Friday, July 10, 2009

My first quilts (please feel free to laugh -- or cry)

First – something pretty. This mini sampler measures approximately 3” by 1.5”.

No sewing for the past few days as I have had to move everything out of the main floor (including dismantling my sewing room/dining room) for interior painting. Tomorrow I will be spending the day in the high desert of Central Oregon for the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show. It is three hours away, so it will be a long day, but I should have lots of wonderful pictures to share on Sunday. Until then I will just have to show you my very humble beginnings as a quilter. It’s a wonder I’m still doing this! Here is a picture of my first quilt for those of you with strong stomachs:

I tried to warn you! I actually took a wonderful sampler quilting class that was taught using the book, Quilts! Quilts!! Quilts!!! (McClun & Nownes, 1988) as a guide. We learned new techniques in every class, made anywhere from two to four blocks during and after each class, and were supposed to be taken through every step of quiltmaking from choosing fabric to quilting and finishing. Unfortunately, we had to choose some fabrics to get started with before the first class. This was my first mistake in a series of many.

I went to the fabric/quilt store several days before the first class to pick out fabrics for the first block, which was a rail fence. I wandered around and around the store and didn’t know where to start. Finally the owner (who taught the class) came over and offered to help me. She asked me what kind of fabrics I liked, styles, etc., and I don’t think I came up with much. Finally she asked what colors I liked, and I said “blue.” So she pointed me in the direction of the blue fabrics and made her escape. So, I picked out the first blue fabric that caught my eye. It was navy & white and is pictured below, two fabrics to the right of the log cabin chimney.

Well, this absolutely floored the teacher, as this wasn’t exactly the type of focus fabric that she probably had in mind. She then had me pick out a few other fabrics, from dark to light for the rail fence and as a start for the log cabin that would be our second block. Other than light vs. dark, I had little idea about varying the character of the print or how to choose colors.

During the first class I had some trouble with my machine. It was well advertised prior to the class that machines should be in good working order so that machine problems would not take up class time. Ooops! I can’t remember what the problem was, but I was mortified, and the teacher was more than a little annoyed. I was using an old Pfaff and it didn’t have a ¼ inch foot or markings, and I didn’t realize that this was important. So, I just sewed everything together using the edge of the presser foot as my guide. I marveled at how the pattern came together so quickly and easily, but was dismayed when my finished block finished short of the intended measurements. This was a continuing problem throughout the class. Several students tried to help me: one made me a sort of guide using moleskin, but I somehow still managed to botch it up. One night I was having so much trouble with my machine that the teacher reluctantly suggested that I use her sacred Bernina. Well, I somehow managed to break not one but two needles that night! I could hardly look that teacher in the eyes for the next 10 weeks, and to this day I do not feel worthy of using a Bernina.

To keep an already long story from getting any longer, I did make my way through the class, completing most of the blocks. Unfortunately, my blocks looked terrible all put together! I went into the shop for assistance (that was pretty brave of me), and a friend from the class happened to be there. She suggested the navy sashing to calm things down a bit, and taking apart some of the 12” blocks to be used in a border. As you can see, the rail fence blocks didn’t make the cut. I think we were supposed to end up with 15 or 16 12-inch blocks. I didn’t quilt it for a long time, because I didn’t think I could quilt the whole thing by hand and I didn’t know how to do it by machine. Several years later I just sat down and started machine quilting here and there. I think it could win an ugly quilt contest, but in between hating it, I also have a certain wacky fondness for it.

As if this wasn’t long enough, I’ll leave you with a small quilt that was my first finished quilt. After the fiasco of the sampler quilt, I bought Start Quilting with Alex Anderson and made this quilt in a weekend at the beach. I still love the border fabric, which I used as a focus, and I copied Alex’s use of light fabrics for the friendship stars. The other fabrics I bought at discount stores just because the colors matched the focus fabric, again without thought to style, design or variety. The fabrics have faded a lot because of the poor quality, but I kind of like the look in an odd way. It’s one of those quilts that doesn’t really have many pretty fabrics in it, but the overall look is not bad. I envy people who can do that on purpose – I only do it on accident. Oh – I also just sewed on the borders and then cut off the excess (rather than measuring through the center), exacerbating all wonkiness. I know better now. This quilt is prettier in person, and the contrast between the stars and the other fabrics isn't quite so prounounced.

Anyway, hopefully I’ll have prettier things to show on Sunday.

With wishes, true and kind -- Joan

P.S. Thank you all so much for weighing in on the antique basket blocks! I think I may know what I'm going to do, but I need a little break from them for now.


  1. I made two of my girls friendship star quilts for Christmas a few years ago. I didn't realize how hard that pattern actually is.

    Have a great time in Sisters. I'm not going this year - maybe next - and I'm looking forward to pictures!

  2. Your first quilt are not that bad - some fabrics from the 80's, but that how they look like in those times. I like your 1'st quilt, and I'm happy that you finished the quilting:o)

  3. What a learning experience. After years of self-taught quilts, I too took a sampler class and rail fence was my first block. I ripped and ripped because it just wouldn't come out to the right size. Oh how much we have learned. You have come a long way baby.

  4. nice going for first attempts I like them all very much. Jennifer

  5. LOVE this post!!!

  6. A sampler in Blues, I like it! My first sampler wasn't as big or pretty as yours, so don't cry about it. Can hardly wait to see pictures of the Sisters quilt show. I didn't get to go this year either.

  7. Oh my! Your first quilt isn't bad! I think it looks pretty darned good for a first quilt. :) I think when we're first learning, choosing fabrics is pretty scary and over whelming. The shop owner/class teacher might have been more helpful in giving pointers for selection? I think you did just fine considering your first fabric choice was a tough one to use to pull a fabric plan together with?
    One of the MOST important things I learned early on too, is the importance of an accurate 1/4" seam.It only takes a failure or two to realize that..but if you've learned "the hard way" it sure sticks in your mind! ;)
    I really like your friendship star quilt too. It has such a relaxed friendly feel to that comes with a little age. well done on both!