Right after the winter holidays, when there’s that lull in activity, I thought it would be an excellent time to learn to quilt. One winter after the next it had been my intention to take advantage of the free time I have when, because it’s cold outside I’m not doing all those outdoor chores that exist between May and October. No, this year would be different I told myself in early 2014 – and it was. I took the bull by the horns and learned to quilt by getting my not so crafty self into a quilting class for beginners.
A quilt is something I consider an heirloom piece – you cherish it and eventually hand it down to the next generation. Quilts are also (in my world anyway) bright and beautiful and can light up not just a room, but those gray days we experience in Maine in January and February.
I reached out to my friend Samantha (Sam) Lindgren to see if she could help me. Less than a year ago, Sam opened A Gathering of Stitches, a space for fiber and textile craftspeople in the East Bayside neighborhood of Portland, Maine. Not knowing anything about quilting (except that I think quilts are beautiful) and just a little more than nothing about machine sewing I was welcomed with open arms.
Off I went that first day of class with my bag full of bright colored fabric and that feeling you get when you are accomplishing that thing that has been staring at the back of your head from your mental to-do list for the past – in my case years. I stopped at Tandem Coffee and treated myself to a Mocha – caffeinated with a bit of chocolate I arrived at class.
It was obvious from the get go my classmates had more experience than me, but that actually encouraged me instead of intimidating me. Heck, I was there and that was half the battle. This was not a race to see who could do more bigger better – this was a small group of people who would cheer each other on – and did.
I was sucked in by the end of the second class, and now quilting projects are very much on my mind. That mental to-do list, well I kicked its butt. This fall I will be back at Gathering of Stitches working on DIY stitching projects and quilting.
Here’s the thing. Quilts tell stories and during the frontier days they were a way of life. They were on your bed, your kids beds, then they were on their kids beds. The purpose of quilts was to keep you warm at night, but they could also be beautiful.
To me, quilting is a way to connect with my personal past as well as this country’s. If you had asked me when I was a little girl, what I wanted to be when I grew up I would have answered a paleontologist or just like my aunt Emily from Arkansas. Quilts (and stitching) have a lot to do with my idea of Southern homes and since I grew up in one, even though I live in Maine now, I can continue the tradition right here.
Wondering about the where and how of starting to quilt? Sam started by looking at books. One on modern quilting she found in a fabric store really turned her onto the idea that quilting was not boring or fussy. Because Sam already sewed some of her own clothes, she just went home and looked at all this fabric she had and started cutting it up and sewing it back together.
In Maine there are a bunch of fabric stores – Z Fabrics in Portland, Jo-Ann (a chain of fabric and craft stores) has locations in Maine, and Alewives Fabrics in Nobleboro. Sam suggests picking out single yards of fabrics, laying them out on a table in the store, and seeing what goes with what. This is a very personal experience – everyone has such different taste. I look at quilts the way I do my cowboy boots (the more colorful ones) – when I wear them my outfits go along with them. Get what you like as bold as it may be and let the colors and patterns guide you. Besides, chances are you are not going to wear the quilt…so go for it.
After you picked out what fabrics you want to work with, Sam recommends buying a pattern (if you know how to sew) and/or a book(s). There are a plethora of quilting sites in the form of blogs, Pinterest boards, Flickr accounts… Then you can either start cutting and sewing or do what I did and get yourself to a class. A Gathering of Stitches offers a few opportunities for people to get guidance and hands on experience – go here for a list of current workshops.
In order to enjoy quilting you need to know the basics. How to make a straight seam and how to press seams open and how to deal with grain and fabric. Once you have mastered those concepts, Sam says it is literally like playing with fabric.
If you liked this, check out Part One.