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On Quilting “For Keeps”


I have a big pile of quilts that my family uses every day. Sometimes, those quilts are folded in a neat stack next to the couch, but more often they can be found in a crumpled heap, or my kids are dragging them around the house giving their stuffed animals rides on them, or one is crammed underneath the ottoman, or one’s in the washing machine because somebody spilled on it. And I love that: In my opinion, all of the above are what quilts should do. I adore having that pile available for whatever purpose anybody wants them to serve, whether it’s staying warm on a chilly evening or building a fort for the American Girl dolls.

Know when the most recent of those quilts was made? 2012.

Because somewhere along the way, I started taking quilts to trunk shows. And sending them off to fabric companies. And sometimes getting them professionally quilted by superstars whose work are true masterpieces, so you certainly don’t want to drag that around on the floor. And people said things like, “That quilt was in a book! Take good care of it—it’s special!”

Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. Love it. I’m not apologizing for attempting to make money on my quilting, or implying that turning my hobby into a job has taken the passion out of it for me. I still love what I do and feel incredibly lucky to have this dream job, even after spending the last year working a little (okay, a lot) more than I might have liked and feeling plenty burned out after Quilt Market this spring. And I still put my heart and soul into everything I make, even my “working quilts.”

But. There’s just no substitute for making a quilt that you know is going to get loved to death by your family. No substitute for making a quilt that’s going to get super soft and crinkly from a hundred trips through the washing machine. A quilt to sit on while you watch fireworks or have doll tea parties. Isn’t that what makes a quilt truly special, not the fact that it was in a book? Whenever I’m making a quilt, my girls always come to oooh and ahhh over it, and invariably they ask, “Do we get to KEEP this one?” And by that they mean, “Do we get to have this one in the pile in the family room, instead of squirreling it away in a corner of your studio, only to be taken out for trunk shows?”


Enter Amy Gibson’s new book, For Keeps: Meaningful Patchwork for Everyday Living. You probably know Amy from her Craftsy classes or her blog Stitchery Dickory Dock. Her gorgeous new book has reminded me of the importance of taking time out from things that are designed and made strictly for my business, in order to keep making special quilts for the most special people in my life. It’s a tough balance to strike of course, because there are only so many hours in the day, but it’s important, after all!

And what better place to start than that scrap quilt I’ve been itching to make for months?

I was initially thinking of an Irish Chain quilt, but as these little pairs of squares have started coming together, I’m now leaning toward a postage stamp quilt—a postage stamp quilt of 1″ squares, you guys! Just the kind of beautifully torturous project that you want to keep forever and ever and let your family use and abuse. : )
My goal is to use at least a small portion of every single print in my scrap bins. Every one of them! I’m sure some will get culled eventually, but it’s the working goal for now, anyway. I’ve divided my scraps roughly into 8 color families and my goal is to do two colors a week over the next four weeks. The reds are already done, as you can see. : ) Then I’ll lay them out into a big ol’ scrappy rainbow and spend the next decade or so sewing them all together. Good times.

While my particular “balance problem” might be unique to bloggers and pattern designers, I think in this day of Pinterest and beautiful photos online, we can all be tempted to get off track and make things for the wrong reasons. Or to believe that everything has to be absolutely perfect in order to be “good enough.” For Keeps hits the reset button on all of that. The projects range from classic quilts to playmats and pocket pillows that hold books—all written with Amy’s trademark sense of humor and illustrated with beautiful photography that reminds you that the simple things in life are often the best. : )



18 replies
  1. Diane
    Diane says:

    The saddest words I can hear when I give someone a quilt as a gift are "It's too pretty to use!". I quilt because it's a way to give someone a hug when I'm not there, to keep them warm, give them some comfort. Babies can spit up on them, or have an explosive diaper. By all means, wash the stuffing (literally) out of that baby quilt. When it's in tatters, the best thing that you can do is come to me with the remains…and ask me to make you another one.

    • Kitty
      Kitty says:

      Yes, yes, yes!!! Exactly my thoughts! I've been gifting and receiving baby quilts lately and blogging about the process, hitting on this exact idea: yes! Let your baby spit up on it! Yes! Change diapers on it! Yes, take it everywhere! And when the baby is bigger, it will make a great cape, tent, picnic blanket, and more! Someone just commented on a recent post saying that she tells recipients that if they wear it to tatters, she will make a new one. I am going to start telling quilt recipients that, since it would be the best feeling ever.

  2. Ginger Witzlib
    Ginger Witzlib says:

    I made a quilt two years ago. A disappearing 9 patch of red, white, and blue fabric. I always hating going to parades or fireworks sitting on some old itchy blanket that was not big enough. So my 120 X 120 quilt with glittery fireworks fabric and flags on the front and mod blue dots and leftover piecing from the front are gladly thrown down on the grass and walked on and cuddled up with during our Nation's birthday. Some people may think I'm crazy but that's exactly what I made the quilt for.

    Ginger, Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.

  3. Kitty
    Kitty says:

    I'm so glad you've decided to make a new family quilt for keeps 🙂 While I'm not (yet… *being hopeful never hurts*) at the trunk show, market stage, I am beginning to give quilt shows and the possibility of needing quilts for trade shows or similar events more thought. Quilting for family is so important to me, though, that I think at least until all of my children, husband, siblings, parents, and maybe cousins and close friends all have quilts of their own, I'm going to aim to always have at least one gift quilt in progress at all times 🙂 On my blog lately, I've been reflecting on why I quilt, and a recurring theme is that feeling you get through gifting a token of your love that the recipient can literally wrap himself/herself in, and the making and keeping of memories associated with quilts. I'm looking forward to reading through For Keeps, since it sounds like the message resonates strongly with my quilting inspiration.

  4. Katy Cameron
    Katy Cameron says:

    1" Squares huh? You definitely love your family :oD Saying that, I'm currently sleeping under 2 competition entry quilts, much to the horror of a few people, but, you know, that's what they're *for* and I don't care one bit!

  5. Carole @ From My Carolina Home
    Carole @ From My Carolina Home says:

    So true!! The best appreciation for a gifted quilt is to love it so much it is worn out. I give it for someone to cuddle with, to sit on, to wrap up with to keep warm, to use until it starts to fall apart. I so totally agree with Diane, it is so sad for someone to say it is too pretty to use.

  6. Terri Faust
    Terri Faust says:

    The "balance problem" is also common among longarmers, too. I have a growing number of unfinished tops, can't get them quilted because of my longarm business. I also hear the same "can we keep this one?" when I am doing one of mine, as it seems the quilts I do manage to get quilted are gifts for others. I am a true believer that quilts should be used and loved. I appreciate your post!

  7. Debbie
    Debbie says:

    I tell all my new baby quilt receivers that this quilt is to be loved and used. It is that child's go to preschool quilt. I do not want to see it hanging on a wall. My Grandmother taught me to quilt for purpose and love. So please use my quilts. Use and abuse them. I can make another one. Thank you for great words of advice and great memories of forts, cuddled up on the couch and tucking sleepy eyed children.

  8. Sandy
    Sandy says:

    I am so with you on this. Its nice to be reminded tho, and just reading your post has reset my own thinking a little bit.

    btw your daughter is adorable! Oh and your quilts are nice, too 🙂

  9. Little Black Cat Quilting
    Little Black Cat Quilting says:

    When I made my first quilt to keep, I babied it a little bit. I was worried about spilling something on it or otherwise tarnishing it. So of course, fate would have me drop some of my dinner on it one evening. After the initial "OH NO!", I wiped it off and just shrugged and laughed. It was like the spell was broken. Now the two quilts we use get drug around the house, are covered in cat hair, and probably need to take a spin in the washing machine soon. The best, most fun quilts are the ones you use. I always tell my husband that 'my' quilt is my favorite because I can wrap myself in it like a burrito and hide from the world for a while. Hahaha! 🙂

  10. Daytona Damsel
    Daytona Damsel says:

    I picked p two pink baby quilts at an estate sale this Spring. They had been used and washed a life time. I have no babies and no idea what to use them for yet but I liked them because they were used and loved. When I look at them and all their faded crinkly softness I wonder who they were made for, how they were used but most of all they make me smile. I hope someday my quilts will look just like they do. Thanks for the greay post.


  11. Debbie
    Debbie says:

    Oh I so agree. I was just thinking the other day about the quilts my grandmother made that are folded up and put away. Why? What am I saving them for. I need to use them and love them, that is why she made them.

  12. Kate
    Kate says:

    The best reward for any finish is to see it spread out in the living room floor with 5 teenagers watching movies and eating popcorn. Or my teenage daughter dragging her beloved rainbow quilt into the car so she can keep some part of home with her when we are on the road. Hope you get the chance to make some keepers.

  13. Cori
    Cori says:

    Well written! I use to have a rack with quilts for display only and one to cuddle. Then I had grandchildren and thought why? I am not a professional quilter. I donot need special displays. I now, want all my quilts to be cuddled. Thank you for such a heartfelt blog.

  14. Laura Chaney
    Laura Chaney says:

    This is such a lovely and well written post. Even though Mom and I are trying to get a quilting/designing business off the ground a bit, this is such an important message.

  15. JoanG
    JoanG says:

    I've been on a mission the last few years to give a quilt to each of my family members. When I give them the quilt I always tell them that the quilt should be used. If it wears out, I'll make them another. It's a lovely feeling to think that they are getting a hug from me even though I'm far away.


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