The Fiber of My Being: Learn by Doing

I’m writing this column on the first Saturday in January. Outside, snow is falling lightly, reflecting white light into my sewing room. A snowy Saturday is tailor-made for sewing.

Once upon a time I used to sew with abandon most Saturday afternoons. My late husband would “interrupt” my sewing to suggest we go out to dinner. I’d decline. I didn’t want to waste precious sewing time. Silly me. Eventually I realized it took less time to dress for dinner and be served than it did to cook and clean up. Besides, I’d come home to a clean kitchen and Saturday night sewing. Now when I teach away from home you can be sure I appreciate dinner out on a Saturday night in the good company of quilters.

Last month I began a new block series. I’m excited about it, which makes it difficult for me to focus on much else. The possibilities of new work fight for my attention. Looking at this work, I know I wouldn’t have imagined it five years ago. Our work leads us ahead to something. This weekend I came across a bag of old 3″ blocks I sequestered over 20 years ago.

The blocks were paper pieced from scraps I mostly scavenged off my floor. I was a single girl then and had no trouble stepping over a scrap or two or three. I was smitten with these blocks though they were time consuming to piece.

I thought that alternating them with solid squares of fabric to create four-patches would speed things up. Why did they end up in a plastic bag tucked on a closet shelf? Because I didn’t really know how to piece.

My downfall was an apple. Where have we heard that before? I went off-course when I swapped “apple” fabric squares among solid squares. It didn’t occur to me that I was inconsistent in positioning an apple. The apple was sideways and I was pretty much devastated. Much annoyed, I shelved the project and forgot about it.

I’d like to think something prevented me from taking a seam ripper to the apple and righting it. My paper piecing improved. I developed a new way to paper piece and it became the basis for two books. I used my method to paper piece twenty-five 6″ Key West Beauty blocks. They became a 30″ quilt that lit up Times Square’s 28′ x 38′ Astrovision screen.

Once I was a perfectionist. Now I am a lapsed perfectionist. I used to take seams apart to fix intersections and points. Now I see imperfections but leave well enough alone. Just about the only thing I’ll take apart nowadays is a too narrow seam that might split open in a quilt.

We learn by doing. I dug into the cast-off blocks. Why not just sew four of the four-patches together? With experience I saw how the blocks could be arranged with the apple straight up.

Only then did I understand why I had bagged the blocks. They were poorly sewn, skimpy and uneven. I am not apologizing, though I shudder at the sight of them. Do you remember the first time you baked brownies? I do. The toothpick didn’t come out “dry” so I kept returning the pan to the hot oven. The brownies turned out hard as a rock. Learn by doing. My four-patches were pitiful, especially their backs.

I remedied the blocks by extending their perimeters with white lightweight fusible interfacing and trueing them up. I used strips of lightweight fusible interfacing, not fusible adhesive web. The trimmed-off strips of interfacing were sufficient for another four-patch.

I feel better for having shared the handy interfacing workaround but I will let the 3″ paper-pieced blocks go. Like my brownies, they served their purpose. Onwards and upwards.

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