Ever notice those quilters who consistently produce amazing work? Original, colorful, creative, and well-executed? I’ve met lots of quilters over the years, both professional and amateur, and these are the habits of outstanding quilters:
- Master the Basics. Learn and practice how to cut accurately, piece consistently, baste extensively, and quilt beautifully. No amount of creativity can overcome a poor job in these areas. Take the time to do them well. If you don’t know how, take a class and practice.
- Take Care of Your Body. Quilting is tough on the body. Get new eyeglasses every 1-2 years; don’t overdo quilting in one session; mix up both hand and machine quilting so you don’t strain your hands and shoulders. Take care with that rotary cutter (no slicing off your thumbnail, oops did that already). Use tools that make the process easier: my favorites are Grid Grip, Kwik-Clip, and Quilting Discs.
- Take Care of Your Machine. Your machine is an investment. Learn how to use it properly. Yes, actually read the manual and take the classes your dealer offers. Get your machine serviced annually – it’s penny-wise and pound-foolish to put it off. Don’t pull on your quilt as it’s going through or you’ll ruin the motor. Let the machine do the work!
- Learn and Delight in Your Style. Take the time to understand what you truly love and dislike in a quilt. You can learn more about your style from looking at quilts in magazines, books, and those of others rather than looking at your own (all you’ll see are the imperfections in your own stuff). What do all the quilts you like have in common? There’s a key to your style. Do own multiple books by the same quilting author? There’s another clue. What parts of the quilting process do you love? Hate? Can you do it those parts differently?
- Learn Something New. Keep up on new techniques by taking a class, even outside of the quilting world. My color choices improved phenomenally after taking watercolor classes. You bring an entirely new perspective to your quilting after seeing the process through someone else’s eyes.
- Keep Improving. Challenge your quilting repertoire by trying something new or improving upon what you already know. You’ll challenge your brain, your body, and develop a new set of skills that will enable you to create differently.
- Go on a Quilting Adventure. Travel to a quilting conference, class, or show. Going somewhere new forces you to focus more keenly. Find a conference or show that interests you and try it. I traveled with a friend one year to the International Quilt Festival in Houston, TX. The conference was too large for me, and my senses were on overload by the end of the week. There were actually too many beautiful quilts for me to take in. I did take classes and learned new skills I never could have at home. I also learned smaller conferences are better for me, and have traveled to those ever since.
- Don’t Hand Over Your Creativity. Not to pattern companies, not to designers, not to your quilting teacher. Make your own creative decisions and make your own mistakes. You’ll appreciate your successes more, learn more from your own failures, and build your creative muscles in the process. You don’t necessarily have to design your own quilt, but make every decision in the quilting process a creative one. Is this the way I want to do it?
- Get Involved in a Guild or Bee. Quilters are generous, funny, and creative people. Make connections with them and you’ll enjoy not only their quilts, but their support and ideas as well.
- Kick the Perfectionist Habit. Aim for Fun. Gwen Marston showed much wisdom when she said, “You don’t have to suffer to make a beautiful quilt.” If it’s not fun, I don’t do it. Life is too short not to enjoy my life, including my work and hobbies. I don’t enjoy intricately-pieced quilts. I feel like I’m in a factory when I make them, so I do it another way. Learn how to make the quilts you love in a way you enjoy. It really does feel great.
These habits will enable you to become a better quilter – even an outstanding one. Practice them slowly until you do them automatically. What will be your first habit to try? Mine will be to join the local guild. I belonged to one in my old community, but I’ve put off joining another. Silly me. How much I’ve missed by doing so.