I do not cut or sew in a straight line.
I don’t use a ruler. I don’t use a rotary cutter or a cutting mat.
For me sewing is not about making perfect stacks of 3” squares in coordinating hues.
I sew to make three-dimensional shapes from fabric. Puzzling how to achieve those shapes, how to create and reduce volume, how to make a perfect spherical body or oblong face, is what makes me sew everyday. I’m fairly certain I will never tire of making dolls and toys.
I’ve been sewing like this for ten years and I’m comfortable with the challenges it presents. When a head gusset is the wrong shape, I can see what’s wrong about it and redraw it. I’m confident I can make it work.
These last few weeks, though, I’ve undertaken a new sort of sewing. This project is purely just for fun. It’s handwork, which I’ve craved for a long time (my typical sewing is all done with the machine). It’s flat. And it’s full of straight lines.
I made a doll quilt.
Before now, I would from time to time pull out a quilt book and think about starting a project. But then the first step says, “Cut 200 4.5-inch squares.” I put the book back. There is no joy for me in that.
My quilt, though, is made using an entirely different technique: English Paper Piecing (EPP). This is a method of piecing together a quilt top that doesn’t involve pre-cutting a million perfect squares. In fact, there’s no straight line cutting at all. And no ruler. No rotary cutter.
Here’s how it happened.
For a long time I’ve wanted to find a handwork project, something I could pull out and work on while I’m hanging out with my family. I’ve actually had this desire for years, but was never able to settle on something I liked working on by hand. I thought maybe I’d try embroidery again and signed up for the Spring Stitching Club over at Mollie Johanson’s blog, Wild Olive. What really drew me in was that Mollie would show you not only what to embroider, but also how to put it all together in a finished project that was all done by hand.
Club members get an email each week with a pattern and instructions. I got the introductory email and in it Mollie explained that we would be making a small hexie quilt. The email included a hexie template and instructions on basic EPP. Mollie recommended that we start soon because we’d have to make 25 hexies a week to keep up.
It was scary. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, or if I was even capable.
My stash of quilting cottons is entirely made up of scraps, except for a pile of fat quarters Timeless Treasures sent me in exchange for a free tutorial and a few treasured larger pieces collected over a long time.
I used what I had that was big enough and got started. I couldn’t stop.
There was no way I could wait for the rest of the emails. I had to learn the ins and outs of EPP on my own. I read a bunch of tutorials on blogs, watched several YouTube videos, stood in Barnes and Noble and read the introduction of several books, and played around on my own for many hours. I still have a lot to learn, but I found myself really enjoying learning something totally new. And I feel so good about this quilt. The colors are sorta awful, but I love it. I did it!
This experience got me thinking about why we learn new things. How do we go about acquiring new skills as adults?
I asked my Twitter followers yesterday to tell me about a skill they recently learned, and why they decided to learn it. Their responses echoed my own journey.
Liz Smith told me, “I fell in love with old crazy quilts. So when I started hand sewing patchwork, I wanted also to embroider along the seams. I learned some embroidery! I started out with books to see which stitches, then YouTube to see the process. And of course doing it over and over.”
Verte Adelie said, “I’ve been learning to play the ukelele for almost a year, now. My 1st instrument! It’s always been a frustration that I never learnt an instrument. I thought it was too late, but then I changed my mind.”
Claudine Hellmuth told me, “I’m learning how to use all this different software for various cutting machines. I can feel my brain growing! I can see where I could gain new customers by adding this technology.”
Andrea Mielke Schroer said, “I’m in the middle of learning Spanish. I’ve always wanted to learn a second language. It’s made me aware of ways to help my daughter learn to read and write. I find it fascinating.”
And Caroline Betsis said, “I’m teaching myself to play the banjo, using books and CDs. I love the sound and have hankered after a banjo for years. My partner gave me on for a birthday present so no excuses!”
For all of us, self-directed learning was key. Doing something you choose yourself gives you a wonderful feeling of control.
We shared a feeling of intense satisfaction. When I pulled this quilt out of the dryer and layed it on the doll bed, I felt amazing. Yep, it’s not perfect, but my goodness I did it! I learned to make something new.
Learning a new skill means accepting being uncomfortable, feeling lost and frustrated at times. In the process of making this quilt I had to find out how to make the edges of a hexie quilt straight, what order to do things in (quilt first and then bind?) and how to make mitered corners. The thrill of figuring out the answers propelled me onward. And I’m already planning a second one.
What skill have you’ve learned recently. What made you decide to learn something new and how did you go about it?