Three lessons from an imperfect quilt

Though my perfectionism, at times, tempts me to abandon projects (or entire hobbies), there are other times when an imperfect result teaches me important truths. I recently learned three lessons from an imperfect quilt.

My sixth quilt project is complete, and I have to say, this one was a doozy. I thought I was ready for the challenge of piecing triangles, but in retrospect, I was wrong. Mostly because of my perfectionism.

I decided to tackle the “Simple Diamonds” pattern from Missouri Star Quilt Company. Well, “simple” is relative, I suppose. Even though Jenny Doan makes it look oh-so-easy in her online tutorial, I found it anything but.

I mean, the basics were fine — using the large wedge template to cut triangles out of 10″ ‘layer cake’ precuts, arranging them in rows, and piecing them together. BUT, it seemed that no matter how I attached the triangles, I ended up with a problem when I started to join the rows.

I just couldn’t get things aligned so that the standard 1/4″ seam allowance made my diamond points match up. After ripping out way too many seams, and re-trying things way too many times, I finally gave up, decided to just attach the rows I had, regardless of how the points turned out, and to solve the problem another day.

(By the way, that problem-solving session involved paper triangles, no real solution, and ultimately getting a bunch of stitches in my left index finger, but you can read that story elsewhere on the blog.)

In the end, I have a highly imperfect quilt. But it’s done, and it is now fully employed as a “couch quilt” in our house. And if you look at it from far away, and squint your eyes a bit, it looks pretty good. To be honest, I really like it.

Imperfect quilt from a distance

If you keep that squint, you can’t tell as easily that some of the points meet like this:

And some, well, they don’t meet at all:

Yeah, maybe just stick with the far-away perspective (and the squint)!

However, as is typical of many imperfect things in my life, this quilt has taught me some valuable lessons — lessons that apply not only to my quilting journey, but to the bigger picture as well.

Here are three things I have learned about quilting (and life) from this imperfect quilt of mine.

1. An imperfect quilt is a learning experience.

I’m always telling L. (my 11-year-old son) during our homeschool lessons that if he always got everything right the first time, it would mean he wasn’t really learning much. In most areas of life, we have to make some mistakes, and run into some challenges in order to truly learn. The lessons that stick the best are usually the ones we earn through a struggle.

And though I haven’t quite figured out how to perfectly piece rows of triangles just yet, I have learned some other things. I’ve learned some work-arounds when piecing triangles; I’ve learned that a lot of mistakes “quilt out” or become far less obvious once a quilt is finished; and I’ve learned that a finished quilt is, for me, better than a perfect one.

2. An imperfect quilt is a great quilt to practice on.

Once I came to grips with the fact that this quilt was going to be very much not-perfect, it freed me up to view it as a “practice quilt.” I had never tried free-motion quilting before, so…hey! Why not give it a whirl on this quilt? I certainly wouldn’t be ruining a perfect piecing specimen. It would be the ideal opportunity to put on my free-motion foot and give FMQ a try.

I did some very casual ripples on the diamonds, echoing the diamond shape. And then I tried a meander in the borders. Perfect? Absolutely not. But I learned a lot, and grew more and more comfortable wrangling the quilt through my domestic machine. And you know what? I enjoyed it. The freedom to just give it a try was exactly what I needed.

Sometimes, recognizing and just going with our imperfections frees us up to try new things and explore new territory. That’s definitely a lesson worth learning.

3. An imperfect quilt is just as cuddly as a perfect one.

I’m not interested in preparing quilts for a show, or parading my piecing before judges. I quilt because I love the idea of creating something that brings comfort to others.

So to begin with, I intend my quilts to be used, snuggled under, crumpled up, tossed around, napped with, read under, and loved. And a perfectly pieced quilt isn’t any better suited to those activities than a quilt with mismatched diamond points.

In fact, an imperfect quilt may be better suited to being well-loved, because no one (ahem…meaning me) needs to get uptight about how the quilt is being treated.

Imperfection can be extra-lovable.

This imperfect quilt is just perfect for reading with.

And it seems like every time I turn around, a cat has claimed this quilt once again. So it must be the right amount of “comfy and cozy.”

My husband would be the first to tell you that I’m a bit of a perfectionist at times. And yes, the fact that I just couldn’t get things right while piecing this quilt drove me pretty crazy during the process. But now, with a little perspective, and a comfy quilt to snuggle with, I find myself genuinely thankful for the lessons I learned as I worked through this challenge.

I can’t say I’m ready to tackle another triangle quilt just yet. But that day will come, I’m sure.

Three Lessons from an Imperfect Quilt

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  1. Your insights are delightful, proving you wise beyond your years. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your journey…and your quilt is (im)perfectly lovely.

  2. Maybe your husband would say you are a bit of a perfectionist, but I know he loves you and would not change you for anything. 🙂