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I love all things sewing!  It's all about the creative journey.  All my blog posts are letters to my sewing alter-ego - Lola!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Written Instructions - Good or Evil?


Dear Lola,

In 5 short years of sewing mania, I have purchased more than my weight in quilting magazines, patterns and books.  What am I hunting for?  It is a gerbil wheel of mythic proportions.

  • See quilt sample/pattern in magazine, shop or book
  • Covet quilt sample/pattern
  • Buy magazine, pattern or book
  • Get home, read instructions, lose interest and fail to complete project
  • Repeat steps again and again

So I thought to myself, can I hop off the wheel?  Can I look at some fabrics I like and be inspired to create my own quilt project?   Can I take my creativity, as they say, from soup to nuts?  Then I thought about you Lola, and the wise words you would say to me,  “Giving this a try will allow you to stretch your creative abilities.  It will prove you can come up with your very own quilt designs without written instructions.” 

Don’t get me wrong; following instructions is the cornerstone of all I have learned so far in sewing.  Following instructions has gotten me very far; kept me out of trouble (except that time there was a misprint and the hat lining was too big for the hat!); and I know following instructions will continue to take me places!  I think my desire to “go it alone” is merely a product of trying to revisit that basic kindergarten mentality of all rules are meant to be broken in order to be a truly creative thinker!

After a visit to one of my favorite shops Elegant Stitches and enlisting very capable help from the Elegant Girls - I came home bearing my fabric choices.  I felt it prudent to start small - with a Baby Quilt.   Novelty fabrics are easy sources of inspiration and my project wouldn’t need to be very large to be deemed a success.  I like the adage of using “Baby Steps”.  I liked the bright colors of a new line of fabrics from Robert Kaufman called City Centre.   I purchased a backing, a focus fabric and one complimentary fabric from the line.  As part of my personal challenge - I had to scout the shop for fabrics outside the perfectly coordinated fabrics to use in my quilt. I wanted to force myself to create my own coordinates.  So I selected 4 other blender fabrics to use as well that were from various other manufacturers and fabric lines.


I had a vision in my mind of using the horizontal design of the red car fabric as the main design element.  I also knew I wanted to create a quilt small enough to require no piecing of my backing.  Using these boundaries, I began tackling my design challenge.

I decided to build out from the center, add borders and fall within my width of fabric measurement.  I built 3 rows of cars, alternated 4 rows of complimentary blocks, with a small inner border and a wider outer border.  I decided to use irregular sized blocks in each of the alternating rows and to actually flip the rows for interest.  I found myself using some rusty math skills and developing some cool design pathways.  Flipping the rows made me feel as giddy as a schoolgirl (don’t know why schoolgirls are always giddy do you?). 

Sewing the final rows together was unusually rewarding.  Finishing a pieced quilt-top is always exciting, but sewing one together you designed yourself is special.  I know my design isn’t complex, and is somewhat similar to other designs out there; but it was especially fulfilling to make my own creation without written instructions and total freedom to make all the final calls in what the finished project looks like.

Along the way, I kept track of the fabrics I used, the measurements, cuts and sewing instructions.   I jotted down notes, made corrections, drew sketches, named my design (Traffic Jam) and finally typed up a set of complete cutting and sewing instructions.  I decided this was another important part of the process even though it felt ironic to do so!  Let’s face it – writing down instructions of how you went through a process of not following instructions is nutty.  But in the end, I am very pleased I did it – because now I can recreate this pattern again and again.  I think the quilt is really cute, original, and fun to make!  For baby gifts – it will be a go-to-pattern that I will use again and again.  I’m even willing to admit – I would love for someone to ask me to share the pattern with him or her!  I have officially arrived full circle!



It is sew clear to me now – having a set of instructions to follow does not impede personal creativity; it merely organizes that creativity into a road map that will get you where you want to go!  And as quilters/sewists – lots of us want to share the fun of arriving at the same place!

Hugs and stitches,
Lori