Risk Taking and Making…

Opportunity does not come giftwrapped.  You must take risks.

As quilters, it’s easy to ride the flow.  We find a pattern we want to make.  We purchase the fabric or raid our stash.  We cut according to directions and construct according to instructions.  A few weeks stitching at our machines produces a quilt top we either quilt ourselves or farm out to a quilting artist.  It’s returned to us, we put the binding and the label on, and tada!  We have a quilt.  The process – for the most part – has been controlled and “user-friendly.”  There were no odd surprises or difficult challenges or scary moments.  It was relaxing and fun.


What would happen if we changed some things about the quilt we’re making?  I mean obviously, the quilt would transform into something it wasn’t.  It would no longer look like the quilt in the pattern.  We could substitute blocks or put applique where there wasn’t any before.  We could change sizes of blocks or the quilt itself.  We could alter borders and add embellishments.  The quilt which arrives out from under our needle would look different than the one on the pattern.  All of that is a given.

But what about us?  What happens to us as a quilter when we take risks?  What occurs when we dare to toss aside the pattern and simply see where the quilt takes us?  First let’s look at what risk taking does to people in general, and then let’s home in quilters. 

Broadly, there are two types of risks.  There are those which are calculated.  These are the ones where the pros and cons of the decision are carefully considered.  The risks are weighed against possible losses and gains.  These are the risks associated with such things as investing and in some cases, medical decisions.  A lot of thought, research, and discussion goes into these risks.  And overall, if the risk is taken, the outcome is generally favorable. 

Then there are those risks where we throw caution to the wind and go for it.  Decisions are made on a whim or a dare.  Whether the end result will be favorable or not varies as much as a coin toss.  Sometimes these risks are as stomach-dropping as a roller coaster and others are as serious as an “I do” at the end of an altar. 

Both kinds shape us as individuals.

For quilters, I think taking some risks is vital to your creativity.  While using a pattern or a kit is great and both can certainly help us along on our quilt journey, there is something to be said about turning a pattern on its ear or throwing it out the window entirely.  It does something to your mind.  It’s very freeing, but also a tad scary.  Most of us, from the beginning, have been taught to quilt by patterns.  We were coached step-by-step through blocks and then rows.  We are comfortable with this.  Patterns are our oldest friend and closest quilting confidant.  They are what we know best.  However, risk is easier when you take what you know – what you’re the most comfortable with – and make a few changes here and there.  Sure, taking a chance with those can still be a little scary, but we know we always can return to the pattern for guidance.  And risk taking is easier with patterns you’re the most familiar with.  Don’t think so?  Then take a look at this quilt:

Which is made from this quilt block:

Which was originally this quilt block:

A nine-patch.  The quilt referenced is called a Disappearing Nine Patch, and it may not have ever been made if someone hadn’t taken a few risks with a regular nine-patch block.  The nine-patch is a familiar quilt block – probably one of the first beginner quilters learn to make.  Since the block is so familiar, taking risks with it was easy. 

Changing things … taking risks … can result in creative break throughs for you as a quilter.  Quilters are artists.  No matter if you are most comfortable religiously following a pattern, like to mix things up a little, or you are adept at stirring the creative pot – you are an artist, a creative soul, a maker.   Taking chances will free your mind.  It will allow you to think on a different level.  The barriers are gone, and anything is possible.  It fills you and gives you energy.

And sometimes it’s a bit intimidating.  Let me throw in a personal example.  I am taking a quilting class.  And I mean a “quilting” quilting class – the kind where you’re working with your long arm or stationary machine and quilting the top, batting, and back together.  I signed up, was given access to the teaching platform and dutifully began to download the lessons, instructions, and assignments.  Part of the class preparation is to make some small tops to quilt before moving onto the big assignment which involves quilting all kinds of yummy fabric, including silks.  I had several small quilt tops I hoped would work so I could dodge a few of the assignments.


Part of this quilting journey is learning to think creatively and “on your feet.”  It’s allowing your creativity to drive the process.  The first small quilt I had to make involved this block:

Drunkard’s Path

Which is not my favorite.  All those concave and convex curves and bias…just not my thing.  I read through the pattern, and to my surprise, there were no hard, fast directions.  No pattern.  No solid dimensions of what your blocks needed to finish at.  Cut eight blocks of one fabric somewhere between 9 and 10-inches.  Cut eight more blocks from another fabric the same size as the first blocks.  Put one block of fabric A on top of fabric B, with both blocks right sides up.  With your rotary cutter cut a gentle curve.

What?  No ruler?  No template? 


I can’t tell you what a mind-hurdle I had.  Nor can I explain the fun I had, either.  Suddenly I was gifted with permission to make that curve as gentle or as tight as I wanted.  Gentle curves.  Wavy curves.  Almost-straight curves were produced with sheer random.  Sewing them together was fun and easy.  At the end I had four large pinwheel-ish blocks.

But getting over the mind-hurdle of no concrete finished sizes (just trim them all to one size), no template, no pattern…it pushed me out of my comfort-zone box.  It was freeing and fun…and I realized I’d do it again in a hot minute.  Then I asked myself why I wasn’t already doing it more often?

Because I’m afraid of making a mistake.  But honestly, once you get to the point where you understand it’s just a quilt and most things can be fixed, suddenly you find your “comfort zone” has evaporated and anything can happen because by removing those barriers, you’ve given yourself permission to make mistakes.  And this is a good thing. Why?  Because great things can come from making mistakes.  Edison didn’t come up with the lightbulb on the first try.  He made lots of mistakes.  In the end, all those mistakes paid off.  Each one let him know what didn’t work and pointed him to what would. 

Same with quilters.  There are few “mistakes” which are totally unfixable in quilting, so give yourself permission to make some errors.  Great quilts can come from knowing what didn’t work so well and how we “fixed” the mistakes.  Breathe.  Trust yourself through the process.  And   if you get completely frustrated with the quilt, just walk away for a while – not forever, but for a few days. 

At this point, I’d like to leave you with a couple of thoughts.  First, let’s talk about the quilt which seems unfixable.  You’re in the middle of quilt construction and you’ve made some changes.  Maybe you’ve altered some blocks, changed some block sizes, or re-designed the borders – but whatever you’re doing isn’t working.  You’ve put the quilt in time out for a few days, thinking by the time you get back to it, you will have come up with a solution.  But a solution doesn’t happen and now you’re left with a quilt you’re not sure what to do with.  When this happens to me, the first thing I do is consult my quilting friends.

I regularly quilt with a group of women I’ve known since 2010.  We met in person for years, but now because of Covid and all those minion variants, we meet via Zoom.  These women are some of the best quilters (and friends) I’ve been blessed to know.  I can send a picture of my quilt via text or Zoom and within a half an hour, I have options.   These options happen because my friends have space between themselves and the quilt.  I’ve been up close and personal to it for days.  They’re looking at it for the first time.  Their minds see the quilt differently and as a result they can offer me solutions I haven’t thought of.  Quilting friends are invaluable for many things, and their creative minds and quilting talent are two of them.  If you have quilters who are near you, develop relationships with them (this is why bees and guilds are so important).  If you don’t have nearby quilty friends, let me encourage you to join an online or Facebook quilt group.  Most of these groups are carefully monitored and unkind comments and unsolicited advertising aren’t allowed. 

If all else fails and you can’t find a workable quilting solution, you can give the quilt away.  Leave it on a free table at a guild meeting (along with your leftover fabric and any directions).  Drop it off at Goodwill.  Or….simply trash it. Before you hyperventilate by gasping in horror, let me remind you:  It’s. Just. A. Quilt.  It’s fabric and stitches.  It’s plans and designs.  Designs which didn’t work out as planned.  Salvage anything you can (such as fabric and notions), and to borrow a phrase from Frozen’s Elsa – Let it go. 

Now you’ll be singing this in your head the rest of the day…

And remember the quilt wasn’t a total waste.  It taught you lessons.  It showed you what didn’t work.  You took a risk and it didn’t go as planned.  Take what you’ve learned and move on. 

So, as we move through this year’s theme of Making Your Quilt Yours, I want you to try something for me.  I want you to take some risks.  I want you to change somethings in your patterns.  Big or small, it doesn’t matter. I deeply desire you learn to get comfortable taking some risks and changing a few things here and there.  Then send me pictures.  My email is  Show and tell me what you changed.  I’ve shown you folks plenty of quilts I’ve made and have given you specifics (often in nauseating detail) of what I altered, how I altered it, and why.  Please return the favor.  And if you give me permission to do so, I’d like to share it on my blog.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours (and pretty please share it with me),

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

2 replies on “Risk Taking and Making…”

Good post. Thanks. I now realize that I will never be a “quilter,” because I will never make someone else’s pattern. I started quilting because I wanted to be a “fiber artist.” Learning how to piece fabric and other techniques associated with quilting will strengthen my toolkit.

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