No Rules? Rules?

imageRules. Love them. Hate them. Choose to ignore them. But know that they do exist. What are the rules? Why do we have them? Do we have to follow them?

I’ve thought about this a lot, the no rules battle cry for quiltmaking. I’ve talked to lots of people about it. I’ve debated a blog post about it, but never wrote it (rather, I did write it, but didn’t want to publish it).  Folks get really prickly when we talk rules.

Fortunately, quilter Tim Latimer has taken this very issue on in his blog here. Tim and I have talked about this and we agree on this: There are reasons for the rules. Can you choose to break them? Sure. Will it be disastrous if you do? Maybe, maybe not. Can you still make something wonderful and not follow rules? Sure, but the more you disregard them, the greater the risk of things not turning out quite like you’d planned. Rules exist because other people have experimented and found out what happens if you ignore them.

The trick, I believe, is knowing the rules, knowing why they exist, and knowing what will happen if you choose not to follow them. It’s that last part that’s the kicker. One of my all time favorite quotes is from Pablo Picasso, “Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.” This is the whole point.

Do I follow all the rules all the time? Heh. No. Do I know what will happen if I don’t? Yes. To my mind, it’s a calculated risk, though. If I am seeking to achieve something in particular, or if that particular result doesn’t matter in what I’m doing, I will skip it. Every time I choose to do things my own way, though, I am aware that it could have unintended consequences.

So. Do I prewash? Yes. Because I’ve seen what happens when I don’t. It only takes once. Do I use 1/4″ seams? Yes, because I want things to come out the size I’m planning and I don’t have time to do the math and reconfigure the whole piece. Do I press seams to the side? Yes, because I’ve seen seams come apart when they were pressed open. You get the picture.

Willfully rebelling against the rules before knowing why they exist is, to my mind, like a child’s desire to run into the street before he understands why he shouldn’t. Okay, maybe that’s a drastic analogy, but those who preach rules are really only trying to help prevent disaster. I tell people to prewash because I’ve had bleeds in my own quilts, and I’ve seen entire quilts ruined that were washed the first time only after they were finished, and colors ran all over the place. (And just an fyi, bleeders are not only red, and Shout Color Catchers are not a miracle cure.) If you still want to risk it, it’s your choice, I’m just using the knowledge I’ve gained by experience, and trying to help you out.

Am I saying you have to follow the rules? Not at all. In spite of all this, I am still a pretty loud voice for doing as you choose. Know that there are consequences to every choice, though. Are you willing to take the risk?

You’re more than welcome to voice your opinion here. I’m aware there are plenty of those in the world! All I ask is this one thing: BE NICE.


  • Tim Latimer

    well said!

    • Lori East

      Thank you, Tim!

  • Lee J. Quiltergirl McCoy

    I have had finished quilts bleed too… I still don’t prewash. Stop trying to tell me what to do! Ha ha!

    • Lori East

      Well, Lee, some people (ahem) are just incorrigible. 😉

  • Susan Atwell

    Very valid points all!! its like understanding gravity .. I cant help remembering interviews by successful ART quilters where they stated that they were blissfully unaware of the “rules” and therefore weren’t bogged down by the “shoulds”.. to this I say TAWANDA. My inner *Squirrel* says Quilting would be BORING without taking any risks.. and I have to agree. I think it all boils down to what your intended result is. Trying to achieve *Technical Perfection* bores the crap out of me. I do enjoy seeing it sometimes, but I LOVE the maker who takes the risk ,pushes the boundaries and fills it with SOUL!

    • Lori East

      Yes, that’s it…I love SEEING technical perfection, but I want to see evidence of spunk and spirit too. Some can do both, some don’t care. It’s all good, but you’ve got to start somewhere and why have to learn (some) things the hard way?

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  • Bill V.

    Yup, I’m a rule breaker. It can be disastrous if it is a key technical rule, and I try to abide by those. The rules I find most important to break are the creative rules– because there should be no rules, boundaries or limits when it comes to creativity.

    • Lori East


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