Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Quiltmaking 101--the Beginning

Since 1989 I've been teaching the beginning quilt class, Quiltmaking 101, at my local quilt shop, Patches & Stitches. I love teaching beginners, encouraging them, watching them succeed when they didn't think they could.  I also teach the hard stuff:  feathered stars, mariners' compass, etc. but my heart is with the beginners.  I tell them I have 3 goals for the class:

1.  They feel they've gotten their money's worth from the class.  It's not inexpensive to start quilting.
2.  They finish this project so their descendants won't find a box under the bed and wonder: What was she doing with this?
3.  I addict one of them, completely and totally to quilting, so the industry continues to thrive--I am always successful, every 5 week class, with this goal.

Here is the project:

Mix N Match Stars, pattern by Glad Creations, my sample

While this is not the usual beginner's quilt, I have found it to be the right amount of challenge for the person who really wants to learn to make quilts.  It is also perfect for the self-taught person who wants to improve and learn tips and techniques.  People often come back a year or two later to take it again.

The pieced border is optional--when I tell them it took me 8 hours to make those borders, most of the students choose to go with the Super Simple Borders option.  I have prepared a 7 page handout with both options, instructions for a practice 1/4" test block, a Rail Fence, and lots of piecing instructions. 

The most difficult thing for beginners to intermediate quilters to master is the dreaded "scant" 1/4" seam allowance.  What is "scant"?  How do you find it on your machine?  I  have them practice that in the first week at home, between gathering their supplies at week 1, to making their first block in class week 2.  Most get it or get a lot closer than their first effort.  It takes practice and maybe, drawing a line on the fabric, using a taped guide on the throat plate, getting a 1/4" foot, etc. 

The next most difficult thing for beginners to intermediate quilters is choosing fabric.  I help them start with a focus or theme fabric, or a theme:  Christmas, Baby, Patriotic, etc.  Find that first fabric that will usually be the border and select fabrics that go with it.  It takes a little while but most get it quickly and they leave the shop excited about their quilt-to-be. 

We spend 5 weeks together and I can say many of these students become my friends and many join our guild, Heritage Quilters of Huntsville.  One of the best perks of my job is receiving a thank you note or email from a student who has found her/his bliss and is so excited to continue their quilting journey.  I received one of those just recently and with Terri's permission, I share a bit of it here:

      I would like to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to
teach a beginner's quilting class. I learned so much and I am definitely hooked
on quilting. I have already started my second quilt.

      I finished piecing my quilt together on Feb 20th and found a sweet lady that said she would
long arm quilt it by the 27th. (The baby shower was on Feb 28th). She totally surprised me and had it done on the 24th. She did a beautiful job of quilting it in a butterfly pattern.
      Thank you once again for your time and patience! I hope to take another class from
you soon.


Here is Terri's finished quilt, a baby gift for a new grandbaby, Ella.  Even though she was under a tight deadline, Terri made the pieced borders and got it done on time.  Great job, Terri!

One lucky tool my students have to help them is a series of videos I did several years ago for www.monkeysee.com   It's called How to Quilt and you can find it here.  It took 6.5 hours to video the seven 3 minute segments.  I wasn't paid anything for this but it has been very helpful for the students at home as they try to remember everything I taught at week 2.  Each segment covers a small bit of the process.  I laugh when I tell people about it:  I can teach you everything you need to know in 21 minutes!  I thought they were pretty hokey the first time I saw them but they sure have helped my students.

To finish, here are just a very few quilts from past students, some tops done, some not quite yet--one week between finishing the blocks and having a complete top can be a challenge when life gets in the way.  I am always happy to get photos of their finished quilts and I add them to my slideshow of QM 101 quilts:

Linda R

Debbie E

Peggy H

Rhonda St.

Sophie on the right

I'm off to Chicago today to work at International Quilt Festival . To help fill the schedule, I'll be teaching 2 classes at Make It University on hand-piecing Lemoyne Stars and doing 2 two hour demo sessions on String Piecing at Open Studios.  If you are anywhere near Chicagoland, come to the show--don't miss a great opportunity to see quilts and shop vendors and take classes.  I am also taking a machine quilting class with Catherine Redford--I've got a busy week ahead!  Two of my quilts that were in the book 500 Traditional Quilts will be in that Special Exhibit and the Red and White--By the Numbers, the 40th anniversary Commemorative Quilt will be displayed. I'll be very happy to see it again.

Let's quilt!



  1. Beautiful quilts from your students!! What an amazing feeling to know you had a hand in helping someone create such a gift!!

  2. How fun to see their completed tops and quilts!