As a self confessed topper (someone who only makes patchwork tops or flimsy) it’s kind of a bit backwards that I’m hosting Pretty Bobbins I Quilt today, but there’s a method to Gemma’s madness. (At least I’m hoping there is…)
Let me give you a bit of a background to my journey so far and that might help explain a few things. You see, I started my journey to being a quilter only a few years ago when I took a beginners quilting class at the end of 2011. I didn’t grow up in a house where there were people sewing all the time. While my Mother had sewn earlier on in her life the responsibilities of raising a family and running a successful business meant there wasn’t that much time to sew and so she didn’t.
My Nana on the other hand sewed heaps of stuff for me (especially as a teenager) but she lived in another town and when she did live in the same town as us I was more interested in spending time with my friends then learning to sew.
I did the compulsory Home Economics unit when I was in High School and let’s be quite honest here, I sucked. Big time. (I often think about that teacher and wonder what she’d think if she could see what I was doing now…) Natural born sewer I was not.
In fact, even now a couple years into my quilting journey sewing does not come easy to me. I’m too impatient to be accurate. I’m too excited to let a project sit while I contemplate whether I’ve got the fabric, colour, pattern selection right. I’m like a bull in a china shop when it comes to my creative process. I sew much like I live life; clumsy, messy, riddled with mistakes and at a thousand miles an hour.
I really couldn’t tell you why I stuck with quilting… but I think it has a lot to do with the Longarmers I’ve worked with.
To me quilting has 2 distinctive skill sets (if we forget about the design and colour theory) there’s the patchwork and then there’s the quilting.
I’m a strong believer in fate and I think fate had a hand in how I began my quilting journey and helped me to continue where I probably would have given up normally. My Nana brought a new sewing machine (a Janome from Spotlight – a good work horse, but nothing flash) and she got it home and realised (like I’m sure most of us do when we change machines) that she really loved the machine she had and she couldn’t use the Janome. So for reasons unknown to me she sent me her machine.
When the sewing machine arrived I was really excited and immediately started dreaming of all the clothes and bags I’d make, you know, cause I was such a skilled sewer. I went to a local quilt shop and immediately bought materials and a pattern to make a bag. While I was in there I fell in love with the quilts hanging on the walls and purchased my first quilt pattern. I’d always lusted after quilts when I’d seen them in movies and television, it had just never dawned on me to make one. A few weeks later I was back in there buying fabric to make that quilt.
I had no clue about colour theory or value or pattern or anything – I just bought what I loved.
While I was in there I noticed information hanging on the quilts about who had quilted them. I’d like to remind you all at this point that I’d never seen a quilt made, I’d never made a quilt and I sure as heck hadn’t done a quilt course. I thought that the way quilts were made was to send them to a longarmer to finish off.
So I took the details down and I went home and made a quilt top. (This quilt top in fact.) When I’d finished that quilt top I took it to the longarmer and left it with her.
When I handed that quilt over I remember thinking about how horrible it looked and how heavy handed I’d been with it. The seams were wonky, there were threads everywhere and I wasn’t really convinced that I’d made something worth looking at let-a-lone use.
But then something happened, I went and picked that quilt up and saw the transformation that quilting it and binding it made and I was smitten. Head over heels in love with quilting.
At this point I thought I would take a beginners quilt course and I signed up at one of the local quilt stores (a store I’d only been in once and not the store with all the fabrics I loved, but it was close to work so attending the class was going to be easy) and it was horrible. I stopped going half way through because the teacher thought I was crap, I wasn’t learning anything and the quilt they had me making just did nothing for me. I put the sewing machine away for awhile and tried to tell myself I wasn’t meant to be a quilter and that was ok. At my core, I didn’t believe it I was just hurting from the perceived failure.
I had gifted my first quilt to my Mum (much like a preschooler I’m always giving handmade gifts to my Mum) and my Nan saw it and hinted that she’d like one. How could I refuse the woman that had done so much for me. So I made another quilt top and had it quilted and bound again by the same longarmer. The longarmer mentioned that she thought it might be time for me to do beginners quilt course if I was going to keep making quilts and she recommended a course that she thought would be good for me.
That advice lead me to making one of the best decisions in my life and altering my life permanently and in the most profound way.
In August 2011 I put all my fears of failure aside and I enrolled in, and started, a beginners quilt course at a different local quilt store. The class was taught by the most amazingly patient and kind lady. She made me feel like my clumsy, heavy handed, over excited, too enthusiastic approach was ok and that I could do this thing called quilting. It was obvious however that my skill and techniques needed a lot of work and I was ok with that, I loved seeing my vision of things come alive and playing with all that lush fabric. (I made this quilt top in that class and it’s still one of my favourites!)
So I devoted myself to making patchwork tops because the thought of quilting something on my Janome combined with how much hard work I perceived quilting to be it just seemed like the best thing to do. (I should note that during this time I did a Free Motion Quilting and Applique course with a well known Australian designer during this time – my trusty Janome wasn’t up for the task which just added to my fear of quilting.)
I also suffered with comparison (and I still do at times) – I fell into the trap of comparing my newbie work with the work of people who’d been quilting for 5, 10, 15, 30 years. I got bogged down mentally in the “I’m not good enoughs” and I never actually tried to quilt again because I was scared of failing.
Delaying the decision (or being too chicken about it) to actually quilt something myself worked for me overall because I really needed to improve my sewing skills. I cannot emphasis this enough – I had zero skills. Zero. I couldn’t even hand stitch!
But by not quilting something it meant I had a deep dark secret now. You see I’ve always felt like a bit of a fraud when it comes to calling myself a quilter because I didn’t quilt my quilts.
Well that’s changing. I’ve started slowly working up the courage to quilt things myself. Nothing major (although I have had quiet the serious play on a longarm thanks to Raylee (of Sunflower Quilting)) just a little mini here and there. In fact I even entered one of my first ever quilted mini’s in this year’s Canberra Quilters Annual Exhibition.
I’m loving the move into doing some quilting myself (all straight line so far), but I know that it will be a long time before I quilt a queen sized quilt by myself or decree myself a free motion quilter and I’m more than ok with that. It’s one of the beauties of this craft, there’s so much to learn that you could get lost in doing just piecing forever and still not master it. Quilting is a little like golf – there’s a billion techniques to nail down before you get the perfect swing.
I do find now however that when I’m working on a quilt I’m always thinking about how I want it quilted, whether that’s by me or by one of the fabulous longarmers in my life. Quilting, like life, is all about the journey and the constant evolution. I’m growing and developing and my skill set is expanding and it’s only now, a couple of years into it, that I don’t feel awkward when I tell people I’m a quilter because I am a quilter regardless of how many quilts I’ve actually quilted.
So, if you would like to link up and share where you’re at on your quilting journey I’d (and I’m sure others) would love to read about what you’ve been working on, what’s got you excited, what you’ve learned and where you’re going with it all. Remember to share the quilty love so if you can visit and comment on some of the other posts linked up that would be great too – it’s a fabulous way to meet new quilty friends, and lets face it you can never have too many of those!
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