Fearless Crafting

comments (3) July 7th, 2008     

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Cranky_Daphne Daphne Adair, contributor
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My first quilt—tiny but beloved.
A humble but very handy crocheted granny square coaster.
My embroidered dish towel. Im pretty sure the stitches are all wrong, but I like the way it looks. Someday I may learn more about embroidery, but for now Im confident I can achieve the results I want, and who can ask for more?
The cat doesnt worry about the stitching; its filled with catnip.
The flaw in the blanket.
My first quilt—tiny but beloved.

My first quilt—tiny but beloved.


For a person who’s sewn three-and-a-half quilts (at press time, number four is nearly done), I’m surprisingly freaked out by the ideas and rules of quilting. I’ve got about six quilting books and a stack of fabric, but every time I start reading the pattern for Flock of Triangles or Drunkard’s Path, I freak out and back slowly away from the rotary cutter to the safety of my knitting. Then I remember that once upon a time, I purled all my stitches “wrong”—they were all twisted—and we should all be really happy that my first pairs of socks and first intarsia project are lost for all time. Really, I'm positive they were terrible, but I was just so happy to be knitting that I didn't really care. I had no idea how to purl, yarn over, "ssk", fair isle, make a dart, sew a mattress seam, or any of that jazz. (For the record, I know how to make a dart now, but I usually don’t. I’m a little lazy, too.)

In any case, the lesson is that your skills have to start at zero and build, so you can’t expect perfection instantly—but why should that hold you back from doing something you really, really want to do, like knit a sweater or create a set of matching napkins or sew a quilt for a friend’s wedding? You shouldn’t. You can do it. You just might want to start at the beginning. Here are some ideas for satisfying, gift-worthy projects to get you started on a new craft without risking too much of your time. These are relaxed enough to look great even to most perfectionists—and we all know that’s important in a new craft endeavor.

  1. Start small. My first quilt measures (about 23 inches by 26 inches, and no, I didn't figure out the end size first). You can go smaller, though, and all you’ll need are a few fat quarters to start. Warning about fat quarters: They’re small. They’re cheap. They’re pretty. They’re completely addictive.
  2. Start simple. Napkins, tea towels, baby bibs, handkerchiefs, and coasters are excellent additions to any home, yet you can make them as simple or as complex as you like. These are going to get messy, so who cares if they're 100% perfect to start out with?
  3. Embellish! No, you don't need a Bedazzler. You can pick up a pack of cotton or linen towels or handkerchiefs at rock-bottom prices at Pier One, Cost Plus, or Nordstrom Rack (men's section). Embroidery floss is less than $1/color and you really only need one to start (ever heard of redwork?). Hoops are inexpensive and last forever. Download and print free patterns from around the Internet—Flickr has some amazing groups sharing Japanese, vintage and other public domain patterns, and you're ready to start. (I won't get into the million ways to transfer patterns here, but try the notion wall at a craft store or use supplies already in your closet—even a pencil and a window will do the trick.) Again, since it's going to be used to dry dishes or a runny nose, just have fun with your design. You can use the same argument for decorating baby onesies, but I found these shockingly expensive. I must've been shopping at the wrong place.
  4. Break down and take a class. Not ready to commit to four weeks? Ask your friendly local knitting/fabric/sewing store if they have any one-session classes suitable for beginners. Hilltop Yarn in Seattle, for example, has a "learn to knit a hat" class that takes an afternoon; Bolt, a Portland fabric boutique, regularly offers skirt classes suitable for beginners.
  5. Plan an afternoon with a crafty friend. It doesn't matter if she doesn't crochet or if he's going to be working solely on a baby blanket, crafting together is fun, and you won't worry as much about "wasting" your time on your first wonkily-stitched embroidered baby bib if you're having fun anyway.
  6. Get a simple book. Books for "dummies" may not be flattering, but they do work. Try your library to save money and face in case the craft doesn't work out.

Before I go, I'd like to address the perfectionist streak in many of you. I know you're out there; I taught a coworker to knit recently and was reminded of you people. (I do say this fondly; I used to think I was a perfectionist, until I learned I am merely obsessive.) She started over repeatedly because she was worried about that last loose stitch, as well as many tight ones; I have reassured her many times that it takes practice and will start to look good soon if she keeps going forward! So here are some ways to banish that inner perfectionist and just...knit or crochet or stitch:

  1. Make it a gift for someone who will appreciate it! This could be your cat or dog, and I mean it; they look really cute in knitwear, even if they don't exactly love wearing it. Babies usually tolerate gifts a little better, and everyone will be looking at the baby, and how cute the baby is, and what about that BABY? You get the picture.
  2. No unwitting pets or babies upon whom to foist your warm-but-not-cute hats? Donate them to the Salvation Army. They do need to be wearable. Of course, I have donated some interesting items to Value Village based on the theory that people shop there for Halloween costumes, as well as art and craft supplies.
  3. Simply stash your first finished projects away in a closet, and look at them a year later. You probably surf knitting and sewing blogs and think they've been sewing their whole lives...but turns out they started three years ago. Trust me, they're not genius prodigies from privileged homes; they've just been practicing a while.
  4. My favorite: Ignore the flaw and love it anyway. My first quilt up there has a big flaw: I was attempting a self-binding and cut into the fabric wrong...but I carried on anyway. The stitch witchery I used is starting to decay so I need to do some repairs but only because I love that darn thing and actually sleep with it. (Hey, it comes in handy to cover ice packs on sore muscles...and to cuddle.)

And one more thing: If it doesn't take, don't worry about it! If you took my advice, you didn't get in too deep, and you can move on to the next craft or go back to your favorite—with pride in your skills and talents—any time.

posted in: embroidery, multicraftual

Comments (3)

Cranky_Daphne writes: Amy,

I seem to recall the strips for this little quilt were 1.5" wide and 3.5" tall -- so if you use 1/4" seams, the strip ends up being 1"x3"; when you sew three strips together, theoretically you end up with a 3.5" wide x3.5" tall square, which you then sew up again to end up with final visible size of 3"x3".

I think the "real" way to do this is to cut your strips to be super long, like 35" long and 1.5" wide, sew together three long strips, then cut the sewn strip into 3.5" squares--you cut right through your stitches because you're going to sew them back up! Did I do it this way? No way, I did it the hard way--but it was less intimidating somehow. It doesn't seem like it when I go back and think through all that math, but sometimes the mind works in mysterious ways...

My point is that I saw a quilt like this online and just dreamed up how to do it, because quilting books, shows and sites intimidated me. Now I'm getting a lot more into the details but still am not very concerned with perfection!
Posted: 2:17 pm on August 9th
EarlyBirdSpecial writes: Hi Daphne!

Your quilt is lovely! Could you tell me what size strips you used? I'm very interested in making my first quilt, but don't want anything too overwhelming.

A pattern like this looks right up my alley.


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Posted: 2:35 pm on August 6th
adina60 writes: Very colourful!
Posted: 4:57 pm on July 25th
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