My run-in with the quilt police…

If you are a quilter (or an artist of any kind) it is no secret that your craft comes with it’s own set of critics- knitting knazis, painting pompouses, seamstress snobs and, in my case, the quilting police. Having been an artist as long as I have (basically my whole life) I am fully aware that any time I create something artistic there will be comments made by critics. But when I first got into quilting, or really more when I got into the piecing portion of quilting, the quilting police seemed to be exceptionally harsh to me. Maybe it was because I have an innate inability to follow directions, maybe it was because I am terrible at math and measuring (I’m not stupid, I know how, I’m just lazy) or maybe it was because I was such a young kid in an industry of makers who had been doing this as long as I have been breathing. Whatever the reason, I seemed to be “screwing up” left and right.

Today I want to talk to you about this one particular quilt I was making. I found the progress photos and the time stamp on them was the day after Christmas of 2013. This quilt fills me with emotions, both good and bad. Let me start at the beginning…

It was about August of 2013 and I was adding some things to my Amazon wishlist (to help the hubs prepare for Christmas shopping) and among the items on my list was this Kona Cotton Solids Jelly Roll.

If you know me you know that I love rainbows. So I was really hoping that hubby would be awesome and get this off my wish list. And, of course, he IS awesome and he DID get this for me for Christmas. I was soooo excited to use this fabric, and it was already sentimental to me because it was from the hubs. So, I decided that I would make a quilt for us with it. I had an idea in mind of what I wanted the quilt to look like, but there was no pattern for it (which is fine, like I said earlier, I don’t enjoy following patterns all day.) So, I got to cutting and piecing, feeling confident that what I had in mind would not be too hard to execute.

So the first thing I did was laid out all the fabric, and then I cut all the strips into 2.5″ squares. Then, I took all the squares and shuffled them out of order from each other, but still in somewhat of a rainbow order. You can see that in the box to the left. I also incorporated some navy blue fabric that hubby helped me pick out, because we wanted the overall quilt to be navy, with pops of all the other colors. I cut the navy fabric into 2.5″ strips, and random varying lengths, with no rhyme or reason to the length, at all.

Then I started piecing them into a long chain, going back and forth between a navy piece and then whatever colored square was on top of my stack. Again, no planning at all, just piecing away the day making one huge long strip of 2.5″ wide fabric.

So, after all that piecing was done, I had a super long strip of fabric. I ran it under the iron once, to get it to lay sort of flatter because, I’m responsible and stuff. (not!)

After I pressed it, I had to decide how wide I wanted the finished quilt to be (even though I really didn’t have much of an idea of how long my strip actually was). I figured that probably about 65″ or so would be good and wide. So, I took the end of the long strip, measured off 65″ and then cut it. I knew I could cut a bunch of 65″ strips all at once, and then piece them together, but the though of trying to keep the strips in order so that the rainbow stayed in order was too much work. So I figured I would just cut the strips as I pieced the quilt. Same difference right?

So I took the first strip I cut, and then grabbed the edge of the big strip, folded it it over my first strip, and pieced down the strip. When I got to the end, I would just snip off the rest of the strip and go back the other way. So I was essentially piecing row by row, and my overall strip was getting shorter and shorter as my quilt top got wider and wider. This all made perfect logical sense in my head.

Bodacious Gangster played quality control while I pieced. Man I miss that little guy… he was such a good doggy! RIP Bodee ❤️

So far so good. As you can see in this next picture, my quilt top got a little bit wider than the last with each strip. So by the time I used up the whole strip of fabric, my quilt was about 70″ wide instead of 65″. oopsie. Haha. “Oh well” I figured. “I can just use a rotary cutter and square it up before I actually quilt it, no big deal.”

Lastly, I took like 10 minutes to press all the seams down, and in the same direction. (and yes, those are leggings under my skirt. It was about February by this time and I wore boots. So the outfit was more complete with the boots on, lol. But it was sunday afternoon so who gives a fart.)

So, here I was with this finished quilt top (woohoo!!!) and I felt so proud of myself! I mean, 2.5″ squares are tedious! Piecing was not my strong suit (still isn’t) and there were like 40 strips! This was also probably the biggest quilt top I had ever pieced at the time. I think even still, it is one of the more intricate piecing jobs I have done.

I knew I needed to square up this quilt top before I could quilt it. The problem was, I didn’t have a big enough cutting board to do it. But, I did have a friend who did. So, I asked if I could bring my quilt top over to get it squared up. We’ll call her QP.

Here is where things get a little emotional…

I took the top over to QP’s, and started doing my best to lay it flat to cut it. As I was doing this, she was watching and (I need to mention here that QP has been quilting both personally and professionally for a loooong time. Like, more than 10 or 15 years. When I was starting to get in to quilting and piecing, she was always good at giving me good tips and tricks to help make things easier for me. Her seams were always perfect and her quilts were always precise- following the pattern to a T) just as I was about to slice off one side of the quilt to make it straight, QP stopped me. This is essentially how the conversation went:

QP: “Wait wait wait, is THAT how you are going to square up your quilt top??”

Me: “uuuuh yeah. How else am I going to make it straight?”

QP: “Oh no. That is not going to work at all. See how the bottom edge is bowing outward?”

She said this pointing to the bottom edge of my quilt, the edge that was the very last strip that I added. It did indeed bow outward. The fabric had very subtly gathered over the course of 40 rows. So not only was one side too wide, but the bottom edge would not be flat, but rounded instead. She was indeed right.

QP: “If you do that, your quilt will never be square and the bottom edge will always be rounded like that. If you try to square it after you quilt it, it is going to cut off rows, but only in the middle of the bottom edge.”

(Again, she was factually correct.)

Me: “Wait a second… this is a quilt for my own bed. Only me and Andrew will be using it… And if the bottom bows, well then THAT WILL BE PERFECT! My feet always get cold at night, so that extra little bit will help keep them warm! What a happy accident. Man… I am pretty good at piecing. I did that without even trying.” *feeling cocky and confident yet again*

QP: “No no no that is not going to work. You need to build good habits and the way you pieced this is not a good habit. You need to unpick all of this and start over, the right way.”

Me:

Seriously. I genuinely thought she was joking.

QP: “What??”

Me: “You’re joking right?? Do you see all these tiny little squares?? I will LITERALLY buy a whole new jelly roll and start from scratch before I UNPICK and RE-PIECE this quilt top.”

QP: “Here just let me see your top real quick…”

I nonchalantly hand her my quit top. She holds it closer to her face, to inspect the seams further (so I think).

The next thing I hear is:

You heard that right. SHE RIPPED MY QUILT TOP IN HALF!!!

At first I was like:

“What just happened?”

Then I was all like:

“WHAT DID YOU JUST DO?!?!?!”

And then I was like:

“I can’t believe you seriously just did that.”

And then she was like:

“Well, now it looks like you have to re-piece it.”

Yeah folks. This is a true story. Not a joke. This happened to me, with a full on grown-up. See what I mean by emotional???

So, I took both pieces of my quilt top, and just walked away. Dumbfounded. I had no words. I was speechless (which is not easy for me to be, btw).

I took my quilt top home, and I cried. Like, ugly cried. How could I have been so delusional, to think that I could make a quilt without a pattern. I was so cocky about my skills and even more wrong. I took all the fabric, crumpled it up into a grocery bag, and I put it in the back of my closet. And there it sat. I would stumble upon it every few months while rummaging through my supplies or rearranging my studio, and I would pull it out, think about how hard it was going to be to re-piece it, or how bugged I would be if I didn’t. I would put it away for another 6 months and try to forget it ever happened.

Well, over 3 years later I have finally gotten over my sad emotions. If you have ever been to one of my in-person trunk shows, I may have talked about this quilt top, and how emotional it has been for me. As I have told this story a few times, I have kept thinking about how much I have grown as an artist and quilter. I didn’t want to keep looking at this quilt and letting the reminder get me down. I have been able to work through my emotions by telling this story, and I have now decided that it is going to have a different ending. (I realized that the quilt top getting ripped was never really the end of the story.)

So, a couple days ago, I took the quilt top pieces out of my cabinet and decided that I was going to re-peice the seam that was ripped down the middle. But, I decided that I would add a little something extra as I did so. I didn’t want to forget about how far I have come and how much progress I have made. I never want to forget that I am a human with imperfections. I didn’t attempt to re-do things or hide my past mistakes. Just as every sad story has a silver lining, so will this quilt.

It literally has a silver lining. Right where QP ripped it.

Now I will never forget how I got to where I am. For me, quilting isn’t just about breaking “rules” for the sake of being disobedient. In fact, that is not the reason at all. When it comes to my art, I simply choose to do things the way I please whether it is against the rules or not.

I have been quilting for years now and my seams still don’t line up…

My long straight seams are by no means “straight”…

But this quilt will serve it’s purpose, and will still be beautiful to look at. My mistakes are part of what shapes me into who I am now. My skills in my craft are not shaped by my mistakes, but rather how I choose to handle them and learn from them. My mistakes have given me empathy for other new quilters, and they have allowed me to grow into the artist that I want to be.

A few days after the ripping incident, QP said to me “We’re still friends, right? You’re not mad at me anymore?” and I said “No! I am still mad at you. What you did really hurt my feelings”…

However, I did forgive her (even though it still made me sad to think about what happened) and now, years later, I do still call her my friend. I know that sometimes we all have the best intentions paired with the worst tact. And that’s okay. We are all trying to “help” each other in our own way. But I really think one of the beautiful things about this industry (and really, any artistic industry for that matter) is our ability to love and support each other’s work and recognize that it is coming from it’s own place. I have grown as an artist through these experiences, and without them, I wouldn’t be as pragmatic in the decisions I make in my art.

This quilt is now 100% finished. Binding and all.

The piecing is not super straight…

I probably could have pressed it a little better before I quilted it…

The binding is definitely not straight…

Especially right here…

It isn’t even CLOSE to being square…

And I didn’t measure beforehand to make sure I had enough backing fabric…

So I threw in some of that pretty silver that I used for the thin line on the front of the quilt.

At the end of the day, I LOVE IT! Imperfections and all!

and I hope that at the end of the day, we can say the same thing about each other- that we can LOVE ONE ANOTHER- IMPERFECTIONS AND ALL!!!

Be great to each other.

-Karlee

*UPDATE* I have had such an overwhelmingly supportive response to my story, and many people have said they would love a quilt like this of their own. So, if you’d like to pick up this design to always remind you to love life- flaws and all- you can now purchase this design either as a custom printed tapestry (which can be hung in your creative space as-is, or used as a quilt top for a full fledged quilt) or you can purchase it as a ready-to-snuggle fleece blanket. Thank you again, for taking the time to read this story. ❤️

 

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