Quilting, quilting advice

The Art of Being Useful

My church has a motto that I like: “We are blessed to be a blessing.”

Isn’t that lovely? I am blessed, so that I may be a blessing to others. The idea of being a blessing to the people around me fills me with purpose. Having a purpose fills me with joy. Joy is an incredible feeling.

Practically speaking, however, being a blessing to others is darned hard to achieve.

Consider this example.

You see a person who needs help. You offer assistance. They do not readily accept. You, being the blessing that you are, think that is insane – they clearly need help. You politely insist. They reluctantly agree. You provide said help, feeling rather pleased with yourself for being such a great gal. Then, in the process of your helping, you realize why they did not want assistance. It is a good reason, and really, they could have/would have managed just fine on their own.

In the end – were you the blessing? Or was that person indulging your need to be of use? Were they, in fact, being YOUR blessing?

Ah, deep thoughts.

My husband would say it doesn’t matter. He’d be right – overthinking it isn’t necessary.

Unfortunately, overthinking things is my #2 secret superpower.

(#1 is burning the bacon, every time, without fail. I’m not sure that makes me useful to the Avengers, but who knows? Maybe Hulk likes his bacon extra crispy.)

But I digress. Back to the example. The art of being useful is difficult. Are you helping, hurting, or simply getting in the way? It’s often hard to tell. So, I do what I can to be helpful, try to avoid hindering the cause, and remember my purpose is to serve, not to inflate my ego.

My approach to quilting is very much the same.

Longarm quilting gives you the opportunity to bring lots of textures and patterns to your blanket/work of art. There are lots of famous longarm quilt artists that make quilts with such exquisite detail, you’re afraid to touch or even breathe on them.

A good example are the quilts made for contests. The AQS quilt show always has amazingly beautiful contest entries. Here’s a link to past winners (with pictures). My favorite, to date, is one that won Best In Show in Paducah, KY, in 2016. It is called Arandano by Marilyn Badger. I saw close-up photos in a magazine, and the detail is just unbelievable.

Yet, I have mixed feelings about show quilts. On the one hand, I like to look at them, to marvel at the time and attention it takes to create these works of art. On the other hand, it makes me feel like a hack. Will I ever have the time and attention to detail needed to create something award-winning? Maybe. Maybe not. Worrying about my artistic skill, however, gets me nowhere fast – unless my goal is to give up quilting. So, when I quilt, I try to remember a few simple things.

No one sleeps under an art quilt. No one snuggles under it on the couch. They aren’t given as gifts to children, to make them feel loved. Show quilts are a different breed, so to speak.

I don’t make art quilts (at least, not yet). I make utility quilts.

Utility quilts, as they are often called, are the beloved blankets that are at home on your bed, on your couch, in your car, or spread out in the grass for a baby to roll on. They are soft and flexible.

Even if you wanted to sleep under a show quilt, it would be uncomfortable. The denseness of the quilting would make the fabric so stiff, it would be like sleeping under a heavy piece of cardboard.

Making a utility quilt is an art of its own. The art is in creating a beautiful blanket that is also useful. In which case, the important thing is to consider the denseness of your quilting. I have heard many famous longarm quilters embrace the idea of “quilting it to death” – that is, they pack in as much quilting detail as they can. Which is fun, for artsy show quilts. But not good for utility quilts. Therefore, when you are tempted to quilt yours “to death,” it’s time to remember what your purpose is.

Are you being a blessing to that quilt? Or are you simply indulging your need to feel like a fancy art quilter? Are you helping, hurting, or simply getting in the way of that quilt’s utilitarian purpose?

As you ruminate on these deep thoughts, I’d like to offer you some guidance. Here’s an easy phrase that will help you make a wonderfully useful quilt:

Let it breathe.

The best thing for a utility quilt is a little bit of air – that is, leaving some space unquilted. This creates flexibility.

A great way to let a quilt breathe is to embrace Edge to Edge (ETE) designs. People don’t favor ETE designs just because they are inexpensive. That’s just a bonus. ETE designs – like meanders and loops – are easily adaptable to any size quilt because they can widen out or narrow as needed, to let the quilt breathe (stay flexible) while securing the layers together. ETEs are also favored because of the allover even texture they provide. Even texture = a quilt that holds together well and wears evenly over time.

It is also absolutely possible to have beautiful, custom-level quilting (multiple designs or patterns) while keeping the end product flexible enough for general use, if you let it breathe.

As it happens, I’ve had the opportunity recently to quilt two beautiful fan quilts, pieced by my husband’s grandmother, Hattie. In both cases, I let the designs breathe, while quilting close enough to secure the batting (guidelines for how close that is depends on the batting. Check your package for info).


The first quilt was custom quilted. The second, an Edge To Edge meander with some flowers and loops thrown in for fun. Both are beautiful; both are flexible. But I’d wager the ETE design will be more snuggly.

The next time you find yourself overthinking your quilting, consider the intended purpose. Will more quilting help? Hurt? Just get in the way of enjoying a snuggle?

Perhaps, instead of quilting it to death, you should just let it breathe. You’ll be glad you did. It’ll free up your time to make BLTs with the Hulk.






6 thoughts on “The Art of Being Useful”

  1. GREAT post, Stacey! I will never make an art quilt but I don’t consider myself an artist. I guess if you want a piece of fiber art, then you should make that. I want a quilt of love so that’s what I make and you can drag it around if you want. You did a great job on those quilts. I like them both. As for helping, I like to help too but have recently learned how to be a gracious receiver. A young man recently asked if I would “allow” him to help me by carrying a box of books into the libraries used book store for donation. I said yes, thank you and he was able to do his good deed for the day and my task was accomplished with more ease. I have turned down offers for help when I prefer to do things myself so I understand what you are saying here. Sometimes helping isn’t help. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Stacey,
    I don’t even know where to start on this post other than DEEP thoughts. And I love your husband – you can keep him – I don’t love him THAT much, but I agree with him and that might be a better way to state that. I know I’m never going to put a quilt in a show or even the state/county fair. I slightly stress over stitches that are not close to perfect, but alas I now pick my battles. Once a quilt is washed, who really cares if that stitching isn’t perfectly straight or one stitch is longer than another. You are a blessing, and one that I enjoy reading. It sounds like a matter of interpretation to me. Your blessing may be someone else’s hinderance. My church says “Go in peace, serve the Lord.” I try to carry that in my daily life and think WWJD (what would Jesus do). I loved your post! ~smile~ Roseanne


  3. The idea of being a blessing to those around me gives me purpose. Purpose gives me joy! Love that Stacey! Absolutely true and I need to remind myself of that when I think I could be doing more. Thank you for that!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hmm interesting ideas about letting a quilt breath and the art versus utility quilts. Something I’m gonna think about. Thanks for the thought 🙂


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