7 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started Quilting

It’s been over 20 years since I first purchased some ugly fabric and inadequate supplies in a quest to make my first quilt. While that first quilt was a technical and aesthetic disaster, I was hooked and started learning everything I could about quilting. While I was soaking up as much information as I could, there were obviously some things I didn’t quite learn as early as I would have liked.

If you’re new on your quilting journey, or if you’ve been at it for a while, please learn from my mistakes!

Buy the Good Fabric & Thread

When I first started quilting my daughter was nearly four, and four year olds are not cheap! While I wanted to make quilting my hobby, I also knew that I couldn’t spend a lot of money on it. So… I went to JoAnn’s and bought the 70 cent fat quarters and $1.99 cotton fabric. And polyester thread. With coupons. Don’t get me wrong, JoAnn’s has really upped its quality game in the fabric department lately, but that was definitely not the case 20 years ago.

I started feverishly making quilts with my discount fabric, and thought I was doing a good job. Everything looked nice, the seams laid flat, and the quilting went smoothly. Then it all fell apart. Literally.

A quilt showing ripped seams and bare batting spaces.

I worked on this quilt off and on for over a decade. It only lasted a couple years on my bed because of the damage.

I’m a firm believer in using quilts and not putting them away so they don’t get ruined. After only a dozen or so washes the seams started coming undone, the fabric just plain tore itself away from the seams, and the quilting and batting was coming undone. It was devastating.

I started going to local quilt shops and carefully choosing high-quality fabrics that really called out to me. I was less interested in building my stash and more in getting good stuff that would last a while. It has been so worth it.I was less interested in building my stash and more in getting good stuff that would last a while. Click To Tweet

Don’t Be So Quick to Give Away Your Talent

It seems like my first several quilts got handed out like candy on Halloween.

Coworker had a baby? Quilt!

Sister’s husband’s niece’s classmate getting married? Quilt!

Friend’s dog went a whole day without crapping in the house? Quilt!

OK, so maybe not that last one, but you get what I mean. Even though my technique has greatly improved since I started, I would love to have one of those earlier quilts just so I could look back and see how far I’ve come. Or maybe not. They weren’t made with the good fabric.

Buy Tools & Supplies Like You’ll Never Buy Them Again

Obviously my first cardboard cutting mat didn’t make it past the first quilt. Cardboard is not exactly self-healing, if you know what I mean. Then I bought a small self-healing cutting mat that I could barely fit my fabric on and that I stored leaning against a wall. It ended up with a permanent curve and would never lay flat for cutting. Then I splurged on the big 24×36 inch mat and painstakingly made sure it always laid flat. That was 18 years ago, and I’ve only had to replace it once from using it so much. Eventually they can’t heal themselves anymore, but that was a nice long run with those mats. Spending the extra money – and treating it well – made that mat a cheaper investment in the long run.

The same holds true for scissors, fabric storage, and other tools you’ll use every day.

A self-healing cutting mat with ruler and rotary cutter sit on a table, a key supply in quilting.

My second cutting mat in nearly 20 years of quilting. Treat your supplies right, and the “expensive” options suddenly become cheaper in the long run.

Self Confidence is a Thing

I’ve been in guilds and quilting groups all over the country, and one thing is certain to happen at all of them. A quilter – beginner or advanced – will hold up their quilt during show and tell and then begin to talk about the things they don’t like about it or that they didn’t do right.

What?!

Maybe because most quilters are women, and we’re not supposed to think we’re awesome? But think about everything that goes into a quilt: selecting the pattern and fabric and painstaking hours cutting and piecing, basting, quilting, and binding.

And then you stood up and put yourself down.

No more! When you go to show and tell, stand up there with your bad self and be proud of what you’ve done! Is everyone going to like it? No. But that’s ok. You know what went into it. Don’t sell yourself short. Instead consider discussing your thought processes along the way, what you learned, or what inspired you to make the quilt in the first place. Speak positively and be proud!When you go to show and tell, stand up there with your bad self and be proud of what you’ve done! Click To Tweet

Posture is Also a Thing

My quilting spaces have ranged from converted computer desks in the corner of the living room to the kitchen table to a real live studio with a custom-built sewing desk. Many of my set ups over the years were absolutely not conducive to good posture. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself, “Spine straight, shoulders back and down.”

There are plenty of exercises and stretches we can do to make good posture second nature. Chat with your doctor about what would work best for you and then do it.

Don’t Chase Trends

Trends come and go in quilting. Traditional vs. modern. Prints vs. solids. Machine vs. hand piecing and quilting. Then add in all the hashtags for quilt along projects that make you want to feel like a cool kid.

Resist the urge. If modern really speaks to you, be modern. Then don’t try to take on traditional projects unless you have a really compelling reason. If you’re not enjoying the project, it will be a chore to finish. We’re not here to do chores. We’re here to feed our souls with creativity.We’re not here to do chores. We’re here to feed our souls with creativity. Click To Tweet

I can’t tell you how many projects I took up because I wanted to be a part of something on social media or because it was a look someone else liked. These projects languished in my works in progress pile and hung onto me like a psychological noose. Some of them I’ve let go. Some I’ve been able to turn into something that does make my heart sing.

All I’m saying here is to be who you are. You’ll be happier for it in the long run.

A close-up picture of my Hexy MF quilt.

My version of Hexy MF from I’m a Ginger Monkey. I loved the idea of EPP, but the original pattern hung on me like dead weight. With some modifications, I got exactly what I wanted.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Stupid Questions

Some of my greatest quilting breakthroughs came when I asked the stupid questions. Why a quarter-inch seam? What’s the difference between quilting cottons, batiks, and homespun fabrics? Why is it called quilting when that’s only one step of the process? Yeah, I looked a little silly for a minute, but the answers to these questions helped me learn – and then break – the rules of quilting.

For the record, it’s a large enough seam to keep the fabric together but small enough to not be bulky; regular woven, tightly woven dyed with wax, and very loosely woven – usually a plaid; and no one ever really did give me a good answer to that one.

If you’re a beginner, what’s the biggest tip you took from this? If you’re more advanced, what would you add to the list?

Quilt on,

Joni

2 Responses to 7 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started Quilting
  1. Terry Feavel Reply

    Never hurry the details. Cutting, pressing, etc.

    • Joni Reply

      This is such a good one! Slowing down has always kept me from making (too many) mistakes.

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