Friday, December 26, 2014

One Year of Quilts (with some education stuff thrown in)

I can finally post about this. Finally.

One of my recurring fascinations is with education research and the brain (handy that it's my job, too), and something I've read so much about in the last couple of years is the importance of grit or determination. A kid can be a genius, but if he gives up the second something is difficult for him, then his genius doesn't matter at all. We talk a lot in my district about how to instill this grit into our students. This, after all, will be the edge that sets them apart in college or the workforce for the rest of their lives. It makes them problem solvers and not quitters.

I'm oversimplifying here, but instilling grit in students (or our own children) means putting tasks in front of them that are hard. It means congratulating their failures (rather than punishing them with bad grades or scowls or whatever) because they learned something from those failures and are one step closer to solving a problem. It means providing just enough support to push them to success, but not enough to make them comfortable.

The second part of my theory regarding grit is that we, as adults, don't usually choose to do things that are hard or that we're bad at. I know this is true for me. I find some disconnect - dare I say hypocrisy - in the fact that we want our kids to try and fail and branch out and learn, but we really like our comfortable situations. In short, I think I've gone most of my adult life without learning to do something new. I used to joke that before I retire I'd like to teach Algebra because I can't imagine anything farther from my comfort zone of teaching. But don't suggest that I would do that now -- what if I'm not immediately good at it? That would be terrible!

So I set out to change that in 2014. First, with the encouragement of some great friends, I signed up for a mini-triathlon. There's a half-finished, unpublished blog post somewhere about it, and it was an awesome experience.

I also decided to learn how to quilt. I chose quilting because if my house were burning down, one of the top five things I would grab is this:

It's a quilt my grandmother made. When I moved out of my parent's house to go to college, I may have "accidentally" packed it. (My mother might use the word "stole" but that's a little harsh, I think.) Since then, we've lost my Mammaw, but I still have this quilt and I think of her every single time we use it, which is probably daily. Quilting isn't eliminating hunger or anything, but it's something with a lasting impact. Something that will (hopefully) go on beyond me. After I made a practice quilt, I set a goal to make eight quilts, one for each of the adult women in my family, and give them for Christmas. It seemed a little crazy, but it kept me going because I had a goal.

This is another little part of teaching our kids and our students grit. If their work -- this hard, failure-creating work -- is related to something they are invested in, then they are more likely to stick with it. To keep trying. To work harder and learn from mistakes.

And so, armed with a new sewing machine, I started quilting. First I read articles and watched YouTube videos. Several people have asked for which ones I watched, and it was so long ago that I'm not sure I remember them all. I'm posting a few here that look familiar and I think are good:

  • Diary of a Quilter - Beginning Quilt Series
  • Jenny, from the Missouri Star Quilt Company, was my new best friend this year. I like all of her tutorials. Here is their channel. I also used her tutorial on the jelly roll race on one of my quilts. I liked the process a lot, but I've had a hard time finding jelly rolls locally that I really like. 
  • Regarding patterns: I only used a couple. For the most part I saw something I liked online and sketched it out on white paper, calculating sizes. Use pencil because it take a while to get it right. 
  • I studied and referenced quilting terms because I found I was reading articles and had no idea what they meant because I didn't know the vocabulary. 
  • I pinterested like crazy. "Easy quilts" was my most frequent search. You can see my sewing board here. Many of the easy quilts come with tutorials. 
  • Speaking of easy, my quilts were all quite simple. You'll notice only straight, rectangular lines in them all. I may be ready to branch out into triangles after one year of work, but don't hold me to it. 
  • I'm kind of terrible at basting. I thread basted using a spoon because that's what my friend Erin does, then I tried pin basting, then I started spray basting later in the year. I like spray basting the best. 
  • For my first few quilts, I made my own binding. Then I discovered bias tape for quilt binding and may have actually jumped for joy in the store. SUCH a time saver! My friend Jenny from Missouri Star has a great tutorial on binding. I re-watched it before binding my first five quilts (at least) because I was afraid I would miss a step. I hand bound my mini-practice quilt, but used my machine for all the rest. 
The biggest question I've gotten from people is about the actual quilting on the machine. Many people make quilts but send them off to be quilted, which can be very expensive. I was determined that these quilts were going to be 100% done by me, and since part of my original mission was to do something difficult I decided I had to do the quilting, too.

My friend Erin had the best advice. She told me to take a section at a time, get comfy, have a glass of wine, and just go. If you're too stiff or too worried about perfection, then you're asking for trouble. Just go. She also said that quilts are what you make them. In other words, it's your quilt, so if you like it then it's not wrong. This was probably the hardest advice for me to follow. I like to plan and control and follow the directions, so the freedom was tough. More than once I sat down to quilt and after about five minutes decided I couldn't right then because I was wound too tight. Most of the mistakes I made (that had to be ripped out and redone -- and there were plenty) were because I was trying to force myself to get a certain thing done even though I didn't really want to right then. Patsy Thompson has a four part tutorial that's pretty long but got good details. You'll see that I chickened out and straight-line quilted all of the first quilt and the first part of the second. 

Before I post the pics I also want to mention that these are far from perfect. Really expert quilters would likely look closely at them and see technical flaws -- uneven stitching in places, a repair here and there, etc. I know they are there, and I'm okay with it. See, I'm not an expert yet. I'm still learning, and not being perfect is part of that. Maybe some day I'll get there! 

The practice quilt where I first learned how to do stuff.

This is my first full-size quilt. I loved the fabrics, and it took me a long time to cut out all of the squares. I also counted wrong, so I have about a million more squares already cut out in these fabrics just waiting for another project. 

Tiffany's quilt. I bought a charm pack with the squares, and used a quilt I found on Pinterest as inspiration. I straight line quilted the center. The purple area is my first free-motion work. 

I'm pretty sure I did Mom's next. I saw this pattern in the quilt store and thought it would be perfect for her. Piecing this together was a huge puzzle, but I love the finished product. I bought the kit at Lone Star Quiltworks in College Station, and it was nice to have someone else choose just the right fabrics to make it. It was the first time I used an actual pattern. 

This is the jelly roll race quilt. I jokingly call it my Hawaiian quilt because the flowers on the fabric look Hawaiian to me. I wanted something quick and simple, and this definitely fit the bill. It was originally for Wendy, but when it was done it just didn't look like her. I ended up keeping it for myself. 

This is probably the most difficult quilt I made. It seemed simple, but it had more small pieces than the others I had done. Getting those squares to be the same size required some serious accuracy in cutting and piecing. It also turned out to be pretty big, so quilting it was hard on my domestic machine. I think looks great with such rich color, even if I can spot the few mistakes. 
I needed an easy quilt after the purple one. I found the center fabric and immediately thought of Jodi. It was so bright and happy that I didn't want to put another print with it to distract from it. It needed to be a in a big chunk. I found a quilt similar to this on Pinterest and just modeled this after the one I found. 

I used a pattern for this, too. Maybe only the second or third actual pattern I used. The funny thing is that the pattern made the center gray quilt. When I was done, it was itty bitty and kind of funny!  I added the maroon borders and stars to give it some size, and I like it much better with the addition. The back of this quilt is great fabric, too!

I knew I wanted to make this one for Mary (it's just like Mom's, only Aggie colors), so I saved it for last because I knew I wouldn't need time to choose a design or fabric. I put it all together, added the border, and was just about to baste when I realized I attached the bottom half to the top half upside down. EEK! I ripped out and redid more seams on this thing than all the other quilts put together, but it was worth it. Also, I accidentally bought backing fabric that was extra wide, and I didn't have to piece the backing together at all. I felt silly that I'd made quilts all year without realizing I could have been buying extra wide fabric for the back! 
Wendy's actual quilt. I finished the others in time to make one that was more like her, and I was glad I did. I have LOTS of this fabric left for other projects because I needed the long strips. 
There you have it!  One year of quilting and learning! I can't wait to get going on my next project!

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