Julia · Quilts and Quilting

The Next Quilter in the Family


Yesterday Bill took Alex ice fishing.  It’s cold up here in the northeast right now, –1 F this morning, for example, so the ice on the local ponds is pretty thick.  The menfolk dressed warmly and brought an extra pair of gloves each, and off they went.  Julia and I wisely stayed home and, more importantly, indoors.

I started working on Bill’s quilt, and Julia wanted to help, but there wasn’t really anything she could do to help…so I asked her if she wanted to make a quilt of her own, maybe for her dolls, or her 25,769 Barbies….

Julia was very excited at the prospect, but she didn’t want to make the quilt for any of her little human charges.  And she didn’t want to make just one

“I want to make three quilts,” she informed me.  “For my doggie, my bunny, and my kitty.”

Julia asked Santa for three animals this year – the above mentioned doggie, bunny and kitty – and Santa, being the agreeable benefactor that he is – managed to do just that.  So currently those are her three favorite furry friends.

I suggested we start with a quilt for the kitty, since it’s the smallest of the three.


The first task for Julia was to pick out fabric for the quilt.  I opened the huge Rubbermaid Tote with all the pinks and reds and yellows and so forth, and turned Julia loose.

While she rummaged around, I sketched a simple pattern.


I made the templates with graph paper, so they’re more precise than the quick drawing I did above.  But you get the idea.  The final quilt will be about 11” x 11.”

I had Julia select four fabrics for each 4-patch block, another for the borders, and a final fabric for the back.

I traced four square pieces from each of the four block colors, and I gave Julia small fabric scissors and had her cut them out.

Actually, I traced the squares, and added a 1/4” border to all of them.  I showed her the border lines and told her to cut on those lines, not the inner lines.


And Julia got to work.



She did a great job.


Once all the little squares were cut out, I told Julia to arrange them into four blocks using a square of each pattern in each block.  She could put the squares in any configurations she wanted.

Now, I have to stop here and let you know that I let her arrange the squares and I did NOT attempt to influence her in any way, or explain balance of darks and lights, or symmetry or asymmetry or ANYTHING. 

I just let her go. 

I told myself – firmly – that this was HER quilt, HER opportunity to be creative, and that me making “suggestions” about the layout wasn’t going to do anything constructive at all.  It might even turn her off.  So, as I said, I kept my mouth shut while she arranged and rearranged.

It’s not an easy thing to do, you know.  Keeping my mouth shut about stuff like that.

When I was little, my 8 fat crayons were always arranged JUST SO in my crayon box:  red orange yellow green blue purple brown black.  Always. 

Funnily enough, Alex arranges his the same way.

But Julia doesn’t. 

And I have to shut up and respect that, and not go rearranging her crayons as she goes through life.

Yes, making quilts and sharing life’s little lessons.  That’s what I’m all about today.

Back to our story.

And when she was done with that, I showed her how to pin adjacent squares together.




Look at her capable little hands! 

Next it was time to sew.

Now, I could teach her to sew by hand, or by machine.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.

Part of me wanted to be really basic and old-fashioned and all that, and teach her to sew by hand.


I know Julia.

I know her frustration threshold.

I wanted this to be a positive experience.

I can always teach her to sew by hand another time.

And in the end we decided (I gave her the option) to use the machine. 

I showed her what to do.  I sewed some of the little pinned squares myself, just so she could watch.

Then I had her sit in the chair, put her little foot on the pedal, and I had her practice sewing lines, following lines I drew on a piece of folded scrap fabric.  I did some of the work – I set the fabric under the presser foot and lowered the needle down at one end of the seam line.  Then I had her slowly press down on the pedal and guide the fabric in a straight line (with help). 

She did quite well for her first time.  I didn’t take pictures because I was busy monitoring Julia.  But at some point I will.


Anyway, once the seams were sewn it was time to remove pins and snip threads.


And after that?

Time to press the seams.

Yes, with a very hot iron.


I emphasized that the iron is HOT.

I told her she is NEVER to touch it if I’m not around.

I also told her that when I was little I touched an iron and got a big blister on the heel of my hand (true story), and it was NOT FUN.

And Julia was very careful the whole time.


She sprayed water along the seam, and then slowly and carefully ironed it flat.


I was right beside her, alternately helping and photographing.

You can also see a bit of Bill’s quilt in the bottom left of the above picture.  I worked on that when Julia was pinning or cutting.

After all the seams were pressed flat, it was time to match up lower halves to upper halves and complete the four little blocks.


Right about now, Bill called to give me an update on the fishing trip. 


They’d caught 4 pickerel, which was fun, but not really what they were after.  They were going to stay maybe another hour and then head home. 

Oh, and it was cold.

Julia and I agreed we were much happier doing what WE were doing.




More pinning and sewing and unpinning and snipping and pressing…


And in a short time, Julia had completed four blocks.

Next up?

The borders.


Julia started cutting them out at the end of our session yesterday, but after she accidentally cut out one strip on the seam line, rather than the outer line, she was ready to stop.

I said that was fine, and we put everything together and closed up shop for the day.

I didn’t want to push her – I want this to be something she wants to do, not something that becomes a chore.

And this morning, after she’d had breakfast and gotten dressed for school, she wanted to work on her quilt again.


So she cut out some border strips (the border pieces that will be in between the four blocks), and pinned some pieces together, sewed them, unpinned them and snipped the threads. 

That was all we had time for, but maybe tonight, after school and everything else is done, she’ll want to work on her quilt some more.

I hope so.

I think she will, actually. 

She wants to finish it this week so she can bring it to school and show everyone.

I started thinking about when I was little, and I remembered the first sewing machine I had.  It was yellow, and it had its own carrying case, and it came with a yellow plastic box for spools of thread and whatever else I might want to carry around.

I don’t have the machine any more – or any idea how old I was when I got it – but I started thinking maybe, if Julia stays interested in all this, maybe I’ll get her a little sewing machine for her birthday, or for Christmas.

And so I went online and looked up kid sewing machines, just so see what they cost these days.

And frankly, I wasn’t impressed.  The reviews for all of them are tepid at best, so now I’m thinking maybe I’ll just get a very basic “grown-up” sewing machine instead. 

It’s the same principal as buying my kids good basic Nikon cameras a few years ago.  I don’t want them to have toys that are just going to break, and that won’t give them a quality product in the end.

How discouraging, to try to make something “just like Mom does,” only to end up with something mediocre through no fault of their own. 

So…maybe she’ll have her own machine.

Or maybe we’ll set up the older machine that was Bill’s mother’s, and Julia can start on that.  Or she can use mine and I’ll use that one. 

Not sure yet. 

Time will tell.

I have to rein myself in, you know.  Yesterday I was mentally rearranging Julia’s bedroom so she could have a sewing table of her own in there. 

Perhaps that’s a bit premature.

I’ll keep you updated.

And, in case you’re worried, yes, I’m still cooking and baking and all that.  I’ve got some photos to edit, and I’ll have some food posts up this very week!  Really! 

So stay tuned!

5 thoughts on “The Next Quilter in the Family

  1. That looks like some great mother-daughter-time! And good for her to learn how to sow so early. I wish I had learned it. It comes in really handy sometimes. And I’m not even thinking about quilting. Just fixing stuff.

  2. That might actually be similar to the one Bills mom used. I need to move the darned lizard tank somewhere (or have Bill do it) so I can get a look at the machine in the cabinet. Its been years since Ive seen it, and Im not sure if Im remembering her machine or the one my grandmother had. Thanks for the advice! Mainly I want to see if Julia maintains an interest in sewing. I tend to put my carts MILES before my horses sometimes. Trying to curb that…

  3. Oh my gosh! Her seams are lined up better than any I’ve ever done! I remember learning to sew by hand. My mom started me on gingham. She had me use the little squares as guides for how big to make my stitches. It works really well.

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