Monday, August 2, 2010

Rules of Quilting 'My Way'

Quilt designer, author and speaker Deb Rowden recently did this post with a question, "How do you quilt?"
The very same day,  Victoria @ Bumble Beans was focusing on 'Calm' .
It made me think about my process of the quilt making once again.
How do I quilt?
Why do I quilt?

We often ask ourselves these questions. We find the appropriate answers to fit that particular time in our lives.  We change and grow as we go on. I know I am not the same quilter today as I was just a few years back!

As I searched for the answer of the first question, I realized that I have found myself drifting back and forth with my way of quilting all through my quilting years. Answer to that question has also changed as I have grown as a quilter. 

I started quilting by taking a basic quilting class back in 1992. That's when I learned all about cutting straight lines, quarter inch seam allowance and matching points. It was the best thing I did at the time! I made many quilts using those tricks and tips. I still do! One thing was established quite early though.. I never liked following patterns and matching points. I bought many patterns and books to get inspired and went my own way while making quilts.  

I was very fascinated by appliqued quilts! The free form of designs were quite attractive. After making   couple of applique quilts, I started changing those patterns to fit my artistic needs. Those quilts were followed by designing my own applique patterns. Not all of them are finished yet.. I like working slowly and enjoy the process.

I like to design patterns, I love changing the old classic patterns and put my own twist on them. I also love working with old fabrics. My definition of old and vintage fabric is not the ones from the antique stores but worn and loved by someone I don't know and people I do know! And, there is no greater satisfaction than using up all of the scraps of fabrics from previous quilts. Using solids and making quilts without patterns is my way of making sure that I never get tired of looking at them.

When Deb asked the question, I wondered  about my way of quilting. I do focus on design and colors and all the elements of art  I learned in school. 

Is it hard to put all that aside? Absolutely YES!

Today, I realized something new about the way I quilt. I am not free of all the rules. Not just yet!

I have made many improvisational quilts and quilt tops. Honestly there are more quilt tops than finished quilts in my closet. I have also taught classes based on the concept of Improvisational quilts. The brown bags, the swapping of the fabrics with the person next to you, making do with what you have and tearing up loved ones cloths and making the quilts... All have been done in my classes. I even had my students make their own feed sack fabrics by using sharpie and writing something  meaningful on a piece of fabric and then using that fabric in the quilt! Ahh... Those were some good days of teaching.

My students cut their fabrics with scissors, learned cutting and sewing gentle curves, tried using fabrics and colors they disliked to free themselves and unlearned lots of rules as they went along their journey through the class I called, 'Inspirations from Quilts of Gee's Bend'.

Some students took my whimsy ideas in a stride and went beyond and some really had hard time breaking away from what they were used to. I too learned a lot along with them and improved as a quilter!

As I sit here and think about my way of quilting, new questions have popped up in my head today!

Am I really free of all the rules?  

Why do I still need a design wall?

Do I need to have all my quilts lay flat?

My favorite designers Anna Williams and Annie Mae Young  made their quilts with a utilitarian purpose in mind. Beds and floors may have been used to lay the blocks out. Their quilts hung beautifully with the waves and curvy edges just fine.

So the answer is, No I do Not! 

I realized that after all the curve piecing and improv stitching, I occasionally square  up my blocks. It is necessary  to put the whole quilt together and also it would lay flat and look right when I finish it.

While commenting on Deb's post, I challenged myself to not use the design wall for my next quilt. I really want to see if I can put all the fears of it not looking right in the end to rest. 

So, yet another personal challenge has evolved.

No rotary cutting tools.
No piece of fabric cut out of the yardage.
No accurate quarter inch seam allowance.
No matching and coordinating the pieces.
No design wall!
Just my scissors, bits and pieces of fabrics and my sewing machine!

 This is what I have done so far!

I gathered the leftover scraps. These started out of the size of palm of my hands.

Cut them in to smaller pieces by hand with scissors. No ironing required! No straight edge needed!

I then stitched them one at a time and piece by piece into small rows. 
Check out the edges of these pieces. No straight lines!

I pieced the rows into a small block. Added bits and pieces as I continued sewing. Do you notice that tiny red piece?  That row on the side was small and the red piece was added to meet the length of the block. Also, no deliberate curve cutting or stitching needed. It just happens when you let loose! Not ironing every seam helps a lot to get the raw look. 
The artist in me could not overlook the fact that a contrasting color would look great in small doze. (Couldn't help it. I promised to throw away the rules not my basic instincts!)

Made a few blocks and put them away in a drawer or away from the sewing table.

Started a new block. I will not worry about the size or the shape and keep making blocks until the pile of scraps is gone.

I will also keep you posted as I go along this little journey. It might be a slow progress. I am in no hurry. If you decide to try making a quilt 'My Way' I would love to see pictures of your progress. 

I must thank Deb Rowden for the inspiration. As I continue with this quilt, I will be thinking of the reasons I quilt and for that, I must thank Victoria! 

Thanks for stopping by!



  1. Hmmm - I think there's a lot for me to learn from this post, Sujata! Thanks for making me stop and think about what I've been obsessing over!

  2. oooh! girlie! How exciting! I can't wait to see what becomes of this quilt...Can't wait to hear more about what you learn by doing a project like this.... I MAKE STUFF simply because I have too...I get itchy when I don't have something to do... Keep stitching Sujata, because everything your doing is working.. It's a fun journey to travel down...

  3. Lovely post, Sujata! How I wish I'd been in all your classes! I will take your challenge. I've been wanting to make a quilt of all old scraps. It's fun to try to make a quilt the way Anna or Annie may have done it.

  4. I enjoyed reading about your quilting journey and the way you're doing things now compared to before. You are quite an inspiration to me...keep up the good work. Seems like we keep learning and as time goes on we give ourselves more room for our own interpretations.

  5. What a thought provoking post. I really like that you're questioning the need for flatness. Your scrap blocks are looking great, it'll be fun watching this one grow.

  6. I needed this post right now, Sujata. Lots to ponder today!

  7. wow, love it love it love it! This is something I've been wanting to push myself towards as well - the no rotary cutter thing especially, cuz having a straight edge to sew is a big thing for me. I'm so encouraged by your wonderful blocks!!!

  8. Hmmm you really gave me something to think about! I can't wait to see where this takes us!

  9. First: What wonderful ruminations. I can relate to all that you are saying. It is as if you have somehow opened up the top of my head and expressed my thoughts.
    Next: This is a wonderful exercise and ever so inspiring for us all. No boundaries, no rulers, just plain fun!

  10. I immensely enjoyed reading your thoughts on quilting, Sujata. Very thought provoking indeed. For now I enjoy working with patterns adding little twists to it but never know what the future holds ;)
    Your project is very intriguing! I would love to follow your progress on it. Have fun!

  11. I love your post and your way of thinking, sewing. Difficult to be free of all rules... slowly but surely I am enjoying immensely this kind of quilting. Thanks a lot for your inspiration. By the way, I also started learning to quilt in 1992, in Central Africa, hence my love for African fabrics.


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