My Quilting Journey


In the early 1990's, I very much wanted to own a quilt.

I could not afford such a treasure. So I decided to make my own. 


It wasn't as though I really knew how to sew or anything. In fact, I flunked Home Ec.

But I wanted one so much that I decided it was something I could teach myself.  

And so I went about purchasing small pieces of fabric on sale and tearing up cotton clothing that I'd purchased from garage sales. 

Slowly I gathered what I thought I might need for a scrap quilt, my favorite kind of quilt. 

I didn't have a sewing machine, and that didn't really matter to me. I would sew my quilt by hand. 

I had no idea where to start. My fabric squares were impossibly off and ended up stretching to and fro because I had no idea how to cut fabric properly. 

Nonetheless, I persevered. 


I could not follow a pattern to save my life, (still can't), so one day I laid my quilt top out in front of me and decided it was big enough. 

Then I had to figure out how to quilt it. 

That first attempt at quilting was surely nothing to write home about. The stitches were sewn just as I'd sewn the quilt top. I had not yet learned the quilting stitch. Later I would be horrified and hide it away.

Then I found a friend who knew how to do the actual quilting stitch. She showed me the rocking motion made into and out of the three quilt layers that would lead to perfect tiny stitches. 

I was enthralled. And slowly but surely I learned how to do it myself.

I made quilt after quilt. I could piece one and quilt it in several months time. Because like anything else I attempt, I attacked this new hobby with gusto. 

My daughters kept asking me why I made quilts out of simple squares. And I think I told them that I liked them best. (I didn't add that I was afraid just yet to attempt anything else, since I would have to make up the pattern myself.)

Both my daughters, upon graduating from high school, received a quilt. They had input into what kind they wanted and the colors of fabric. And I went about creating them in my simple but dogged way. 

I never really tackled one that had much of a pattern. The closest I think I came was the Dresden pattern. 

And for that one I cut out pieces of paper and overlapped the slightly larger fabric pieces around the paper, then stitched it all together. 

Still, a scrap quilt. 


During my time in junior high, back when I was in the dreaded Home Ec class, I recall making one pair of pants. 

I stayed up late getting them finished on my late great-grandmother's treadle sewing machine because I wanted to wear them to school the next day.

I remember feeling so pleased with myself as I sat down to pull them on. At first I was puzzled. I couldn't move my legs. 

I had stitched the legs together. And thus I flunked Home Ec. I don't think the teacher thought I held much promise. 

So it was with great trepidation that I started that first quilt. And I kept getting better at making quilts until I had a car accident in 1998 when a semi-truck ran me off the road. 

I ended up having multiple surgeries on my hands and thumb. And that right thumb ended up with early arthritis. I maybe made one more small wall quilt after that accident. 

Yet I have a stack of quilts that I often rotate on the walls of whatever home I happen to live in.


I look at them, and now I see all the mistakes I made. But that's okay. One cannot go through life without making mistakes.  

I don't know if this is mere folklore or not, but I've always said the following... 

One of the first bits of wisdom imparted to a novice quilter is that the Amish, who make some of the most simple but exquisite quilts in the world, purposely plan a mistake into each of their projects because they believe attempts at human perfection mock God.

Amish quilts are all hand quilted;. The stitches are very small and uniform. But, no matter how hard one tries, the stitches are not all identical and perfect. 

Of course, any quilter knows that you don’t have to plan for imperfections in your work. They come quite naturally on their own. So I don’t know if this bit of Amish folklore rings true or not, but the idea surrounding it does.


So that is the story of how I started quilting. And why I stopped making quilts. It was so much fun and rewarding as long as it lasted, those five or so years. 

And I remember sitting in my favorite chair, a dog or two mere head bumps on either side of me holding up the layers as I quilted quilts back in the early 1990s. 

Every quilt told a different story of what I might have been living at the time. Just as each quilt had meandering paths of stitches that went on and on like a road that never ends. 

I still feel a bit of envy when I see quilt blocks made up of embroidery and applique, for those were the last techniques I learned and loved. 

I worked through thoughts and problems as I quilted. And I mastered that rocking technique of thumb and middle finger. 

I learned why a thimble on that middle finger was so important after I ended up with pin pricks of blood on my fabric. 

I suppose the Amish might say that that was one of my quilts "imperfections." That it was meant to be.

And I wouldn't disagree.

 

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27 comments

  1. thanks for sharing your story about your quilts

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  2. Oh Brenda! I love this post and I have always admired your quilts in your photo's. You have always had an eye for color, because your quilts are beautiful!! Funny about the pants in home ec... we made sundresses and i never got my zipper in! LOL

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  3. Your quilts are beautiful. I made two quilts and one small sampler quilt, so I know how much work goes into them. The are all true works of art.

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  4. Thanks for sharing your quilting story, Brenda. I'm sorry your quilting years were cut short, but it is wonderful that you have those quilts to give you comfort and enjoyment now. I always enjoy the photos that feature one of your quilts on the wall or the back of the sofa, because it gives such a warm and inviting touch to the room. I admire your tenacity in learning to quilt and then making a number of them in a short time.

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  5. thanks for sharing your journey as a quilter. I think your quilts are lovely; I, too, love a scrap quilt (your blog and Bonnie Hunter's are the two blogs I never miss). Yours always enhance the beauty of your various rooms.

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  6. Brenda, your words are as beautiful as your quilts!

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  7. What a lyrical post. It's so sad you can't quilt anymore. Have you tried with a sewing machine? I adamantly refused to take home ec. However, in the '70s everybody sewed and I made a lot of my own clothes (and hated doing it). My grandma taught me a lot. She made me, my siblings and cousins each a couple of quilts from flour sacks. The 50 lb. sacks were printed, often with flowers. She also made me more than a few dresses from those sacks, so when I see the quilts, all kinds of childhood memories flood back. They are now very tattered, but I keep them and "visit" them from time to time.

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  8. I love handmade quilts - what treasures you have bestowed on your children too! LOVE the one on the leather chair. Gorgeous.

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  9. Hi Brenda:

    I love seeing your beautiful quilts in various blog posts. Perhaps simple squares are, well, simple...but I think I like them best as you do.

    Annie@The Cooler Side of My Pillow

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  10. I love quilts and your story is wonderful. I do believe we can teach ourselves new things.

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  11. Brenda, as a quilter I encourage you to buy a cheap sewing machine and start again. I had one at work (it's a long story and me and a co-worker used to quilt on our lunch hour) and we paid all of $75 for it on an Amazon deal of the day. All you need is something that will sew a straight line. You have a real talent with color and it would give you such a creative outlet. I quilt and have never hand stitched a thing! Youtube would give you free tutorials when you get stuck on what to do next, or you could write a blog post about when you are stuck and us quilters would help you over the hard bits.

    Quilting is as expensive as you make it. It really can be an reasonably inexpensive hobby if you are a thrifty shopper...which you are!

    Just a suggestion. Feel free to disregard if you aren't interested.

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  12. I didn't realize you made all your quilts! I just love them! In all honestly, I really like the simple rag quilts. They're much more homey. So did you always only hand sew them? I've always wanted to try it, but I truly have no desire to do it by machine! I like to sit and do things like that by hand! What a lovely read!

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  13. Lovely post and your quilts are beautiful! Love the one on the back of the couch. I know it has been suggested but I'll parrot that thought...what about sewing on a sewing machine? I began my quilting journey over 30 years ago thinking I HAD to do it all by hand, but got over that and now do everything on my sewing machine. In fact most quilters are machine users these days for both the piecing and the quilting. And have you heard about pre-cuts? Cute packages of squares already cut out and ready to sew showcasing a complete collection of fabrics that coordinate. Also if you have some time and interest check out the Missouri Star Quilt Company.
    https://www.missouriquiltco.com/

    Not only do they sell fabric but the owner Jenny Doan does the best videos walking you through the entire quilt project... I met her and she is just as sweet as she is in the videos. Have fun!

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  14. Those aren't mistakes--those are practices for perfection. I admire your tenacity and determination--and your beautiful quilts.

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  15. I've always loved your quilts especially the one with the flowers. I never learned to quilt. It just seemed too hard in my eyes for me yet I paint so go figure. My home ec class I made a pleated skirt and probably could have picked something easier. But the then made a blouse with a V neck which quickly became a large U neck. I did go on to sew a lot though but never really enjoyed it. I picked up a beautiful old quilt in Cottonplant Arkansas, it's heavy and has butterflies on it. It needs to be cleaned but afraid to take it to cleaners and can't put it in the washing machine.

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  16. Enjoyed your post about quilting, also enjoy seeing your quilts. My mother was a quilter and did hers by hand also even though she had a nice sewing machine. I have never desired to quilt. I have many of hers that she did for me.

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  17. I LOVE your quilts. Each one is so beautiful and confirms a definite talent you possess. Although I passed Home-Ec, had we been assigned quilts, I might have failed. Beautiful story.

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  18. I always enjoy seeing your quilts in your various pictures. Thanks for sharing your story.

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  19. You're quilts are lovely. The one with all of the little squares is my favorite. You're whole home is lovely.

    I failed Home-Ec too. Mrs. Jones was a miserable old woman. After coping with her, I really became disinterested in sewing.

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  20. Love your story--I was from central NY before moving to Fl 2 years ago and was around a lot of Amish--and I hate to say this--but alot of them went to the new long arm quilting method (machine) for their quilts--yet would often say they were done or lead you to believe they were done by hand!!!
    And I never have had to worry about 'purposely' leaving a mistake in each quilt--it just seems to happen naturally for me!!!!!
    enjoy the moments, di

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  21. I always enjoy seeing your quilts in your blog. They are lovely. I've thought about learning how to make them myself as well.

    Thank you for sharing. Love how you tell a story.
    Hugs,
    LaDonna

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  22. I enjoyed your story about quilting. Two of my older sisters quilted like my Mom and Texas Grandma (her Mom). The younger sister and me (the baby) were too busy raising children, I guess, for us to quilt, but we sewed a lot of our little children's clothes and our maternity clothes, too. I have a quilt my Mom made and some great ones purchased at a garage sale (back when people were getting rid of them when their Grandmas passed). I treasure them all! I think quilts are a forever thing-hold onto yours dearly.

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  23. Hi Brenda... I'll second the motion of Carol and Blue Ocean Quilts! I would strongly urge you to buy a used older sewing machine. All quilting can be done on a machine.. just get an older one (they are better than the new fangled ones) that has straight stitch and maybe zig zag stitch. My old Singer from the 1970's was so great and I wish I never would have gotten rid of it! Quilting on the machine doesn't take away anything from creating your own fabulous pieces of art and memories! Missouri Star Quilt Co. and Shabby Fabrics are two of my favorite online stores for buying.. and they also have great YouTube videos for just about anything! There is also the "quilt as you go" method, which is easy when you don't want to try to machine quilt a big huge quilt. Each square is an entire quilt "sandwich" that you piece and quilt all at the same time. Then you take them and put strips over the seams to make them into a bigger quilt. Lots of UT videos on that.

    I have arthritis in my thumbs and my neck, so I can't sit for very long at the machine, but I still do it. I just LOVE the picking out fabric and design process.. I don't usually use a pattern either, just wing it. Or maybe I see a quilt I like in a magazine and just kind of follow it. I like to keep it simple. There are so many packs of pre-cuts, like jelly rolls (2-1/2 inch strips), charm packs (5" squares) and on and on. Make little triangles with your 5" squares by cutting diagonally and then you have triangles to work with! It's all so fun.. and half the fun for me is picking out the fabrics.... some new when on sale, or at thrift shops and yard sales. sometimes I'll find a bonus of an entire bag of old fabrics! What fun! Or like you did.. cutting up old clothes. The creation is such food for the soul and I can tell you miss it.

    We need to feed our souls. I have bags and bags of old strips of fabric scraps, from projects I made in the 70's and 80's.. and some scraps left from clothes I made for me and my boys. I want to use them to make a quilt for my son... someday soon I hope. also have started a huge king quilt and want to finish it while I still can.

    I made mostly smaller projects in the 70's and 80's.. (I got hooked on quilting then).... such as pillows, wall hangings and table runners. I had sewn my own clothes since I was 9 years old. My first big quilt was a double bed size that I made in about 2010..I took a class for that, and my sister "long arm quilted" it for me in about 2014. What a treasure! It may be the only bed sized quilt I make, but still enjoy the smaller projects.. it's still "quilting" and love all the wonderful fabrics out there.

    You go girl and get that machine and try it again! Hope you do.. as it will bring back another joy in your life!
    Hugs.. Marilyn

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  24. What a wonderful story! I cannot sew at all, except by hand. Odd really as my mother owns a leather company and growing up I used to sew the items they made on a corner stitch machine. A straight stitcher just won't work for me,

    I am in love with your quilts and more than that with your tenacity and perseverance to make your own quilts!

    Hope the weather is cooling off.

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  25. So, all those quilts in your house...the ones on your wall and on the back of your couch, are your handiwork? They're beautiful!

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    1. Hi Melanie. Not all of them are ones I made. All the ones in this post are my creations. The deep gold and white one next to my bed (not in this post) is not my creation. Some of mine in the closet are ones I use on the bed and I didn't make several of them.

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  26. I love quilts and have always admired yours...the one on the chair with the small squares is my favorite. I never mastered the art of quilting partly because all the stitching makes my wrist hurt. I learned to sew in Home Ec. The first thing I made was an apron. I made many outfits for my daughter when she was little and a few for myself over the years. Haven't sewn much in recent years, tho. Computer time has taken the place of my crafting urges.

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Brenda has been writing since grade school. She majored in professional writing/journalism in college, where she won awards for her feature writing. She loves to decorate, garden, enjoy nature, read and spend time with her Yorkies.

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