Better Beginnings Quilt, funny, humor, New Quilters, Newbie Quilters, Quilting, starting over, Stories

Better Beginnings

Have you ever noticed that some folks, children particularly, are ashamed when they don’t do something well – the very first time they try?

I’ve noticed. I’ve even felt that way, myself. For example, I was trying to learn a new graphic design program on my computer today. I was bothered that I hadn’t mastered it by lunchtime. And no, I am not a graphic designer, so…I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Why on earth do we feel that we have to be good at something – let alone great at something – on our first try? Learning a new skill requires more than just the gumption to give it a go. It requires patience, practice, and prayer (for more patience). Why can’t we just embrace the uncertainty that comes with learning something new?

After all, being a beginner is not a bad thing. In fact – it’s a great thing, if you wish to live in peace.

Buddhist monk, teacher, and author Jack Kornfield talks about embracing the “beginner’s mind” ( A beginner’s mind is free to see the wonder in the world, and free to accept the wisdom of uncertainty. It is a mindset where permitting “I don’t know” releases us from the misery and suffering that comes with grasping for interpretation or opinion.

Beginner’s mind is difficult to achieve, no doubt. I’m certain that all of us, at one time or another, just want to start over. Or – maybe that’s why we like starting over so much, to get back to that mindset.

After writing last week about my Neverending Nine-Patch, I got to thinking about all the things I would do differently if I had a “first quilt do-over.”

Even though I adore my giant nine-patch quilt, there wasn’t much wonder and uncertainty to embrace. After you make three or four nine-patch blocks, you’ve pretty much got it mastered.

My wish isn’t to have made a different pattern, though. I just wish I had learned some piecing techniques that were more versatile and allowed me to build my own blocks, or to continue on to more complex patterns with confidence. If I could do it over, my first quilt would have these elements:

  • Flying Geese. Used in both modern and traditional quilts, flying geese are a “must-learn” because they are so versatile – they can be used for points on a star, or more traditionally as a triangle.
  • Half Square Triangles (HSTs). When I found Jeni Baker’s blog ( and read her book Patchwork Essentials: The Half-Square Triangle (, it changed how I saw quilting. Suddenly almost any pattern seemed possible for me. Jeni’s methods for making fast and easy piles of HSTs keep her book on my sewing table for fast reference. I love it, and I always go back to it when I need inspiration.
  • Strip Piecing. Did you know that there are easier, faster ways of making nine-patch blocks besides cutting out a gazillion small squares? They can be strip pieced. Strip piecing is all about efficient cutting and sewing – sewing long strips together and then cutting them into strings of small squares. This technique makes quilts come together like magic, and can create the illusion of movement (think bargello quilts). Definitely a skill that you’ll use again and again.

Now, because I want this quilt to be newbie-friendly, I want it small. Wall quilt or baby quilt sized. Keeping it small has two benefits:

  1. Finishing options. No need to worry about finding (or paying) a longarm quilter to finish the quilt for you. If you have a domestic sized sewing machine, you can quilt a small quilt on it easily. Or – try hand quilting! Some of the newer hand quilting techniques like big-stitch quilting are more forgiving (and fun!) than ye olde “perfect tiny stitch” methods. Interested in big-stitch hand quilting? Check out Wendi Gratz at Her tutorials are the best I’ve seen, and her designs are whimsical and fun.
  1. Early success. When you’re learning something new, you should be challenged but not discouraged. A smaller project gets finished faster, before you get bored or distracted. Nothing is more encouraging than success.

Keeping all these things in mind, I designed a quilt for newbie quilters. I call it my “Better Beginnings Quilt.” Here’s the drafted quilt:

I’ll be working on it the next few 1-3Better Beginningsweeks, and I’ll post pictures so you can see how it comes together. I’ll make an effort to keep my beginner’s mindset intact as I go, enjoying the wonder that comes from creating things with my hands.

As for that graphic design program? I’m sure I’ll have it cracked by dinner.


7 thoughts on “Better Beginnings”

  1. Wonderful post! You nailed it when you said that we want to be great at something on our first try! I just think of the many many quilters that are literally paralyzed by the thought of quilting their own quilt. I’m looking forward to watching your Better Beginnings quilt come to life!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words. I’m so glad I found your blog, I’m enjoying the pictures of your beautiful quilts. I’ve just started perusing the quilting tips, too! I’ve got lots to learn. 🙂


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