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The Rules of Quilting

And she said
Flowers are red young man
Green leaves are green
There’s no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen

Harry Chapin Flowers are Red

The other day the topic of Community came up on the Faith blog as a result of leaving a quilting group. I made an off-handed comment that I would write about the rules of quilting.

Odd though it may seem Harry Chapin’s Flowers are Red is that song that I most associate with education, rules, conformity in art, conformity in learning, and freedom in education, and art.

So here goes:

There are NO rules in quilting.

::::: MIC DROP :::::

Techniques abound*

Skills are honed

Color choices are personal*

Labels are optional

Opinions are, well, opinions

*techniques and color are topics that deserve time of their own. Color theory is, in and of itself, uniquely simple, and complicated.

As quilters we get to make the choices that make us happiest, fit our style, and speak to our soul. We get to say no to the “quilts must look like this ________________” crowd. There is a tradition that the center square of a log cabin must be red to signify the heart, or the hearth of the home. That central place where we all gather. A quilter brought her log cabin for a bit of a chat as something wasn’t quite working. Knowing her I offered a solution that resonated deeply. She needed to hear that she can use whatever color in the center of her log cabin that made the most sense to her. This quilter has a well-established color palate, one that works well for her, so giving her “permission” to go in that direction allowed her to finish the quilt.

I had preconceived notions of “quilts look like _________________”, my earliest quilts showed that preconception. Flowers are red, after all. These quilts are the beginning of my quilting experience, and they are key to helping develop the love of quilting. What freed me to purse quilts differently is my inherent inability to follow a pattern from beginning to end. It’s part of my learning style. Add to that the members of my guild and/or mini group reminding me that taking an extra step or two will make a difference. They taught me to think through my quilts, to allow the quilts to tell me what they want. They continue to teach me.

If you listen to the words of the song we’re often taught that this is the only way to draw flowers, because they’re all red, and leaves are always green, mountains are brown, the sky is blue, the birds are black lines in the sky, and the brown tree trunks have a dark black spot for squirrels to live. When I was in first grade this was the drawing I made when handed crayons, and paper. Step outside and the world we live on shows us something different. Flowers are red, yellow, chartreuse, pink, salmon, peach, maroon, green, orange, tangerine, lime, purple, lavender, variegated. Leaves, oh you get the point.

We’ve learned through our daily lives – from our early education to the great variety of productivity systems – that things must go in A, B, C, 1, 2, 3 order. That’s it. Anything outside that order sends us into a bit of a tizz. Quilts, therefore, must be bed sized, with three to five small scale floral prints, an occasional solid for variety, hand quilted with white thread, using with cotton batting. If this is what we have, and what we love – great! Make as many quilts as you can with this particular combination.

There is nothing inherently wrong with public education, or productivity systems. Having a common understanding does make functioning in a society day to day a whole lot easier. And, learning how to do processes in order – like measuring, cutting, and piecing, how to read rulers, use a rotary cutter, and find a good consistent quarter inch seam is good. Learning and honing technique is essential to improving as a quilt maker (garment maker, painter, knitter, crafter etc). Much of the learning/honing is repetition, and seeking the experience of another quilt maker. And learning to let to of our mistakes.

If you walk into a quilt shop and feel completely overwhelmed by all of the choices, I’m not surprised, there are a lot of choices. Let the shop staff, another quilter, or your camera help you narrow those down. Just like I helped my friend realize that she didn’t have to use red in the center of her log cabin quilt. Sometimes other shoppers are willing to offer their input. This is valuable information as sometimes the other opinions help us to rule out fabrics, colors, or textures that aren’t right for us. Yes, you read that correctly, their input helps us determine what we don’t like.

There are NO rules in quilting, only techniques.

Happy Stitching,


4 thoughts on “The Rules of Quilting”

  1. I remember a quote from a former president of Visions (Art Museum and biennial juried quilt show): “Hardening of the categories leads to disease of the art.” 😉 (BTW, her husband is a cardiologist.) This was in explanation of the very few requirements for entry into the show. If I recall correctly, it was something like three(!) layers of fiber held together with stitching?

  2. Harry Chapin was and still is my all time favorite artist. My Grandmother taught me to quilt. She raised 8 children in the depression. She sewed any scrap she had together and it became a quilt. No rules for her, I agree.

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