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34. 4 Tips for Choosing Your First Quilt Pattern

Hi there. I’m Nicole Gilbert and you’ve joined the stop scrolling start sewing podcast. Are you new to sewing and want to start quilting, but have no idea where to begin each Wednesday? Join me as I share the ins and outs of that quote life. If you don’t have a sewing machine, have no idea how much fabric you need, or you’re just trying to figure out where the heck to stick that bobbin. This is the podcast for you.

Hey there, Nicole here and welcome To episode 34 of the stop scrolling start sewing podcast. On today’s episode, I’m going to give you four basic tips for you to decide on your very first quilting project. But first I want to do a quick reminder. So actually let me back that up. Not a reminder, but a listener shout out. So today’s listener, shout out, goes to Terry W. Jones and she wrote after leaving a five-star review. Thanks for taking time to make these podcasts. You’re always upbeat and genuine and enjoyable to listen to Terry. Thank you so much for your kind words. I really appreciate it, especially because one of my goals with this podcast is to have conversations with other quilters. And I want people to feel like I am just a friend chatting with them. So for you to tell me that I sound like I am genuine. Uh, it means a lot to me because I really dislike those robotic podcasts out there.

So I appreciate you. And don’t forget guys, if you want to be featured on an upcoming episode, head on over to wherever you listen to podcasts and leave me a review. I read every single one and they mean the world to me. They also allow me to reach more listeners every week. So thank you from the bottom of my heart. Okay, guys, let’s get sewing. So I think one of the biggest things that I get asked about besides sewing machines, cause y’all love to ask some sewing machine questions and keep them coming. Cause I love to answer them. Oh my gosh. Actually somebody that I had a recent little half hour that morphed into like two hour chat about sewing machines with she actually just purchased, um, a new sewing machine and it’s definitely an Uplevel from her previous machine. And she’s so excited and I have had so much fun going back and forth with her about the little things.

Um, so if you’ve got any questions, please throw them my way. I genuinely answer all of the emails and all of the private messages. So if you’ve got any questions, send them way. I promise I will answer. But besides the sewing machine questions I ask, get asked, I get asked a lot of questions about first projects and like what are some tips and tricks for a first project. And I think that comes from the fact that a lot of you out there are self-taught much like myself. And so you have kind of picked around the internet and gotten enough information. And now you’re like, I think, I think I got this, but I want to make sure I don’t kind of over commit or under commit. Like I actually choose a good project. And so I have a few tips for you and it’s a short and sweet list, but each of these things, um, can have a huge impact.

So first let us start with tip number one. So tip number one, I say to choose a quote pattern that uses squares and or rectangles. So I believe that if you learn how to strip piece, make good half square triangles and confidently make flying geese, you can be a content quilter for the rest of your life. Now, if you want to journey down art, quilting, and applicate and all of this other stuff by all means my friend do it because Holy cow, I love having fun at my sewing machine, but I will say 90% of the quilts that you are pinning on, on Pinterest that you’re liking on Instagram. If you really broke them down, consist of those three things, straight-line piecing square triangles and flying geese now for your very, very first quilt. I don’t suggest half square triangles or flying geese. Um, especially depending on your method of constructing them because triangles end up having one of the edges cut on the bias.

Um, and if you’re not familiar with whether the biases, it’s a 45 degree angle to the grain of your fabric and it has some stretch and that little bit of stretch can throw you off when you’re a beginner. So I don’t suggest doing half square triangles or flying geese on your first ever project, unless you’re doing it like under guidance. Um, I will say I teach my students in the modern quilters Academy, how to do half square triangles, like kind of right off the bat. And the project that we do is half square triangles. So I know it’s like, well, you said, but they’re doing it under my guidance. And I’m there every step of the way to answer their questions. If you are totally self-taught and you’re learning this off of YouTube and you’re just going with it, you’re you have the potential to get frustrated and not have somebody to give you that feedback. So I don’t want you to go that route. So squares and rectangles are your friends. Um, I see often like checkerboards and that kind of stuff. And I know, um, I think they’re beautiful. There are so many, Oh my gosh. I recently saw somebody who did just a plain five inch square pattern that it was just, that’s all, it was just rows of five inch squares, but their color choice and their layout of those colors made it look like a Buffalo plaid.

Oh my gosh. So cute. And then for the backing fabric, they did like a real Christmas-y fabric. And I just wanted to cuddle with this quilt. So it doesn’t need to be complicated to be lovable. And I’m telling you right now, you are going to love your first quilt. My first quilt is the ugliest. The janky is quilt ever. And I love it. I pull it out all of the time. It is my side of the soccer field laying on the beach, cuddle on the stroller, quilts. Like everybody has seen this quilt and I should be more embarrassed of it that I am, but I love that thing and I will always love that thing. So keep that in mind, like, just because you used a simple pattern doesn’t mean that you’re going to like it any less one. You’re going to have all of your love and all of your sweat and maybe even a few tears in this, in this quilt.

So I’m telling you, you’re going to love it. Squares and rectangles. Are your friends, at least for the first one, because you are going to learn so much when you’re putting together this first quilt. I mean the lessons that you’re going to get, you don’t need to add frustrations because you’re going to naturally come across them. Not that learning to quilt is hard. It’s not, um, but doing anything the first time has its frustrations. So that was my long-winded way of saying, tip one, choose a quilt pattern that uses squares and triangles. And by no means, should you be doing curves? Like hard-stop Nope, no English paper piecing no foundation. Paper piecing. Nope. Awesome things. Love curves, love foundation paper piecing not for the first try. Okay. Okay. Tip two. The bigger the pieces the better.

So this is like two-fold, it’s the bigger and the smaller, the better. So first let’s go with the smaller. I know that when you start quilting, you’re going to want to make yourself about spread or one of your children, a bedspread you’re going to want to do it. Everybody wants to do it. I would be a liar. If I didn’t say that my bed does not currently have a King size quilt that I quilted. Cause it does. However, it was not my first quilt. And I do not suggest anybody starts with a quilt larger than a crib or lap sized quilts. Please don’t do it. Here’s why I want you to start small because you are going to learn your limitations. You’re going to see how your workspace fits a quilt. You’re going to see how strong the motor is on your domestic sewing machine.

If you’re choosing to quilt it yourself, you are going to see how much space you have to organize your pieces and the bigger the quilt, the more pieces you have, it’s just, it’s, that’s the progression of things. We don’t want to run into those types of limitations before we get the wheels off the ground. Cause I’m telling you right now, I quilted that quilt on my domestic sewing machine that king-sized quilt. I referred to, I quilted it on my domestic sewing machine. Um, at the time I had a five creative vision, um, I believe it had like an eight and a half inch throat space. So not super, super tiny, but also not large by any means nowhere near the size throat space I have on my current machine. And that thing was an upper body workout. Not only was it so difficult to run that thing through my machine to actually like hold the heft and weight of it in my arms, but then to roll the side I wasn’t using to jam it through the creative space.

Oh my gosh. It was a nightmare. You guys, it was a nightmare. Um, I love that quilt. It’s now many years old and we’re still very happy and cuddling beneath it, but it was hard to do guys. And that’s just the, those are the kinds of frustrations that on a first project can really turn you off. So I’m not sure you keep mentioning my students, but my students, their first quilt is also a lap sized quilts. Um, and I remember the first time they were like, is it supposed to be this tiny? I was like, yes. And then once we got to the actual quilting portion, they were like, Oh my gosh, thank God. It was tiny. Um, and we a so on, uh, so along, you know, after they graduate to learn more, um, techniques and um, they all, like you picked just one size up, like the next quilt I gave them.

I was like, well, you can do a lab coat, but you can also do a queen or King. And they were like, let’s do the large couch throw. I was like smart girls, very smart. So just keep that in mind, that’s a frustration that you don’t want. So that goes, that’s the smaller part. Now bigger is bigger pieces. So I do not suggest using one and a half inch squares. So we’re using squares, right? Don’t use one and a half inch squares after your seam allowance. That turns into one inch squares. Those are very, very tiny pieces. That means there will be thousands of pieces, thousands don’t do it. Don’t don’t do it. The organization of that is a mess. If you really want to use small pieces, it says, I suggest strip piecing. So going four or five strips, I’m still not going to suggest you go as small as a one and a half or a two inch.

Maybe I really don’t want to see you do less than a, four-inch honestly, four inch strips. So them together, lengthwise, and then you slice them in four inch segments. And then you can flip flop those four inch segments to give you kind of visual, make it visually interesting. Um, it was my quick and dirty quilt pattern that I just gave you feel free to copy it. Absolutely zero copyright on that little bit of debris. But, um, that’s how I would do do a smaller piece. I think a great thing to do is to really stick with, with your five inch square. It’s so standard. It’s so easy to crank out. You’ll be done in no time, you’ll get a sense of accomplish. And also you will not be buried under the organizational burden of keeping track of all of those little pieces. So keep that in mind, tip two bigger pieces, smaller project tip three.

And this one kind of piggybacks off of that last one, choose a pattern that uses pre cuts. Um, and I’m also going to add a little, okay on that, or look at your pattern and see how you can substitute pre cuts. And I don’t mean fat quarters here. I mean, fat quarters are great. I love using fat quarters. I used to that quarters all of the time, like all of the time, a lot, I love fat quarters. Um, but when I’m saying pre cuts in this, I’m talking specifically in, um, in those more specialized cuts. So I’m thinking like a charm pack, a charm pack is a 5k, um, square and Ooh, and, uh, jelly rolls, which are two and a half inch strips by with a fabric. Um, again, it’s a little small, but I would do strip sets with that. So it, it, it will work out a little bit better, but um, because a charm pack is five inch squares.

You then don’t have to do any cutting. And I know that seems a little bit like corner cutting. And you know how I feel about corner cutting. I am not a corner cutter by any means, like do it right or don’t do it at all. But on a first project, there are so many things that can go wrong, I guess. And T you will have some issue with your thread. I guarantee at some point you may have issues with your tension. I guarantee at some point you will have issues with it, feeling like your sewing machine is sucking up your fabric. There’s so many little things that can go wrong that are not bad to go wrong because they teach you a really important lesson. They teach you exactly how to guide your thread through your machine. They teach you exactly what needle, what presser foot, what needle plates should be on your machine for the type of piecing that you’re doing.

Um, all of these things are important to learn. And sometimes you have to learn them the hard way, especially because our favorite YouTube stars, don’t always remember to talk to the new, they kind of act like you’ve been here before, which is great because you do get some really great insights, but at the same time, there’s some, there’s some entry level stuff that you need to go over. And sometimes you’ve just got to learn the hard way. Um, and that being said with so many random things that could go wrong and we’re learning to quilt. So we are learning to piece together, our quilt top. Why not remove one other thing that needs to be perfected? You’re not going to get out of quilting without cutting. It’s not going to happen. You’re going to have to learn to cut. So on the first project, if you make sure you learn how to piece and save all the cutting headaches for the next go around, I am not against that by any means.

Um, L if you’re interested in pre cuts, I actually have an episode of the podcast. I will link to it in the show notes where I run down every major type of precut out there, and like the cutesy names that the various manufacturers have assigned to them. Um, so that you can kind of get a quick reference for that. Um, I love pre cuts. I’m a jelly roll honeybun girl all day and fat quarters are great too. But for this specific instance, I’m talking more of the specialty cuts. Okay, guys, we are at the last tip, the last tip, tip number four. I want you to take a class. I know I said it. I said it. So here’s the thing I am self-taught. I know many of you are self-taught. And when we say self-taught, we mean, we’ve read the books, we read the magazines, we watched the YouTube videos.

We follow the Instagram people, and we figured it out because everything is figureoutable Allah, Marie Forleo, everything is figureoutable. And I love that. And that’s why you guys are my people, but I don’t want you quilting in a silo. I quilted in a silo for way too long, way too long. And you learn so many good things from other people. Um, I actually, the first time I got a high end sewing machine, which was my fifth grade division. That was the first time I took a lesson. I do not suggest doing that, go to a group lesson. I loved my sewing machine lessons. I took lessons with, with my latest machine, average linoleum, seven continental love. It took lessons amazing, but great. But that little doorway that got kicked open during those lessons for my father made me want to take other lessons. So here’s the thing.

When you take a lesson from another person, be it solo or group. Sometimes I like group lessons personally, way better than solo lessons. Hear me out. Um, because other people ask questions that you don’t think about, but when we, um, it’s like anything else, like, I love you guys. I know that I have a good following, and there are several, many of you that listen to me every week, rain or shine. And I appreciate you, and I love you shout out to Australia. Um, but, um, we need to hear how other people do it, because I know myself when I watched YouTube people, I listened to the same people. I watched the same people, because I like them. I enjoy hearing them speak. They have a tone that I like. They have a perspective that I like, but when you do that, you tend to only learn one way to do it.

And when you only learn one way to do things that might not be the best way for you to do it, that’s the best way that they do it. And going to lessons broadens your horizons. Now, I know that we’re living in a COVID world and I personally attended a international quilt market, which was, um, not quilt market, but quilt festival, which was virtual this year. Um, and it was not the same, not the same. So I get it. And a lot of quilt shops, unfortunately, are going out of business due to, uh, regulations and restrictions. Some are not doing in-person lessons because their quilt instructors, um, are at, at a more vulnerable age. And so they’re not wanting people to come, um, or for them to particularly to host the lesson. So I get it. There are hurdles, um, shameless plug. I am morphing the modern quilters Academy into learn to quilt in 60 days.

And that will, the doors will open to that in January. Um, I will say the people who have gone through the modern quilters Academy previously, it’s interesting because we got, I opened the doors twice. I got two very different groups of people. One group of people were very outgoing. One group of people were very, uh, reserved, and it it’s fun because I got to see different personalities. Um, and I get to interact with everybody. So, um, it’s, it’s interesting. It’s really interesting. It’s really cool. I really enjoyed it. And by no means, am I saying join my program? I’m just saying, find a program, find a quilt Guild, quilt guilds are not just for good quilters or, and when I say good, I’m using air quotes, people like good quilters, everybody is welcome adequate Guild, and you will learn fantastic things. Um, and like the view in big cities, I get really jealous because there are some pretty cool quilt guilds out there.

Like, don’t think that this is like the sewing be after hours at the church. Yes. Those exist. And if that’s your jam go, there are places for you. That’s amazing. But there’s also like I was looking, cause I always, I’m just like fan girl over quilt guilds, you guys, I’m a dork. I love this stuff so much. Um, and in New York there is a quilt Guild and it’s so neat. It’s so specific. Um, but it is for artists, it’s female females of color. Yeah. Like black indigenous people of color, like BiPAP and they’re artists. And they use, um, found objects. Like it was like the most in depth niche description of a quilt Guild. And I was like, okay, I, I’m not your people because I’m not like a found object person by any means. Um, but I kinda like that, that exists. And so think about that.

When you’re thinking about finding a quick code, it’s not all sewing bees out there. You can find a cool quote, guilt. You just have to look. Um, and I will actually in the show notes of this episode. So the modern culture four, I will include a link to a quilt Guild finder. So you just put in your zip code and it’ll give you a list of quilt Guild, nearest to furthest away. Um, but I want you to not quote in a silo because you will learn so many things. There are so many different ways to make a half square triangle. There are so many different ways to make a flying geese block. And sometimes you just don’t learn it because you have only Googled things a certain way, like, think about when your husband is like, ah, can you look this up for me?

And you’re like, well, what did you search? And like, you look at their search and what came back. And then you’re like, well, if you worded it like this, this is what would have come back. That’s happening with the stuff you’re looking up for your quilting. If you worded it differently, different results would come up, but you might not know to word it differently. Does that make sense? I feel like I’m rambling here anyway. That’s my 2 cents on that. So let me recap, tip one, choose a quilt pattern that uses squares and rectangles tip two bigger pieces, smaller project, tip three, choose a pattern that uses pre cuts and tip four, take a class if you can.

Okay, guys, you have just finished another episode of the stop scrolling start sewing podcast. Thank you for hanging out with me and head on over to the modern quilter for this episode and all past episodes and make sure you never miss an episode by hitting subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. Now, stop scrolling and start selling.

Quilt Love

Noelani T.

I worked with Nicole in a one on one environment on a large quilt. I have limited sewing experience and...

Noelani T.

The Modern Quilters Circle

Noelani T.

I worked with Nicole in a one on one environment on a large quilt. I have limited sewing experience and Nicole’s expertise was invaluable for this large project. Nicole is very patient and explained the different steps and their purposes clearly. She improved my original idea to better accomplish my overall goal. I highly recommend Nicole as an instructor and would personally have another session in a heartbeat!

Michelle L.

I seriously didn’t even know the names of parts of my sewing machine before I worked with Nicole. She walked...

Michelle L.

The Modern Quilters Circle

Michelle L.

I seriously didn’t even know the names of parts of my sewing machine before I worked with Nicole. She walked me through everything step by step. And it was amazing. She taught me the ins and outs of my machine and how to add each basic concept together. It was invaluable, because now I can figure things out and get creative without fearing the dreaded unravel!
The Modern Quilters Circle