Quilting Terms: What is a Mystery Quilt?
When you took Grandma* to her quilting retreat, you may have thought she would be joining little old ladies in a quilting bee. You might have pictured them all sitting around a quilt, weaving little tiny stitches into it with needle and thread, while they talked about their children and grandchildren. You might never have imagined that she would be participating in mystery, suspense and intrigue. But that may be exactly what she might have been doing. She may be working as a detective as she challenges her skills to solve a mystery using fabric, a rotary cutter and a sewing machine.
* You do know by now that quilting is not restricted to Grandmas, right? Quilters come in all age ranges, all types of family structures, and both genders.
Types of Mysteries in Quilting
There are three different kinds of mysteries in quilting, and they must be kept separated, because they are three completely different things, even though they are all related to quilting in some way.
First there are quilt mysteries. Second, there is a Wheel of Mystery quilt block. And third, there are mystery quilts. Each of them has a distinct place in the quilting world. I will explain each of them so that you understand the difference, but the main focus of this article is on mystery quilts.
The first types of mysteries in quilting we will discuss are called quilt mysteries. Quilt mysteries are suspenseful books and videos about puzzling events that is somehow related to quilting. They are mystery books.
Because mystery quilts and quilt mysteries sound so similar, it is important to be careful with the terms you use to so that you can be sure you are getting what you want. Even if you use the right term, it is possible that the person you are talking to is thinking of the other one.
Wheel of Mystery Quilt Blocks
Wheel of Mystery Quilt Block
The second type of mystery is a Wheel of Mystery quilt block. It is used to make quilts. This block is made with three templates and curved piecing. The first template makes up the four spokes of a wheel, while the other two templates fill up the remaining spaces of the square. The Wheel of Mystery quilt block can be repeated throughout the quilt to make an attractive design on the quilt. Usually the spokes of the wheel are an accent color, while the two remaining templates utilize background colors.
With the advent of die cutters, you no longer have to painstakingly cut these curved pieces with scissors or even a rotary cutter. You can buy a die cutter, or you can buy kits which have already cut the templates for you. Curved piecing is slower and more difficult than piecing straight seams, but a beginner can do it by taking her time and using lots of pins.
Quilt designers have played with the Wheel of Mystery quilt block by changing the coloration, and are able to come up with new intriguing designs using the traditional quilt block.
Mystery Quilt patterns
What is a mystery quilt?
Finally, there is the mystery quilt. A mystery quilt is a quilt that is made from a pattern that is provided in small steps, like clues. Sometimes it comes with story, a quilt mystery, but usually it does not. Each step is provided one at a time, so that the quilter has time to complete one step before being provided the second step. Because it is a mystery, only the quilt designer or retreat leader knows what the final quilt will look like.
Mystery quilts are best made in a group setting - either in person or online - so that quilters can see what others have done so far, and so they can speculate about what the final quilt will look like.
Advantages of Making Mystery Quilts
The main joy of making a mystery quilt is the suspense and intrigue. Since you do not know what the finished quilt will look like, there is fun in trying to put the pieces together and imagining the result.
Since most of these quilts are done in a group setting, either online or in person, the social aspect is also a part of mystery quilts. Quilters can speculate with each other what the result will look like, and see whose ideas were the closest. They can also look at fabric choices other quilters have made and marvel at how one quilt can look so different depending on the fabric choice.
Disadvantages of Mystery Quilts
There are some disadvantages with making mystery quilts, but most of them can be removed pretty easily.
The mystery that adds suspense and intrigue can also be uncomfortable for some quilters. Since fabric is expensive and time is precious, they may worry that they are wasting their time on a quilt they will not like. These quilters can alleviate some of the suspense by waiting until others have finished their quilts, and deciding to do the mystery after they are sure they will be pleased with the results.. They can then not look at any finished quilt again, to retain part of the mystery. Or they can analyze all the different fabric choices to find the combination that is most pleasing to them.
Some quilt designers are also willing to provide one-on-one guidance, so if you prefer to show your fabric choices to your quilt designer to see if they will work, most will be happy to look them over and let you know if something just won't work. This will not guarantee that you will like the result, but some mistakes can be taken care of from the beginning.
Some mystery quilts have not been tested in a group setting, or ever, and may contain typographical and errors. There is usually someone who starts completing the step right away, and errors tend to be caught pretty quickly. Most quilt designers will be able to correct the error right away or adjust the remaining clues to accommodate for the errors. If a quilter is nervous about errors, she can wait until others have finished the step to make sure that these types of errors have been caught.
While mystery quilt designers are open about what will be involved with the quilt up front, they do not know the particularities of each quilter. As a result, it is possible that a future step will have directions to do something that you do not like - paper piecing for example, or curved piecing. This can be seen as a positive, to help you try new techniques and stretch your skills. If you still feel uncomfortable with the step, you may ask the quilt designer if you can substitute some other block in its place.
Mystery Quilt Designers
Billie Lauder has written two Mystery Quilts books. Mystery Quilts -A Quilt Detective's Handbook is no longer in print, and Mystery Quilt Series - Locked Up in Chains. This book can help people who are planning to hold retreats or other quilters who are planning to get together to have some fun and solve a mystery. The quilts are meant to be simple enough to be done in a day.
Everything Quilts is a quilt store that has an International Quilt Mystery Series as a block of the month program.
Bonnie Hunt is a scrap quilt designer that regularly presents mystery quilts for free on her blog. The one she is currently working on is called Orca Bay. Since this mystery is meant to be done online, Bonnie likes to use lots of little pieces in her quilts, and her quilts are not meant to be made quickly, but the results are likely to be spectacular.
A mystery quilt is a great way to add suspense and mystery to quilting, and to bond with other quilters as you piece together the parts of the puzzle. It stretches your skills, and lets you try new techniques. There is great pride in solving the puzzle and in sharing and comparing the results with your quilting buddies.