Quilting: Where to Start

To those of you who don’t know, I really like to sew. In the past couple of years I have gotten into quilting. I think it’s a lot like the romance novels of sewing. Some romance novels (Pride and Prejudice, for example) are fine pieces of literature. They are heart-wrenchingly complex, bursting with symbolism, poetic nuance, and characters so deeply thought out you believe them to be real people. These are the double wedding rings of romance novels. Most people love and admire them, but few even dream of attempting to make one the traditional way. Fewer are successful.

Other romance novels, the ones I tend to read (except Pride and Prejudice… That is one of the very few books I have read more than once), are usually the same plot over and over again, with the exciting climax changing from a runaway carriage ride to a fall from the sidesaddle while attempting to make a jump much too daring for any real “lady.” These are the jelly roll race quilts that people start on and like so much that they decide to stay. There’s nothing wrong with this. I’m one of those people.

Here’s the thing: I love me some Pride and Prejudice. But that doesn’t mean I want to sew curved seams, or piece one inch almost-squares of fabric together only to have to use a curved seam to attach them. I would much rather sew a straight 1/4″ seam using manageable (I can see them without a magnifying glass) pieces of fabric with minimal cutting involved.

Enter: pre-cuts. I can’t tell you enough good things about pre-cut fabric. It all started a few years ago when fabric companies began selling 2 1/2″ x WOF (Width Of Fabric) strips to quilters. The nice thing about these “Jelly Rolls” (that’s what they’re called) is they go together perfectly. The fabrics are all from the same collection, which means there is literally zero thought involved in picking out fabric.

So. Simple.

Enter: little black rain cloud (five bucks if you get the reference… Except you, Mom. If you DON’T get the reference I will be floored). Pre-cuts are EXPENSIVE. Total bummer. Just when I get all excited, Kaia, you’re going to hit me with sticker shock. POW!

Well, hold on to your horses, dear readers (Mom, Elise, and Nikki)! I have a solution to this, too. And no, it’s not like the chapter in my raw food diet book on how to be raw on a budget that basically spent half a page (that was the entire chapter) guilt tripping me. Isn’t that thirteen dollar jar of raw almond butter worth your health? You’ll recoup the cost later when you don’t have cancer or need a lap band…I’d rather spend the $10 leftover from Peter Pan peanut butter on fabric or something else fun. In other words, I promise I’m going to give you real suggestions.

Enter: Jenny Doan. (I don’t know why I’m feeling like a playwright tonight…)

You WILL love this woman. I have been watching her for years. She’s a Mormon. I LOVE Mormons. I think they have one of the coolest systems of support for members, and I think they put the right amount of emphasis on family. I respect and appreciate that in today’s world of baby mama drama and foolish mistakes. Sorry, I got distracted. I didn’t know she was a Mormon until last week, or at least I didn’t read it on the website until last week. I think I always knew deep down that she was a Mormon and that is part of why I loved her so much.

Jenny Doan is also left handed. Woot.

Anyways, Jenny Doan, while not the owner (from what I can tell her son and daughter are the main partners in the shop), is the face of the Missouri Star Quilt Company. The MSQC invented the Quilters’ Daily Deal. The QDD is one of the best things to happen to quilting. It is up there with the advent of the seam ripper, rotary cutter, and pre-cut fabric. This brings me to my next point: MSQC has the largest selection of pre-cut fabric on the web. They use PCF (pre-cut fabric) for the QDD at least four times per week. Imagine, a Moda jelly roll, which usually runs for $39.50 or so, priced at $19 and change. I know. How awesome is that? SO awesome.

What else can MSQC do to help you ball on a budget? Well, they offer a TON of free tutorials on YouTube… Almost all of them feature Jenny Doan. Yessssss.

For the most part, the Missouri tutorials are pretty geared towards beginners. I made my first quilt from one of their tutorials, actually. I had been sewing for a while, I had promised my mom a quilt like a year before, Justin was still living in New Orleans and I was alone and missed him, and I saw this tutorial and literally, no joke, just happened to have a jelly roll that I had no clue how to use lying around. I had purchased it, much like the Kiwano Melon I ate last week, because I didn’t know what it was, I wanted to take it apart, and it was on sale. (yum.)

Jenny really inspired me to sew. I was up so late sewing the quilt that I slept through my alarm to pick Justin up at the airport at 5-something the next morning. Bad Kaia! He had to take a cab, poor guy! (Justin, I’m glad I was worth all the trouble in getting here. I am glad you came to visit, love you, and think you’re the very best.)

Here’s a photo of that first quilt. It now lives in the Utah condo on the couch, ready to warm chilly ski bunnies and boys at a moment’s notice. As you can see, I changed the pattern in the video… It turned out more like their Summer in the Park Tutorial… I don’t think I’ve ever made a pattern exactly. I always change something. Not even because I mean to, I just do. The border is a technique called chinese coins. I had no idea about that at the time. I called it making the quilt bigger so it would cover someone’s feet, and using up the extra fabric I had leftover. Go figure. 🙂

My First Quilt / My First Successful Sewing Project

My First Quilt / My First Successful Sewing Project

See? It's just right for couch snuggling after a long day on the slopes.

See? It’s just right for couch snuggling after a long day on the slopes.

The MSQC has inspired me many times with their giant selection and plethora of tutorials. The QDD has been fun because I have tried fabrics I never would have tried before, and I’ve really started branching out in regards to color and pattern. Thanks guys.

It would be remiss of me, however, not to mention some of the other amazing and fabulous resources out there on the web for FREE.

Kaye Wood, a woman who had her own quilting TV show for YEARS has began putting all of her shows on YouTube. She uses many of her own templates, but for the most part her stuff doesn’t require too many fancy tools or notions. She is very good at explaining things, and her quilt patterns and guests cater to all skill levels. One episode I particularly like is Rings That Bind, a modern twist on the traditional double wedding ring pattern. Ingenious. The supplies, if you’re interested, are for sale on Kaye’s site, here.

Quilt in a Day is another great resource for tools and tutorials. They have some free patterns as well. This is the easiest way I have ever seen flying geese done anywhere. MSQC demos them in one of their tutorials, here.

Looking at fabric manufacturers’ websites can get you free patterns as well. Here are some names to get you started: Moda, Benartex, Robert Kaufman, Alexander Henry, Riley Blake, RJR, Free Spirit, Windham Fabrics, Rowan, and Northcott.

Pinterest has THOUSANDS of quilting ideas, instructions for different sized-blocks, all kinds of wonderful things. You can follow me here.

There are also a lot of semi-web and non-web resources at your disposal for little or no cost. One is craigslist. I routinely see people posting fabric scraps under free stuff, and I usually find one or two listings under wanted for fabric and scraps. I once had a bunch of fabric left over from a nightmarish project that I truly never wanted to see again. Ever. I always feel bad throwing out usable fabric, though, so I stashed it behind some other scraps until I could figure something out. I found an ad that said this chick would PAY ME for the fabric. Shoot, ya’ll. I met that girl in the Sonic parking lot and bought her a limeade for taking that dratted fabric off my hands. It was a win-win. She got about two yards of brightly-colored, high-quality scraps, AND a free limeade; I never had to see that fabric again. Ever… And I bought myself a limeade, too. Craigslist is also a great place for used machines, machine feet and accessories, and other notions and tools.

The absolute best resource in the world, however, is your Local Quilt Shop (LQS). My LQS is called Tea Time Quilting. It’s a family business, run by Jana and her daughters (Jilena and Jaelyn… I sincerely hope I spelled those correctly) and husband. They are all wonderful people. It’s clean, organized, and since I have never made a quilt entirely from a pattern, I can tell you first hand they are ready and willing to help you figure yardage and pick out something just a little bit different, or really help you with whatever you ask… They are going to get their own post soon. 🙂

Quilters are generally a very friendly and helpful bunch. If you want to start quilting (or just sewing for that matter; quilts are an excellent place to start as they are useful, allow for error, help you get to know your machine, and don’t need to have any curved seams or complex pieces), start asking around. You can get pretty far with no money. I had a rotary cutter I didn’t like (it was made for righties and didn’t cut the fabric properly if I cut with my left hand) and had retired from use, and I ended up giving it away to a woman who wanted one but couldn’t come up with the cash right then.

Strike up conversations with fellow quilters in the shop. Often their experience is extremely valuable, plus you may make a few friends. Don’t be afraid to tell people you’re poor and looking for second-hand stuff. Some people have baskets of old but still perfectly good stuff that they have replaced with a more advanced tool or a different color or whatever, sitting in a closet because they didn’t want to wastefully toss it but didn’t have a use for it either. You may be the answer to their problem, too. (See Above.)

One last thing: don’t be afraid to experiment. Quilting is fun, and necessity is the mother of creativity. Use what you have creatively to make your own tools and find your own solutions.

Big Easy Thursday

Thursday I went to New Orleans. It went really, really well. One of my favorite professors is going to write a letter of recommendation for my law school applications. I tied up a few loose ends that have been dangling since graduation. I ate a wonderful lunch at Boucherie with my grand-little, Margaret. It was sunny and 78 degrees. It was tough to leave.

I feel something let go inside me when I get to the top of the last overpass on Earhart and see the Superdome, downtown, and the connection. I have never felt as if I belonged as much anywhere else besides my Big Easy, sitting at the levee and watching the water whoosh by. I love the river, how she sweeps through town like a woman dancing to the melody of love singing in her soul. I love the lake, too, how it’s gray waves bump and splash like jazz on rainy days. I miss that water.

The slow, easy laughs of friends on the front porch, the unspeakable joy of biting into an oyster poboy slathered with both mayonnaise and butter, (yes, I know… You truly can’t speak on that until you’ve tried it though.) dressed, and doused healthily with Crystal, the woeful strains of blues seeping through the cracks in Snug Harbor’s facade… The city breathes through its food, its music, and its people.

I am proud to be one of New Orleans’s people. I am happy that when I got on the rental car shuttle, the driver said, “Well there’s a young lady who looks like she’s home. Welcome back, sweet pea.” It was nice to be welcomed. It was nice to be back, even just for the day. Nice to be home.