07 April, 2015

A Year of Talking Quilts - Choosing the Pattern

You sit staring at the pile of fabric you just picked up, the pretty colours swirling in a kaleidoscope in front of you. You love them so much yet you can't move. You are paralyzed with indecision, overwhelmed with options, stuck with opportunity.

You have the inspiration, you have the fabric, now you need the pattern.

There are the times when we know exactly what we want to make, when the quilt pattern dictates the fabric selection. Those times are, admittedly, a bit easier. Picking fabric can still be a challenge, but having a starting point goes a long way to providing the necessary focus to get started.

Then there are the times that you need to start a new quilt or simply want to turn a beautiful stack of fabric into a quilt and you have no idea where to start. What quilt to make? Pinterest boards full of options, a drawer full of patterns, a shelf of books with pages marked all give us great ideas. They don't, however, answer the tough question.

In my early years of quilting the way I looked for a quilt design was by searching for just the right block. For example, because my brother proposed to my SIL on top of the Empire State Building I knew I wanted to make a New York Beauty based quilt as their wedding present. Often I would stroll through the block designs on a site like Quilter's Cache. Then I would make up a bunch of blocks, still not knowing what the final quilt would look like. After some sewing I would try to make it all come together. I could pick a block based on its name or what it looked like and how that referenced the recipient. It was actually a really good step towards design because it allowed for personal creativity while working within the confines of a block pattern.

Now, with so many quilts on the go I am often - if I'm being honest - not stuck for ideas. I generally have a problem NOT starting a new quilt, a new pattern. There comes that time when a baby is being born, a friend is getting married, a book is being written and I need to decide on demand what exactly I am going to make. In those moments I do one of two things, some times both.

1. Ask myself: Am I improvising this one?

You see, if I am going to improvise I might just start with my fabric or my idea and let loose. Bring on the rotary cutter and the neutral thread because I am just going to play until something more concrete forms.

2. Flip through my sketchbooks.

I keep detailed sketchbooks, have done so for years. They are where I capture any and all ideas. Gone are the days of scratching a design on hotel stationary and receipts from my wallet. My sketchbook lives by my side. So when I need to make something new I can pull out the dozen or so stashed on the cutting table in my sewing room, make a pot of tea, and flip through the pages until an old idea seems so RIGHT NOW.

Even with all the books on my not quite bookshelf I will often transfer the idea to my sketchbook (with proper sourcing) so that I only have one thing to look through.

One thing I know I do, and I think many others do, is getting hung up on making just the right quilt. We have to tell ourselves though that the recipient, if there is one, is going to love anything we make; that the symbolism we are assigning to our choices is 80% of the time only visible to us, the maker. And if they do get the symbolism they don't need the explanation and it doesn't have to be evident in every single step of the quilt making.

 (Photo by Kate Inglis for You Inspire Me to Quilt, C&T Publishing 2015)

When there is no recipient and we are making for the sake of making then I firmly believe we should try the first idea we had. Our instincts are usually correct, for one. Just like when you go to a restaurant and talk yourself out of the pasta you really want but think you should try their signature chicken dish, then are sorely disappointed. Not because the dish is bad, but because it wasn't the pasta.

And two, no one says you have to make the whole quilt. Just try out a few blocks, or put some of the fabrics together in sewn form to make sure they work. Try, play, experiment. You can always change your mind. Just because you start the quilt, doesn't mean it has to become a quilt.

There are so many choices to make in quilt making and picking the quilt to make is the most challenging. But it is also the most exciting. We need to keep ourselves from getting overwhelmed by the choice. Keep a running selection. Or don't. My friend Rossie, for example, doesn't keep a sketchbook because she says the good ideas will surface when they need to. Also, we all need to accept that we will never make all the ideas we have, there are not enough years in our lives and there are lives that need to be lived, so we should make the quilts that get us the most excited at that moment.

This is the third post in a year long series on all the steps of making a quilt. Musings and thoughts on the process.


Leanne said...

I'm enjoying this series. I generally make what I want but when I don't I am that person who wishes she had ordered the pasta after all.

Michele P. said...

You are expressing what I am going thru right now. I had an idea, pulled together some fabric BUT when I look at the pattern/design it just doesn't work. So, do I start over or take the fabrics and find another pattern OR take the design and find another collection for fabrics? the possibilities are endless and (like you said) overwhelming and stops me in my tracks. The 'What if' can be many. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Micki@2dogsstudio,us

Colleen Yarnell said...

Im glad you mentioned writing your pattern sources in your planning book. I always do that too but dont usually see others mentioning that. Id hat someone to think I stole someone else's pattern.