It’s all for fun anyway. Right? Yes, yes it is.
The other day I promised to show you what I was working on. so look over there on the left. Yep, that’s it. It’s not done because it hasn’t told me what it wants to be yet, but I’m having loads of fun anyway. I am not worried about how it’s going to end up. Really. Am I nuts? (Don’t answer that.) Does it sound like I have it backwards? Shouldn’t I be telling the quilt what it should look like? No. I’m going to tell you why.
If I set out to make a quilt exactly like a pattern shows it should look, it’s already done before I make it. Someone else has already made that quilt look that way. Yes, I can change the fabric and make it look a little different, and sometimes that’s fun. But after I’ve made a couple of blocks, I’m bored. I can lay them side-by-side and get a pretty good idea what the finished product is going to look like. At that point, I’m done. Next project, please!
I still enjoy seeing other people’s projects made from patterns. I enjoy knowing that that maker plunked down hard-earned cash to support someone who makes a living writing patterns (it’s way harder work than you think–see one designer’s thoughts on it here). I like seeing that you or he or she has burned creative energy choosing fabrics, prewashing them, pressing them, cutting, sewing carefully, and assembling all the pieces into a whole. Whatever it takes to get us using creative energy is good.
Certainly, there are times when you might want to make a quilt exactly like the pictures on the pattern. Perhaps there is something about it as-is that makes your heart sing. Do that, then. But if you look at it and think, “What would happen if…?” you might want to listen. I rather like that voice. Sometimes, I can hear Lucy saying to Ethel, “I have an idea.” When I hear her voice, I’ve learned I need to proceed with caution.
I usually start with nothing but a pile of fabric that plays nicely together. It might be a big, messy pile of scraps, or a neatly folded stack of yardage. All that matters is that I like how the pieces look lying next to each other. Sometimes I will cut and piece actual shapes, parts of a block, but sometimes, as with the current piece, I don’t. In this case, I am “making fabric,” and waiting for it to say what it wants to be. It will, don’t worry. If I run out of fabric, I just use something else. I love being forced to make it work. (Channeling Tim Gunn here.)
I rarely use patterns anymore. This isn’t because I don’t think they’re good and useful. I do! Please do buy books, buy patterns (but don’t copy them to share with your friends). Many of my friends are pattern designers and authors, and there are more making their marks every day. Buy their books to learn, see, and do.
Even though I don’t use patterns much, I do still have most of a shelf full of technique books. Sometimes I can’t quite remember exactly how to do something and need some help (joining the final ends of a binding comes to mind, I have to look it up every single time). Sometimes I need the inspiration of seeing different blocks to get me started thinking. And sometimes, I just don’t want to do the math of making a block a particular size. Someone else has already figured that part out for me, why wouldn’t I use it?
Sometimes I have a vague idea what something will be, sometimes not. Please note that I said, “idea.” Ideas and reality are often not the same at all. Therein lies the fun. That’s where the magic happens. Try it, just once and you’ll see. The quilt above, which you might recognize from my Facebook page started out just this way: a pile of scraps, some almost-mindless sewing, a fun background, and voila! A fun quilt.
I can hear you saying now that you don’t want to waste fabric. I understand that. It’s not cheap. Most of us have more fabric than we can use in three lifetimes, though, don’t we? And if you think that fabric is “precious,” stop. Stop it now. It’s not. Just walk into any fabric store, thrift shop, or flea market, and you’ll see that there’s more fabric floating around on this planet than can ever be used. If you use it to learn from, to enjoy just for the doing, you start to let go of the notion that it’s too valuable to use. Learning is invaluable. And if you run out of fabric? Punt. Seriously, just make it up. Use something similar…or completely different. You’ll be surprised what happens.
You might also be thinking that none of this makes sense because you want to create an “heirloom” for your family. While I’m not sure exactly why that means making something perfect, if it does for you, then please do that. You should always make what makes you happy. It’s meant to be fun, remember? What I’ll leave behind are quilts that might make people laugh, or will certainly make them wonder what I was thinking. That, to me, is the best kind of heirloom, something that shows personality, evidence of the maker.
My friend Pam Weeks first taught me about making fabric eons ago. Pam’s quilts are wonderful pieces that allow her artist’s heart to shine. I don’t remember where she’d learned to make fabric, but she graciously taught it to me and I was hooked. I couldn’t wait to give it a go!
Since then, I’ve seen that lots of quilters use this technique. Probably the one you’ll recognize most readily is Victoria Findlay Wolfe. (I laughed out loud when I saw her photo on Facebook–at the link above…I had just taken the photo of what was on my wall above.) Victoria does amazing things when she plays. And yes, I do own her book. You should too. Visit her site to buy it.
As you may have noticed if you’ve seen any of my collection, I don’t own any perfect quilts. The ones I’ve made are far from perfect, and I collect based on what makes me laugh. Some of them are downright goofy.
Most of us don’t make a living by making quilts. If you do, please, I implore you, keep doing whatever it is that works for you. Most of us do it for the sheer enjoyment of making things, the fun. So instead of stressing over making something perfect, why not just let loose and enjoy the process? It’s all for fun anyway. So while I don’t yet know what these pieces want to be, I’m sure they’ll tell me soon enough. Will it be wonderful? Yes! Will the quilt be beautiful? Maybe. Maybe not. Will I learn from it? Certainly. Will it be fun? Yes! That, to me, is what it’s all about. Life is too full of have-tos as it is. Why add more?