Sometimes running with inspiration has magical results. Each step of the process is a natural extension of the last, and the vision of the end product keeps you on the right path, just doing the next thing, until suddenly, the project’s done. Sometimes doing what seems natural, however, can be a mistake, especially if that next thing is done without thought.

Abstract quilt with wonky blocks and irregular shape made in bright candy colors. Quilt by Kit Dunsmore
Quilt for an Inner Child. (Made by Kit Dunsmore)

This happened to me when I made my Quilt for An Inner Child. While I haven’t had much success with improvisational quilting, I keep trying it. For this quilt, my goal was for the finished piece to have an unusual shape. While the challenge of making such a quilt was exciting, it was also distracting.

The quilt top was finished. Instead of focusing on how to quilt it, I was wondering how I would hang it. I didn’t bother to think, just went with my gut. I was anxious to get to the finished piece, so I chose the popular over-all quilting many machine-quilters default to and stippled

Close-up of pastel trip around the world with stipple quilting. Quilt by Kit Dunsmore
Stippling helps blur the edges of the blocks that have similar value. (Quilt by Kit Dunsmore)

Over-all quilting designs ignore the boundaries between the blocks. The stitches run over the surface of the quilt and across the seams without considering the design made by the fabric pieces. I stippled Hey Nonny Nonny, because I wanted the colors of adjoining pieces to blend together. But it was not a good choice for Inner Child.

The strong colors and many pieces of Inner Child don’t lend themselves to blending visually. I was a third of the way through when I realized I’d made a mistake. My quilting looked like a toddler’s scribbles. Dismayed by the mess I’d made, I let the quilt sat idle for months.

Wonky log cabin block with owl in center in bright candy colors. Quilt by Kit Dunsmore
Quilt for an Inner Child, detail. (Made by Kit Dunsmore)

Partly, I wasn’t sure how to fix it, but mostly, I had a lot of dense machine quilting to pick out, a tedious task at best. However, I couldn’t keep quilting it this way. The bad quilting made my intentionally wonky blocks look like mistakes, as if the whole thing was made by someone completely inept. I loved the colors and fabrics in this quilt. It deserved better.

Close up of quilt; irregular triangles in bright colors with free-motion stitching. Quilt by Kit Dunsmore
Quilt for an Inner Child, detail. (Made by Kit Dunsmore)

Eventually, I decided to treat each piece of fabric as a separate section. I wound up using lots of different patterns, but only one for any given patch of fabric. It’s a slower way to quilt, but it was also much more fun. I got to come up with lots of continuous line designs that fit the whimsical character of the piece.

Close up of free-motion quilting showing flowers. Quilt by Kit Dunsmore
Some of my quilting motifs were intricate. (Quilt by Kit Dunsmore)

In the end, I was satisfied with how Inner Child turned out. My idea for how to hang the piece worked, but what really sells it for me is the quilting. It enhances the piecing, and fits well with the mood and energy of the quilt. The whole experience was a great reminder that every part of a project deserves careful attention, if we want the final product to succeed.

Have you made creative mistakes because you didn’t take the time to think? What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your creative choices?

4 thoughts on “Good Design Takes Thought: A Quilting Story”

  1. Beautiful quilt! My grandmother made several quilts, a few of which I still use from time to time. It’s a gift that can be passed on through the generations. each new quilt makes the world a warmer, happier place. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thanks! This one isn’t cuddly at all but it makes me happy. And I get real joy working with the fabric.

  2. How did you hang it? I’m wondering how to put a sleeve on an irregular shaped quilt so the top above the sleeve does not flop over.

    1. I made an upside down pocket along the top edge of the back of the quilt that followed the edge of the quilt and cut some matte board to fit it exactly. Then I put a thin piece of wood into a tube sewn to the pocket and hang it from that. (If this doesn’t make sense, let me know, and I’ll take some pictures for you.)

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