My First Quilt and What I Learned

My Grandparents recently had their 60th anniversary. I was invited to celebrate with them and saw so many of my relatives, people I hadn’t seen since even before I left for the land of the midnight sun. It was a night of revelry, reminiscing, and catching everyone up on what I have been up to. The answer, not much. But I did get the opportunity to show my very first quilt to my Grandma and Grandpa.

Now, my grandma is exactly like your grandma, if your grandma used to quilt like a fiend. She was the quintessential grandma, cooking dinner whenever we went to visit and ready to impart her quilting wisdom on any willing ear. However, in my early years, I was not willing. I appreciated the quilts my grandma would make for me and the cousins, but I never truly marveled at the artistry or time she would spend on them. And I had no interest in learning the tools of the trade. Feeling that if I could sew a hem or at least use a sewing machine, I was set.

Cut to years later and I find myself smack dab in the middle of the quilting industry and who do I suddenly turn to, my grandma. All of the sudden I was emailing my grandma with stories and questions. Regaling her with my quilting knowledge, happy to have some common ground and learning more about my grandma than I ever had before. We take for granted the arts and skills of our relatives or at least I did.


(Rushin’ Tailor Interior)

I sent her a book about quilts in Alaska and half yards of the specialty Alaskan Batiks we carried. I took pictures of the quilts at the shop and my own projects.  I had a whole new slew of topics I could talk to her about. And when I finally cracked down to make my first quilt, she inspired me to finish it with ties instead of quilting the top. We’ll get into that later. Quilt shop.jpg

(Just a few of the quilts I saw every day)


What better souvenir for my crafty summer of fabric, fleece, and quilting know how then to make a quilt. I decided the best quilt would be a scrap quilt. Mostly because I am no good at following strict patterns. I was the kid that colored waaaay outside of the lines and my type of art was cut and paste. To this day I am a collage art pro. And a scrap quilt is the collage of the quilting world. Even so, with a scrap quilt, I needed to do some basic math.


But I was determined. My handwritten notes about length, width, backing, the size of scraps needed, and borders looked more like the algorithms in “Hidden Figures” rather than simple numbers.

I came to the conclusion that I would make a scrap quilt of squares, each pieced together with individual different sized scraps, measuring 8 inches by 8 inches.

So I had my squares. Or at least I had a general starting point. This is where it got fun.


(4 such “squares” put together. I know they don’t fit)

When my fellow coworkers left at the end of the season, knowing I was planning to work on a quilt, they relinquished their yards and yards of Alaskan scraps to me. I had bits and pieces of animals, Eskimos, flowers, and northern lights. I would pick a color or theme and cut out different pieces to highlight a specific animal or flower, sew them together to make an 8 by 8 square. One square might take as many as four or five different fabrics. I started this project in July and could do as many as 4 squares before I started getting cross-eyed.


Never the less, eventually I had about 50 squares, which meant is was time to start piecing the squares together. This is where things got really tricky. You know that old adage, measure twice cut last. Or something like that. Boy, is it accurate. When I would sew  5 of my 8 by 8 squares together, I had uneven borders, different sized squares, feature images covered up with seams. But somehow I got all my squares together.

Then came the border…s. Because my squares had been slimmed down in an effort to make them cohesive and all similar sizes, my quilt was smaller than I wanted. I did some major slicing. I needed some borders. I chose two. Measuring and sewing those were a little easier. But I wasn’t done. Because every quilter knows you need to make a sandwich. I had my backing, I had my top. But I needed the batting.


Slicing and ripping the thick batting into different large pieces that would fit together to sit between my backing and batting was a bit of an adventure. I felt a little like Frankenstein.

Then came the moment, the bane of all quilters existence. Binding.


Now I know what you are thinking: “Binding before quilting, are you crazy?!”

I needed to bind it together because I wanted to enter my very first quilt, haphazard as it may have been in the Skagway Fiber Arts Show. Yes, a town of 800 has an annual quilt show.


Somehow, with a basic beginners understanding, I made my very first quilt. I made mistakes, I kind of learned from them, and I completed it. Agonizing start to frantic finish. Now I have the best souvenir that completely encompasses my experience working in a quilt shop in Alaska one summer. The best part was showing off the fruits of my labor to quilter extraordinaire grandma. She gave me some tips for tie quilting and was eager to see what I would do next. She even gave me her sewing machine. I don’t know when I will make a quilt again. Or what that quilt will be. But now that I’ve done it, I can take myself out of the role of a complete novice. When those little old ladies ask me about batting, sizes, measurements, and my thoughts on auditioning fabric, I’ll have a little more to say “I’m not a quilter.”



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