Susan Beal - February 2019
Sewing, quilting, and embroidery changed my whole life, but I didn’t learn how to sew until I was 26. I took art classes all my life, and have always loved making things, but my sewing skills were limited to a basic running stitch and a few long-ago childhood cross-stitch projects. I had no idea how to thread a machine, follow a pattern, or piece a quilt block. I always wished I’d learned how to sew as a kid… but it all seemed so complicated and overwhelming, I didn’t even know where to start.
Then my best friend Fiona came to visit me in Portland for a week, and taught me how to sew on a vintage aqua Singer I found for $20, with all the enthusiasm, patience, and kindness a beginner needs. I tried new things, messed up, ripped out the seams, pressed my fabric, and tried again. And once I got my confidence up, it was so exciting. I vividly remember that amazing feeling of suddenly being able to make anything I wanted - night and day from just a week earlier.
A few years later I nervously tried my hand at patchwork for the first time, and once I got used to the new teeny-tiny 1/4-in. seam allowance, I made two improvisationally pieced log cabin pillows (using a brand-new line called Flea Market Fancy!) for my couch, and dreamed up a million more ideas. I made my very first quilt for my mom’s birthday over the next few weeks, started an anniversary quilt for me and my husband after that, and really never stopped.
I was lucky to be at the very first PMQG meeting in 2010 and can’t even put into words how much our guild has inspired me, through friendships, connections, and creativity. I’ve served as president, programs director, and now historian! I’ve written nine craft books and teach quilting for Creativebug. I’m also a Girl Scout leader, neighborhood activist, and mom to a second- and fifth-grader who finally, thanks to this book deadline, got the special bed quilts I’ve been dreaming of making them for years!
About Sew + Quilt
Whether you’re a total beginner or you’ve been quilting since you could first hold a needle and thread, our quilts reflect our own creativity through our fabric, color, and layout choices, no matter how straightforward or ornate they are. We all know that the process can be life-changing, too - even a few minutes of handwork like embroidery, sewing, or quilting nurtures mindfulness, much like meditation does. Creativity can feel very elusive in a busy, modern life crowded with work, digital distractions, and chores, especially in our increasingly dark and polarized world. But when we sew or embroider - even the simplest project - the process reconnects us with our creative hearts, while calming some of the rushing anxiety that seems to be the backdrop of modern life.
And when the challenge is not in executing complicated or advanced techniques perfectly, but in creating a truly meaningful gift for a loved one, adding unexpected hand-stitching to bring an old design new life, or using color in a fresh way that sparks new ideas, the compelling, effortless creative flow you can find yourself experiencing as you stitch is truly magical.
I made every quilt in my new book, Sew + Quilt, using just four graphic, geometric, and beginner-friendly blocks – log cabin, half-square triangle, rail fence, and string – and added five embroidery stitches as the tools to teach beginners (or inspire experienced quilters who need to make a baby quilt or birthday gift, fast!). Some quilts can be pieced in a single day, and others are much more of a labor of love, but the simplicity that binds them leaves so much space for your creativity.
Keeping a personal quilting and sewing sketchbook – as simple as stapling snipped fabric swatches into a blank book, with measurements, notes, or block ideas – adds a wonderfully tactile dimension to your sewing and quilting. I’m excited to share ten years of my sketchbooks, and all my tips for recording the details of your most special work, both for yourself and to inspire others! I’ll also share ideas on labeling and telling the story of your quilts so they become the modern heirlooms future generations will treasure, without having to wonder who made them, and when.
I’m so excited to bring all my quilts and embroidery projects from Sew + Quilt to share with PMQG as we celebrate our tenth year together spotlighting our own members – Michelle Freedman illustrated the book, Elizabeth Hartman and Monica Solorio-Snow’s fabric designs inspired some of my favorite projects, Nancy Stovall quilted many of them, and Kelly Cole and Rebecca Ringquist offered stellar advice. See you in February!