There's always a low point in a project when you
just want to pack it in and start something new.
Sara Impey battles with the quilting blues to
finish that quilt!
Anyone who has ever finished a quilt really deserves
congratulating. Patchwork and quilting are hugely
enjoyable but they are also very demanding, stretching
your skills and your determination. Non-quilters often ask
how long a quilt took to make, but time is only one factor.
The hunt for that perfect fabric, the tedium of cutting and
piecing, the struggle to quilt by machine, the slow progress
of hand quilting - it’s a wonder we do it at all!
"Triangles in Four Colourways" (detail)
70 x 66in (178 x 167cm). Accepted into Quilt 2001 at the
Knitting and Stitching Shows in London, Harrogate and
Dublin. Silks, machine pieced, appliquéd and quilted. 2001
We all have UFOs (Unfinished Objects) stacked away.
They sit at the bottom of the cupboard, reproaching us for
abandoning them, a reminder of the time and money
wasted when we were seduced into more exciting quilting
pastures. I have my fair share - for example, a bedspread
I started for my ten-year-old son. He is now eighteen.
Although unfinished, it has occasionally been used when
we’ve had a glut of teenagers at a sleepover. The wadding
flaps freely round the edges and it’s held together with
enormous tacking stitches and the odd safety pin. Every
time it comes out I shudder, because I know if I live to be
95 I will never finish it. More recently, I embarked on a piece
that just didn’t give me the buzz that tells you all is going
well. I beavered away sporadically and unenthusiastically
for a while. Then I quit. I coped with the guilt feelings by
chalking it up to experience. (I told myself that knowing
when to give up is part of the wisdom of age.)
57 x 57in (145 x 145cm). Toured the UK and
Europe with the exhibition ‘Moving On’ by members of Quilt
Art. Silks, machine pieced, embroidered and quilted. 2000
Despite this confession, it’s my contention that UFOs
are a Bad Thing. They are demoralising. If you don’t finish
a piece, you will never get any satisfaction from it. So how
to deal with the quilting blues?
These can strike at different stages. Some quilters get
bogged down while piecing, others when quilting. Some
hate the whole process of finishing - attaching borders and
binding. One solution is to work on several projects at once,
so that you don’t grow bored with a particular technique. If
you feel like some soothing hand-work, reach for the quilting
hoop. If you crave the quick fix of instant results, dig out the
log cabin. If you fancy challenging yourself with something
fiddly, unroll the freezer paper and appliqué away!
"Acid Squall" (detail)
75 x 75in (190 x 190cm). Made for ‘The Art of the Quilt’
exhibition at the Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead, 2001.
Silks and hand-dyed cottons, machine pieced, embroidered
and quilted. 2001
Sometimes colours are the problem. It’s common to fall
in love with everyone else’s fabrics and out of love with your
own. A big quilt that takes months to complete, can test
your commitment to the more subtle colour combinations.
Alternatively that yellow and blue which looked so enticing
in the quilt shop suddenly seems garish compared to your
friend’s greens and pinks. Everybody seems to be wearing
prettier fabrics than you are working with. Keeping a few
other projects up and running helps to prevent this kind of
colour overload. You and your eyes need a break.
44 x 44in (112 x 112cm). Silks, machine pieced,
appliquéd and hand quilted. 1997
I personally can’t juggle work in this way, because once
I abandon a quilt I find it difficult to go back to it - hence
the guilt feelings mentioned above. That’s why I only ever
work on one quilt at a time. Many of my quilts consist of
small units which require lots of repetitive cutting and
piecing. I have evolved a few coping mechanisms to see
me through the inevitable doldrums.
"Kitchen Curtains in Three Colourways"
74 x 60in (188 x 152cm). Silks, machine pieced,
embroidered and quilted. 2
- Divide and rule. Split the work mentally into its
constituent parts: cutting, piecing and quilting.
Reaching a half-way point in any technique is a cause
for celebration. So congratulate yourself - there is less to
do than has already been done. Share your achievement
with your family: they won’t care, or possibly even
respond, but it will give you a lift.
- Vary the routine. It’s sometimes possible to switch
between techniques, even within one project.
- Set yourself deadlines. Sometimes they will be out of
your control, such as a birthday or a competition entry
date. Sometimes you decide: before the children break
up or a holiday. Make deadlines realistic and you are
more likely to keep them.
- Don’t be over-ambitious, particularly if it is your first
quilt. There’s no law that says you must complete a
king-sized cover to call yourself a quilter. You’ll get
plenty of satisfaction out of finishing something smaller.
- Try to avoid displacement activity. Keep a distinction in
your mind between work put into the quilt and seminecessary
activities which somehow take all morning.
Easier said than done!
- Visualise the finished piece in all its glory. Boost your
motivation by reminding yourself why you are making it.
If it’s for a friend, picture it in her house. If it’s for an
exhibition, imagine it hanging there for all to see. If it’s
for a grandchild, think of their delighted face!
- Try to remain focused on the task in hand by keeping
your brain occupied - listen to music, the radio, books
on tape . . .
- Think ahead. Use a long period of repetitive work to
mull over ideas for future projects.
- Satisfy your need to vary the colour scheme by hunting
for fabric for the next quilt.
- Try to work little and often. Even if you can’t commit
long stretches of time, it’s surprising how half an hour
every now and then builds up. Any work done is done,
and you don’t have to do it again.
- Share your low points with other quilters. Their
encouragement will revive your flagging interest.
- Bear in mind the sad but inevitable truth that the quilt
won’t get finished by itself!
51 x 51in (130 x 130cm). Winner of the Gold Award in
First Horizon, Spring Quilt Fairs, 1999> It subsequently
toured Japan with an exhibition of British quiltmakers
organised by Michele Walker in spring 2000. Silks and
cottons, machine pieced and quilted. 1998
That, to me, is the nub of it. You are creating something
unique with your own hands and while this is sometimes
tedious and frustrating it is also challenging and immensely
satisfying. Knowing that you alone are responsible for
whether a quilt ever gets finished can be the strongest
motivating factor of all.
I hope I haven’t put off any quilters who are just
beginning. Most of us love it most of the time, or we
wouldn’t do it. It might even be comforting to know that we
all get stuck sometimes. Sorry, can’t chatter away all day
like this. I’ve got a quilt to finish . . .
Although Sara Impey trained as a journalist, quilting
has always been an important part of her life. She
made her first quilt whilst still at school in the 70s.
Sara is a member of Quilt Art, and her work features in the V&A Quilts 1700 - 2010 exhibition
First published in Popular Patchwork January 2002