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Simply Beautiful

Sometimes quilters need a serious attitude adjustment.  Seriously.  We can be snobs if we’re not careful.  Take for instance a conversation I overheard a couple of months back at a LQS…

“I like that quilt, but it’s so…simple.”

Beg your pardon?  What’s there not to love about a simple quilt?  Not all quilts are destined to employ the same amount of detail as the Sistine Chapel.  Some quilts are designed to bask in their simplicity.  For instance, most Amish quilts could be deemed simple.  Few colors, simple shapes.  But I don’t think any quilter would turn their noses up at them.  They are beautiful in their simplicity and color placement – not to mention the quilting in most of them is exquisite. 

I’m not sure why some quilters think “easy” quilts are somehow lesser quilts than more complicated ones.  Not every minute of your quilting life can be tied up with demanding quilts.  Some quilts, due to their design work, are more complicated and take more time (think Lifers).  However, there’s not one quilter I know who wants their entire quilting life taken up by these more complicated quilts.  In my opinion, every quilter needs at least a few fast, simple quilt patterns in their inventory. Why?  Because these are the quilts you turn to when you need a quick quilt for a gift.  Just found out one of your fellow guild members is a soon-to-be grandparent?  You can pull out one of these patterns, alter the colorway to fit the gender or nursery, and have it pieced, quilted, and bound within a month.  And if the pattern is simple enough, it can be altered to fit a tabletop, crib, or bed size without a lot of thought.  This is harder to do with more complicated patterns. 

If you find yourself constructing a difficult quilt, sometimes an easy quilt is needed to keep your sanity.  Challenging quilts can require a great deal of thought and concentration.  After most quilters have worked on one of these quilts, they need a break.  Sometimes this break may only be a night or two away from the quilt, but sometimes you may need a little longer “time out” yet still want to quilt.  A simple quilt is the perfect project to have waiting in the wings.  After a few days of working on something “mindless” you’ll find yourself ready to go back to the challenging quilt.  And you’ll have been productive in the process, so it’s a win-win for both.

However, let me give you the two reasons I love simple quilts:  They’re stash busters and they’re perfect for charity quilt donations.  Let me explain.  First, stash happens.  You may have leftover chunks of fabric which are too big to trash.  And if you’re like most quilters, you don’t necessarily purchase material only with a specific quilt in mind.  As a result, you have what is called “stash” – extra fabric which has no specific, designated purpose.  Over time, this stash accumulates to the point a quilter needs to use some of it up just to keep his or her studio organized.  If you have a few simple quilt patterns, these can be used to “bust the stash,” or use all that extra fabric up.  The quilts produced from stash busting can be stored to give as last minute quilts or…and this brings us to my second favorite use for simple quilt patterns  — used as charity quilts. 

If the term “charity quilts” is foreign to you, let me explain what they are.  Charity quilts are quilts that are given away to nonprofit organizations which need quilts for various reasons.  Project Linus is probably one of the best known NPOs for quilts.  They distribute child-sized quilts and afghans to children in need.  While it is a national organization, they do have local chapters and drop off points, so you don’t necessarily have to mail your quilt into their headquarters.  Quilts of Valor is another well-recognized organization which accepts quilts and gives them to Veterans of all ages and from all wars.  This is also a nationally run NPO.  If you would rather donate quilts closer to your home, check with your local Social Services and Police Departments who may want them for children they must remove from homes or victims of domestic abuse.  My local guild makes lap quilts for the chemo patients at our local hospital.  I have three simple quilt patterns I use to make charity quilts, so much so that as I produce “scrappage” from cutting my quilts out, I can immediately sub-cut the left-over fabric into the units needed.  I store these until I have enough to make a quilt.  This process serves two purposes:  it does eliminate my stash and it allows me to make quilts for those who really need one.  One note of caution before you jump headfirst into charity quilt production – check with the recipient organization to see if there are any special requirements for the quilts.  Some organizations want the fabric pre-washed or for you to wash the quilt after it’s completed.  Some may want all machine binding and no hand applique, as most of these quilts visit the inside of a washer quite frequently.  Quilts of Valor only accepts quilts with patriotic themes and colors and has their own quilt labels for you to use. 

A simple quilt pattern works best (for me, anyway) if I want to make a charity quilt.  I can make the quilts quickly, accurately, and get them into the hands of those who need them sooner rather than later. 

Simple quilts and more complicated ones are equally beautiful when the work is accurate and there’s a good color palette.  No matter if you’re working on an easy quilt or one which has over 5,000 pieces, if the basic quilting guidelines are followed, they’re both successful. 

  • Keep a consistent seam allowance (usually ¼-inch)
  • Press towards the darker fabric
  • Put the borders on correctly
  • Square the blocks and quilt up

All of this brings me to my last point:  which is better, a complicated quilt which is not as accurate as it could be or a simple quilt that has been made with great accuracy?

Well…it really depends on who you ask. 

If you ask a quilt judge, they’ll more than likely tell you the quilt with the greater accuracy is the better quilt because it shows mastery of the skill set.  If you ask a beginner quilter, they may say the complicated quilt is better because it’s harder.  If you ask a seasoned quilter, such as myself, more than likely I would agree with the quilt judge – the quilt which shows the better command of the basics is better than the other one.

Finally, I want to leave you with the steps I take when either a simple or complicated quilt becomes just a bit “too much” and I find myself riddled with frustration. 

  1.  I re-read the pattern.  Sometimes, because I have quilted a long time, I tend to skip reading steps I’m super familiar with – such as making four-patches or HSTs.  There may be specific instructions in the pattern’s directions I’ve missed.  A slow re-read of them may clear up the issues.  Then I lock in on each step to make sure I really understand the process. 
  2. I carefully examine each block unit as I make them.  This is true especially if I’m piecing a quilt verses appliqueing one.  If the pattern does not supply unit measurements, I will make a test block and during this process, write down what each unit should measure.  As I make the units, I can be sure they “true up”, so the block should come out the correct unfinished size (or at least pretty close). 
  3. I draw on past experiences for present success.  After 30 plus years of quilting, I’ve constructed all kinds of blocks, quilts, and units.  If I’ve made a particular unit or block before, and this same unit is giving me issues in the quilt currently under my needle, I try to remember what I did in the past with this unit which made that quilt successful. 
  4. I don’t work if I’m tired.  This is actually a tricky issue with me.  Quite often, even if I’ve worked all day, cooked supper, and undertook a few household chores, the minute I step into my studio and begin quilting, I feel revived.  Normally I can quilt for an hour or two before stopping for the night.  However, if I’m working on a challenging quilt and I don’t feel pepped up after a few stitches, the best thing for me to do is shut it down for the night or work on an easier quilt or do some handwork.
  5. If I get super frustrated, the BEST action I can take is simply walk away.  More times than not, after sleeping on the problem or just taking some time not to think about it helps.  The problem filters through your brain and a solution is found the next day.  And this is harder to do than it sounds.  You may want to keep working, sure the next time you rip out that seam or unit, you’ll sew it correctly.  However, chances are, you won’t, and you’ll just end up more frustrated.  Truly, the best action is to just walk away. 

Simple quilts are awesome.  They can be just as beautiful as more complex ones and display just as many skill sets.  They can be great stash busters and charity quilts.  They can provide relief from more challenging quilts and allow you some mindless sewing when its needed.  It’s always good to keep a few of these patterns tucked back in your files!

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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