February 18, 2008

How to make a group quilt

Let's be more specific: How to make a group quilt without losing all your friends when they learn what a crazy control freak you are. How to make a group quilt without going crazy or broke. How to make a group quilt without wanting to set fire to it afterwards.

Yes, fellow sewists (<-- I just learned this word! I'm 31!) I am here to show you how awesome, unrestrained and charming a group quilt can be. Most group quilt advice I've read says that you have to choose a color, or a block, or even, God help you, a fabric to tie all the blocks together. As a free spirit I suspected that such rules were pointless impediments to a truly joyful quilt. That theory was tested when a certain baby was due. And as luck would have it...

I was right. To fully appreciate the above picture, you should know that most of the contributors to the above quilt had never appliquéd before! The only rules we used were:
use all cotton
squares 9x9 inches
theme "living things"
bring me your scraps from each of the fabrics you've used

Using the scraps string pieced together for the borders meant that it didn't matter what different colors everyone used - they all blended together into a glorious riot of color.

Another baby was on the way and I tried to take away another rule - the same size rule. This time I gave the contributors a choice: 9x9, 11x8 or 13x7 "squares". Additional participants had been drawn and I wanted to use the scraps a different way.

Another success! In this fertile group yet another baby was due. Could there be another way to integrate the scraps from the various participants? Indeed! This time we went back to the squares for efficiency's sake and used a new theme: African animals.

So, what should you know about making a group quilt?

Be prepared for weird stuff. Have infinite patience.
People have brought me squares constructed of corduroy, flannel, glitter fabric (ugh). They made squares with floppy stuff that stuck out over the edges. They brought me paper pieced squares with the paper still attached. They brought me squares that were too small. They sewed it on with fishing line. They sewed it on with embroidery thread. They hardly sewed it on at all. This may have more to do with the experience level of the quilters I worked with, but I assure you, you will ask yourself "WHAT??!!" more than once during the project.

Be prepared to hate it vehemently when you first get all the squares.
This appears to be just a necessary step in the process. You will be overwhelmed with despair. You will be certain the squares are all too different, too weird, too whatever, to work together in the quilt. Start sewing it together anyway.

The most important part is coming up with the layout.
If you have a center square, like a nine patch layout, the most engaging, eye catching square should go there. Now swap all the other squares around to get the best balance. In other words, spread similar colors across the quilt. Spread the dark blocks, the light blocks, the strange blocks, across the quilt. Step back and stare at it. Rearrange it all again. Keep swapping blocks until you find an arrangement that brings all the quirky, different blocks together in a surprising harmony.

Sit down with the scraps
If you like the scrappy border just cut all the scraps into strips of a minimum length (try 6-8"). Then sew them together with abandon. Or, use the scraps however they appeal to you. Adding the scraps will bring the quilt to life.

Stay tuned for the latest group quilt coming to life right now in my sewing room....


Brenda said...

I can relate to the group quilt process, but you're right that it always looks wonderful in the end. My experiments in group quilting are mostly with school children, and I could and probably should write a book about that! I like your concept of guerrilla quilting.

Kristin Shields said...

Wonderful tips! I'm really enjoying your blog!

QuiltedSimple said...

Thank you for your wonderful comments - and I LOVE your group quilts. I'll have to try that with some fellow quilters. I especially love the African animals one. I look forward to reading more on your blog.

Christina said...

Thanks for the kind welcome, friendly fellow bloggers!

jacquie said...

Found your blog through Jen's flickr group. So much fun to read. Love the group quilt...quite a process you went through to come to a quite successful conclusion!

qusic said...

welcome sister, to the rebellious quilters, bending rules or/ and working for new horizons in quiltland.
lol, when reading your story of the group quilt process, it is a challenge and you and your group mastered it well every time.
I enjoyed reading your blog very much!

Tonya Ricucci said...

those came out great - I love the border on that top one in particular. very fun.

Unknown said...

such nice quilts. I've done group quilts before and can totally relate to WHAT?!?!? Thanks for the pointers, I love the idea of having the scraps to use for borders and corrrecting block sizes. I was going to try the different sized blocks, nice to see how it can work out. Wish me luck, most of the participants are not quilters.

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