The Patchwork “Quilt”: Lessons Learned

Finished Quilt

The patchwork “quilt” came about as part of my quest to make my surroundings ever more twee, because twee-ness juxtaposes so nicely with my utter disdain for most people and things.

The quotation marks of the title are obnoxious, and for that I apologise. I’m quoting myself whenever I tell people I made a quilt, which I didn’t. I made a duvet cover. But the word ‘patchwork’ flows into the word ‘quilt’ in a way so long-established in my psyche that I no longer have any control over my diction after the second syllable. Instinct and laziness take over.

I have a tendency to let my enthusiasm for a project carry me into doing things in a completely half-arse-backwards way. I’ve been known to injure phalanges, sometimes even whole limbs, with strain and effort that could have been avoided if I’d only planned a bit. My beloved duvet cover is a fine example of this. Learn from my fatal flaw and your hands may yet remain un-cramped and un-calloused.

Here are some lessons I learned, in no sensible order:

1. Draw out your pattern first, and get a count of patches in each colour
Witness the extent of my forward-planning:

patchwork plan

Beee-ooo-ti-ful, is it not? This is one thing I don’t regret. It took me ten minutes, scribbling on stolen work post-its. It was my gospel throughout the many long hours of cutting, sewing, unpicking, and general fuck-ups. For example: I spent an evening of furious arithmetic* staring at this, figuring out how many more triangular patches I needed after discarding a load that just would not sew up properly.

All this because I didn’t know about the second lesson…

2. Don’t cut the patches by hand
You may save money by swerving the purchase of proper quilting tools, but you will get a huge crick in your neck from hour upon hour of cutting out shapes in front of the TV (to stave off the boredom). You will also get finger callouses which will serve as a semi-permanent reminder of your hubris. You might even become so miserable that you give up the whole endeavour and instead go and sit in an empty bath tub for hours. Alone. In the dark. Either way you’ll get wonky patches, which is more than a little annoying once you get to the sewing stage.

This brings me to my next lesson…

3. Don’t sew by hand
Ignore this rule if your bucket list reads:

  1. Complete exactly one patchwork quilt in my entire life
  2. Curl up in said quilt and die a martyr to the Luddite cause

4. Quilts are not better than duvet covers
Quilting is the more traditional way to mount a piece of patchwork, and that’s nice. Mounting your work on a duvet cover is cheaper, makes it easier to wash, and makes it easier to re-mount.** You can also change the thickness of the duvet inside to make it a cover for all seasons.

5. Recycling old clothes for patches is not as easy as it sounds
During my patch-cutting stage I recycled two pairs of old trousers, a dress, and a skirt before I realised that unpicking complicated seams is a mug’s game. Unless recycling is a very important part of your project’s aims you’re better off buying cheap fabric in nice, big rectangles. These have never been a thing, so they won’t resist being the thing you now want them to be.

Partial PatchworkA quick game of ‘spot the seat of my old work trousers’

6. Don’t use stretchy fabric
You’ll think it’ll be OK and in the end it might be, but it’ll also be a massive ball-ache along the way. Stretchy fabric cares not for your careful measurements. You will almost certainly end up with wrinkly seams trying to compensate for its fickle ways.

7. Make sure your pattern does not look like a swastika, or genitalia, or your ex’s face
Unless that’s what you want, in which case ignore me. The best way to check whether your pattern has symbolic meanings that you didn’t intend is by showing it to a younger sibling. Love you or not, they are almost certainly looking for ways to make you feel like an utter tool whenever possible. This may be the first time I’ve found a use for this quirk.

My original pattern had an unintended Nazi flavour which is missing from the finished work. It’s missing because I have a younger brother who loves to point out my mistakes. If you are not similarly blessed, try a bus driver. They have a near identical mind-set, minus the love.***

8. Listen to good music
I sang while I sewed. The hours flew by and it didn’t feel like work. And I sounded lovely, thank you. Just. Lovely.

9. Have faith
From the very first section that you sew up to the last you will be uncertain whether your fabrics clash in a tasteful way, or if your interplay of light and dark colours is right, or if the pattern you planned is emerging, etc., etc., ad nauseam. Just keep going. Perseverance builds character. The ability to finish things is a skill in its own right. And it will most likely look awesome anyway.


* I don’t wish to brag, but there may have been some Pythagoras. BACK

** Mount, mount. Mount-mount. MOUNT. There. Out of my system. BACK

*** Bus drivers can’t love. BACK

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