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Best Advice I Ever Heard



The Best Advice I Ever Heard


When I am asked what is the best advice I could give a quilter I say “Practice, practice, practice”.

We are told to make sample blocks before we cut out the whole quilt. We think that we have the experience to follow directions and sew a straight seam so we just jump in and start. For the time and money we are investing, we need to warm up, just as any athlete or musician would do.


Read all the directions before starting. How many times have we heard that one!

Follow the steps thru in your head and with a sample block. The directions may miss a step or have a typo in the measurements. Are the templates cut to the correct size? Do the pieces fit together like they should? Could you cut the pieces differently to use a technique you are more experienced with than what the pattern suggests? Is straight of grain line important to this block? We trusted the publisher without checking their work. Now we have ½ yard of fabric cut the wrong size and a lot of time wasted.


Does the fabric you picked out have the look you expect? Colors and designs can change drastically when cut into smaller pieces. This is part of the excitement and wonder of quilting but can be disastrous if you don’t like the results. I draw most of my own patterns and layouts but my drawings aren’t full size. The final look can be different.

Both the full size samples and sketches of the whole are needed.

Study the results before you cut out the rest of the quilt. Pin the block to a wall and look at it from a distance, glance at it as you walk by. Make the same block with different combinations of the same fabrics. The effect your want is there but may be it is in a different combination that you expected.

Does this block get you excited? Then you have found the look you want.

Does it frustrate you? Then you need to look for something else. This quilt will never fit together for you. If a quilt or a block is a struggle to put together, if working on it is chore you dread, then you need to do something else. Unless, it is the pattern and fabric your new daughter-in-law picked out. Then remember why you are quilting it and let that love move you thru the project. You can still tweet it a bit with your experience to make it the best quilt ever made.


Have you tried all the stitches on your machine? When you got this wonderful machine, you had a short lesson. Did you go home and practice the lesson until you were proficient; probably not. Have you forgotten how to do those things that sold you on the machine in the first place? My excuse has been that I don’t have time to learn something new and practice until it works. Actually, if I would invest in a day practicing I would have more features and techniques that are learned habits that would improve my quilting and increase my productivity. I could then try an idea that I see by master machine quilters because I have related skills as a base to start from.


Make your own sampler book. Try different stitches, threads, pressure feet and needles. Make notes with a permanent marker on the sample as to stitch number, length, width, needle position and thread. What did you like or not like about the results. What ideas do you have for using this stitch? What quilt did you use it in and what did you think of the results? Add pages with sketches and ideas. It is okay to sew a piece without ‘making something’. You are working on your portfolio, your idea book. Don’t throw away your ‘mistakes’ but keep them as examples of what you don’t want to try again. If you need to ‘make something’ of your practicing, make donation quilts with your sample blocks, or a lot of very unusual pot holders.


Every athlete and musician needs to start with the basics and practice until they master the level of skill they are working for. Then they are ‘in their game’ and wonderful music is produced. It is the same for any skill. If there is an area that frustrates you, get help. Maybe you need a different tool. Maybe you are not using the tools you have correctly. Are you holding the cutter at the correct angle? Is your work surface the correct height so that you don’t get an ache in your back? I don’t always enjoy machine appliqué but when I change the height of my machine and chair, I relaxed, get into the rhythm and I continue to do more and more of it.


When you took a class did you finish the project? Whether you like the technique that was taught or not, finishing the project and practicing what you learned will add to your skills. What you learned will transfer to other similar situations. You will not be a proficient as the instructor unless you practice as many years as she has, but you can practice the technique until you are comfortable enough to add it to your repertory. Different techniques are needed for different situations. You will find your own ‘best way’ by taking something from each method. You may find a new love and move your work in a direction you never expected.


Time is our resource of shortest supply but is a major investment of each quilt we make. Use the equipment and tools that we have the way they are intended. Practice your basic skills until they are finely toned habits. Time spent practicing will multiply into more quilting time by eliminating the ‘unsewing’ time, decreasing frustration and allowing you to relax and enjoy the art of quilting. Make an investment in yourself by practicing and be rewarded with more quilts, better made quilts, and greater self satisfaction.


Happy hour is an hour quilting.

Jean Taft


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