After letting it sit around for six months with just the binding left to be done, I finished a quilt! It’s a very basic patchwork quilt in gorgeous fabric from Bonnie and Camille’s Smitten line.
This is the first finished piece I’ve sewn that I can look at without only seeing my mistakes (I see plenty of them, just not exclusively). I learned to sew nearly twenty years ago, but my history with it has been so rocky that I’m still very much a beginner.
Susan learns to sew: a comprehensive history
- 2001 – I sew for the first time in middle school home ec. It goes reasonably well, partially due to using kits designed for children, partially due to having a hands-on teacher, so I assume I am a natural.
- 2005 – After taking home ec through middle school and into high school, I ask my parents for a sewing machine for my birthday. I quickly learn that once I’m outside of a classroom, on my own, I am not the sewing genius I imagined myself to be. In reality, I am probably average at it. But in the moment, I feel that if I’m following the instructions and doing what I’m supposed to, the finished piece should turn out perfect. I do not take into account that practice and skill might matter, and therefore deem myself a sewing failure.
- (Important note: quitting because I’m not immediately good at something is my lifelong MO.)
- 2010 – During one summer break from college, I decide to have another go at sewing. I decide this because the previous summer I unsuccessfully tried to learn to play the piano, but quit because – you guessed it – I was not a piano genius after three whole months of sporadic practice. I make a dress that is, shall we say, intensely hemmed, and falls apart at the seams the second time I wear it. Sewing machine goes back in the closet.
- 2015 – I move into an apartment with my husband, and my sewing machine comes with me. I decide if it was going to be taking up space, I need to use it. Also I have a dog now, and sewing with a dog at my feet is too charming a visual to pass up. I make a few project bags to keep knitting in, then decide I would like to sew some quilts to decorate said apartment. I start a Christmas quilt with some lovely Cotton + Steel fabric that not only doesn’t get finished that Christmas, it doesn’t get finished for another four years. The finished quilt is a MESS. Threads everywhere. Fabric bunching. Nothing lines up. It seems like it was fine when I pinned it together, but as soon as it touched the sewing machine, everything dissolved into chaos.
- 2019 – With the Christmas quilt finally done, I get some pretty fabric and make a few more project bags. But the more I practice the worse the finished objects seem to be. My machine, which by now is ten years old and has moved with me twice, is loud and jerky and sometimes rips the fabric. I lament about why I am so bad at this. I’ve been practicing for a long time. It seems like I should have made SOME progress? How is it that I’m getting worse?
- Also 2019 – I get a new sewing machine for Christmas. Out of the box, I am suddenly able to sew straight lines. I do not have to forcibly cram the fabric under the presser foot to get it to move. Nothing rips. Everything stays where it’s supposed to. A bizarre thing happens where the more I practice, the better I get. This machine is my new best friend, and hasn’t been put away or even covered since I received it because I use it constantly.
- Still 2019, what a year – I make a new quilt, and this one takes one week instead of four years (aside from finishing the binding, which has taken me until now, but NO MATTER). It’s by no means perfect, but compared to the Christmas quilt? Whoo boy.
The finished quilt
As mentioned, this quilt is made from Bonnie and Camille fabric in their Smitten line. I fell in love with the fabric the first time I saw it online, and bought a charm pack and yardage of two of the prints with the intention of making this quilt. It sat around for quite a while before I actually used it (as do most of my craft supplies, let’s be honest).
I originally planned on using just the patchwork for the quilt top, but it became clear pretty quickly that the size I envisioned when I did the math was wrong. Spacial awareness isn’t my strong suit. So instead I used the red fabric, which was originally meant to be the bias binding, to add a thick border around the patchwork, increasing the surface area. I ordered another print for the binding.
I’m tempted to point out everything that’s wrong with this quilt, but I don’t think that’s a good look. The one issue, though, that’s an actual mistake and not just something that will improve the more I practice, is the mitered corners of the binding. Rather than sewing off the edge of the corner at a 45 degree angle, which is how you’re supposed to do it, I sewed a continuous 90 degree angle along the corner. By the time I realized it was wrong, I wasn’t inclined to go back in fix it. Now I know for next time, and I don’t believe anyone who sees it in real life will be critical of it.
I think this quilt is destined to be a picnic blanket, both because of its size and because the colors don’t go with anything else in our house. Going forward, I’m going to be more careful about color palettes, and making sure if I spend the time and money making something, it will actually look good with our existing stuff (not that we have “decor” as it stands, we mostly have a living room full of toys, a kitchen that’s a magnet for random collections of clutter, and a bedroom that features piles of laundry on the floor because who can possibly keep up with all the laundry??).
With this quilt completed, I feel like something finally clicked in my brain when it comes to sewing. My new machine eliminates 95% of my frustrations, and for the first time I find myself sewing because I want to, not because I hate being bad at something.