Practicing Imperfection

Have I mentioned how much I love fabric? I don’t think so. Allow me to mention it. I love textiles. The feel – smooth, cool silk; cozy, warm flannel; crisp, strong cotton. The patterns and designs – each one a piece of art. The possibilities – a dress, an apron, a quilt? Yes, a quilt. This is where I’ve landed with my sewing interests.

Even as a child I was fascinated by quilts and longed to learn how to make them, but it wasn’t until adulthood (and a couple of classes at JoAnn Fabrics) that I learned the craft. I’m not a prolific or proficient quilter. Like yoga, I consider myself a perpetual “confident beginner.”

I have to admit that my interest in each aspect of quilting decreases with every stage of the process.

Fabric StashFirst and foremost, I love buying the fabric. I’m like the proverbial kid in a candy store in any fabric shop. I’m not a huge fan of shopping, but I could browse all day in the fabrics.

Next, I could (and have) spent hours auditioning fabrics – laying them out on the table and pairing differing combinations. There are always a few fabrics that have some random color that takes the entire scheme off on a tangent. Often these are my favorite fabrics, but I have to eliminate one or more to keep the cohesion (unless it’s a crazy quilt – then all bets are off).

Quilt10Once the fabrics are chosen, next comes design (sometimes design comes first by choosing a pattern, then fabrics are selected accordingly). I hate being tied down to a pattern, or the boredom of making the same block 30 times, so I rush ahead with my own ideas. As a novice quilter, this isn’t always successful and leads to my choosing the same rather easy running brick pattern over and over.

Quilt3Then the ironing, measuring, and cutting. These are mundane and tedious, but vital steps. You can’t sew it together unless you cut it up first, which leads to the random thought I always have when quilting: Is this the most ridiculous hobby ever? Taking perfectly good fabric, chopping it up, and putting it back together? At considerable time and usually cost, I might add. Yet no one who has received a quilt handmade by me has ever questioned its validity and scolded me for my wastefulness. No. Instead they are delighted, they usually hug the quilt to their chest and sometimes even cry with joy.

Now we’re ready to assemble. Sewing endless ¼ inch seams. This is where I get in the zone and have to be careful not to zone out. You wouldn’t think this would be the mistake stage, but it often is. When I get tired, I tend to forget the order things should go (even with pictures, pins, and notes). There is probably nothing I detest more than taking out a seam, so I gauge my energy level and pay attention to when to stop. A few near misses and I know – that’s it for now. There’s a lot of pressing seams in the stage too.

Quilt7Then putting the sandwich together (pieced top, batting in the middle, backing) – i.e. quilting. This is where having a longarm machine comes in handy. Since I don’t have one, I have to choose the monetary investment of sending it out to someone who does, or quilting it myself on my good (but not professional grade) machine. I usually quilt it myself in row after row of straight lines. This is another reason I choose the same simple pattern over and over – I can complete it myself. Also why I have several finished tops sitting around waiting to be sandwiched up and completed.

Quilt9Finally, the most hated and dreaded part (for me) – the binding. At this point I just want the thing done. I’ve spent hours on it. I’ve messed it up in some way that I can’t fix, and I want the whole thing over with.

And here’s where the reality sets in. I’ve never, ever ever ever, made a quilt that doesn’t have a mistake. This bothered me to distraction for the first several quilts I made. I was convinced that as soon as I got better I wouldn’t make any more mistakes. I’m sure there is someone out there (maybe more than one) who can complete a quilt without making a mistake, but it isn’t me. (I will insert here that many quilters don’t do the entire process by themselves. Show quilts especially are usually made by several people who specialize in different parts of the process.)

Quilt2I referred to the mistake stage above, but honestly – every stage can be the mistake stage. No matter how carefully I cut and sew, there will always be a seam that refuses to align with its neighbor. No matter how much I measure and calculate, I will always over or underestimate how much fabric I need.

Just like life. Every stage is the mistake stage.

Quilt6I finally found peace with the reality of mistakes once I viewed quilting as a practice, like yoga. You show up to the mat. Some days it all comes together, other days it doesn’t. Yes, we get better the more we do it, but we never achieve perfection. There is always another level, more knowledge, a more complicated pattern.

That’s what makes us human. That’s what makes my story unique, and that’s how you know a quilt is handmade (start to finish) entirely by me.Quilt5