produce more stem cells.  On the 27th, he will undergo a massive dose of chemo to kill off any bad cells and then on the 29th, he’ll be infused with the stem cells.  He will feel pretty lousy for about four days and then will begin to pull out of it.  Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers and he’s making the decision about where to have the procedure.  Yes, this will be a several weeks process (the SCT itself is at least a week in the hospital, and possibly another week or two in a step-down unit after the transplant), but once the wheels are in motion, a lot happens in a relatively short amount of time.  Remember him, his sweet wife, his sons, and the rest of the family.

Until Next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

9 replies on “Fatal Attraction (or the Quilt that Takes Forever to Finish)”

Oh, Sherri – if only my “Lifer” list was as short as yours! I can’t seem to be interested in a quilt UNLESS it’s a Lifer! Dear Jane is among them – I have started it three times and decided I didn’t like my colorway well enough to continue. I was just sucked into another new project yesterday. I like your suggestions around planning – I have tried to start organizing and planning via a bullet journal but haven’t had the time to take it very far. I’m looking forward to hearing your podcast, and am sending prayers to you, your brother and his family.

Thank you Dana! Best advice I can give about a “Lifer” is make a weekly date night with it and keep it. Even if you only get a little done, it’s better than letting it languish in a project box somewhere. Thanks for praying for us at this time. I talked to Eric this morning and he’s upbeat and eager to get this behind him.

Well my goodness, you have described my quilty desires/commitments perfectly! This post has a genius writing it! Lets not mention the orphaned projects given away to new parents because you could not raise/make one properly! LOL!

Sherri, Eric and his family are in my prayers. Medical technology has come so far in the past few years!

Lifers…ha! I haven’t finished a quilt in I don’t know how long. Most of them are UFOs but my Hold onto Your Heart and Halo Medallion are my biggest lifers. I get so angry when I think of the investments I’ve made in fabric and time so far but they’re both languishing as my ADHD magpie personality loves every shiny new project that comes down the pike.

A podcast! You go girl! I’m already one of your biggest fans and now I’ll have something else to love you for. I can’t wait to hear your first one!

The SCT begins today. He’s already at UNC and I believe the first round of chemo begins at 3 p.m. Thank you for your prayers and keep praying. This is definitely a marathon not a sprint.

I’m the world’s worst at starting a new shiny project before I finish the one I’m working on. The best advice I was given about lifers is this: Make a weekly “date” with it and stick to it. You’ll be surprised at how much you can get done in an hour or so worth of stitcing.

Sherri, this perfectly describes my “affair” with Dancing Circles by Kyoto Yano. Not surprisingly I haven’t seen the finished quilt at any quilt shows. I started this quilt 6 or 7 years ago and now it’s just languishing in a large project box. I do have all the fabrics I’ll need to finish it…but that was a very good point you made. The designer broke the pattern down into blocks of the month…I did that for about 5 months…then didn’t get back to it. I think this may be one that I need to keep after it instead of waiting a few weeks to start another block because I really need to keep the design/colors in my head. This is a great blog. I’m going to share it with some of my stitch buddies locally.

Thank you for sharing my blog with your local quilters! I do appreciate it. Those “fatal attraction” quilts can be difficult to deal with. Keep it where you can see it. If you can’t see it, you won’t think about it.

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