Saturday, April 2

How do you teach a beginner?

Do you think there is a right way to teach someone how to make a quilt? Do you show them all the “right” methods, or do you give them the benefit of your experience and show them straight to the time saving, easy ways of doing things?

I have a friend who is fairly new to quilting, and is in the process of making a quilt each for her grandchildren. She has many years of sewing and craft experience, and I have helped her to complete 3 or 4 quilts, so she is not a total novice. And I love encouraging people to quilt because I find it so rewarding and I want other people to have the same experience. So my friend went off to do some beginner classes at a local quilt shop – learning how to draft blocks, and how to put the whole quilt together from beginning to end. I think she enjoyed the class, but I’ve been a bit concerned at the “teaching” process. One of the blocks she made was of a sail boat, and she wanted to appliqué some little people (printed on the fabric) onto the boat. This was out of class time, on her own, before the next class was due. I tell her “It’s your quilt, do as you like”. And then she was telling me how the teacher wouldn’t like that she had done the appliqués, and they were only supposed to piece the blocks, and nothing else. Subversive that I am, I helped her to fuse the little people on and gave her advice on how to stitch them down. Off she went, happy, and finished the block as she wanted to.

When the top was finished, they moved on to machine quilting. Having a little bit of experience in the area, I have definite preferences and ways of doing things that make my life easier. Like avoiding where possible having to turn a big quilt under the needle. Not always possible, but I manage to avoid this most of the time. The quilt top my friend made was single bed size, so it’s big enough to be bulky under the arm of the machine. This was a simple sampler type quilt – 12 inch blocks and 3 inch sashing, in a straight grid layout. I would have done all the ditch stitching by sewing down the side of the blocks, finishing, then skip over the sashing to the next block and starting again. And the same for the other 3 sides. No turning! A bit of thread snipping, but I can live with that.

Well, they didn’t get taught an easy way, they were told – and expected – to turn the quilt under the machine. And, to secure threads they were told to leave the ends long, don’t reverse stitch, then when all the quilting is finished get a needle and sew the ends into the back of the quilt. And I have another friend who was taught the same thing. I set her straight very quickly.

Now keep in mind, these quilts are not intended as show winning masterpieces, my friends quilt is for a child and will receive lots of wear and tear. I think if I had been taught this way, I would have been discouraged from continuing. I know that sewing the ends back in is probably the “Best” way of securing the ends, but it is a time consuming, fiddly method. And I think learning a range of ways to do things allows you to then choose what works best for you in a particular situation. I know I do things differently for a show entry than I would on a child’s quilt.

So which is best? Learn “proper” patchwork and quilting techniques and then learn the easy ways to do the same thing? Or simply learn the easy methods to start with?

PS – I also told my friend that she could put her binding on before all the quilting was finished, and do more quilting afterwards. And how to get a perfectly mitred binding every single time. No doubt the teacher won't like that either.


  • Lynne, how wonderfully subversive you are! Keep up the good work :-)

    By Blogger Lisa, Procrastinator Extraordinaire, at 12:34 PM  

  • I'm with you, teach the easy ways first. One can always go back and do the 'heirloom' thing, if need be. Quilting is a hobby for most people and why they insist on taking the fun out of it is beyond me.

    By Blogger Mrs. Mel, at 12:07 AM  

  • I am all in favor of making things easier. I have actually been in a class or two where the teacher took offense if you deviated from her method, so I feel for your friend. Good for you for letting her know that she should make the quilt HERS. Jen

    By Blogger Scrapmaker, at 8:53 AM  

  • As a beginner, while I believe it is important to know the traditional ways of doing things, give me the easy, knock-it-out-already ways! Make it easier, and it's more likely that I'll stick with it rather than feel intimidated.

    By Blogger Elle, at 1:55 AM  

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