Musings from A Beginning Quilter – a Sew, You’ve Always Wanted To Quilt Guest Post

Here is another wonderful guest post for the Sew, You’ve Always Wanted To Quilt series. I am excited to introduce Camille D’Angelis. Camille and I met at Squam, where I was lucky enough to sit next to her while we clicked along with our knitting needles, listening to the Yarn Harlot one cozy evening. We laughed and giggled away, all the while ooh-ing and ahh-ing over each other’s knitting. A beautiful friendship was born.  A talented, published author of two fabulous novels, I was thrilled when she agreed to write for flax & twine.  I can’t wait to see her again this spring, but this little post has me tied over for now . . .

I gave away the first quilt I ever made, and I don’t have a picture of it. Crazy, right? But this was 1998, I was seventeen, and I had met a boy deserving of such a gift who happened to live 300 miles away. It was a twin-sized “stained glass” quilt, the panes done in a full spectrum and stitched into place with black bias strips–very ’80s (or early ’90s), but still rather dazzling. It felt as though I sewed enough bias strips to span those 300 miles. Being even more starry eyed than the average seventeen year old, it never occurred to me that I should take a picture of it in case we drifted; but drift we did, and though I wish I’d taken a photo I’ve never once regretted giving the quilt away. That boy is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.

The stained glass quilt, from The Complete Quilting Course by Gail Lawther.

I’d intended to keep on sewing, but college and travel prevented me from reacquainting myself with my machine. It was eleven years before I began my second quilt project, also a gift.

My dear friends Ailbhe and Christian had waited a long time for their baby, so their gift had to be really special. I used Purl SoHo’s zig-zag baby quilt tutorial with some really fun owl-y backing fabric from Alexander Henry. Baby quilts are a great way to build your confidence: they’re more fun than placemats and much more practical than quilted wall art.
My third project is also a zig zag, but on a way bigger scale: a queen-sized quilt, a wedding present for one of my very best friends. We pored over Flickr sets and quilting blogs, and Kelly loved this zig zag from Red Pepper Quilts so much that I resolved to make one in a different color scheme–fuchsia, teal, purple, and green.

Over the years Kelly and I have traveled quite a bit together. We have fond memories of Pauline’s Country Quilts in Dunfanaghy, County Donegal, Ireland, where she found a finished quilt covered in penguins to bring home to her penguin-loving mom in 2005. I’m using some of the yardage I bought in that cute little shop in Dunfanaghy for the backing panels–I love the notion of using fabrics with happy memories attached. Decades from now she can turn the quilt over and run her hand over fabric we bought together in one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland.

Kelly and I went to another quilt shop in New Jersey for most of the fabric, admiring our choices over cocktails afterward.

My sewing machine, too, is a happy connection to the past. I’ve inherited three machines in all: two Singers (1940s and 1960s-era models) and the circa-1980 New Home on which my mother sewed my earliest Halloween costumes. I use the New Home because it’s in the best shape, but someday, when I can afford it, I’ll have my grandmother’s vintage Singer restored. I use the New Home atop the sewing cabinet that houses the vintage Singer!

I suspect people think I’m a bit batty when I tell them about the wedding quilt project, and there’s no denying it’s a huge undertaking. But I started well in advance of the wedding, and I’m pretty confident I can have the “sandwich” all ready for quilting by wedding time. Maybe I shouldn’t admit this on the interwebs, but I have more fun sitting down to my sewing machine on a Friday night than I do dolling myself up to go out. The growing pile of colorful pieces beside the cutting mat, the simple geometry of all those half-square triangles, the soothing hiss of steam and the back-and-forth motion of the iron–it’s such a satisfying series of tasks. Sure, it’s a big project, but I’m enjoying every minute of it.

Just a few more white squares…

(Naturally, it was only after my half-square triangles were nearly finished that I came across this way more efficient “trick” from Amy Gibson. This probably won’t be my last zigzag quilt, though, so I will make use of that technique next time.)

Once I get those last purple half-square triangles sewn up, I can press these strips and begin sewing them together.

The lesson I have learned in the making of gifts is that you can’t sew or knit something for just anybody (that is, someone who simply doesn’t have “handmade taste”) and expect them to be over-the-moon thrilled about it. You save your time and energy and creative sparks for a very, very good friend who consistently and volubly admires your handiwork–someone who will just about keel over with excitement when you tell them to close their eyes and hold out their hands. My family and closest friends are ideal recipients in that regard, which is why I find giving things away even more pleasurable than knitting or sewing for myself.

That said, I am absolutely not giving away my next quilt project: Lizzy House’s Castle Treasury.

I picked up the pattern at last year’s June Squam, along with a few fat quarters from Lizzy’s marvelous 1001 Peeps collection. She says this pattern is not for the faint of heart, but I’m not scared. I guess it’ll take at least a dozen quilts before I can stop calling myself a beginner, but maybe I’ll improve faster if I dream big.
Camille DeAngelis is a novelist and compulsive knitter. Her two fantasy novels are Mary Modern and Petty Magic: Being the Memoirs and Confessions of Miss Evelyn Harbinger, Temptress and Troublemaker, both for adults, although she is currently writing a novel for children. She blogs about travel, crafting, books, and the writing life at, and you can find her on Ravelry as MaryModern
Many thanks, Camille. For more quilting posts, please check the Sew, You’ve Always Wanted to Quilt gallery here or by clicking the button below:
  1. Terry

    Yes, yes, yes! Save your handmade goodies for those who will appreciate them. I’ve seen my crocheted afghans used in the dog bed for the last time.

    • Camille

      Terry, I am HORRIFIED. Who did that to your beautiful work?!!

  2. I absolutely love that zig zag pattern! I’m about to attempt my first quilt and can’t decide which pattern to pick, but that just might end up being the one. So gorgeous and so practical!


  3. Jenn

    I, too, gave away the very first quilt I ever made and didn’t take a picture.

    I was a non sewer and non quilter who liked to dabble in creative things and I had this really old brother PS 1000 that my ex mother in law had given me decades ago that I had never used and a best friend who liked home made gifts o I decided on a whim to make her a, get this, generous queen sized, machine quilted by me, flannel backed, christmas present. What was I thinking?! I had no idea what I was doing — and that was part of the fun!

    Squeezing that huge quilt through the little harp on my home machine was a thing to behold – and oh! what a work out!!! I bemoaned all my small little errors as my stitch in the ditch didn’t always get in the ditch and I stressed about getting it done in time. I ended up staying up all night christmas eve to hand bind it while watching a BONES marathon on TV).

    In the end, it was so beautiful I didn’t want to give it away, which are the presents that are always the best. And I will never forget how proud and good I felt as my friend and her new husband opened the gift and oooh’d and ahhhh’d and snuggled in it. Weird how they have never mentioned and likely have never noticed the wobbles in my stitching….lol….I get random little texts from her like, ‘just took an amazing nap under your quilt’ and “I think this quilt has magic in it; I have the best dreams when I use it’, and ‘we slept so cozy last night under your quilt’. I cry a little every time like a proud mama — “good little quilt!”

    The GREATEST news is, my best friend lives next door and we already have plans to take pictures of it this spring! 🙂 AND! I now have the quilting bug, having finished about six quilts since that first one in December of 2013 – that’s about one a month. I’m hooked. My stash is growing. I’ve taken over the dining room. I owe GE Capital Credit for a nice new sewing machine. My neighborhood quilt shop, JoAnn’s and Michaels all knows me by name (which isn’t really anything I should brag about! oh the pocketbook groans….)

    So glad I found your site. Happy quilting!

    • Jenn, how lovely – I adore that notion of the quilt creating fabulous memories and dreams. The first of many! Enjoy your sewing machine and relish your stash 😉

Leave a Comment