Friday, October 16, 2020

Maybe I CAN Be a Quilter

This past summer, we—along with eleven other designers—participated in a Mystery Stitch-Along. Our block was the Harvest Basket, which you can read about by clicking here. Kara and I (Teri) each stitched the block, as one was destined to be stitched into the Woolen Oak Mystery Quilt, and we wanted to keep one. I decided to create a small wall hanging with the one I made.

I thought I would just do a small border of one-inch squares, pulling colors from the basket block. Color is my favorite part of the process, so this took me an afternoon of playing with fabrics to be sure I had a balance of colors and value. I always look at my pictures in black and white to be sure that I have light, medium, and dark colors. Once I had stitched the first border, I realized that more than one row of these colorful blocks would distract from the basket, so I planned to pull the neutral into a small outer border.


I wanted to appliqué the word Thankful on the top border, so I played around with my fonts to get the right look and size. I chose Snell Roundhouse, which I bolded and sized at 130 points, and added a six-point outline. I printed and glued it to freezer paper, carefully cut it out, ironed it onto my wool, and cut again. It was tedious scissor-work, but worth it. 

I appliquéd the word and embroidered around it using an outline stitch, and then I added the oak leaves and acorns from the block pattern. 

The finished top

Now, the challenge I faced was to quilt it. Years ago, I tried to become a machine quilter, but never felt comfortable with anything but stitching in the ditch, or straight lines. I could never achieve the "perfection" I craved with free-motion quilting, and there wasn't enough wine to relax me into enjoying the process. And the more I fell in love with hand-stitching, the less time I wanted to spend on my machine.

For a long time, I was content to consider myself a top-maker—and as I began to appliqué, even a block-maker—being perfectly happy to let someone more talented in quilting be the quilter. But I have had the desire to make the attempt to master this skill, and have completed a few small projects using big-stitch quilting. This was my first real foray into standard hand-quilting. It is a small project, and I was ready to try and allow myself some imperfections. (In my mind, that is the key!)

I chose to use a hoopless method. As most of my quilting design was planned around outlining motifs and straight lines, I felt that I had a good opportunity to become more comfortable with the skill. My stitches are not tiny, but they are fairly consistent. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that I really enjoyed the process. It was comforting and relaxing to just sit and stitch.  

Using a finger cot helped to pull the needle through, but the ones that I had were wearing out, so I cut the finger off of a kitchen glove, which alleviated some of the hand discomfort of gripping the needle. It was a cheap and easy solution, and it didn't tear.

The quilting from the back

I chose simple as far as a quilting pattern; I outlined the appliquéd motifs, and echoed the acorn in the background. Within the acorn, I quilted vertical lines to mimic the lines on an acorn, and cross-hatched the cap. My stitches improved as I quilted, and the outer border stitches are consistently smaller and a bit more uniform. It isn't perfect, but I am satisfied that my skills improved, and I'm happy enough with it to hang it on my wall.

When I was choosing my border fabrics, I was seeking a perfect print that incorporated several of the colors to use as my binding. The one piece I found that worked was part of a jelly roll; however, it was one of the few that only had one strip, so I wouldn't have enough. I was pretty much settled on using brown, to pull the color from the basket (and we have a propensity to bind and border a lot of our quilts with brown.) But the other day, I was looking at this quilt hanging on the wall, and I recognized that the colors in the fabric in this quilt would match perfectly. Some people have a photographic memory, but sometimes I wonder if there is such a thing as a "colorgraphic" memory. I instantly knew it would be a perfect match. I just hoped I had enough left in my stash. 

To read more about this quilt, read our post entitled Turning to Him.

I was happy with the color match when I pulled the piece from my closet, and I had plenty to bind my small wall hanging.

The quilting makes the design come to life!

It takes a pair of really sharp scissors and good cutting skills,
but I love the way the lettering turned out on the top border.

I had successfully convinced myself that I could never be a quilter, that my skills could never be adequate and I would ruin my appliqué work if I attempted to quilt it myself. Thankfully, I ventured into the quilting arena, allowing myself to be imperfect and to do my best. I know where I could have improved and where I was less than perfect, but perfection isn't everything. I learned that I can improve, and I actually really enjoyed the process. And I don't feel as though I ruined my quilt top. I think sometimes I am my own worst enemy. Maybe I CAN be a quilter, and not just a topmaker! 

P.S. We do still have patterns and kits available for the Harvest Basket center block on our website:



  1. Bravo!! The hand quilting looks great! I've been a hand quilter for years and, though time prevents me from hand quilting everything I make, it is wonderfully relaxing and meditative when I choose to do it. Wishing you many more hand quilting adventures in the future!

    1. Thanks so much! I hope to continue to work on my quilting skills.

  2. Wow! What a great job!! I just love your block and really love the quilting you did on it! What a sweet wall hanging! I have always wanted to try hand quilting, seeing this, now maybe I will! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you, Carmen! Do try—I am sorry that I spent so long telling myself I couldn't do it. You may find you enjoy it as much as I did!

  3. Could you please give more details on your freezer paper word applique? I don't know enough to understand it. I'm playing with slow stitching and like adding words. I've been playing with hand embroidering words but it looks like this is not embroidered letters but fabric?? Definitely looks better than my embroidered letters.
    I think it is possible to have a colorgraphic memory. Many years ago, when scrapbooking shops were in vogue, I worked at one part time. A customer could walk in with a piece to match or coordinate and I could walk right to the piece of paper that matched. We share a talent!
    Beautiful work.

    1. Thanks, Debbie! It is fascinating to me that some people can remember a shade of green and others can't see a difference between olive and teal.

      I appliquéd the word out of wool. If you check our post, "Harvest Basket: Our Wool Appliqué Methods," linked at the top of this post, you will read more about how we use the freezer paper with our templates. Once I had cut out the wool, which had been backed with a fusible, I ironed it onto the border strip and appliquéd it down. Another post which might be helpful is "'In the Garden'—Wisteria Border and Quilt Assembly," from 2/2019. I have done wording with cotton as well, using a back-basting technique for my appliqué. I hope that helps to answer your question!

  4. And what a fabulous quilt it is! I am so happy you ventured to the hand quilting side. It is my salvation and you have done such a fabulous job. I love this quilt! Kudos!