Where were you when I needed the basics?

I often wish that I had a grandmother or aunt who knew how to quilt.  I was a self-taught quilter who first learned a thing or two about sewing on an old Singer featherweight that my mother had.  Mom drew lines on typing paper and showed me how to thread the needle and then follow those same lines with needle and thread.  It took me quite awhile, but eventually I caught on.

I had a friend who was expecting her first baby when I was a freshman in college.  I had very little money to purchase anything for the baby, but my mom DID have scraps of fabric lying around.  Mom was a seamstress who sewed most of my clothes, so most fabrics that I found in our home were plaid wool, lining fabrics, and any shirting fabric that I could get my hands on.  Certainly not quilting fabric, that’s for darn sure!

I managed to find enough scraps lying around to create a pretty pitiful baby quilt.  And yes, it was pitiful.  I didn’t know that a quilt required a layer of batting between the front and the back!  You see, I didn’t have a quilt on my bed, and I didn’t even have a quilt in my house.  But I DID read about quilts in a book at the library, just never noticed that there was something called “batting” that gave it that puffy look.  My first batting was about two inches thick.  (Yes, I’m probably making that up; It was more like 1.5 inches thick.)  I somehow managed to make something that resembled a quilt and presented it to my friend.  Fortunately, she gave me a nice smile and told me how special it was.  Yeah, right.  It was a mess!

A few years later, my husband and my two sons and I moved into a house a few blocks down the road.  Much to my delight, my next door neighbor was a fabulous (and famous) quilter.  Her name was Mary Schafer, and what a blessing she was!  Mary had a habit of popping in on me, sewing supplies in one hand, a basket of fabrics in the other.  She taught me what quilting was all about.  Sometimes we sat on my couch and sewed.  Sometimes we sat on her living room floor and sewed.  Oh, the great conversations we had!  I learned so much about quilting!

Mary taught me the right way to hand piece a quilt, how to sew on a binding, and how to block the quilt when it was completed.  She showed me how to roll up a finished quilt so that it didn’t get creased when I folded it up for storage.  I learned how to tie a proper quilter’s knot, and how to sew a binding with a bias edge.

There is something special about learning the “proper” way to accomplish a task.  The skill is made even more special when you have a loving, talented teacher like Mary.

If Mary were around now, she would be confused by the phrase, “Quilting Police.”  You see , not only did Mary teach me how to quilt properly, but she also taught me a lot about plants.  Mary loved to garden!  And time after time, she would have me over to her yard to look at a special plant.  She taught me how to propagate plants so as to multiply them to replant in another area… usually in my yard!  If you don’t do it correctly, the plants will die.  There IS a right and wrong way with plants, just as there is with quilting.  So was Mary a part of the “plant police?”  Yes and no.

Today, the phrase “Quilting Police” is used more than it should be.  For some reason today’s quilters don’t like to be told how do do something.  I don’t know if it is because they don’t want to be “bossed around,” or whether they just don’t have an older friend or relative or knowledgeable person around to provide guidance.  Rather than bask in the friendship of the joy of quilting, I’m sad to hear about quilters who don’t seem to WANT to learn various techniques.

How do YOU feel about that?

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7 thoughts on “Where were you when I needed the basics?

  1. Again, Caron, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Craftsmanship is key to quilting. It does not mean that you follow, slavishly, the style of others, but that you construct your work well, with good sewing and piecing techniques. It is craftsmanship that carries a work into history. Mary Schafer’s quilts were masterpieces (I’ve seen pictures, but not the quilts themselves). In an era without all of our time saving tools, she produced a VERY substantial number of quilts in her lifetime; we think speed is more important than quality.

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  2. Anne, you are so right!!! And Kudos to Gwen Marston and Joe Cunningham for helping to bring recognition to the work of Mary Schafer. They were instrumental in sharing her knowledge and talent with the world.

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  3. I feel sad when I hear that, but I’ve been lucky enough that “quilt police” has only been used to comfort and reassure someone who fears their efforts are are not good enough. As in, “I think it’s a nice quilt – remember there are no quilt police!” I think in quilting as in gardening there are many ways to do things well and many ways to do things wrong. We could all use a Mary, but not many of us need someone else in our life to criticize.

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  4. Amen! Learn to do it “right” and the whole project is easier, and the result “better”, a quilt that will please the maker & the receiver. Thank you for this!

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  5. Caron, I also am self-taught. I started quilting in 1975. I had no idea what I was doing, but I wasn’t going to give it up. I still stab stitch, didn’t know about rocking the needle. I joined a small group and one lady offered a short class on drafting. So glad I took her up on her offer. I really wish it was something everyone would take the time to learn.

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  6. I agree. Every famous artist from Monet to Chagall to vanGogh first copied and learned to paint like the old masters and THEN they went out and created a different style. It’s no different with quilting or anything else.

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  7. I am in awe that you learned to quilt from Mary Schafer! When I had just started quilting back in the 70’s, she was one of my heroes. Imagine my delight when one year we visited Washington D.C. and I ran into her at a folk art festival. I think I may have gushed a little. I often have people comment on how “talented” I am. I have had several hand quilted pieces juried into Paducah. But I’m also told often that my way is “too much trouble.” It seems that people want the same results without putting in the work. Aiming for perfection seems to be an unpopular concept these days. I don’t think anyone should beat themselves up over imperfect work, but I’ll never stop trying to improve!

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