Learning how to quilt: You will make mistakes

Is learning to quilt on your bucket list? Do you think it looks too intimidating? Stop convincing yourself not to try! It’s only intimidating if you’re afraid to make mistakes, but making mistakes is how you learn. Let me tell you about my first quilt. I wish I had a photo of it to show you.

I’ve always liked to make things. I love color, texture, design, everything that goes into making beautiful things. I tend to find something I like and then I dive into it without checking how deep the water is. Sometimes it works out, other times, well, let’s just say there’s a reason why I don’t do some crafts. 

One day, I decided I wanted to learn how to quilt. I have no idea where that came from. There were no quilters in my life. I had never even seen a handmade quilt. But I wanted to make a quilt. I bought The Weekend Quilt by Leslie Linsley and set out to make a quilt. But not just any quilt. Oh no. I don’t do things small. I decided on a queen size double Irish chain quilt top. Of course I did. 

I followed the instructions but despite my perfectionist tendencies, there are times when I’m not known for my exactness. I didn’t know or realize how vital it was to make sure I had ¼ inch seams in my top. (That learning came later!) I used some blue cotton (I think) and I believe the white was a sheet. So was my backing. Anyway, I pieced the top, bought a frame, sandwiched the quilt and began quilting. Except – this was before YouTube. I didn’t know how and I didn’t know anyone to ask. So, I stabbed the needle through the top, pulled it out the bottom, blindly stabbed it back up and pulled it through the top. 

When it was done, the top didn’t look half bad. The backing was a whole other story. But then I figured that no one would see the back and I proudly put that quilt on our bed. We used it for several years, even though some seams were splitting (those darned not quite ¼” seams). Eventually, I replaced it with a beautiful hand quilted whole cloth quilt and the blue one because the dog’s quilt for several more years. It had a good life.

So you see, I made a ton of mistakes with that quilt. But it was still used and loved. And because of those mistakes, I learned what I shouldn’t do, so my next quilt was a bit better. And the next one a bit better. Eventually, I reached where I am now. 

Here are some things to remember if you feel nervous about starting a quilt:

  • Start small. Do NOT do what I did. Baby quilts, placemats, table runners are all good first pieces to make. 
  • Buy as good material as you can afford. For sure, quilt shop fabrics are preferred for good quilts and the better your fabric, the better your project will turn out. But not everyone can afford quilt shop prices, especially while learning, so you do what you can afford to do and what you’re comfortable doing. The only thing is that it really should be 100% cotton, quilting cotton – not the thicker cotton for sewing clothing. Some experienced quilters do use polyester or poly blends, but I believe that when you’re learning, you should stick to quilting cotton. It’s consistent and easy to use. 
  • If you have to buy a sewing machine, again but the best you can afford. I never advise buying the cheapest machines on the market because they can be tough to use. And if a machine doesn’t sew well, you will likely become discouraged and hate the process. You don’t need a fancy machine that costs several thousands of dollars.  You only need a basic machine that sews well. Go to quilt shops or machine stores that allow you to try their machines. If you buy locally, you have a good resource if you run into any problems. You can also buy secondhand, online or in person. Spread the word that you’re looking for a machine and often someone will know of one that’s for sale. 
  • Give yourself time to get used to the process. Read blogs and articles for beginner quilters. Watch YouTube videos. If you have a local quilt shop, see if they offer classes. There’s no rush and no race to the finish line. 
  • Ask for help. There are many Facebook groups for quilters. Consider joining at least one where you can learn from others and ask your own questions.

Quilting is a journey, one that is filled with discovery and beauty. If quilting is what you want to do, go for it!

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