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I Taught Myself to Quilt and You Can, Too

Updated on June 5, 2013

Teach Yourself To Quilt

You can teach yourself to quilt. I want to share my experiences with beginner quilting with you and I sincerely hope that it will inspire someone to begin this fascinating search for unlimited beauty through an art that began thousands of years ago. Whether you are led to explore fabric art or the retro fabrics and designs and crazy quilts, it won't matter.

The history of quilting is fascinating. Epic stories were told through the simple bed quilt. Especially in the South, in the United States, during the time of bondage for slaves, quilts were used to pass messages as well as spiritual songs to those seeking freedom through the underground railroad, which was neither a railroad nor underground. It was, however, highly secret.

I didn't start really quilting until about four years after I retired. I simply decided that I wanted to make something for one of my granddaughters. She had a castle bed, complete with ladder and slide. The youth bed was on the upper deck.

So the journey began. I had been sewing most of my life mostly making clothes for my girls while they were growing up. Curtains, tablecloths, decorations, and costumes had gotten me acquainted with the skill. I thought to myself, "How hard can quilting be?"

I quickly found that it isn't hard, but it is different. I allowed myself to become intimidated by all the seemingly incomprehensible and complicated patterns that make up a quilt.

I began by reading books, watching YouTube videos, joining quilting forums, and opting in to newsletters from well-known quilting magazines. I haunted places like Hobby Lobby, Hancock's, Jo Ann's, and other local quilt shops.

I could not at the time afford private lessons so I joined an online membership for one year. For a monthly fee I received patterns, cds, dvds, and other printed materials. I invested in books by the best-selling authors. The public library helped with that. I asked questions, I used trial and error on cheap fabric, and slowly collected the essential (and some just nice to have) tools for my art. I collected coupons and watched for sales to build my arsenal of tools and a good sewing machine.

I don't hand quilt, although I do know how. I do it all on my Janome Décor 3050. I saved money until I could afford the machine I wanted. I also have a Janome Embroidery machine. I'm not advertising for sewing machines. That just happens to be the brand that I own and I am happy with them. I still use my little Kenmore Junior for piecing and straight stitching.

My first quilt was a one block youth size quilt for a granddaughter. I design my quilts ahead of time, on paper, and not once in the last few years has a quilt turned out like planned. They were better. The pink tractor quilt in the picture is the first quilt I made. Some fancy stitching (with the machine's built in stitches) made a little girl very happy.

I hope you will enjoy my journey into the quilting world. This is my passion, the one thing that I never tire of, that I am always excited about. I can lose myself in any aspect of quilting for hours at a time.

It is my quiet time, my relaxation, my frustration smoother, my stress-buster. It's an art form. It is creativity at it's best for me. Please join me as I share this part of me with you.

My First Sewing Machine - Kenmore for Piecing Quilt Blocks

Back in 2004 I moved to Austin, Texas to live with my daughter and son-in-law at their request. I had sold off all my furniture already, so it wasn't much of a chore. I had been there for awhile when my son-in-law asked me if I could do some mending for him. The pockets of his pants were worn out and needed to be replaced.

I agreed and we went to Sears and bought the Kenmore Junior, a 3/4 machine with straight, zigzag, and buttonhole stitches. Little did I know that this would soon become one of my favorites.

This unassuming little machine makes beautiful stitches and is perfect for piecing quilt blocks, although I hadn't discovered this yet. I did the repair work and put the machine away until we moved away to Arkansas in 2007.

When I decided I wanted to quilt, the Kenmore Junior was the only machine I had. I began. I needed no book to make the John Deere youth bed quilt pictured here. It's simply one piece of fabric cut to the desired size with a backing and binding.

I went to and YouTube to get specifics about the techniques to use and the best batting. Quilts are usually made of 100% cotton. I use Warm Company's Warm and White or Warm and Natural all cotton batting for almost all my quilts. There are more expensive and newer ones, like Bamboo, 80/20 (80% cotton and 20% polyester.) There are other websites and books that I will mention further down.

Kenmore 11206 Three Quarter Size Sewing Machine
Kenmore 11206 Three Quarter Size Sewing Machine
My first machine when I started quilting. I still have it and still use it for piecing. It is very dependable and makes beautiful stitches. I've had no problems with tension, needles breaking, or anything else. You do have to remember to clean it and oil it periodically.
Janome DC3050 Computerized Sewing Machine
Janome DC3050 Computerized Sewing Machine
50 stitches, including 3 buttonholes, 24 Heirloom stitches, 6 Satin Decorative stitches, bi-directional blanket stitch. I paid much more for this same machine, bought from a dealer. This is still my favorite machine. It will sew through eight layers of denim or a thick, king-sized quilt. This machine has never failed to deliver for me.
SINGER | Confidence 7469Q Computerized & Quilting Sewing Machine with Built-In Needle Threader, 98 Built-In Stitches - Sewing Made Easy , White
SINGER | Confidence 7469Q Computerized & Quilting Sewing Machine with Built-In Needle Threader, 98 Built-In Stitches - Sewing Made Easy , White
Some quilters are loyal Singer fans. For comparison sake, check out the Singer products. There are a few aspects of Singer that make me hesitate, such as several accessories are made for Singer alone and won't fit any other machine. Many Singer machines have the slant shank whereas the low or high shank of other machines are pretty much universal. You don't have to worry about that to quilt, though. I would ask some questions and do some research before spending a lot of money.
Bernina 830 Embroidery and Sewing Machine
Bernina 830 Embroidery and Sewing Machine
The Bernina has been called the "Rolls Royce" or "Crown Jewel" of sewing machines. This particular model sells for more than $8000.00 and has an unbelievable amount of things it will do. Things I would never use. I tried a Bernina (much less expensive) at a dealer and it was a great experience, but the price put me off. If you can afford it this machine, or any Bernina will serve you well.

My Second Quilt

T-Shirt Quilt

My younger daughter volunteered me to make her friend and co-worker (another RN) a T-shirt quilt. The friend was threatening to throw away all her husband's college shirts. They were worn out and she was ready to do something (anything) with them.

While they were talking on the phone one day, my daughter told her that I had started quilting and could probably make a quilt from the shirts. I almost had a panic attack when she called me. It wasn't that I didn't want to, I simply didn't know how.

Of course, I could always refuse. That was understood from the beginning. I could say "no." And, it was made clear from both that it was really OK if I didn't want to do this.

Wow. What a spot. Of course I wanted to. I was just so afraid I'd ruin the shirts and he wouldn't have a quilt or any shirts.

The first thing I did was go online and seek out companies that make T-shirt quilts. Some are quite expensive, but well worth it. I sent the specs from several companies, professionals, to Lane (not her real name) and told her what my fears and limitations were, giving her the opportunity to take a different route.

She emailed me and said that the sentimental value of the shirts (to her husband) deserved the sentimental, loving touch that having a friend (me) do the work. No matter how amateurish, no matter how many mistakes, he wanted me to do the quilt if I would.

What could I do? Make a T-shirt quilt for my friends, of course.

I began to study. Back to the public library and back to Google, YouTube,, and a forum that I had joined,

"The Glory Days" - Every Quilt Must Have A Name

T-shirt Quilt
T-shirt Quilt

"The Glory Days" is the name of the T-shirt quilt that I made for Dave. He had worn those shirts out in the decade that he had been out of college. I was able to cut out the logos, pictures, and dialog from four years worth of shirts.

Each piece of the shirt had to be fused to another piece of fabric. I chose black squares for the foundation squares, 13 inches square which included the seam allowances. The finished squares were 12 inches with a two inch "border" of black to separate the T-shirts.I then joined the black squares with a tan sashing for contrast.

The center square is black with white embroidery denoting his name and that of his fraternity.

When my daughter and I delivered the quilt to Dallas, there was an entire wall prepared for hanging Dave's memories in the 'man-cave'. I knew that it was done by an amateur, although well made, but he loved it. I did finish it in time for his birthday. His wife commissioned the quilt without his knowledge. He was thrilled.

I was thrilled, also, that I would be trusted with something as memorable as this. It did not hurt my reputation as a quilter and designer at all. I take pictures and put them in my portfolio.

I do work slowly. And I am interrupted often. For instance, I have been working on my older daughter's quilt for a year now.

And, once again, it's on hold. These great-grand-babies keep coming along and of course they must have quilts and security blankets.

Then, there is my favorite charity, Downy's Quilts for Kids.

Ten-Minute Block

This is a wonderful technique that I have used over and over. From Design Originals, Suzanne shows us the most interesting tips and tricks to make quilt making a really fun activity.

I have used this ten minute block in baby quilts a lot. I'll show you a security blanket I made after I show you the video.

Security Blankets - For Baby

Ten Minute Block Security Blanket
Ten Minute Block Security Blanket

This is a close up of the ten minute block. I chose not to sew the edges down. It makes a tiny pocket for little hands to explore.

My Favorite Quilting Tools

These are a few of my favorite quilting tools. The only really "must have" list is very short, but the following are the ones I can't do without since discovering them.

OLFA 24" x 36" Self Healing Rotary Cutting Mat (RM-MG) - Double Sided 24x36 Inch Cutting Mat with Grid for Quilting, Sewing, Fabric, & Crafts, Designed for Use with Rotary Cutters (Green)
OLFA 24" x 36" Self Healing Rotary Cutting Mat (RM-MG) - Double Sided 24x36 Inch Cutting Mat with Grid for Quilting, Sewing, Fabric, & Crafts, Designed for Use with Rotary Cutters (Green)
I have three of these that can be linked together to make one large cutting mat. I use only two most of the time and the other one by the sewing machine. I don't know what I would do without my self-healing mats. This is an excellent price for this mat. I paid much more for mine at a going-out-of-business sale a few years ago.
OLFA 17" x 17" Rotating Cutting Mat (RM-17S) - Self Healing 17x17 Inch Square Rotary Mat with Grid for Quilting, Sewing, Fabric, & Crafts, Rotates 360 Degrees, Use with Rotary Cutters (Green)
OLFA 17" x 17" Rotating Cutting Mat (RM-17S) - Self Healing 17x17 Inch Square Rotary Mat with Grid for Quilting, Sewing, Fabric, & Crafts, Rotates 360 Degrees, Use with Rotary Cutters (Green)
This is not essential but I find that for small pieces I use it more and more. I can turn the cutting mat without disturbing the fabric. My daughter gave this one to me one Christmas but I think she had a coupon or caught it on sale. I do like it a lot.
Ultimate 3-in-1 Color Tool: -- 24 Color Cards with Numbered Swatches -- 5 Color Plans for each Color -- 2 Value Finders Red & Green
Ultimate 3-in-1 Color Tool: -- 24 Color Cards with Numbered Swatches -- 5 Color Plans for each Color -- 2 Value Finders Red & Green
I didn't know what color value was until I used this little tool. It will make all the difference in the way your quilt appears. Many quilts are beautiful but a little on the bland, unexciting side. When values are changed around, the quilt literally "pops." You have to see it to believe it.

Amazon Spotlight Personal Review - My Favorite Book

It is really difficult to choose just one product to place on center stage. It will have to be a book of course. I have purchased many quilting books from Amazon on quilting by more than one author. And, I must say here and now that I don't favor one author over another.

Each author has her own distinct style, her own unique approach, and it all depends on what my needs are at any given moment as to what my favorite would be.

While I don't have a favorite author, per se, I do have a favorite book.

My prize quilt is the King quilt made for my granddaughter for her high-school graduation. The pattern came from the book that I am spotlighting today.

Visual Coloring: A Foolproof Approach to Color-Rich Quilts
Visual Coloring: A Foolproof Approach to Color-Rich Quilts
I thought I knew something about color. I have a good eye. If you have it, you know what I mean. I discovered that I was a complete novice when it came to color. Joen Wolfrom's book has opened my eyes and I have used this book as a textbook and reference tool from the day it arrived on my doorstep. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about color whether you quilt or not. And, while it's not my business what format you get, I would recommend the hardback. I use my book over and over, sometimes just to read again and see if there is anything I've missed. Color can sooth a mood, color can liven things up, and color can do many other things. The one thing color can never do is get old.

Band Geek 2008 - Log Cabin Pattern

King Quilt Log Cabin
King Quilt Log Cabin

This quilt is made from the pattern in Joen Wolfrom's book, "Visual Coloring". She used fall colors and I used jewel toned Batik fabrics.

My granddaughter, in the band since sixth grade, won a band scholarship to college for trumpet. She played second chair. This was supposed to be a twin quilt to take to college, but I fell in love with the pattern and the fabric. With more than 20 different fabrics, the design is made by the placement of the fabrics and colors.

What a fun project this was and it will become an heirloom quilt. I made it to be used and loved, and it's constructed to last many years.

The fabrics were auditioned and purchased from a tiny quilt shop in Bentonville, Arkansas. I took the quilt in during different stages of construction. Sometimes a class was going on and the owner would stop and show the quilt to the people just learning to quilt. It soon became a "community" project. I listened to recommendations from several quilters and the owners of the shop. It took me one year to make this quilt.

I was interrupted by moving to another city during this time and had to set up another quilt area.

About So Crafty

Since I began working on this lens, I have joined So Crafty and I'm sad to say that I am falling behind. They don't rush, you, however. And, you don't have to buy anything unless you want to.

I joined the Block of the Month challenge and I must catch up. I wanted you to know that you have an option of joining several online groups if you choose to, or forums that are free.

McCalls has an excellent site with tons of tips and I have many more at my fingertips. All you have to do, though, is Google the term you want and you will get more information than you know what to do with.

I go to Hobby Lobby frequently and look through the magazines. I find that more economical than paying for a subscription to something that I may use once. That's just me. If I find a new pattern I want, I buy the magazine.

I hope you have enjoyed this lens as much as I have enjoyed writing it. I have so much more, but not for this one. That's it for today.

How many of you quilt? I'm thinking quite a few people here do quilt or at least participate in some kind of craft. I'd be interested in hearing about your craft ideas.


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