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A Quilters Journey: From Beginning to Foundation Paper Piecing

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

July Featured Writer: Rachel Julie


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In a way my creative talents are a product of my genes, however I would never have improved if I had not pushed myself to try something new.

As a youngster I was blessed to live near to my wonderfully creative and multi-talented Grandmother. She was an artist of many forms, including fabulous oil paintings, knitted garments for family members including myself, that were not only hand knitted, but first spun from wool sourced from our farm and of course dresses, skirts, shorts and tops that were carefully and lovingly sewn together. My mother too, was a talented seamstress and knitter, although often had less time for her creative pursuits due the work and family commitments she had. My grandmother was generous with her time and was a patient teacher. She taught me to sew garments, passed on basic knitting skills, showed me how to bake, spin yarn and play the piano. However, the one thing I never saw her or anyone in my family create was a quilt.

It was 2005 when I made my first quilt. I was at the time working for a large craft chain store in Australia and was surrounded by beautiful fabrics and yarns for all of my working hours. It was hard to resist the urge to create whilst working in this environment. This was when I purchased my very own sewing machine and made my very first quilt. It was by no means fabulous. In fact, it was little more than a multitude of raw 6 ½” squares cut (using scissors because I had not even purchased a rotary cutter) and sewn back together again in a different order.

I had not heard of fussy cutting, I did not know about binding, and had never heard of applique or paper piecing and in truth, didn’t even plan the layout. My mission was purely to cut in the most efficient way to get the most out of my precious fabrics and create a blanket. Nothing was ever wasted. Despite my lack of knowledge and experience this quilt was, and still is, well loved. It was given to my youngest brother as a birthday gift, and is something that he still treasures to this day.

For many years, my entire quilting style was cutting 6 ½” squares. I made possibly a dozen quilts in this way, ranging from single bed quilts, to baby quilts. Each new niece, nephew, god-child and even my first dog, was given a quilt of this form. I always wondered how other people created such beautiful quilts with pictures, or sewing curves and envied the beautiful workmanship, however it wasn’t until years later, while I was pregnant with my first child that I was brave enough to try it for myself.

I knew I wanted my child to have a quilt made by me, but wanted it to be something very special. I googled how to create a quilt with pictures and the first technique that came up was Foundation Paper Piecing. This was the first step on my journey to improving my skills. I watched a video which showed how to foundation paper piece and began searching the internet for patterns that included tractors, diggers and trucks and found very few options, and those that were available were not the best quality. It was then I decided I had to design my own.

By the time I had finished making my sons quilt, I had found out two things: 1. I really enjoyed making FPP block and 2. I was not too bad at this design stuff. It was therefore a logical step for me to start creating more. It would be another two years before I mustered up the courage to try applique.

I now have over 60 foundation paper pieced patterns in my store along with several more basic quilt patterns. I have had patterns published in Make Modern Magazine a number of times. I’m in post-production for my first online workshop – for people who want to learn how to quilt and have plans for an online foundation paper piecing workshop in the future. However the thing I value most is I have improved my quilting skills. My quilts started out very basic, and that’s completely OK. however, in hindsight, I should have sought out classes to improve my skills earlier.

Despite this, I’m still proud of my journey and know I have more to learn. Often, as quilters, we will look at a new technique with fear and feel that it looks complex and scary and therefore avoid it. However the fact remains that if you never try anything new, your skill-set will never grow. If I can leave you with one piece of advice today, it would be this: Try something new, seek out a new pattern, try a class, learn a new technique, try a different type of fabric, or if you have never done it before, simply get started and make a quilt. It may just turn out to be your new favorite thing, or hidden talent, and it could be much easier than you think.

Rachel Julia is the creative talent behind Kohatu Patterns. She lives in New Zealand and sews quilts using a Bernina Record 530-2 which she inherited from her Grandmother. She has designed over 60 quilt patterns many of which are available for purchase through her website. She also sends out a monthly email digest with a free foundation paper pieced Block of the Month, and has had patterns published in both Online Quilt Magazine and Make Modern Magazine. Her mission is to encourage people to take up quilting, and also to encourage quilters to continue learning and trying new things.

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