Empty Nest Hobbies: Quilting
This is a guest post by Maria Gee of Scissortailquilting.
Hello, there! My name is Maria Gee from ScissortailQuilting. As part of Laura’s series on “Empty Nest Hobbies,” she invited me to tell you the story of how I became a quilter when I was an (almost) empty nester.
You might be thinking what I thought: Quilting is the stereotypical hobby for an empty-nesting mom. True. I won’t argue that.
Now before you roll your eyes and snub the idea of quilting cause it’s for grandmas, hear me out on one thing:
Quilting was never on my radar.
Empty Nest Hobbies: Quilting
Empty Nest Hobbies: Quilting – My Story
Quilting would not have been my hobby of choice 15 years ago
I vividly remember a friend of mine talking about her quilting when my children were young. I didn’t get it, and it didn’t interest me in the least. But I was happy she had her hobby. On the day that I announced to my family that I was taking up quilting, I think I was the most shocked person in the room. You see, as our boys were growing up, my vision for the empty nest years was to take golf lessons and spend more time on the links with my husband. That was not to be.
While I have always been a crafty type, my tendency was to be a “quick and dirty” crafter. I mean, I love creating, but I tend to be an “instant results” type of girl. My husband can tell you that when it comes time to work on a project, I’m really good for about a day, but then I expect to knock that sucker off my list, losing patience if it goes past the “acceptable” time frame. My preconceived opinion (which was partially true) was that quilting was more of a “long game” type of pursuit, so I would have never thought it was for me. I will elaborate more on this later.
The other reason quilting came as a surprise was that I had a love/hate relationship with my sewing machine. When I was a child I loved ANYTHING that had to do with a needle and thread. When I was about 10 years old my mother taught me to use our old Singer sewing machine. I found it utterly fascinating. But somewhere in my teen years, the sewing machine came to symbolize things that I wanted to steer clear of.
Mainly memories of me and my mother nearly ripping out each other’s throats because I needed to rip out a seam or a zipper AGAIN! It reminded me of stressful times. So in my adult years, I would occasionally sew for the home, but I tended to stay away from projects that I thought might get complicated.
So how did I end up quilting?
It was the summer before our oldest son’s senior year in high school. After years of crazy frantic activity, I was so weary of my home feeling like it was in constant disarray. It needed some TLC. (I can feel you nodding your head and relating to me…) While attending football games, soccer tournaments and cello concerts, I would dream of how I was going to take back control of the ever-mounting piles of stuff in my boys’ rooms.
Don’t get me wrong: I knew I was going to miss them greatly when they left, but I was itching to get started on reclaiming the nest. Let’s just say that there is still a lot of nesting that goes on during those almost empty nest years!
I reasoned that I could get a jump start on it by making new curtains for their rooms. Then, I even thought that once I got my foot in the door, I might be able to make some early progress on the clutter. The only problem was that my sewing machine was broken.
Enter Miss Emma
That friend I mentioned earlier is my friend Emma, who is an avid quilter. She had graciously offered to let me borrow one of her sewing machines. When I arrived to pick it up, she invited me into her sewing room. I had never seen this part of her home, and I was a little awed to discover that her room was lined with ribbons from all the quilting awards she had won over the years. But I wasn’t surprised.
Empty Nest Hobbies: Quilting – My Pictures
Emma standing in front of a log cabin quilt which later won a blue ribbon at our local quilt show.
Burlap tablecloth I made using Emma’s sewing machine
My first quilt was a simple 9-patch design. I hand tied and “big stitch” quilted the sashing.
Empty Nest Hobbies: Quilting – My Mentor
I should tell you a bit more about Emma. Emma is a woman about 30 years my senior. One reason we are so close is that we were in the same Bible study group for about 10 years, and we also worked together as part of the Children’s Ministry at our church. She is dear to me for many reasons, but mainly because she “gets” me.
So many times she has pulled me aside in private to share a bit of wisdom. I’ve always been appreciative of this because each time it has been clear to me that she is paying loving attention to my life and noticing what is going on. It’s a rare find in today’s world to find a friend like that because so often people are more focused on their own worries. In many ways, she is my “other” mother.
As I lugged the machine out to the car, she asked me what I planned to make. “Just some curtains and maybe a tablecloth. Straight seams only. Nothing complicated,” I answered.
“You should try making a quilt,” she replied.
“I don’t think that’s ever gonna happen! That’s a little above my skill level.” I scoffed back.
“Well, perhaps, but it’s really only straight seams, too.”
I eagerly got to work sewing those curtains, but Emma had planted a seed. While I stitched along, I thought that a quilt would be nice to match those curtains. A sense of guilt kept gnawing at me for how dismissive I had been to Emma’s suggestion, as it was her passion. I thought to myself, “Emma has known me for a very long time. She “gets” me, and the least I should do is give it a try before I totally blow off something that means so much to her.”
BTW: Emma has a fantastic story for how she became a quilter, and it’s actually much better than mine. You can read all about it here: How My Friend Emma Overcame Adversity and Learned to Quilt
Just “Google” quilting
I decided to look on Google for quilting information, and thought maybe I could find some simple instructions for how to make a basic quilt. A quick internet search and I soon realized that there were many types of quilts in the world. Whenever someone mentioned quilts, my mind’s eye conjured up this image of quilts made with mismatched, worn fabrics and poorly coordinated colors. That image wasn’t exactly something I thought I would want in my home. But what I found in my google search was anything but that. It was a feast for the eyes!. I’m a graphic designer by trade, and the designs I was seeing were a delight. They were vibrant. They were interesting. They were fresh and modern.
I soon realized that there was a huge quilt revival happening on the internet, fueled mostly be the younger generation. They were organizing new guilds and online quilt alongs. The quilters I found were not only the traditional stereotype of old church ladies. They came from all walks of life and many of them were in the middle of raising children.
Empty Nest Hobbies: Quilting – My First Quilt
I decided to start with a simple 9-patch. My favorite color is black (oops…hope you don’t judge me too harshly for that!) and so I found some fabrics I liked in black, gray and citrine.
The “long game” process of quilting
I mentioned earlier that I did not consider myself a “long game” crafter, and quilting is a long-term process. There is actually a well known company in the quilting industry called “Quilt in a Day.” I always thought that was kind of comical, because everyone knows that a quilt isn’t made in a day. But the truth is that the woman behind this particular company (Eleanor Burns) created many techniques in the 70’s that make quilting much faster than it used to be. Things like “rotary cutting” “chain piecing” and “strip piecing” have all revolutionized and made the craft speedier.
Getting started with making a quilt doesn’t need to be intimidating, either. There are plenty of beginner-friendly patterns that are much more interesting than my beginner 9-patch. A really good way to start is with a rag quilt or a simple log cabin.
Another thing I soon realized about quilt making is that the process can be easily broken up into various tasks, and most tasks can be “completed” in a single sitting. For example, you might spend a few hours one evening cutting your pieces. After that, you begin making blocks. Usually several blocks can be made in an evening. A few weeks later, you’ll start putting those blocks into rows. Next, you’ll sew those rows together and maybe add a border. Then, you’ll make a “quilt sandwich” and then “quilt the quilt.” Finally, you’ll attach a binding. Breaking the task down like this helped me feel like I was finishing something along the way even though the quilt might have a long way to go. I realized early on that an entire quilt was easily completed step-by-step in usually 4-6 weeks.
Empty Nest Hobbies: Quilting – But here’s why I really love quilting
As I made each block in that first quilt, I realized there was something oddly satisfying to me about the process. You take this perfectly good and beautifully designed fabric, you rip it apart, and hope that when you are finished putting it all back together and mixing it up with lots of other perfectly-good ripped up fabrics, you will end up with something beautiful.
It occurred to me that this was a bitter-sweet analogy for life. Often things have to come undone before they get better. Your family sometimes has to be “torn” apart before it can really grow. It clicked with me why so many empty nesting moms turn to the art of quilting.. We are at that point in life when we feel like all we’ve done for so long might just be coming undone. As those children leave the home we need to believe that it’s actually growing into something better.
Always learning and always sharing
I jumped in with both feet, eager to learn everything I could about quilting, and never looked back or regretted that choice. Emma was a great source of information during those first years. She would take me to all the quilt shops and quilt shows, pointing out things I should notice, sharing a little tip or quilting strategy. She even helped me research and replace my old broken down sewing machine. Best of all, she introduced me to the the quilt guild and to many quilters in my area, who are a wonderfully supportive bunch. Not only had I gained a new hobby, but I gained a whole new community of friends.
About a year after I started my quilting journey, I was laid off from my job, and before I found full-time employment, I took a part time job at a quilting shop. This catapulted me into the quilting industry and exposed me to an even deeper level of quilting knowledge much quicker than I would have been able to acquire on my own.
It’s been nearly nine years since I started my quilting journey. These days I primarily focus on creating what my kids call “the world’s greatest quilting website” where I share what I know with other’s in the quilting community. One thing I can say for sure: It keeps me learning and I never get bored!
Do you think quilting might the right hobby for you?
I’d encourage you to start off like I did, with a simple internet search to just take a peek into all the possibilities that are out there. And, if you want to learn more, please stop by ScissortailQuilting.com to visit and explore.
For a list of over 50 Empty Nest Hobby Ideas: Empty Nest Hobbies
Maria Gee is crazy about quilts, and she’s the quilter behind ScissortailQuilting.com where she enjoys sharing her passion for quilting and life all who stood by to visit her there. Like most women, she’s done a lot of stuff in her life. Early on she taught High School mathematics, then worked as a systems analyst. She has served as a children’s ministry director, and is the mother of two amazing boys and a fabulous daughter-in-law, and stays busy keeping her husband in line.
She currently works full-time as a graphic designer for a global membership organization. It sounds convoluted, but she can assure you there was a natural progression in all of those pursuits which led her ultimately to quilting. She would like nothing better than to spend the rest of her days (and possibly even her afterlife) making quilts.
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