“There Are Two Kinds of Quilters.”

posted in: Day In The Life, Quilting, Work 34
My practice square from this afternoon. It ain't perfect, yet, but so what! I love applique! Photo: Me.
Messing around with a little practice needle-turn this afternoon. It ain’t perfect, yet, but so what? I love applique! Photo: Me.


Over the years of being around quilters, hearing quilters’ stories, and telling my own, I’ve come to believe that for those of us who come to quilting later in life—by that I mean people who did not grow up sewing and making quilts—there are two paths that lead us to the quilting life: joy…or pain.

Think about it: happy events like the birth of a baby, a graduation, or nuptials are perfect occasions for the gift of a quilt and indeed, many quilters point to such an occasion as the reason they got started in the first place. The baby quilt is such a popular rationale for a person’s first quilt, we in the business like to joke that it’s “the gateway drug.

Intrigued? I hope so!

That’s an excerpt from my latest Quilt Scout column, which went up today. My friend and colleague Rhianna — named after “Rhiannon,” the Fleetwood Mac song, how awesome is that?! — at Quilts, Inc., said it was her favorite column I’ve written so far. Thanks, Rhi.

Click over and read the full piece if you like, then swing back through the ol’ PG and tell me: How did you come to quilting?

However it happened, I’m glad you’re here.


34 Responses

  1. Wendy
    | Reply

    Hi Mary,
    I’m looking forward to seeing you in Woodstock this month! I think I might have come to quilting from pain and joy…Maybe a little more pain than joy, but I wouldn’t count out a good portion of joy. Funny, my first quilt WAS a baby quilt for a girl who lost her mother, who was never supposed to conceive..and yet joy won out and a wonderful little baby she had, amidst her pain…and I had to celebrate that. I think the first quilt I make for myself will certainly be an emotional one.

  2. Carla Gutman
    | Reply

    Eleanor Burn’s and Her Quilt in a Day. Living in San Diego she was a local celeb to us.

  3. Lee-ann
    | Reply

    Great piece. I came to quilting while struggling with my daughter’s health issues. A good friend knew that all focus had to be on the needle, and would give my mind a break from all the anxiety and in inner turmoil.

  4. Anne
    | Reply

    Hi there! I came to quilting with a bit of a detour… My dreamstove is an cast-iron stove (like an AGA) and I’ve been following some groups on facebook. Some owners are also quilters and through those I saw the 365 Challenge quilt from Australia. I’ve never quilted before, but I loved that pattern and started to save the blocks, just for you-never-know-when-I’m-starting-to-quilt.

    I’ve started watching youtube-movies of quilting and got fond of the tutorials of Jenny Doan and your Quilty-episodes! And still I wasn’t quilting… It took a few months of thinking about it (and watching) when I found out there was a quiltstore in the city I work in and even one a 7 minutes-drive from my home! I even bought a ruler, rotary cutter and mat before I started (having faith that it would only take a matter of time before I started quilting).

    In October I finally started a beginner-course, yay! Everything is done by hand, apparently Japanese style, (just 4 strips done by machines so we got to know that also) and I just love it! I’m even thinking about doing a second course.

    Just last week I read in my 5 year journal, in an entry of last year this time, ‘I’m thinking of doing a quilt course…’

    And to end this comment, just a little thank you, from across the big pond and in the Netherlands, for those fun and educational Quilty-episodes!

  5. Kristin
    | Reply

    Hi Mary!
    It’s kind of funny to me but now that you mention it.. I’ll have to agree. It surely marked me! I started out for the joy as well.. a baby quilt for a family growing for the first time. But it’s turned out that through quilting, I’ve found myself. I’ve learned who I am and who I’m supposed to be. I was lost, but now I’m found.

  6. Nan
    | Reply

    My first and only completed quilt to date is this one -http://www.crabapplehillstudio.com/vintage-trick-or-treat.html ! Lol

    I come from a big family who made their own clothes so I love sewing. I am not great as a seamstress but I still love it. I actually started out making aprons because we have an annual cookie baking event and the nieces and nephews didn’t have any aprons. It than went from there.

    I did i the above quilt because I LOVE embroidery. I would definitely not consider me a ‘ traditional’ quilter. I think quilting is art. I have loads more quilt kits in the hopper ( and lots of embroidery kits!) and my biggest struggle is finding time to do them. Now that my nieces and nephews are grown and starting families- I do envision a couple of baby quilts in the future.

    I so wish I could go to the Woodstock event but alas- work! Btw- your needle turning appliqué is great!! Keep up the amazing work!!!

  7. Veronica Evans
    | Reply

    I believe you’re right, Mary. I learned to quilt after my three year old passed away (completely unexpectedly, due to rare, early complications of his condition, Duchenne muscular dystrophy) so that I could make a memory quilt with his little clothes. I made two small practice quilts before cutting up his precious baby onesies and big boy t-shirts. Quilting became very therapeutic, and I also fell in love with quilting. Making his quilt gave me a way to honor our Max and actively “do something” when I felt helpless and heartbroken.

    • Susan
      | Reply

      I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your story with us. I hope you find joy.

  8. Mary Veneskey
    | Reply

    What a wonderful article! I have a picture of my Great Grandmother holding me when I was just a new born, she died not long after that. She was the only person in my family who quilted, I like to think that she passed on those wonderful “quilting genes” to me. Fast forward 26 years and I took a sewing class at our local craft store. At the end of the 6 week class we made a quilted pillow top, a log cabin. I never made clothes much after that. In my almost 25 years of quilting I have certainly learned a lot about myself, cried, laughed & discovered much along the way, and loved every stitch!!!

  9. Shelley
    | Reply

    I came to quilting as a young, stay-at-home mom with two little girls. A mix of joy and melancholy, I think. I didn’t want to make baby quilts, but needed something that was just for me. I gladly left a professional accounting job in the workaday world to care for two precious beings, and as part of that journey I discovered fabric and quilting and a part of me that was just for me.

    I’m so glad you’re coming to Woodstock!

  10. Barbara
    | Reply

    The first quilt I ever made was a puff quilt for a baby. The second was a log cabin. I was hooked, and have been happily quilting ever since.

  11. Jody
    | Reply

    My grandmother helped teach me to sew when I was a tween, but I have loved hand sewing since a little girl. I used to make all my daughters (3) clothes when they were little. My grandmother and an aunt did quilt but I didn’t get into quilting (said I don’t have the patience for that!) until I went through a divorce, Never thought about it help healing until I read your column today. Love your writing and your blog! Keep up the good work!

  12. Martha
    | Reply

    My story is a little different. I came to quilting early. I was enamored with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s little House books so I wanted to be a pioneer. Pioneers made quilts so, at age 9, I made my first quilt. It is about 8″ x 10″ and stitched on my red, hand cranked, chain stitch toy sewing machine. I still have both the quilt and the machine. My love of fabric and quilting has never waned although the tools and styles have changed.

  13. Christine Houghton
    | Reply

    I’ve been sewing all my life, but my first quilt I made was six years ago after I retired and moved to Florida. I got a few charm packs and a jellyroll, cut the squares in half and sewed them together, light designs on one side, dark on the other. Put four together and put those squares on point. Boardered everything with the jelly roll strips. I didn’t consult anyone or any videos, I just made up my own design off the cuff. I put it together and hand tied it like my grandma used to do, because I didn’t know how to do quilting. My first quilt I gave to my 101 year old mother-in-law when she went into assisted living five years ago and it’s still on her bed. Everyone who sees it loves it. And I’ve been quilting ever since, for “JOY”!

  14. Debra White
    | Reply

    I think there might be a third reason. I came to quilting by happenstance. Although my grandmother was a seamstress during the war, and my sister owner an upholstery shop, I can’t even hem pants (still can’t). When my hubby and I relocated to Texas for his job, I met a new friend that had been quilting most of her life. I became very active in many volunteer activities in our new town. Everything was going great. And, I did not have any life events for which I needed a quilt. My new friend suggested I learn to quilt because I was creative, loved to make cards and scrapbook. The first thing I had to do was upgrade my 1971 Kenmore sewing machine that I had used once in 32 years. I took my first class from a small shop owner and completed a lap size quilt using the Magic Nine pattern. I don’t think many of the seams matched but my sister, the recipient, didn’t see my mistakes and still cherishes it. I’ve gone on to make many more quilts.

  15. Dayna Williamson
    | Reply

    I had 5 kids in 7 years and I sewed clothes for them all the time. I loved looking at quilt and home decor magazines. I happened upon a couple of quilt patterns and thought they would be neat. One was a drunkard’s path template that I used to make a beautiful table cloth. Using the same templates their was a pattern for a turtle quilt. I used all the denim, polyester and corduroy scraps to make my son a turtle quilt. He still talks about that quilt even though it was lost in a fire years ago. The last pattern in the book was the friendship pattern. That one is still hanging around 36 years later. Never finished…forever a flimsy.

  16. AJ
    | Reply

    I came to quilting six years ago at a time in my life that was filled with pain, distress, upheaval, and crisis. A friend invited me to attend a beginner class and it was there that I rediscovered my love for textiles and sewing. (I learned to sew when I was ten but had not sewn in years and had never made a quilt.) Immersing myself in the process of making a quilt for my son was cathartic and healing. It is interesting to note that while I came to quilting from a place of pain, all of the quilts I have made have been to celebrate happy events and accomplishments; graduations, weddings, and, most recently, my son and daughter-in-law buying their first house. I think that is one of the things that makes quilting so appealing. No matter how bad things may be for me personally, quilting reminds me that I can still be productive and contribute something meaningful and that there are always things to celebrate if you look for them. Focusing on those events is also a reminder that life always keeps moving and things can change very quickly, an important message when you approach quilting from where I started.

  17. Pam Williams
    | Reply

    I started quilting for two reason I wanted a blue and green quilt, and could not find a quality quilt anywhere , and Knots Landing concluded its final episode, and I needed something to do on Thursday nights. I took a quilt class and voila – both needs were covered.

  18. Wanda Rains
    | Reply

    Great article, Mary. My first quilt was made while pregnant with my first child. There had been two miscarriages early in each pregnancy so making a quilt for this little one was one of my first acts of faith. I embroidered 10X12 inch squares with nursery rhyme characters. It was all done by hand even the quilting. And when my little boy was born he had a nice snuggly quilt to be wrapped up in. About 25 years later I did my 2nd quilt for this same little boy (6’3″) and his wife when they were moving from Yuma,Arizona back to the Pacific Northwest. Again to keep him nice and snuggly warm. 10 years after that I was making quilts for grandchildren and even one great grandchild. They all seem to love their quilts. I love them too.

  19. Nicole Hannah
    | Reply

    I’m actually in neither camp. When I was on maternity leave 9 years ago, I had disposable income for the first time ever and leisure time for the first time ever and I was bored out of my mind. I had liked quilts for years, having read about them in books like “Anne of Green Gables” and “Little House on the Prairie.” I didn’t know anyone who made quilts and I thought it was a super old fashioned nerdy hobby, like model trains. So I sucked up my courage and took a learn to quilt class.

    Nearly four years ago I started the local chapter of the MQG. I have a quilt blog. And next Wednesday I teach my first quilting class! Hooray for nerdy hobbies, however we got here!

  20. Catherine
    | Reply

    My first desire to quilt was in the mid 90’s. I was browsing through an adult evening course catalogue from my local high school and came across a six week Hand Quilting course. I signed up. The woman who taught the class was 82. Everything was done by hand…cardboard templets, cutting fabric with scissors and piecing. Absolutely no rotary cutters or sewing machines were allowed. She also taught needle turn applique, which I mastered. I love applique and have made several baby quilts and a Sunbonnet Sue quilt for my granddaughter. All these years I’ve been piecing and quilting by hand and up until 5 years ago, my daughter bought me a sewing machine. I started piecing by machine and well, it was like a whole new world for me and I never looked back, but I still do enjoy hand quilting. Keep up the good work on your applique Mary….practice, practice.

  21. Linda
    | Reply

    My mother was a quilter and her quilting frames were the kind that were suspended from the ceiling from hooks so the quilt could be raised and lowered. When it was lowered and she was quilting I would set under it. It made a
    wonderful place with just enough light going thru the quilt to make the ceiling of my play place look like stained glass. From that special place I sewed doll clothes with scraps and eventually made a doll quilt. Like the pieces of a quilt my life changed. I became a weaver, a wife a mother, and watched my daughter lose a battle with cancer. Through it all the comfort of a quilt was always there. Joy, pain, happiness and loss. If you are a quilter you know that where ever you go, a quilt show, a quilt shop, a flea market or a museum when you touch a quilt you touch a life.

  22. Michelle
    | Reply

    I made my first quilt long ago when I was in high school, mentored by a female bus driver who was also the leader of a school club I belonged to. I made my first quilt for my parents, my second for my husband & I to use as we started our life together, and subsequently quilts for my children. I’ve also made quilts for friends I love and care about and a number of charity quilts for people I don’t know but who are in need of a quilt hug. Recently I’ve even begun to make a few quilts just for me. It is how I show my loved ones and those in need that I care.

  23. Kathy
    | Reply

    My Beloved Auntie M had been quilting for years and had giving cancer a run for its money…after the doctors came in to give the news that all the heroic (translation: tortuous 3 week hospital stay) measures were exhausted she after me to finish her final quilt which hung labeled and carefully organised in her sewing room.

    I gently packed the quilt, her notes and whatever supplies I felt I needed and flew back home just two days later. Now I had sewn on and off since I was a young girl but never worked through a quilt…the quilt I intended for a niece’s wedding gift was still in my craft cabinet cut and ready to go. It sat there for 4 years…project anxiety I guess. Well, I didn’t plan on “learning” my way through my first quilt on my dear Auntie M’s final quilt so I dug out all the pieces and dusted off the stitch ripper and watched a ton of Quilty videos and got that wedding quilt done!

    I was now confident that I wouldn’t ruin Auntie’s final quilt and a few weeks later my Quilt #2 and Auntie’s Quilt #132 was complete. It was bittersweet to be sure, however quilts 3 and 4 are baby quilts so the cycle of life goes on!

  24. Lisa Gainey Floyd
    | Reply

    I had a pacemaker and defibrillator put in in April 2014 and wanted to make something to leave my grand babies. All 12. Just finished them all at Christmas. Hallelujah. And they snuggled them, wrapped in them and it warms my heart.

    The three in Colorado snuggle in the day with theirs, go to bed with them AND stay warm in car. I love that they love them.

    It is like I can be there and snuggle.

    Thanks to you and YouTube I learned how to quilt to send my love.

  25. Katie D
    | Reply

    I enjoyed your article, Mary, and all the stories shared in the replies today! I came to quilting from a mix of pain and joy. I’ve sewn (garments, home dec) off and on since childhood, but never quilted, even though I always admired quilts and loved going to quilt shows. It never occurred to me to try quilting, perhaps because I didn’t know any quilters personally, A couple years ago I decided to take up sewing more seriously, because I wanted to make things I couldn’t find in stores, I wanted a creative outlet, and I love fabrics- I get a lot of joy working with fabrics. The pain aspect is that sewing is therapeutic in that it helps me focus on something productive that I enjoy when times are difficult (and there’s a lot of hardship, illness, etc. to contend with). Through my renewed sewing, I stumbled upon quilting shows and blogs, and it dawned on me I could learn to quilt. So I am! I’ve almost given up a few times because learning on my own is really hard, but seeing my lap quilt finished (biggest project so far), made me step back and say “Wow- did I make that?!” It was a Christmas gift for my husband’s parents, which I made with prayer intentions of love and joy– which is definitely healing. So, there is some pain, mixed with joy, and ultimately quilting for me is a healing process as it’s always bringing me (and hopefully the recipient) into joy!

  26. Barbara
    | Reply

    Loving Quilt Scout!! My first quilt was a simple college patchwork quilt for our oldest heading off to IU in 1991! Since then I have many of these for our children and their friends – each one still brings memories and joy.
    My mother taught me to sew when I was 9 and each time I sit down to my machine I feel a deep connection with her – pure joy!

  27. Pamela Keown
    | Reply

    I started sewing when I was six years old. My mother had a White brand machine she allowed me to use to sew my doll clothes. The next year my grandmother started me marking and cutting her flower garden quilt pieces. And so it goes. I am actually more of a quilt top creator than a quilter.

  28. Neame
    | Reply

    I came to quilting thru the Women’s Movement that was going on in the 70’s. Bissell Street in Chicago and the “el” train at my back window, lots going on in my young life. Marching and outrageous thinking (women are people!) for the time, mind expanding. For decades I subscribed to that bible of the quilty world: Quilters Newsletter. The photos fascinated me, and the stories even moreso. I always wanted to make a quilt of my own thinking I would start with something easy like the Log Cabin (snort!), but life got in the way…I was too transient, too poor, too distracted, whatever. Suffice that it took achieving some stability before I attempted anything more than reading about all the doings in the quilty world. Then my two decades younger sibling had a baby girl. For lots of reasons, this was an extremely joyful event and my response was to finally make a quilt. I ventured to the fabric store where I found a Daisy Kingdom panel, some other bits, and made up a quilt for this much loved and wanted new being in our family. Even now my heart swells and my throat closes as I think about that quilt and all that it means to me and to my family. Joy and sorrow combined. Now that young being has requested that I make a quilt as her wedding gift! More joy!
    Thanks, Mary, for a lovely post and for a place for me to tell my story.

  29. Nadine Donovan
    | Reply

    Hi Mary! Well to make a long story short……the death of my mother led me into a Joann Fabric store. The Viking Sewing machines were sold there. I bought one and brought it home. I did not know how to sew. I took a class from the store I bought it in. That was the beginning of a beautiful and healing relationship. I have learned a great deal and have moved forward in my sewing. I now own my own business: Black Hat Quilter. I love it!

  30. Sue
    | Reply

    I made a queen size, hand appliqued, hand quilted Dresden Plate quilt during a college holiday for my boyfriend. That’s probably why I didn’t make another for decades. Now I’m always making. My favorite pastime other than travel. Nice memories. Thanks.

  31. Sharon
    | Reply

    Mary, I saw you at the Quilters Guild of Dallas meetings on Saturday. It was a wonderful day and you were so much fun! Thank you for that great day!

    I started reading your blog a couple of days later. Today, I’ve been reading your quilt related postings and enjoying them. I’ve clicked on the links to take me over to your Quilt Scout column and enjoyed those too, but I do have a suggestion. If at all possible, can you put the date on the Quilt Scout articles or add the actual name of the article to your blog posting when you add the link. The link only takes you to the newest article, so if you’re trying to find the one referenced, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out which one it is. I’ve read many of them today and I’m sure I’ll get to them all soon, but for now, it’s a bit frustrating.

    Now, back to reading and relishing your written words!

    • Mary
      | Reply

      Ah-ha! That’s all up to the folks at Quilts, Inc., but I think I know what to do! It shall be fixed. Thanks, Shar!

  32. J Michael Voiles
    | Reply

    Good Morning,
    Your column at the top for me is true. My mother passed(pain) and I was of course sorting and came across two quilt tops. I immediately thought(hoping) they were my grandma’s(joy!) I worked for GM at the time and after work they had classes for personal enrichment, and there was the class, How to Finish A Quilt Top. I went to Wallyworld and bought a $70 dollar Brother sewing machine and the rest is history. That was September 2002. My first quilt was a Bargello , and the second a Lone Star, and I have never looked back. I love quilting, it was the first thing that I could use my hand s and mind for and not get hurt for I am very accident prone, REALLY! till I put my thumb under the needle one day while I was sewing. Well I never finished my grandma’s top because I knew from growing up with her she always tied her quilts and the stitches were so small I was afraid of damaging the top. But one day I will.
    Thank You for your words and quilts. I have watched you for a few years now and I Liked you from the start. Your eyes were the first thing and your wit was another. Head up girl, you still have a long career ahead of you.
    J. Michael

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