Quilt shops, the internet, and our imaginations are full of beautiful projects. With all of these beautiful choices, how do you pick the right one?? The one that you can finish and doesn’t get added to the growing pile of UFOs?
There are a few factors that will help you pick that project: skills, resources, use, and type of quilter.
Not every beautiful quilt is difficult to make. Nor does every designer gauge their difficulty level in the same way. But there are a few things you can look for on a pattern to see if your skill level matches the project. Let’s start with some general definitions of skill levels. You will note, that years of experience do not equate to skill level. Some quilters with years of experience are not comfortable with certain techniques. And that is absolutely ok.
Beginner patterns tend to be squares and rectangle. They have simple seams. Many of these can be accomplished more quickly by learning to chain or strip piece. Some designers may consider half square triangles to be beginner level. Some fusible applique may also be considered beginner level.
Confident Beginner patterns start to add more intricate piecing. They will incorporate elements like flying geese, half square triangles, quarter square triangles, and some foundation piecing.
Intermediate patterns will have curves, partial seams, y-seams, foundation piecing, and other more complicated techniques.
When you read the description of a pattern, look for these terms to see if the project matches your current skill level. If the description doesn’t specify, ask questions! Most designers and quilt shop owners are more than happy to help you understand what techniques are involved in the pattern. If you aren’t sure if you up to the task, see if the shop or designer has a class that teaches the pattern. That may help you get through it more confidently.
If you know the pattern you have fallen in love with requires a skill you haven’t added to your list of accomplishments yet, work your way into it. Make sample blocks, a sampler quilt, or a mini quilt that uses that technique. These smaller projects are a great way to build your skills before tackling your dream project.
For example, Santa’s Railway is listed as a beginner level project. It has only straight seams, most of which can be accomplished through strip and chain piecing. The appliques are fused onto the corners. If you are comfortable with the piecing and want to learn to do fusible applique, this is a good project. The appliques are relatively simple and easy to do.
One other thing to evaluate with the patterns is the level of detail the designer provides. Some designers provide lots of details like cutting maps, diagrams for stitching, and measurements for each unit you sew. They may even have videos or supplemental instructions that explain how make the quilt. Others assume the quilter knows the basics and will just list the technique to be used. I have even heard of some designers that just provide cutting instructions and a diagram to where to put the pieces. Apparently, they leave it up to the quilter to know how to put it together. Ask someone who has worked with patterns from the designer to understand the level of detail they provide.
There are two main resources to consider when picking your next project: materials on hand versus materials to be purchased, and time available versus time needed.
The first may be the easier one to tackle. If you are trying to use up your stash, you should find a project that fits your stash. For example, if you have lots of jelly rolls, find pattern that uses lots of 2 1/2-inch strips. If you have a collection of fabric, find a pattern that uses lots of coordinating fabrics. If you have lots of little pieces, look for crumb or stamp quilts. I think you get the idea.
If you have the funds and not the stash, you can curate the fabrics for your next project. Keep in mind, you don’t have to use the fabrics shown in the pattern. But if you want the pattern to look have a similar feel, you need to match the values (light, medium or dark) and map the new colors. Some quilt shops and designers will help you find the new palette for the quilt. It never hurts to ask!
Time is a little trickier. Most quilters know how long it takes them to make certain sized projects, depending upon the skill level, based upon the quilts they have made in the past. However, if you are trying a new technique, the best way to gauge timing is to dive in and make a block. You can extrapolate from there. The first block usually takes the most time as you are getting used to the technique and the designers writing style.
As tempting as it might be, don’t try to cram a time intensive project into the limited time you have available. I know some people say they do better under a deadline, but you still need to be reasonable. Rushing leads to mistakes. Mistakes lead to frustration. Frustration leads to more mistakes, the UFO pile, the donation bin or the trash can!
Consider the use of your next project as it may dictate your motivation. Is this to be a gift, which has a specific due date? Is seasonal, such as wall hangings, runners or table toppers that you will use for certain occasions? Is it something for a donation? Is it for a competition? Is it something you are doing for yourself?
If the quilt is for someone else or for a competition, you may be more particular than if it is for yourself or a donation. Being more particular generally means more time and effort.
Some of us are driven to get projects to get projects done for others. My kids will attest that I am terrible about getting quilts done for them, but really good about deadlines for clients.
Type of Quilter
This is another one of those honest moments. Are you a comfort quilter, a perfectionist, or an adventurer? Are you someone who like to make the same pattern for multiple people, possibly in different color schemes? Or are you a one and done person finishes one pattern and wants something different for their next project? Are you someone who likes to try new techniques or are you trying to perfect what you already know?
Knowing your type will help you pick that next quilt project. If you are a comfort quilter or perfectionist, but are tempted to try something new, take baby steps and dabble. Don’t get too far out of your comfort zone. Consider a class to learn a new element or a mini quilt to see if you like it. Maybe participate in a bee where you can have others nearby to encourage you as you try something new.
If you are a perfectionist and an adventurer, set reasonable expectations on yourself. Think about a project with one new technique that you use repeatedly in that project. That will give you the time to get comfortable and proficient with it. For example, find a pattern with many of the same block. Maybe join a round robin where you can complete several of the same block to share with others.
If you are an adventurer, think about samplers or quilts with many elements. But be careful! adventurer often bite off more than they can chew. Try a block of the month or a series so you can pace yourself.
Are you a diligent or casual quilter? Are you someone who set aside a certain amount of time each day or week to get a project done? Do you wait for a chunk of time like a vacation or retreat? Are you someone who loves to quilt but can only squeeze in a few stitches here and there? If you are someone who can plan your work, you are more likely to be able to take on larger or more complicated projects. If you are someone who has precious little time, find smaller projects, like mini quilts to satisfy your quilt cravings.
Another thing to consider as you pick your next project is how you work and learn best. Are you someone who can follow instructions easily just by reading them? Are you someone who does better with visual examples? Or are you more comfortable with a coach or instructor who can ensure you doing it right? Some people like to experiment and are ok with potential failure. Others don’t want to waste time fooling around and want to do it right the first time. Know which type of quilter you are and do what works best for you.
Picking that project
When picking that next project, consider your skill level and how you may “level up” if needed. Understand your resources, especially time. It is always better to be conservative in these estimates. Consider the use, which may affect your motivation. Finally, know what type of quilter you are and be true to yourself. These four criteria will help you pick a project that has a good chance of completion, by you!