What My Son Taught Me About Letting Go and Quiltmaking

Quilting With Kids

Here lies a very proud boy.

At some point last year my son asked me to teach him how to hand sew. We started with a basic running stitch and scraps in his favourite colour. Moments at a time - the attention span of a normal 4 year old boy - we stitched some triangles on squares and sewed them together. Then they sat. And sat. Then one day in the winter he asked to sew more. 

What ended up happening is he placed his one block on the design wall and started pulling scraps. He played and played and played. I loved watching it come to life one piece of fabric at a time. The next day it would change and again the day after that. In all honesty I thought it would stop there.

Boy, was I wrong.

Tips for Sewing With Kids

Soon he started pushing for us to turn those scraps on the wall into a quilt. Hmm... now how exactly was I going to do that? He was quite adamant that it literally be what he laid out. I thought about doing some planned improv - using his fabric and sizes but puzzling it together to make it a solid piece, a quilt top. Well, that, and some applique.

He shot me down. The boy knows nothing about quilting other than watching me but he knew exactly what he wanted. So we picked a background fabric and carefully, with his sisters' help, he transferred the design to the background fabric. Then he glued each piece down. Just so.

This is where I had to take some deep breaths. But, but, but... He picked a busy background fabric and it could be seen through some pieces... He didn't cut selvages off... All those raw edges... those unicorns are upside down...

You see, when I am teaching a new person - child or adult - I am a firm believer in basic, solid technique. Good 1/4'' seam allowances, pressing, colour work, squaring up. It's what I've done with teaching my own kids all along. Know the basics then riff all you want. But here was this boy completely making up his own process, his own rules. 

I thought about the articles you read where kids remember being told they aren't creative and they stop making art. About adults coming back to art after feeling shunned due to rule breaking. I thought about those things and didn't want to do that to my boy. I had to let go of constrictions and rules and supposed-to-dos. I had to embrace the way he saw the quilt and the process.

So I followed his instructions to the letter, even when they made me cringe a little as a quilter. Better to make a 'not proper' quilt than kill the spirit of a child. That made me feel better as a mother. When it came to finishing he made all the decisions - backing, thread colour, even the quilting pattern, and binding. He has the label even designed, but that's waiting for a picture with him and Daddy and the dog. 

Tag Fabric and Sewing With Kids, Quilts

We will make no mention of the fact that the quilt is effectively a baby sized quilt. He thinks it is perfect for Daddy. And so it is, son, so it is.  

Summer Play - Improvisational Piecing With Solids

Improv Piecing Solid Fabrics Cirrus Solids Robert Kaufman

A little bit of this, a little bit of that. We sew when we can.

The Improv triangle work started as a class sample. Then I liked it so much I kept playing. Still, I play. I set some parameters for the play. This is always a good thing to do, especially if you find Improv Piecing overwhelming. These are mine:

  • Two colour blocks, high contrast in value.
  • Only solids.
  • Fundamental construction revolves around the techniques I share in my Improv Triangles class.

I've invested in some more solids because my stash is minimal in that department. These are all a combination of Cloud 9 organic Cirrus Solids (so seriously dreamy) and Kona cottons. I work only 2 colours/1 block at a time. No rhyme or reason to my choices other than I think those two fabrics look fun together. 

Kids started summer vacation over the weekend. And we were going hard with activities until that Friday night. We are all totally pooped. The sum total of the sewing I've done (minus the quarter circles that got me on a tangent) in the last month is right there on my design wall. Hand sewing my Euroa quilt while still on pool decks and soccer pitches, and little Morning Make triangle bits slowly, ever so slowly adding up. Whether it is after dinner frisbee tossing or sewing triangles together, I'm having fun with this summer playtime.

Tangential Creativity

Indian Cotton Drunkard Path Quilt

One of the best things about having a large list of Quilts Under Construction (currently at over 40, but I don't know the exact number today) is that I can never get bored. The other great thing a large list affords me is the luxury to not give a hoot about having a large list. So if I want to start something new, I will. And I will never feel bad about that.

Being open to inspiration and being inspired to act is one of the key reasons I quilt in the first place. Because I want to create, I want to explore, I want to try new things.  And with quilting I can do that with pretty much zero danger (compared to rock climbing), a minimal investment (compared to travel), and no ick factor (compared to trying some exotic foods). The idea hits and I can run with it and the only thing it impacts is my stash.

Last week a friend in the neighbourhood popped by with a beautiful gift. A stack of unique kimono fabrics direct from Japan. Her mom, a new quilter, was visiting from Japan. One morning they came over and I shared my quilts with her. We talked (via my friend, translating) inspiration, style, fabric, what we knew of the Japanese quilting community, and making in general. It was lovely visit and I wished her well as she left, a bag of scraps and some books for her to carry home for new inspiration. I told her to come by next time she visited Canada and we would stitch together. The beautiful fabric was a wonderful, and unnecessary gift. It sits on a shelf, where I pet it and smile - for now.

Indian cotton fabrics

But, the colours reminded of another stack of gifted fabric. This one given to me by my mother in law over 5 years ago after a trip to India. I had to look up just how long ago she gave me these treats! Thank goodness for having a 10 year old blog.

Back in 2012 I think I made 4 blocks with the fabric. Just to play. Those blocks, and the fabric, sat in a bin with all my other materials for teaching Circles. A few times a year I dusted them off and never thought of them again. That kimono fabric got me thinking, my hands got twitchy, and a few days later I already have 50 quarter circle blocks sewn. With enough background fabric for maybe 40 more.

Oh no, I have too many quilts on the go I couldn't possibly start another one. I'll have to park this idea and put the fabric back in the bin until I finish a few more quilts.

Yeah, that's not me! I relish the opportunity to see the tangent and take off down the path it opens up. I realize that not everyone is this way or that even reading about this might cause twitching in someone else. I knew that if I didn't embrace the idea right then and there I might never go back. And if it wasn't for that kimono fabric I might never have thought about these Indian cottons. If, if, if. I don't want to live a life of what ifs, I want to see what happens when I respond with Okay, now what? 

Who knows how long the kimono fabric will sit and be admired, or tucked away for safekeeping. I could try something next week or it might be 5 more years. I'm good either way.  One day it will make it to the Quilts Under Construction list. 

Instructions - Tag plus The Maker's Panel Quilt Kit

Instructions Quilt Tag Fabric Makers Panel

Can you believe that when I designed the Maker's Panel as part of the Tag fabric collection this quilt did not occur to me? A bed quilt with the words "Make Every Single Day" right on them. How did that not occur to me? So, of course, when it did I HAD to make up a bed quilt for it. 

My sketchbook was filled with pages of ideas until I settled on this one. I wanted the panel and its instructions to be the centrepiece, obviously, but it needed to be framed just right. In addition to the panel there are only 3 other fabrics in the quilt top. Almost a record for me! And that yellow! I love a yellow quilt.

Makers Panel Tag Fabric Bed Quilt

Now you can get a complete kit for this quilt from Connecting Threads. All the panel and fabric you need (minus backing) plus the pattern. It is a quick and easy quilt, I promise. If you love the pattern but maybe want to change up the yellow you can still get the Makers Panel and the Tag fabric from Connecting Threads, pattern purchased separately

Perfect for the child moving in to their first big kid bed or the almost adult moving into their dorm room. Not only is it a perfect reminder for each of us to make the most of every day, but the perfect reminder to make your bed every day. 

Twin Quilt Bed Quilt Pattern

I promise I won't complain either if you decide to replace the Maker's Panel with your own block or panel too. I love to see creativity when it comes to my designs. Go ahead, make it your own

Shout out to my friend Kourtney with Agnes in August for lending me her home and wickedly adorable daughter for the photo shoot.