The Quilt Scout

by Mary Fons

On The Benefits of Taking “Real-Life” Quilt Classes

Column #16

I heartily approve of learning patchwork and quilting techniques through a screen.


As co-host of “Love of Quilting” on public television and the creative director and host of former how-to show “Quilty” for five years, one would hope I feel this way. I have heard over and over from students and event attendees that they learned to quilt by watching the shows I’ve had the honor to host or co-host, which is pretty cool.

Photo Above: Making girls into women in a class in Iowa.


But learning solely through television and the internet is to not get the full joy (and pain) of being a student of quilting.


For a well-rounded education, a person really ought to attend real-life classes, as well. You don’t have to take one every weekend, and it’s unlikely you’d be able to; most guilds have special teachers come in every month or every few months.


But jump on these opportunities as they come, and do so early; classes with in-demand teachers fill up quickly, especially with a cap on the number of students the teacher can handle. Most of us can handle about fifteen. Though many of the venues now have tricked-out cameras and sound systems good enough for a KISS concert, and chairs in classes are increasing.


One of the many benefits of taking an online class is the ability to rewind and play a particular moment as many times as you like without wearing out a VHS tape. But in a class, you can ask the teacher a question and get a hands-on lesson in front of you. If you still don’t understand what you’re being shown, you can be shown another way. In a “screen-only” lesson, you get one example, one way, no matter how many times you rewind.


I’m an introvert. I’m absolutely no good in a crowd.¹ Whether it’s a ballroom dancing class or one on glue-basting, I’m meek and wimpy. One of the things I like about the art and craft of quilting is the pass I get for being alone a lot of the time. I can mess up a lot—inevitable—and I can listen to podcasts and go to the refrigerator whenever I please. I please quite a bit because there’s a lot of string cheese in there that needs to be eaten.


Photo Above: If they can learn algebra, you can learn glue-basting.


There’s also the added benefit of meeting like-minded people. It sounds crazy, but the people who attend quilt classes enjoy sewing things together.


Not long ago, I was leading a seminar on the humble-but-mighty snowball unit. Those familiar with the “flippy corner” method in patchwork know the snowball unit is particularly suited to this method. You put a small square atop each corner of a larger square, pretty sides together. You stitch a diagonal line across the small square, bend the fabric back, and et voila: three corners later, you’ve got the unit.


When you bend that fabric back, you have excess fabric on the back you need to trim. When you have a fat snowball, that means you have a small outer square. When you have a smaller outer square and then trim it, you get a potential half-square triangle ready to sew, if you like.


I always throw away a small potential HST because what’s the point of a teensy unit like that? What am I, a two-year-old? A couple students encouraged me to try it, though. Being a good sport, I tried it: and I loved that little thing. It was an a-ha moment right in front of everyone, and I’ve been sewing those little units ever since.


Photo Right: The snowball unit, as seen in “Embers,” a quilt from my book, Make + Love Quilts.


Live classes teach everyone something, including the teacher. And teachers can be just as anxious about going to school as some students are. Just as having 90% of communication with your friends solely via Facebook feels empty, so is always sewing alone. Share your needles and your spools of thread; there’s plenty of that—and fellowship—to go around the classroom.


¹ This may come as a surprise since I have such a public job. But there is a definite, albeit invisible line between me and an audience. At work, I never have to make poor small talk, which is the only kind of small talk I can manage.