About a month ago, I finished my first quilt. I have sewn tons of small, quilted wall hangings over the years, but this was the first quilt I’ve ever made that would keep someone warm. I feel such a sense of accomplishment about it. It’s not particularly intricate or remarkable, but I marvel at it every time I sit watching a movie with it wrapped around my legs. I started the quilt the day I moved into my first art studio six years ago, and I finished it last month exactly six years to the day.
It was a revelation moving into my first dedicated creative space. After shoving my creative life into a bedroom closet for 20 years, I finally was able to spread out, work on large-scale projects, and leave in-progress messes that I could shut the door on and come back to whenever I wanted. I was ecstatic—as was my partner who’d been tripping over my large spread-out projects on the living room floor for the preceding decade. The rented room was bright, with 12ft high ceilings, large windows looking out over rooftops, and durable floors that could take a beating. It was also dirt-cheap which felt like a miracle. I sat in that room six years ago surrounded by all my art supplies and grinned.
My first project there quite naturally was a quilt. Making things because you love to and for no other reason was definitely the kind of energy I wanted to infuse into my new studio. I pulled out two large suitcases of fabric and began to sort.
I learned how to quilt from a dear college friends 20 years ago. We would get together in the evening to work on small hand sewing projects once a week. In those sessions, my friend taught me about which thread to use, which needles were great for piecing, which needles were good for quilting, how to applique, and how to bind the edge of a finished project, all while chatting about our personal lives. We worked small and portable, in sizes our transient college lives could handle. Since that time, I have continued on in that tradition, making mini quilts, mostly by hand and easily stitched while commuting to work on the bus, or while listening to an audio book after dinner.
What I was about to undertake in my new studio I had never done before. I’d be working on a sewing machine—a beat up old Kenmore from the 90’s—instead of by hand, and I’d be using a classic block design (log cabin) instead of going free-form like I normally did. When I started this project, my tools were less than ideal: a sewing machine that needed servicing but wasn’t quite worth the expense, an embarrassingly dull rotary blade, an ancient calcified 12” x 18” cutting mat, a short 6” Omnigrid ruler, and a ten-dollar iron my mom bought for me when I left home for college. I didn’t have a big worktable yet so the sewing machine sat on top of a chest of drawers and I sewed standing up. It was actually quite comfortable, a standing desk of sorts. The cutting and arranging of blocks happened down on the floor—not comfortable at all.
I didn’t totally know what I was doing, but that was okay. I just kept at it; ironing, cutting, sewing, and ripping out seems, comparing fabrics, and arranging colors and textures late into the night after work. I like to respond to what I’m making as I go and find it difficult to plan everything out first, so I sewed many blocks, arranged and rearranged them, sewed more blocks, took some apart, and stared at them spread out on the floor for more time than I’d like to admit. This process continued on like this in the spare moments between work and home for a month or so. As time wore on I looked at the blocks less and less. I had been offered a solo art exhibition at a gallery down the street and my collection of blocks and mounds of fabric cut into strips found their way back into the suitcases of fabric for another time.
Fast-forward six years to another town in another state with another studio (and a new job at Connecting Threads). The unfinished quilt blocks still lay tucked away in a suitcase of fabric, but they would become the first project I would work on in my new studio and the first project I would finish too if I had my way.
I have since upgraded some of my tools, borrowed a better sewing machine, and read some great book recommends from coworkers. In my new everyday life, I am surrounded by experienced quilters that have loads of great advice. All have given me a bit more confidence to proceed. And I’m kind of glad I waited this long to finish my quilt because finishing it with a bit more knowledge on my side made the project a pure joy to work on. I didn’t feel as confident as I would like on the sewing machine but I forged ahead anyways and rejected perfection as a goal. It was okay if there were wobbles in my sewing. I think the human touch is what brings my quilt to life and gives it warmth.