Quilting Blog

The Fiber of My Being: Learn by Doing

I’m writing this column on the first Saturday in January. Outside, snow is falling lightly, reflecting white light into my sewing room. A snowy Saturday is tailor-made for sewing.

Once upon a time I used to sew with abandon most Saturday afternoons. My late husband would “interrupt” my sewing to suggest we go out to dinner. I’d decline. I didn’t want to waste precious sewing time. Silly me. Eventually I realized it took less time to dress for dinner and be served than it did to cook and clean up. Besides, I’d come home to a clean kitchen and Saturday night sewing. Now when I teach away from home you can be sure I appreciate dinner out on a Saturday night in the good company of quilters.

Anita's 3 inch Blocks

Last month I began a new block series. I’m excited about it, which makes it difficult for me to focus on much else. The possibilities of new work fight for my attention. Looking at this work, I know I wouldn’t have imagined it five years ago. Our work leads us ahead to something. This weekend I came across a bag of old 3″ blocks I sequestered over 20 years ago.

The blocks were paper pieced from scraps I mostly scavenged off my floor. I was a single girl then and had no trouble stepping over a scrap or two or three. I was smitten with these blocks though they were time consuming to piece.

I thought that alternating them with solid squares of fabric to create four-patches would speed things up. Why did they end up in a plastic bag tucked on a closet shelf? Because I didn’t really know how to piece.

My downfall was an apple. Where have we heard that before? I went off-course when I swapped “apple” fabric squares among solid squares. It didn’t occur to me that I was inconsistent in positioning an apple. The apple was sideways and I was pretty much devastated. Much annoyed, I shelved the project and forgot about it.

Solid and Pieced Blocks

I’d like to think something prevented me from taking a seam ripper to the apple and righting it. My paper piecing improved. I developed a new way to paper piece and it became the basis for two books. I used my method to paper piece twenty-five 6″ Key West Beauty blocks. They became a 30″ quilt that lit up Times Square’s 28′ x 38′ Astrovision screen.

Anita Grossman Solomon's Quilt on Display in Times Square

Once I was a perfectionist. Now I am a lapsed perfectionist. I used to take seams apart to fix intersections and points. Now I see imperfections but leave well enough alone. Just about the only thing I’ll take apart nowadays is a too narrow seam that might split open in a quilt.

We learn by doing. I dug into the cast-off blocks. Why not just sew four of the four-patches together? With experience I saw how the blocks could be arranged with the apple straight up.

Quilt Block with Two Apples

Only then did I understand why I had bagged the blocks. They were poorly sewn, skimpy and uneven. I am not apologizing, though I shudder at the sight of them. Do you remember the first time you baked brownies? I do. The toothpick didn’t come out “dry” so I kept returning the pan to the hot oven. The brownies turned out hard as a rock. Learn by doing. My four-patches were pitiful, especially their backs.

Backs of Quilt Blocks

I remedied the blocks by extending their perimeters with white lightweight fusible interfacing and trueing them up. I used strips of lightweight fusible interfacing, not fusible adhesive web. The trimmed-off strips of interfacing were sufficient for another four-patch.

Quilt Block and Fusible Interfacing Finished Pieced and Solid Quilt Block

I feel better for having shared the handy interfacing workaround but I will let the 3″ paper-pieced blocks go. Like my brownies, they served their purpose. Onwards and upwards.

3 inch Quilt Blocks
Traditional Blocks Made Simple

More Piecing Secrets from Anita

Join Anita in her popular class Traditional Blocks Made Simple to uncover more tips for better quilting.Enroll Now

19 Comments

Stephanie

What a terrific idea with fusible interfacing! I thrown away blocks that were too skimpy. Now I know how to save them

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Donna Russell

Thank you for your lovely story with so many words of inspiration. Many times I have thought about giving up but then have decided to keep going with my patchwork. I have sewn many wonky blocks and wonky placemats but there have been many good ones as well. I enjoy what I am doing so I keep going. I love your words “learn by doing” Thank you:)

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Anita Grossman Solomon

And when it comes to a passion, as patchwork is for us, “love what you are doing” 🙂

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Pat D

Anita, did you use strips of the fusible interfacing on the perimeters only or did you use a square the size of the block? I ask because I have an old quilt I was asked to repair and I could possibly use this method.

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Anita Grossman Solomon

Only along the perimeter. I positioned the strip of interfacing so approximately .25″ fused to the fabric and then I trimmed excess. This resulted in a uniform 6.5″ block making it simpler for me to align and join the blocks. I was being frugal, I could have used more or less interfacing.

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Sunnye

This is great! I too have “beginner” blocks that aren’t quite right.
Thank you so much.

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Donna

Your posts are always fun to read and so informative. I love how your mind works and makes cutting easier for us. I’ve begun sewing Arrowhead blocks and am hopinng they will not be too stretchy. Lots of starch! Thanks for all your great ideas.

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meridel cosgrove

Took Anita’s Traditional Blocks and enjoyed it tremendously. Have made some of the squares but am still working on enough for a quilt. Very interesting lady.

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Larain

Love the story, but I think as you quilt for some time the blocks automatically get better. Question, where did you get that fabulous red poppy material? It is just what I have been looking for for sooooo long.

Larain

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Anita Grossman Solomon

Larain, Would you pinpoint the the fabric for me? I don’t see ‘poppies.’ If it turns out to be a Liberty of London ‘classic’ cotton lawn you’d be in luck as it should still be available. I used some small Liberty scraps at the time. Anita

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mindi

Thank you for sharing. Your class looks really informative for everyone. I think many of us have trouble dealing with “less than perfect” in our work. Your tips, tricks and workarounds give us hope. However, I just gotta say…. I LIKED your sideways apple. It provided interest, character, movement and fun. Sometimes it’s good to trust your first instincts too.

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Anita Grossman Solomon

I like the apple sideways now too. Back then I couldn’t see the orchard for the trees.

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Ann Winter

Very interesting quite a few years ago I was teaching my girl friend patchwork.It was a red and white quilt with a house in the centre block with 3″ blocks around it.She now does some very beautiful work and every now and then this project comes out and I ask when and I get it is not up to stranded ‘but it was your very first one and should be finish.All I get is one day.

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Anita Grossman Solomon

You must be proud of having introduced her to quilt making and seen her progress. Truth be told, I believe many of us have a learning project that has been set aside… And let’s not even speak of to-be-done mending 🙂

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Pat Burch

I took a class where we made a sampler. The piecing was okay and the colors were okay. Some how it just didn’t hit me right. So, it got put away – for a long time about 25 years. I decided I’d better start working on my quilting again when I retired and got it out. I still was not excited about it, but my daughter thought it looked great. “Good, it’s yours!” She forgot about it and I secretly finished it and put in her leaving home box. It’s awaiting her getting out on her own. And I did learn a lot from it; in fact I learn something from every project I start and finish. I’m waiting for my next ‘aha.’

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