CHQuilts: Bigger isn't always better

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Bigger isn't always better

CHQuilts: my quilting space with friends
When my husband John and I retired, we downsized from a five-bedroom house. While I miss the square footage, I don’t miss the upkeep. That was the place however, where I made my first two quilts. The funny thing is, I didn’t have a quilt studio then either. It was just a room with a table and a sewing machine.

I was a beginning quilter, so I had no fabric stash, and just one quilting ruler that came with a kit of sorts with a rotary cutter and cutting mat. I did have a quilting book or two and was starting to collect quilting magazines. Still, I had no idea how much fun it would be to collect all the goodies we quilters swear we can’t live without. It was, after all, the early 1990’s. I had no idea what I was doing. I only knew I wanted to do more of it. Those days were way before I ever considered turning my spare room into a quilting studio.

I realize now what a treasure that little room at the top of the stairs could have become. But alas, that was then. This is now. I do all of my work, with a few exceptions, at a small breakfast counter just steps away from my kitchen. I have divided the space into two main areas; the left side is for cutting/pressing and the right is for sewing. What more could a girl need?

I really can’t complain. My space may be small, but it is mighty. Every quilt I’ve made in the last 16 years since we moved to our little house in the woods in the Arkansas Ozarks has been done in this space. I’ve free-motion quilted several huge quilts and put together several quilt-as-you-go projects. Both of these require maneuvering bed-size quilts in my tiny space.

No doubt I am envious of the beautiful quilt studios I’ve seen in magazines, or online which resemble quilt shops I’ve visited over the years. But, I’ve made this work. It is all doable, as long as I follow the guidelines I’ve laid out for myself.

Rarely can I work on more than one project at a time, unless they are small projects. But that fits into my philosophy of finishing what I start. I like working on a project to completion.

In the near future I want to make The Quilt Show’s Ricky Tims’ Kool Kaleidoscope quilt – there will be more on that when I get into it. But suffice it to say it will require that I have some kind of design wall. For non-quilters, a design wall is a designated area, often covered with batting or felt, where quilt blocks or other elements of a project can be placed for review. Fabric can be placed upon the wall and it will generally stick without having to use pins. It can be viewed so as to check for color, placement, or layout. It offers a distant perspective that is next to impossible any other way. Many quilters consider a design wall to be mandatory.

For this specific project, it will be necessary to create a design using many small pieces that fit together like a puzzle. Without it, this project might not be doable. I currently have no space for a design wall. I can pin some batting onto one of the small walls on either side of my space, but it is hardly big enough. I suppose I could cover my window with batting and use that, but I like my huge picture window overlooking the backyard and the woods behind. I also like the natural light from that south window.

I have been thinking about ways to solve this problem. I think I have one. I have a folded cardboard cutting board (for scissors, not a rotary cutter) that I could cover with batting. It is about 3 feet by 6 ft., so it would serve my purpose. And, it could be folded up and stored when not in use. The more I think about it, the more I think this might be my next project.

Because my space is so small, the only way I can make it functional is to keep it organized. I don’t think quilters set out to be messy, but it is almost impossible not to be. While I haven’t quite gotten to the point of throwing things over my shoulder and onto the floor, Eleanor Burns style, there are always scraps of fabric, threads, pins, pin cushion, scissors, needles, a seam ripper, extra bobbins, spools of thread, templates, rulers, as well as fabric that needs to be put away, to name some of what quiltmakers need. My space requirements just dictate that I have to clean up my mess before I start something.

Fortunately, I rather like the cleaning up and organizing my precious ‘stuff.’ I consider it a part of ‘quilting.’ It is a project all its own, that is almost as satisfying as quilting itself. It is positively mindless, which makes for good therapy. When my mind isn’t wandering, I’m listening to music or an audible book on my earbuds. Either way, I’m in another world, one where there is no pressure or pain, no drama, no obligation. It is freedom! What could be better?

At the same time, sorting scraps of fabric into squares and strips, often times by color is a way to keep things neat. Big pieces are put into a basket—I have baskets for everything—and scraps that are too small are either thrown away or kept for applique projects. I am not quite as organized as I’d like to be in this area, at least not yet. Maybe someday…Usually, I just discard small pieces because I really don’t have the room to keep them. I have to say though; it is painful to throw them away. I dearly love fabric, even little pieces of it. When I’m done with a project, I sweep all the scraps that aren’t big enough to sort, into a brown paper grocery bag. When it is full I will make the painful decision to finally toss it into the trash. Until then however, I can always rummage through it to see if there is anything I’d like to keep. Saving tiny scraps that way postpones the inevitable, but because it takes so long to fill up the bag, I might have a better solution before that happens.

My quilting space may never be a feature in a magazine, but it will suffice because where there is a will, there is a way. Oh, and bigger is not always better.

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