Thoughts on teaching people how to make quilts

I really enjoy teaching people to sew and to make quilts. Having taught at both small quilt shops and large chain stores, as well as community education programs, I have hit a variety of students. Ages have ranged from 6 to 84, and while most students have been females, there are notable exceptions. One pillowcase class for kids had a lone boy, who was not chagrined by the five giggly girls. While he proudly showed his mom the pillowcase, he asked if he could sew one for his little brother too.

CoolClips_Sewing MachineIt can be particularly fun to teach a class for people wanting to learn how to use a sewing machine. People sign up to master some basics, like threading their machines, getting the tension right, and sewing straight seams. One group of six had many reasons for wanting to sew. Two high school girlfriends wanted to make some colorful skirts for summer. One woman wanted to create something for her first grand-baby, while two others were tired of how store-bought clothes fit and wanted to either make clothes or learn some easy alterations. The lone twenty-something guy in that group had inherited a machine and wanted to learn to make stuff sacks for camping items. After going through all the basics, the group all made simple drawstring sacks in various fabrics and colors. He was thrilled, and asked for fabric ideas and how to add a pocket.

A month later, as I was set to teach that class again, it will filled with eight Cub Scouts, and that one young man. He brought along several bags he had made since, and each scout managed to thread machines, sew straight, and make a bag of their own in just over two hours! Later he signed up for a one-on-one class and we did zippers and grommets and such too.

Teaching how to make quilts can be very challenging. To begin with, many shops use a “beginning quilting” term for the first class, implying that you are quilting. Almost always, though, this an introduction to piecing a simple block, using rotary cutters and irons and sewing machines. The terminology is deceptive. People come thinking they are quilting, but actually they are piecing. Unless you are making a whole-cloth quilt, you have to start with a topper of pieced fabric. After a three-hour session where most use a rotary cutter for the first time, and they now have a completed block, almost every students looks up and asks “when are we going to quilt it?”

Of course, the idea is that will lead them to another class, but many never return. Occasionally someone comes in to learn to assemble and quilt a piece with a dozen blocks made from that first pattern, or maybe three and the goal of a table runner.

free clipart girl sewingSometimes a student comes to the class with a topper and is looking to learn how to sandwich and quilt the item. I encourage them to sign up for a different class, but always invite them to stay and share their experience. Half of the time, they walk away saying that the never used a rotary cutter that way before, and their skills and safety level are hopefully improved.

Teaching people to make quilts should involve a series of well-defined steps. Planning the project. Fabric selection. Learning to cut, press, and then piece a block. Assembling blocks to make a quilt. Sandwiching the quilt. Quilting (ah, finally that word makes sense here!) or maybe tying the quilt. Machine quilting and hand quilting are different classes. Binding and finishing. When the steps are defined, people can select the appropriate class.

My other notable exception to the ‘mostly female’ student tendency was a real delight. At a class for ‘finishing your quilt’ a gentleman in his 70’s showed up with three gorgeous quilt tops in tow. Two were flimsies or toppers, but one was about halfway hand-quilted. “My wife was working on these before she died.” he shared. “I suppose I could hire someone to finish them, but I spend a lot of time sitting in front to the TV myself, so I thought I would do it myself. Three quilts, for my three kids.” He did! Four months later he emailed me to say he had finished quilting the first one, and needed to bind it. He joined the next class for that, and has since sandwiched and started working on the next topper. What a lovely legacy he is leaving his kids. I am secretly hoping they sit with him and stitch a bit sometime too.

Needle and thread line copyright The Curious Quilter at WordPress dot comMarch PSQ Swap notes:
PSQ CHarms 1Finally (well over two months later!) my mailbox has quit filling up with swap emails. For the most part, I think it went pretty well. I goofed on a couple of swappers info, which was pretty easily corrected. Some prolific charm cutters did not get as many swap partners as they hoped for. Many people are looking forward to the October swap, which will be announced in a post in October 2013.

But some problems persist, and almost a third of the swappers let me know that they never got an email saying the charms they sent had arrived. While this may sound petty to you, it can be a lot of work and some expense to get these parcels out into the world, and a simple email saying “they got here!” should not be that hard to pull off. If you have not yet acknowledged receiving charms from a swapper, please do so!

The other challenges come from the handful of people who feel compelled to write critiques of their partner’s cutting techniques or fabric selection, often verging on hurtful. Some have been told they are not permitted to swap next round, which I find hard to do, but feel is necessary. This version of “the quilt police” is akin to bullying, and has no place in the swap. If you don’t like what you get, tell ME, please, and treat other swappers with respect and concern.

For PSQ joy while you are waiting for the next swap, there are two upcoming posts over the summer (well, Northern Hemisphere summer) that will inspire you with new ways to use your little charms! In September I am going to do a little survey about swapping success and issues and I hope that all you swappers will take the time to answer it then.
Needle and thread line copyright The Curious Quilter at WordPress dot comThoughts on teaching people how to make quilts© 2013 by The Curious Quilter,, All rights reserved.


About thecuriousquilter

Quilter, sewer, writer, gardener, mother, sister, friend, always learning, always curious.
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14 Responses to Thoughts on teaching people how to make quilts

  1. MamaMay says:

    I didn’t write thank you emails, I thought I was supposed to write a thank you note… Those were mailed out. Do I write an email too?

  2. Cathy Kieser says:

    I never recieved my charm squares from a lady named (removed by host). I have emailed her twice with no response. Thank you Mary for all the work you put into the swapping!

  3. Karen Richardson says:

    I was assigned 2 donors and had both of them request my address. Only one, from Sweden, sent the charms and I have thanked and corresponded with her a few times. I never got the second batch.

  4. You are a saint to do this. I do have a few new charm patterns I am working on. If you are interested in having them as suggestions, please let me know, with a date, and I will try to get more serious. In the meantime, thank you again for being a promoter of scrap quilting.

    • DJ says:

      Mary, Barb, & all swappers of mine, March was a fabulous swap. Thank all of you, again, for your wonderful efforts. Can hardly wait until October, my strips are cut & ready to make into charms. Looking forward to September & Mary’s survey – I certainly want to know how to improve, lifelong learner here. Have a happy Summer!

  5. Ria says:

    I have to confess; I’ve never used a rotary cutter either! Usually I just stick with scissors, though I can definitely see how a rotary cutter would be far easier for some things.

    I really ought to get back to sewing quilt blocks. After my surgery, I’d had little but free time on my hands, and while I’ve been filling that time with reading, it might be nice to do something a little more physical, get my hands moving again! I have a box of squares just waiting to get sewn together!

  6. Lee says:

    Love your posts. the story of the gentleman finishing his wife’s quilts brings a tear to my eye. those will double special quilts for his kids now. How touching. Thanks again for organizing this great swap!

  7. Debbie Schulze says:

    Hi, Having participated in the PS swap for the first time, I want to tell you that I had a great experience. I swapped with ten people. I received all my charms, and confirmations from everyone I sent charms to. All was great, and my charms are ready for October! Thank you for all your very very very hard and time consuming work! Debbie Schulze

  8. JLVerde says:

    Going to have to get cutting for October!

    Thank you again for hosting this swap. This was my first time as a swapper and the experience was great. Great communication from all parties and good quality on all swaps.

    (time to do a bit of sewing, too–still haven’t stitched up the ones I got this last round)

  9. Janice says:

    Thanks again Mary for your efforts in organising these swaps. I was one of those who didn’t hear back from my swappers – except for the newbie who sent a lovely appreciative email. As I’m in New Zealand and was posting parcels to the States, and it was my first time as a swapper (signed up as a newbie on the previous swap) I really wanted to hear that my parcels had arrived safely and my swappers were happy with what I had sent. I was surprised and disappointed not to hear anything back after sending several emails – and even more surprised to hear this is such a common experience! I know we all lead busy lives but it doesn’t take a minute to email a thankyou. 😦

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