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5 Things I Learned While Making My First Quilt

Remember when I said I was working on something super secret and couldn't post about it until it was gifted? Well, it has been gifted and I am so excited to finally be able to share this with you guys! A while back, my sister-in-law asked if I'd be willing to make a quilt out of her son's old t-shirts in honor of his high school graduation. I said yes, and while I knew it would be a big project I had no idea what to expect since I had never made a quilt before.

Ta-Da! My first quilt!

It was a long, interesting, informative, tough and even fun project. I learned a lot and now have an even deeper appreciation for quilters. I knew that quilts were a labor of love that took a lot of time and energy to make, but until I made this quilt it was just a vague understanding of the process. I now can see all the little steps and fine details that go into making a quilt, and am even more grateful for the quilts I have been given.

Binding-making, a small detail

I can also now see why quilts have been considered heirlooms. A quick history of the quilt is that they were originally made out of necessity. Rather than throwing away old blankets that had holes or worn spots on them, they would be patched, combined with other bedding, or used as filler between other blankets. Eventually, with the increased availability of manufactured fabrics, quilts became more elaborate and artistic. Instead of being made just out of necessity, quilts were instead made to tell a story of a person's history, or a person's hope for the future. In this way, they became cherished heirlooms passed from one generation to the next, keeping the family history alive through fabric and stitches.

An overlocked patch edge, another fine detail

There were a lot of things that came up while I was making the quilt that I didn't expect or even realize were things that would come up. Before I get to sharing the details of exactly how I made the quilt, I'd like to share some things I learned while making my first quilt that I think other first-time quilters will appreciate knowing before diving in head-first.

  • Work a 50-minute hour. Working 50 minutes and taking a 10 minute break keeps your head in the game. At first, I felt like it would be wasting time if I kept taking breaks each hour, but in the end I realized this helped me to keep my focus and not make silly mistakes that required a lot of time to fix. I think in the future, I would even go as far as setting a timer to make sure I take those breaks to walk around, clear my head, drink some water and then come back to the project.

  • Eat lots of brain food and stay hydrated. Much like taking a 10 minute break each hour, making sure you are fueling your brain will keep you on task and will avoid making frustrating mistakes (like sewing something on upside down. Seriously. Sooo frustrating). Snacking on nuts, avocados, energy bites made with coconut oil (recipe here!) and staying hydrated all help you stay focused without feeling overly exhausted at the end of the day. You'd be surprised at how much brain power is needed to sew a quilt.

  • Keep a seam ripper close, and remember to be kind to yourself when you need to use it. While fueling your brain and taking breaks both help to avoid mistakes, it is likely there will still be mistakes and/or changes that you will want to make as you are sewing. I think it's important to be mindful of being kind to yourself throughout this process, especially if the reason to use the seam ripper is a mistake that makes you go ggggrrrrrrr. Mr. Domestique was very helpful reminding me of this one when I'd get too discouraged.

  • If you decide to pin baste, you will need waaaay more safety pins than you'd think. I bought one large pack of safety pins and realized too late that this would not be near enough to baste the quilt with. So I made up for the lack of safety pins by using some old "quilter's pins" that I found in my grandmother's sewing box. I figured they would do the trick (I mean, they were called quilter's pins) and I guess they did do their job of holding the layers together, but boy did they prick me. The phrase "made with my blood, sweat and tears" comes to mind because all of those things happened in this process, and two of them were a direct result of being pricked by a million straight pins. It got to the point that I would flinch every time I touched the quilt, even long after the pins had been removed. Next time I think I'd use like 10 large packs of safety pins just to be, um, safe.

  • Don't forget something good to listen to. Happy ears help my creative life. I can't imagine working on something creative in a dead quiet space. For the parts that I needed to really concentrate on I put on some easy music to listen to, and for the parts that I could pay less attention to (like just sewing straight lines) I put on one of my favorite podcasts. I think this really helps to keep motivation up and keeps me looking forward to sitting down at the sewing machine because I not only get to work on a project, but get to listen to some good music or a good podcast while doing it.

Pokey pins

I hope this helps any new quilters out there, and I'll be back next time with how I went about making "the beast" as I lovingly came to refer to my first quilt. To all you experienced quilters out there, is there anything you'd add to my list?


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