We used to have a lot of beginner level classes at Quilt University, but I realized one day a couple years ago, that attrition had caused a big gap between my Starting from Scratch class and the next traditional class.
Ideas chased around in my brain for weeks. Should I offer a simple pattern like the Irish Chain or the Jewel Box? Those are great projects but there isn’t a lot to teach. Since I was in the second grade, I loved to play school and try to teach other kids. I guess I never grew out of that. I want my students to leave with more skills than they came in with.
So just what was it I wanted these hypothetical students to understand as they moved on from their first quilt or two and started exploring more possibilities? I thought back to my own journey of discovery. One of the first books I bought was Maggie Malone’s 1001 Patchwork Designs. I salivated over all those blocks, tearing up strips of paper and marking the ones I liked until the book looked like a porcupine with white quills.
That book came out in 1982 and was a leap forward from the two books that I already owned. There wasn’t much in print back then. The instructions were right out of the 1850’s; you made cardboard templates, marked the fabric with a pencil and cut out the pieces with a pair of scissors. Even better, because it had lots of instructions, was The Complete Book of Machine Quilting by Robbie and Tony Fanning.
My first quilt was a log cabin and all the strips were torn. After two of those, I felt ready for my real love – stars! I picked about a dozen stars and worked on them painstakingly for nearly a year. When it came time to put the top together, no two blocks were exactly the same size. Undaunted (okay, I was a little daunted but didn’t know enough to pull out my hair), I just cut spacers out of the muslin background. I laid out the blocks and figured out how big each individual spacer needed to be so that all the rows were the same width.
Honestly, I don’t remember what I did about the height, but I am pretty sure that I put a sashing strip between the rows. I am equally certain that not all my stars had sharp points. I finished that quilt and used it proudly for several years. That was when I looked down one day and realized that all the places that had a particular brown color had simply rotted away. My precious quilt was dissolving before my eyes!
We have come a long way since my cardboard template days. We have rotary cutters and accurate rulers to use with them. The tool that really makes the difference between okay, good and excellent is graph paper. Graph paper lets us draw out our blocks and make truly accurate patterns. Even if we don’t need the pattern piece for a 3” square, it is good to know the precise size we want to cut with our rotary equipment.
Understanding how to use graph paper, whether you do it with a pencil or inside a program like Electric Quilt became the basis for my Next Step class. That doesn’t sound very sexy, but the secret was choosing great blocks and beautiful pieces of fabric. Nothing to it, right?
You know better than that. More to come…….