mental health, quilting

From Beginner to Expert

My first block for #100Days100Blocks2018 was a legit stunner. I am still surprised that I did that. And many of you asked how. I am not an expert quilter, yet. My real area of expertise is in mental health.  So I thought I would share my thought approach to quilting, specifically developing a growth mindset.

Dr. Carol Dweck of mindsetworks.com coined the terms “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset.” She defines a growth mindset as, “The understanding that abilities and intelligence can be developed.” A fixed mindset views abilities and intelligence as permanent.

A growth mindset looks at the various skills involved in quilting (selecting fabric, piecing, basting, quilting, hand sewing) and asks, “How I can get better?” A fixed mindset assumes how things are is how they will be. A growth mindset believes people developed skills by learning. A fixed mindset assumes a person came by their skills naturally, without much effort.

One of the mistakes we make when comparing our work to another person’s work is assuming that person achieved that work with ease. My first block  for 100Days had to be re-cut right away because I forgot to to allow for the double seam allowance needed for fussy cutting. Then I had to rip and re-sew many times to get the center to line up. When all was said and done, I probably invested two hours into making that block. I struggled to execute my vision. None of that struggle is obvious from the photo.

In her book Grit, Angela Duckworth talking about improving a skill through deliberate practice. First, identify a stretch goal, something outside your current comfort zone. Work relentlessly towards that goal until you achieve it and get feedback on the process from others who are better than you.

My stretch goals for 100Days this year are:

  1. Improve fabric selection, especially mixing color and patterns
  2. Improve my fussy cutting skills
  3. Increase the precision of my piecing.

I also have a way to measure each of these:

  1. overall visual impact of the block, feedback it generates online, how many patterns, colors, fabric types did I use and did that work?
  2. how well the seams line up, is the selected image properly centered in the block
  3. Are my seams straight, is the finished block the correct size, do seams match where they are meant to?

To prove that I wasn’t always this good a picking fabric, behold two of my disaster blocks from last year:

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I hated how block nine came out so much that I re-did it with a solid pink in the middle. Block 43 I also hated, but I left it to remind myself I’m learning. You can see that even my block photography needed work.

Here is the lesson I was learning about fabric selection last year: there is a difference between blender patterns and focal patterns. Your eye needs space to rest on a block and blenders give your eye rest. My fabric pull last year was almost exclusively focal fabrics and solids. None of the patterns worked well as blenders. This is the reason I had such a hard time mixing patterns…they didn’t mix!

For this year, I’m using Tula Pink fabric, and I have blender fabrics. I’m noticing that I’m using those fabrics the most because they bring the block together. For example, I’m using the tortoise shell fabric Tula Pink’s Slow and Steady collection a lot.

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Notice how every fabric choice has a pattern but the block doesn’t look too busy.

One of the things I enjoy about declaring this quilt about improving skills and learning is that it gives me freedom to play. Here’s an example of something I tried that did NOT work.

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There is something wrong with these colors, and I can’t explain what it is…I’m still learning about color…I can say that I look at this block and think, “Gross!” So it didn’t make it into the quilt. Oh well and on to try again.

I also want to clarify between honing skills and falling into perfectionism. For example, I recently ripped and re-sewed a block because my seams did not nest exactly. They weren’t that far off:

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I didn’t rip and resew because I needed to be perfect. I ripped and resewed because I’m experimenting with pinning vs no pinning and different methods of pinning. I wasn’t satisfied with one method, and I wanted to try again. My third goal is to increase the precision of my piecing which I cannot do I do not try and improve my technique. I’m asking myself, “Can I do better?”

I also have a three rip rule. If I can’t get it right after three rips and resews, time to leave it as is or make a big change.

Here’s an example of choosing done over perfect: In this block I chose matching fussy cutting/pattern over nesting seams.

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What is the skill you are trying to improve? Once you figure it out,  decide how you’re going to measure it and follow makers who do a better job than you do. Ask people for feedback.

Try, Fail, and Try Again. This is how experts are made. It’s hours alone in your sewing space. Over and over until you figure out what works for you. Then you get to show the masterpiece on Instagram, creating the illusion that you create with ease.

Let’s get practicing!

quilting

Sometimes You Have To Try: A look at my mishaps while trying to appliqué borders

I finished hand sewing together all the blocks for my Mischief Quit! I started the quilt in June of 2017. The fabric was gift from my mom for my birthday and the pattern was a Mother’s Day gift from my husband. I met my goal of having the block assembled in less than a year by mere days, but it still counts!! (If you’d like to try this quilt kit you can buy it here.)

Now comes the next big step: appliqueing on the borders. I have never done anything like this before. So it will come as no surprise I spent a lot of time on the internet. Then I read Flossie Teacakes’s Guide to English Paper Piecing. Lastly, Karen Tripp, the DIY Addict herself, shared a photo of my quilt top on her Instagram page and asked people for advice.

I now had mountains of information and needed to get on with it. I figured there are four borders to attach so I have four tries to figure out what technique works the best for me. As it turns out, I did something different with each borders. Yay for being a beginner. 🙄

Attempt #1

One of the Instagrammers shared that she left the end paper pieces in and machine sewed right through them. This was my ideal since I was afraid of removing the edge pieces and distorting that beautiful pattern in Karen’s design. I used a Hera marking tool to mark the border fabric.img_1409

See the line? It means no markings to remove later. 🙂

Next I pressed the edges and applied the applique glue. I was immediately concerned that the glue’s hold wasn’t strong enough so I added pins. I sewed right through the papers and got beautiful crisp edges…then I tried to take the papers out and it was a DISASTER. I destroyed the papers, which I was bummed about because I already have plans for a repeat, AND I don’t think I was able to get all the paper out.

Conclusion: be brave and take the paper’s out first.

Attempt #2

I took the papers out, pressed the fabric and secured the fabric with pins this time. It went okay but the fabric felt a little shifty to me. AND a few of my corners rounded a bit after taking the papers out. I did not like that.

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See the rounded corner on the right? Not what I was going for.

Conclusion: Better pinning is needed and need a way to preserve edges without paper.

Attempt #3

For this attempt, I pressed the edge while the papers were still in to crisp up the borders and then I took the papers out and pressed AGAIN with a bit of Best Press. This left me with nice pretty edges. I decided to give the glue another chances…and the second half came unglued while sewing. I had to stop to realign the fabric and pin. I felt grumpy about that.

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Conclusion: Pressing before removing the papers makes a big difference and the glue is not enough.

Attempt #4

Taking in everything I learned, I pressed the edges with the papers still in. Then I removed the papers and pressed again with the Best Press.

Before Best Press:

After Best Press: Then I glued the borders and then let it sit under heavy stuff all day to make sure it set

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And I added a few pins just to be sure.

Conclusion: I still had some shifting problems. I don’t think I pinned frequently enough. I’m chalking this up to being a beginning. I think I’ll need to practice some more.

Mitering the Corners

I used Angela Walter’s framework for mitering my borders. You can check out her episode of the Midnight Quilt Show (skip to about 7 minutes in).

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After I sewed the corners, I went around the corners to make sure everything we super tacked down and wasn’t going to move. Then I trimmed some of the bulk from the seam allowance.

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I’d love say that I used pinking shears for a super strategic reason. The truth is I was afraid to use the rotary cutter because I didn’t want to cut something I wasn’t supposed to and my fabric scissors were in the other room and I did not want to go get them.

A few side notes:

I love my “purple thang” tool. It is amazing for popping out papers and for tucking in fabric tails while sewing. It costs hardly anything and is super helpful.

I accidentally got too close to a pin and now it was stuck. The Purple Thang pushed it right out!

I had to remind myself over and over again that I am a beginner. I have NEVER done this before so the results will reflect my novice status. As we tell our OCD clients All. The. Time: done is better than perfect. When a cold Illinois winter hits and I’m snuggled under this quilt feeling super proud of myself, I’m not going to notice those few bits of paper I wasn’t able to pull out or that corners didn’t miter exactly.

Enjoy!