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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.

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 7469Q Confidence Quilter Computerized Electronic Portable Sewing, With 98 Built-In Stitches – 6 Fully Automatic 1-step Buttonhole, 77 Decorative Stitches, 8 Basic Stitches and With 2 STATYBRIGHT LED Lights
SINGER 7469Q Confidence Quilter Computerized Electronic Portable Sewing, With 98 Built-In Stitches – 6 Fully Automatic 1-step Buttonhole, 77 Decorative Stitches, 8 Basic Stitches and With 2 STATYBRIGHT LED Lights

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" Double-Sided, Self-Healing Rotary Mat
OLFA 24" x 36" Double-Sided, Self-Healing Rotary Mat

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" Rotating Self-Helaing Rotary Mat
OLFA 17" Rotating Self-Helaing Rotary Mat

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.

Do You Quilt? Would You Like To?

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    • ruthclark3 lm profile image

      ruthclark3 lm 4 years ago

      @tiptopcats: Thank you. I apologize for being late to answer this.

    • ruthclark3 lm profile image

      ruthclark3 lm 4 years ago

      @tiptopcats: Thank you. I have made several quilts since I made these. These were my early efforts. I have learned more advanced techniques since then and have three quilts in the works. I must put them on hold (again...:) and make another baby quilt. My fourth great-grandchild is due in November (if she goes that long.) Again, Thank you.

    • tiptopcats profile image

      tiptopcats 4 years ago

      This is a fantastic explanation on quilt making. I am sure your family were really happy to receive the gifts that you made. The quilts look amazing. Well done Ruth.

    • ruthclark3 lm profile image

      ruthclark3 lm 5 years ago

      @norma-holt: Thank you so much for your comments. It isn't as hard as it looks, just takes patience. Thanks for stopping by. :)

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 5 years ago

      You are certainly gifted and congrats on the purple star. What a wonderful lens and it is great to read how you managed to teach yourself this craft, :)

    • ruthclark3 lm profile image

      ruthclark3 lm 5 years ago

      @poutine: Thank you. I think I've already replied to this, but just in case, thanks again.

    • ruthclark3 lm profile image

      ruthclark3 lm 5 years ago

      @CubScouter94: Thank you. I love to quilt and did not begin until I had been retired for several years. Now, I can't think of anything I'd rather do unless it would be to teach my granddaughter how to quilt. She started at age ten and designs some of my quilts. She will be 12 in July. It's a hobby that encompasses all age groups. I've read somewhere that a little girl started quilting at age six. Her grandmother taught her I believe.

    • profile image

      poutine 5 years ago

      Very interesting lens. I am pinning it.

    • CubScouter94 profile image

      Tasha Marie 5 years ago from Mahomet, Illinois

      I am not a quilter - but I do love the T shirt quilt and think I may hire someone to something like that for my older two children. Both of my girls will be at college next year and they have been involved in many things that they have T shirts for, and I think that this would be a great idea for a gift for them. Thanks for sharing it. Great lens Ruth!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I'm a self taught quilter. Love the T shirt quilt. I name all my quilts too. Ii usually have a name before I have a quilt. Great lens.

    • ruthclark3 lm profile image

      ruthclark3 lm 5 years ago

      @Deadicated LM: Thank you for your comments. I appreciate you stopping by. Quilting is an art form for me. And, it's really relaxing.

    • ruthclark3 lm profile image

      ruthclark3 lm 5 years ago

      @luvmyludwig lm: Thank you! They are fun to make. The layout is important, but your own personality will find it's way into every creation. With this quilt, each block was quilted with a different quilting design. Hanging on a wall it was spectacular. Thanks for dropping by and forgive me for taking so long to answer. Medical stuff has kept me away for a few days.

    • ruthclark3 lm profile image

      ruthclark3 lm 5 years ago

      @Deadicated LM: Thank you so much. Forgive me for being late with my reply. I've been ill and didn't turn on the computer since last Thursday. An excuse, I know, but it's true. Quilting is a joy to me. It doesn't require anything more than the desire and ability to read and follow a pattern. Oh, and of course a few basic supplies to get started. You will find that a pattern is only a starting place. Your own imagination, ideas, and personality will find their way into every creation you make.

    • Deadicated LM profile image

      Deadicated LM 5 years ago

      The t-shirt quilt is a great idea, I love quilting but never have gotten to the actual quilting part yet. I really enjoyed your lens keep up the great work.

    • luvmyludwig lm profile image

      luvmyludwig lm 5 years ago

      I love t shirt quilts, that's a really cool way to display memories!

    • ruthclark3 lm profile image

      ruthclark3 lm 5 years ago

      @attitudeforlife1: Oh, it's so much fun. I knew just enough to know that the edges would curl if I didn't fuse them to a foundation fabric. I used Wonder Under and it was perfect. I described the way I left a couple of inches all around. It's awesome to watch it come together. I went to and printed out instructions. I did a lot of research, online and at the public library. Then, I sort of went from there with my own interpretation. The result was really pretty. btw, Each block is quilted in it's own unique design. You can't see that from the picture.

      All it takes is the desire. There is so much free information online and so many books these days that it's impossible not to learn unless you just don't like to sew. The beauty of it is, there is no way you can make a mistake that isn't fixable. Every quilt has it's little glitches that give it character. No one knows the difference and sometimes it's an improvement! Thanks, Debi, for stopping by.

    • attitudeforlife1 profile image

      attitudeforlife1 5 years ago

      Wow. It never crossed my mind to do something like that with t-shirts. There are several I have from my son's childhood that I've kept, knowing that he'll never wear them again but I just didn't have the heart to toss the memories. The next time I run across that box, maybe I'll hunt down a quilter! :)

      Love this lens! You've learned so much on your own that I'm sure it will give a confidence boost to those wondering if it's possible for them to learn.

    • ruthclark3 lm profile image

      ruthclark3 lm 5 years ago

      @SusanDeppner: Thank you, Susan. Every stitch was a labor of love. I had no idea what I was doing with the T-shirt quilt but I knew where to gather information. It became a family project and was so much fun. Dave, the recipient was overjoyed with the result which carries it's own reward. My granddaughter, the Band Geek, named her own quilt. That's what the band members called themselves and graduation was 2008, hence the name of the quilt. She was First Band, Second Chair Trumpet. The picture doesn't do it justice. Batiks are vibrant fabrics, no two bolts alike, and this quilt was such pleasure. The log cabin pattern is so easy. You will enjoy the art if you decide to do it. It is very relaxing and rewarding. Quilts really do take on their own personality. My charity quilts go to children in hospitals for terminal and very ill children, up to age 18. That brings me so much joy to know that each child is wrapped in love and hope. I am truly sorry that you lost your mom's quilts in a fire. We lost a home to fire once and it really leaves a sense of loss like no other. Thanks again for stopping by.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 5 years ago from Arkansas USA

      What a wonderful lens from the heart! Your quilts are beautiful and, really, amazing! What a lot of work went into all of them, but that t-shirt quilt especially is such a one-of-a-kind quilt - and so much better than throwing away all those old shirts. And the band geek quilt - awesome! I don't quilt, but maybe someday. My mom quilted for a number of years until she developed a problem with her eyes. Some of her quilts burned in our house fire and that broke my heart, but now we have another that she made hanging in a very special place in our home - definitely a conversation starter. Thanks so much for sharing, Ruth!

    • ruthclark3 lm profile image

      ruthclark3 lm 5 years ago

      @safereview: It did seem to be a lost art but one that is being revived with modern methods. Most quilts in the early years were a must. People had to keep warm. Now, it is more of an art and a revival of our grandmothers' skills. There is nothing more beautiful than a quilt, whether hand-quilted or machine quilted. Thank you for stopping by.

    • safereview profile image

      Bob 5 years ago from Kansas City

      Growing up in the rural heartland I remember my grandmother and church members quilting... they made some amazing pieces. Now, unfortunately, I feel like it's a lost art, giving way to shopping malls and time spent elsewhere. My sisters are proud to own quilts that my grandma hand crafted... how did we lose this great tradition?

      Great lens, very impressive. And blessed!


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