Retreating to the comfort zone

For the last two (or maybe more) weeks, I’ve been trying to design the outer borders for the bird quilt (a.k.a. “The Misery Quilt“). I really thought it needed some curves in the outer border(s), and maybe some more embroidery of some sort as well. I did test stitch-outs of a couple of embroidery options, and just didn’t have that “this is it” feeling about any of it. I played around with a diagram of the quilt, drawing curved appliquéd borders, viewing with mirrors, and just wasn’t terribly happy with any of it. I tried designing an appliquéd border without planning any embroidery to go with it, and still wasn’t happy with it.

Soft-Edge Piecing

Soft-Edge Piecing,
by Jinny Beyer

After a few really grouchy days (I get like that when I’m creatively stumped), I finally threw in the pencil, and headed to the bookshelf for inspiration. As I’d already been through all my books on borders and design, as well as all the books like the MAQS Founder’s Collection with all its prizewinning beauties, I pulled out Jinny Beyer’s Soft Edge Piecing for starters. I’m working with a border print and the soft edge piecing technique was in the original plan for the quilt way back when, maybe ten plans ago now. I really didn’t expect to have a flash of inspiration at that point, but desperation had set in.

Maybe the quilting goddess is smiling on this quilt (finally!), because I did see something in the Soft Edge Piecing book that had me grabbing for my fabrics to try it out. Here’s the result (click for a larger view):

Birds quilt border

I really, really like it! I had that “this is it” feeling immediately. The border print looks prefect between the light and dark borders, and I already know exactly how I’ll quilt parts of it, too. (Oh, and you see that tiny little satin stitching? I used the same technique on another part of the borders for this quilt and I used my Pfaff machine. I tried it on the Bernina this time, and it just didn’t work out as well. The dual feed on the Pfaff really makes the difference on some things. On the Bernina, the stitching gets all stretched out and wobbly, even with stabilizer underneath. Obviously, there’s no such thing as the “perfect machine,” but that’s another rant for later.) And because “this is it,” I’m studiously ignoring the fact that I’ll have to satin stitch 300+ inches of this border for the quilt, which is probably millions of stitches. As I said to ITMan as he was looking back and forth between me and this border with this “you’re crazy” look on his face, “witness the insanity.” At least it’s not by hand!

Okay, so there are no curves or scallops or embroidery (well, no large, sweeping, statement making ones anyway), but it just looks much more like “me” and my style than all that other I’ve been trying to design for weeks. Come to think of it, I’ve never liked appliquéd borders much really, or at least I can’t think of one I have liked at the moment anyway, which might be why designing one has been rather difficult. It’s hard to like what you’ve drawn when you’re not fond of the whole dang concept from the beginning. I’m going to make the outer edge of the quilt (which would be the dark olive fabric you see here) curved and scalloped, which is exactly what I thought I would do four or five plans ago anyway, before deciding it needed appliquéd curves to separate the light and dark borders. (Hmph, these are the times I think wistfully of the days when I would pick a quilt pattern out of a book, buy the fabric and make the quilt as shown in the book, “quilting as desired” when done. Much easier, but I suppose less satisfying in the end, right?)

So the question here is, have I just skittered back into my comfort zone and called an all-out retreat because I just couldn’t make the walls of my box any bigger? Or did I put enough honest effort into breaking out of the box and trying something new? Judging from the yards of freezer paper, marked up sheets of scrap paper, and eraser bits all over my studio, not to mention the frustration and grouchiness levels, I think so. There are certain parts/types/styles of quilting that are just not for everyone, and that’s that. Hopefully, the finished product won’t suffer for my lack.

How do you break out of the comfort zone? Or do you? If you do manage it, do you just keep hammering away at the walls until they fall? Any more “hammering” at this particular wall of mine would have had me erasing holes in the paper before much longer, but maybe I’ve missed some crucial point or technique for designing appliquéd borders. *shrug* No matter, I’m happy to be back in my quilting comfort zone for now.

5 thoughts on “Retreating to the comfort zone

  1. My mom always swore by her Pfaff and the upper feed dogs. I always told her the upper walking foot attachment on the Bernina worked just as well. How do you compare the two?


  2. Hi Kelly!

    Well, yeah, I swore by those upper feed dogs too, and for some things, I still do. I was a confirmed Pfaff user for 16 years, and the IDT (dual feed) was the biggest reason. The problem with the walking foot attachment on the Bernina (or any other brand) is that you can’t piece with it accurately since the foot isn’t 1/4″, and to do small work like the satin stitch appliqué I was doing here, it’s just too bulky and visually obscuring to do the job with. With the IDT on the Pfaff, you can still use whatever foot you like that will do the job at hand, be it the 1/4″ patchwork foot, or an open toe appliqué foot like I used for this satin stitching.


  3. Don’t think of this as a retreat to the old comfort zone, but as a confirmation that your first ideas were the right ones. Sometimes the cliche or obvious ideas are the first ones you come up with, so you need to work through the problem to get to a more interesting solution. But often, our gut instinct knows what to do right away. It’s still beneficial to work through the options though — to confirm that your gut really did know what it was talking about 😉


  4. Funny you should comment on this right now, Kristin, since I’m here in my sewing room, and I just put two of the borders on and I’m…well, I don’t know. I don’t know if I like it or not! I don’t dislike it, but I’m not sure I like it either. I think I’ll go to bed, and look at it in the morning. Maybe that will help!


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